§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
I welcome the opportunity of this Adjournment debate to raise a matter which is rather lost sight of in some of the discussions we constantly have about the agricultural industry. I refer to the question of smallholdings, as established under Part IV of the Agriculture Act, 1947. During the long Recess matters to do with agriculture, with marketing and with the whole future of the industry have been much discussed throughout the country. People are interested about the way in which prices and markets are to be assured to farmers, large and small. From some of the conversations which one has heard one might have wondered whether anybody wanted to get into the agricultural industry at the present time.
In fact, there are many men—young men and, I think, wise men—who are looking to agriculture for their future and 1870 who want to play their part in producing food for this country. I believe that home produced food will be required in large quantities, indeed, the maximum quantities, as far as we can see into the future.
These people who want to get into the farming business—and there are large numbers of them—are finding very great difficulty at present in getting land on which to carry out their farming. I stress this to the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I am sure, will agree with me: this problem of entry of young men into the farming industry as farmers, or rather as smallholders, because the problem of providing capital to start in a big way is a very serious and limiting factor in these days, has to be considered in connection with the loss of men from the land which we so much deplore.
Men have been leaving the land at the rate of about 10,000 a year, and although many factors enter into this problem I believe that one of the main factors is that those who work on the land in one capacity or another think that the prospect of ever getting a holding of their own is receding and that they had better look to some other industry where there is more prospect of their starting in business on their own.
I do not want any hon. Member to think this is merely a question of providing a few holdings for a few people who happen to have ambitions in that direction. I think it is very much tied up with the whole prosperity and future of the industry. We must be sure that young men who have the enterprise and ability to start up on their own are enabled to do so, as far as possible.
As I have said, it is very difficult for them to get into the industry except through a smallholding, a small place, and in the past their main entry has been through the county council smallholdings. This movement has been going on for many years and I believe it has settled down into a very useful, desirable and, on the whole, efficient part of the county council's work.
I feel that the smallholdings movement has settled down. Indeed, one of the troubles is that it has settled down rather too much. It has settled down to the point at which no new holdings, or virtually no new holdings, have been created 1871 since the war. I have heard doubts expressed about the smallholdings movement. I have heard people say that a farm bought by the county council and split up into smallholdings does not produce as much as it would in a single unit. As in all businesses and at all levels of the agricultural industry, there are undoubtedly differences in the levels of production between one holding and another, but production on many smallholdings that I know in my constituency in South-West Norfolk is at a very high level.
I believe that there are in this movement possibilities of encouraging family farming, which, after all, has been so extraordinarily successful in other countries, particularly in Denmark, to which we often look for agricultural example. I think that that allegation is not a true one. There are, at any rate, in the movement possibilities not of decreased production but of increased production.
Undoubtedly, in the early stages of creating smallholdings there were mistakes made. There were, first of all, mistakes with regard to the selection of people to go on smallholdings. Very largely they were regarded as means of settling men on the land whether they had had past experience of the land or not. There may have been justification at that particular time for that particular policy, but it did lead to a considerable number of disappointments on the smallholdings. They have been disposed of today because the applicants waiting for the smallholdings have been "vetted"—though, perhaps, that is not the right word to use for these applicants—and lists have been compiled and only men of agricultural experience are allowed to remain on the lists. They are people from within the industry who are wanting the smallholdings and are on the lists today. There have been very few holdings created in the last few years.
I would now pay a tribute to the men on the committees. They are not halfhearted in their work at all. They genuinely believe in the place the smallholdings have in the farming community, and are trying their hardest to make the movement a success and to make sure that existing holdings have the sort of equipment they ought to have. They have done some excellent work in re-equipping their estates, and I shall give a figure or 1872 two in a moment to illustrate what has been done in that direction, particularly in the improvement of buildings, in Norfolk especially, and it is hoped that improved buildings on the estates will make it more possible for livestock to be kept and intensive farming to be carried out.
All that may not mean much to the man who has not got a holding at all. It may not encourage him to know that the men who have got holdings are to have better buildings, better houses, desirable though those things are. We come back to the question of providing more. The difficulties which lie in the way of those who would provide more smallholdings, the county councils smallholdings committees, are, I think, fairly well known. In the first place, there is the difficulty created by the fact that there is less movement of smallholdings tenants from off the estates into larger farms, perhaps privately owned, or, perhaps, farms which they buy themselves.
There are many people farming today, some in quite a big way of business, who started out on a county council smallholding. They got started in that way. Perhaps, they got a part-time smallholding, then got a full-time one, and eventually hired money and bought land and got out on their own, and in that process released holdings for others. That is exactly what the smallholdings movement should really be doing. I do not regard it as a method of permanently settling men on the land, to stay on the holdings which are let to them originally. I regard it as a rung in the ladder, a means of moving on to other and bigger holdings. Today, that it a very difficult thing for them to do.
The reasons why it has become difficult are also fairly well known. They are partly connected with the fact that the agricultural industry as a whole is prosperous, as it should be, and people who are in holdings are loth to move out of them. They are also in part due to the steps which have been taken in this House to provide existing tenants with increased security of tenure. I am not going to debate the rights or wrongs of that tonight, only to say that undoubtedly increased security of tenure has tended, as, indeed, it was proposed that it should, to consolidate people in their holdings, and there are less available to 1873 others to move into. So there are very few opportunities for tenants on the smallholdings estates who would very dearly like to move into another place to do so.
The third difficulty is the high cost of land at the present time. This operates in two directions. It bears on the point I have just been trying to make. It is very hard for the county council smallholding tenant to get away on to a bigger holding because he cannot afford to buy one. Also, of course, it is hampering the smallholdings committees themselves in procuring land for this purpose. In my own county the smallholdings committee has been very assiduous in looking out for likely land. I shall give the House a figure of the amount of land they have looked at and what in fact they have been able to procure.
A question I should like to address to the Parliamentary Secretary on this matter is: what is the Government's view about the future of this scheme? Do they believe that it will be possible to obtain smallholdings more easily in the future? I should have thought it was very doubtful. Surely, we do not want to wait until that time arrives—for my part I hope it will not arrive—when land values fall, because at that particular time there may not be so many people wanting to go into smallholdings.
I am dealing only with a hypothetical possibility, because for my part, as I have already said, I think the agricultural industry has an assured future before it because of the economic circumstances in which this country is placed. I do not think myself that we ought to be absolutely deterred from moving in this matter of the smallholdings by the high value of land, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say something about the intentions of the Government with regard to that particular factor in the situation.
A further difficulty which is facing the smallholdings committees is the rate of interest which they have to pay on the loans which they have to take up to buy smallholdings. This factor, combined with the high price which has to be paid, is liable to make the whole proposition impossible financially. We all know the reason why interest rates are relatively high. The reason is that the Chancellor had to adopt this method as one of the 1874 essential parts of his policy of reviving and restoring the finances of this country, and we know that by and large that policy has had very beneficial effects. However, the Chancellor has always recognised that this question of interest rates is a matter subject to change, and he has taken the step of reducing the rate, and I believe this reduced rate of interest now becomes applicable to loans taken up by smallholdings authorities for the purchase of land. I should be very grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could assure us that that is the case, and that smallholdings committees will now have a reduction, if only a slight one, in the charges which they have to pay on their loans. These are some of the difficulties which pose themselves before smallholdings authorities. I have run over them so that my hon. Friend may have an opportunity of giving the House his view on how the difficulties may be overcome.
I should like now to give a short account of the position as it is at the moment, first with regard to the national position of smallholdings and then with regard to the position in my own county. On 9th July, the Minister of Agriculture answered a Question about the creation of smallholdings, and said that in 1952–53 he had approved proposals for the creation of 42 smallholdings and for the addition of land to 35 existing smallholdings. I am sure that the House will agree that these figures are very small indeed.
There is this to be said about the position. I must say, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that such numbers as have been made have been made very recently, and I hope that my hon. Friend can assure us that there are more schemes in the offing which he hopes to approve, and which make these figures better than the rather miserable ones which we had for last year. There were 239 schemes for improving existing holdings, some of them at £250 a piece, and of these 212 were approved during the year. That is the position with regard to the improvement of holdings, and it is a much more satisfactory one than the position with regard to the creation of new ones.
To turn from the national figures—those for England and Wales—to those concerning Norfolk, I should like, first of all, to put the picture into perspective by 1875 saying that in that county the smallholdings estate amounts to over 31,000 acres. That is a very considerable figure, and I believe it is throughout a thriving and very useful contribution to the county's welfare. There are on the list of the County Council's smallholdings committee at the moment no fewer than 403 applicants who want a total of nearly 10,000 acres of land. Over the past five years, the rate of settlement of people on these holdings has amounted to only about 30 per annum, so it is very clear that some of those men, at the existing rate at which things are going, will have to wait a very long time.
The bulk of those who have gone on to the smallholdings have gone one to holdings vacated by someone else; they have not gone on to new holdings because the amount of the land acquired since the war in Norfolk for smallholding purposes amounts to 244 acres, and I believe that that was acquired very recently. That is the position so far as Norfolk is concerned, and I do not think any of us interested in the smallholdings movement can regard it as satisfactory.
There is one sideline to this matter about which I should like to ask my hon. Friend a question, and that is whether other Government Departments or semi-Government Departments which have land in hand and land which they let are making any contribution to the smallholdings movement. I was thinking particularly of the Commissioners of Crown Lands who have big estates up and down the country, and I do not see any reason why that land, which is already in the hands of the Government, could not, through the local smallholdings committees if necessary, be made available for the creation of smallholdings.
There are other bodies which hold land, but I do not think that they could make suitable land available for smallholdings—and there is no doubt that the land must be suitable for the purpose. I am thinking of a body like the Agricultural Land Commission. I imagine that the bulk of their land is of a character which would not be suitable for smallholding purposes. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could enlighten me as to whether these bodies 1876 do, in fact, make any contribution in this way.
The other particular point on which I should like an answer relates to the tests imposed for the sanctioning of new smallholdings schemes. I believe that it is a fact that smallholdings committees find it difficult to satisfy the financial tests required by the Ministry. They cannot buy land, equip it and generally prepare it for smallholdings purposes and come within the financial limits allowed to them by the Ministry of Agriculture. Has it a ceiling on the value of land? Is that the test which is applied or is it a question of letting the land at an economic rent? In other words, is the proposition worked back from the rent which a likely tenant is able to pay or is an absolute ceiling placed on the value of the land?
It may be that the Ministry are applying too stringent tests in this direction. I believe that many prospective tenants, although they would, naturally, like to pay as little rent as possible, would be prepared to pay quite a considerable rent for useful land in order to be able to make a start upon it. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would enlighten me as to the nature of these tests.
One of the big costs in the establishment of smallholdings is the cost of equipping. In my constituency, and, indeed, throughout the whole Fenland area, there are a great number of part-time holdings which have very little equipment. The land is suitable for intensive cultivation—some of it for market gardening purposes—and the amount of equipment in the way of buildings is not very great. Holdings which have to be equipped for full-time operation need quite elaborate equipment in the way of buildings and perhaps the erection of new houses. I wonder whether our standards have become unnecessarily expensive. I, personally, do not want to see the job done on the cheap, but it is a fact that a great number of people who are in the farming business today would not be there if they had insisted before they started that everything should be in absolute apple-pie order.
