HC Deb 20 February 1953 vol 511 cc1593-685

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Christopher Hollis (Devizes)

I beg to move, That this House, while recognising the conflicting claims upon the land of the country, views with grave apprehension the steady loss of fertile agricultural land to development and other uses and from other causes, and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take every step within their power to minimise that loss. It is not necessary for me to delay the House by stating the background against which we must discuss this problem. We are all aware of the past history, of how in the 19th century our grandparents allowed both the towns and the industries of this country to extend in a comparatively unchecked fashion, indifferent to the fate of agriculture, believing that this country could live for the rest of time by exchanging its manufactured goods against the food of other countries. I can remember in my boyhood a don at Oxford explaining how he thought it would be desirable that the whole of England should be turned into one gigantic town, and that it would be an economic advantage that we should have no agriculture whatsoever.

We have moved into a world where such propositions are not only undesirable, but clearly impossible. The 1914 war gave the first shock to our complacency from that point of view, and in the years immediately following that war there arose a vigorous movement for a return to the land. The arguments then used were based to some extent on military necessity and to some extent on aesthetic rather than economic reasons. It was argued—and I do not deny that there was force in the argument—that it was good for the soul of man to live closer to the soil and that people suffered if crowded together in large cities. Though there was force in the aesthetic argument it led to an unfortunate result, because the reaction of people to it was to say, "We quite understand that, and we should very much like to live in the country, but we do not see why we should work in agriculture." Therefore, to some extent as a result of that argument, we have today the dangerous situation that the rural population is increasing while the agricultural population is decreasing, because to an ever greater extent people are using the villages of this country as dormitories in which to sleep, and are going into the towns to work during the day.

We are faced with a world situation in which there is a rapidly increasing world population and a rapidly increasing consumption of food per head in various parts of the world, but where, at the same time, there is no corresponding increase in the production of food per head. When we complain of the rising standard of living in other countries as compared with our own, we can hardly spend half our time saying that the answer to Communism is to raise the standard of living of unprivileged people and then complain because the Argentinian peons insist on eating their own meat. It would ill become us to make the complaint, and in any event it would be futile because there is nothing we can do about it.

We are faced with the situation—which is not denied—that if we are to maintain our standard of living it is vitally essential that there should be an increased production of food in this country. The Prime Minister gave expression to that necessity the other day, and every school of thought in the country is now agreed upon it. Therefore, there are two problems, the problem of the use of land and the problem of the preservation of land.

If this were an agricultural debate it would be our task to inquire whether everything had been done to increase production, whether marginal land had been brought into production sufficiently rapidly, and whether the necessary capital was being provided, and so on. But this is not an agricultural debate, and today we are concerned only with the problem of the preservation of land.

I have purposely drawn this Motion in the widest terms so that any hon. Member who wishes to discuss the subject from any one of a number of points of view will, subject to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, be in order in doing so. We shall no doubt have speeches calling attention to the demands of the Services and speeches from hon. Members interested in opencast mining, and hon. Members who were unable yesterday to talk about the effect of the floods on agriculture might, perhaps, be able to make some observations today.

The main point of view with which I am concerned, however, is the effect of building—primarily the building of houses and, secondly, the building of factories, schools, etc.—upon the preservation of agricultural land. This is a problem to which each of us can bring his own experience from different parts of the country and I hope that we shall have heard of a very wide variety of experience from different hon. Members before the day is through.

We in Wiltshire certainly have our own experiences, which I have brought to the notice of the present Government and of the previous Government from time to time. The two great problems in Wiltshire are, first, that we, of all the counties in England, have to make the largest sacrifices to the needs of the Services; and, second, it happens that at this very moment an inquiry is sitting to consider the claims of the town of Swindon to expand over a substantial area of agricultural land in North Wiltshire.

I raised both those points from time to time with my hon. Friend and his predecessors. I shall not delay the House by repeating what I have said about them. If my hon. Friend can give me a reassurance when he speaks I shall be very grateful. I said that a seventh, not only of the agricultural land but of all the land of Wiltshire, was in Service occupation. When I last raised the matter my hon. Friend was able to correct me and to say that it was an eighth. If it has now gone down from an eighth to a ninth and from a ninth to a tenth, I shall be grateful for that small mercy.

As to the Swindon scheme, the first demands made by certain exuberant optimists, not, it is true, by any Ministry, was that 2,700 acres of very good agricultural land should be surrendered for the development of Swindon. That has now been boiled down to a claim for 500 acres, which itself is sufficiently large. I daresay that my hon. Friend will feel that since the inquiry is now sitting it will not be possible for him to say much about that scheme, and I shall well understand if he says that. I will, therefore, leave Wiltshire for the moment, but with one observation and one reflection.

Yesterday, for my diversion, I was rereading one of my favourite books, Cobbett's "Rural Rides," and it occurred to me out of curiosity to see what Cobbett thought of the land around Swindon which at this moment is in debate. I found that he wrote: Swindon is in Wiltshire, and is in the real fat of the land, all being wheat, beans, cheese, or fat meat…. Mind you there is, in my opinion, no land in England that surpasses this. There is, I suppose, as good in the three last counties, that I have come through; but, better than this is, I should think, impossible. I turned two pages to see what he said about some land further south of Wiltshire which we have recently been trying to get released by the military. I found that he said: If called upon to name the spot which I deem the brightest and most delightful, and of its extent, the best of all, I should say, the villages of North Bovant and Bishopstrow, between Haytesbury and Warminster in Wiltshire; for there is, as appertaining to rural objects, everything that I delight in. Smooth and verdant downs in hills and valleys of endless variety as to height and depth and shape; rich corn-land unencumbered by fences; meadows in due proportion, and those watered at pleasure and, lastly, the homesteads, and villages, sheltered in winter and shaded in summer, by lofty and beautiful trees; to which may be added, roads never dirty and a stream never dry. It is in the nature of things that not the worst but often the best land is today threatened. What are the facts of the present situation? The Minister of Agriculture, on 12th February, gave the figures in this House of the net changes in agricultural area in England and Wales over the last five years. He gave the figures hut, with the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend—and no one respects him more than I do—the answer was not very satisfactory. It was not very satisfactory, first, because he did not even pretend that the figures were correct. The figures were derived from the June census and he said that they were subject to a certain degree of error. They are subject to a certain degree of error in total but even more subject to a degree of error in detail. When we look at the figures we find that the sum total of net loss is 89,000 odd acres and we find that from June, 1948, to June, 1949, 79,000 of those 89,000 acres were lost. What happened between June, 1948, and June, 1949? Why was that such an additionally bad time? We look at the notes which my right hon. Friend appended to his answer and find that it was not an additionally bad time at all but that it is complacently reported that: In 1948–49, 55,000 acres represents the correction of previous figures."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February. 1953; Vol. 511, c. 54.] In other words, the figures were completely bogus. They found themselves 55,000 short in their sum, so they tacked it on to 1948 just to make the sum come out right. That is the sort of way I used to do algebra at school, and the figures tell us nothing whatever about the relation between the different years.

An even more serious complaint about those figures is that they merely give us the net loss or net gain. That does not get us much further because what we want to know is what sort of land is lost or gained. Is it not true that most of the land gained is comparatively marginal land and a high proportion of the land which was lost was land of the best agricultural quality? We cannot get very much further until we have an answer on that point.

So much for the past and present; what about the future? There are widely varying estimates of the amount of land which will be taken in the future. Professor Stamp prophesies that over the next 20 years there will be a minimum loss of 500,000 acres, a possible loss running up to several million acres and probably a loss of 750,000 acres, which is about equal to the area of Berkshire and Bedfordshire put together. The staff of the Ministry of Agriculture put the figure at 695,000 acres, and admit it may be up to one million acres.

Whatever the figure is, the Government are complacently prepared to lose land at a rate of about four or five times that at which it has been lost in the past. Side by side with this are the statements of the Minister of Housing and Local Government on housing and about the necessity for preserving agricultural land. We value those statements but of course what we have to ask is what was asked by one of my hon. Friends a fortnight ago on the Adjournment—what is being done about them? Are those statements to have an effect or not? As long as the Government are complacent about a loss about five times that of the present rate of loss we cannot feel very confident that very much is being done.

From the point of view of the use of agricultural land I make four requests to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. In the first place, I request that we should be given some much better machinery than we have at present for telling us what are the facts of what has happened and what is happening at the moment.

Secondly, I ask that some use should be made of the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in his article yesterday in the "Daily Telegraph," that there should be a statement of what is the national plan for using land, some use being made of the Land Utilisation Survey so as to schedule land under categories A, B and C, or some such nomenclature. It could provide (a), good agricultural land that should never be taken; (c) land that shall be free for all: and (b), the in-between, land that should only be taken after a public inquiry.

Thirdly, I ask that an answer should be given to the Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) 10 days ago, asking the Government to tell us quite clearly how much land they feel it necessary to lose and which they are prepared to lose, and how long they think it will be necessary to go on losing it, so that we shall know where we are.

Fourthly, and again I am merely reinforcing what was said by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on this point—I hope he will develop it today—I think that the whole system of inquiry must be overhauled. Under the present system, someone appears as an objector, he appears before an inspector who is an official of the Minister who himself is about to give the award. My hon. Friend told the House, and no doubt it is true, that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has taken advice and listened to representations of other Ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture. But that takes place in private, and no one knows what the witness from the Ministry of Agriculture has said. No one knows whether the argument is answerable or not.

The objector who has appeared to level his objection is given no opportunity to examine the argument, and has no means of knowing whether the witness is reliable or not. He is faced with a fait accompli that the agricultural clearance has been given. There are other occasions where general permission to go ahead with a development scheme before any detailed inquiry whether is land available has been given—as in the Swindon case for example. Before a single inquiry or reason had been given at all, the Swindon people were told in general that Swindon was a desirable place for that type of development.

There is also the question of the enormous cost of an elaborate system of objection which has to be borne by the private objector. I am told that the cost will be £1,000 to the farmers and £1,000 to the landowners, whatever the result of the Swindon plan may be. That is a considerable sum to ask a person to pay, merely because he has the impertinence to ask to be allowed to go on living in his own house.

There is the other side of the question about which I must say a word. From the point of view of house building, quite clearly we must have some policy if we are to preserve agriculture. People must live somewhere, and we must make up our minds about what is the correct attitude to adopt. There are all sorts of buildings erected on agricultural land— schools, houses, factories and the rest. There is no one more keen on the building of schools than I am, but I think it will be agreed that the ambition to have single-storey schools in various places is one which we simply cannot afford. Nor can we always afford to have a school in the middle of an estate, with all its playing fields around. The Ministry of Education has shown itself alive to the necessity for economy from that point of view.

Obviously we must have factories somewhere both in order that agriculture should prosper, and for other reasons. On the other hand, there are many things which we manufacture today but which it is doubtful whether we are economically in a position to manufacture. I am doubtful if, in our present economic position, it is wise to increase our dependence on unnecessary mechanical gadgets for our amusement. I do not always agree with the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), but he did, at any rate, say one good thing when he said that we were in grave danger of moving towards a state of affairs where we would watch one another starving to death on television. There is a great controversy about whether we should have sponsored television, but I am doubtful whether it is common sense to have television at all in our present economic situation.

There are other problems, such as roads, which are important, but the basic question quite obviously is that of housing. Seventy per cent. of the demand for land is for housing and we have to make up our minds what we ought to say about that. I think we must say—in accordance with the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, and what has been said by the Minister of Housing and Local Government—that even though it may cause a certain amount of inconvenience and additional cost, where building has to take place outside present urban areas it should take place, wherever possible, on non-agricultural land.

The Ministry of Housing and Local Government is trying to achieve a standard of 45 or 50 people to the acre in its housing schemes, but is that a figure we can afford in the present critical state of this country? I gravely doubt whether it is. We are unique among the nations in having a reluctance to live in flats. We respect the prejudices of everyone, even though we may not respect their reasons, and there is that reluctance. But is that a prejudice we can afford to entertain at the present time?

I agree that we should not ask town dwellers to live in rabbit warrens or in congested conditions, but there are schemes which are being thought of today. My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan) will, I hope, have an opportunity during this debate to develop his scheme relating to High Paddington whereby we may be able to build vertically rather than horizontally and enable people to live not merely in the towns, but in conditions above the smoke and noise of the towns; and, incidentally, save them the intolerable wear and tear of long journeys to and fro from their work. We shall have to pay more attention to such schemes and to the extent to which urban authorities are using land within their area, before they are permitted to claim any new land.

We are moving towards the time when we shall have to consider how many dwelling houses we really need in this country. Until recently the shortage has been so desperate that we have welcomed anything which would increase the pace of house construction. But we are coming to the time when we must decide the number of houses we really need. I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend can tell us what encouragement he can give to the high building programme, and what is the view of the Ministry on the use of non-agricultural land and on the number of houses needed.

I regard this as a most important debate, not because I have had the privilege of initiating it, but because I hope we shall have a number of valuable contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope they will put before us experiences of their own localities. The truth is that we in this country are in unique and most desperate peril. We have fallen into a curious mentality by which we consider that it is a sign of great moral inferiority if an individual within the nation wishes to have a higher standard of living than his neighbour, but that it is a sign of great moral superiority if the nation at large has a higher standard of living than other nations.

Whether it is a sign of moral superiority or not, that is not possible unless we produce the food by which we are to live. No one else will give it to us in order that we should have a higher standard of living than they have, and there is no particular reason why they should. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the terms of trade have permanently shifted in favour of agriculture and against industry. This nation, which of all the nations in the world is furthest from self-sufficiency in food, is one which in the last century occupied a position of unique advantage and today occupies a position of unique disadvantage.

I do not say that because it pleases me. It is one of the facts that we must face. We are in a position where we can survive, and we shall survive. But we shall survive only if we have the courage to face the facts and to tell the truth to ourselves and to the people. I was meditating the other day on that brilliant and bitter epigram which Mr. Hilaire Belloc wrote of Goldsmith. He quoted to begin with from Goldsmith's famous lines: Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay; and added: Perhaps—but what the more disturbs my peace is That population grows and wealth decreases.

11.31 a.m.

Mr. Hubert Ashton (Chelmsford)

I beg to second the Motion.

This Motion has been moved most eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis). It is right and proper that he should speak in praise of his lovely county of Wiltshire. I would merely say that I spent one winter there in 1916–17 and thought that it was the coldest place on earth.

There is no doubt that this country has to produce all it can from its own land, and to that end it must keep in agricultural production as much land as possible. That proposition is accepted in this House and in the country. It was emphasised by the great tragedy which overtook our island three weeks ago.

It is not always recognised that more than half the world's population, which is still increasing by leaps and bounds, has a basic food not of wheat but of rice. I lived for many years in those parts of the world where rice is the basic food. It is clear that the exporting countries of Burma, Indo-China and Siam are only in a position to export about half of their pre-war quantities. Recently, an American commentator described the commodity of rice in this way. He said that rice was produced by a mixture of a Government loan with irrigation water, the object being to keep the producer in penury, the miller in luxury and the consumer in constipation. I do not know about that. My experience has been that my elder child who could get rice before the war dislikes it intensely, but my younger boy who has not had so much of it cannot get enough to keep him going just now.

If anything else were needed to underline the importance of this debate it was provided in a letter which came to my office this morning from one of the competitors of my hon. Friend, Messrs. Thames and Hudson, Ltd., who state: On 2nd March next we are publishing, ' Prophecy of Famine' by H. J. Massingham and Edward Hyams. I have read many of Massingham's articles in the "Field" and other papers. He is one who has spent his whole life in agriculture and he was anxious about this problem.

I should like to outline the position which confronts the London County Council and the Home Counties on housing. The county development plans which the Ministry of Housing and Local Government are now considering for these areas are based fundamentally on the Abercrombie Plan for Greater London. At the outset I wish to make it clear that I am certain that the county planning officers in Essex and other counties have had due regard when making plans to the importance of preserving agricultural land. I pay tribute to those people for the manner in which they have carried out varying and most laborious negotiations and for taking the opportunity to show everybody everywhere just what is in their minds.

Despite all that, however, there is grave anxiety as to whether or not we can afford the loss of all this agricultural land. Plans have been made for as far ahead as 1971. I suggest that this is a good time to pause and to think. The three developments which we have had in the huge area of London since the war have been the L.C.C. housing estates, the new towns and the development under the Town Development Act.

I attended a conference at Chelmsford on 12th November, 1951, in my then capacity of vice-chairman of the county council. We discussed the question of the distribution of the London County Council's post-war out-county housing programme. The figures I have are not up to date, but they are interesting. They are for the Home Counties and show the houses at 30th September, 1950. The details are: Essex, 20,927–49 per cent.; Hertfordshire, 8,388–20 per cent.; Middlesex, 1,160–3 per cent.; Surrey, 2,910–7 per cent.; Buckinghamshire, 5,060–12 per cent.; and Kent, 3,9399 per cent.

I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture is here. I am equally glad to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I am sure that both will agree that the champion county of Surrey, with seven out of 100, has put up a rather poor performance. To bring the position more up to date, I would point out that our plan for Essex means that ultimately there may be a further 200,000 people imported into our county.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

It is not clear to us what that percentage represents. We want to know whether it is No. 1 on the batting list or the extras.

Mr. Ashton

The total of houses which I have given represent as at 30th September, 1950, the L.C.C. housing estates in all those six Home Counties. The proportion which the county of Essex were taking of the whole was 49 per cent. whereas that of Surrey was only 7 per cent. I hope that I have made that point clear. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that Surrey comes pretty low in the batting order, and I hope to promote them before I have finished.

Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)


Mr. Ashton

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman comes from my county. If he will allow me to develop my argument first I shall be pleased to give way later.

