§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
I beg to move,That in the opinion of this House it is of the utmost importance to continue the increase in the country's food production, and that for this purpose, amongst others, at least 2,000,000 acres of rough grazing should be brought into production at the earliest possible moment.I consider that I have been extraordinarily fortunate in being able to call the attention of the House to a problem which has interested me and concerned me for the whole of my life. I can speak with a great deal of experience of dealing with rough grazing. Longer ago than I care to remember I started work on this project.
I also think this a very favourable period of the year in which to debate this subject, because in May the countryside looks at its best and it is so much easier for those who are inexperienced to see the difference between our cultivated and well-farmed lands in comparison with rough grazings. Only 10 days ago I had a most interesting and educational drive with my wife through my constituency, looking at our fertile valleys and comparing some of the reclamation schemes which have been carried out with land 1566 which still remains in practically the same condition as when the Romans left us.
I think there is something very wrong when one looks at the fact that we have about 45 million acres of agricultural land in this country and no less than 17 million acres of it is classified as rough grazing. We have 17 million acres of arable land and 11 million acres of permanent pasture. That is the reverse of the position which existed in 1938. In those days the acreage of permanent pasture was the greater, and it was from the permanent pasture that we have been able to get our increased amount of arable land and the great increase in agricultural output which has occurred since 1938. I do not think that anyone could sufficiently praise the farmer, the landlord and the farm worker for the tremendous amount of work which they have put in during the last 12 or 14 years to bring about such an increase as we have had in the amount of food that we are producing at home.
Some people may ask where this rough grazing lies. I think it is to be found in practically every county in England, to a greater or less extent. There is some on almost every hill farm in the country, and we have some in my own county, which stretches right through the West Country, from the great tract of Exmoor and the Brendon Hills in Somerset down to Dartmoor.
I am not suggesting that all that land could be brought into cultivation, on account of the fact that it is stony, inaccessible or otherwise difficult to cultivate, but there is a great proportion of that land which, if we approach the problem in the right way, could, I feel quite certain, be made to produce valuable food for our people. As far as the West Country is concerned, I believe that the greatest area is in Wales and on the Welsh border, where I think there is something in the neighbourhood of one million acres that could be reclaimed.
I am not suggesting that all this rough grazing needs ploughing for grass. I think that, during the years that are behind us we have, as a farming community, tackled practically all the land which it has been reasonable to tackle and bring into arable production, but most of that which is left needs to be ploughed and reseeded and then used for 1567 the production of livestock. On account of the contours and the situation of much of this land, I do not think it would be wise to suggest that it could produce any great quantities of cereals, but, if this land is reseeded and treated properly, the result will be that we shall have very much more land available in the valleys on which to finish off the cattle and sheep that have been raised on the hills. I think we could quite confidently say that we could tackle the majority of the land that is up to 2,000 feet above sea level. Above that altitude, I think it would be exceedingly difficult.
I know that in the minds of some people there is some doubt as to what is meant by rough grazing land. As a practical farmer, I know what it is, but, for the benefit of others, I have endeavoured to find a definition that could be fairly well understood by the majority of people. Perhaps the best definition of rough grazing is that it is land which can be brought into cultivation and which requires fencing—and we have very large areas in this country that still require fencing. It is also land that may be covered with scrub, and land which has not been used as sheep runs since the Romans left us, and which generally speaking, is covered with natural red fescue, or, in some cases, with a great deal of carnation grass, which no stock will touch.
I do not believe that we could lay down any particular method of dealing with this land, whether it is broken up and reseeded or treated by some kind of cultivation with modern grassland machinery and the application of fertilisers. It may be that there is still another method, which, in a number of cases, has proved successful. That is, in the first instance, to rear poultry or to let pigs run on it. Any of these methods could be tried, and I am not advocating any particular one, so long as some attempt is made to bring the land into a condition in which it produces more food.
One other disturbing feature regarding this land is that, according to the latest figures available today, we have some 500,000 acres more rough grazing in this country than we had in 1938. I would not suggest that that figure is necessarily correct, because I know that rough 1568 grazing is used by farmers, in filling up their June 4 returns, in order to balance up, and to indicate that the area is the same as it was the previous year and the year before. Very often these returns include the farmyard, buildings and things of that sort. When we have such a high figure as we have today, however, there must be included in it many millions of acres that could be brought into cultivation.
One very great advantage with this type of land is that very little drainage will be required to bring it into a proper state of fertility, because much of it is on high ground, though, of course, there is some in the valley; I am quite well aware of that. In these days, a great deal of that land could be brought back into cultivation by the use of mole drains, which are very much cheaper than the older and more expensive method of tile drainage.
I have already mentioned that most of this land could be used for livestock production, and I suggest that for two reasons. In the first place, this country is acknowledged to be one of the finest livestock producing countries in the world. Secondly, owing to our climatic conditions, we are able to grow a grass crop far better than the majority of other countries. I think we should fully exploit our position in this respect. I know that, so far as livestock is concerned, at the present time our costs of production are higher than general world prices, but in regard to cereals I do not think it is generally known that we farmers in Great Britain produce our wheat at £5 per ton less than farmers in any other part of the world.
Some hon. Members may ask how the farmers do it. The answer is that the yield in this country is somewhat greater than in any other country. That enables us to produce our wheat at a very favourable figure. It may interest the House to know that we produce about three times as much wheat per acre as does Canada or the United States of America.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Is the hon. Gentleman considering that as dry weight or harvested weight?
§ Mr. Crouch
Our yield is 21 cwt. an acre compared with something like five to seven cwt. in Canada or the United States of America.
§ Mr. Crouch
No, I would not accept that it is nearly double.
Having achieved this result with cereal, if we have more land available and develop a better technique than we have been using up to the present, as I am sure we can, we can eventually produce meat in competition with other nations in the world.
The cost of this reclamation work is very high, in many instances as much as £50 or £60 per acre. In other cases it may be done perhaps for £10 or £12. We could fairly say that the cost of bringing into cultivation several million acres of this land that still exists in the country would work out between £20 and £30 per acre. I know that we have many schemes in existence to assist people to develop this land. We have the ploughing grants and the hill subsidy scheme, and quite a number of other schemes, and if they were completely satisfactory a very much greater inroad would have been made into the problem than has been made up to the present time.
Another factor which deters farmers from taking on the work is the means test under these schemes. The position, as I understand it, is that agricultural committees go along at the invitation of the farmer to examine a suggested scheme, and if they give their approval and consider in their wisdom that it will be worth while to tackle the scheme, they have to examine the financial resources of the farmer. If they consider that he is sufficiently well off to undertake the work out of his own pocket they say so. Agricultural committees have turned down schemes that have been produced by fanners who appear to be sufficiently well off to continue the work. We have had trouble in our own county, when work has been completed, because of difficulty about getting grants from the Ministry of Agriculture and in dealing with the Treasury at the end of the year when the accounts have been made up.
I am thinking of a strip of land in my constituency of about 100 acres, which cost £60 per acre to reclaim. The 1570 Treasury said that this work was not normal cultivation and they would not allow grant in respect of it. They considered that a great deal of the money spent on it was capital expenditure. The Treasury might have been able to sustain an argument had the farmer concerned not been a tenant; furthermore, he was not the tenant of a private landlord but the tenant of one of the Government Departments. I am happy to say that in the end he won his case; but things of that sort deter people from getting on with this very important work.
§ Mr. Crouch
Normal cultivation would be ploughing, cultivating the land and getting it ready for seeding. These schemes require the removal of a great deal of bush and scrub that have been there for generations, levelling down, the removal of old fences and putting up new fences to keep livestock from getting on to the land when it is cultivated. This work costs a very great sum of money, although farmers try to do it as cheaply as possible.
§ Mr. Crouch
The farmer in question had difficulty with the Ministry of Agriculture and again with the Income Tax authorities because the expenditure was not for normal cultivation.
That sort of thing must be done away with because it is all part of the means test. If a man has sufficient pluck to undertake the clearance of some of this land and to bring it into such a state that it will produce food for the people, he should not be subjected to any form of means test. That is one of the points with which I hope the Minister will deal when he replies.
In addition to clearing the land, quite a number of other things will be required to bring the land into proper cultivation. In some cases new roads, farmhouses, water, buildings and cottages will be required. We should require about one new cottage for every 1,000 acres brought into cultivation. It will be of no use if the land is just acquired, ploughed up and put under a crop of 1571 grass. The land will in all probability require liming, and certainly liberal dressings of fertiliser. This is the time to see our countryside at its best. A very interesting drive can be taken past our fields in the West Country, some with liberal dressings of fertiliser and others that have little or none at all.
In spite of the fact that many hundreds of thousands of tons of fertiliser are being used in this country today, I believe that the fertiliser industry is only in its infancy, and that as time goes on we shall be able to use ever-increasing quantities of fertiliser to bring growth to our grass and other products. That will mean that we can have very much heavier stocking than we have at present. I cannot see the limit to the number of livestock that can be produced in this country off our grass.
I said earlier that some of this land, on account of its contours and its position, will be difficult indeed to plough, but we could use the new grassland improvement machines, which are now available and apply from the air whatever quantity of lime or fertiliser that is required. I am very pleased to think that this very day in my constituency, and for the first time—thanks to the enterprise and initiative of one of our merchants—a demonstration is being given of the spreading of fertiliser and the application of weed killer from an aeroplane. I see that demonstration as the forerunner of a great deal of work of that kind in the future.
A point which worries many people in connection with the bringing of this land into cultivation is the position in relation to tenant rights. I know that there is a great deal of latitude under existing agricultural Acts, but tenants still have difficulty. I do not propose to pursue the point because my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) is very much more experienced and has greater knowledge of tenant rights valuations than I shall ever have. In my opinion, what is required to bring this land into cultivation is a special marginal land grant.
I am not asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Ministry of Agriculture to bring forward a scheme which will give farmers anything in addition to that which they are receiving at the present 1572 time. The House is conversant with the many schemes under which fanners can obtain financial help. But, generally speaking, an extraordinary expense is required to bring this kind of land back into cultivation. If the existing schemes were adequate it would not have been necessary to debate this subject today.
I believe that after the farmer has carried out this very expensive work he should, at the end of his financial year and on the certificate of assurance of a chartered accountant that the work has been carried out, be given an allowance on his profit and loss account of 40 per cent. for the year, and an allowance of about 10 per cent. for the next six years, because it is not only in the first year that expenditure is incurred on this work. I was talking to a constituent of mine last week-end who has fetched up several acres of this land. He told me that in the second and third year stones and flints start to come up, sometimes as heavy as one cwt. each.
I hope, therefore, that the House will endorse and support the suggestions which I am putting forward. We are always hearing a great deal in this House and in the country—
§ Mr. Crouch
I most certainly am. This is extraordinary work. If there were sufficient attraction at the moment to encourage clearing we should not have so much grass still untouched.
We hear a great deal in this House and in the country about coal production. It concerns quite a number of people. But how many people consider food production and realise that that is of greater importance? Unless we have the food to feed the miners they will be unable to produce the coal that we require. Agriculture is our greatest industry, and it is as a result of a prosperous agriculture that we are able to provide employment in every industry in the country.
Another point which concerns a great many people, of whom I am one, is the need to encourage smallholdings. I believe that a great deal of the land about which I am speaking could be used for 1573 that purpose, and that there is an opportunity now to settle people with some land of their own.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that it would give the necessary encouragement to new people to take up smallholdings to be told that they would be placed on this kind of land?
§ Mr. Crouch
No, I am not suggesting that, but that is one of the ways in which it could be done. There are different types of land in different parts of the country. In the West Country a great deal of that land has been cultivated and used successfully for the production of food by men who were unable to obtain any other land. Those men are making a very good living.
§ Mr. Crouch
I would not say. One of the most interesting features of British agriculture is that it varies so much in different parts of the country. I can think of a great deal of land in mid-Wales which has gone out of cultivation and which could be used if sufficient incentive were provided to men to start work on it.
I would hope that in some cases we could emulate the example of New Zealand, and that county council smallholding committees might acquire some of this land and then provide advantageous terms for someone to carry out its further development. In the position in which we are in today, when we are still relying far too much on people overseas to provide us with food, we should use every method and seize every opportunity of development that is available to us.
Although my Motion refers to two million acres, I believe that we can tackle five million acres of this type of land within 10 years. If we can bring that number of acres into cultivation during that period we can double the number of sheep and fat cattle that we turn out today. I have mentioned the sheep-rearing position in this country on many occasions in this House. I believe that if our breeding policy had been enabled to develop naturally we should have 30 million sheep instead of 20 million in these islands at the present time. Last week-end I was very encouraged to learn that during the period since the war our 1574 friends in Ulster had increased sheep production by 86 per cent., and that the majority of the mutton was coming across the sea for us in this Island.
The scheme which I have endeavoured to present to the House is not merely designed to meet our present needs; it will benefit future generations. I make this suggestion at a time when it is so necessary to conserve our foreign exchange and maintain the high standard of living which we enjoy. In my view, the only way in which it can be done is to make a much greater use of our own soil. If we do that we shall be creating employment in every industry, because it has been our experience that when we have a prosperous and contented agricultural industry there is greater contentment in industry as a whole.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
I beg to second the Motion, which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch). At the same time, I want to congratulate him on his luck in the Ballot. This is the second time he has been successful over a short period—some of us have been trying for a long time without success.
My hon. Friend has raised a matter which is as close to my heart as it is to his. My maiden speech, some seven years ago, was on this very topic. I have raised it on four or five separate occasions since then, but the fact that rough grazing still remains at 16 million to 17 million acres shows that I have been ineffective in any steps I have taken. I hope that as a result of this Motion and the support it is receiving—as I see from the number of hon. Members here—we shall get the Ministry to impress the Government that something must be done.
What I cannot understand is that for years and years the 4th June returns have shown that there is an acreage of between 16 million and 17 million acres of rough grazing. In addition to those 17 million acres we have 2,800,000 acres of common land, which is mainly unproductive, and 1½ million acres of felled woodlands which is completely unproductive. It is time that this matter was tackled in a more forthright manner. With the hill farming schemes, the marginal land schemes, the livestock 1575 rearing schemes and the very big private enterprise schemes I cannot understand why this figure remains static.
I agree with my hon. Friend that to a certain extent it is a balancing figure. Those of us who have to fill up agricultural returns know that on the top right hand corner of our 4th June returns there is a space for the total acreage of farm. When we have totalled up our land in cultivation and our grassland we still have not reached the total figure of the farm, and we think the easiest thing to do is to put down the remainder as rough grazing. It is time that that practice was stopped.