I wonder whether there has come to be too much insistence on the standards laid down by the Ministry for the creation of new holdings. I hope that on the type of land I have mentioned the 1877 part-time smallholder will not be done out of business. At the beginning of this Parliament, the Minister was good enough to say that he had revised the then existing regulations on this point and that he did not propose to call on the smallholdings authorities to consolidate all their holdings into full-time ones. In other words, he was not going to take away the land from one part-time holder and give it to another to make the second one a full-time holder. I never agreed that that policy was good and I was delighted when the Minister changed his decision. However, I should like to be assured that the standards which are being insisted upon are reasonable. At all events, it is more important to get on with the provision of holdings, subject to limitations, of course, than it is to be sure that everyone is equipped up to the knocker.
I believe that the rate at which we are creating smallholdings at present is too slow. I do not imagine that there ought to be a sort of wholesale creation of smallholdings and a wholesale programme for settling people on the land in those holdings. It is not a movement of that kind for which I am asking. I am asking—I hope my hon. Friend will give us assurances about it—that we should attempt to get away from the present relative stalemate so that the vast lists of people waiting to get on the land may be reduced and so that we may bring into the industry the fresh and vigorous blood that we need, which, as I have said, I believe to be a vital factor in retaining men in the agricultural industry.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but the observations of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) have so commended themselves to me that I thought I should indicate my support for them.
One of the most unfortunate features of post-war agriculture has been the absence of anything like the transition that we had pre-war from the position of a farm worker to that of a smallholder and then to that of a farmer in a substantial way. If we are to have a really healthy structure in the industry, not only from the point of view of production but also from a social point of view, 1878 it is essential for us to do all we can to make it far easier than it is at the moment to have those transitional stages from one function in the industry to another.
Apart from county council schemes, before the war, in my area in particular, it was a common feature to find a man commencing his life in the agricultural industry as a farm worker, and then finding himself a smallholder after a relatively short time, and perhaps ultimately finding himself a farmer with a substantial holding. At the moment, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West has indicated, there is a complete stalemate. I doubt whether, certainly in this century, there has ever been a period when it has been more difficult for a farm worker to become a smallholder or a farmer. There are obvious reasons for this. One of the difficulties arises by reason of the 1947 Act, which I will not develop, and others are the high price of land itself and the fact that there is no moving up from smallholdings to farms.
I should like to see the Government take positive action to stimulate further interest in smallholdings on the part of county councils. I can endorse the views expressed by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West about some of the difficulties experienced by the county councils. It is true that the Minister has to maintain standards, but from some cases which have come to my notice I believe that in giving or refusing his approval to schemes he has been rather too stringent in his requirements about buildings, roads and equipment as a whole.
The result has been that the county councils have been faced with the need to spend far more money than they had anticipated and to demand a rent rather higher than would be normal for a holding of that kind. That is particularly so when, quite apart from county council smallholding schemes, there are a number of smallholdings outside those schemes. Because of that stringency, we find that the county councils are in a position to offer smallholdings only at rents far higher than those for comparable smallholdings outside the county council schemes.
I do not want the Minister to reduce his standards to too low a level, but he should be a little more tolerant of the 1879 difficulties of the county councils in this situation and should relax, to some extent at least, his requirements in respect of buildings, equipment, roads and matters of that kind. If the movement could really get going again, I believe we should find that interest in the creation of smallholdings by county councils, the Forestry Commission, the Agricultural Land Commission and the Land Settlement Association and in other ways, would soon return to what it was pre-war. If we do not do that, we shall be strengthening the hands of those who argue for some form of nationalisation of the agricultural industry. The great argument of many of those who advocate it is that new entrants into the industry who have not much capital at their disposal will never find themselves in a position to hold land in their own right and farm it according to their own aspirations.
I should welcome a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary indicating that the Ministry will do more than is done at the moment to encourage the county councils in particular to revive their interest in the establishment of smallholdings and to make it easier for them to carry out their efforts in that direction.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)
I fully support the principle of smallholdings, which, I believe, emphasises more than anything else does the Conservative principle aiming at a nation of small property owners. It seems to be one of the ideal directions in which that policy can be practised.
At the same time, we must bear in mind that, from the strictly economic point of view of producing the utmost from the land, it is doubtful whether smallholdings are the best and most proficient way of doing it; that is, with certain exceptions, where, for example, smallholders are able to obtain some assistance from the fact of their being commoners and being able to graze some of their cattle on hills and common land, thus really increasing the size of their holdings.
However, if one is aiming at the maximum production from the land, I am afraid that one cannot hope to achieve it by means of smallholdings. That has 1880 been shown all through Europe. It is being shown today in Germany where estates have been broken up into smaller holdings and the result has been a reduction in total production. If one looks back over agricultural history one finds that at the times when there was a demand for maximum production from the land, as during the Napoleonic wars, smallholdings, or what corresponded to them in those days—men who had a few acres on the common field and grazing rights on the waste of the manor, and so on—tended to disappear and to be replaced by larger farms.
It is a hard life, too, and also a very responsible one. I remember a very fine old man in the village coming to my father years ago and asking him to buy his little holding, which consisted of about 10 or 15 acres. My father asked him why he wanted to get rid of it, for the man seemed to be prosperous and happy there with his family. The man said, "I am sick of poverty. It is not so much that I am not all right from day to day, but I never know how long I can go on. I have nothing behind me. I should like to be a paid employee on an estate, with some security." He afterwards become a wood reeve and was an extraordinarily good man at his job.
Quite apart from the point of view of the maximum production of land, there are two directions in which smallholdings can be of the very greatest value. The first is the question of promotion, and the second is part-time smallholdings. With regard to promotion, I think we are all agreed that in the past one of the most unfortunate features has been that so often a young man has gone into the industry, has soon got the maximum agricultural wage and from then has found that there is very little prospect of his ever increasing it. If he had gone into some other industry he could in time have risen to be a foreman or even a small owner.
In agriculture there has been a tendency for a man to start at 19 or 20, soon reach the maximum wage, and do the same work and get the same wage until retiring. We want to get rid of that. It was not always the case. Between the wars, when the agricultural wage was far lower than it is today, there were agricultural workers I knew who, somehow, had been thrifty enough to save a certain amount of money. They had good wives 1881 and probably their families helped them. Anyway, by some means or other they saved enough to start in a smallholding of their own, and very good tenant farmers they made. That, however, was the exception, and we want to see more of that type of man.
Smallholdings today provide that rung on the ladder. With the higher wages paid now it should be possible to save more, and there are a number of ways in which a man can borrow money now which he could not do before the war. There is more opportunity, and I think that the most valuable thing that smallholdings do is give the opportunity for a man to start on the lowest rung of the farming ladder. The corollary to that is that we must bear in mind that one must not think of a smallholding as the ideal or as being a sort of life work. It should only be for a certain number of years, and every man on a smallholding should look upon it as a step on the way to a bigger farm.
The second way in which there can be very considerable help is part-time holdings for men who are not really necessary on the land throughout the whole year. On a stock farm a man has a seven day week for 52 weeks in the year, but on arable land there are long periods when a farmer does not want the assistance of a labourer and does not want to pay high wages. It would suit him better if he had not to keep that labourer during those slack times. In the old days work was found for such a worker, but often today it cannot be afforded.
If such a labourer had a holding he could work himself during those periods or which could be worked by his wife or family it would create for farmers a certain amount of labour which they could call on and which otherwise would not be available. In that way a reservoir of labour would be provided, and would supply a great need in agriculture today.
From the point of view of the capital equipment position, smallholdings are generally uneconomic, and that applies whether it is a landlord or a county council who have to find the capital. I had an example brought to my attention only this morning of two smallholdings of 25 to 30 acres which were next to each other. One was changing hands, and the man in the adjoining holding offered a rent considerably 1882 higher than was being paid or had been offered for the other one in order to get it and put it into his farm. That tendency has been going on all the time, and it appeals to the landlord because he can make one lot of buildings do for the two holdings, especially in these days when he is being called upon to bring his cow stalls up to attested standard. If he is able to concentrate on one lot of buildings instead of two, it is to his advantage. In this case I am glad to say that both holdings will continue, but we cannot get away from the point of view that for the landlord they involve greater expense.
There are a number of different kinds of tenure of smallholdings. There are the ordinary tenants who rent on an agricultural estate and are under the usual tenancy agreements. Then there are the owner-occupiers. I think perhaps that is almost the ideal thing though it may make them inclined to remain longer in the holding than they should. It is not quite so easy to make up one's mind to sell one's home as it is to give up a lease when one feels one wants a bigger place. But I feel that where there is an owner there is a tremendous incentive to improvement.
A few years ago the Parliamentary Secretary and I were on a deputation to Northern Ireland. There, the present system of land tenure consists almost entirely of owner-occupiers, who are buying their holdings under a long-term system which started when the landlords were compensated for their land 30 to 50 years ago. I think my hon. Friend will agree that we were both struck by the high standard in the building, and the pride that these owner-occupiers took in their holdings.
Then there is the system under the county council. I agree that it is not increasing the holdings very fast, but they do generally involve a breaking up of existing agricultural holdings and that, naturally, is a decision that it is not easy to take, especially when maximum production is being sought and when it is recognised that that maximum production for a certain number of years will be hindered. Sometimes there are opportunities when an airfield comes on to the market for sale and that can be developed as a farm. That is probably the best way of doing it.
1883 Then, again, I think that the county council smallholdings committees who actually choose their own tenants have to be careful that the men they select are what I might term long-term agriculturists, and that they are not people taking the holding to get a home or a house and after a few years give it up when they get another house. The lists want to be most carefully scrutinised. In one direction the county council smallholdings have an advantage over others in that generally they are in groups, and in that way the tenants find it easier to co-operate with each other than is the case if they are isolated and scattered over a wide area of country.
I am quite certain that in all agriculture we must try to be more co-operative. I do not mean by that an elaborate cooperative society such as is found in Denmark. I think they are very good, but we in England, less perhaps than in Scotland, do not find it so easy to co-operate on a systematic basis. There is a great scope for the sharing of implements and the working of the different smallholdings by concentrating first on one and then on another in the growing of crops and in getting the land fit for work. That sort of thing can be done if there is a grouping of these holdings instead of them being scattered.
I suppose the real ideal in this direction is what is done under the land settlement scheme. That, however, is a specialised branch. They go in for high-grade horticultural land rather than the ordinary everyday traditional methods in agriculture. I repeat that a good deal could be done with more co-operation and it might make up for the fact that their expenses are greater through the holdings being smaller.
Other smallholdings that are rightly increasing are those of the Forestry Commission. These fulfil the function to which I referred in regard to the arable districts, in that they provide work for part of the year for men who are not necessary in the forests all through the year.
I feel that smallholdings are of great value but that at this time, when the need is for the maximum production, they should not be over-emphasised. Otherwise, we shall fail in our long-term aim of increased production. At the same time, there is room for more of them in 1884 order to increase the scope of promotion up the agricultural ladder, and also to add to the pool of labour available at certain months of the year throughout the industry.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
I welcome the opportunity of taking part in this debate. I certainly had not expected to have this privilege, and I would have preferred it if my hon. Friend had put a wider aspect of agriculture before us because I would have liked to plunge into the full scope of agricultural policy. I think it is fair to say that the future of smallholders, as much as the future of farmers generally, is closely bound up with the proposals on the marketing system which we hope the Government will give us in the near future. There has been a certain amount of anxiety in the farming community, amongst the smallholders as much as others, on these most important matters, and though I can assure my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the ardent support of hon. Members on this side of the House on the steps the Government are taking, that support will be even more ardent if we can get the decisions in the near future.