This plan means that we may have an additional population of 200,000 people. In addition, we have the two new towns of Harlow and Basildon with, possibly. a further 150,000 people. That means an increase of about 23 per cent. in our county which has already borne its fair share of the burden in the past. I appreciate that this is not all due to the London County Council. It is partly due to a certain amount of private enterprise in the county itself—people getting married and having children—though the great proportion of the increase is caused by the overspill from London.

At some stage it seems that someone overlooked the fact—and I apportion no blame—that if people were coming to the county then they must have water supplies. The result was that at Chelmsford a reservoir had to be built. This took from fairly good agricultural land no fewer than 1,000 acres. There was no alternative; the people were coming. But had the position been foreseen, perhaps that land might still be in production today.

Another point which I am sure we ought to have in mind applies not only to Essex but to all the Home Counties; normally, our first duty is to house our own people. In this plan it is shown that some 40,000 acres will be taken out of production for housing, schools, roads, minerals, etc. Not all of this will be first-class land, and I repeat that the planners have had in mind the desirability of reducing it to the minimum, but, on top of everything else, that seems to be a further substantial slice.

What I want to know is whether London will forever continue to expand further and more furiously eastwards. What are the up-to-date figures of this great burden which has to be borne-I recognise that—and are we in our county taking a very great share of the whole? It is as well to remember that the great cities of Barking and Ilford have been built on some of the most fertile agricultural land in the country.

We in Essex are generous men and women and we realise that it is always more blessed to give than to receive. There are some people who consider that the L.C.C. is already one of the most blessed institutions, but we should not like the excessive exercise of their giving to Essex to deprive our neighbours of their fair share of the human gift which may be made.

Another subject which is vital to the problem is that of housing density. My hon. Friend referred to this. In the publication, "The Density of Residential Areas "there are some interesting facts and suggestions. My right hon. Friend the Minister said that this was something of a technical journal, and I am afraid that I am not a technical chap and that I have been a little out of my depth in understanding certain terms. I turned to the Appendix to have them explained to me and I found that "net accommodation density" was described as The number of habitable rooms contained in the dwelling houses and other residential buildings on the land divided by the net residential area of the land in acres. It is expressed as habitable rooms per acre. That does not seem very clear to me, but perhaps that is due entirely to my own density. If I turn to page 47, table 12, giving the "Savings Attainable by Increasing Net Housing Density for 10,000 People ", I find some interesting facts. I take it that" net housing "and" net accommodation "are the same thing; when we have the new spelling Bill no doubt the two words will be made into one.

These figures show what remarkable changes in the amount of land required can be made by varying the density. The table takes, for example, as a dead line, a net density of 15 rooms per acre, which requires 927 acres. If that density is increased to 50 rooms per acre, there is a saving of 553 acres or 59.6 per cent. If it goes up to 100 rooms per acre, the saving in acreage is 702, which is 76 per cent. of the original figure of 927 acres.

Those are extremely interesting figures and perhaps I may turn straight from them to the main problem here—the L.C.C. I should like to quote from page 10 of their County Plan for 1951: From under one million in 1801, London grew during the century at the rate of about 400,000 every 10 years to over four-and-ahalf million. From 1901 to 1931 it dropped by 140,000, and by a further 334,000 up to 1938. In spite of this, density of building is often excessive (300 persons an acre and above) and the rate of occupation is also high, especially in the central areas, there are lower densities in the surburban areas, particularly round the southern rim of the County. Based on the County of London Plan, a zoning pattern is proposed with a density of 200 persons an acre at the centre, and rings of 136, 100 and 70 persons to the acre, with some areas less than 70. High density pockets may be allowed near major open spaces and high ground; low density pockets may be necessary in areas of considerable life or to preserve existing amenities. These densities, when proper allowances are made for industry, commerce, shops, open spaces, schools and other uses, will on a purely theoretical basis provide for accommodation of an ultimate population of 3¼ million. This figure will take a long time to achieve, as there are many areas at less than the zoned densities which will remain as they are for many years after the end of the present Plan. If the decentralisation proposals in the Plan are carried out—and they will be difficult to achieve—the population of the Administrative County in 1971 is expected to be about 3,150,000. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes touched on this question of densities. It is suggested in this book that the ideal new development would be 12 houses to an acre, or 50 persons to an acre. I understand that the new development in Essex, under the development plan, is based on those figures. Earlier development, however, has been to a lesser density so that the average will be a good deal less than 50 persons per acre.

Perhaps I may mention one village, in particular, where the agricultural world is very seriously anxious about the use of agricultural land—and that is the village of Witham. The land there is absolutely first-class agricultural land. Under the plan, it is the intention that the population of this delightful village— it is not in my constituency, but in the constituency of Maldon—should increase from 6,135 to as much as 20,600.

I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will consider the problems. I do not believe in uniformity, but if there are great disparities in density and if Essex is having more than its fair share, I should be grateful if he would look carefully into the whole question.

So much for the housing aspect and returning, for a moment, to the agricultural aspect, I wanted to underline a point made in the Adjournment debate on 9th February by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt), but that has already been done. I know it is not very easy for the Minister of Agriculture and representatives of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to have a discussion in public, but the fact remains that there is anxiety in farming circles about whether the. agricultural interests get in early enough and are fully represented.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that that is a very good argument for the Minister of Agriculture being in the Cabinet, as he was in the previous Administration?

Mr. Ashton

The points I had in mind were entirely of negotiations under the previous Administration. The Minister of Agriculture was in the Cabinet then, but it does not seem that that made two hoots of difference. I realise that these representations may be made by the Ministry, but it is important that they should also be seen to be made. I ask my hon. Friend to look carefully into this question, which arises when the agriculture evidence is not given in public.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

This is perhaps a matter in which I should declare a personal interest as a lawyer. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that two Government Departments should appear, presumably by counsel, at an inquiry and should fight each other in public?

Mr. Ashton

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is not only a good talker but a good listener, will have noticed that I said it was difficult for this free-for-all to take place. He has underlined that. At the same time, there is this anxiety which has been echoed from all parts of the House. Therefore, I think it is a perfectly legitimate point to make. If this cannot be made in this way it can be done in some other, and that is the gravamen of the point I was trying to make.

We come to the question of education. We all want to have the best schools we can, although I would point out that some built with only one storey are rather extravagant in the use of ground. I want to make a point, on a matter of which I know a little, perhaps, on the question of playing fields. Playing fields have certainly been cut down. I make no complaint about that. It was two or three years ago. It is, of course, very desirable to have playing fields close to schools wherever that can conveniently be, but my experience in this matter tends to show that if we have a fairly large playing space and we can afford to have in charge of it an expert man, and we can have complete and up-to-date machinery, we can get very much better value for money.

There is another development that, I think, may not only help to preserve our agricultural land but also help us with our difficulties with the young today, and that is in the experiments being made with artificial or composition kinds of wickets, which have been considered by the M.C.C. committee in conjunction with the National Playing Fields Association. Many valuable experiments have been made. In this way a field can be used in the summer with this artificial wicket, the wicket is then removed and the field used for a football pitch, and, therefore, throughout the whole year.

Even so our fields round about this huge congestion of London are overused. I know that there are experiments going on on Hackney Marshes and at Southgate with using these kinds of artificial surfaces, which may be used by the young by day and by older people at night by floodlight. The matter has been raised before in the House, but I think it as well to mention it again in this debate, because we want playing fields very badly, but they do tend to take up a very large amount of ground, and I think that in these kinds of ways some quite material economies in ground use, with the advantage also of financial economy, could easily be achieved.

Now I would sum up the points which I have been trying to make. Here are all these great county development plans. We have had the Report of the Royal Commission on Population. It is not certain that the population will always increase. It depends, of course, on the number of children people produce, but it looks as if sooner or later—and it may be sooner rather than later—the present upsurge of population will stop, and then, perhaps, decline, and I hope that that is taken account of fully in these proposals for development.

I may have concentrated—I hope not selfishly—on my own county, but, if I have, it is because I wonder whether or not, in helping this dispersal of population a very desirable dispersal—of the London County Council, which must take place, and in the light of the figures which I have and which I have given to the House today, Essex has not taken more than its fair share.

I would also ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture whether he would agree that Essex acres are more fertile, by and large, than those of Surrey. The population may also be, but I do not know about that; however, I believe that our land in Essex is just as good and even better agriculturally than those of the other Home Counties.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

But not the cricket.

Mr. Ashton

This is a vital debate, but I am sure that the hon. Members go back to their own pieces of country, wherever they may be, gladly, because there is no doubt at all that we all have that affection for our homes.

I was travelling through my county last week, on Saturday, with the Minister of Health, on a visit to some of those flooded areas. It was a horrible, snowy day. We went through land. First of all, with acres bearing fruit, and then areas bearing seeds, and finally into the big arable area. Then the sun broke through, and I am afraid I quoted some words from a poem of Sir Walter Scott, forgetting that my right hon. Friend is a Scot himself—and he finished the poem for me.

It is in that spirit of regard for one's home countryside that I ask the House to accept the remarks I have made, and I will conclude by quoting the lines my right hon. Friend and I recited when we saw the sun shine on Essex—lines from the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," by Sir Walter Scott: Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land! Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd, As home his footsteps he hath turn'd From wandering on a foreign strand! If such there breathe, go, mark him well; For him no Minstrel raptures swell; High though his titles, proud his name, Boundless his wealth as wish can claim; Despite those titles, power, and pelf, The wretch, concentred all in self, Living, shall forfeit fair renown, And, doubly dying, shall go down To the vile dust, from whence he sprung, Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.

11.56 a.m.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

In the first place, I want to express my appreciation to the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) and the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) for introducing this subject which, as they have already said, is of prime importance for our future prosperity. I am also particularly pleased that they divorced the debate in its early stages from political rancour, for this is not a party political question: it is a question which confronts the people of this country—yea, the peoples of the world.

I am not going to indulge in descriptions of the inroads that have been made into the agricultural land of Wiltshire, Essex, or Surrey. I know that they are beautiful counties. I know they are beautiful counties from what I have read of the early Victorian writer, Thomas Hardy, who tried to describe the real beauties of those three counties.

I want to approach this question entirely from the industrial areas point of view, because the greater part of my life has been spent in the industrial areas, and since 1928—even before that time, in 1919—a number of us have been obsessed with the idea, which has gathered strength and momentum as time has gone on, of clearing the industrial scars left by the early industrialists in Lancashire. I am not complaining about that at all. They pursued their pathway in their usual way, but they left behind them a great deal of mess and ugliness —a great number of slag heaps; and there they stand today, and they occupy very fertile agricultural land. If they could be removed I think it would be a step in the right direction.

I profoundly believe that without fair play to our neighbours we cannot live socially; that without fair play to our better selves we cannot live individually; and that without fair play to the earth and the soil we cannot live physically. I further believe in the development of the fuller understanding of the true relationships of all forms of life, in an endeavour to achieve the natural balance between minerals, vegetation, animals, and mankind.

Mankind, in my judgment, is primarily dependent on the vegetation of the earth for both food and clothing. To get food, clothes and shelter to enable us to live our bodily lives on this earth, we must take care of the land. We must take care of the earth, and we should hesitate, every one of us, to destroy that which we cannot create, and if other people are contemplating destroying that land upon which we live we should prevent them from destroying it because we cannot create it. We can preserve it and we can use it, but we cannot create it.

I am putting forward my own views on this very important subject. I firmly believe in the traditional ideal that our fields should be fields of the woods, by which I mean landscape farming of every valley and plain, with woodlands in high places, shelter belts of trees, orchards and woodlands of mixed species of trees and hedgerows in every available space.

The question I have been very seriously asking myself since this Motion was put down is: Have we been doing the right thing over a number of years? Have we, as a nation, endeavoured to maintain and to conserve all the land we could for the purpose of yielding food, which is so essential? A very close analysis of what has been allowed to happen over a period of years ought to be made. If we are honest with ourselves in answering that question, we shall have to say that we have not done that which we ought to have done.

I express the profound desire that this debate will awaken our sense of responsibility; that we shall be possessed of the urge and determination to go forward in every conceivable way to restore all land which now stands in a desolate state, and bring it into the production of food and timber for the benefit of mankind. I go further and say that we can be inspired by the thought that we can make the wilderness blossom as a rose; we can call to our aid the discoveries of science, which are many, and which have been handed down to us over a great number of years.

It may be true to say that it is not within the realm of possibility to bring all derelict land into food production, but that which we cannot bring into the production of food we can make to produce trees for the benefit of the rising generations. The tremendous material strides made by our present civilisation during the last few decades have been largely responsible for the destruction of fields, forests and trees to a point at which the very survival of mankind on this planet is threatened.

Reference has been made to the statement made by the Prime Minister a few days ago, on 17th February. Though it has appeared very fully in the Press, it is as well that we should have in on the records of this House because it may be that in the very near future attention will have to be drawn to what was said on that auspicious occasion. I am not finding fault with it, but what did the Prime Minister say? He said, under the headline "' Live or Die ' for Britain "; Agriculture is a life or death thing for Britain. It is not a party issue, it is a national issue. Especially in a country in which 50 million people dwell in a small island growing enough food for … 30 million. That is indeed a spectacle of majesty and insecurity which history has not often seen before. It is not a question of choosing between food production and exports. We must have both at the highest level, driven forward with the fiercest energy…. The job must be finished, and finished soon; and when finished it is by no means the end, only the opening of a further task. The balance between population and food supply has tilted in an uneconomic unwholesome and dangerous extreme. I welcome that exhortation made by the Prime Minister, but it appears to me to be somewhat crazy to appeal to our agriculturists to produce more food while at the same time taking from them the land upon which the food is to be grown. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary, when he and his Department are exhorting our farmers to produce more, to pay more regard to giving them the tools to do the job. We say in Lancashire that neither wise men nor fools can work without tools, and farmers cannot produce food without being given the land from which to produce it.

Modern man, with his mechanised methods of land clearing, has made more rapid inroads into the already inadequate tree cover and fields. It has been estimated that up to 1850 one-sixth of the earth's natural vegetation had been removed during the past century. One-twelfth more has been sacrificed, and at the present time we are well into a further twelfth. Of the earth's total acreage of 30 billion, 8¾ billion acres are already desert.

What is the position today in our own country? I went to the same source as the hon. Member for Devizes to get my information, and the Ministerial statement on 28th February, 1952, did not satisfy me any more than it did him. This was the answer: The total area of crops and grass and rough grazings in sole occupation in England and Wales in June, 1951, was 684,000 acres less than the area returned in June, 1936, an average net annual reduction of 45,000 acres. Between June, 1945, and June, 1951, rather more than half a million acres of land has gone out of agricultural use, but some 450,000 acres have been restored to agriculture and the net annual loss has been about 13,000 acres."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 171.] We must try to arrest this constant and continuous reduction year by year.

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that in 1943 you occupied a very responsible position in the Government. You were Minister of Town and Country Planning. When we occupied the other Chamber, on 24th June, 1943, in a debate initiated by a revered and respected friend of all the House of Commons, Joe Tinker, you uttered these words in your reply which are indelibly imprinted upon my mind.

You said, Mr. Speaker: The rush of industrialism in the last century inflicted some grievous scars upon the native beauty of our land, and there is no doubt that we all feel that we should do our best today to restore that beauty to its original state."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th June. 1943; Vol. 390. c. 1433.] In my opinion, those were words of wisdom, sound judgment, and very statesmanlike—to restore beauty out of ugliness is a very desirable task for each one of us to put our hand.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with that of the House, I should like to make reference very hurriedly to the position of three townships in my division, which will reveal the great inroads that industrialism has made into agricultural land. They are only small townships, but they are very important. They have been giving deep-mined coal to this nation since the year 1546. What is the position now? In the town of Ince. the following is the result of a survey recently taken.

There are 23 pit heaps covering 199 acres of land, and one large industrial slag heap, covering 60 acres. The average amount of land under water or marshland due to mining subsidence is 243 acres. A further 150 acres are liable to flooding. The number of disused pit shafts which could be filled by debris is 36. Therefore, in that little town alone, we have 652 acres of land which could, by the pursuance of a bold and courageous policy, be restored to agriculture. Twenty-eight per cent. of the total acreage of the township, which is now lying derelict, could be restored.

In the adjoining town of Abram. we have 10 pit heaps covering 160 acres. 30 acres of land under water or marshland, caused by mining subsidence, and two disused pit shafts which could be filled up, averaging 600 to 800 yards deep.

A year or two ago, the people of this town—and this will indicate the change of approach that has come over people in recent years, because, in years gone by, we used to accept it as inevitable for pitheaps to go up and now people in the mining villages are protesting against pit heaps being erected—grew very resentful against the decision of the National Coal Board to put down another pit heap. Nearby the colliery to which they were contemplating putting the pit heap was a large disused clay pit, 60 feet deep, covering four acres, and known as the Kingsdown Road clayhole.

The protest of the people in that little township, through the medium of the urban district council, reached Whitehall, and, as a Member of Parliament, I took it to Whitehall. After nine months' discussion—and I want to pay tribute to the Department and to the Parliamentary Secretary for his assistance—we secured the co-operation of the Ministry of Health, the Board of Trade, the Treasury and the National Coal Board. That claypit has been filled up and we put into that pit, because we were particularly anxious to get the right amount, 153,000 tons of pit debris. If we had not put it there, it would have reared its head into the heavens. I am happy to say that in a few months' time the acreage that we have reclaimed as the result of this assistance will be opened as playing fields for the children of that district. I only make reference to that to show what can be done, if we have the will, the foresight and the courage to do it.