Instead of the three returns we have now, one reliable 4th June return would be sufficient. I suggest that the Minister should be able to assure us that in future the area allotted to rough grazing should be dissected and broken down. This total of 16 million or 17 million acres can be broken down into figures for individual farms.
Those figures should be broken down so that any farmer who has returned more than about 2 per cent. of his total land as rough grazing should have a visit from the district committee representative, in order that he can find out what this rough grazing is and what should be done about it. I am not suggesting any more officials or any more forms. These figures are in existence. Everyone fills up the 4th June form. The information is available to the Ministry. It can be passed to the county and from there to the district committee, who can be asked to investigate the position.
I would ask the Minister if he can give us any idea what the Government propose to do with the common land, so much of which is in cultivation today. Much more ought to be in cultivation, but what is in cultivation has to be handed back to the commoners, under the present arrangements, at the end of next year. I believe it has to be handed back in grass. What do the Government propose to do with that land? Do they propose to see that it is kept in production, and that if it is not in production it is brought into production, or do they propose just to hand it back to the commoners? If they have one or two awkward commoners who will not co-operate and keep it in cultivation 1576 any attempt on the part of the enterprising ones will be nullified.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
Has the hon. Member ever thought of the total cost per acre of these common lands? I live near Banstead Downs, and have seen some cultivation of the common land there. Whilst the cost may be justified in an emergency it is perfectly clear that it would be very difficult to justify it in normal times.
§ Mr. Baldwin
Commons vary, and each common must be treated on its merits. If the hon. Member went on to any common—no matter what its condition—and said to a common holder, "I will give you 10, 15 or 20 acres of this common, to be attached to your holding, on one condition only, that you bring it in production," I gamble that every commoner would be only too glad to take in that land and give an undertaking to fence it and bring it into production without any expense to the State.
I do not suggest that this should be done by the county agricultural executive committee. I do not want to take anything from the commoners; I want to give them something that will be of some benefit to them. I should hate to think that there is any commoner who would not be delighted to have a small piece of land attached to his holding instead of, as at present, being of very little use to him.
In this country, which has to buy such a lot of food from abroad, we can see more idle land in a 20-mile drive than in the whole of Denmark, which provides much of our food. I suggest that the Government should set up a committee of inquiry to go into the whole future of agriculture, not merely with regard to the common land but to the rough grazing which exists. I do not suggest that a Royal Commission should be set up; that generally seems to be a first-class way of finding out tomorrow what everybody knows today.
There is already in being a body of practical men—the 13 liaison officers appointed by the Ministry. I know many of them, and I know them to be practical men. I suggest that they should be formed into a committee which will have the power to co-opt, take evidence and decide what should be done to increase agricultural production. I do 1577 not want a committee of intellectuals. If we suffer from one thing more than anything else it is from the intellectual who has no practical experience but who is always prepared to teach his grandmother how to suck eggs.
In spite of our wonderful export trade we still have a trade gap that is not being closed. If we are not closing the trade gap today when we have such a good export trade, what will happen when we have a small trade recession? It is all very well to talk about increasing our export trade, but we can increase it only to the extent that some country or countries abroad will buy from us. We can, however, increase home food production for which there is always a demand. There is no gamble about it.
It does not make sense to me that we are now losing vast sums of money in coal production and that some of that coal is being sent abroad to bring into this country food we can produce for ourselves from our own soil. If we gave a little less consideration to the export of coal and a little more consideration to increased food production it would be well worth while. For instance, we bought from Italy last year very nearly £2 million worth of apples. I defy anyone to say that those apples were better than our English apples. It seems to me extraordinary that we lose money mining coal to send to Italy to bring back apples when our own apples often enough are left to lie on the ground.
I know that it will be said that the cost of distribution is too high, but the cost of the distribution of agricultural products is calculated as is the cost of the distribution of manufactured articles. High overheads mean high costs. That is one of the reasons for the gap. A rise of 60 per cent. in production over that of 1938 is just not good enough. We have to aim at something considerably higher than that. Today we are not producing more than two thirds of the wheat we produced between 1830 and 1870, which was a time when we had no mechanical means of production, when we had no mineral fertilisers, and so on, and when we did not have the benefit of the improved varieties of seed that we have now. My experience, going through the country, is that there is today a vast amount of land that ought to be ploughed 1578 up that is not, but that was ploughed many years ago.
I have interesting figures here, about the acreages of rough grazing and com-monland. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) will be interested to know that in his county of Lancashire there are 173,000 acres of rough grazing and commonland. In Yorkshire there are over 500,000 acres of rough grazing and commonland, in Northumberland over 500,000, and in Wales 1,500,000 acres; while in Scotland there are something like 10 million acres of rough grazing and commonland.
§ Mr. Baldwin
That is what I want to find out from the Minister. These figures should be broken down intelligibly. I have seen in Scotland land that cannot be described as rough grazing, land that is no good for timber growing or grazing. But there are thousands of acres of land which in some King's reign was cultivated and breeding hardy stock and hardy men and women, land which is now derelict. Travelling across Sutherland a year or two ago I saw the most appallingly devastated areas, simply derelict land, no good for sport, no good for farming. I am afraid that to bring that land into cultivation again would mean a considerable amount of work, but it needs to be brought back to do what it used to do so many years ago.
To bring the land back into production, there are several things necessary. We have got to get more labour on the land, and we have got to see that that labour is paid well. The tendency is now for agricultural wages to rise, but I hope that the minimum wage will not be raised because my experience is that if the minimum wage is raised the minimum becomes the maximum. I appeal to all farmers to reward their good men by giving them increased wages without waiting for a rise in agricultural wages generally. I know from my experience what this means. I am paying the minimum wage to men who are not worth anything like it, odd men I have had to pick up to get my work done; but it means that if I pay those inefficient men the minimum wages my better men do 1579 not get the wages their merits entitle them to get. Therefore, I want to see much more of a margin.
We want more houses, and much of the land to be reclaimed will require new roads leading to it, and all that means capital. I suggest that any expenses in these respects should be paid out of profits if they are made. I know there is some difficulty with tax inspectors about whether reclamation work should be looked upon as payable out of income or whether it is capital expenditure. I suggest that anything that is done to increase the productivity of our land should be looked upon as payable out of income. We ought to leave more of our profits to be ploughed into the land. We could learn a lesson from Southern Rhodesia, where to encourage farmers they allow them to make £3,000 a year before charging them any income tax. It makes my mouth water.
I would conclude by reminding the House of some words by the Prime Minister in a speech to the Foreign Press Association last year.In all history there never has been a community so large, so complex, so sure of its way of life at such a dizzy eminence and on so precarious a foundation.How true. Is not the precarious foundation caused by our neglect of the land? I hope we shall now take steps to bring this land into production, to make it a more stable basis for the whole of our economy, and also to be of the utmost importance if war ever comes again.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I think we are all grateful to the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) for having raised this problem, but his idea of financing the reclamation of rough grazing did seem to me to be very queer indeed. His idea apparently is that the 40 per cent. allowance for machinery for Income Tax purposes, which is granted to industry, should be made available in the case of reclamation work in agriculture.
§ Mr. Crouch
The allowance is 20 per per cent. in industry. I am suggesting 40 per cent. for the land.
§ Mr. Paget
Does the hon. Member realise that the percentage, whatever it may be—it was 40 per cent. and is now 20 per cent.—which he is suggesting should be allowable in agriculture, is a depreciation allowance and is merely a loan to the man who puts in machinery? That is to say, he is allowed to write off 20 per cent. or 40 per cent. or whatever the percentage may be in the first year; that means that he writes off less in subsequent years; but none the less, of course, 100 per cent. of that machinery during its life, because of the depreciation, is a legitimate charge against profits. Reclaiming land does not thereby create an asset which will depreciate. Quite the contrary. It produces an asset which it is hoped will steadily improve. To allow a bogus depreciation allowance on something which does not depreciate seems to me a somewhat comic way of financing this sort of improvement.
§ Mr. Crouch
The hon. and learned Member still has not got my point. If the present allowances sufficed to undertake this pioneering work, which is what it amounts to, I would not put forward these proposals to the House today. But they are not sufficient. The proof of that is. that there are 17 million acres of rough grazing land, of which I believe five million should be brought into cultivation in the next 10 years, and we must give some incentive to get it done.
§ Mr. Paget
That may be so. I shall be coming to those aspects in a moment, but it does not seem to me that the way to do it is to grant a depreciation allowance on something which is created and which it is certainly hoped will not depreciate at all. The later idea, that this should be taken on into subsequent years because on newly reclaimed land the flints, and that sort of thing, have to be picked up, seems to me an even more curious performance, because what is done in subsequent years is directly claimable against income. The cost of preparing the seed bed and picking up the flints is chargeable against income, so that seems to me a curious reason for having a second and imaginary figure also chargeable against income.
The greatest objection to financing in this sort of way seems to be this. At the beginning of his speech the hon. Gentleman seemed to be telling us that 1581 there was a means test applicable to improvement grants. I should be most interested if the Minister could, in his reply, elaborate on that a little, because it is certainly news to me. Is there anything in it? I hope that we shall hear about that.
What the hon. Gentleman is proposing is the most obvious means test in the world, because no allowance is of any use to anybody unless they have got a profit for the allowance to go against, so it excludes anybody who is not making a profit. That again does not seem to me to be a logical way of doing it. The result would be that if there were a special allowance for improvements of rough grazing chargeable against profits, anybody who had any profits would find some rough grazing upon which he could spend money, however uneconomic, because he would be spending the State's money. That is not, I think, a financial measure likely to be either very efficient or very effective.
I should have thought that the main case the hon. Gentleman made was a powerful case for land nationalisation. For hundreds of years this rough grazing land has been in private hands. There is some common land, but in great measure it has been in private hands. It has been in private hands during periods of great agricultural prosperity and depression, and in the vast majority of cases at no time have private land owners considered it worth improving. I agree that there are exceptions in the Highlands of Scotland and Wales, but that was largely because of a population shift.
In England this rough grazing is, with negligible exceptions, land which never has been improved at any time in its history. Therefore, if it has never been worth while for the private landlord to improve it, surely there is an overwhelming case, if the job wants doing, to let the State do what private enterprise cannot and will not do. If there is a case for this particular form of land reclamation it is a case for the nationalisation of that land, realising that the cost of reclamation is vastly larger than the initial value of the land.
My own view is that there is not much of a case for reclaiming rough grazing at all. After the war we assumed, with unfortunate results, that land in Africa was a vast reservoir of fertility and pro- 1582 duction for the world but after some rather large scale experiments we found that one of the reasons that land had not been tilled was that, within the knowledge as it existed, it was not tillable. The reason why the vast majority of this land is rough grazing is because it is no use for anything else. A great deal of money can be spent on it, but that money will not be seen back in production, and it will slip away. There are exceptions, of course, but I believe that is the broad history of most of the rough grazing.
I dare say impressive figures of recovered rough grazing land could be produced by the very simple method, which I think was suggested by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) of altering the form of return. A great deal of this land which appears in the returns at the moment as rough grazing is nothing of the sort. It is a balancing figure. It is whatever one likes to call it. By checking through, I dare say that by next year something like two million acres could be produced which would no longer be called rough grazing, but that would not really solve this problem.
I believe the real solution to improving our agricultural property today is not to try to grow stuff on land which generations of experience have taught us, our fathers and our fathers' fathers is unsuitable for the purpose. The real solution is by getting better production out of our good land. That is where the great margin of improvement lies.
Some people talk of fertilisers. Stuff can be grown off flannel if fertiliser is put on it, but that is not making the best use of the fertiliser. The real purpose of the fertiliser is to mobilise the fertility in the land, and which cannot operate because of various deficiencies. To put fertilisers where all the fertility has to be put into useless land is not to make the best use of fertilisers. At present the use of fertilisers on our good land is thoroughly inadequate.
A couple of weeks ago I was going round a group of four farms of not particularly good land; not bad land, but it would be very bad land if it were badly farmed. It was difficult land. It was beautifully farmed. It was fanned by a farmer who on most of that land would get three crops in two years, and who on 1583 a dozen acres of the four lands which he was managing was getting a productivity of £96 per acre with a turnover of £96,000. That is something like four times the national average. If we can get our good and reasonably good land up to that sort of productivity—and the Dutch and the Danes are not far off it— not as an exception but as an average, there is a vast scope for improving our general productivity.
§ Mr. Baldwin
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman enlarge on that figure? He gave the astonishing figure of £96 per acre. It occurs to me that part of that £96,000 turnover which he is producing is in respect of the production of pigs and poultry which he feeds very largely on purchased feedingstuffs. To say that he can produce £96 per acre on ordinary land is fantastic.
§ Mr. Paget
I can say that he keeps half a dozen pigs for domestic use and he keeps four herds of dairy cattle almost all of which are almost solely fed from home production. I went over the farm very carefully because I found it a fascinating experience. The Minister may well know to whom I am referring, and if the hon. Member for Leominster would like me to do so, I can give him the full particulars. I can assure him that they are perfectly genuine. That is what can be done by good farming.
It is far better to push up production on good land in that way than to try to chase the fertility in bad land. If we want new land, I believe we would do far better to follow the example of the Dutch and go in for producing good land where the land can be good. I will give one particular example—Chichester and Langston Harbours. There is an area, where, at a not very great engineering cost, the two narrow entrances of the bigger harbours could be closed and thousand of acres of potentially superlative land could be made available. Obviously that could only be done by State enterprise.
There are a good many other areas of saltings and mudflats of great potential fertility if we did the work. It is far better to try to do that where we have something really good when we make our capital expenditure than to go chasing the rough grazing up to the hills.
1584 Personally I enjoy sailing on that particular stretch of water and I should dislike very much to see it go. [Interruption.] I gather that the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) enjoys sailing on that water, too.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I am wondering whether the hon. and learned Gentleman has changed his mind since he has bought a boat capable of going outside the harbour.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is I am afraid this morning a little in the mood described by Mr. Hilaire Belloc as when he said:The men of the Midlands are sodden and unkind."Sodden" in his complaint that our grain has double the water content of that in North America; "unkind" in suggesting that we were really not pursuing an important subject this morning. It would be far better, as he said, to obtain land from the sea than chase the rough grazing up the hills. I think that we shall find in this country that we need to do both. I yield to none in my desire to see reclamation of some of the estuaries around our coast. The Wash is a case in point. I think that capital works undertaken there would be of great advantage in bringing in neighbouring land which already shows an enormously high agricultural value.