At one time I was a member of the smallholdings committee of my own local authority, and I was fairly closely connected with the running of smallholdings in my home area. I was always struck by the fact of how well these estates are run and at such little expense to the national Exchequer. It is not widely recognised just how efficiently they are run. That, however, applies entirely to the existing estates. When one envisages the creation of new estates, which was the reason why my hon. Friend raised this issue tonight, one is immediately faced with serious costs, particularly when it comes to equipping an estate.
In that connection it is reasonable to think of the provision of bare land holdings, particularly for part-time smallholdings. It was the policy of the previous Government to discourage part-time holdings and I am glad that my right hon. Friend has reversed that policy to some extent. I believe he has left the initiative with the local authorities, which is obviously the place where it should lie. Nevertheless, there is room for still more part-time holdings. I have always held 1885 the view that a farm worker who wants to get on should be encouraged to take the first step on the ladder, which is to have a few acres to work and to find out for himself the difficulty of the responsibility for marketing the produce from those few acres. I believe that to be a valuable education. If a man serves an apprenticeship in that form, he is far better fitted to take over a full-time holding later.
With regard to full-time holdings, it might be possible to provide some bare land holdings in the first place because many people who would like to have a full-time holding are already housed in the vicinity and could well run such a holding from their existing house. I support strongly what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard), that it is unnecessary to put up buildings on a lavish scale for housing stock if it means that by so doing the holding becomes uneconomic. I would prefer holdings with the minimum number of buildings than to have an elaborate scheme worked out and then to be told that it cannot be done because it is too expensive. If an ordinary tenant farmer can put up temporary buildings in the form of bales of straw to house some of his pigs, why cannot a smallholder do it? Let us be more realistic in our approach to these problems. Here, as in other matters, there is an advantage in cutting one's coat according to one's cloth.
I can remember one scheme in my own county where a farm was purchased and split into five holdings. The buildings were admirable but the cost was astronomical and unjustified. Cost is possibly the greatest deterrent factor, although I believe that shortage of land is also a difficulty at the moment. If we are to make progress in providing a considerable number of new holdings, we must realise that it is better to provide part-time holdings than none at all. I have been on the selection committee of one of the county councils and have seen some would-be applicants. They are good men, to whom one would like to give a holding, but we are unable to do so.
From the point of view of the availability of land it is relevant to consider the debates we have had in this House in the last 12 months over the loss of agricultural land. One of the tragedies we have to face is that so much of the 1886 good land at present under Government requisition would be eminently suitable for smallholdings. In many cases such land is becoming derelict, and therefore I urge that this aspect of the problem should be considered.
It is a most difficult problem, but I know of large numbers of applicants who are longing to "have a go" on their own, and many of them would make first-class farmers. I hope that real action will be taken to get more of these smallholders and to get them on an economic basis—not to be too lavish with them, otherwise the Treasury will see that we cannot have any large number. I say, therefore, that we should be modest in our outlook and that we should produce the most simple type of holding that we can, and that when a farm is split up we should not endeavour to provide lavish sets of buildings for every tenant that we seek to accommodate.
In many cases it would not be necessary in the first instance to provide a house on the holding. I do not say it is not right and proper that a house should be on the holding, but it is not necessary to do it right away. That can come later, after we have the tenants working on the farm. If we could do it in that way, I believe that we could go ahead and get a considerable number of further holdings in the not too distant future. I support every word spoken by my hon. Friend in this short debate and I repeat the wish that we could have debated far wider issues in this valuable time.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) for raising this subject. I am particularly pleased because I have always been interested in the lot of the smallholder. Generally speaking, I think that all farmers today are holding their own and doing fairly well, but those who are doing best are either the big mechanised farms or the smallholding that is run by the family. If those two are doing the best, the more we can encourage the small, family holding the better the country will be provided with her agricultural produce.
There is no doubt that anyone farming his own land will put a little more into it than if he has to pay to have it farmed by somebody else who is working for a 1887 salary or wage and who does not benefit unless there is a bonus of some sort according to the results achieved by the holding. Therefore, the more people we can get running their own pieces of land, the more their hearts will be in their work and the better results we shall get.
I do not altogether agree with my own Member of Parliament, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), when he said that smallholdings are not the most productive use of land. Of course, they vary very much according to the circumstances—the part of the country in which they are situated, whether they are adjoining common land, as my hon. and gallant Friend suggested was a good place for them, or whether they are run by such a society as the Land Settlement Association. Certainly, Denmark, which is the home of the smallholding, has achieved what are probably the finest agricultural results from any part of the world.
Conditions in this country are not so very far removed from those of Denmark, and I feel that if the smallholdings, as my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) has said, are not too elaborately equipped, we should be able to make them a thoroughly paying proposition. Indeed, the Land Settlement Association have had extraordinarily good results. Their work is based on co-operative lines. As a rule, all the fertilisers are brought by the society or association concerned and are dealt out to their members and in the same way seeds are distributed; and usually they have an efficient marketing scheme for all the members of the society. That has worked extremely well, and I hope that before the end of the debate somebody will be able to quote production figures of the Land Settlement Association compared with some of the larger holdings.
This subject has been raised at a very appropriate time. If we are to have smallholdings, we must have good people to farm them. The lists of people at present requiring holdings are very long and, in consequence, those who have to select tenants for the holdings can be extremely selective. They ought out of those long lists to find the really admirable men or women who can run a smallholding profitably and to the advantage of the country. It must be remembered 1888 that every ton of farm produce that is produced at home saves our buying a ton from abroad. In many cases it saves dollars or valuable sterling, and the more that the smallholdings can be encouraged to produce by intensive farming, the better off the country will be.
I should like to see houses built on these holdings, because the more a man is part and parcel of his holding the more his heart is in it. When we talk about a property-owning democracy, there is no doubt that we get better results when living on our land or next to it and when we can work in comfort for ourselves. That, however, is not the first consideration, but now that houses are going up very much quicker and easier I feel that the time is not far off when we can again build houses on these smallholdings.
Several hon. Members have spoken of smallholdings as an excellent ladder or stepping stone to a man becoming a large farmer after beginning, perhaps, in humble origin as an agricultural labourer. I should like to add one or two rungs to the bottom of that ladder in the way of allotments. After all, allotments must surely be permitted within the scope of this debate, because they are smallholdings, and we must, if possible, get people interested in the land and in growing and producing things, which is the best hobby that one can have, by encouraging allotments.
But all is not well in the allotment world. There is not the security of tenure that there should be. People who have sunk money in allotments suddenly find that the council want the land for housing or some other reason. Allotment holders are not getting the agricultural advice which they should have. They used to get it from the National Advisory Service, but now they are palmed off on to the education authorities. That is one of the things which must be put right to encourage people to become allotment holders and then smallholders, and, perhaps, eventually, big farmers.
On allotments nowadays it is possible, subject to the consent of the local council, to keep livestock. This means not only rabbits, hens and bees, but, in many cases, pigs as well. That is a wonderful stepping stone to smallholdings. I hope, therefore, that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary considers the 1889 whole subject of doing more for smallholdings, he will not forget that allotments are a very useful stepping stone to a smallholding, just as a smallholding is a stepping stone to a larger farm.
I was delighted to hear one of my hon. Friends suggest that some of the land at present farmed by the Government might usefully be divided up into smallholdings. Every year I study the Report of the Land Commission, which, I regret to say, is never published until 15 months after their year is ended; I have been trying for some time to get it speeded up. When those results eventually come out, they invariably show a loss on land which has been farmed by the Land Commission. Surely, rather than the taxpayer having to pay that loss, it would be better to divide the land into smallholdings and to have them efficiently farmed and producing on an intensive system.
If the smallholders we are trying to encourage are short of money, I wonder whether the Minister of Agriculture could consider special loans to them to enable them to buy stock. I know there are ways of getting loans from banks and various agricultural organisations, but it is not always so easy as it seems. Perhaps the Minister might consider some way of making loans to these people in order to give them a chance to build what they want and to buy more livestock for their holdings.
Some years ago I was rather averse to part-time holdings but only for one reason—we were getting rather unsatisfactory results from them. Now I think the position is better because there are long lists of people wanting part-time holdings and a good man can be selected for the job, a man who will put his heart into it. If such a man is selected we shall have voluntary effort and possibly he will do overtime on the smallholding as he is doing another job during the day. We sometimes have men working in offices who are able to farm their land at night in the summer or in a slack period.
That would not only help such people, but also will produce more food whilst giving smallholders healthy relaxation and recreation on the land. We have to remember that for every ton they produce we are helped in our efforts to save dollars and the spending of sterling abroad. This, of course, must be subject to good farming and will have to fall in 1890 with the provisions of the 1947 Agriculture Act. I am sure that the Minister of Agriculture will take great care to see that that is done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham suggested that he would like to say a few words about the agriculture policy of the Government as a whole. I feel that he could not have been at Margate last week as, there, the Prime Minister assured us categorically that the policy of the Government is to go on with guaranteed prices and assured markets. The Minister of Agriculture made it quite clear that he had introduced a scheme for cereals—with which I think everyone is contented—for beet, for potatoes, and a temporary scheme for eggs, which is working fairly well at present. Now he is also in negotiation for a suitable scheme for meat for everyone.
Anyone setting up in a smallholding now should feel confident of the backing and guarantees not only of the Minister of Agriculture but of the Prime Minister, as declared in the last few months. Now is the time to set up these people in smallholdings. I fully support my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard), who is my constituent and neighbour, for having raised this subject tonight. Some hon. Members may remember that just over three years ago I did the same thing. The story my hon. Friend has told tonight shows that there has been very little improvement since that date, but it does show one improvement, which I think is important, and that is that a few more holdings have been provided since this Government came into power. But what a pittance it is when compared with all the promises made at the time of the passing of the 1947 Act.
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), who preceded my hon. Friend as Parliamentary Secretary, said when that Measure was being debated that 5,000 new holdings would be provided within five years of the Bill becoming an Act. At that time hon. Members opposite, who were supporting him, criticised him for limiting the figure to that extent 1891 and said it was outrageous that the limit should be 5,000. They implied that the sky was the limit for the number of new holdings, but we all know what happened. Very few new holdings were provided and, what was worse, a certain body called the Smallholdings Advisory Council recommended to the late Administration that the policy to be followed over smallholdings should be to combine existing part-time holdings and make them full-time holdings, gradually eliminating part-time holdings altogether. One thing for which I was grateful to the Minister of Agriculture was that as soon as he came into office he decided to alter that ruling. I thought that from that moment onwards we should see the part-time holdings policy continue unabated.
I had a particular reason for that hope because in my constituency there are about 1,500 holdings run by the county council and of those slightly under 200 are full-time, all the remainder being part-time holdings. The application list in the past has never been anything like satisfied. The policy followed by the previous Government of trying to combine part-time holdings and make them full-time holdings seemed to me quite crazy, because the demand was for part-time holdings and the supply of part-time holdings was quite inadequate to meet that demand. It seemed to me playing to a theory worked out as suitable for certain other countries and trying to impose it on an area where part-time holdings are not only wanted badly by many people but have also shown themselves thoroughly satisfactory in the contribution they have been able to make in the general production of food for the country.