The next small town is Ashton-in-Makerfield. There we have 29 large pit heaps, covering 170 acres, all of which was, up to a few years ago, good fertile agricultural land. Side by side with these pit heaps, we have eight disused pitshafts ranging from 100 to 600 yards deep. In addition, we have over 100 acres of land under water or marshland. I hold the opinion very strongly that a considerable amount of this land can be reclaimed and restored to fertile land again by clearing away the pit heaps and filling up the disused pit shafts, but it will require a very bold, courageous policy to undertake that work. It will require wholehearted co-operation from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Board of Trade, the Treasury, the National Coal Board, the county councils and the local authorities, all of whom have a part to play in this great undertaking to restore agricultural land.

I want to repeat briefly what I said a moment or two ago. I agree that we could not restore all the land for wheat or grass-growing purposes, but I maintain that although we cannot grow root crops we can grow trees, which will be of great benefit to the people in the neighbourhood. We could and should make a genuine attempt to remove the ugliness which industrialism has left behind it.

It has been said by many writers in the past, and by writers of the present age, that the people of this country are a tree-loving people. It was said by the poet Whittier in one of his poems: Give fools their gold, and knaves their power, Let fortune's bubbles rise and fall; Who sows a field or trains a flower, Or plants a tree, is more than all. May I express a hope that, as a result of this debate, the Departments I have mentioned will go forward with the profound desire to prevent any further loss of fertile agricultural land, and to restore the ugly industrial areas, and to make the countryside, in the words of Keats, "A thing of beauty," which will be "a joy for ever." I wholeheartedly support the Motion.

12.17 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Bromley-Davenport (Knutsford)

We are constantly warned by successive Governments that, as in this overcrowded island we cannot be self-supporting, it is absolutely vital that we should preserve our agricultural land. What are the facts? Today in the United Kingdom we have some 2½ million more people than we had before the war, and in the next ten years it is expected that the population will grow by another 3 million. Therefore, on a long-term policy, we shall have not only to feed an extra 5½ million people, but we shall also have to house them. I understand that the target of home-grown production is 60 per cent. of our requirements, and we shall, therefore, have to import the remaining 40 per cent.

The trouble, however, is that the rest of the world is in the same position as we are. The populations of other countries are also growing rapidly and, with a rising standard of living, they are eating more of what they grow. The hungry people of the Far East and of South-East Asia want a bigger share of the foodstuffs which are now entering international trade. The population of Australia is rapidly increasing, and we understand that Australia will soon cease to be a net exporter of food. Therefore, the chances of our being able to buy more food will grow more and more remote even if we have the dollars with which to buy it, for it simply will not be there.

Some of the planners who wish to destroy our land are living in the past. They have spent probably the greater part of their lives when buying food for this country meant little more than going into the world markets and getting it. There it lay waiting for a purchaser. But those days are gone for ever. There will be less and less food to buy and precious little foreign exchange with which to buy it. Therefore, with the world about to become more hungry, British agriculture and the preservation of our food producing land become more vital to us than ever.

In the use of our land in the future one principle only should prevail: What is best for the nation as a whole? Every time we take precious land for development we are raiding the food resources of our children and their children yet to come. The land that we take away for development is irreplaceable because once it is taken for development it is lost for ever.

Cheshire is fortunate enough to possess a wonderful soil. What does that land produce before we start to destroy it? The County of Cheshire produces enough milk for the populations of Liverpool, Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and the whole of the administrative county of Chester, plus an extra 17,560 people. Thus a total of some 2,609,270 lucky people are fortunate enough to consume 89 million gallons of Cheshire milk. I feel I shall carry the House with me in adducing from those figures that the dairy cow is the most important animal in Cheshire. All praise to the dairy farmers who produce that milk, because they are having a pretty rough time at the moment.

In addition there is produced and sold each year from our lovely pastures a total poundage of 67,835,000 lb. of carcase weight made up of cattle, calves, sheep, pigs and poultry. I am informed that at 1 lb. per week per person that supplies the yearly rations of 1,304,520 people. But Cheshire has not finished yet. Cheshire never does things by halves. We grow 22,000 acres of wheat and 150,000 tons of potatoes. Therefore, not only is Cheshire one of the finest agricultural counties in this island but its production per acre is second to none, and that is not surprising when we see the quality of the farmer who tills the soil.

Unfortunately, the lovely Cheshire land has two enemies. One is subsidence due to brine pumping, which destroys the land for ever. The second, common to all of us, is the planner who plans to destroy the land by sprawling all over its fertile soil. Cheshire gets it with both barrels, a right and a left. Let me deal with subsidence first. In an Adjournment debate during the last Parliament I called the attention of the Labour Government to the dreadful devastation which was taking place in Cheshire owing to brine pumping. The sight of that devastation is pitiful. There are now heaps of rubble which used to be homes where happy families once lived. There are vast lakes where once cattle grazed and corn grew, and the tops of tall trees appear above the water level of flooded wastes where once the land was fertile.

A short time ago I walked across a 10-acre field at Rhode Heath in my constituency. The stubble of the harvested corn still remained but the field had borne its last crop. In the short time that had elapsed since the gathering of the harvest the field had begun to slip. Great ridges ran across the full length of the field to show how it was falling in. The drainage system had been destroyed. The field was of no further use to man or beast. That wretched farmer has "had it." Those 10 acres are lost to him for ever; the balance of his farm has gone; and, worse still, he can see the subsidence encroaching day by day, week by week, across his farm taking more and more of his livelihood from him.

I know other farmers whose land has gone so far that their dairy herds have sometimes had to be reduced by half, because the land which once fed their cattle is now under water. One poor man's house collapsed because of subsidence. He was fined 12s. 6d. for having dangerous property and was ordered to remove the rubble which was once his home, and that cost him £55. Was there ever such injustice? I understand he got no compensation whatsoever.

This subsidence is largely due to brine pumping. This is not surprising as some 5 million tons of solid salt were taken out of the ground in 1949 and 1950. That extraction is going on from year to year and the effect will become cumulative, so what will happen in time? I have photographs of the Minister of Housing and Local Government taken when he came to my constituency to see this dreadful devastation. I will describe merely one scene. The Minister is looking at a place where subsidence is breakdown the banks of the Trent and Mersey Canal and heading straight for the Mill Mead housing estate. What will happen to the estate?

Can subsidence be prevented? That is what concerns us. How can we stop good agricultural land from being destroyed for ever? There are two methods of brine pumping, controlled and wild brine pumping. Imperial Chemical Industries have spent a fortune perfecting the controlled brine pumping system and have found as a result that with that system hardly any subsidence takes place. Briefly, the method fills with saturated brine large cavities under the earth about the size of St. Paul's Cathedral from which the salt has been removed, and the soil over those enormous cavities is held up by large pillars of salt. I hope I.C.I. will forgive me if I am giving an incorrect description, but whether I am right or wrong the important question is whether controlled brine pumping will stop subsidence for ever.

There are two views on that. One of the greatest experts in the country has given it as his considered view that one day these salt pillars will give way and the resultant collapse will be a disaster comparable only with that of an earthquake. Should there not, therefore, be an immediate inquiry into this matter, and pending a decision ought not these areas to be fenced off as highly dangerous? I asked the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) about this when he was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, and he replied: I would not like to say that the claim of I.C.I. that controlled brine pumping will in fact prevent all subsidence in the future should be admitted. Time alone will prove." —[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 2nd August, 1951; Vol. 491. c. 1670] Wild brine pumping is, I understand, the cause of nearly all the subsidence now occurring. No attempt whatever is made to prevent it. The salt is removed, there is no control, damage is done to property and good agricultural land is destroyed for ever. Can anything be done? Will the wild brine pumpers switch to controlled brine pumping? Under the Cheshire Brinepumping (Compensation for Subsidence) Act, 1952, controlled brine pumpers got a rebate of 62 per cent. of the rates levied by the compensation board. If that is not a sufficient inducement for the wild brine pumpers to switch, can any further inducement be given?

I know the Cheshire brine pumpers perform an invaluable service to the community, and they employ a great deal of labour. But we cannot go on taking millions and millions of tons from underneath the earth without some damage occurring on the top. If anything can be done in that matter it should be done now.

I come now to the second enemy, the planner. Some town planners feel that whenever they want to build houses in the country they are told by the county council, "Go away, you cannot have that land. It is good agricultural land." In the case of the Cheshire County Council that is simply not true. The Cheshire County Council and the people of Cheshire sympathise, as we all do, with the plight of thousands of our unfortunate people who are badly housed in the towns. They have accepted their share of this problem and they have produced a plan to help house these unfortunate people.

All that the Cheshire County Council and the people of Cheshire are concerned with, and what those of us in this House, no matter on which side we sit, should be concerned with, is that these houses should be built in the right places and not in the wrong ones, because if we go on destroying good agricultural land, as has been said so frequently that it has almost become a bromide, we shall only be building houses for the people to starve in. To this end the Cheshire County Council have undertaken to extend existing townships and by this not only will they help to receive the overspill of Manchester. but they will export some 169,000 people from county boroughs to the surrounding districts.

But in 1948 and 1949 the planners of Manchester conceived another plan. That plan was to destroy hundreds of acres of the best agricultural land in my constituency near Mobberley and to build a new town. It did not matter that the Cheshire County Council had a better plan to develop their own land. It did not matter that the best agricultural land was to be destroyed for ever or that there were alternative sites on which to build. It did not matter that the scheme broke all the rules of good planning, and it did not matter that the land was liable to subsidence. Indeed at about that time a farmhouse kitchen in Mobberley collapsed without any warning at all. That did not matter. The planners wanted the land and they intended to have it.

An approach was made to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who was then the Minister. I would apologise to him here and now if what I am saying is wrong, but unfortunately he is in another place. He made, I understand, three separate decisions. On the approach of the planners he first of all nodded his head and said "Yes." Then I think a little bird whispered something to him about this subsidence and he became uneasy and changed his mind. He said "No." Then the Manchester planners got busy again and fired a great barrage at him, and again he changed his mind and said "Yes."

Why did he change his mind? I think the answer lies in the excellent article written in the "Daily Telegraph" yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). Houses bear on the next Election, but the loss of agricultural land is borne by the next generation. What saved Mobberley and its wonderful agricultural land? Not the noble Lord and not the then Minister of Agriculture. He was no use at all. He looked at me like a chicken with roup and did nothing. He might as well have gone down Birdcage Walk and rattled his stick on the railings. There would have been something in that. He would have had some exercise.

What saved Mobberley was the action taken by the Cheshire County Council, the National Farmers' Union, the people of Mobberley, and last but most important of all, the sound common sense of the ordinary people of Manchester. They attended a public meeting and they voted by a large majority against the desires of these planners to move them to Mobberley.

To such people as these planners agriculture does not matter. All that matters is that the proposed site should fulfil four simple rules. First, the proposed site must give little difficulty in clearance; second, it must be reasonably level; third, it must be well sited; and. fourth, it must be well drained. The flatter and more fertile it is the better. Give them a nice open site. The best is only good enough for them, and agriculture can go to the devil.

But there are other Mobberleys, greater and smaller, all over this country. There is hardly a county which has not got a Mobberley or a potential Mobberley. The point is that the Mobberley plan is not dead even now, because there are certain frustrated planners who regard it as a personal crusade to destroy this fertile beauty spot. I know they will not be successful so long as we have the present Minister of Housing and Local Government in the saddle, and I hope that will be for a long time, because he has taken the trouble to go up and inspect this site for himself. He got out of the car and walked across the property, which is more than the noble Lord did because he might have found difficulty in climbing the fences.

I understand that the plan of the Cheshire County Council is already in the hands of the Minister. I understand that they intend to use for development some 17,500 acres in the next 20 years. The Cheshire County Council have always been good friends to agriculture. I have not seen that plan and, therefore, I cannot comment on whether it is good or bad. I can say, however, that it is causing the greatest disquiet to the National Farmers' Union. They contend that the plan will have a most serious, detrimental effect on agricultural production.

They contend that the agricultural interests have not been properly consulted or considered, and that the plan fails in what should be its main objective, to ensure that no good land is lost to food production where that can reasonably be avoided. What is more they backed up their views with numerous examples and photographs. Has the Minister seen the results of the local public inquiry held in Chester last year at which the National Farmers' Union gave evidence? The examples backed up with photographs showed that the waste of good land was absolutely appalling.

I shall not go into all these examples in detail but I will give one which is common to all, namely, the unnecessary wide grass verges. At Elton, near Chester, there is a 30-foot new road with a total of 45 ft. of grass verges running for several miles, which eats up agricultural land at the rate of one acre for every 322 yards. Before the Minister approves of this plan I hope he will consult with the Minister of Agriculture, that his consultation will be effective, and that he will take the Minister's advice. If not, we should like to know why he will not take it. We should not be met with the answer: "Oh, my dear fellow, Ministers cannot quarrel in public. We have made our decision, and that is enough."

There is one crowning injustice which should be remedied. If farmers are to have their land taken away, their compensation should be on the basis of replacement value for agricultural and horticultural land, instead of existing use value. The present system is absolutely iniquitous and is downright robbery. Few dispossessed farmers have sufficient money to buy a similar holding in those circumstances, and for that reason good farmers are taking up employment in other occupations.

What is the solution to this awful problem? Surely, the solution to proper development is sound common sense. In this country, where land is so valuable, we must destroy as little of it as possible. Not one acre of good agricultural land should be taken away, if there is any alternative. In this country, where land is so valuable and when we are faced, as we are now, with a world shortage of food, we must increase our food production, and not only, as the Prime Minister has said, produce more, but do so quickly.

Therefore, is it not suicidal to destroy land, and spread and sprawl all over the countryside? Should we not, as other hon. Members have said, build upwards instead of spreading outwards? Should we not see that our cities are properly developed and that there are no waste areas in them, before we decide to spread elsewhere? Otherwise—and I cannot say this often enough—we shall only be building houses for the people to starve in.

I do not envy the Minister who has to face the difficulty of solving this awful problem. Whatever he does, we beg him from all sides of the House to save every acre of land that he can and not destroy it. Now, more than ever, the backbone of England lies in our English countryside.

12.42 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) has certainly given us some interesting information from his constituency and no doubt it will help other hon. Members in pressing the importance of agriculture. We should never use good agricultural land if there is an alternative. In the latter part of his speech the hon. and gallant Member talked about the solution, but he did not go into great detail.

That is why I congratulate the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) upon his very eloquent speech in moving the Motion and in putting forward four important points. If I do not entirely agree with his fourth point I certainly support his first three points, in which he argued that more information and better machinery were required. We have experts to obtain this information. The Ministry of Agriculture has a very fine staff of officials who are specialists in land development and utilisation. People like Professor Dudley-Stamp have made great contributions in this direction.

The hon. Member for Devizes stressed the need for a national plan. That point was also stressed by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) in an Adjournment debate recently. I agree that we should have a national plan indicating the land we have to use for development over a period of years. We should try to ascertain how much we are prepared to use for each different project. We can then balance the needs of various development plans.

One aspect of development which has not been mentioned is that of trunk roads. This matter was discussed at the Annual Conference of the National Farmers' Union. The great grass verges we see alongside our trunk roads are a great waste of good agricultural land. They may be necessary because we need good roads for safety and for commercial purposes, but at least we should attempt to balance the needs of agriculture. If we can use those verges for agricultural purposes we should do so. That is a matter for county agricultural committees and highway authorities.

Another important type of development is represented by schools and playing fields. I have great sympathy with the viewpoint of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton). I was at one time connected with the Executive of the National Playing Fields Association. I was very glad that the hon. Member mentioned the importance of artificial cricket pitches. The idea is not new, but it is something which we should develop. If we can, by artificial means, provide new playing fields it will be to the advantage of the children and to agriculture. I hope that the National Playing Fields Association will be able to impress their point of view not only upon public opinion, but upon local authorities who are responsible for schools and buildings.

Another important point is connected with redevelopment. One example occurred in Essex during the war where 6,000 acres of undeveloped building land was brought back into cultivation and produced crops. That is something which could be repeated all over the country, even in peace-time. We need only make a tour of many of our industrial areas to be convinced of that. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) illustrated the problem of Lancashire. I know that problem very well, because I was born in a mining area. Although I have some of the finest scenery in the country in my constituency. which is in the Lake District, yet there is an industrial part where we still have the pyramids of pit waste that spoil the countryside. They show how the country was harmed in the early industrial period. I am not blaming anybody, because we had great industrial development; but now there is a problem. I am sure that, given the necessary financial assistance and the will, we can bring back into cultivation much of the land that was spoiled by that early industrialisation.

We have in my constituency not only the effects of coal mining but of iron ore mining and we have a coastal area which was also spoiled during industrialisation. If we have the will and the capital we could bring back into cultivation this land. I agree with all that has been said on both sides of the House that we should look carefully at the problem in each locality. If the debate serves that purpose alone, and gives us a sense of responsibility to the needs of agriculture and the care of the land it will have served an extremely useful purpose.

I would argue on the fourth point mentioned by the hon. Member for Devizes. Despite what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford about the Ministry of Agriculture over the Cheshire case, I still believe it would have been better for the Minister of Agriculture to have kept his status. Where there is conflict between Departments it is certainly necessary to balance national demands. Occasionally, Departments come into conflict with each other.

I think it was wrong for the present Prime Minister to take the Minister of Agriculture out of the Cabinet. I recognise that it was argued then that there would be an Overlord to balance the needs of the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture, but in this vital matter of land development it is so important in the present circumstances that the voice of the Ministry of Agriculture, not only locally through the county executive committees but in the Cabinet and in the co-ordinating committees, should be heard. In every Government this struggle between respective Departments will go on. If a Minister has a certain status the position of his Department is improved.

Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)

I should like to tell the hon. Member that during the last Administration we had two cases in my constituency in which valuable agricultural land was taken away, in one case for a school and in the other for a water supply. The Minister of Agriculture ignored the agricultural requirements and permission was given for the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health to use valuable agricultural land instead of some adjoining woodland.

Mr. Peart

I do not know of these cases. The hon. Member said that a school and a water supply were involved. There may have been a reason for that land being used for those purposes. It may have been argued that the school and the water supply should have priority. It is a question of balancing the national interest.

Mr. Crouch

The agricultural land and the woodland were very close to each other. It was a question of siting.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Member will appreciate that I do not know the details of his constituency, but he mentioned that a school and a water supply were involved. It may have been that the water supply was important to agriculture. As I have said, we have to balance the national interest.

Here and there, inevitably, some agricultural land will be taken. I am merely stressing what has been emphasised by every hon. Member today, that if there is an alternative we should take nonagricultural land. I am certain that my right hon. Friend who was the Minister of Agriculture and who had the respect of farming interests when the Labour Government were in power did his best in that direction. I am merely saying that the present Minister of Agriculture, whom I am not criticising, would have his position immeasurably strengthened if he were in the Cabinet, particularly if there were a dispute between him and another Minister who was in the Cabinet.

Mr. Crouch

The last one was in the Cabinet, and it made no difference.

Mr. Peart

As I said, the last Minister probably agreed that the school was essential in the hon. Member's area and decided, on balance, that the interests of the children in that locality should be served first.

I now come to another aspect of this problem. Reference has been made to the Prime Minister's recent speech at the National Farmers' Union dinner. We all agree that every effort should be made to increase our production 60 per cent. above the pre-war level. Indeed, every hon. Member has emphasised it this morning, not only nationally but in relation to the world situation. I am very glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford has at last begun to appreciate the world realities of the food shortage. I only wish that his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food had appreciated that in the pre-Election period when be used to make his unctuous broadcasts.

There is a world shortage and, therefore, we must make our contribution. Every bit of agricultural land must be developed. We are pledged internationally to the F.A.O. to work to a four-year plan, and that is the detailed plan which has been mentioned by the Prime Minister and other Members. If this debate emphasises the need to protect our soil, it will have served that purpose.

I would remind hon. Members that the loss of agricultural land is not a new problem. Yesterday I looked up Dr. Menzies-Kitchen's book "The Future of British Farming." He said that from 1887 to 1937 the amount of land under crops and grass declined by 2¾ million acres. That was due not merely to an increase in rough grazing, but mainly to the transfer of land to non-agricultural purposes. In the same period the area of tillage declined from 12.2 million to 8.3 million acres, and the acreage of arable land, including tillage crops and temporary grasses, declined from 16.9 million to 12 million acres. Our corn crop in that period declined by three million acres.

We have the figures of Sir George Stapledon in 1950. From 1921 to 1931 we lost 34,000 acres of agricultural land per year. In the two years before the war, in 1937 to 1939, the acreage of arable land in this country fell from 12,016,000 to 11,870,000 acres. By the outbreak of war, in 1939, approximately 2.5 million fewer acres of arable land were in existence as compared with 1914. In other words, if I may use the expression of the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford, it was not planning which did that. It was not planning which caused the decline in agricultural fertility in the period before 1939.

Indeed, except for what is called the golden age of agriculture in the 1850's and 1870's, when it was under unrestricted free enterprise—this is not a party point; it is historically true—agriculture was always subordinate to the needs of industry and commerce. It was not until the war in 1914 that the nation recognised the importance of the farming community and the need to protect our agricultural acres. In the inter-war period the drift set in. I have quoted figures which have been given by responsible agricultural specialists, showing how agricultural acreage has declined in that inter-war period. That was because of the absence of planning.

Sir H. Williams

Does the hon. Member remember, in 1906, members of his party going along the streets carrying big and little loaves on poles?

Mr. Peart

I can remember a later period when the hon. Member's party were responsible for the repeal of the Corn Production Act, in 1921.

Sir H. Williams

That was Lloyd George.

Mr. Peart

Supported by hon. Members opposite. I can remember the decline of agriculture and the decrease in soil fertility in this country in the inter-war period when the party opposite were in power. That is why the farming community of this country even now are pleading for a long-term policy and for some assurances on this matter.

That is why it was left to a Labour Government to lay down conditions of good estate management and good husbandry, and to provide the necessary security through the Act of 1947. But that is another matter, and I do not want to stress it too much except to say, as the Motion itself says, that if we are thinking in terms of soil fertility we must consider agricultural policy and the people who, after all, protect the land and make it more or less fertile as the case may be.

While this debate does not range over the broad aspect of agricultural policy as such, we must certainly consider this problem. The hon. Member for Devizes mentioned the depopulation of the countryside. That is certainly a serious matter, but even more serious is the fact that there has been a decrease in the number of regular workers employed in agriculture this year.

That is a vital matter because, in the end, it is the regular labour force, the farmers and the farm workers, who protect the fertility of our soil. The Government are not certain about this matter. On 11th November last year I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he could give the reasons for the rapid decrease in the number of regular workers in agriculture. He replied that it was due to mechanisation. I was not satisfied with his answer, so I put a Question to the Minister of Agriculture from whom I certainly received a more sensible answer because he knew the facts better than did the Chancellor. He said that it was because of competition for labour from other industries and the call-up of young farm workers.

We are faced with a very serious problem and one which we should examine very carefully. I hope that we shall receive answers to these questions. Again, if land goes out of cultivation, how are we to restore it? That is a question I would put to the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford.

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

I said very clearly, and I will say it again if the hon. Gentleman could not grasp it, that once this land is destroyed for development it is destroyed for ever.

Mr. Peart

Not the land that was neglected in that inter-war period, or the land which was lost through bad husbandry, lack of capital equipment, fertilisers and because farmers went bankrupt. Much of that land was actually brought back into cultivation during the last war. More of that land can still be brought back into cultivation, but that can only be done if we have a sensible long-term agricultural policy.

That is not just the view of a Socialist Member of Parliament; that is the view of the National Farmers' Union which the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford so eloquently defended. It is even the view of the "Farmers' Weekly." In an extremely interesting article on 13th February, the editor of that journal described the uncertainty in agriculture and the need for a policy, the importance of planning and of giving security. Above all, agriculture needs financial credit so that we may not only win back the acres which have been lost, but develop the marginal land areas which are so important.

Cheap credits were promised by the party opposite in their agricultural charter, but so far they have not been forthcoming. In fact, the very reverse has been the policy adopted by the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As a result, organisations like the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, are feeling the effect of that policy. Instead of providing adequate raw materials for drainage purposes, the Minister of Agriculture, in the first debate in this House under the new regime, announced a cut of 15 per cent. He also announced a cut in agricultural machinery.

If we are to win back this land and restore the balance, and if we are to develop our countryside, then, as hon. Members have said on previous occasions, we must give the farmers the tools with which to do the job. So far, despite what has been said by responsible Ministers, and even by the Prime Minister when he ventures to speak on an agricultural matter, the whole tendency of the Government has been to reverse the policy of giving to the farming community the security, the machinery and the tools with which to do the job.

Some people say, "Let us remove planning; let us restore freedom and have greater flexibility." But if we were to do that, it would only lead, as the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) should know, to depression in agriculture. As a farmer he should know better. He should know what happened to British agriculture in the inter-war years, and not only in those years, but in the period emphasised by the hon. Member for Devizes, the period of cheap food, when we brought it in from outside so that industry could pay cheaper wages to the workers. As I say, except for that golden period in agriculture and except for the Agriculture Act, 1947, agriculture in this country has always been subordinated to the needs of commerce and industry.

Mr. Crouch


Mr. Peart

It is no good the hon. Member denying it.

Mr. Crouch

Not by people sitting on these benches. We repeatedly lost Elections because we wanted to give protection to agriculture and industry. We were beaten by the Radicals sitting on the benches opposite.

Mr. Peart

The first thing a Labour Government did when they came into power was to give security to the industry which the hon. Member's Government are already trying to remove. The Labour Government introduced the 1947 Act. They not only gave security to the farmer, but also to the farm worker through the Wages Regulation Act.

Brigadier O. L. Prior - Palmer (Worthing)

Stick to the point.

Mr. Peart

I am sticking to the point. We are discussing agriculture. I am trying to make a debating speech. Surely there is nothing wrong in that. Too many speeches are read in this House, and I am trying to live up to a better tradition, so I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman can complain if I pursue an argument.

I agree with the Motion, and I believe that we must protect our acreage. I also believe that we must avoid taking good agricultural land for industrial purposes if land of less value agriculturally can be found. I believe that we can only protect the fertility of our soil and develop the acres which we have lost in a previous age if we have a sound agricultural policy backed by financial assistance in the form of credits or otherwise, and by the supply of adequate raw materials, fertilisers, machinery, steel, and the development of effective water supplies for drainage purposes, and a host of other vital things. We can only improve our land and develop it if we have that. I therefore hope that today we shall have something more forthcoming from the Government, in reply to some of the points I have mentioned.

While we may disagree internally as to the party emphasis, I agree that we all accept the view that it is not only a national problem but a world problem. That has been stressed by hon. Members today. We have not the great problems of soil erosion which they have in Africa, and which was described by the late General Smuts as a greater problem than politics. We have not some of the great problems which affect countries like India and some parts of the Commonwealth, but we have a problem affecting our own land through development and lack of agricultural policy. We need to emphasise agriculture and give it a priority. If there are tendencies in Government policy to the contrary every hon. Member should express his opposition.

1.12 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I think the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) has quite rightly desired to make a debating speech. I regret that in some respects he brought what we might call a very distinct party flavour into the debate—a flavour which had been carefully avoided, more particularly by the mover and seconder of the Motion, but also by every hon. Member, on each side of the House, who has spoken since.

We are facing a problem which the House as a whole recognises is a conflict of two very necessary things—a conflict between the absolute necessity for preserving the food productive resources of our island and also for allowing an adequate development for industry and, more particularly, for housing. I thought that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) most carefully paid attention to both aspects in a most racy and invigorating speech, which was enjoyed in all sections of the House.

The difficulty with which we are faced will not be conjured away by the inclusion or exclusion of the Minister of Agriculture from the actual Cabinet. I have had the opportunity of sitting in the Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture as, indeed, Mr. Speaker also had. But, believe me, these matters are thrashed out in conferences and committees of Ministers. These matters are very carefully considered on an altogether more intensive and technical level than that of the Cabinet. What finally sways the decision of the Government one way or the other is the climate of opinion, and that is what we are producing here. The purpose of these debates is to produce the pressure of public opinion by which only Ministers finally decide and according to which Ministers and Governments eventually act. Fighting against the climate of opinion, no Minister can get his way. With the climate of opinion mobilised on his behalf, his views prevail; and that is what we are seeking to do here.

Before I leave the hon. Member for Workington, may I say that his history was lamentably at fault? His ignorance of agriculture was strikingly manifest. His views about planning in the interwar years were staggeringly out of agreement with the facts of the case. Few people have better reason to know than I, who was Minister for some of those years, the constant, solid, unshaken intervention of the Labour Party against any attempt to give any kind of security or assistance to agriculture.

Mr. Peart

The right hon. and gallant Member mentions his own responsibility, and he certainly had a responsibility. He should also know that in that inter-war period a considerable amount of good agricultural land went out of cultivation when the party of the right hon. and gallant Member had full power and when they were the responsible Government. The right hon. and gallant Member is himself ignoring history because he knows be had responsibility for that history.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has said that the purpose of interrupting is to deal with some point which has been brought out and not to make a second speech.

Mr. Peart

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman often does that.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The hon. Member cannot get away from the fact that we brought in Measure after Measure to deal with the difficulties of agriculture, and in that the climate of opinion of which I was speaking was consistently warped against agriculture by the solid and unwavering opposition of the party opposite claiming to speak for the working class of this country.

Mr. Peart

That is not true.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The hon. Member cannot get away with that. I will give him example after example and allow him to deal with them. Sugar— the sugar beet industry of this country, if left to hon. Members opposite, would have been destroyed. Does the hon. Member deny that? He does not. Wheat—if the wheat subsidy had been left to hon. Members opposite it would have been destroyed. Does the hon. Member deny that? When I brought in the milk for schools Act the present Leader of the Opposition led his party into the Lobby against it. Does the hon. Member deny that? He cannot.

Mr. Peart


Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

Order. I think we are getting a little beyond the Motion.

Mr. Peart

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman challenged me, Sir.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I am perfectly willing to give way if the hon. Member wishes to answer any of the three challenges I have put.

Mr. Peart

The right hon. and gallant Member is making challenges which would mean, if I answered them, I should have to make a speech and you would criticise me, Sir Charles, for delivering it. Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman deny that his party were responsible for the repeal of the Corn Production Act, which gave a minimum of security to agriculture in the inter-war period? His party were against it.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Well, really! I will not give way again. I was challenged on my particular responsibility and I gave the hon. Member —

Mr. Peart

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman answer me?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

—three separate, solid, examples and he ran to an Act passed in the period of the Coalition when the Prime Minister was Mr. Lloyd George—[An HON. MEMBER: "And the Tory Party were in power."]—when in fact I voted against the Measure in question. Let him brush up his facts before he comes to the House of Commons. This sort of stuff is all very well on a platform in Workington, but let him know his facts when he comes to the House of Commons where they may be dealt with. The fact is

Mr. Peart

It is easy to do that.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Obviously it is easy; it has silenced the hon. Member.

Mr. Peart

It has not silenced me. Will the right hon. and gallant Member give way?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Not again. The hon. Member has already—

Mr. Peart


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the right hon. and gallant Member does not give way, the hon. Member must resume his seat.

Mr. Peart

On a point of order —

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No point of order can arise at this juncture. Lieut.Colonel Elliot.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Probably many of the hordes of hon. Members opposite who are panting to get into the debate and crowding into the Chamber—the whole three, or rather two—will be willing to rush to the support of the hon. Member. I shall be interested to hear their remarks, but I do not think they will deny that the votes, speeches and actions of hon. Members opposite were consistently cast against any attempt to give security to agriculture in any shape or form in the years between the wars —

Mr. Peart

That is completely untrue.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Already I have given the hon. Member two opportunities to contradict me, in which he failed

Mr. Peart

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman accused me of making a speech.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I did not accuse the hon. Gentleman of making a speech. I asked him to give examples, which he failed to give —

Mr. Peart

Get on with your speech.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I am interested to find that the hon. Member is incapable of contradicting any of the specific examples which I have given. The hon. Member claimed to be making a debating speech, and I was attempting to follow the excellent example he gave of wishing to have a certain amount of cut-and-thrust. But it is one of the difficulties with hon. Members opposite that they are so thin-skinned and sensitive that while they are quite willing to hand it out, they are not willing to take it. This is a place where we have to give it as well as take it.

If it is handed out in the way in which the hon. Member for Workington handed it out, he cannot complain if it is handed back to him. Or rather handed back to his party. Nothing personal was said. He spoke on behalf of his party, and it was the record of his party which I attacked. I think it will be found that it is difficult for him, or any of his hon. Friends, to substantiate their claim that the record of the Labour Party for the years between the wars was in favour of a measure of security to agriculture, and that they did not oppose Measure after Measure brought forward for that specific purpose by the Conservative Government, and supported by the mass of hon. Members on this side of the House.

Mr. Paget

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that very often, and we have said it is untrue. The truth of the matter is that the only idea of the party opposite about supporting agriculture was by subsidies at the expense of the consumer. Right from 1926 the Marketing Acts which we fathered brought in the proposal that agriculture should work on the basis of guaranteed prices. That was what was eventually accepted, and that has been Labour Party policy since 1926.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Really! I should have thought that the hon. and learned Member, who claims to have some knowledge of agriculture, would have been a little better informed than that. His Agricultural Marketing Act was absolutely useless until it was completed by my Agricultural Marketing Act. Nor would his guaranteed prices be of the slightest use without that subsidy element in them, and if a subsidy had not been granted of course the Labour Party agricultural policy would not be worth the paper on which it was written. Guaranteed prices and all those things were part of a very much larger policy pursued over a very much larger number of years, and, in its early stages consistently and wholeheartedly opposed by the party opposite.

There is a certain danger, however, that we may be drawn away from the important purpose of our debate today, which is not merely to discuss agricul- tural policy—though I agree that is indispensable—but to discuss the difficulty with which, without any division of party in this House, we are faced— the shortage of agricultural land, the inroads upon that invaluable and irreplaceable asset of ours, already in short supply, and the way in which they can be combated.

It is true to say that industry is not of necessity the enemy of agriculture. Certainly in this country we shall have to work the two together. It is most interesting to note that the one place in Western Europe where agricultural production has halted, and is no greater than before the war, is Ireland. Many of the accusations which are being made just now about the drift of labour from the land are being reiterated in Ireland. The lack of interest in the land is one of the complaints in Ireland.

The Roman Catholic Coadjutor Bishop of Cork is reported in "The Times" of 2nd August, 1952, as saying: Everywhere I go in the rural parts of my diocese the same sad spectacle presents itself of falling population, falling marriage and birth rate. Rural Ireland is stricken and dying and the will to marry and live on the land is almost gone. That is a very odd and interesting statement from an authority which cannot be challenged; certainly an authority who is making that statement without any idea of its repercussion upon the politics of this country.

Somehow or other the industry of this country must certainly have its opportunity, as well as agriculture. The difficulty is to marry these two together. It is certainly vital that we maintain and greatly increase our agricultural output, and quickly. A reference, but only a passing reference, has been made to the world situation. It is very desirable that we should again and again emphasise the world situation, because the increasing pressure of population upon the food resources of the world has not been fully appreciated.