Much of this sea reclamation was undertaken long ago, under private enterprise, and there was a good deal of complaint about it being done but it was to the advantage of the country as a whole and I do not think anyone denies that.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
But more was done by the Duke of Bedford than Cromwell ever did, and he was greatly abused for it. Cromwell played a certain part in it but it was, after all, not the most 1585 important part. It was done by a continuing process over the years, done by the landlords to whom the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) paid tribute for their work not only then but now. They were a source of capital on which agriculture has drawn in the past and will draw again in the future.
We are discussing a project of very great importance today. It is true, however, to say that rough grazing covers a multitude of sins. I am sure that the desirability of a closer examination of the problem is very necessary. Rough grazing that consists merely of the sides of the mountains in Wales or Scotland, is not, I would agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, a proper subject for land reclamation at all.
There is however a considerable amount of what is classified as rough grazing in a great number of agricultural holdings which do not even come under the heading of hill farms or of stock-rearing farms. The problem is two-fold, that of the ordinary farmer and that of the hill farmer. The inducement to the ordinary farmer should not be merely to cultivate his fields more intensively but to drive the plough up into the marginal areas of his own farm where in many cases it can be done with advantage to the country.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton said that much of this rough grazing is land which has never been cultivated by anyone. That is not quite true. The hon. Member for Dorset, North spoke of land which had not been touched since the Romans left. There is also a good deal which has not been cultivated since Napoleon left. Under modern conditions use can be made of both.
The point is that I do not think we all realise, first of all, the extent to which financial facilities have been made available, and secondly the new factors which have come into the problem which make it desirable to utilise these facilities. One new factor is machinery. The old landlords could not tackle the job completely, because they did not have the power of modern machinery behind them. The next factor is speed. One can today with a tractor travel from the farmstead to distant parts of a farm in 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour. It would take an hour or an hour and a half to reach 1586 with a pair of horses, and then there is the return journey. That would have made it uneconomic to try to cultivate such land.
We must use to the full the new factor of speed which has been brought into farming and utilise to the full the enormous investment in machinery—perhaps over-investment in machinery—by agriculture in this country which has been undertaken during and since the war. I do not believe that machinery and the factor of speed are being used to the full unless we appreciate that they have made the radius from the farmstead far greater than it has ever been before and that we can now cultivate land which was not economical to cultivate in the old days because of the time factor involved.
Machinery brings problems of its own. It particularly brings problems of roads. While it is easier now to get to outlying parts and back, one travels on a vehicle which makes a much greater demand on the track upon which it is running than the old horse and cart ever did. A pair of tractor wheels will drive some of our land in Scotland into a slough and a morass which makes it absolutely necessary to metal a track for the vehicle. Also, the fertilisers are brought along in wagons of enormous tonnage compared with the old horse and cart. Six-ton and 10-ton lorries are nothing in the limespreading operations. Unless one has a fairly strong road on which to bring along such a vehicle and a bit of a bridge to enable it to cross the watercourse, one's last state is worse than one's first.
All this means that we have to treat the matter from a very wide angle. We have before us the problem not merely of farming the land more intensively but also of making access to the land more easy, so that we can move to and from it more quickly and utilise the new factor of speed, which has been brought into farming not merely within living memory but within the last decade or less.
Another fact is that capital expenditure required to improve pure rough grazing is very large indeed—almost frighteningly large. The man living in the backwoods is often not very accessible for the introduction of the newest ideas and has no great reserve of capital to draw upon to carry out the improvements, which in themselves are so expensive. I speak as 1587 one who is carrying out a certain amount of improvement work on rough grazing. I could show the hon. and learned Member for Northampton rough grazing which has been very considerably improved and which I am sure will not at the end of the day show a loss either to the country or, I hope, to the individual. But it certainly has meant dipping my hand very deeply into my overdraft to finance these improvements. It has meant sinking capital sums which it would be very difficult for the man farming in a small way to come by.
To obtain the full benefits of the new methods we must have an open outlook and, somewhere or other, a considerable purse. The open outlook will need to be provided by demonstration areas of one kind or another, demonstrations of what can be done, demonstrations, for instance, of roads for heavy vehicles, demonstrations of rough grazing before and after various treatments. It is true that we have the admirable county services upon which farmers can draw. The Report of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland for 1952 mentions its hill farming demonstration farms. In connection with the Hill Farm Research Committee, the Report states that a co-ordinated programme of research was continued at the three hill farm research stations, one in Kincardineshire, one in Argyllshire and one in my own county of Roxburghshire. The Department also continued their experiments on the problems of management and husbandry, on the marginal farms of Clashnoir, Deskie and Thain in Glenlivet, Banffshire.
However, these are too scattered and distant to get at the man whom we desire to touch, the small man in the back area who is the type to benefit most by a programme of improvement of his land if we can get him to undertake it. In the first instance, therefore, we ought to have a considerably larger number of demonstration areas. They need not be wholly undertaken and maintained by the Department. They could be something like the demonstration houses on housing estates in the old days when houses were built by private enterprise. There would be notices outside a house on the comer of the estate saying, "Here is the sort of house which is being built. Come and inspect it."; and by an arrangement with 1588 the tenant, people were shown over the house. Facilities for the inspection of some of this work could be provided without any very great difficulty by arrangement with the Department. The ordinary farmer learns through his boot-soles; he learns only by walking up to the thing and over it. Only then is he convinced that something really has happened and that it is not just another plan, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) said, of the intellectuals in the city. Thus, my first plea is for more demonstration areas.
My second plea is for a campaign which would explain to the agriculturists the facilities which are already available, especially the financial facilities. Very great financial facilities are already available. We have heard an argument between my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton as to the application of certain revenue points in the returns and as to what would or would not qualify for allowances. To the ordinary farmer that is more or less black magic. He does not understand these things. I am sure that a further campaign of enlightenment would be of very great advantage to him. The inner mysteries of maintenance claims are only now slowly beginning to dawn on him. The manner with which our great industrialists have been able to exist for many years in this respect would be very startling indeed to the farmer if the process were thoroughly explained to him.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Again the hon. and learned Gentleman is speaking of the Midlands where they seem to sit up all night working upon their account books instead of getting up in the morning to cultivate their fields. However, I have found that some of them are able to do both, like his friend who has been able to produce such an enormous profit per acre, very largely, I understand, from day-old chicks. For myself, I do not consider that fanning. If the ordinary hill shepherd over the Border were shown a day-old chick he would not regard it as anything at all except a kind of pet.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
That is exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster said. He buys these things for his farm, and processes them. But I do not think he can make the big profits of which we have heard solely from what he produces from the soil. I do not want to be too long on that point, because there are many hon. Members who wish to speak and other points still to be discussed.
Now in Scotland, for instance, schemes for hill farming have covered about 3,600,000 acres. On these it is intended that some £6,500,000 should be spent. Of that sum already £1,500,000 has been paid. This is largely done on the basis of fifty-fifty grants. The House will see that the hill farmers have still got to raise considerable sums of money, and that amounts to a considerable effort for the hill farmer. He is not so much interested in the half which comes from the State as in the other half, which he has to find himself. He wants to know where that will come from. It is a difficult task. Therefore, he is more interested in other schemes which will provide him with cash in hand.
On that there are very considerable sums available to the agriculturist. Under the marginal agricultural production schemes in Scotland for the regeneration of grazing or similar land, sums up to £8 an acre can be paid. I know that is not as much as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North would like, but I do not think the existence of these considerable grants is very generally known. Then for temporary fencing there is a grant of £10 per acre. These things are becoming known, but they could, I think, with advantage, be much more vigorously publicised.
In the year 1948 the provision under the Marginal Agricultural Production scheme was £300,000. By 1951 it was £650,000, and in 1953 it is proposed to be £960,000. That is a considerable rise but I think it shows that we could in Scotland with advantage, as I am sure we could in England and Wales, publicise more widely the grants which are available.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)
There is one point which arises out of what my right hon. and gallant Friend has said about Scotland. He talked about the regeneration of land, but there is also a grant of up to £25 an acre for reclamation.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
That is for actual reclamation, but I was speaking of marginal land grants which have already been made. As the Joint Undersecretary of State knows, a grant of £10 an acre is made for the ploughing up of land which has been continuously under grass since May, 1939. In that connection I understand that approximately 10,000 acres are being claimed for. I think that shows that a knowledge of these things is not sufficiently widespread, else I think if it were far more land would qualify for this grant. Before we approach the Government asking for further consideration, we ought to make sure that the utmost use is being made of the schemes and the provisions which are already in existence.
There are certain other points which I think might well be considered in a programme of reclaiming land. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North, suggested that much of this land did not need very much drainage. A good deal of it does. He spoke of the great advantage of mole drainage, which is perfectly true. But the difficulty here is that heavy machinery is necessary to carry it out, and to handle this drainage plant on an economical basis is a considerable problem. The plant required is enormously expensive to transport. Labour for drainage is difficult to get.
Those of us who farm know how difficult it is to get labour even to keep our existing drains clear without looking for additional labour to embark on further expensive drainage. This machinery is expensive to handle and awfully expensive to carry about. If it has to be moved from, say, Sutherland to Roxburghshire, the cost of transporting the machines would wipe out all the profit which one might hope to get by cultivating the land. Therefore, I think a programme of grouping for the use of this machinery ought to be embarked upon.
§ Mr. Crouch
My right hon. and gallant Friend may be interested to know that there is a new mole machine which can be drawn by a Fordson tractor and it is doing excellent work. It is quite new and is doing very good work at the moment in my county, so that the necessity for the big mole drainage machinery therefore is not as great.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It may be. However, some heavy draining machinery is needed for the land of which I am thinking. I do not think the light mole machinery would handle it all. I may be wrong in that, but I am sure that there is much room for big heavy machinery to be used.
If we are to bring down the amount of transport and thereby reduce the cost to the minimum, the grouping of areas is necessary. What I have in mind is the grouping of areas such as South-East Scotland, South-West Scotland and Central Scotland. There the people might be encouraged to put in plans on a five-year basis, during which a small premium would be given for drainage carried out in that area. That, I believe, would have the effect of bringing forward a set of drainage schemes in a given area, which would mean the minimum transit of the heavy plant within that area and, therefore, we would bring down the cost of utilising this plant. I am sure that without heavy mechanical drainage plant it would be impossible for us to reclaim a great deal of the land about which I know, and a great deal of the land in which other hon. Members are interested.
There are, of course, still more extensive schemes which have been considered and which are under actual consideration at the present time. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton suggested the utilisation of our estuaries. There is also the stripping of the peat from much of the fertile land in this country which it still covers. That is not a new project. A great deal of the farmland in central Scotland was reclaimed in that way, and reclaimed in the days when it had to be tackled by means of muscle and sweat, and the overburden, the peat, floated down the Forth to the open sea. That produced some of the most fertile land in Scotland today.
In other areas of Scotland land is covered with a thick blanket of peat. But 1592 instead of throwing it into the sea today we might use it as fuel in the hydro-electro plants. It would mean a combination of streamlined modern industrialism—the electricity producing stations—and the most ancient of devices, getting the peat off the land so as to get at the firm soil underneath. That sort of combined operation might well lead—I do not deny it—to a much larger use of State resources and of State enterprise than any of the more limited schemes would require.
We Tories are not afraid of State enterprise. After all, we fought a revolution against the Whigs who claimed that the State should have no part in public affairs. We think, however, that it should be kept in its place. We think there are some things that State enterprise can do better than private enterprise and a great many things that private enterprise can do better than State enterprise.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It is well known that the Whigs won the revolution. I would merely ask, "Where are the Whigs now?" [An HON. MEMBER: "Over there."] Not at all, what you see here are the Tories. We did not carry Sunderland on a Whig programme. We are all for the State enterprise road, the King's Highway, the oldest thing in the Constitution, but we are all for the private enterprise lorry running on the King's Highway.
As I say, for these greater schemes it may well be necessary to have some large-scale public enterprise, but there is a vast amount to be done by the private individual working on his own land and developing the process of reclamation by which, after all, this country was reclaimed from the forest and moor in the old days.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been making a most interesting contribution, especially from his own personal experience. Can he dwell briefly on the question of the labour involved and the difficulties found in getting the requisite amount of labour to do these things?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Few greater compliments could be paid to any hon. Member in this House than a request to continue his speech, and I will do my utmost not to presume upon that invitation. The key to this is housing. With a good house there is a good chance of getting and keeping a good man, but without it there is no chance at all. Next, we must use contract labour for such things as roads because estate labour is not enough. It is necessary to use transport running from the quarry to the site, to use modern stone crushing equipment, running stone into the lorry, running it out, using a tipping lorry, spreading it along the grass and bringing a light road roller there to firm it up.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Oddly enough, it is not. If the county council would do it, nobody would be more pleased than myself. I stood every stiver of it. I signed all the cheques. I stood to lose by it. The county council has not yet even seen that road, and I am sure it will take a long time before I get the county council to take over the road which I have laid up the glen. Again, excavating machinery is necessary. I had to straighten out a loop in a small river for my purpose. One man with an excavator dug in a week sufficient of a cut to straighten out the whole of that river. I do not know how long it would have taken men digging with picks and shovels but I am sure that, if they could have been induced to go there, as soon as they had seen it, they would have fled from it screaming.
Resident labour must be used for its own job, which is farming and shepherding. Also one must have a fairly open mind. One can obtain that by coming down to the House of Commons and listening to the speeches. But such an advantage is not given to all those who undertake this work.
Given the use of modern facilities, great advances can still be made in this field. It should not be neglected. Many facilities exist already, and the debate this morning will have served a useful purpose if it does no more than to bring to the notice of those interested the fact that great provision has already been made. If that provision is utilised to the 1594 full, a notable addition to the agricultural acreage of this country can well be made.
§ Mr. Speaker
Although I do not select the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), he is free to speak to the Motion.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) is on the slippery slope. He began by arguing that the landlords would supply the capital for the possible development of the rough grazing land and went on to give an exposition showing that he was largely committed to State enterprise. If the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) had been here, he would have been stabbed in the back at that statement. The argument of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was definitely that for the reclamation and the development of the rough grazing land we should not rely upon private enterprise—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) does me an injustice. I gave two examples of large-scale schemes which I thought could be done by a combination of State and private enterprise, but I spoke as vigorously as I could in favour of the small man doing the work on his own farm, which I thought he was capable of doing in many cases.
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall come to that presently, but I must go rather deeper than that.