I have been a little concerned recently as a result of going round my constituency to learn that apparently the Ministry are still asking county councils to make full-time holdings of part-time holdings. That policy has been continued to a lesser degree than in some other counties in the Isle of Ely where the demand for part-time holdings is still as great as it was, if not greater. I should like my hon. Friend to tell us the policy of the Government in regard to this matter. I regard this as contradictory to what the Minister was able to say to the farmers when he came to 1892 Cambridge soon after he took office. I sincerely hope there has been no recantation by him of that very firm pledge he gave, which was to the effect that he hoped county councils would be given a little more credit for knowing what was desirable in their own areas than the previous Administration had been prepared to accept. I hope we can have that matter cleared up.
There is another aspect of this problem. In the old days when a full-time holding became vacant it was the custom for a notice to be put on the holding saying that it was due for letting in due course and, as a result, people applied for it. Now—I suppose as a result of another piece of advice from the Smallholdings Advisory Council—the Ministry say that that must not happen and the only case in which the holding can be advertised on the holding itself is when it is a part-time holding but they must be considerably reduced. Letting of full-time holdings must be decided behind closed doors, apparently without applicants being able to come forward to be dealt with in strict rotation. This is giving rise to suspicion that all is not fair, and I think my hon. Friend should know of this. I have heard it mentioned several times over the last few weeks by applicants who have been disappointed and they are getting the impression that letting is not fair.
I should be the last to accuse the Smallholdings Committee of the Isle of Ely county council of being unfair in their lettings. I have gone to considerable trouble from time to time to make sure that it is fair. It is only natural that when an ex-Service man from an agricultural family comes out of the Forces and wants a smallholding he feels very bitter when he cannot get one. I am sure that in general the members of the committee do their best to try to be as fair as they possibly can be. They have no easy job.
Not everybody has realised that with the passing of the Agriculture Act, 1947, there was a great change of policy in that matter. Up to that time it had been a social movement rather than an agricultural one. It had been a kind of sop in some cases to ex-Service men, in particular those who came out of the Forces after the First World War. The policy 1893 was changed in 1947 and the scheme became definitely a part of the agricultural ladder of promotion.
The requirement now is that a man must have agricultural experience. If there are two men with equal experience and resources to make a go of it the ex-Service man usually gets priority. That is as it should be. That is the rule. The moment that we start giving rise to the suspicion that something is being done, rather in the dark, round the corner somewhere, suspicion is started up about every smallholdings committee among the disappointed. I am afraid that is human nature. It is very important that we do not make the position more difficult.
I wish to ask my hon. Friend about the Smallholdings Advisory Council. It was set up by the former Administration and it certainly contained two supporters of the then Government. I am not one of those who believe that because a person becomes a Member of this House he should therefore not be entitled to serve on a committee which is advising a Minister. It would be quite wrong if membership of the House debarred one from doing that. What I am saying is that it is quite wrong that if Members of Parliament are on a body of that kind they should be selected from one side of the House. If there is to be any representation at all from this House on the Smallholdings Advisory Council we ought to have representation from both sides, certainly when such an important matter as this is involved where a policy which was originally put into operation by a Minister who was supported in this House by Members of the Advisory Council is being altered by another Minister, or we are asking for trouble.
It would be very much better if the Advisory Council could be at least evenly balanced. I believe that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary takes part in the Council's deliberations, probably in the capacity of Chairman. If that be so, I suggest to him that it is only fair to both sides of the House that there should be proper representation if there is to be political representation, and that if it is proper representation it must be as broad as possible, representing all points of view.
1894 My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) touched on a subject which has considerable relevance to this debate. The hon Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) is very ready, whenever he can, to quote, as an example of the incompetence of British farmers, how wonderful the Danish are. In fact, I think that Denmark is the only country where he is able to discover the figures which are advantageous to his argument. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge drew attention to the fact that one of the reasons for that is that so many of the farmers in Denmark are smallholders.
I would not merely be uncertain as to whether I would agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), I would cross swords with him on his contention that smallholders are apt to be inefficient. I would say that today full-time and part-time smallholders in the Isle of Ely are extremely efficient. I have never heard a complaint made by the county council, by the National Farmers' Union or by the county agricultural executive committee. If smallholding is done properly it can be done very well.
Indeed it is an interesting reflection on some of the problems which now confront countries on the other side of the iron curtain that we in this country have virtually completely destroyed what used to be our peasantry. I am not suggesting that the status of a peasant exists in this country today but I should like to suggest that the economics of peasant farming still show themselves in our own agricultural economy in so far only as our smallholdings are concerned. There is no doubt that it is one of the most economical forms of production there is if it was done properly, as it is.
The Government should make up their minds whether the policy really ought to be one of bringing the industrial organisation from the big cities on to the farms or not. There is a tendency towards it. I have no objection to the National Union of Agricultural Workers; my own foreman is a member of his branch, and I am glad that he is, but I feel that there are limits which ought to be set on this movement if only to ensure that we still keep alive the chance for those who want it to produce as best they can from land on which they live and which they own, without employing additional labour.
1895 That is the crux of the whole issue, whether or not agriculture is to consist of employed labour as opposed to owners or occupiers of the land doing the work entirely themselves on their own holdings. I feel that we have gone quite far enough along the road towards abolishing the smallholder who does his job as best he may on his own holding and sometimes works very long hours indeed and produces far more cheaply than do the big farms. We have gone far enough along the road towards destroying the smallholder's chances.
I heartily welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West has said tonight. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will tonight be able to give us some indication of the Government's real intention about leaving the county council smallholdings committees to manage their own affairs in so far as he possibly can. The provision of the Act which I ask him to be particularly careful about is Section 50 (4), which gives the Ministry permission—not direction—to directthat the authority shall alter the size or lay-out of the smallholdings in such manner as may be specified in the direction.I believe that the operation of that provision has done more harm in my county than any other because the use of that section enabled the Minister of the previous Administration to say to the county council, "You must now begin closing down part-time holdings and amalgamating them to make full-time holdings," by that reducing the number of smallholdings every year. That has been the result of the then Minister's policy when the number of applicants tends to increase and when we want them to increase if we want them to use the ladder of promotion in agriculture. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us the present Minister meant what he said when soon after taking office that it was for county councils to run their counties as they thought best and that he would not make this overriding direction from Whitehall operate so unfairly as it had done up to then.
This has been a useful debate because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ton-bridge said, there are many alarms being put into people's minds in the agricultural industry today. I would say that 1896 there is an exercise going on in Bedford Square which is the finest example of demagogy which I have ever witnessed. It is trading on men's fears when those fears may be quite groundless.
There are few better ways in which the Minister can show that he really has faith in his own policy, as we have, than by showing the agricultural workers that the Minister means to make it easier for them to start up the ladder of promotion, and that he intends to stand by them not merely by giving them facilities to get land but by ensuring that when they have got it prices will be such that they can prosper and eventually become farmers in their own right. I believe that is what we want to see, and what we ought to be moving towards rather faster than we are.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
My intervention in the debate will be very brief. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) who opened it has done a public service in calling attention to some extremely important things. It is very rarely that I find myself in complete agreement with every speech that has been made from the Government Benches, except for some of the more peculiar terms in which hon. Members have attempted to deal with the mystery of the relations, the cordial and good relations, that exist between the farming community and the present Government on this agricultural policy.
On the matter with which we are dealing, the importance of smallholdings, all my smallholding friends assure me that a smallholding is the most intensely cultivated form of agriculture in the country. In my county of Hampshire we have quite a vast number of successful and hardworking smallholders. Even though the economic merits of a smallholding as opposed to the merits of other kinds of farm may be questionable, to me the smallholding is, above all things, the only way in which the agricultural worker can become a master man and move from being an agricultural worker under someone else towards taking a farm for himself.
Farms are tremendously expensive to buy. We are training young men for agriculture in agricultural colleges. We 1897 want them to feel that in the agricultural industry, as in any other, there is a ladder for the humblest man to get to the topmost position. The smallholding can provide for young, ambitious, able potential farmers the kind of career that we want to see for them.
I intervene only for one reason. I am a member of the Hampshire County Council. We have a very hardworking Smallholding Committee, trying to carry out the 1947 Act, to which the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) has paid such a moving tribute tonight. Again and again the committee finds itself unable to cope with the problem of meeting the demands of Hampshire folk for smallholdings. We have a long waiting list of keen, able people willing to take smallholdings if we can find them. In the last few weeks we have acquired an estate which we hope to turn into five or six smallholdings, and it is a matter of some excitement, and of feelings of triumph among the smallholdings committee, that they will be able to report to the county council a matter that will cause great satisfaction.
When we have debated this matter again and again during the past three years in the county council, the debates have been depressing. The Smallholdings Committee had patterned for itself a five or 10-year programme in which it hoped to acquire steadily year by year thousands of acres of land for smallholdings, but it has failed each year to get anything like within grasp or reach of that number.
Anything that the Government can do should be done—this matter of smallholdings is certainly not a party issue—to help smallholdings committees in acquiring land, or doing so at something like reasonable prices, or resisting if necessary the tendency for the big farmer to snap up available land and merge it with his already big farm, or helping to finance smallholdings committees who find that if they acquire land and make even the minimum provision for smallholders the economic rent is likely to be very high. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that he is aware of the importance and the seriousness of these problems. I assure him that my own county is typical. Our smallholdings committee has endeavoured to carry out the 1947 Act, quite conscious 1898 of the great number of difficulties that had to be faced.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I shall delay the House only for a few minutes on this subject, for the raising of which the whole House is indebted to my hon. Friend. I would refer to three points.
The first is that made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) about the part-time holding. I think the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) will agree that this is of enormous benefit, primarily because at the moment the task of setting up smallholdings is fantastically high, something like £150 per acre. Some smallholdings cost as much as £7,500 to set up. Of course, the rent to the occupier will be high, and the returns disastrously low to the tenant in the other. Perhaps if more could be done by encouraging county smallholding committees to go in for smallholdings on a part-time basis, many of the problems could be overcome.
Some of the more grandiose plans put forward by those committees might be overhauled. The person who is going up the farming ladder wants to get down to the job of farming his bit of land and making a success of it. Committees sometimes design buildings of great architectural merit, but put in frills that are perhaps unnecessary. Cuts might possibly be made on that side of the programme in order to reduce the total investment. These are real problems on which the Minister might be able to give committees guidance.
The only other point is of grants being extended to smallholdings other than those held by the county council. I believe that the only grants available go to county council smallholdings. If other persons with smallholdings could be assisted it would benefit the agricultural community, and especially the man who wants to get his foot on the bottom rung, so to speak. That is another matter which might be considered. I think that everyone is convinced of the economic and social importance of these smallholding schemes and I hope that the Minister will be able to give some 1899 satisfaction to the almost unanimous expression of feeling in this House.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Bartley (Chester-le-Street)
I am sorry that I was unable to be present to hear the early part of this debate, but I agree with those hon. Members whom I have heard that its subject is very important. I am very much in favour of increasing the number of smallholdings anywhere in the country. I want to deal with an aspect of this subject which I believe has not been mentioned in the debate so far. It is the question of the extent to which the Ministry have effective control or supervision in the counties. One hon. Member opposite favours leaving to the county smallholdings committees the complete management of these holdings, but I believe that there is need for much closer interest in and even supervision of these holdings by the Ministry.
In that part of the country in which I am interested these smallholdings were established before the Second World War and were primarily designed to deal with the widespread unemployment at that time. In recent years, fortunately, there has not been that widespread unemployment. Those who became tenants of these holdings in my area and who are now employed in the local pits or in other industries still struggle to carry on with a smallholding on a part-time basis.