The world population is going up by 700,000 every 10 days. Five of those enormous increments of population have taken place since this year began and it is only mid-February. That pressure is coming upon a world potential agricultural area which already is tiny. It is 15 acres per person. That is all there is in the world per head of population today. Of that, one acre is at the North Pole and one at the South Pole and they are not likely to be a lot of use to any of us in the time immediately ahead.

We are losing, each of us, one acre of that plot every 10 years. Such is the pressure of the population, such is the rate at which world increases are going on—and they are only beginning. The population of the East is reaching what has been called the explosion point. When that point was reached in this country we expanded 400 per cent. in 100 years, a four-fold increase. Even were it only doubled, the world would have to face a doubling of this enormous population within the next century. I do not believe that even yet, in spite of all that has been said, we are fully seized of the importance of that movement.

The pressure is now actually beginning to diminish and not to increase the standard of living of Eastern populations. Twenty years ago it was reckoned that their intake was 2,000 calories per head. Today it has gone down to 1,700 calories per head. It has not risen, it has fallen. Malthus has come to life again. The ghost has risen from the grave and clothed itself in flesh and blood. The pressure of population, the geometrical increase of population, against the arithmetical increase of agricultural production, is actually taking place. Any further development of this theme would take us far beyond the actual means before us. But it is that bleak fact which brings enormous and immediate urgency upon the debate we are having today, and upon the methods we must take to deal with the problem which it raises.

Many speeches have been made suggesting that much agricultural land could be restored to agricultural use. I think that is so. I think we should try to use, as the formula for that, the old forestry formula of re-planting what is taken. if we take a piece of land we should make a piece of land. If for every town that was designed it had to be shown where agricultural land could be brought into service to replace that which was being taken away, either nearby or more distant, it would cause a new angle of approach to many of the demands which are made on land today.

If we accepted as a slogan that any one who was withdrawing agricultural land from circulation must replace it, either nearby or elsewhere, by an equal area of agricultural land, we should have a formula which would act as a measuring rod of the importance of the demands made. The agricultural areas certainly could be extended round the coast, as has been mentioned, by developing marginal land, and by the reconditioning of some of the land which has suffered from the destruction which has gone on in past generations.

I think also that the use of this formula would lead to a new emphasis upon the more intensive use of land within the cities themselves. It is true that many of my town planning friends are much against high building. They say that it is more expensive and less satisfactory than the spread-out development. That may be so, but if it were tested by that touchstone of "How much land will you replace for that which you are taking away? "we might find it not so expensive and not so disadvantageous to develop, if necessary, upwards, to avoid too great a financial demand on those who were removing the land from circulation and had to replace it elsewhere.

In our cities there are many areas which are not yet fully developed. I speak of my own city of Glasgow. In my constituency we have one of the most crowded areas in the world. It is badly in need of a great development of housing, but there are areas in my constituency upon which building of a type which would be greatly appreciated by the local population could take place if we were to build upwards instead of trying to deport the people miles away into the country. There are dockside populations who want to live adjacent to their work. They have a ready made open space before them in the great river, the Firth of Clyde, which never could be built up.

It would require not merely steel building, but lifts and proper means of access. Many of my constituents would be only too glad if they could get into a building where every floor was a ground floor and where they had access by lift to every portion of the building, instead of having to climb up several flights of tenement stairs or to take a tram or bus journey for miles into the suburbs to sleep and to return from there whenever they wish to go to work.

I am sure that intensive development of our cities is one of the ways in which to avoid making too great demands upon agricultural land. But, apart from that, agricultural land will certainly be eroded away by the needs of building and of industry. Let us take the simple formula, in that case, that any one in Britain who tries to take a piece of land should show where and how an equivalent piece of land could be made available. That would show to those who are seeking to make such developments that it is not enough merely to take a piece of agricultural land and hope that somebody else will provide another piece to replace it. The person who destroys the piece of land—or the town or the industry which takes the land—should have imposed upon him the responsibility to restore to the general use and general circulation an area equivalent to that which has been removed.

Many hon. Members wish to speak, and I do not wish to trespass unduly upon the time of the House, especially since one of the difficulties of debating speeches is that they lead to prolongation of the individual efforts because of the enthusiastic co-operation of many who wish to join in the debate while the speech is in progress. I apologise if I have trespassed on the time of the House, but as one who has had the responsibility both of Minister of Agriculture and of Minister of Housing, I say that the problem is one which will be solved not by legislation or by the wishes of Ministers but by the climate of public opinion. That is what we are attempting to form today, and in that endeavour my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) has done a great service by bringing this subject before the House.

1.36 p.m.

Mr. P. Bartley (Chester-le-Street)

So far, the speeches have dealt mainly with the loss of agricultural land through building development. I wish to discuss another aspect which arises in the coalfield areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) spoke of land occupied by colliery pitheads and other difficulties in these areas. I do not intend to make a debating speech. I hope to win some support and interest among the Ministers concerned.

There is the problem of the damage to agricultural land by opencast working. This was much more difficult a few years ago. Experience has enabled us to reduce the damage to agricultural land. I have seen a good deal of this opencast working in the last two or three years, and I pay tribute to the contractors engaged today. They are making a better job of the restoration of the land than that which appeared to be done two or three years ago.

I wish to discuss the problem, which I have mentioned before in this House, of damage to agricultural land by coal mining subsidence. I regret that there has not been any effective response to the appeals I have made. This is a serious problem. Nearly four years have elapsed since the Report of the committee which inquired into the damage caused by coal mining subsidence. That committee made recommendations about agricultural land, but neither the last Government nor the present one. although I have questioned the appropriate Ministers, have shown any readiness to implement the recommendations of the committee.

I do not suggest that those recommendations provide a final solution which would achieve the immediate restoration of land which has been lost; but I maintain that one of the two recommendations, namely, that which deals with damage-free tenancy agreements would, if implemented, begin to deal with the problem. Some hon. Members will recall that this recommendation was that the existing tenancy agreements should be allowed to run their course but that in future, when any farm was being let. the tenancy agreement should give the farmer a right to claim against crop damage as a result of coal mining subsidence. That would be a beginning.

Despite these recommendations, the problem continues. I am not criticising the National Coal Board, who are merely following a practice which had been adopted before nationalisation but, to give an example of the extent to which the problem continues, in Durham County, my own county, the Durham Divisional Coal Board own 553 farms and yet only in six cases has the farmer the right to claim against crop damage as a result of coal mining subsidences. The remaining 547 have no right of that kind at all in their tenancy agreements. Apparently there is no intention, unless the Government take action, of ending this system whereby a farmer has no rights to claim against crop damage under his tenancy agreement.

It is difficult to give a statistical picture of the extent to which agricultural land has been lost through coal mining subsidence. Two years ago the National Farmers' Union sent a deputation into Durham County to see this damage. At the time they estimated that 10,000 acres of land had been damaged and had either been lost altogether to agriculture or were producing only inferior crops. If hon. Gentlemen would like to see a clearer picture of the evidence, I would inform them that some of my friends in agriculture are so concerned about the problem that they have had many photographs taken of examples of this damage, and I have here an album containing these photographs. Looking at some of them hon. Members would think they were looking at views of the Lake District instead of agricultural areas in the coal fields, for they show acres of land under water and not being used for agriculture.

From discussions which I have had, and also as a result of having mentioned the matter in the House previously, it is clear that the problem is not appreciated by people outside the coal mining areas, not even by men who are farming outside the coal mining areas. I hope my speech this afternoon may have some effect in bringing about a more earnest and widespread realisation of the difficulties because, unless something effective is done about this loss of agricultural land, which is taking place year after year in our coal fields, speeches such as that made by the Minister in Newcastle a week today cannot sound very sincere in the ears of farmers who listen.

I have met some who listened to him, and this is the thought which crossed their mind: he is appealing to them to increase agricultural production, yet, at the same time, land and farms are slipping away from them. This is very discouraging. I know of cases in which farmers in my own area are doing their utmost to get away from agriculture in the district because they are sick and tired of the effect of coal mining subsidence. They are trying to give up their farms. That sort of thing does not increase the amount of agricultural land in the district.

I am not criticising the National Coal Board. In my opinion, a beginning can be made by implementing the recommendation of the Turner Committee Report, but more than that has to be done if we are to deal with the problem, and it has to be done as quickly as possible. The extent of the damage and the cost of meeting the damage is too great for the National Coal Board to bear. This is not the problem of one industry; to some extent, at least, it should be a national problem.

Perhaps I might remind hon. Members of the principle upon which we implemented the recommendation of the Turner Committee about dwelling houses in the Act of 1950. There, the Government made a contribution towards the cost, and the Coal Board also made a contribution. We might find an effective solution to this problem along those lines.

Perhaps I may emphasise the size of the problem. Although, as I have said, very few farmers have the right to claim against crop damage, the amounts paid by one Divisional Coal Board run to many thousand pounds. If we multiplied that, and if all farmers had the right to claim against crop damage, it would be impossible for the coal mining industry, and indeed unfair, to meet the whole of the cost. I therefore urge upon the Minister that he should give serious and urgent consideration to action along the lines of the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act, 1950, at least for the financial arrangements, although other aspects will have to be dealt with differently.

It is unjust and wrong that the present relationship should exist between these two important industries. Coal and food are of equal importance in our society and it is wrong that, in pursuing its legitimate trade and interests, one industry should be destroying an equally important industry in the coal field areas. I feel that the Government should give that very serious attention.

I have given a picture of the kind of damage which is to be seen in our coalfields. I urge, first of all, that the Government should consider implementing the Turner Committee's recommendations about the terms of the tenancy agreements and also those which urge that the agricultural land which came into the hands of the National Coal Board should be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. The last recommendation is not made merely with the idea of increasing the extent of nationalisation. I believe that under such an arrangement we are more likely to get the right interest and concern in agriculture in those areas.

I can understand that the primary concern of the Coal Board is that of extracting coal. Its agricultural interests are very much less important to the Board than the primary concern of extracting coal. I do not criticise the Coal Board for that; they much be concerned only secondarily with maintaining agricultural land. If the Minister of Agriculture owned the land, farmers would be much happier to be the direct tenants of the Ministry. We should then be assured that the agricultural aspect of the land was being borne in mind all the time.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Coal Board both own the land and let it to farmers as landlord of the land?

Mr. Bartley

The National Coal Board do own land, and have a number of estates. In some cases farmers are their tenants, and in some cases farmers are their sub-tenants, but in such cases the National Coal Board is not directly concerned with the agricultural interests of the land. That is the point I was trying to make.

The Minister of Agriculture, I think, should, and usefully could, take some effective action for improving the drainage systems in those areas where subsidence takes place. Where it takes place drainage is often broken, and it is then that those areas become flooded and crops are lost, and after a few years of that sort of thing the land can no longer be used for agriculture. It becomes overgrown with bullrushes and other weeds, and there is loss of agriculture.

Unfortunately, there is no representative of the Ministry of Agriculture here at the moment. I had wanted to tell him that I have seen examples only recently of land being lost through want of proper drainage, and, although I am not a drainage expert, I admit, I could see no reason why an effective drainage system was not installed, to save many acres of land. I have seen instances of this near and outside my own division. These conditions are discouraging farmers in those places. There is a need, I assure the Government, for some vigorous policy for installing effective drainage systems in those areas to save loss of land.

Linked with the question of damage done by coal mining subsidence is the need for more vigorous observing of the rules of good estate management, because want of this aggravates the difficulties. Through county agricultural committees the Minister of Agriculture could do an effective job to increase the amount of fertile agricultural land in use in those parts of the country.

I think that in these instances not only the Minister of Agriculture but also the Minister of Fuel and Power has responsibility to implement the Turner Committee's Report, which was issued almost four years ago now. I ask the Minister of Agriculture, in particular, to give very active attention to the importance of promoting and in some cases extending drainage systems, and in other cases of changing the drainage systems, in the areas affected by coal mining subsidence. While other development must inevitably mean some sacrifice of agricultural land,. this loss arising from coal mining subsidence need not be a permanent loss to our agriculture. The land can be restored; it can be maintained.

In the last 18 months I submitted a practical scheme concerning one particular area of many acres where, at one extreme, there was a refuse heap from a colliery, and at the other, a few hundred yards away, some heavy plant and machinery of opencast workings. There could have been a practical job done by using the machinery to lift the top soil and subsoil, and to fill in the holes with refuse from the colliery heap. That could have been done with little expenditure of capital. It is a job that, no doubt will be done a few years hence, but at a much greater expenditure of capital then, than would have been required to have done it when I suggested it.

In the coalfields in other parts of the country there are many examples of that sort, and I think that the Ministers concerned could and should do a practical job in putting those things right. Neither the Ministry of Fuel and Power nor the National Coal Board dealt with their obligations in this particular case at the time I mentioned it.

Coal is important: but so is food, I should say that they are of equal importance. It should not be that one industry pursues its production at the expense of destroying the basis of the other. I hope I have not made any kind of party point in this speech. I did not wish to do so. I wanted only to convince the Government that this is an urgent matter, and that it is causing discouragement and frustration among farmers, and loss of land and food production in the coalfields.

I hope that in my speech I have not appeared to have attacked the National Coal Board. They carry a legacy from the past. I see the practical difficulties from the Board's point of view. This loss of agricultural land is, in any case, a national responsibility, and not one for just one industry. It is a responsibility which should be undertaken by the Government, and I hope that, as a result of our debate today, in which there has been general agreement, something will be done by the Ministers concerned in the matter.

1.58 p.m.

Mi. J. B. Godber (Grantham)

The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley) has just spoken with great sincerity about one particular aspect of the loss of agricultural land. It is one of which he has very close knowledge, and I am sure that all of us in all parts of the House concerned about the loss of agricultural land have heard his viewpoint with great sympathy. I am sure that my hon. Friend who replies to the debate for the Government will deal with it. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him in discussing that particular aspect of the case, because my own knowledge of it is extremely small, and I should like to return to what I think was in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) when he moved his Motion.

I should like to revert to what seems to me to be the more direct loss of fertile agricultural land through good land being broken up by the bulldozer to make way for new building, and development of that kind. It is quite clear that it is in building, and house-building in particular, that the largest amount of development will take place in the future, at any rate for some considerable time to come. That is why I think we should apply our minds most particularly to trying to make some saving in the amount of the loss of land in that respect.

There must obviously be some loss of agricultural land, however much we regret it. Unfortunately, all too often the land that is taken is some of the best agricultural land available, instead of—as many of us believe should be the case—some of the poorer land, even though that may mean that the building plots are more inconveniently placed. In that connection, it is valuable to recall the words of the Minister of Housing and Local Government in September last year, when he issued a memorandum to local authorities, in which he said, among other things: Where possible authorities must build on poorer land, fill gaps in existing development and utilise new housing sites to the full. The Minister recognises that to select poorer land in preference to good land may involve higher development costs. The question at what stage the additional cost may make the choice of an alternative site uneconomic must depend on the particular case. It is to the stage at which it becomes uneconomic that I should like to look for a moment, because we must remember that when land is taken from agriculture it is taken permanently, and there is a cumulative effect sustained in the loss of food from that land, whereas building on land requiring greater cost to develop is a single cost item for that job. I have tried to get some very rough figures of how this would work out in practice, and it seems that the annual production for moderately fertile arable land could be placed at a value of £30 to £50 an acre. That is certainly not an exaggeration.

If this land is taken away at the present time, or at any time we can foresee, the food thus lost must be replaced by imported food, often from dollar sources. If 50,000 acres are lost every year—that is a figure that has been generally accepted as the annual loss—it means a loss of agricultural production to the value of £1½ million a year. That is a cumulative figure, so that after 10 years the loss will rise to £15 million a year on the land taken over that period. I emphasise that the food so lost must be replaced by dollar food.

If it costs an extra £100 or £200 an acre to develop an alternative site, although it seems a large figure, it is a single cost, and the payment, even taking it at the higher figure of £200 an acre, would amount to an extra £10 million a year for the 50,000 acres. That is a continuing figure at that level, so that after 10 years a loss of agricultural production of £15 million a year, which is increasing each year, has to be set against that cost of £10 million. It is necessary to bring this matter into proportion in view of the difficulty experienced today because of the financial consideration in choosing housing sites, and I hope that this aspect will be borne in mind.

I have in mind, particularly, a case in my own constituency at this moment. The Borough of Grantham is seeking to develop a site and build a large number of houses. I am as anxious as anybody that it should succeed in doing so, but it is seeking to acquire land from one side of the town which the farming community say has a high agricultural value, whereas on the other side of the town there is land which is of low agricultural value, and almost uncultivatable. In the view of the local authority, however, the cost of developing that land would be too high to justify it. That is exactly the sort of case which I think my right hon. Friend had in mind when he issued the circular I read. It is the sort of case to which sympathetic consideration should be given, so that poorer quality land can be chosen. That seems to me the most practical way in which to deal with this problem. Obviously we cannot prevent development, but it must be switched to poorer land.

For a moment I should like to deal with the use of land once it has been acquired for development, because in far too many cases land is not used to the full, particularly in the case of housing since the war. In a previous debate I made known my view that housing density per acre should be at least 12 houses to the acre. That is a figure which has now appeared, I am glad to say, in official documents. But I gave that as a minimum, and I hope that even higher densities will be considered. Since the war there have been many lay-outs in which the houses have been six to eight to the acre. That, to me, is a complete waste of land.

There are very wide verges to the roads; the gardens are larger than the average person requires or desires, and arc often a burden to the occupiers; and all this involves a large increase in the cost of laying on the main services required for the houses. If the number of houses to the acre were doubled, that would mitigate against the extra cost when developing rather unsuitable land, and the whole thing would balance out in that way.