When the right hon. and gallant Member began by arguing for a perpetuation of the private landowning system by suggesting that we could get our capital for these huge reclamation schemes from the present system of landlordism, there was a fatal flaw in his argument. Even the hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton), who argues in this House with eloquent and consistent advocacy the claims of the Highlands of Scotland, says that private enterprise capital could not be called upon to do the work needed for the reclamation of agricultural land in the Highlands, and has even argued in favour of applying to the International Bank. So I submit that when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman starts with a preface 1595 that for this huge reclamation of two million acres we have to rely on the perpetuation of a private ownership system of land in those areas, he is hopelessly wrong.
When the right hon. and gallant Gentleman came down to the practical ways in which we could get these schemes going, his suggestion was the extension of the demonstration farm. I am entirely in agreement with him in that. A great deal of the advance in Scottish agriculture has been due to the excellent management and development of the demonstration farms, such as Auchincruive, which has done a great deal to improve the development of the milk industry in the south-west of Scotland. If the demonstration farm can be successful in increasing the quantity and quality of the milk, I suggest that its use could be extended to the rough grazing areas in the lowlands of Scotland, and so help to solve the problem of rough grazing and of increasing the supply of beef.
Recently I read with astonishment that the County of Inverness-shire, where there is most opportunity and the greatest possibility of development, has no agricultural college, and that the farmers in that county have been complaining bitterly. I entirely agree that the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvin-grove is making a practical contribution to the solution of this problem when he suggests that there should be an extension of these demonstration farms to all parts of the country where they can be usefully employed.
In the north and south-west of Scotland there is ample opportunity for development of this kind, and I believe that the Government would be well advised to take the advice of the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove and encourage the establishment all over these areas of suitable demonstration farms, which could do this work on a big scale, which ordinary small fanners cannot possibly do. It is useless to suggest that a smallholder can get the capital or the labour to do this work on the scale on which it is necessary for it to be done.
I recollect hearing very interesting and well-informed speeches which were made by the present Joint Under-Secretary of 1596 State for Scotland when he was in opposition. He asked very much the same question which has been passing through my mind today—have the Government got a definite long-term policy? Are they prepared to mobilise all their resources in extending what is absolutely necessary if we are to move towards the solution of our agricultural and food production problems?
I remember when the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), who is now the Joint Under-Secretary of State, used to ask questions in Scottish and agricultural debates, and here is one of them. He asked:Are the Government satisfied that everything that can be done is being done to increase the production of meat in Scotland? Have we a long-term meat policy designed to exploit the millions of acres of hill and marginal land we have in the country, and if so will he kindly tell us what it is? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1949; Vol. 466, c. 1529.]That really forms the gist of what I have to say. That is what the hon. Gentleman asked four years ago, and that is what I am asking him today.
It is rather a reflection upon the Government that after they have been so long in office they now have to be prodded by their back benchers in order that they may announce their long-term policy. I doubt very much whether, even with the prodding from different parts of the country, the Government have a long-term policy today. I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman, who I presume will reply to this debate, now that he is in office and has an open goal, will say, "Yes, the Government are now prepared to put into operation all the excellent schemes that I pressed upon the Labour Government when they were in office."
I used to listen with rapt attention to those well-informed speeches in which he used to talk about the deer on the hills of Scotland and about the need to support Lord Lovat's scheme for developing this sort of land. I think that on one occasion he came very near arguing for a publicly-owned corporation because he knew quite well, as he knows quite well today—and the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove is also well aware—that we cannot rely upon private enterprise, we cannot rely upon the smallholder or the small farmer or 1597 upon anything except State enterprise and initiative.
I want to know what the hon. Gentleman is going to do now to put into effect those schemes which he advocated most powerfully, and by means of which, he said, we need not import so much meat from Australia or any meat from the Argentine, because we could use the rough grazing land of Scotland on which to feed the cattle that would help to solve the problem of our meat supplies. That is a question that fanners all over the country are asking me. They are asking me what is the Government's long-term policy and when all the dreams of the hon. Member for West Perth are to materialise into an agricultural policy.
§ Mr. Snadden
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the incentives about which I spoke in those days have to a large extent been given by this Government, especially in the hill cattle scheme, in which the grant now stands at £10 as against £7, and in the additional calf subsidy.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman cannot get away from his part like that. He was advocating something more than a £10 subsidy. I have his past here— and I do not mean just one speech. He said these things year after year. He advocated something far more revolutionary than a £10 subsidy. I want to know what the farmers are going to get in the way of real practical policy from this Government. If they were getting anything that satisfied them there would not have been any need to put this Motion on the Paper. There would have been no need for the prodding.
When the Prime Minister was called upon to go to a meeting of the National Fanners' Union he uttered a lot of airy platitudes which never materialised into a declaration of policy. I remember when the Prime Minister made an attack on the late Ramsay MacDonald because of his "platitudinous generalities." He referred to him as a "boneless wonder." Boneless wonders may be acceptable in the House of Commons but not in an agricultural show.
When the Prime Minister made that speech to the National Farmers' Union I saw a report of it in the Press, and I thought to myself, "Surely there is something more in it than that," and I asked 1598 the Prime Minister to supply his policy in the form of a White Paper. He said that it was not customary to reproduce speeches in the form of a White Paper but that he would send it to me, and he sent me a verbatim copy. I could read to the House the whole of his speech to the National Farmers' Union, and everybody would agree that there was no vestige of a policy in it.
This is the sort of thing that he said:We have already raised our production by over 40 per cent. The job must be finished and finished soon, and when finished it is by no means at an end but only the opening of a further task.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
Did the Prime Minister not say in that same speech that the guarantees would definitely be continued? Is that not a definite and firm pledge which was very desirable in the long-term policy for agriculture?
§ Mr. Hughes
What I want is a policy. If the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) had been satisfied with the Prime Minister's speech there would have been no need for him to put the Motion on the Paper. All that was necessary for the Prime Minister was to add to this speech the famous peroration of going on and on and on, and up and up and up, in order to develop a completely incomprehensible policy. The Prime Minister might get away with that at a National Farmers' Union meeting, but when it comes to branch meetings of farmers where they ask, "What does all this mean?" they naturally want to find out where the bones are.
We find the Secretary of State for Scotland being asked Questions to which no answer has been given. That is why I think we should have a real attempt at an answer this afternoon instead of this talk about the subsidy. Recently, the Secretary of State for Scotland addressed a meeting of farmers. At the end of the meeting, after he had regurgitated the usual platitudes, up rose an intelligent farmer and asked a question.
According to the "Scottish Farmer":Mr. A. H. B. Grant, referring to the huge areas of agricultural land which could be brought back into cultivation by proper arterial drainage, asked if an assurance could be given that legislation would be put through to have this work carried out and got the reply that negotiations on this problem were going on.1599 But how long are they going on, and what is to be the result of them? I am repeating the question so that the Joint Under-Secretary will not be able to avoid the issue. Otherwise he may have to go back to the Hawick Branch of the National Farmers' Union, where they were so indignant that they thought him a cross between a Soviet commissar and a Nazi dictator.
Are we not entitled to know how these two million acres are to be brought into cultivation? In that respect we have to ask where we are to get the labour. We have to face the fact that the labour problem is becoming more acute, and that the number of farm workers this year in the age group of 21 has decreased. There are 3,000 fewer farmers in that age group in Scotland than there were 10 years ago. The Joint Under-Secretary reads the reports and editorial articles in the "Scottish Farmer." He will know that farmers are asking how we are to get the food production which is needed on this rough grazing land if the labour force is dwindling and if the countryside remains unattractive to farm workers. There is the added irritation that at the time the Prime Minister is calling for increased food production the authorities are calling up for military service the young people on whom we have to rely for the future labour force.
I am regularly receiving letters from the National Farmers' Union of Scotland asking me to raise the question of the call-up of the agricultural workers and, of course, I do my best to express their point of view. It is not only the farmers of Ayrshire who are concerned. A study of the "Scottish Farmer" of recent months shows that Farmers' Union branches in Lanarkshire, Dumfriesshire and other parts of Scotland are exceedingly perturbed about the call-up of agricultural workers. If we take agricultural workers from the land how can that be reconciled with the demand for increased food production?
Only yesterday the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray) asked a Question of the Minister of Labour and received a most unsatisfactory reply. Even the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), who is always interested in the 1600 Forces, joined in the protest which took place at the end of a recent Adjournment debate in which Conservative hon. Members asked the Government not to call up agricultural workers. But they are not doing what was asked. They tell us that there is to be no call-up until the end of the harvest, but what are we to do for the next harvest and the harvest afterwards? In face of this policy we do not see any Government long-term plan. We see them frittering away their energies on such things as road haulage in a way which will make things more difficult for the farmer to bring his cattle to market.
I suggest that while we are agreed on the importance of this subject, and congratulate the hon. Member for Dorset, North on drawing attention to the fact that the kind of land we are considering needs to be cultivated, we should also emphasise that there is a very definite growth of opinion that the time has come when the Government must formulate a clear and more definite policy, and that if that is not done the Government should go.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
This is a very important debate. I have long held the view that it is absolutely essential for any Government to give much more attention to increased food production at home than has been given up to now. I think we may well be faced in the next year or two, and for a long time thereafter, with increased difficulty in maintaining the exports we have enjoyed since the end of the war because of the ending of the sellers' market and the lessening of demand. It is those exports which provide food and raw materials for us.
I forecast a year or two ago that when the cuts did come—as come they must— they would come on food because no Government would be entitled to cut raw materials and bring about unemployment in this country. If a Government did so it would not last. That is exactly what happened. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor brought in the first Budget after this Government was formed, there were cuts in the less essential food imports.
I feel that to some extent that may answer the important point made by the 1601 hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who gets so anxious about labour. He well knows the difficulty of the Government. They have to give priority to the defence of our country and our overseas Dominions. We must play our part among the other free nations and we cannot give to the agricultural industry the exemption which he demands. It would be grossly unfair to all other citizens to do so. Surely the hon. Member does not think that the threat of war is to continue forever? Does be not rejoice that now the people whom I thought were his friends are showing a change of heart and that there may well be a cessation in this continuous calling up of people for war?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is the hon. Member aware that the miner is exempt because the Government realise that coal production is absolutely essential to the life of the nation? Why should the farm worker not receive the same treatment, as food production is equally important to the nation?
§ Sir D. Robertson
I concede that the hon. Member has a point there, but I am not going to debate it with him. Mining has been such a cancer in the industrial history of this country that if this concession is given to them alone and if it provides peace I would be the last to disagree with it. But I would remind my hon. Friends of the fears I have in my mind that we are not to enjoy this tremendous boom we have had since 1945 in exports and in the home market too which is showing sales resistance—and we may run into a period of unemployment which may provide the means for many people of a much healthier life by getting on to the land.
My constituency has been referred to by several hon. Members in this debate. It forms part of the Highland area of Scotland, comprising one-half of Scotland, and is capable of making a really massive contribution to this problem. I quite agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that, in this area, the cost of reclamation must be high, but I think that a concentration of effort—I would not say it should be given priority—must be made on producing more from the good land of this country, and that is the Government's present policy. They are 1602 concentrating their efforts in that direction, and trying to get the small farmer and crofter in Scotland to produce more.
In that direction, the North of Scotland Agricultural College has done magnificent work, and every county in the North, including Inverness, has a representative of that college resident in it, and giving all the benefit of his experience to the farmers in the area. I feel very strongly that we must concentrate on getting the farmers and crofters in the Highland area to produce more food, and I hope the Government are bearing that matter in mind, as I believe they are.
Simultaneously, we have to take into account this large area of undeveloped land in the Highlands. Unlike the West Country referred to by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch), it was not left in this state by the Romans; the Romans did not get as far as that, because we pushed them back. Thousands of these acres were fertile not so very long ago, and, in my own constituency of Caithness and Sutherland we have a collection of aerial photographs, which were taken during the war, showing through the heather and bracken the furrows of the plough. We did not lose any of this valuable land for building or for industrial purposes; we lost it to the heather and the bracken because it was not profitable for the people to live on it and work it for food production in the days of unrestricted free trade, which the party opposite supported so strongly.
In those days when I was a boy in Glasgow we could buy food from the Argentine, Denmark and from all over the world, but we could get nothing from the Highlands, which could only afford to produce enough to supply the local communities. That area of land, which once carried one-third of the people of Scotland and is now carrying less than one-twentieth, is capable of making a great contribution to this problem.
My hon. Friend the Joint Undersecretary, who will reply to the debate, is one of the men who has himself made a big contribution, because he and his partner, Mr. Stewart, put their money and their energy into reclaiming mountainous land in Perthshire, where, after 10 years, they are now beginning to get results. Lord Lovat has done something similar on a smaller scale in Inverness, 1603 and we know that Mr. Hobbs at Fort William took over an area which I well remember when I was in hospital there during the first World War. It was a place left to heather and bog, and yet is now growing lush grass.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
I can only speak of my own early days in North Wales, but would not the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the crofters in Scotland had only had a better return in those days, the situation would be infinitely better than it is now?
§ Sir D. Robertson
I covered that point when I referred to the days of unrestricted free trade, and I would say to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that the present time may be our opportunity to begin to make better use of our own land. I was quoting examples of people whom I know who have done something in that direction. I mentioned the name of my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, and I had got as far as Mr. Hobbs at Fort William.
Two years ago, I drove through this area which Mr. Hobbs has transformed, and I simply could not recognise it. There were many cattle scattered over the area and fine grass was growing there. Some farmers and crofters in my own constituency have reclaimed land with the aid of Government schemes, but that development is not proceeding on a scale nearly big enough, and there is a lack of urgency about it. I would say with regret to my hon. Friend that I have felt disappointed, because in the days when we were in Opposition he was making the kind of speech to which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire has just referred, but we all well know that, once an hon. Member becomes a Minister, it is not so easy to translate all ones hopes and ambitions into action. I hope that, if this debate does nothing else, it will draw the attention of the Government to the need for much more being done, and being done quickly.
The late Earl Lloyd George, when he was Mr. Lloyd George, was once making a journey through the Highlands after the first World War. He gazed out of the window of his coach and then turned round to Sir Murdoch Macdonald, who was so long well-known in this House, and said, "Why is it that that lonely 1604 farmhouse stands there in its bit of green carved out of the hills? Why is it the only farm for miles and miles? "We see that sort of thing throughout the whole of the Highland area. Some men have had the will and the energy to do that work in carving out a place for themselves which now stands as monument revealing what can be done by reclamation.
It is said that the great deterrent to others following their example is the cost, but farmers today are more prosperous than they have probably ever been. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton talked about periods of prosperity in agriculture, but I have lived for over 60 years and the only periods of prosperity that I can recall were during wars and after wars. I think that is a statement of fact.