My experience is that that does not appear to be working out wholly satisfactorily. That is no fault of the tenants. Many of them are keen to make a success of their holdings but, because of the change in circumstances, full use is not being made of the land. I am inclined to think that supervision by the local officers—I am not speaking of members of the committee or of the tenants—is not sufficiently close to encourage or to ensure full use being made of the holdings. The holdings are generally of about seven acres and, obviously, that is not sufficient to provide a livelihood. The tenants need help and encouragement from time to time.
I have put Questions in the House about holdings in my county, and so has my hon. Friend the Member for Sedge-field (Mr. Slater). We are much concerned about a number of points which affect smallholdings in County Durham. I suggest that there ought to be more 1900 effective supervision or control by the Ministry and that the Minister should not depend wholly on officers of county level to ensure that full use is made of county smallholdings. It has been mentioned in this debate that the cultivation of a smallholding is one way by which one can become a farmer. It would be interesting to know how many tenants in County Durham eventually became farmers. I have known of many disappointed applicants for farms from among smallholders. They have not been given the opportunity. Other influences are at work and there has not been the encouragement for smallholders to become farmers that ought to exist in that part of the country.
One way in which direct supervision could be helpful is in relation to the provision of equipment for these holdings. I know of tenants who are anxious to increase their stock and who apply for additional equipment, but who have not been encouraged. This has been the case even where there have been units of equipment available because they were not being fully used on neighbouring holdings where the tenants were also occupied in the pits or in some other industry. Even in those circumstances the county people have not been able to assist tenants who are anxious to increase their stock by providing them with piggeries and similar equipment.
Despite the fact that there is still a big demand for smallholdings very little has been done in recent years to increase the amount of land that could be broken down into holdings. I suggested on one occasion in a supplementary question that as one means of increasing the amount of land which could be used for smallholdings the Ministry should consider reclaiming some of the land which has been affected by coalmining subsidence in Durham. I have found from conversations with people who occupy smallholdings in my county that here are some holdings which do not produce more than 50 per cent. of their capacity.
Some months ago I even asked the Minister to conduct an inquiry into the administration of smallholdings in County Durham. Something more effective needs to be done to ensure that full use is being made of smallholdings and to ensure that more tenants are given greater help and encouragement when they ask for it to increase their stock, enlarge the range of 1901 their equipment and improve the productivity of their land. Although this is an Adjournment debate I hope that something will be done to follow up the points which have been put by hon. Members to the Minister in this very valuable discussion.
§ Colonel Clarke
Will the hon. Member tell the House whether the county executive committee in County Durham exercise any supervision over the smallholdings? Do the smallholdings committee of the county council, for example, not have the advantage of the advice of the county agricultural advisory service?
§ Mr. Bartley
We have county agricultural officers and a county smallholdings committee, but I am suggesting that their supervision has not been sufficiently effective. I have suggested on previous occasions in Questions in the House that the Minister and his officers should come into this matter to ensure even greater supervision and encouragement.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley) suggest that in his area, which is an industrial area such as mine is in Sheffield, where they have the problem of subsidence, some of the derelict areas which are usually used for empty tins and old bedsteads might be turned into smallholdings. I think that that was a good idea which might commend itself to the Minister. Whether or not it would be practicable to drain these areas, most of which are very damp and boggy, I do not know; I leave that problem to those who are more experienced than I.
I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because I wish to put forward, first of all, the claim of the smallholder or allotment holder in a big industrial city. We have not heard very much about him in the debate this evening, but I believe that his need, and the use which many people in Sheffield are making of their allotments, should be brought to the attention of the House. In my constituency we have a certain amount of land which is laid out for allotments, some of it by the city council, and I must say that those which are so laid out are well run; usually, water is provided, and the people who are working 1902 them are doing a useful and productive job.
There are, however, some other areas, particularly in Heeley, where the landlord is now the Railway Executive. I do not know whether the Minister can help by giving advice to that body. In the past these allotments were well used and productive. However, since nationalisation and the Railway Executive took over these allotments, one of the first things they did was to increase the rent, not by 50 per cent. or 100 per cent., but in some cases by over 200 per cent. Not only that. They do not even provide water on these allotments.
I admit that this is a matter between the allotment holders and the Railway Executive. I have taken the matter up with the Chairman, without very much success, and I am wondering whether the Minister could help us by having a word himself or asking some of his officials to have a word with those responsible in the Railway Executive, to see whether they can be persuaded to take a more sympathetic attitude towards people who are using allotments on railway embankments and elsewhere in industrial cities so that more use is made of this land.
I wish to turn to another aspect of the subject, relating to the agricultural areas, and particularly in Norfolk, where I have a farm in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Southwest (Mr. Bullard). I should like to say how much the work which he does in that constituency is appreciated by his constituents. We have various village allotments which are worked part-time. They are mainly worked in shifts—corn or roots, as the case may be—not in the intensive way which some hon. Members have been discussing, but more as adjuncts to farming activities, by people who have not got farms. They need encouragement just as much as the full-time farmer does.
One thing which distresses me is that in the new White Paper on grain deficiency payments this type of man seems to be left out. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can assist us on this point, but, so far as I understand, no deficiency payment is payable to a man who has less than one acre of barley or oats as the case may be. Why is that? This is the type of man who borrows a horse in the evening and ploughs a plot of, say, half 1903 an acre and grows sugar beet on it; he works the sugar beet himself and his family probably go out during the weekends to help him. He may then put it under corn; but, whereas the big farmer on the other side of the hedge, with many hundreds of acres, will be able to claim payment from the Government at the end of the harvest period, the small man who has raised his crop of corn himself on half an acre will not get any assistance at all from Her Majesty's Government. I may be wrong in this; I hope I am, but I have read the White Paper fairly carefully. If that is so it is something which should be looked into.
It may be that the Minister will say, "Well, my officials are very busy. It would take a great deal of book work to find out who has half an acre or more. Those people on the agricultural committees have a great deal to do. I am very sorry, but we cannot really ask them to be burdened with the administrative work which it would entail." That may be his answer. If so, I still suggest that he might ask his officials to look at this matter again and to see whether something could be done at any rate to give that amount of assistance to this sort of people as is given to the larger farmer over the hedge.
Now I want to widen the scope of this debate a little. There is a point which is important in discussing this White Paper on grain and the question of deficiency payments. The scheme of the Government, which I support wholeheartedly, has brought a great deal of confidence to the grain growing farmers—including, I believe, those in the constituency of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley). I may tell him, although I do not expect that he has felt this, that a few people in his constituency have been wondering what was going to be the future with regard to agricultural prices. He, no doubt as I did, told those who asked him that we all have perfect confidence in Her Majesty's Government, and that a sound scheme for preserving the price structure to the farmer would be worked out.
That is what we have in the White Paper, and we are very glad to see it, but I want to ask the Minister whether it is going to work out if we have a free importation of grain from world markets, 1904 particularly if that grain comes from dollar countries. During harvest time I was going round the corn halls of Kings Lynn and Norwich, trying to sell, in a small way, some of the excellent barley samples which I had grown on my farm. Time and again, in trying to sell this barley, I was met by merchants who did not seem to think that it was of malting quality, though they were quite wrong. I found that at the ports there was an influx of Canadian barley which the merchants could buy, and which they apparently preferred to my barley.
The first thing that struck me was that they were spending on that Canadian barley the hard-earned dollars for which I had been exhorting the exporters in Sheffield and other industrial towns to send their products across the Atlantic to Canada and America. I found that the dollars so earned were apparently being used to bring in Canadian barley, at a time when the English farmer was doing his best to sell his barley at harvest time. I am sure that there were reasons for that, and if the Minister can give us some of them I should like to hear them.
The point which I want to make to him is that although it may be that the glut at harvest time, if there were one, will work itself out, we should look to the future, when this deficiency scheme is operating, and when we have private merchants buying on private account throughout the world, bringing corn, grain and barley in at possibly extremely cheap prices. That will have the effect of driving down the price of home-grown grain, and next year, if I may take my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West with me to the corn halls, we may find that the prices offered by the merchant are going down and down and down.
I may be told that barley is being imported from Saudi Arabia and that there is a glut, or from America or, possibly, Canada. I may be told, "We will give you 50s. or 60s. a quarter." I know that I could claim the deficiency payment at the end of the year, but I have to wait 12 months before I get that. Surely we shall be using hard earned dollars to buy grain to bring to this country to drive down the price for the farmer at home, and the difference will have to be made up out of the Exchequer. That seems to me a very long way round of using precious dollars.
1905 I admit that this is a sound scheme, but I suggest that in considering it in its whole conception one more facet which has not been mentioned in the White Paper must be considered. It is essential that the whole scheme should be bound up with an import restrictions scheme, either through the Ministry of Food, if it still exists, or, possibly through the Ministry of Agriculture. I do not know which. It does not seem to me to be a sensible proposition to import vast quantities of cheap food, which have the effect of driving down the home price. In the long run that will not benefit the consumer because the consumer, as a taxpayer, will have to make up the difference.
Has the Minister in contemplation a provision whereby there will be some form of import licences? I am a Conservative and have always believed in protection of some kind. I certainly believe that British agriculture must have protection. It has had it in the past under Conservative Governments.
§ Dr. King rose——
§ Mr. Roberts
I will give way to the hon. Member in a moment. If we are to work a scheme of deficiency payments, whereby the taxpayer has to make up the difference—and by that I mean that my constituents in Sheffield will have to make up the difference to pay the constituents of my hon. Friend in Norfolk—we must have such an arrangement. In the long run the present procedure will not bring down the cost of living.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I am not at all clear whether the hon. Gentleman's proposals involve legislation or whether they can be done through the administrative processes.
§ Mr. Roberts
I understand that the question of import licences and the granting of them is dealt with purely by regulation and Ministerial order. It is only recently that the powers to grant private licences for purchasing grain from Canada were used. There is no need for legislation for that.
§ Mr. Roberts
The hon. Member makes the mistake which so many hon. Members opposite make of trying to over-simplify the issue. I certainly did not fight the last Election, nor, I think, did any single right hon. or hon. Member on this side of the House, on doing away with all controls. The only person who might possibly support that is Lord Beaver-brook, in the "Daily Express." He had that idea of freeing all controls. I have always felt that in the vast organisation of Government which we have at present there must be some form of basic control. That is fundamental, as far as I understand it, to Conservative thought, to Liberal thought, and, to some extent, to Socialist thought.
The point I was coming to was this. I am a little worried about the use of dollars for the purchase of food from Canada. My constituents want to see cheese rationing abolished as soon as possible. Canada has a surplus of cheese at the present time, and there are negotiations now going on, I understand, to purchase up to 10,000 lb. of Canadian cheese. The dollars are the trouble. On the one hand, we can spare dollars for the purchase of Canadian barley, but find it difficult—and, of course, it is—to find dollars for the purchase of Canadian cheese.
I hope that my hon. Friend will note what I am going to say now and have a word with the Minister of Food on this subject, because I am sure that he will take note of any suggestion that my hon. Friend makes to him. I believe that dollars would be better used in the purchase of cheese than in the purchase of barley. I understand that the negotiations with Canada have got into a rather difficult stage, in that the Minister of Agriculture there is a Westerner and his politics tend to think more in the terms of the great prairies and wheat and barley and the rest of it. I have no doubt that he will try to push upon the Government here grain and corn crops and other food from the West rather than the dairy products of Ontario and the East. There are circumstances there that may not weigh with him as a Canadian politician quite so much as surpluses of grain in the West.