None of us wants to go back to the old type of long narrow roads of back-to-back houses which so disfigure many of our industrial towns, but I am sure that we have now gone too far in the other direction. We must get back to a reasonable balance, and I hope that further consideration will be given to that. so that when layouts are considered even 14 or 16 houses to the acre would not be thought excessive.

Mr. Paget

Why does that save land? With eight houses to the acre there are larger gardens, and gardens are more productive in horticulture than that land would be in agriculture.

Mr. Godber

That is a very interesting point. I happen to be a horticulturist myself, and I know a little about the use of gardens. While I freely admit that in the hands of those who understand the problem gardens can produce at a higher rate, I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman would pretend that the average garden produces more than when the land is in agricultural use.

If I may quote an instance, in my own village eight council houses were built two years ago covering exactly one acre of land, but one of those gardens has never yet been dug, although the house has been occupied for two years. The tenant just did not want the garden. In several of the others there has obviously been great difficulty in getting the gardens turned over, and the production is not being obtained from that acre of land that was being obtained before. I am sure that is general. Many people do not want big gardens, and I am certain that we shall not get from them the production the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to imagine will be obtained.

In the building of schools, again I think there has, in many cases, been gross waste of land. There has been built up the habit of building schools of one storey only, and I cannot see why. I can well understand the need for bungalows for old people, but my experience of children does not show that they are incapable of running up and down stairs. Indeed, that might use up a little of their surplus energy. By buildings schools of more than one storey we should need a much smaller area than is at present being used for some of the new schools. I hope that that also will be borne in mind.

One other point which I should like to mention concerns waste land which now exists in many agricultural areas— land that has been used for the extraction of minerals, and I am thinking of sand and gravel in particular. The extraction is not to any great depth, and it should not be very costly to restore that land to agricultural use. I can see that that is impossible with regard to certain types of mineral development, but in the case of sand and gravel pits, it is a normal condition under legislation at the present time that the land so used must be restored.

There were vast acres exploited in this way before that legislation came into force, and when there was no compulsion on anyone to restore the land. That land is left derelict and idle at the present time and is nothing but an eyesore, but it could be brought back into cultivation. Whose responsibility it is to bring it back into cultivation I do not know, but I think it should be the responsibility of some Ministry. Even if public money has to be spent on restoring this land, it would be worth while spending money to bring it into agricultural cultivation. I hope that that point will also be given consideration.

In conclusion, I should like to mention the development plans of which we heard a little from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport), in his usual virile style. I can sympathise a good deal with what he said. I think the idea of a development plan is right, but it may be that that development plan was started at a time when we did not fully realise how serious was this question of the loss of agricultural land and insufficient attention had been paid to that particular point.

I would say by all means have a development plan, but let it be realistic, and let us realise that in this country, just as much if not more than in any other, we have to conserve all the land which is fit for agricultural use. If we faced this question in that way I am certain that a great deal of valuable work could be done. I urge my hon. Friend to do all that he can to try to reduce this tremendous drain on valuable agricultural land. Let us use the non-productive land to the utmost and make quite sure that if good land is taken the most effective possible use is made of it.

2.13 p.m.

Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)

This debate has ranged over a very wide field, but I want to extend its range somewhat before I sit down. Hon. Members have raised many points of varying degrees of interest. The hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) laid about him in characteristic style when referring to the planners. Yet there is no greater planner in this world than the farmer, and the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford showed us what planning could do in Cheshire with regard to agricultural production.

I disagree with the attacks which are made on the planners and on the various Ministries, because I feel that the Departments are as earnest in their outlook on the value of land as Members of Parliament. But they are under pressure from Members of Parliament and from the Government to produce plans for schools, houses and roads, and the only place where they can develop those plans is on the land. So I feel that we have to Look at this problem from the point of view of finding out whether we can prevent waste.

The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) raised a very interesting point, but I failed completely to see how it could be worked. He said that if an authority took an area of agricultural land, they should be compelled to replace that area of agricultural land by another area of land which could be brought into production. Surely the point is that we have not sufficient land. If an authority had within their bounds an area of land which they could bring into production, should they not use that land for the purposes of housing and so forth within their boundaries? Where are they to get the other area of land to compensate for that which they are taking?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I think that we might consider this on a wider scale than the actual confines of a local authority itself. I agree that the City of London has no land to spare, but in the development of a new town equivalent resources should be found to develop a piece of land to replace the land which is being withdrawn from agricultural use. That obviously requires a great deal of working out. I threw it out as my contribution to the debate.

Mr. Kenyon

I think that it will require some working out, because I cannot see how the compensation is going to work at all. I will, however, leave that point.

Coming to the question of houses. I feel that there are places where we are not making the best use of the houses which we already have. I would ask the Minister if inquiries have ever been made to find out how many family houses there are which are occupied by one person. I come up against this question time and again in my constituency, where people come to me because they cannot get houses. They cite instances where a family house is occupied by one person. I know that it is very difficult to make an exchange, but I feel that there could be schemes worked out by the local authorities and by the Ministry, as well as by private landlords, under which a person who occupies a family house could be placed in a small flat and the family house used by a family. I think that there is a great deal of waste in that respect.

I come to my second point. I, like many other hon. Members, feel that we have to overcome in the provinces the prejudice which exists against the building of blocks of flats. There are many local authorities who, if one mentions the idea of a block of flats, think that one is trying to introduce something distasteful and degrading into their areas. It is nothing of the sort. There are many single people who would be glad—and also many married childless couples—to have an opportunity of a flat.

Moreover, if one does not want a garden, it can be a great burden. But those people who have houses with gardens should be compelled to see that the gardens are productive. I have much sympathy with many of them, because the builders of houses usually use the gardens as a tip for all the rubbish, and they have heaps of stones to clear away before they get to the soil but, nevertheless. that land could be used.

If we built more blocks of flats in our provincial towns and cities for single people now living in family houses we should make inroads into the housing problem without any great expenditure. I recognise that it is more costly to build flats but we must balance that against the cost in the long run of losing the land. I believe it is more costly finally to lose the land.

Land which is not farmed to its fullest capacity is equivalent to land which is being wasted. A farmer with 100 acres of land who is farming it to only 50 per cent. of its capacity is equivalent to someone taking 50 acres of land completely out of cultivation. We must insist upon the fullest development of our land.

Under the control of water boards and corporations in this country there are 540,000 acres of land of which not one acre is being farmed to 50 per cent. of its capacity. I am sorry to have to say that local authorities are the most wasteful of all authorities in both land and money, and stricter control ought to be exercised over them. Land for water gathering grounds has been taken in the most audacious manner and laid derelict. In an area I know, not in my constituency, a farmer was disposessed of his land for not farming properly. Across the valley were 2,000 acres of land on which the water board would not allow a single sheep. I cannot understand a Ministry of Agriculture which allows that to occur. It is not a political question; it is a vital question whatever Government is in power.

The report of the committee which examined the question of gathering grounds is most enlightening. It examined 420,000 acres under various water hoards, corporations and companies, and came to the conclusion that, as a member of one of the water boards, I have put to various Ministries from time to time and which I put to the Ministry of Agriculture during the war. If the rivers and the brooks running into the reservoirs are properly fenced so that animals cannot stand in them—that is where the pollution occurs—there will be no pollution. Where such conditions have been applied, no water board has ever produced water which has been shown by test to be polluted. Pollution of water in this country has never been caused by animals but always by human beings.

The committee said, in paragraph 57 of its report: Subject as before to the protection of the reservoir itself and its immediate feeders, we consider that the greatest freedom should be allowed to all farming activities, and indeed that it should be regarded as the responsibility of those undertakers who are large landowners not merely to permit but to insist upon the most productive use of their land. Thus, having examined the whole question, the committee recommended that water authorities should insist upon the fullest use of the land. But it is the water authorities themselves which are preventing not merely the fullest use but, in some respects, any use at all of the land. While this waste of 540,000 acres is taking place, how can be make the complaints that we are doing today? We must make everyone aware of this situation. If our land is farmed to its fullest capacity we shall not be in so grave a food production difficulty as we envisage.

A few weeks ago an old farmer and I were examining some land. The farmer told me that when he was a boy there were so many farms on the land and also 380 milking cows. Today the farm buildings are skeletons and the land is growing rushes, cotton grass and bent grass and there is not an animal of any sort on it. This is because water board engineers do not like having on the land farmers whom they have to control; it is far easier for them to pull buildings down and leave land derelict than to have farmers tenanting the land, for they know that the presence of farms would require fences to be erected to safeguard the reservoirs. This is a matter with which the Ministry of Agriculture should deal. If these large areas of land could be brought into production for stock rearing and sheep grazing a great contribution would be made to the food supplies of the nation.

Some authorities permit and insist upon their water gathering grounds being cultivated and properly farmed. When we examine water from the reservoirs of those which allow this to occur and from those which do not allow it, we find no difference at all in the standard. There is nothing better for the purification and filtration of water than soil. If the rivers, brooks and other feeders into the reservoirs are properly fenced all this land could be put to use, whereas at the moment it is deliberately withheld from contributing to the nation's needs.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. Robert Allan (Paddington, South)

Most of the speeches so far in this debate have ranged over a very wide area, and have largely given the point of view of those interested in rural matters. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) has made a very valuable contribution to our debate and a good deal of agricultural land should be made available as a result of his suggestions. But it does not seem to me that his speech met the requirements of the Motion which we are discussing today— how to prevent the incursion into agricultural land through the building of houses.

I should like to make yet another approach to the problem that we are discussing, and speak from the point of view of the urban boroughs and the people who are living in them with their urgent need of housing. Tied up with this debate is the question of the country's food supplies, and however successful our farmers may be in producing food we in this country know that we cannot grow more than about 60 per cent. of the food we need. A great amount has still to be imported, but whether we are able to import the food at economical prices depends very largely on whether our industry is sufficiently efficient to enable us to earn the necessary money.

Looking at this debate from the very broadest point of view. it seems to me that anything which impairs industrial efficiency will restrict the nation's food supplies. Most of the people who work in industry live in our big cities, and there is probably nothing which undermines their efficiency more than bad housing conditions. I am quite sure that there is no Member of this House, particularly one representing an industrial area, who does not know men who have become physical wrecks, quite incapable of productive work because of overcrowding, loss of sleep and ill-health which follows upon bad housing conditions. If the nation is to have home-grown and imported food then it is essential that we should safeguard our agricultural land, but it is also essential that our people should he adequately housed.

It seems to me that this debate gives us an opportunity of trying to reconcile these two conflicting aims. We have heard—I will not go over them again— the arguments against the encroachment on agricultural land, but I should like to add one thought again from the urban point of view and that is the question of travel. There are all sorts of ingenious ways of measuring what is called travel fatigue. Anyone who has travelled on a suburban line at the rush hour will realise that travel fatigue exists in a very full measure, and it must have a very important effect on the loss of efficiency. That in itself seems to me, quite apart from the question of the use of agricultural land, to condemn the policy of populations being decanted into local areas and on to the countryside immediately around such places.

Take, as an example, my own borough of Paddington. It has instituted a five-year residential qualification for those who wish to get on to the local housing lists. Despite this qualification there are over 4,000 people waiting for houses. But there are many thousands who are waiting to qualify to get on to those lists, and I do not think there is any doubt that as housing development proceeds in the borough more people will, in fact. get on to the waiting lists than are removed by the present housing activity. It has been said in a letter which the chairman of the Housing Committee wrote to "The Times" on 31st January that, even if every available site in the borough of Paddington were developed, there would still be many thousands of people waiting to be re-housed.

In what is called a brick-blocked borough like Paddington, there is nowhere to expand, and there has to be expansion outside London. It has been estimated that the slice of a new town that would be required fully to meet the needs of the Paddington housing problem is in the neighbourhood of 700 acres. That is one London borough alone, and although overcrowded not the most overcrowded. Yet it needs over 700 acres to meet its housing requirements. Speaking from the borough point of view the only possible alternative, I believe, is to develop the urban acres to the very fullest possible extent.

In moving this Motion my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) mentioned that I have had some part in the production of a little book called "High Paddington." Although I wrote the foreword for that book and I have been much associated with that scheme, I have no interest whatever to declare in it. This particular proposal refers to a special area but it has a national application. I am not going to talk this afternoon particularly about the Paddington scheme because I want to emphasise the national aspect of a project like this. However, I should say that the idea simply is to build very large blocks of flats over a large area of about 20 acres which at present is used as a goods yard immediately behind Paddington Station.

All that I am trying to show this afternoon is that in its national wide application, the sort of principle which is discussed in this proposal is the only alternative or, at any rate, a very important alternative to the use of rural land. Despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes said in his opening remarks, I do not feel that I would be allowed to discuss this particular scheme in detail since the point of this Motion is to call upon the Government to do everything within their power to minimise the loss of agricultural land, but I hope I will be in order if I just give enough detail to prove that this is a practical step which we are considering.

The first thing that is always mentioned when there is talk about high buildings is, "Will the peculiar clay of London stand such a building?" I might say that the particular model which has been built and the particular example on which we are working is a building of 440 feet, half the size of the Rockfeller centre. The greatest soil expert in the country has given an emphatic answer to that question, for he has said that London soil will take such a building.

The next question has already been raised in this debate, that of density. The County of London Development Plan has recommended that the density in the area which is under discussion should be 200 people to the acre. This particular scheme will be below that, and if it is fully developed it will give a density of 130 to the acre.

In the County of London Plan there is what is called a "deficiency of open spaces" in the Paddington area of just under 100 acres. If the scheme were developed, it would create a park of 100 acres in the middle of this heavily populated area. The question of vulnerability is always raised in connection with schemes like this. The scheme with which I have been associated provides deep shelters from 40 to 60 feet below ground, offering protection for persons not available anywhere else. We should consider vulnerability from a national point of view. In war, are we more vulnerable from the loss of 750 acres than we are by having a few very high buildings?

My last point, on which one or two Members have anticipated me, is to try to prove that the scheme is practicable in cost. The cost of a vertical building is high, particularly on the scale proposed. Vertical buildings must be erected on a big scale or not at all. A series of 12-storey or 15-storey blocks of flats around London is not commensurate with the problem and is far less easy to construct than a really big building of bold design which is commensurate with the problem which we have to face. A vertical building of the size proposed probably costs about twice as much as the equivalent horizontal buildings, say, £20 million as opposed to £10 million.

Revenue from this sort of building does not come by any means only from rent. In the scheme I have been talking about the lower area is devoted to light industries, departmental stores, warehouses and shops, and provides two million square feet which, as the Parliamentary Secretary well knows, would let at 10s. a foot —and that is putting it at a very low figure—in other words, a revenue of £1 million.

This type of construction has the great advantage that people are living above the fog level of London. It includes schoolbuildings, so that the children can all go immediately to school, and there is no question of crossing traffic routes. We have to consider these matters not only in terms of £s. d. but in terms of agriculture, travelling time and amenities. I hope I have said enough to show that this is a practical scheme, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give serious consideration to vertical buildings of this size.

With the continual growth of population in this country our towns have expanded continuously. Indeed, towns have sometimes joined up. If our birthrate became steady, or even slackened off, which is by no means impossible, the reverse process might be expected to take place. Towns can expand easily, but they cannot contract so easily. It is a different problem. First of all, the perimeter of a town would go. Fresh areas would be found which could not be sustained by transport and other public services. Fresh decay would set in, and there would be a general movement back to the centre, leaving, in the outer perimeter, an area of complete desolation, useless, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) said, to man and beast, because land which has been developed in that way cannot be reclaimed.

Before it is too late and before any more rural areas are sacrificed, the hearts of our cities should be redeemed from their present state of decay. We have to encourage the multiple use of every urban acre. Perhaps "multiple use" is a term with which some hon. Members are not familiar. Let me give an example. Piccadilly Circus is well known to us all. At ground level are the roads. Below that is a booking hall and shops. Further down is a railway system and below that another railway system. If we were to bring all that to the surface it would cover a vast expanse.

It seems possible, by vertical building, to give new life and dignity to the centres of our cities. A building does not need to be ugly just because it is big. Through this idea we could save further encroachment upon agricultural land, and I therefore urge the Parliamentary Secretary to look very carefully at the matter. It is not necessary to say to him or his right bon. Friend that such a scheme should not be discarded merely because of a dislike of change or from fear of their own or anybody else's regulations.

2.48 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) for selecting this subject for a Motion. His choice was sound, and his speech was equally sound and we are grateful for it. He did extraordinarily well for a man who has spent so much of his life sitting at the feet of an Oxford professor who said that all our land should become one huge town. When the hon. Member can come here and make such a speech it shows what one can do by getting away from an institution like that.

He rightly stressed the background against which the debate is taking place, the world setting, in which there are no more virgin fields left for us to plunder. We cannot do as our ancestors did in the last century, and the beginning of this century, open up vast virgin lands in order to get the food which we must have. When the terms of trade have turned against us so much we can no longer hope for the cheap food of our pre-war days. Our economy is balanced on a knife edge, and we can hope for greater stability only if we develop to the full our own resources of raw materials and land.

What is the extent of this land problem? It has been computed that in the first half of this century we lost 1,300,000 acres, a direct loss to agriculture. So far as I can compute from the figures, that equals the area of the North Riding of. Yorkshire. If we assume that three quarters of an acre is necessary to feed a human being, in this first half century there has been a loss of food for something like one and three quarter million of our population.

In the inter-war period, when agriculture was a depressed industry, there is no doubt that agricultural land was looked upon largely as something which could be left to the farmer just so long as no more highly profitable use could be made of it. It was left with him until it could be sold to a developer of some sort who would then use it for purposes other than agriculture. I agree that from time to time protests were made about this—I remember some of them— but during the 20 years 1917 to 1937 some ¾ million acres went from the agricultural industry.