I think something must be done, and that it cannot be long delayed, because it is wrong that we should be so dependent on countries overseas. Whether it is right or wrong, there is one certain fact about the situation, which is that those countries which gave us cheap food for so long are no longer able to do it. In addition, the population of Argentina is increasing and in a recent year, 150,000 agricultural workers left the land in Argentina and went into industry in Buenos Aires, so that meat supplies to this country will decline.
If we begin in Scotland, and certainly in the Highland areas, we shall make a tremendous contribution and really begin to use the land of our own country, which we have not done very well for such a long time. We Scots, who have made such great contributions to so many other nations, have been running away from our own country for too long a time, with the result that we have not made a good job of our own country from Kintyre to Shetland. It is time we did a bit better, and food production is an essential job. We have 50 million people in these islands. Is there a greater problem facing any Government than that of feeding our own people?
I appeal to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, who I know believes that I am right in what I am saying, and I would refer him to the figures given by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) in his interesting and valuable 1605 speech, because he has an experience which far exceeds that of most of us in this House. He was born and bred in this industry, agriculture is in his blood, and he has been Minister of Agriculture. In referring to certain schemes, my right hon. and gallant Friend said that £6½ million had been planned to be spent, but only £1 million had actually been paid in cash. Why is there that difference?
§ Mr. Snadden
May I explain to my hon. Friend? The figure of £6 million is the amount of money approved by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, and, as the work proceeds, the Department pays out the money, so that the whole amount has not yet actually been paid.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for that information. I am just wondering whether the work is going on too slowly because it is handicapped for lack of finance, and whether the farmers have to find the money first by borrowing it and repaying it. There is a field here to which my hon. Friend might give some thought. I spoke to farmers in Caithness, when I attended their dinner in January, and referred to the 50 per cent. grant for reclamation and urged them in Britain's interest to reclaim more land. One or two of them came up to me afterwards and said, "The 50 per cent. doesn't work out at that rate in practice." I hope that the Treasury are not putting the dead hand on the Department of Agriculture for Scotland and saying, "Go easy with the scheme."
Another statement was made by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove with which I think we all agree, when he referred to the central part of Scotland, between the Forth and the Clyde. In the 16th century this part of the country was cleared of peat with the tools available at that time, and underneath the peat was found fine agricultural land. There are huge peat areas around Altnabreac and it was the intention of the North of Scotland Hydroelectric Board to generate electricity by burning peat in the new turbine which has been invented. Underneath that land will be found good agricultural land, thus serving a doubly important purpose.
1606 I wonder why it has taken so long? It has been on the carpet for four, five or six years. The manager of John Brown's in Clydebank, who have developed the turbine, said to me recently, "Why don't you ginger up the Government to get on with the job?". I hope that the Minister will be able to mention this point in winding up and tell us when this project, which has been vetted and approved by Sir Edward Appleton's Committee, and by the officials of the Government Department concerned, will begin. Is it being held up for lack of money? That would be wrong. Whatever the cost may be of these schemes of reclamation they should be started. They are all sterling costs. There is no question of foreign currency. Is it to go out from this House that we cannot find money to pay British wages although we can find money to pay the unemployed? Would it not be better to give the unemployed work of this nature, even if it is not economic? Is it better to have to slave to try to earn foreign currency, which is becoming increasingly difficult to get, anyhow?
I did not intend to speak today. I came in to listen to the farming experts and I enjoyed doing so. I am a townsman and lack knowledge of agriculture. I was brought up in industry and commerce, but I have the responsibilty of representing part of a huge area which is capable of making a really great contribution to Britain's food, if we have the will to tackle it. I am certain that the noble words used by the Prime Minister at the farmers' dinner can be put into practice. I am sure the farmers are willing, but I am not quite so certain about the Treasury being willing to put up the cash.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)
Having listened to three speeches in succession from Scottish Members I think it is appropriate that Wales should make its contribution.
Food production is of paramount importance because we have a population of more than 50 million people and are compelled to import about 50 per cent. of our foodstuffs. That simple statement of fact is sufficiently alarming, but we have been warned by eminent experts that the food productive capacity of the world is declining rapidly and constantly and that there is barely enough food in the 1607 world today to go round. The same people tell us that the population of the world is increasing at the rate of 20 million per annum and that those who live in the principal food exporting countries are demanding a higher standard of living and are less prepared to export food to other countries. From now on we shall, therefore, be compelled to depend more and more on our own production. I think that fundamental fact is recognised in the terms of the Motion.
How can increased production be achieved? I am certain that it will never be done unless we recognise and act on the recognition that the farming community is one of the major industries of the country. It will be necessary to restore confidence into the minds and hearts of everybody connected with this important industry. I am going to declare that even if we cultivated the suggested two million acres of rough grazing land we should not achieve very much unless we were determined that no more agricultural land shall be used for any purpose but the production of food.
In this connection the Service Departments are the worst offenders. It is simply disgusting that thousands of acres of good agricultural land should be used as shooting ranges, for instance, when there is plenty of unproductive land available for the purpose. In North Wales we have been in conflict time and time again with the War Office on this issue because they pay total disregard to the needs of food producers. I should like to remind the House that we are losing agricultural land in this country to the extent of 50,000 acres per year, or about 80 square miles. We must replace that land by other land. That has been suggested by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch), and he has made one suggestion as to how this could be attained.
I should like to know, however, whether we cannot emulate the people of Holland to a far greater extent than we do now in the manner in which they reclaim land from the sea, and particularly from marshes which are caused by uncontrolled streams. Some weeks ago I inspected marsh land which lies between Barmouth and Harlech in my constituency. Wales has been mentioned 10 times 1608 today in this House, and I hope that that fact has created a desire in the Minister to visit the country as soon as he can. I ask him to go to see the region that I have mentioned. He will see delightful scenery which he will never forget, and I can assure him of a warm Welsh welcome.
About 30 years ago that land sustained 30 milking cows, but today it does not sustain a single rabbit. It is simply waste land. I ask the Minister to pay particular attention to this matter because I am sure that it demands an inquiry on the part of his Department. Even if, following the Motion before the House today, we decided to cultivate immediately 2 million acres of rough grassland, the work would be terribly hampered in my region, because farmers in places like North Wales have no decent roads to carry goods to the farms and to carry their produce away from the farms.
The present condition of the roads makes it most difficult and costly to bring what is necessary to the farm and then to take away what has to be sold in livestock and produce. In my constituency alone there are 300 miles of unclassified roads. It is hopeless to expect the county council to put these roads in the condition in which they ought to be, for the simple reason that the cost reflected in the rates would be crippling.
I should like to quote what Lord Woolton said in another place over 12 months ago, and for once, perhaps the first time, I agreed with the noble Lord. He said:We want to give confidence to the farmers. For reasons of defence, we know that we must grow the maximum amount of food at home. To preserve and stabilise our currency, we must grow the maximum amount of food at home. Britain's agriculture is Britain's biggest dollar saver."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords. 30th April, 1952; Vol. 176, c. 480.]Let us do all in our power to bring the people back to the land.
I did not agree with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) when he declared that he was not prepared to give total exemption from National Service to a farm worker. But the fact is that the farm worker is taken away from the farm for two years and trained to become a soldier for no purpose, because if a war broke out the same Government would declare that the man would have to stay at home in order 1609 to help ward off another enemy—famine. That happened in the last war and in the previous war.
A more serious effect is that after farm workers have been away for a couple of years and have enjoyed the amenities of the towns they are not so ready to go back to rural life, where they have no electricity, gas. radio, talkies and television.
§ Sir D. Robertson
The history of the farming industry and the mining industry proves that when war conies these men do serve in the Armed Forces. Under the Belisha Act in April, 1939, doubling the strength of the Territorial Forces, 70,000 young miners from the coalface were mobilised. When it was subsequently suggested that they should leave the Army and return to the mines they refused.
§ Mr. Jones
I am sorry, but I was led astray by a Scotsman.
We cannot improve the food supply of this country unless we have the labour with which to do it. Men are leaving the land in this country by the thousands, and that is true of other parts of the world. It is true of Australia and Canada. Indeed, the rural force in Australia in 1939 was 520,000, but today it is only 450,000. During the past decade the number of farmworkers in Canada has declined by 25 per cent. When one considers that this is happening in all parts of the world one can visualise what the position may be in this country 50 years hence. This Motion, therefore, deals with a very serious and vital problem.
The fanning community, above all people, deserve every encouragement from the Government. Those who work on the land are the only people in this country who are engaged for seven days a week, and I believe that no one suffered more before the last war than the hill farmers of this country. It gives me great pleasure to support the Motion.
§ 1.38 p.m.
Mr. Denys Bollard (Norfolk, South-West)
We are having a very valuable debate, and it is quite proper that hon. Members who come from Scotland and Wales should give us an account of the situation in their respective countries. 1610 I thought that perhaps it was now about time, however, that a mere Englishman had something to say on this subject. It is a fact that the existence of waste land and under-developed land is an affront to most people today. It is very proper that it should be so, and it represents a very great change for the better in our people, who in the early 1930s were prepared to look upon the existence of waste land without a great deal of worry. Indeed, some of them looked upon it as a sign that Britain was pursuing what they considered her natural bent of being an industrial rather than an agricultural country. But all that has changed by today.
I am glad that we have not pursued the somewhat academic question of whether it is better to put our money into good land rather than into the rougher land. On the whole, I would be inclined to agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that if we have only a limited amount to invest it would pay us better to put it into good land rather than into bad land. But I think that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was right when he said that we must do both.
We want to develop all the good land —the Government's policy is helping there—but we also want to improve the rough grazing land. I notice a very great tendency, in many speeches on this subject, to talk about land in districts other than one's own, and to say what can be done in districts far away. I want to refer to my own area of Norfolk, where we have about 43,000 acres of rough grazing out of a total area of about one million acres. Many people will be surprised that in Norfolk, which has been so rightly famed for generations for the high standard of farming, such an area of rough grazing exists.
Their minds naturally turn to the heath-lands and other lands which present very great difficulties in farming. Although a very high proportion of these heath-lands have been afforested today—and are growing very good forests—I think that a very high proportion of the 43,000 acres in Norfolk consists of low-lying land beside streams and rivers, some of which is probably too wet to bear any implements or ever to be drained, but a very great deal of which is potentially 1611 highly fertile land which would merit more attention than it receives at the moment.
There was point in what my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) said about getting down to the individual farm aspect of this matter. Farmers are not always conscious of the help which could be forthcoming for this kind of work. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider whether he could not ask the district committees, through his liaison officers, to pay particular attention to this low-lying land to see whether, under the new circumstances of the increased grant and other benefits which are available, agreement could not be reached to bring more of this land into cultivation. In conjunction with the arable farms an increased amount of grassland, near at hand, is required.
I am always rather grieved to see the rushes and other wild plants which are still growing on this land, much of which is adjacent to highly cultivated arable land. I can understand people not wanting to go miles away to tackle an area of entirely marginal land, but some of that land is next door, and it seems to offer a very great advantage if it can be tackled.
Mention has been made of land reclamation round the Wash. I am a Fen-man, and I am very proud of the achievements in the Fens. I am sorry that mention was made only of the progress in the work carried out by dukes and Dutchmen. I am inclined to pay a far greater tribute to the Fenmen themselves, who are putting an immense amount of vigour and energy into this drainage work. Land reclamation is being carried out today round the edge of the Wash, but we should be wrong if we imagined that the major part of the Wash could be reclaimed. Some of it is extremely deep, and the problems are very great. We should concentrate on extending from the edges of the Wash, as is being done in South Lincolnshire today, to make safe the land which has already been reclaimed. That problem has not yet been entirely surmounted, as our recent experience has shown.
My only other point is in connection with labour. I view with concern the decline in the number of men working 1612 on the land. Many of the speakers have not given quite enough credit to the Government for the concessions they have made in the agricultural call-up. They have gone a considerable way, and in our heart of hearts I do not think that we believe it is desirable to have a complete blanket on the call-up of agricultural workers.
Very considerable help has been given towards reclaiming marginal land or rough grassland, but much of this land lies away from the farms. There is bound to be a great tendency for land to lie rough when it is inaccessible, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove said, and where it lies in districts where labour conditions are particularly difficult. We have been told of the way in which the labour problem of (reclamation has been overcome in Scotland, but I look upon the labour problem for the long-term cultivation of that land as far more important than the labour problem of its immediate reclamation.
I wonder whether we are not in danger of creating new "backwoods" in the countryside, particularly with regard to the problem of electricity. The vast areas still uncovered by this facility are a very great worry to many of us. It is time for the Minister of Agriculture to confer with the Minister of Fuel and Power to see whether some very special measures are not required to deal with this electricity problem. It will be a great pity if we have to wait for years and years before electricity is extended to many of our rural areas.
The secret of our agricultural progress has been that in general our farmers have been ready to keep themselves up to date. Progress has been made by mechanisation and by scientific methods. What applies to farmers applies equally to farmworkers and their wives and, just as workers in other countries will not accept the standards that they have accepted in the past, so it is true of our own people. We should not just wait for this problem to develop, as it may, but treat it as a very urgent and important one. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider whether special measures are required to bring electricity to the countryside.
There are many other points which I should have liked to deal with, but there 1613 are other Members who wish to speak in this debate. I am certainly very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset. North (Mr. Crouch) has moved this Motion, and I am very pleased to support it.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
There are two main reasons why I feel I should like to take some small part in this debate. First. I share the general view of hon. Members who have already spoken that the future world situation makes it quite imperative that we should give more thought and attention to agriculture than we have done even in the past few years—although what we have done in the past few years has been a tremendous advance on what I remember in my early days in connection with the farms and smallholdings of my native North Wales. The situation could be very grim if the example of the Argentine workers and others were followed in Asia.
My second reason for intervening is in order to mention the case of the smallholders of North Wales, who were living in very grim conditions in the old days. I doubt whether anybody has done more in the past to reclaim rough grazing land and marginal land than the quarrymen of the area in which I was born, in Caernarvonshire. They reclaimed from the mountains—from heather and bracken and from stone and granite—valuable land, which they had to reclaim because of the necessity of keeping themselves and their families alive. I remember well the tremendous effort made by my own family to try to get a living from very inferior and poor land. So this question of reclamation is one I have been practically brought up with all my life.
I believe that there is some point in this Motion, but I doubt very much whether I can go such a long way as some hon. Members have suggested. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) referred to two million acres. He had second thoughts about that and suggested later on that it might be five million, and other hon. Members are talking of eight million. In this issue we have to be a little discriminatory. We may try to do too much, and, as a result, do too little in the long 1614 run, having regard to the capital available, the materials available, and, above all—and this is a very serious problem—the labour available these days.