1907 Nevertheless, I do hope that the Government will still keep the idea of obtaining, if they can, this Canadian cheese. If they cannot purchase it straight from the Federal Government there is no reason why they should not purchase it from the cheese producers themselves. Whereas the Canadian Government, I understand, are standing out for the exorbitant price of 30 cents a lb., I think the reasonable price at which the cheese could be bought is something like 25 cents a lb. I hope that the Government will bear in mind that if dollars are available my constituents in Sheffield, at any rate, will prefer them to be spent on cheese than on the importation of rather doubtful quality barley.
I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West for raising this subject tonight. There are more small farmers in this country than there are big ones. There are greater needs for what I would call co-operative mechanisation among the smallholders and the small farmers, and I believe that a lead can well be given by the Ministry in trying to encourage the breaking up of farms which become available for this purpose. The idea of farmers getting together in a co-operative scheme for the use on a share basis of machinery is, of course, no new one, and it works not only in countries like Canada and America, but, I understand, they have tried it even in Russia, though not very successfully because the people who work the land there do not get any results from their labours.
Here, in this country, the need for machinery in agriculture is becoming more and more important. I do not believe that the small man without mechanisation will be able to compete, in the long-run, with those farms which are of a unit and size where mechanisation pays. We have heard a lot about people getting on to the bottom rung, but I have known many smallholders getting on to the bottom rung without sufficient working capital and sufficient machinery who have gone "bust" when the winds of competition have blown.
It may be very bad advice to suggest that they should start on this form of activity unless they have the tools to do the job. It may be quite impossible for a smallholder, even of five or six acres, to be successful as was said just now, if 1908 he has to use old equipment and primitive methods of agriculture. The success of this small type of agriculture, which is vital to the morale of our village communities, is dependent on a pool of agricultural machinery.
§ Colonel Clarke
I gather that my hon. Friend is recommending a very large extension of smallholdings, but a few moments ago he admitted that from the point of view of the maximum economic production of the country we could not expect to get as much from smallholdings as from the larger farms. How does he reconcile these two statements, and, in view of the need for the maximum output of this country, how would he hold the balance between the one and the other?
§ Mr. Roberts
I would hold the balance in this way. I believe that, socially, it is far better for a man to work some part of his own land, however small it may be, and be able to obtain the benefits of his work on an individualistic basis. Even if that is not quite so efficient, I believe that the benefit one would get merely from the morale of a sense of ownership would be a great advantage to our country life. I would keep the balance between the two.
The amount which I envisage from these farms, which might be called cooperative smallholdings, would be a very small percentage of the whole. The work would have to be done on a cooperative machinery basis and in respect of a much larger area than that of one village—possibly three or four villages—and there may be trouble as to who should have the machinery when the weather is fine and the harvest ripe; but these things have been solved in other places as well as this. That is the great advantage which I see. It would have more advantage in the social aspect than in the economic, but, nevertheless, I hope that tonight we shall have a lead from my hon. Friend, and that he will say that, even if they are not quite so efficient, we wish to see the small holders of this country getting much the same benefits as the farming community.
I hope that he will not omit to make reference in his speech to this point about the White Paper deficiency payment on less than one acre, and that he will not penalise, if that is the right word to use, 1909 the small man who grows his corn on one shift a year of less than one acre. I hope that he will be able to look at this matter again in order to give some encouragement to those people who, I find, tend to move away from the land rather than go on to it, for this very reason of the small economic unit being an uneconomic unit.
I hope that the few words which I have put to the Minister will show him that we in Sheffield realise that food production from allotments can play just as vital a part as food production from smallholdings in the agricultural areas. I would say that they have a bigger part to play because there are more people who can do that part-time work in the evenings in a large city like Sheffield to the square acre than there are in the bigger rural areas. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will look into this point which I have raised with regard to the railway sidings to see whether he can encourage the Railway Executive to be more sympathetic towards those people who wish to use allotments, and give some guide and encouragement to the thousands of people in Sheffield who are at present running effective and productive allotments. I hope he will say that he feels that their work is equally well worth while and that he hopes that they will continue that work in the future.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Slater (Sedgefield)
I have been interested in the speeches which have been made, particularly those from the other side of the House. When I entered the Chamber I heard the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) refer to the Prime Minister's statement about guaranteed prices to the farming community. The farming community would be gratified if the Minister tonight gave support to the statements made by the hon. Member, because it appears to the farming community throughout the country that it has now become the Government's policy to interfere with the guaranteed price arrangements.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) referred to the fact that many of the people who had taken over smallholdings in his area were ex-Service men and said that that was as it should be. Those who have served in our Armed Forces have the right to receive the same 1910 priority as any others in this matter, but I do not think that they should be placed in front of others. What I have in mind in saying this is that in our agricultural sphere there are men with experience who have never yet been give an opportunity of taking over smallholdings which they would be able to develop in their own right and on which they would be able to put into operation the many things which they have learnt during their employment. The farm labourer is not receiving the treatment which he ought to be receiving under our present agricultural administration.
There is another important matter which I have raised in Questions to the Minister, and the Minister has been good enough to say that he has now given instructions that by reason of the form of tenancy in respect of smallholdings the wife of a deceased smallholder shall now be given an opportunity of taking over the smallholding on her husband's death. In spite of this the position is not entirely satisfactory.
I have in mind a case in my constituency, which covers three rural areas, together with an urban authority. A husband and wife went from the west of the county to the east where they were fortunate enough to find a smallholding and while they were learning how to run it the husband died. Under the regulations governing smallholdings, the widow was given notice to quit the smallholding. Although some of my hon. Friends do not agree with me, I believe that there should be dual tenancy agreements for smallholdings. Because of the provision relating to five years' experience in smallholding cultivation, the 19 years-old son who had been called up for the Armed Forces and had been discharged was not allowed the opportunity of taking over the tenancy of the smallholding on which he had worked with his father before he entered the Armed Forces. That is one of the things that does happen within the regulations.
Another thing with which I am concerned is to know whether the Minister is satisfied, judging the reports which are coming into him, as to whether the smallholdings under the control of the agricultural executive committees are being fully operated. It has been brought to my notice that some smallholdings which were brought into full operation 1911 are being used by neighbouring farmers who are allowed to put their beasts on the land. That has been recognised as a smallholding kept in production. To me that is not a smallholding which is being used to its fullest extent, and something ought to be done about it.
I also should like to draw attention to a state of affairs which exists today and to which we see reference from time to time in publications when farms are going up for auction. I myself experienced a case of this kind when speaking to a gentleman who at the age of 60 was resigning from an industrial undertaking on reaching superannuation age. He looked rather young for his years, and I asked him what he was going to do now that he was finishing with his life work. He replied, "I am going to buy a farm."
Quite a number of these people who have no experience whatever in agriculture are taking the opportunity because they have the means to purchase farms which are going up for sale. I urge the Minister to take a greater interest in this matter, so that those people who are interested in smallholding cultivation today can be given the opportunity to acquire a farm rather than people retiring from industry with no experience, even if it means that the Minister has to secure more powers to enable agricultural executive committees to purchase land if there is a longstanding desire by agricultural people for smallholdings.
My last point has to deal with the breeding of pigs. There are a lot of smallholdings in my county and especially in my constituency, and some of these people have begun the breeding of pigs. Having provided piggeries they now found that they could do with larger buildings, and they have made application for grants that they might be able to extend their breeding facilities. They have not been granted. Here we find initiative which, if given an opportunity, would be able to do that very thing which we in this House have been advocating, namely increase production. Incentive ought to be given to those people who are so positioned that they can increase production in agriculture.
I hope the Minister in the course of his administration—we all know the 1912 interest that he takes in agriculture—will see that a greater opportunity for initiative exists even if it means the agricultural executive committees buying up farms when they become vacant, and giving them to some of those agricultural workers, so keeping them within their own industry as well as seeking to improve the output of the country.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) is not in his place because I want to make one or two comments on what he said. His speech revealed the dilemma in which hon. Members opposite find themselves when discussing agricultural problems. Those hon. Members opposite who represent rural areas want to see a prosperous British agriculture whether in the form of smallholdings or in some other form At the same time, as loyal supporters of the Government, they desire to defend the Government's policy which is being followed at the present time. They find it impossible to reconcile the two. That is why they are in this constant dilemma of seeking to advance the interests of smallholders and of agriculture generally and, at the same time, to support the policy or lack of policy which is being demonstrated by the present Administration.
An hon. Member asked the Parliamentary Secretary to give a lead tonight, and I am quite certain that if he expects his hon. Friend to do so he will be disappointed. I recall an occasion in 1951 when the Parliamentary Secretary was making a speech—not in this House but somewhere outside—and he was dealing with the question of capital investment in agriculture. According to "The Times" report, which is vividly impressed on my mind, he said, "I honestly don't know what the answer to that is." Here we are in 1953, two years later, and the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Agriculture still do not know what is the answer.
It is obvious that more capital investment is required to enable the smallholders to carry on. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) dealt with the difficulties of smallholders breeding pigs. It takes about five years to establish a reasonably good herd and a certain amount of capital investment is 1913 required for the building of piggeries. What inducement is there at the present time to any smallholder to go in for pigs if he does not know what the policy of the Government is going to be? Must he rely, as others in the agricultural industry are being asked to rely, upon some scheme of deficiency payments, the nature of which, if it has been made clear to the agricultural industry, is viewed with profound suspicion?,
I was in Somerset this week-end speaking in one or two agricultural areas of that county. I discovered that last month the executive of the Somerset branch of the National Farmers' Union passed a resolution in the strongest possible terms condemning the system of deficiency payments. In fact, Mr. Harry Green, a member of the Council of the N.F.U., stated the other day that he knew the answer to the problem. What was his solution? His solution was the continuance of the Ministry of Food and of bulk buying. That extraordinary statement represents what a prominent member of the N.F.U. thinks as a result of the messing up—I cannot describe it in any other way—of agriculture of which the present Government are guilty.
The hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) admitted that there was a need for basic control. That is what we on this side of the House have been saying for a long time. That is what the farmers now know is essential if agriculture is to survive. Speaking in the City of Lonlon a few days ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a sneering reference to those people who prefer the cushioned comfort of controls to the sweetness of liberty.
My comment on that is that the agricultural community of this country do not want the sweet liberty which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the present Government are endeavouring to force upon them. They view it with the pro-foundest suspicion because they know that the kind of liberty, this setting of people free, which the present Government are endeavouring to impose upon the farmers and the farming community against their will is likely to bring the same degree of ruination to British agriculture now as it brought to British agriculture in the years between the two wars.
§ Colonel Clarke
The hon. and gallant Member talks of the ruin that was brought 1914 upon British agriculture between the wars, but does he recollect that when in 1932 the National Government, who were predominantly Conservative, came in, they improved the agricultural marketing schemes which had been introduced by the Socialists, which up to then had been of no use whatever, by insisting on a certain measure of control of imports? From that time onwards, British agriculture improved and output had increased by 25 per cent. at the beginning of the war after having been at its lowest ebb during the Socialist Administration.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
It is very odd that the short period of Socialist Administration between the two wars should now be held responsible for the deplorable state in which British agriculture found itself, generally speaking, during the whole period from 1919 to 1939.