We talk about land being ripe for development; that is the phrase we still use, when we really mean that the land is ripe for the sterility of bricks and mortar. It means that we are thinking in the sort of terms in which one would expect an urban population to think. In the period from 1932 to 1936 those were the days when the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was the Minister of Agriculture—I was the chairman of a housing committee, and I had a number of difficulties about building houses that I wanted built in my area.

I ran into all sorts of financial and other difficulties, but throughout that period I never had any difficulty in getting reasonably good agricultural land and purchasing it for the use to which I wanted to put it. I am not blaming the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove or anybody else. It is a question of the difference in approach to what is a very serious matter. In the post-war period—and the war surely taught us something—we thought differently about our land, and much was done.

I feel that I must pay a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) for what he did in trying to reclaim as much of the agricultural land of this country as possible for agriculture. I thought it ill became the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) to talk about my right hon. Friend as he did, when he spoke of him going about like a chicken with the roup. It ill became the hon. and gallant Gentleman to cast such a reflection upon a man who I am sure stands as high as anybody in this country in the eyes of the farmers as well as the rest of the population. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not mean it quite as he said it, but certainly it seemed a bad reflection on a man for whom I have the highest respect.

In the post-war years we have tackled this job of trying to retain as much as possible of the agricultural land for proper agricultural purposes. I do not need to read the instructions and circulars which were issued during this period, and copies of which I have with me. The first that I found was a circular of 1946 which stressed the necessity for all people concerned with planning for development to ensure that agricultural aspects of the use of land were thoroughly considered. and emphasised the need for the utmost consultation, both centrally and in the various planning areas, with rural land utilisation officers and so on.

Then we had the valuable Act of 1947, which gave special recognition to the requirements of agriculture. In 1950. Circular 99 indicated that the Minister of Town and Country Planning and the Minister of Agriculture were still not entirely satisfied with what is being done to retain for agriculture as much land as possible. Indeed, improved arrangements were entered into to ensure that there was adequate consultation at all levels.

It is inevitable that we should hear more of the failures than of the successes of that consultation. There were many successes throughout the whole of this period. For example and these are examples which were given to me during the short time when I was in the Ministry of Agriculture—as a result of representations by the Ministry we saved 317 acres at Crawley, 394 acres at Harlow, 770 acres at Bracknell, 1,050 acres at Corby and 2,020 acres of good agricultural land at Hemel Hempstead. Those are considerable figures, and most of us do not think about them, because inevitably in a place like this we deal with the failures and not with the successes.

Also during my short experience in that Ministry—the Parliamentary Secretary came into the picture as well as the Minister—a very careful watch was kept on all these plans and I found that often the point of view of the Ministry and of the Ministers was accepted by the planning Departments. That is as it should be. There was close consultation, and attention was paid to representations which were made by such an important Ministry as the Ministry of Agriculture.

What is the problem we face in the future? I noticed in "The Times" the day before yesterday that the Minister of Housing and Local Government estimated that there are 2 million houses required to deal with the slum problem in this country. Most of these houses are packed together in a tremendous number to the acre such as we find with the back-to-back houses and similar areas. Many of these dwellings will have to be of the semi-detached local authority housing type.

We might do something on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan); it is right that we should keep it in mind, but I think that the majority of the people in this country hate the thought of a fiat and prefer a little dwelling where they can have a piece of ground in which they can do a bit of scratching about, even if they do not manage their land to the best advantage. Here I agree with the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) that we ought not to provide too big a patch of ground. I admit that I like a little bit myself, but I am not going to be made a slave to a piece of garden, as would be the case if there were too much of it, and which might well happen if some people had their way. We shall certainly have to give urgent and serious consideration to the project which the hon. Member for Paddington, South has partly sold to the House this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Ashford, (Mr. Deedes) told us in his article in the "Daily Telegraph "yesterday, not in a speech today—perhaps he made his speech yesterday rather than today—that we shall require some 700,000 more acres in the next 20 years. That will bring up the figure of land taken from agriculture to 2 million acres in the first 70 years of this century. That is a tremendous figure and indicates the extent of the problem facing us and the Government at present.

Is there an easy solution to this problem? It seems to me that we are up against man's age long dilemma, the awkward fact that one cannot have one's cake and eat it. We cannot have our precious land with its eight inches of top soil which took, perhaps, 8,000 years to accumulate—nature improves the top soil at the rate of one inch every 1,000 years—and, at the same time, build a house on it which destroys 8,000 years of nature's work in the eight weeks it takes to build a house.

That is something of the difficulty we are facing. The building of a factory or a house, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) stressed in a speech which appealed to me very much, of a slag heap unnecessarily on the land is as much a rape of the soil as bad cultivation or the other things which have caused civilisations to die in the past. It is as bad as doing the sort of thing that will allow a dust bowl to develop in America or elsewhere, and as bad as the faulty cropping that lost food and wiped out the civilisations of North Africa and Asia Minor.

As I say, there is no easy solution to this problem. We should use this sort of occasion to help develop a healthy public opinion in the matter, and I think that is something which this House can do. We must cure the people of this country of their urban outlook and of the idea that a piece of land is something on which one either builds a house or a factory or plays a game of football. The building of a house on a piece of land adds to the country's wealth, but the retaining of that same piece of land under cultivation conserves the wealth of the producing capacity of the nation. That is something of very great importance.

I liked at least three of the points made by the hon. Member for Devizes as being ways in which we can do something more to ensure that the factors we are stressing this afternoon are fully considered when we are discussing development. Tighten up the machinery of decision if we can, certainly do that. Tighten up the machinery of decision as between conflicting claims but, tighten it up as we will, do whatever we can in this direction—we always have to come back to the outlook of the men who are to work the machine. It is not a bit of good producing the most perfect machinery which it is possible for man to devise if man is not really going to work that machinery.

After all this is a Private Members' day and I do not think that Front Bench Members should impose on the House for too long in those circumstances.

I do not think there is any sovereign recipe for preserving liberty other than through eternal vigilance. I feel that there is no sovereign recipe for retaining the maximum possible agricultural land for agricultural purposes other than through the eternal vigilance of everyone concerned. This is a matter of balance and wise decision in the interests of the nation. The Government must finally hold that balance and take their decisions. I hope that this Government and any Government which comes after it will always seek to hold the balance fairly and wisely in the interests both of this generation and the generations to follow.

3.7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene at this stage for a few moments. 1 echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) that on Private Members' day those who sit on the Front Benches should take as little time as possible so that as many as possible of their friends on the back benches can speak. For that reason, I shall try to make my remarks short, but at the same time to answer some of the many questions which have been asked.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East was very moderate in his tone, and I thought he put the problem in its correct perspective. He said that in this House we hear of failures but rarely of successes. He said that it was a problem of the choice of two evils. I hope that healthy public opinion will always be able to guide the Government of the day on matters of necessity in a country such as ours. My travels have taken me around the country from the north of Scotland to the south of England, and I have found that the public are more and more conscious of the necessity for preserving agricultural land.

In order to get the matter in its right perspective we have to be careful what figures we use. The hon. Member said that we lost 1,300,000 acres in the first half of this century. But the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power armed himself with figures of the agricultural land in this country and handed them to me. I find that 1,256,900 acres comprises the residue of land built over, which is a smaller figure than the hon. Members said was lost in the first half of the century. It may be convenient to give the figures so that the matter might be seen in its proper perspective.

In England, Wales and Scotland there are 55,085,100 acres of agricultural land, of which 21,809,200 acres are good land, 14,811,200 acres medium land, and 18,464,700 acres poor land—that is, mountain land, moorland, light land and poor heavy land. The total agricultural land in England, Wales and Scotland is 55,085,100 acres and the residue of the land built on is 1,256,900 acres, or approximately 2 per cent. of the total area. That does not quite bear out the figures which the hon. Member used, I have no doubt in very good faith.

May I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) on being lucky in the Ballot and on making an eloquent, and interesting speech on his Motion. My hon. Friend was not in the least partisan. As he said, this is not a party, but a national issue. That example has been followed by hon. Members on both sides of the House— [Interruption]—except, I am told, by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). Fortunately, or unfortunately, I missed his words of wisdom. But the fashion seems to have been followed in the interesting selection of poetry read by some of my hon. Friends.

The hon. Member for Devizes said that there is no dispute at all about the necessity for preserving agricultural land. Perhaps I might repeat what I said on a recent Adjournment debate about the policy of the Government. It is to safeguard agricultural land wherever possible: That is the prime object of planning, for planning is an abject and lamentable failure if it does not preserve agricultural land wherever it is possible to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 187.] Criticism may arise as to how the Government carry out that policy. We have tried to carry it out. My right hon. Friend has made speeches all over the country insisting that local authorities must use the centres of their towns before they even dream of taking agricultural land. I had a roughish ride when I spoke to the Town and Country Planning Association on how to plan in the cities, and said that one of the first things was to save agricultural land. My hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) who was present, will bear witness that it was not an easy time for me on that occasion.

So much for speech. What about action? I was looking through some Press cuttings this morning and in the issue of the "Nottingham Journal" of 16th February a headline says: Site stays for farming. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has refused permission to Bingham Rural District Council for the development of … land at Shelford Road, Radcliffe-on-Trent In the letter which was sent by my right bon. Friend he stated: The Minister is concerned to safeguard as much as possible of the best quality farmland in the Trent Valley. He is aware that the development of other sites may entail higher costs for sewerage works, but he is of opinion that some additional expenditure would be justified. The housing and planning committee of that council are now asking the Ministry to advise them on alternative sites. My right hon. Friend has issued circulars and made speeches, and he also takes action on those lines. My experience of the Ministry of Agriculture is that they make their case very forcibly indeed as I hope to prove shortly.

This Motion is so worded that it is one which the Government can accept because they accept the sentiment and the spirit behind it. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes asked a Question about Wiltshire and the amount of land in that county occupied by the Services. He said that formerly it was one-seventh but that, in answer to a subsequent Question, we were able to say that it is now one-eighth. It is still one-eighth. Out of 860,611 acres, the total Wiltshire acreage, the Services take 114,000 acres.

My hon. Friend asked about Swindon. I think the answer there is that in the early stages there was a great deal of enthusiasm, exuberance and over-statement, which unnecessarily alarmed the people of Swindon. The expansion of Swindon is to be from 26,000 people to an ultimate population of approximately 95,000, which is thought to be reasonable. My hon. Friend is right in saying that I would not like to discuss the merits in detail because a Compulsory Purchase Order has been made, and a public local inquiry is being held into an objection to the Order. Therefore nothing can be said at the moment on the merits of the question.

My hon. Friend then asked about statistics obtained from the agricultural returns. He said that he was unable to understand them and he compared them with his own efforts at algebra at school. The real difficulty is that of getting the information. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture wants to stress that these figures which he gives are by no means as accurate as he would like them to be.

There was a decrease of 22,350 acres between June, 1951, and June, 1952. That was the result of gross decreases totalling 138,879 acres and gross increases totalling 116,529 acres. Some of these gross decreases and increases were accounted for by the district officers on the basis of the best information they could obtain as being losses to or gains from building development, allotments, sports grounds, waste ground, woodlands, the Forestry Commission or other Government Departments.

My right hon. Friend regards that information as reliable in terms of all these causes taken together, but less reliable in terms of precise headings under which the change is accounted for. When land is returned to agriculture he does not always get to know about it in the year in which the change occurs. I think the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East, who was formerly Parliamentary Secretary, will verify that statement. There are also changes which my right hon. Friend aggregates under the heading, "Previous use uncertain." Some of these arise out of the correction of errors or duplications which have come to light.

In 1951–52 the correction of errors and duplications resulted in a decrease of 28,000 acres. If this had not been discovered, the total area recorded at June, 1952. would have shown a net increase on June, 1951, and not a net decrease. This work is difficult. My right hon. Friend assures me that he has devoted much time to seeing whether a more reliable source of information can be found. It has not been possible to use any other existing source of figures.

The only remaining possibilities are, first, to increase the scope of the 4th June returns to produce more detailed information or, second, to institute a special investigation for the collection of suitable figures. The first would entail asking the farmers to complete a larger form or an additional form. I know what a storm of protest that would arouse not only in the House but among the farmers themselves. Farmers do not seem to take kindly to filling in forms. Therefore, we rule out that possibility.

The second method—to institute a special investigation for the collection of suitable figures—would be extremely expensive and laborious in relation to the probable advantage which we should derive from having accurate figures. The great thing to do to safeguard the land is first to safeguard it in general through the development plans, and in special instances by inquiring into the merit of each case. The great thing to do is to see that each case is given a fair hearing from every point of view.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

Some reliable figures have been produced by Professor Dudley Stamp. I do not think that they have been challenged. Why is he able to do something which the Ministry cannot do?

Mr. Marples

I should hate to cross swords with the worthy professor on whether or not those figures are correct; but no one will be in a position to estimate what acreage will be lost until such time as the development plans are in and approved. How can he estimate when the development plans are not in to the Ministry yet and have not been approved? With the greatest of respect to the professor, I hope that not too much reliance will be placed on his figures. I was hoping to get away without saying that about Professor Stamp. but in the circumstances I feel that it ought to be said.

It is wrong to say that future losses will be five times as great. It is not yet possible to say whether they will be 10 times or five times or twice as great. If the development plans come in and the loss of agricultural land is alarming, it will be up to the Government of the day to do a bit of work on their development plans. That is what we must do.

The next question raised was about the excellent suggestion in the" Daily Telegraph "in the article by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) yesterday. The proposal contained in the paragraph headed, "Conflicting Claims "was a very interesting one; but in fact the Ministry of Agriculture have already indicated to the planning authorities in considerable detail the importance they attach to the different agricultural units in their areas. That information is taken fully into account, whenever it is relevant, in the preparation of development plans and the administration of day-to-day planning control.

The proposal advanced by my hon. Friend in that article was excellent in theory but in practice it might have proved a little too rigid because there are a number of other considerations to be taken into account as well as that of the fertility of the land. There is, for instance, the type of land to be considered. In spirit, that suggestion has already been adopted.

The next point which my hon. Friend raised was whether the inquiry system could be overhauled. He said that, in answer to an Adjournment debate the other day, I indicated to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) that it had a weakness in as much as the average man in the street did not seem to comprehend that the Ministry of Agriculture had put up a spirited case on behalf of agriculture. Here again, it is a choice of evils. It is a weakness but, as I think the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) would have pointed out had he made a speech, if this matter were thrown open to public inquiry it would perhaps be an even greater evil.

What we have to do in this problem is to ask the Minister of Agriculture and the other Government Departments to see whether they can find a way of allaying public dissatisfaction. At the same time, I would make it clear that I do not know that anything can be done to meet that dissatisfaction. The problem can certainly be examined, but I hesitate to promise that anything can be done. After all, the Government have to make a collective decision. They must make that collective decision and they cannot have wrangles in public. At the same time, I see the point that the public do not know that the agricultural case has been forcibly and lucidly presented. We must see whether we can find a solution.

I would make this point. The man who is applying can find out from the Ministry of Agriculture what evidence they have given in support of his claim. A lot of criticism has been directed against the Minister of Agriculture. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury, for instance, said: It is my view that if there is any public enemy in this matter, it is the Minister of Agriculture."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 183.] In the Ministry of Housing and Local Government we get the full blast from the Ministry of Agriculture, and I am more than convinced that they put up an extremely reasonable and very powerful case for agriculture. Recently, I met a deputation from a local authority on the South Coast who wished to build houses on land which was of medium agricultural value. Their application was turned down flat because of the strong representations made by agriculture.

My predecessor in this office was the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), and if he were here he would support me in my view, because I remember that on the Committee stage of the Town Development Act, when my right hon. Friend was explaining that whenever we had discussions with the Minister of Agriculture there was always the acute problem of how to get the houses without causing injury to agriculture, the hon. Member for Wellingborough interjected: They win too often for my liking. In other words, agriculture wins too often for the hon. Gentleman's liking.

A little later, when my right hon. Friend was referring to the arguments which he tried to use with the Ministry of Agriculture, the hon. Member for Wellingborough interjected: That is where we lose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C. 26th March, 1952; c. 1645–6.] In other words, he was saying that agriculture had it too much its own way. Now we are told that agriculture does not have enough of its own way. Both cannot be right. I believe the critics cannot ignore the doctrine of collective Governmental responsibility, nor the fact that we are trying to get a quart out of a pint pot.

There was one other point raised by my hon. Friend which has made me a little uneasy for some time. I do not see the answer to it at the moment. I should like to go into it fairly fully. It is the cost which the private objector incurs when he succcessfully protects his own land. It is something awfully difficult to deal with. I ask my hon. Friend to let me look into that matter with all the Departments concerned. Again, I should not like to promise that anything can be done, but if it is at all possible to do anything it shall be done.

Mr. Champion

The hon. Gentleman said he was concerned about cases in which a man successfully protects his own land. Is he not interested in, and will he not give consideration to, the cases of people who unsuccessfully seek to protect their own land?

Mr. Marples

I think that the whole matter ought to be given consideration. I do think a full investigation ought to be made into the costs which are incurred by the private citizen, who does seem, on the surface, to be under an injustice in this respect.

My hon. Friend mentioned schools in connection with building. He talked about schools being built up to a single storey only. Well, there has been a change in policy in that respect, and he is really flogging a dead horse, because although that was done in the early days after the war, at the present time the Minister of Education has cut down her demands for land considerably.

Then he talked about factories and densities. A book on densities has just been published by the Ministry, "The Density of Residential Areas," and I should like to read out a paragraph, which says: The connection between residential density and living conditions is also clear in towns where the evils resulting from high density in many of our large towns are widely recognised; and so are the evils of the low density of urban sprawl, which is a characteristic of so much of the inter-war development, and which was, in large part, a reaction against over-crowded conditions. I think the pendulum has swung quite far there, and now, I am glad to say, it is coming back again.