Some hon. Members were talking about commonland and the Downs. I intervened to say that I now live on the Banstead Downs. During the war I saw parts of the Downs being ploughed and cultivated, but we were not getting anything like so much out of the land as we were putting into it. It was necessary during the war to have rough grazing and to have feedingstuffs, but from an economic point of view we were not getting a return for the money and the fertilisers we were putting into that land. When hon. Members were talking of northern Scotland and some parts of North Wales they were talking of mountains and of rocks.
So there is virtue in one point that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) made, that we ought to have a survey, an analysis, in the localities of the land that, with a little extra effort, could be made productive. We should take an amount of land we think is suitable and that it is within our compass to work. We can increase the amount of land we deal with as our resources in labour, materials and capital develop. Unless we do something of the kind we shall fall behind in the race for survival in the future.
We have to be discriminatory, too, in our views of manpower. People sometimes talk as though they can make farmers by just calling people from the labour exchanges. Nothing is farther from the truth. I was referring just now to smallholdings in North Wales, and to the quarrymen who in their spare time at the weekends rescued the land from rubble and bracken. They died in their efforts at so doing. It is very strange, but it is not the sons and grandsons and great-grandsons of those people who are farming those lands now, but people from the towns. They have gone there in their ignorance. Many of them thought it was going to be easy meat, but they are now finding out that farming is not only a hard job but a job that requires a great deal of knowledge and a great deal of instinct as well. Many of those people have worked diligently, and they are not 1615 getting results simply because they are not able to use their labour and services in an intelligent way.
In the use of labour we have to be discriminatory, too. I for one should like to feel that, as a first step, we were able to retain on the land the sons and grandsons, the daughters and the granddaughters of the people who have farmed for many years. The instinct and the knowledge they have can be an asset of great value. I am not one of those who believe that this country can live as an agricultural country. We are too small. Everything we are doing is on too small a scale for ours to be a big, influential agricultural country. We shall have to rely on our industries and manufactured goods. Therefore, we have to be discriminatory not only in regard to the land we take over but as to the quality and the amount of the labour which we assign to agriculture.
The hon. Member for Leominster said we had to put our all on agriculture, and forget about the coal mines, and so on. I thought he was being rather stupid if not fantastic when he made that suggestion, because, after all is said and done, if we are going to contract our industries, even from an internal point of view, then, of course, agriculture will not get the money it must have if it is to be developed.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent me. I did not suggest we should contract our industry for the sake of agriculture. I suggested that industry would contract willy nilly, and agriculture would put the country right.
§ Mr. Williams
It will be within the recollection of the House what the hon. Gentleman said. Possibly, now that he has been outside and has had an opportunity to reconsider what he said, he will agree with me that he was not then speaking up to his usual standard. My recollection is that he said exactly what I suggested he said. However, I accept his apology. I know his great interest in agriculture, and he is willing not only to give his views to the House but to accept any advice which may be given to him, even from people less experienced than he, even as I am trying to give it to him now.
1616 If we are to carry on with the reclamation of the marginal land we shall have to make conditions in the country worth while, to attract people to go to live there. I was born in the country, and at one time I thought I should never want to be anywhere else, but, believe me, once one has tasted town and city life, with its amenities, with its services, with its facilities, with its lack of physical hardships, it is not so easy to force oneself to go back. If that is true of someone like myself who was born in the country, how much more true will it be of those people who have not been in the country in their early days, and whom we ask to go there in their adolescence or young manhood?
We must make life in the country more attractive. Not only must we have houses, which are a pre-requisite, but we must raise the general standard of amenities in the country, so that we can say to the people who live in the country, "You will not lose the culture and other good things of city life which all of us crave for"— and which many are forced to go to the towns to get. That is one aspect of the matter
The next is that education in the rural areas will be a powerful factor in the business of the recovery of the land. I like to think of the agricultural industry as something requiring brains as well as physique. I have lived among farmers, and I know one must have a tremendous amount of brain power to be a good farmer. I credit that much to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leominster. We shall have to ask the various colleges and universities to take this matter even more seriously than they are doing. I know that in Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities a great deal is being done to try to help the farmers and the smallholders, especially in the study of the nature and quality of the soil, but we shall have to make agriculture attractive from the engineering and technological point of view, to persuade our young people to remain in the countryside.
I agree that there ought to be good coordination between the Ministry of Agri-tulture and the Ministry of Fuel and Power. A friend of mine who has a small holding in North Wales has tried to do what we are asking other people to do. He and his wife tried their best to reclaim much of this mountain land, 1617 to take it away from the heather and bracken, but they could not get the facilities. He tried to get electricity, because on farms in these places in the countryside one has to keep not only the men but their women folk as well, which very often it is more important. Why should the wife not have electricity for her cleaner, her churning machines, washing machines and sterilising machines?
This man was making a great effort to expand the scope of his fanning and to improve production on his land, yet he was forced to retain old-fashioned methods because of the little additional cost in getting electricity to his farm, which was two or three poles too far from the main road.
§ Mr. Williams
It would take me a very long time to deal with nationalised and un-nationalised industries. The trouble is that the nationalised industries have to cope with the disabilities of hundreds of years when the industries were not nationalised, when under Tory and Liberal rule nothing at all was done.
§ Mr. Williams
I beg pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. That is the danger in being misled by another hon. Member who does not seem to have incurred your displeasure so quickly as I did. I will leave it there.
As I understand it, the main purpose of this Motion is to try to assist agriculture, and I should like to make one suggestion. Unless the people working on these farms are interested, unless some of the profit accrues to them and to their dependants, we shall not get the special effort required. In the old days the smallholders improved their farms and increased their production, but all the benefit went to their landlords. Nothing went to them or to their dependants. Unless something is done to alter that, all our efforts will be entirely in vain.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Major D. McCallum (Argyll)
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams) in his reference to the labour aspect. It is vital to make the countryside attractive to labour in order to bring about any 1618 expansion of our agricultural programme, and I am just wondering whether in the Highlands of Scotland we have had a slightly different experience from his experience in North Wales.
The Forestry Commission have brought into forestry villages in the Highlands of Scotland men and women from the towns and cities. There have been difficulties, and I know that there have been frequent population changes; many of them have not found in the country the amenities of the cities and have returned. But by degrees certain families from the cities have settled there. I think that perhaps that is one way in which families could be brought to like a country way of life, through the development of forestry villages. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that to be a real farmer a man has got to be born to it.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
I should not like the hon. and gallant Gentleman to misrepresent me. I did not quite say that. What I said was that we could not make farmers of anybody; that there must be some qualifications. I should not like it to be thought that I dissented from the possibility of other people becoming farmers.
§ Major McCallum
I apologise if I misrepresented the hon. Gentleman. All round the Highlands of Scotland the most successful farmers are those who come from farming or country families.
I would disagree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that he was born on the mountains of Wales, but now that he has settled in the city he would not go back. I have found the reverse. I was born in London; I now live in the Highlands of Scotland, except when I have to come here, but I would not come back to London to live for anything in the world.
This Motion says that two million acres of rough grazing land should be turned into cultivation as rapidly as possible. I wonder whether in those acres are included the millions of acres in the Highlands of Scotland which are very largely rough grazing. I do not believe it is possible to return those rough grazings to cultivation. Indeed, I do not believe the vast majority of them ever were in cultivation. I agree more with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton 1619 (Mr. Paget), who said that it is not on the mountains that we must look for reclamation but on the low ground and the coastal areas.
A great deal of valuable aid to the expansion of livestock rearing can be given by the spreading of lime on the hillsides. In an area quite close to my own, of which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) knows, a fanner has completely changed the outlook on more than 1,000 acres by liming the whole of the hillside with ground lime. In the three or four years since it was done the whole hillside has changed from rough coarse grass to really valuable grass for grazing.
Perhaps in the Highlands of Scotland a greater application of lime to the hillsides would meet our requirements for livestock expansion. The Department of Agriculture in Scotland—and I presume also the Ministry of Agriculture in England—has provided a 50 per cent. grant for the liming of the ground, but I do not think that is taken advantage of as much as it might be, and I wish greater use was made—certainly in the Highlands, and in other parts of the country—of this very valuable liming scheme under which a 50 per cent. grant is given.
I should like to deal now for a moment with arterial drainage and the reclamation of some lands which have gone out of cultivation merely because there has been, not so much a lack of as a falling into disuse of arterial drainage. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) accused my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland of doing nothing saying that he had clamoured for arterial drainage to be taken in hand by the Labour Government, who had done nothing at all about it.
I remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that in the time of the last Government I used to have correspondence with their Ministers on this question, and they found it a very difficult problem to solve, to get everybody concerned to join together to develop the reclamation of land by arterial drainage. I realise this is a very difficult problem which I know the Government have in mind. The last Government also had it in mind, but they did not find the solution, so I do not 1620 think it is quite fair for the hon. Member to accuse this Government of having done nothing about it.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) spoke about the necessity for the development of demonstration farms, particularly in the Highland areas, in order to show farmers and especially smallholders and crofters what can be done by way of reclamation and cultivation of the hillsides. I think that it was he who said that there were in Scotland three counties, including Argyll, where demonstration farms are run by the Department of Agriculture, He pleaded for more demonstration farms in areas where the people could get to them easily.
This has already been done by the Department of Agriculture in Scotland. In my own county of Argyll there are at least two demonstration plots on private farms—one is on the farm of a neighbour of mine—where the West of Scotland College of Agriculture advise on what should be sown and how it should be sown. From time to time they collect together a number of farmers to examine the success of this research work. Anything that can be done to extend that is all to the good. I say in fairness to the Department of Agriculture in Scotland that this is being done quite widely and in my own county.
One matter on which we have been pleading for a very long time is the question of the cost of liming or of reclamation of any kind, and the necessity of giving farmers special conditions for obtaining agricultural credit. I am not quarrelling with the banks, which, I think, have done extremely well so far, but there is the problem of finding the money with which to carry out the schemes. Anything which the Department of Agriculture in Scotland or the Minister of Agriculture in England can do to provide facilities for increased credit will help enormously in this matter.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire —and I am sorry that he is not now here—said that the extent of much of the rough grazing and loss of valuable land was largely due to the neglect of past landlords and of private enterprise. I would point out that I have experience in my own constituency of State-owned farms and holdings run by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. Next 1621 to one of them there is a landlord who is the owner of a number of small farms and holdings. I have had it repeatedly brought to my notice how the tenants of the State farms envy the tenants of the private landlord next door who are able to get their landlord to carry out repairs and provide the amenities and conditions necessary far more easily than can the tenants of the State-owned farms. While it is obvious that the Department has to run certain areas in the country, I would not like it to be thought that private landlords are in any way backwards as landlords in this matter of agricultural development.
The final point I should like to mention was also refered to by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire. That is the question of the lack of a long-term policy, about which one hears Members opposite time and time again. I want to refer to one small part of the long-term policy which was brought into being by the party opposite when they were in Government, and which has been followed up by the present Government. That is the Hill Farming Act which for a vast part of the Highlands of Scotland is a long-term policy. It was initiated by the party opposite on the recommendation of the Committee set up by the Coalition Government during the war and followed up by the present Government.
The large number of schemes being carried out under the Hill Farming Act are only just beginning to show the result of many of the improvements which have been made. I have no doubt that many more will be carried out and come to fruition as time goes on. If ever there was an industry which called for long-term development surely it is agriculture. I hope that in considering this Motion we will realise that there are considerable areas of rough grazing in the country which, although I do not believe they can be ploughed into cultivation, can be brought in to assist in a very large way in the expansion of the livestock production of the country.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)
The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) has raised a question that must be a headache to the Ministry. I am afraid that this discussion will in no way 1622 ease that feeling because this question of rough grazing, marginal land and so forth is a problem which has baffled every Government, not only in this country but elsewhere.
It is not just a question of the type of land. The real root of the whole question is the human one. Our attitude in this country to the land has been wrong for a great number of years. From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution we have concentrated upon the development of industry and exports to the neglect of the land. No one looking round the country today can realise to the full what part the attitude of the people has played in creating the difficulty that we now face. There is far more waste land in this country not only in the upland areas but in the low fertile parts than there ought to be.
The attitude of mind of the public is that they do not care. They have been so used to the present conditions that they do not know how they affect them. They have been able to get food from abroad for so long without difficulty that they do not realise what the position really is. The main feature of this difficulty is the loss of labour from the land, not only agricultural labourers but farming families. They are going and there is no way of stopping them.
The whole development of our civilisation has been to build up a high standard of living in the industrial areas, with all the amenities that that brings, and to neglect the other side. Moreover, our system of education has contributed to the situation. In no industry has there been so much neglect in education as there has in the agricultural industry in the education of farmers' sons and daughters and farm labourers in agricultural pursuits. In Lancashire, where we have the cotton industry, there have for long been technical schools in every town, where the mills have been able to send the young people for the odd half day, but it has always been most difficult to find a technical school with a course for agricultural students.
Agricultural students have had to go to Preston to the Lancashire County Agricultural School, to Hutton School or to the Harris Institute to get the agricultural education needed to keep them up to date. It has been impossible for them to get agricultural education at the 1623 ordinary technical schools. That is a matter which will have to be investigated if we are to retain the young people on the land.
At the moment the young people are transferred from the junior schools to the secondary modern and grammar schools. There the young men are taught the elements of joinery and so forth. The girls are taken from the villages to the secondary and secondary modern schools in the large centres, where they learn housewifery, how to cook by electricity, how to use sewing machines operated by electricity and how to do their washing by electricity. Then they return to a farmhouse which has flagged floors where a Hoover cannot be used, where there is no electricity, where the only illumination is that from oil lamps and where they cook by a coal fire or a coal oven.
The young people will not return to those conditions, and we are losing them. When they marry, they drift to the towns, where the facilities which they want exist. Also, there is not the social life in the country districts. These people have to travel by bus to the towns for their amusements and social life. Having small socials in the villages is all very well but these do not meet the needs of the young people today, for they have been brought up to something far different and they want what their town associates get. I do not see how we shall change things even by taking electricity to the far-off farms.
An almost incredible instance came to my notice a fortnight ago. A farmer with a large herd of T.T. cattle lives far from the town and civilisation. He has seven men. He wanted a manager, and was offering £1,000 a year. He found men willing to accept the post but in no case would the wife go to the farm because it was so far from amenities and social life. Such instances can be found everywhere. The high standard of life in our towns today is good, but it is driving the people away from the countryside. That is one of our problems in connection with rough grazing land, because the rough grazing land creeps down nearer and nearer to the fertile land as the people move away. That is going on all over the world, and I do not know how the problem will be solved.