Anyhow, I accept what the hon. Member for Heeley said: there is a need for basic control. But we cannot reconcile this need for basic control, without which British agriculture cannot survive, with support for deficiency payments or some other vague prospect as a result of which the agriculture producer does not know what he is going to get as a result of his efforts.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
When the hon. and gallant Member talks of deficiency payments, he will, of course, realise that the National Farmers' Union have agreed to the scheme for deficiency payments on cereals.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
Yes, but they do not seem to be quite as enthusiastic, either as a result of their experience with cereals or by reason of the fears that they entertain if this same sort of thing is applied to other sections of agriculture, as hon. Members on the Government side seem to think.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
The hon. and gallant Member said that the farmer will not know what payments he is to receive. As I understand the White Paper, the farmer will know the minimum that he is to receive. He may not know exactly the figure above that if he is successful, but he will know the minimum which he will receive, which, in the case of barley, for instance, is 25s. 6d. per cwt. Surely, the farmer must know that.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
There is no time to go into the point in too great detail, because we all want to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say, but one factor which seems to be abundantly clear is that there is more confusion, more doubt and more suspicion in the minds of the agricultural community at present than for many years past. That is something for which the agricultural community itself is not responsible. It is something for which the present Government are responsible as a result of the policy, or lack of policy, which they have been trying to pursue since 1951.
The resolution, to which I have referred, which was adopted by the Somerset branch of the National Farmers' Union clearly indicates that the farmers did not want a return of the middle men and parasites—those are the actual words used in an editorial in a local paper dealing with the matter—into the marketing or disposal of agricultural produce. That is something for which the present Government are entirely responsible.
I agree with the hon. Member for Heeley that the small man is penalised and that better provision ought to be made for him. I doubt very much whether satisfactory provision will be made for the small man, because it is just as difficult, if not more difficult, for the farmer to obtain money now for capital investment as it ever has been, although there has been a fall in the interest rates. I do not know to what extent that will be followed by the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation.
For all these reasons, there can be no doubt whatever that the agricultural community view all the actions of the present Government in the field of agriculture with the profoundest suspicion and alarm. The sooner the Government give assurance to smallholders and farmers alike that they can expect the same kind of stability and guaranteed prices which they enjoyed under the Labour Government, the better it will be for British agriculture. Otherwise, I warn the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, he is running a very grave risk that before very long he will find himself confronted with a situation in which the National Farmers' Union will seek affiliation to the T.U.C. in order to secure fairer treatment.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I would not have spoken but there have been no Scots voices in this debate and when I heard the voice of Brixton appealing on behalf of the farmers I recognised to what a parlous state the debate must have fallen. I thought Brixton would be a very remote place which farmers would not be likely to visit even if they were attracted by such names as are represented by the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton). I do not think he should enter the ranks of those who plead for the farmers.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
I did not particularly want to disclose this fact, but I happen to be a member of the National Farmers' Union and do a little cultivation myself.
§ Sir W. Darling
That assurance gives me great satisfaction. I had not imagined that the National Farmers' Union had any great difficulty in finding members. It does not have any class distinctions and the hon. and gallant Member has not had to display whether he can follow a plough—at least he could follow it, but I question whether the arts practised at Brixton would include that of tractor driving. The hon. and gallant Member caused me to make up my mind that if I had to spend the weekend in London, as I may have to do, I would go to Brixton to see Quin and Axtens, the Bon Marché and other centres of cultivation. If I see him there it will certainly add to my pleasure.
This discussion is one bearing on allotments and smallholdings and the desirability of getting the relatively small man, from the point of view of personal capital, into the agricultural industry. As one engaged in the agricultural industry—with my wife I farm 300 acres in an area which is almost as unfertile as Brixton itself—I have some practical knowledge of the subject, and I agree with the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) about the importance of some arrangements for entry into the agricultural field of men with small capital, but great energy and interest.
In Scotland, there is a continuous demand for smallholdings which is never adequately met. It is made by those who are seeking to make the experiment made 1917 by the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton and others elsewhere who are seeking small farms and smallholdings which up to now they have not been able to find. I would not encourage urban-minded persons such as the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton to be carried away by the lure and romance of country life without any training. I believe that persons who want to enter agriculture should go through a fairly severe apprenticeship, although it is true that many men and women who spend their lives in factories, mines and industrial occupations have made a considerable success of farming. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member will agree that they do not bring to the subject the prejudices which the native born countryman is inclined to bring to the art of cultivation of the land.
This debate is useful because it has shown in many quarters—some surprising quarters—the passionate and abiding interest there is in this method of land development. I hope that the Government will further such schemes as exist and perhaps encourage new ones for giving opportunities to those who are land minded.
One of the pieces of mismanagement which has characterised our country in recent years has been the acquisition for the building of houses of land which might have been more usefully employed for the cultivation of crops and the extension of agriculture. Local authorities—the one I represent is as much a sinner as any other—have tended too regularly to choose pleasant cultivated fields for housing development when their duty was, in Scotland in particular, to utilise untended rocky land, which is abundant. It is easy to take agreeable, smooth, cultivated meadows, and it is cheaper, but this policy has serious national consequences in relation to agriculture.
If my conception of planning had been carried out there would have been a limitation of urban communities in the sense that towns of 100,000 population would have been forbidden to extend their boundaries until a suitable distance of some 10 miles of agricultural land had been secured in a concentric form so that we should have the advantages of urban life and the supporting ones of rural life. In the area in which I am speaking we have a concentration of about 16 million 1918 people, a strategic danger and an economic problem to themselves and a national problem which is far from solution. We have that aggregation of population, which is a severe strain on the economy of the country as a whole. The idea of having town, then unmistakable country and town again would provide what is greatly demanded by town dwellers, the opportunity which they too infrequently have of having land to cultivate.
The passion of the town dweller to have an acre, or a quarter of an acre, an allotment or a smallholding, is a permanent factor in the minds of all of us. During the war when regulations were relaxed, we found in town areas that the keeping of pigs, which would not normally have been allowed—even the keeping of poultry was discouraged—grew very rapidly, as did the cultivation of land for vegetables and fruit. We saw the stimulating effect on town dwellers of that opportunity. All that is bound up with passion deep in the minds of all of us—even the hon. and learned Member for Brixton and myself. We come from the soil and we will go back to it, God willing.
The passion for the cultivation of the land is deep-seated in all of us. We are only very recently—a matter of 200 years—a town dwelling population in this island of ours. So when we have a debate like this, in which many diverse opinions have been expressed, there emerges the fundamental, abiding interest there is in this question of the better, fuller and more adequate cultivation of the land, not only by countrymen, the noble peasantry of the countryside, but by town dwellers like the hon. and gallant Member and myself.
There is one further observation I wish to make. I could discourse on this subject at some length—I do not know whether anyone challenges me to do so. My observation is in regard to the remark made by the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton about finance for the land. I happen to be interested in the financing of the agricultural development of our country. Something he said—I have heard it said more emphatically from other quarters in the House—amounted to the suggestion that there was inadequate finance available for farmers and others to develop their property.
The amount of money advanced by Scottish banks to farmers in Scotland 1919 during the present year is the highest it has ever been in the history of the Scottish agricultural industry. I am advised that a similar statement could be made with equal truth regarding the English banking system. At no time in our history has capital been more readily available for worthwhile borrowers from the banking system than it is today, and there is no agricultural interest of any worth or standing that has the slightest difficulty in getting adequate capital to carry it through the ups and downs and the unavoidable ebb and flow of agricultural production.
In view of what has been said elsewhere and hinted at today, it is right to say that whatever diffidences there are in the agricultural field there is no diffidence from lack of finance. Other industries are penalised. The instructions of the Bank of England to the banks today is that finance may be made available first of all for the export trade, secondly for the housing of the people, and, thirdly, for agriculture. Any other borrower is nowhere in the queue. Whatever anxieties are held by some people as to whether the worthwhile farmer or smallholder will have difficulty about getting his money, the Minister will no doubt be able tonight to reassure any victim of those anxieties by giving him the address of a suitable finance house able to undertake the necessary financial operations. I hope I have said sufficient to help to allay some of the fears which have been expressed from all sides of the House.
The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton thought it proper to suggest that because the Somerset branch of the National Farmers' Union had expressed certain opinions he must necessarily identify himself with them. I do not think that his duty carries him to that length. The Somerset branch will be surprised to learn that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been taking so much notice of their views. I beg him not to be too serious about them. Farmers have only recently come into this form of organisation and they take it very seriously. I am no more inclined to take the National Farmers' Union very seriously than I am to take the Transport and General Workers' Union very seriously. They both think they are very 1920 important, but I am equally impartial about them. Let us respect the National Farmers' Union. It is news to me to hear that they are respected on the Opposition side of the House. They are respected because they are an important and worthwhile organisation, and because they represent the knowledge of a large section of the agricultural industry.
But we must not be too slavish. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must use the stout common sense that enables him to rebut the views of the shopkeepers of Brixton in order to rebut those of the National Farmers' Union. He must not be so sentimental. He is a stout defender of the principle of the nationalisation of the land and of the abolition of private and free enterprise everywhere, and he must not be entangled in all these special feelings on this subject. I beg him to stand up in his own characteristic way. Let him maintain his independence and not be seduced too much by the arguments of the National Farmers' Union. Let him maintain his independent judgment and I shall support him.
Her Majesty's Government must take into account the opinions of all organised bodies, but there are many bodies which are not organised and who are entitled to speak and to have some consideration shown to them. There is a large body of farmers who are outside the National Farmers' Unions. I attend many public meetings and hear the Unions speaking occasionally. I listen to their somewhat stilted eloquence, but they speak from their heart and rightly from their own personal interest and not from the interest of the community. They are like any other organisation. Her Majesty's Government, of course, have to take a more national view.
Returning to the main theme of this debate, I think that it is very valuable and indeed encouraging that in the resumption of this Session we should devote these hours to the consideration of agriculture. Whatever our views on its importance or unimportance, its relation to our personal life or otherwise, it is fundamental to our economy and the Government who neglect in its widest and broadest sense the business of agriculture are a Government who neglect their main duty.
Industry has come to this country and it may well go. It requires no great 1921 prophet to foresee that this island may well be again what it was 300 years ago—famous for the export of wool and the cultivation of livestock. This island has possibly passed its peak of industrial greatness, but whatever happens to our industry the land will remain and those who live by the land—and we all live by the land—will remain. Therefore, it is important that we should give it our time this evening to some consideration of the many aspects of this subject. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to deal with the various facets. At any rate, the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton and I have made a very adequate contribution.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
I am sure that no one in the House will dissent from that last sentence in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling). I should like to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) on raising this matter on the Adjournment and providing what has been a very valuable and interesting debate, even though at times it has strayed somewhat from the original subject of smallholdings.
I feel that I must begin by taking to task in a gentle fashion the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton), although he has had a rather severe dressing down from my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South. I shall have to ask the hon. and gallant Member to give me a specific time, place and quotation in respect of the remark which he attributes to me about the future capitalisation of the industry, because although I believe that there is no simple answer, my general belief has been, and I have always stated it, that so long as the industry is kept reasonably solvent, making a reasonably good income, it will be able to find the fresh capital that it needs within its own resources.
I am perfectly certain that that is right and that, assisted by reasonable credit from the banks and other finance houses, the industry will be able to proceed annually, as it has been doing for a good many years now, to find £80 million a 1922 year, or thereabouts, to put back in the industry to capitalise fresh developments. Therefore, I think that it is extremely improbable that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is right with his first shot.