We hope that local authorities in future will turn not only to building semidetached houses, mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire, South-East but also to terraced houses, which use very much less land than semidetached houses. We are constantly endeavouring to get them to agree to build terraced houses because they are aesthetically satisfying, take less land, and, from the point of view of services, cost anything between £50 to £100 a house less.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) stressed the necessity of preserving land, and illustrated that with a vivid description of the properties of rice as they affected some members of his own family. I say to him that overspill from the London area is possibly one of the most serious problems we have in the south of England, and the L.C.C., with other local authorities, are faced with the fact that London cannot be made a decent place to live in unless it is thinned out to some extent.

There must be a large overspill of population, services and employment. In development plans the L.C.C. and the Home Counties are facing these problems. The plans are now before the Minister at the moment, and therefore I cannot comment on them in detail, but there is no escaping the need for the decentralisation which the plans embody.

My hon. Friend asked two questions. He asked, are there to be fair shares in this "decantation," as it is called in the official jargon; and is it going to be done with due regard for agricultural interests? On the question of fair shares, Essex has already taken a lot of overspill from London, and that must be admitted by everyone in the House, but the figure of 49 per cent. which my hon. Friend quoted refers only to the L.C.C.'s post-war out-county estates.

If we take new towns and expanded towns into consideration the picture is considerably different, and it shows a much better distribution. Moreover, it must be remembered that London's communications run more towards the north, whether the north-east or the north-west, than towards the south, and the emphasis in future overspill, so far as new towns are concerned, is on Hertfordshire rather than on Essex, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) knows.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

Will my hon. Friend allow me? I had been hoping to make some observations on this, but as the chances seem to be growing very small now, perhaps I can put this to my right hon. Friend. Is he aware that under the London County Development Plan there is a plan for an overspill of 380,000 in the 20-year plan, and does he appreciate that it is not going to be possible to accommodate that amount of overspill in the Home Counties—certainly not in Hertfordshire —without a very grave deprivation indeed of agricultural land, and a very heavy and unwarranted strain on communications?

Mr. Marples

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that interjection. I did say that the details of the scheme were before my right hon. Friend, and I should not like to comment on them in detail. If my hon. Friend is fortunate in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, no doubt he will bring out that point.

I wanted to answer the accusation that Essex was taking more than its fair share. The present population in Essex is 1,500,000 and the increase proposed in the development plan is 18.7 per cent. of that. The present population in Hertfordshire is 600,000, and the increase proposed in the development plan is 45.4 per cent. To that extent, therefore, Hertfordship is taking at least as great a share of the population as Essex; and in my opinion, under the present development plan, which is not yet passed, it is to take a larger percentage.

Mr. Ashton

What about the other Home Counties? I agree that Hertfordshire is suffering badly. If there are to be fair shares for all, on the figures I mentioned how would Surrey come out? I do not press for an answer now, but that is the point I made.

Mr. Marples

I have not the figure for Surrey before me, but Surrey has already been built on to a great extent, and has some very large towns now. However, I will get the figures and pass them on to my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) made a very reasonable speech. He followed the excellent tone set by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Ede

He raised it considerably.

Mr. Marples

Well, I think he continued it. He, and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley) were worried, more than anything, by subsidence and the difficulties caused by it. Damage caused by underground mining subsidence presents a difficult technical problem of reclamation. Once subsidence has taken place, it is one of the most difficult technical problems to put it right again. As existing resources are limited, it is better to devote them to the improvement of other land which can be brought more easily into food production.

My right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture gave this reply on 10th June, 1952, when he was asked whether he would consider taking steps to reclaim land now under water caused by mining subsidence: Bearing in mind that the resources available for work of this character are strictly limited, I feel that they can best be used under present conditions for increasing production from land which will respond more readily, and at much lower cost, than the type of land referred to by the hon. Member."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1952; Vol. 503. c. 107.] Although that reply referred to land submerged as a result of mining subsidence, the same considerations affect the general problem of dealing with mining subsidence. That, of course, answers one of the points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford.

I was very much impressed by the illustration given by the hon. Member for Ince of how 153,000 tons of debris went into a clay pit which was to be made into playing fields. I ask hon. Members who think that a scheme such as that can be carried out successfully to get in touch with my right hon. Friend or myself. In that instance the Department gave assistance, as it ought to, and it is the duty of any hon. Member to give details if he knows of an area which can be reclaimed.

Mr. Bartley

Would the hon. Gentleman say that in the case I referred to, in which land could have been reclaimed by taking off the topsoil, bringing in refuse and putting back the topsoil, it was a most technical task?

Mr. Marples

I should want to look at the site and various other conditions first. I have had enough to do with construction to know that I should want to look at the site, access, roads, the topsoil, the nature of the land underneath, whether it is heavy clay or not, and other relevant considerations before answering that point. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that anything to do with the forces of nature underground is a most difficult task once the land has sunk.

Now I come to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford, who in a very vigorous speech lightened our proceedings by saying that we shall not be able to buy food, even if we have the dollars. He is quite right in saying that, whatever our foreign exchange position, the number of areas of the world from which we can buy food will steadily decrease. He went on to eulogise the dairy cow of Cheshire, which he said was the most important animal. I thought he did less than justice to the male of the species, because that, too, plays a not inconsiderable part in what happens.

My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the Cheshire County Council. The Cheshire County Council have been extremely reasonable in their planning, and as their plan at the moment is sub judicemy hon. and gallant Friend cannot expect me to say much about it. I personally will make sure that the agricultural interests are considered when that plan is before my right hon. Friend.

My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) made a point when I was out of the Chamber. He threw into the debate a suggestion that any plans for the development of land should have a condition attached in order to bring back into cultivation a similar area elsewhere. I thought that a most interesting suggestion. It is one which will require to be explored, and which will require a great deal of working out. I see the point that he was making, because unless we do something about our own food production in the next 40 or 50 years, we may find ourselves in a very parlous state.

The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) mentioned three points. The first was the exchange of tenancies. That is being done considerably by many local authorities throughout the country. Wolverhampton, for example, have a magnificent scheme, and, speaking from memory, I think that about 800 tenancies were exchanged there in one year, and people living in larger houses went into smaller houses.

He went on to talk about flats, and his argument was reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan). I should like to say that the local authorities throughout the country are now getting more used to the idea of what are known on the Continent as point block flats, which are nine to 14-storey blocks of flats in which a large number of people can be housed and more space and land made available for agriculture and sport. The London County Council propose to build some of these flats at Roehampton in their next development scheme. There are also point block flats at Harlow, and I think that such flats can be as useful in the country as in the town, provided that they merge into the landscape and are in harmonious composition with the landscape.

This block of flats at Harlow is, possibly, the most attractive building they have from the point of view of letting, and that shows that once people get used to that type of dwelling, it is in some cases, but not all, quite suitable. It is not, however, suitable for large numbers of children. Anyone who is really interested in this matter should read the excellent report of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke), who sat as Chairman of a Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chorley said that water boards were preventing the use of land. I propose to call the attention of the Minister of Agriculture to that portion of his speech, in which he thought that sheep could graze on certain parts of land owned by water boards.

The hon. Member For Grantham (Mr. Godber) reinforced the urgency of this problem by estimating the financial loss caused by the loss of agricultural land. He made an interesting suggestion regarding the restoration of land. Again, I will bring that to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. I was recently in Corby, and saw a great deal of acreage there which had been restored by the local iron and steel works. In some cases that work can be done reasonably easily, and if the hon. Gentleman has any particular instances, I shall be glad if he will let me have details, and we will consider those particular instances as well as the problem in general.

On the question of high flats, I would point out that on the Continent the use of higher flats is becoming popular. The Le Corbusier flats in Marseilles, recently opened, which provoked a storm of controversy, provided those amenities which, I think, the hon. Member for Paddington, South had in mind for high block flats at Paddington. I imagine that there may be a certain amount of controversy on this matter before it gets through. I wish it success, especially in some of the larger cities where flats are suitable, and I only hope that the nation as a whole will become a little more flat-minded. We must educate public opinion, showing the public, as we did at Harlow, that flats are worth while for childless couples or couples with only one child. I should not like to see six children running up to the top of the high flats in Paddington which were mentioned.

I am conscious that I have not replied adequately to all the points which have been raised, but as it is a Private Members' day it is right that hon. Members should speak first, and some of the speeches were rather long. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes for having raised the subject, and the Government have the greatest pleasure in accepting the Motion.

3.41 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) and the Parliamentary Secretary have put the subject of this debate in perspective. I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for having given an open invitation to hon. Members to press him about schemes for the reclamation of land. I hope that hon. Members and bodies outside the House will respond vigorously to his invitation.

It is inevitable that some agricultural land will be lost to development as we go along—that has been my experience in the part of the country which I represent—but we can minimise the loss by reclaiming other land for agriculture and for other purposes. That is the only way we can maintain a proper balance. I do not believe that people in urban areas are not conscious of the need for higher food production in Britain and the world. They do appreciate it, but, at the same time, they have the same difficulty as do hon. Members in reconciling conflicting claims. They are aware that both political parties have promised a decent home for every man and woman, and that takes a certain amount of land. They may know from experience in the place where they live that there is a conflict between the plans to provide every family with a decent home, the plans for developing more employment such as in coal mining or in building more factories, and the plans for maintaining agricultural land in existence at the same time.

My problem is this. If absolute priority was given to the claim of agricultural land, housing would come to an immediate stop in Newcastle-under-Lyme. As it is, there are grave doubts whether housing will not come to a standstill in the borough in 1954. I am engaged in pressing the Minister to release some agricultural land so that we may proceed with building the 6,500 houses which his Department calculates we ought to be able to build there. We have sites available for only 2,000 houses. Our problem is created by the prevalence of coal mining subsidence in the area. The subsidence ruins agricultural land, and it also ruins a large number of houses, thus aggravating our re-housing problem. My constituency has to build more houses than any other area because all the time houses are being ruined by coal mining subsidence.

The cause of this is increased coal mining operations, and that in itself is attracting more workers into the area. Thus our re-housing problem is made all the greater, for we are seeking to bring into North Staffordshire coal miners from Durham and other areas where pits are worked out and to house them so that they may remain in Staffordshire and produce more coal. It must not be forgotten that the country wants more coal as well as more food, and a great deal of our coal is under the surface of the earth in Staffordshire.

Many years will pass before we overcome the subsidence problem. In the meantime, it aggravates the agricultural land problem and it aggravates the re-housing problem, for huge areas of the land in my constituency cannot be built on for years to come because subsidence would ruin any houses erected on it. Therefore, we are forced to claim agricultural land for housing purposes because that is the only land we can claim. Otherwise, we cannot build any houses at all, and if we cannot do that we cannot bring any miners into the area to work in the pits, and if we cannot do that we cannot get more coal production.

We are now faced with the conflicting claim of extracting from under the earth the valuable asset of coal and extracting from the top of the earth the food we need. We have to be starkly realistic about this, and as far as I am concerned, representing a North Staffordshire area where so many ravages have taken place in the land in the past, it is quite clear that it is inevitable, if the housing needs of my constituents are to be met, that some agricultural land will have to be taken for the purpose. I know that the Newcastle-under-Lyme Council and the Staffordshire County Council have scoured the land to find sites, but they are not there.

I also know, as do many other hon. Members, that there is an enormous amount of land which somebody will have to reclaim if not for agricultural purposes, then for other purposes. Anybody who has passed through Staffordshire knows the enormous amount of derelict land that could be used for some purpose, such as for building houses, or factories, or playgrounds for children. But whose responsibility is it to do something about it?

I hope that all those who represent areas that, like mine, are affected will band themselves continuously together, not merely to press the Ministry of Fuel and Power much more strongly about this mining subsidence problem and matters arising out of it, but also to endeavour to press the Ministry of Local Government and Housing about the general subject of reclamation of land. and so fulfil the idea mentioned by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot)—that we must try to restore one acre where we take one acre. That is the only possible way by which we shall reconcile the conflicting claims for land.

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) for compressing his very lucid and valuable observations into so short a time. He set a welcome if tardy example for this debate. If some of the speeches made earlier had been shorter it would not have detracted from their value, and fewer of my hon. Friends would have lost the opportunity of catching your eye, Sir.

This debate enables full prominence to be given to a most important problem for the country today, and it is gratifying that the Government are able to accept the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis). In a small and crowded island like this it is inevitable that there should be a conflict of land use; but it has been common ground through this debate that a sovereign element in that conflict is the great and increasing need for agricultural land.

There is at all times a very important social reason for this in that no community can be healthy and balanced without a thriving and intensive agriculture. That social reason is from day to day being strongly reinforced by pressing economic reasons which have been touched upon by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) and other hon. Members. It really amounts to this, that it looks increasingly as if our best contribution to the balance of payments' problem may not perhaps be by way of increased exports but diminished imports. In substance, that contribution can only be made by increasing the amount of our home-grown foodstuffs.

We have the painful paradox in this country that while the need for agricultural acreage increases there is this taking away of agricultural land. There is an intensification of the conflict of land use. On the one hand, economic reasons press upon us the necessity for more agricultural acres, and, on the other, the more lavish, contemporary standard for housing, schools and other services increases the competitive demand for land use. Most of the competitive demands have the unfortunate effect of alienating the land almost permanently for agriculture. From that I except the mineral and extractive industries, because for most forms of extractive industries there need be, fortunately, under present conditions, no permanent alienation of the land.

The conditions which are normally attached to planning permission for the excavation of ironstone, and the working of sand and gravel deposits, and so on, insist upon the restoration of the land to agriculture after the period of working is over. Even for deep mining it is now customary to require as a condition of planning permission, that some "room and pillar" method of working shall be followed which, at some sacrifice of the seams to be extracted, means that the land is not permanently alienated from agricultural use. With the building of houses, schools and the like there is perament alienation; and that is why the Government ought to look carefully at these standards and see whether, however, desirable they may be, they can be achieved without sacrifice of agricultural land.

There is a tendency for local authorities, when seeking to develop estates for housing, to take flat and easy land, which is normally the best agricultural land. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East referred to circular 99. on the safeguarding of agricultural land. Though excellent in sentiment the circular is somewhat vague and imprecise in its terms. If time allowed, I should quote from the document to exemplify that point. The development plans of the big urban authorities have been made since the date of circular 99, which I think was 24th November. 1950. In an interjection which my hon. Friend was good enough to allow me to make I referred to the development plan of the London County Council, which projects an overspill of 380,000 in 20 years. Those people have to be accommodated somewhere, and it can be done only at the certain sacrifice of good agricultural land.

The Middlesex plan has not been referred to. That plan proposes to use 3,500 more acres for housing in the 20-year period, and, at the end of the period, to accommodate 32,000 fewer people than are accommodated today. That will be another demand for land in the Home Counties to be added to the London overspill. We have been told by the Parliamentary Secretary that the rather lavish standard for schools prescribed by the Standard for School Premises Regulations, 1951, is not now insisted upon. I am glad to hear that, because it is within my knowledge that the London County Council are still taking those Regulations as the standard to follow and on which to justify their demands.

There is a further matter which has not been referred to but which is of great importance, and that is the question of the provision of open spaces. That also involves the sterilisation of land from the point of view of agriculture. There again, the London Development Plan, taking its cue from the Abercrombie Plan of 1943, aims at a standard of four acres per 1,000 of the population. But they say in the analysis of their development plan that an increase even to two and a half acres per 1,000 in areas with less would be a staggering achievement involving the acquisition of 3,000 acres of land at a cost of not less than £30 million.

I should like to pose this question. In spite of what we have heard, is the machinery of planning control right as it at present exists? Agricultural land can only be safeguarded by the right exercise of machinery of planning control, and I submit that it is apparent that it is not working as well as it should do. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that it is not right that Government Departments should wrangle in public, but I submit that planning control will work best where there is the maximum evidence given openly and subject to cross-examination at inquiries. It will also work better if the decisions taken are more openly related to the report of the person hearing the evidence and argument. The Conservative Party is pledged in this matter, and I ask the Government to realise that it is time that action was taken.

To achieve what my hon. Friend wishes to achieve—that is to say, a national plan based on national statistics —it is necessary to have somebody in the Government responsible for it. There is not now a Minister of Town and Country Planning. That function is vested in the same Minister, who is one of the chief competitors for land use, and that creates an illogical position. It is necessary, therefore, that both the national policy and the more detailed machinery of planning control should be reviewed by the Government in order that appropriate action may be taken.

Mr. Marples

My hon. Friend must realise that the Minister does not necessarily have the last word, because the Minister of Agriculture can always take the matter to the Cabinet for decision and it would be a collective decision.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I will leave the matter open for the moment. Perhaps I can return to it on some other more appropriate occasion.

I hope that the Minister and the Government will have regard to the danger in which counties such as Hertfordshire and Essex will be if these over-ambitious plans for overspill are allowed to take effect. There is a great danger of the sacrifice of agricultural land and of the whole balance and beauty of these counties being destroyed if attention is not given to their situation. I commend this matter to the sympathetic consideration of the Government.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, while recognising the conflicting claims upon the land of the country, views with grave apprehension the steady loss of fertile agricultural land to development and other uses and from other causes, and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take every step within their power to minimise that loss.

4.0 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)

I beg to move. That this House is of the opinion that Her Majesty's Government should now proceed to implement the Motion which was passed by this House on 16th May, 1952, and apply the principle of equal pay for equal work to women in the Civil Service, the teaching profession, local government and other public services. I move this Motion because—

Mr. Speaker


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