1624 Some hon. Members have again trotted out the instances of Denmark and Holland and contrasted what they do with what we do. It shows that they do not understand the situation at all. If all our land was at sea level, like the land in Holland and Denmark, we could beat them hollow in farming. Our land rises from sea level to higher altitudes, and as it does so growth naturally diminishes. At the foot of the Rockies is lush grass and good growth but as one goes higher the trees gradually diminish in size until they finally die out. Exactly the same thing happens here. As the land rises the warmth in the soil decreases and growth diminishes, and on the high land we can never get the growth and development that we get from the low fertile soil. To compare the land of Denmark and Holland with our land is nonsense. If our land was at the same level as that in Denmark and Holland we would show the Danes and the Dutch how to farm.
It is not altogether a matter of the Government giving money. Many schemes are already in existence, such as subsidies, which the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) and I have criticised and condemned from time to time. But the subsidies and the other money which is available are not bringing results. More money for farmers through the banks would give better results than the subsidies do. There does-not seem to be an answer to the problem. We cannot continue to pour out money for this type of land. What will it cost to bring it into cultivation? What do we mean by "cultivation?" We do not mean the growing of crops on some of the grazing land.
The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) emphasised one of the greatest needs, the liming of the hillsides. Here we see how modernisation has militated against the continued development of some of the high lands. In Lancashire, to which reference was made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) we have much rough land which was far better cultivated 50 years ago than it is today. Why? Because in those days there were no tractors. The lime was carried to the summits of the hills on the backs of pack horses. Today we have tracks over the hills from the lime 1625 kilns of Clitheroe right into the Rossendale valley where strings of horses came with lime in panniers on their backs, 40 in a line. Those hills were thus kept fertile, and they carried a tremendous amount of stock.
What is the danger today? We have tractors and we have done away with our horses. The tractor gets to a certain point, but it can get no further. The lime is put down there and it is more difficult to spread. The hon. Member talked about using aircraft, but that is not an economic proposition for scattering lime over the hills. The lack of this lime is one of the reasons why these hill lands are neglected.
§ Mr. Crouch
The hon. Member will be interested to know that the cost of spreading lime by air is 14s. an acre,. I think it is quite cheap, and it must compare very favourably with what was done many years ago, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.
§ Mr. Kenyon
We have not got to that point in Lancashire. We do not spread lime by plane, and one of our difficulties arises because lime is not spread sufficiently. I fail to see how we are going to overcome it entirely.
There are so many questions that one can go into on this issue, but we come back to the human element. We have to realise our dependence on the land-It has become a calling, not just an industry, and our greatest difficulty is not the bringing into cultivation of this rough grazing. Our greatest difficulty is to bring back to the land the people who have gone into the towns. We have got to face the fact that without those people we cannot cultivate this land. If the present decline continues, we may not be able to cultivate the land which we now have under the plough, still less cultivate any additional land. We have somehow or other to get the urban 1626 dweller more agriculturally minded. If we do that we shall succeed.
Every weekend we see thousands of young people hiking over the land. There is there some contact with the land, and I feel that thousands of these young people would go into agriculture if there were some method by which they could see themselves becoming farmers. The desire and the call is there if only there were the facilities to bring them back. Until we start to deal more with the human element in this question it is absolutely useless pouring out money and subsidies and putting forward these schemes, if at the end of the day the people are not there to retain the cultivation that these other elements have created.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire. South-East)
I am bound to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), who makes such excellent contributions to our agricultural debates, that we cannot talk too often in this great forum of the House of Commons on this subject which is so vital to us in this country. I would join with him and with others in welcoming the decision of the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) in choosing this as the subject for today's debate. It is something we have got to debate from time to time if we are to move towards the end we desire to achieve.
I have some doubts about the figures which the hon. Member for Dorset, North gave us both on the question of the spreading of lime by aeroplane and the cost. I daresay he will tell me all about it afterwards, perhaps in the tea room. As to the point about the means test applying to schemes for the reclamation of land. I understood that, in the main, it was a matter of getting a scheme sanctioned by the appropriate authority, and from that point onwards no means test actually applied. I imagine, however, that on this point the Minister will be telling us something later on.
There is no doubt that it seems probable our greatest need in this country is a high degree of self-sufficiency, a leaning to a greater degree on our own production as far as that is humanly possible in a small island supporting such a large number of 1627 people. We have got to recognise that the world has changed very much against our economy, and we have got to use to the full the resources that are available to us in these islands. I am sure that whatever the immediate effect of the recent little lecture by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the United States of America, it will not have any permanent effect upon our position vis-à-vis the United States of America and indeed, the world as a whole.
It is a hard, irrefragable fact that the world has turned against the dominating position we held for so long as the workshop and the financial and banking house of the world. The United States of America can do without our produce, and I think in the long run the strong tariff lobby that exists in Congress will win out and the sooner we realise that and the more we do about it now, the better it will be for those who are going to follow us.
Our undoubted need is for the maximum agricultural production, but I am bound to ask, as did my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), must we devote all our resources immediately to increasing production in marginal lands. I do not think it is an academic question as the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) said. We have to think in terms of increasing production from the marginal land, but at the same time we would be making a tremendous mistake if we threw all available resources into something widely spectacular on hill and heath land which happened to be the areas of most of our rough grazings in this country.
If we have a limited immediate amount of resources to throw into this work, it is probably the case that we could get more production by using those resources on the richer lands that are not producing yet to their maximum capacity. I say that despite everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley and his proud boast about British farmers. I think that not even he would pretend that our farmers are likely to achieve perfection in our lifetime in regard to maximum production.
Exaggeration is the language of politicians and it is perhaps an exaggeration 1628 to ask, why try to grow clover on the top of Snowdon, when we are failing to get the maximum possible production from the richer acres of Norfolk and Suffolk, Dorset and Devon? There is a lot to be said for that point of view. It is, for example, certainly much easier to keep populated such areas as are now well farmed than in those areas now given over to rough grazing in the North of Scotland and much of Wales. It is much easier to keep people in Suffolk, Norfolk, Devon and Dorset where the social conditions are much more attractive than is the case in much of Wales and Scotland.
Having said that, I am in favour of the system worked by the previous Government under the authority of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). It represented a combined approach to the problem, by getting the maximum possible from the rich land and of going on with a process of rehabilitation of the marginal land while endeavouring to secure a greater amount of produce from the land in some of the other counties of which I have been speaking. Neither I nor my hon. Friends would pretend that what the Labour Government did in this direction is the end. This House and the Government have to examine the results of policies produced by previous Governments, to examine what they have produced and to devise new policies if the results of that examination warrant them.
I agree with the hon. Member for Dorset, North that occasionally we should engage, as we are doing today, in a debate on the rough grazing land, but we must not forget that there are other aspects of farming. I shall confine my remarks from now on to the point of what can be, and must be done in connection with these lands. Recently Dr. William Davies was quoted by the "Farmer and Stockbreeder" as saying that if we switched 8 million of permanent grass and 2½ million of rough grazing to leys, we could carry 9 million more sheep and 6 million more cattle, giving us 500,000 tons more of beef and veal and 70,000 tons more of mutton and lamb. If that is possible, surely we ought to be trying to do it?
I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leominster was right when he said that we have by no means a clear picture of the amount of rough grazing available. 1629 What is involved in the 14¾ million acres of rough grazing in Britain? We have 9½ million acres shown as being in Scotland, 3,700,000 acres in England, 1,800,000 acres in Wales. In England, out of 47 county areas shown, only 11 exceed 100,000 acres. In Wales, out of 13 counties, no less than nine exceed 100,000 acres of rough grazing. The reasons for this are fairly clear and have been well demonstrated by my hon. Friends.
What has been done between 1945 and June, 1952? There has been a drop of 188,059 acres in the figures of rough grazing shown during that period. That might seem to be considerable, but it is about .3 of the total shown for 1945, which is a very small amount. So that all the schemes that have been devised, all the attempts that have been made to stimulate activity in this direction, appear to have produced only 3 of a reduction in this area shown as rough grazing. I have tried to discover how much that has cost us but have been unable to do so. Can the Minister help us in this connection? My difficulty has been to separate the different elements in the amounts of money paid out under various schemes.
Undoubtedly the first need of the moment is to secure a greater speed of improvement than the .3 per cent. over seven years. The second great need of the moment appears to be to stop the rot which is still going on in some areas. In the South Wales area where I live, and which I know well, I see areas that are even now succumbing to the creeping paralysis of bracken. It is creeping down the hills and the use of the land is deteriorating as a result. I also see fencing deteriorating in that area. Lands which once supported farmers are now being taken into bigger holdings and are being used more as sheep runs than as farms for rearing beef cattle for export to the richer areas for finishing.
Despite the fact that there are subsidies available in this connection, I see ditches and drains being blocked. That has been going on all my lifetime and we have not been able to stop it up to now. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who said that drainage is a large factor in the improvement of this land and I disagree with the hon. Gentleman who said that drainage does not seem to matter much in this connection. The experience of my brother and myself in trying to wrest 1630 a living from a hill farm in South Wales a thousand feet up was that, if we could have achieved the drainage of a large part of our area, we should have had a better chance of getting a living than was, in fact, the case.
I remember walking over this farm with my brother, as farmers are apt to do, on a Sunday morning or afternoon, talking about it, repeating what has been said before and going over the whole story. I remember my brother perpetrating an Irish "bull" and yet talking good sense at the same time. He said, "We shall never do any good with this piece of land here until we stop this stagnant water running all over the place." It was a "bull," but nevertheless it was good sense, and we could never hope to improve that rough grazing land as it was, upon which there was a lot of blue grass, sheathing cotton sedge indicating the presence of too much water, and so on, unless it was possible cheaply and easily to drain that land. It certainly could not be done with the human labour that was available to us.
The next thing we want in connection with this rough grazing is a large amount of ploughing and re-seeding—drainage first, then ploughing and re-seeding afterwards, and then manuring, of which liming is perhaps a most important factor of all. I am glad to know that the Ministry have announced that they are increasing the amount that is going to be spent on lime distribution. I believe it is the right thing to do, and I hope that we shall take full advantage of it. If the distribution by aeroplane is as cheap as the hon. Gentleman suggests it is, the sooner we tackle the task by this means on some of the land that I know in Derbyshire and Wales, the better it will be for the country.
§ Mr. Champion
Yes, they might do a first class job if we could employ some of their helicopters on the task. It is not a scrap of good our doing all these things unless at the end of it there is proper grazing and utilisation of the land. It is no good improving the land unless we ensure that by mixed grazing, say of sheep and of cattle, we maintain the quality which we have managed to create. Above all, I think good management is 1631 absolutely essential for this land once money has been spent on reclaiming it. All reclamation work is wasted if good management does not follow such reclamation.
In this connection how right it was for hon. Members in all parts of the House to stress the necessity of keeping men living on the land once it is reclaimed. We have to face the problem of attracting people from the townships back to the agricultural areas, and there are such matters as roads, housing, transport and electricity which have to be dealt with and which are absolutely essential to the permanent rehabilitation of much of these rough grazings and of the land as a whole.
My hon. Friend the Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams) was right to point out that it is extremely difficult to get people to live in the countryside once they have experienced town life. He seemed to me to be paraphrasing the old song "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" I suppose my hon. Friend spent most of his time in Liverpool and London after leaving the farm and did not even go as far as "Paree," but nevertheless had no desire to go back to live in the countryside. I suppose that applies to most people who leave the land.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley who said that it is very largely a matter of standards. It is largely a matter of the standards and the thinking of all sorts of people, including those who are in charge of our schools and our educational undertakings. If we are to improve these rough grazings and marginal lands, I must say that I do not regard the problem so much as being one of having sufficient knowledge to do the job. I believe the engineers and technologists do know most of the answers, and I cannot help thinking that the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was right when he said that what we could not do with hand labour we can now do on a larger scale with machines.
The machines are now available to us, and the question here surely is one which calls for a political decision, a decision that has to be taken by the Government of the day; and that is, what amount of the resources that are available 1632 to the nation are we going to place at the disposal of these engineers and technologists? How much of the resources which we now have are we going to allocate in that direction?
There is the second problem to which I have already made slight reference, and that is the powerful psychological and social problems involved in keeping people at work in these areas when we have managed to reclaim them. It is true, as has been said more than once in this House—and I hope it will be said more than once again—that part of our difficulty is the stupidity of our standards —standards which say that a city dweller with a nice white collar is worth very much more than the man with a bare brown throat working in the fields.
These are standards which we and our education system have helped to build up. It has to some extent arisen out of our industrial revolution which inevitably, because of the success which followed it, brought about false standards. I think that overflowing cities and the countryside destitute of men is an indication of a sick society. There is a loss of balance. We are becoming an inverted pyramid, with all sorts of people and jobs swelling up above the inverted pyramid apex which is the primary producer.
What are the Government going to do about this problem which is now facing us and which has been raised by the hon. Member for Dorset, North? As I admitted just now, the Labour Government certainly did not solve this problem, but I claim that it made a large contribution towards solving it. It made a contribution which has been really worth while.
We were criticised when we were on the opposite side of the House. The Tories criticised particularly the Livestock Act, 1951. They said that it was too restricted in its scope, that it was wrong in its definition of "marginal land," that it excluded milk production when it ought to have included it, and they also said in their policy document upon which they fought an election, "The right road for Britain," that we failed to implement the Hill Farming Act with sufficient vigour and that there was too much delay at the centre. Have the Government put that right? Is there still any delay at the centre?
1633 I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture shakes his head, but, judging by some of the things which have been said by his hon. Friends, there is still a large amount of delay at the centre and a failure by the Government to implement these schemes as fast as they could. The Tory Government are not putting all this right. They have not put it right yet. What are they doing about it? It is right that we should ask that question. We are getting piecemeal legislation; it is hand-to-mouth— corn one day, cattle the next, milk in one Parliamentary session and meat in the next. It seems understandable that Sir James Turner, the President of the National Farmers' Union should have said that the National Farmers' Union Council delegates had taken the opportunity to emphasise the alarm of producers at the Government's decision on milk and egg prices and:The inescapable inferences which are being drawn from those decisions give rise to increasing anxiety at the absence of any formulation by the Government of a long-term policy for agriculture as a whole. They are having an inevitable effect in prejudicing the prospect of increased food production which the Government has called for.With my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), I am rather surprised that the President of the National Fanners' Union should have said that they are not satisfied with the policy of the Government having regard to the soothing tones of the Prime Minister, which came out not merely from the dinner he attended but from the gramophones following the sale of all those records of his speech to farmers throughout the country. Despite that, they still feel the Government of the day are letting agriculture down in this matter of a long-term policy for which they were invited by the Tory Party to move them into power at the last Election.
Incidentally, I hope the Minister will be able to tell us what has happened about the scheme he said we were to get for dealing with the waterlogged areas of Somerset and Monmouth. Those are rough grazing areas which, with a little draining—an expensive but nevertheless, useful job—would secure a big result in a very short time.
Finally, on the matter of winning new acres, we saw a Conservative Party policy 1634 document the introduction to which said:Beyond that again is the devout belief that the Tory Party alone can rehabilitate our lost acres, for only they in the world of politics have real knowledge and understanding of the soil, in which their own roots go so deeply.Perhaps it is only just that a party with anunderstanding of the soil in which their own roots go so deeplyshould have the task of tackling the rehabilitation of these lost acres. I imagine the Minister helped to frame that policy document as he is a member of the party which, despite its "understanding of the soil" and so on, was in power for many of the interwar years when many of these acres became lost to production. It is poetic justice that that party should now have to tackle this matter, but I hope for the sake of the country and for the sake of the future of Britain, they will make a success of it. I hope they will carry out Labour's policies in this connection and expand them where examination proves that necessary.
Having made a few party points, I am bound to come back to the fact that this cannot be a matter of the play of party politics, but is really a question of the future of Britain. Britain's agricultural industry is a matter of such vital interest to us all that from time to time we have to co-operate to secure the results we all want to secure.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
I wish to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) on his success in the Ballot, and on the interesting and valuable way in which he moved his Motion today. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) on his able seconding of the Motion. I should like to tell the House that, on behalf of the Government, I shall be pleased to accept the Motion, but not the preamble to it, which I could not accept.
I do not propose to take up the party points made by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion). I think that the general tone of the debate has been a non-party one.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Will the hon. Gentleman say why he does not accept the statement in the preamble?
§ Mr. Nugent
No, and I think I should be going beyond the terms of the Motion if I did so.
I think that the general tone of the debate has been a non-party one, and many interesting and technical points have been made. On both sides of the House, constructive and valuable suggestions have been made on how we should tackle what is, after all, a big national problem, the solution of which cannot but be of benefit to everybody. Therefore, I do not propose to go into the fascinating field of party politics, but to confine myself to the practical problems which we all have in mind.
I can say at once that the Government agree that some part of the 17 million acres classified as rough grazing can be made more productive, and, probably, at least the two million acres to which my hon. Friend refers in his Motion. It is the general intention of Government policy to bring into greater production such part of this rough grazing land as is a sound proposition, both financially and economically. I think that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made a very sound point when he said that we must have regard to the natural fertility that is in any particular land that we are thinking of reclaiming. It is quite valueless to put resources into land where there is virtually no natural fertility, and that must be that one guiding principle that we should have continually in mind in any reclamation scheme.
A very great deal is now being done, and we are continuing in this respect the general line of policy which the previous Administration started. The principal Acts are the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts, both of which are relatively long-term Measures, and this is a long-term problem. Nothing would be more damaging than a lack of continuity of policy. Both those Acts received the general assent of the House at the time, and we are continuing to operate them.
It may be interesting to mention the general progress that has been made under these two Acts. The return for March of this year showed that the 1636 number of schemes approved under those two Acts in the United Kingdom was 7,288, the acreage affected was 5.4 million, and the total estimated cost £184 million, of which 50 per cent. will be Government grant. It is true that the total amount paid to date in Government grant is only £1.6 million, but in practice most of these schemes of development are phased over five or six years and payments are made by instalments as the work is done.
Under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts a good deal of preparatory work has to be done to ensure that the scheme on any particular farm is really sound and will not only secure greater production on that farm but will strengthen the whole productive economy of the farm and enable the fanner to get a better living. Therefore, in the first few years of those two Acts progress is bound to be slow. It would be misleading if I left the House with the impression that the whole of this acreage was rough grazing. Of course, it is not, but only a part of it. To that extent rough grazing land will be becoming more productive—or some of it will.
Several surveys preceded the passing of the Livestock Rearing Act, 1951. The last one was done by Dr. Boyd and Professor Ellison under the auspices of the Agricultural Research Council, and it was considerably referred to in the drafting of the Act of 1951. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) asked what measures could be taken to find out something about the position of rough grazing land. He will be interested to know that we propose to start another survey next winter, again by the same two experts, Dr. Boyd and Professor Ellison.
The object will be to cover the same ground as they covered before, visiting the same farms as they visited in 1949, so that they can see what progress, if any—and I hope that it will be considerable—has taken place on those farms. They will also visit a number of farms where hill farming and the livestock rearing schemes have been carried out in order to see what developments in production there have been. The repetition of the original survey by the same two experts will give us a very valuable picture of just what sort of progress we are making and what sort of improved 1637 production is being achieved in these rough grazing areas. In the case of both those two Acts there is no means test. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North thought there was, but there is not.
On the other hand, there is a means test in the marginal production scheme, which is the next matter I want to touch upon. Grants up to 50 per cent. can be made through the county agricultural committees for a variety of reclamation work, and this year—1953—we have somewhat extended the scope of the work, and have doubled the amount of money available by raising it from £1¼ million in the United Kingdom to £2½ million. We have brought in for the Eastern counties such useful things as claying and marling, and for the hill areas the construction of cattle shelters to keep young stock in during the winter, and so on.
We also propose to relax somewhat the means test, which does exist under this marginal production scheme. I am sure that the House will agree that it is quite right that there should be a means test. The money voted for this purpose is taken into account in the Annual Price Review, and it would be ridiculous if these sums were distributed heedless of whether the farmer needed the money or not, and whether or not the farm could stand the particular scheme of reclamation. However, we are proposing to relax the means test somewhat this year, still keeping it within a practical limit. The ploughing subsidies are of great value in this connection, particularly the £10 an acre subsidy, which has helped to bring some of this more difficult land into full production. About 44,000 acres have been ploughed up under this Scheme in the United Kingdom during the past 12 months.
Liming and manuring subsidies are also a great help. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have stressed that the very first action required to bring these rough grazings into better production is to lime them. As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East said, it is true that this year we have restored the subsidy on the spreading of lime, and now we have given a special summer bonus rate of 70 per cent. subsidy on the supply of lime to encourage its use 1638 in the summer months. So there is every encouragement to farmers to make use of lime. At the same time, there is a subsidy of approximately 30 per cent. on fertilisers.
The spreading of lime is bound to continue to be a very difficult and costly process in these areas. Spreading by aeroplane is virtually not a proposition at present. It is not possible to spread a sufficiently heavy dressing to be effective except at prohibitive cost. Broadly speaking, spreading from the air has to be confined to a very heavily concentrated fertiliser for a specific purpose.
Hon. Members from all sides have mentioned the primary need for the drainage of marginal and hill land. I entirely agree with those who lay great emphasis on that point, but here we are up against a practical problem which often prevents any work being done at all. There are many areas in the uplands where the contour of the land, combined with stoniness under and on the surface, makes drainage at a reasonable cost completely impossible. In those areas it is quite impossible to deal with the difficulty by mole ploughing, and in those circumstances nothing can be done at all. The calf subsidy has also been a great help to many stock rearers in these areas, as have the hill sheep and hill cattle subsidies.
This broad range of assistance both by grants and subsidies shows that there is a comprehensive range of aids to the farmer in the uplands or in the marginal areas, and in the main I believe that farmers are making use of them. I certainly would not claim that this range cannot be improved upon and added to. If and when we have evidence that there is something more that can be done which will secure the production of food in greater volume, and economically, we shall certainly consider doing it.
I should like to say a general word about the technical and economic problem of reclamation as it strikes me. It is right that we should judge these proposals for the reclamation of marginal land generally, and rough grazings in particular, extremely carefully. It is very possible, as has often happened in the past, that enthusiasts with large sums of money might throw that money into the land and get practically no return at all. I suppose that if the enthusiast has 1639 money to spare he cannot be prevented from doing that, but where public money is concerned we certainly must be very sure that what we are doing is a reasonably sound proposition. The first Objective is not only to increase production but to strengthen the economy of a particular farm.
When we talk about rough grazing and marginal land we must remember that they are almost invariably part of a holding, or are being considered as an addition to a holding. We should bear in mind the general rule that the best farmers are found on the best farms, because as soon as they have the means and energy to get there they go off to the best farms.
The converse is also true, so that, with distinguished exceptions, one finds on these very difficult marginal farms men and women who, though certainly heroes to be there at all, are often not the most skilful and, therefore, not the most able people to deal with the exceptionally difficult technical problems which they have to face. It is all the more important that we should see that what we do to help them will not only secure more production but will assist them to get a better living, and so encourage them to stay there and keep this land in production.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton has gone, because I wanted to emphasise the value of specific subsidies—the ploughing subsidy, the calf subsidy and the fertiliser subsidy—to these marginal farms. They can never earn their share of the end price of the main commodities. They will always get less than the national average, but if they get a specific subsidy of so much per acre or so much per animal the balance is partly redressed.
I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North say that he was not anxious to see all this land ploughed. I am sure that is a wise comment to make. It is usually very expensive to clear, drain, plough up and re-seed these rough grazings, and it is certainly often nothing less than crazy to try to bring them into an arable rotation. To do so on a piece of land which will produce only 10 or 15 cwts. to the acre simply adds to the marginality of the farm. The economic proposition, very 1640 often, is to proceed with the existing rough grazing on the indigenous sward, which though not highly productive at least remains growing there. The best proposition will probably be to lime it and do some surface cultivation to stimulate it to a more productive growth.
I must answer one specific question which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster before I conclude. He made the comment that our wheat acreage was still significantly less than it was 100 years ago. The resources of my Department have been at work and I have been given figures which I think will reassure him to some extent. It is true that in 1867 we had about three and one third million acres of wheat and today we have only just over two million acres, but the total acreage of cereals was then just under eight and a half million and today it is seven and three quarter million, so that the other cereal acreages have considerably increased.
The total farm acreage was then 29.8 million, as against 28.8 million today. The permanent grass acreage is a little lower today, and the temporary grass acreage a little higher, so that over the broad picture of agriculture it appears that the area in production is roughly comparable. The reduction, so far as it exists, is probably due to urban development, Which inevitably takes the land around the towns, which unfortunately is usually the best. I hope that will be some reassurance to my hon. Friend that the picture is not quite so bad as he thought.
On the question of getting better production from our rough grazing land and marginal farms, the question of amenities is certainly vital. Houses, access roads and services—both water and electricity —are necessary. It is perfectly true, as was eloquently said by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), that as the standard of these amenities and the standard of life generally rises for the urban community it tends to exacerbate the problem of keeping men and women in these remote areas. We are pressing on with the long-term aspect of this problem and doing all we can to improve the amenities throughout these areas.
I think I can fairly claim that the Government's policy is broadly to maintain continuity in this field, to maintain 1641 the process of gradually bringing into greater production, where it is a proposition, rough grazing lands, to get higher production and to strengthen the economy of particular farms. I have much pleasure in accepting the Motion and in congratulating my hon. Friend upon moving it.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
At this late hour I shall not deliver the careful, diligent and exhaustive speech I had intended to deliver, because I know there are other matters to be considered today, but there is one point I should like to bring to the attention of the Minister so that he will have it present in his mind when considering ultimately the points made in this debate. It is this.
One of the questions that will have to be considered in connection with the 2 million acres that are to be developed, if they are to be developed, for food production, and apart from the initiation of development, will be the keeping of them under conditions of development for food production. Clearly, that cannot be done unless there are proper transport facilities and unless there are reasonable freight charges for the conveyance of produce from the 2 million acres, wherever they may be scattered, to the large consuming centres.
There is a second and cognate point, that cultivation of the 2 million acres, wherever they may be scattered, will involve bringing large numbers of people to do the work, and, of course, they will not go there, and they will not stay there, unless they have the amenities of civilisation, including adequate transport facilities. Therefore, I should like the Minister to bear in mind the fact that transport facilities must be provided.
I make that point with particular feeling because of its relevancy to the North-East of Scotland. There we have the Highlands which are capable of considerable development, but there we are very badly dealt with so far as transport is concerned, and not only the Highlands but the City of Aberdeen and the County of Aberdeen. On many occasions in this House I have asked the appropriate Minister to see that the freight charges for agricultural produce and for fish were reduced. It would be very desirable if a flat rate for the carriage of all kinds of food were introduced. It will be essen- 1642 tial in connection with the development of the 2 million acres envisaged in this grand and grandiose idea of the Motion.
I would join with other hon. Members who have paid tribute to the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) for his initiative in bringing the Motion before the House, for the careful and comprehensive way in which he did it, and the stimulating speeches he has brought forth from other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not think, in view of the fact that we have had four speeches from Scottish Members, including a speech from a Privy Councillor and an ex-Secretary of State for Scotland, we are at least entitled to have a reply from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland?
§ Mr. Hughes
I think Scotland has been very well represented in this debate, not only, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by your occupation of the Chair, but also by the number of Scottish Members who have taken part. Indeed, I think they have borne the brunt of the debate. I promised not to make a long speech, and I will content myself with putting to the Minister that point about transport, which is an essential feature of the development of the two million acres, wherever they may be scattered up and down this island of Britain.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Crouch
With your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to express my appreciation to the Parliamentary Secretary for accepting this Motion on behalf of the Government. I think this has been a very useful debate, and I have been encouraged by the amount of agreement between hon. Members on all sides.
I mentioned in my speech the spreading of lime from an aeroplane which has taken place in my constituency, and I should like to read to the House, if I may, the quotation for this work:Average with ground limestone or chalk, 10 miles haul: Cost of liming at two tons per acre: —Net price spread with subsidy deducted, 32s. per acre;Subsidy allowance, 26s. per acre.Aerial spreading, 14s. per acre.I hope that this is the opening up of a new field which will enable these difficult 1643 lands in the country to receive what is so necessary to them for increasing their output, namely, a liberal dressing of lime. I think that we have now started a new age in agricultural production. With those words, I thank the House for its indulgence, and I thank hon. Members on both sides for the support they have given me today.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That in the opinion of this House it is of the utmost importance to continue the increase in the country's food production, and that for this purpose, amongst others, at least 2,000,000 acres of rough grazing should be brought into production at the earliest possible moment.