There is perhaps another aspect which I should take up with him. I acknowledge him as a member, and no doubt an influential member, of the National Farmers' Union. On hearing his suggestion that the National Farmers' Union might be affiliated to the T.U.C., I was bound to wonder just what sort of cultivation he went in for. No doubt he will be able to explain that in some other place. He threw doubt on a field which touches this debate on smallholdings—on the prospect that would lie before the smallholder who was considering a development in pigs. The effect of his remark was that he wondered what inducement there would be for the smallholder to go in for pig breeding when the future is unknown. With the close contacts with the industry which he has evidently established now, the hon. and gallant Member should know that there is a minimum price schedule for pigs for the next three or four years and that that in itself guarantees a very substantial stability in the production of pigs for years come.
On the wider subject of the prospect for farmers generally the hon. and gallant Member doubted whether farmers really welcomed the liberty that this Government are giving not only to farmers but to the whole community. My own belief is that not only the farming community but the nation as a whole welcome what this Government are doing. What my right hon. Friend and I are specifically concerned with is to design forms of price and market stability for the different commodities, which will enable us to continue into this freer economy, at the same time maintaining the necessary stability in agriculture in order to provide the long-term confidence to maintain the volume of production we have got now, and indeed to go on increasing it. That is our specific task, and I think that we can rightly maintain that in the field of cereals, for which we have already announced our plan, we have done something which meets both needs.
I am quite certain that farmers and the farming community generally welcome this, our major national policy of 1923 removing State trading and control and removing rationing and allocation, and would be the last people to say, "We wish to stand in the way and perpetuate a system of allocation and rationing." I am certain that they will be prepared to look objectively at the various schemes which we introduce, one by one, in order to reconcile these two interests.
If I may turn to the very interesting specific points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West, I should like to deal with this general problem of providing smallholdings and the general policy of the Government in connection with it. The general policy of the Government today is founded on Part IV of the 1947 Act. This is a nonparty matter. That Act was brought in by hon. Members opposite, and we on this side of the House have pursued the same policy, with one or two small but, I think, important amendments, which were referred to particularly by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) in relation to part-time holdings. In the main, it is a non-party matter, and what we are concerned to see is the continuity of this policy and a steady development.
Although I had no part in it, I think that probably the architects of Part IV of the 1947 Act had certain basic thoughts in mind when they were designing the new set-up for smallholdings. I imagine that they felt that primarily the land must be regarded as the greatest natural heritage that we have, and that, therefore, whatever was done in this field, we should ensure that full production would be maintained and, if possible, increased. I feel that that was their first thought, and that they then tried to reconcile that necessity with a sound sociological policy of settling as many people as possible on smallholdings, so that, as my hon. Friends have rightly said, a man should be given a chance of having his own holding and running it himself to the benefit of himself, his wife and children from a sociological point of view.
I am bound to say that, in my view, they did not make a bad shot at it. There are all kinds of specific criticisms that one can make about the results in this county and that county. Of course, they differ one from another. I have been 1924 fortunate enough to serve for a good many years as chairman of the smallholdings committee in my county, and I took a very great interest in doing what I could on much the same lines as those of the 1947 Act to improve the economic strength of our smallholdings. My experience made me very well aware of the weaknesses of the smallholding policy, which was conceived in the best possible spirit, following the 1914–18 war. At that time the emphasis was undoubtedly on the sociological aspect, and not sufficient attention was given to the question of food production.
One outcome was that county councils setting up smallholding schemes in the 1920's were concerned far more with the number of schemes they could produce than with their actual quality and economic strength. Quite a lot of smallholdings were completely unfit, economically, to give the men concerned a living. They were let in for a hopeless prospect.
§ Mr. Nugent
I agree with the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) to a limited extent, but had these men been really expert they would have had a good chance of surviving. There were many who started then—and I was one of them—with nothing beyond their hands, and who had to borrow their capital resources. There were many who started in those difficult years—the 1920's and 1930's—who, nevertheless, were able to build up holdings and make sufficient profits to pay off what they had borrowed and establish themselves in the industry.
The fault was, first, that the holdings were not adequately laid out or equipped and, secondly, that in many cases the men were not sufficiently expert to cope with the difficulties of the job. Following the passing of the 1947 Act the first thing that was done, in my view quite rightly, was to make a survey of the existing holdings, with the intention of bringing the maximum possible number up to sound economic units, which would give 1925 the smallholders a reasonable living, let us say, at least £400 or £500 a year.
This is the point about which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely is critical. He complains that we are still continuing the process of ending part-time smallholdings, because they are being combined into larger holdings in order to form these economic units. My right hon. Friend has laid down quite clearly his policy about part-time smallholdings. To that extent he has made a change from the policy of the previous Administration, who said that they were all to come to an end. My right hon. Friend has said that he is prepared to consider cases put up by any smallholding authority—any county council—to justify the continuation of their existing part-time holdings, and, in exceptional cases, even to consider new ones.
That means that a county council like the Isle of Ely, where there is a great tradition of part-time holdings—as there is in some other East Anglian counties—can put up a case to show that these holdings have been well cultivated, and are doing a useful job in food production and also sociologically. But there are many other counties where one simply could not put up a comparable case, where one finds part-time smallholdings which have stood out of cultivation for years, and where it is almost impossible for the agricultural committees to press the smallholders concerned into proper cultivation. Inevitably the smallholder says, "You have to realise that I am earning my living in the neighbouring factory. How can I be expected to put in the necessary number of hours on my smallholding? "
§ Mr. Bartley
In some instances the neighbouring tenant wishes to increase his holding, but has difficulty in getting neighbouring holdings which are not being used fully or at all.
§ Mr. Nugent
The hon. Member has a special problem in his county, and I sympathise with his strong and kindly feelings about the problems of the smallholders there. But here I come up against another point. How much freedom is a county council, as an authority, to be given in the management of its holdings? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely says there is too much 1926 interference while the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley) says there is not enough direction. It is very difficult to get exactly the right balance but, having for a good many years taken part in local government, I feel that the right policy is to give local government bodies a pretty big measure of discretion to use their own judgment.
In 99 cases out of 100 they will not only do the right thing but will get better administration because the local people are doing it. I can assure the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street that we will continue to do our best, through our officers, to help the Durham County Council, as far as we are able, to solve their various problems, but I must make the general comment about how diverse is the picture from one county to another and how what suits one county does not suit another.
The general policy which has been followed of concentrating first on bringing our existing smallholdings up to a sound economic level is, I think, right, and even if it has reduced the total number it has at least ensured that those holdings will give a man a living and will get reasonable production from the land. It has meant that a large part of the resources which might have been available for the development of new holdings has gone into the business of improving the old holdings.
These figures will probably be interesting to the House. We had some 9,615 holdings under county councils altogether in 1949 and just under 5,000—a little over half—were up to the standard defined in Part IV of the 1947 Act. There has been a steady increase year by year, which has naturally quickened as the work has proceeded, and in 1952 over 6,000 were up to the right standard. In March this year it was nearly 7,000–6,862 holdings were up to the Part IV standard out of a total of by then 9,490, so that the total number had not dropped very much.
A great deal of the improvement was concerned with putting the proper equipment on the holding, and there again I am absolutely certain that that is right. I have seen any number of these smallholdings meet difficulties. A man might struggle with perhaps a small dairy holding on unsuitable land, on stiff land, 1927 where he ought never to have been to start with, having an indifferent range of buildings and nowhere to put the stock in the winter. In those conditions he has very great difficulty in making a living. I am therefore glad that the county councils have been devoting their attention to improving the equipment as well as rationalising the size of the holdings, where possible.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I agree that in dairy farming areas it is necessary to do that, but would not my hon. Friend agree that in an arable area like most of the Fens it is easy to waste money in unnecessarily elaborate capital equipment?
§ Mr. Nugent
Yes, and of course a horticultural unit may be a perfectly sound economic unit with only five acres. I know a holding of one acre which is a very sound economic unit, but certainly five acres of horticultural land will be more than a sound unit. I agree that an elaborate range of buildings is not necessary there, but very many smallholdings in the country are dairy holdings or livestock holdings—pigs and poultry—and they must have adequate equipment if the men are to make a reasonable living out of them.
This has meant that the county councils could not proceed quite as fast with new holdings as they might have done, but that is no reflection on them, for they have been proceeding in a very valuable manner with improvements to the old holdings. The figures of new holdings have shown some small increase in the last year or two, which is to be expected as the development has gained impetus. From March, 1951, to March, 1953, they have acquired over 7,000 acres of new land and they have leased a further 2,930 acres. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West has said, Norfolk has bought some land this year, rather over 200 acres, the first land they have bought for this purpose since the war.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West expressed some anxiety, and so did other hon. Members, about the standards we apply in the Ministry when considering a proposal from a county council. Perhaps I should start at the beginning of the general process of 1928 considering a proposition for a new smallholding estate. The first thing is, of course, that the property must be offered on the market. Quite obviously, no one in this House, I am sure, would expect the Ministry, or, rather, the county council with the Ministry behind them, to exercise compulsory purchase powers to turn a man out of a farm to break it up into smallholdings. That would be intolerable. Therefore we have to wait until a property comes on to the market, and a great many do not come on the market.
The next thing is to see that it comes at a reasonable price. A good many properties coming on the market now are so highly priced we could not consider them. Next—and this is absolutely vital—the property must have suitable soil. I have seen any number of holdings set up on indifferent soil. I know one county council that before the war had a policy of not purchasing land for smallholdings at more than £20 an acre. That made it absolutely certain that they would never buy any land suitable for smallholdings. Today that council have the problem of trying to make the holdings suitable for men with the tremendous handicap of working those smallholdings on very stiff land. It is important that we should have for smallholdings good, fertile soil.
Finally, we have to consider whether it is a sound proposition. The process of financing it is that the county council concerned borrow the money. Here I am able to confirm the thought that, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West had, that the loans for that purpose have now become a little cheaper than they were. They have now come down to 4 per cent. That was announced yesterday. So it came very timely for my hon. Friend's Adjournment debate. In this way county councils will be relieved, to a small extent, of loan charges.
The county council raise the money and then, after the outgoings have been assessed, that is loan charges, maintenance costs, and administration costs, the income from rents is also assessed, and from that is calculated the net loss which would accrue on that particular smallholding estate. Our system of assistance is to give a grant of 75 per cent. of the annual loss on the holding. The county council bear the other 25 per cent. on 1929 their normal rate income. So the actual form of subsidy is a very substantial one, though made in this fashion of an annual grant.
§ Mr. Slater
Could the hon. Gentleman tell me what the basis is? Do the Ministry work on the basis of the number of applicants the county authority have on a certain list for smallholdings?
§ Mr. Nugent
We take of course into account the fact that these lists are very long in every county, provided a proposition is sound in the other three respects I have already given. Believe me it is not so easy to get all these things right, the right shape and size, the right soil and the right price, for these things do not happen frequently. I have seen a few since I have been at the Ministry.
The net cost of equipping each holding—and I am talking particularly of dairy holdings of 40 or 50 acres—should not be, we think, more than £7,500 for the land and buildings. We feel that is a sufficient loan for the taxpayer and ratepayer to bear because of the net loss which there will inevitably be over the rent that can reasonably be expected from the holding
The question of the rent control of a holding was mentioned, and that is a point which we have under consideration, as to whether the present arrangement of rent control is perhaps too rigid and that there might be a little more flexibility in this field.
I can assure my hon. Friends and the House generally that we do look at these propositions with a very sympathetic eye, but I think that the House will recognise that by the time we have satisfied the essential requirements of any smallholding scheme, the number is boiled down to not very many.
§ Mr. Bartley
I mentioned in my short speech the question of reclaiming land. Would the hon. Gentleman reply to the case of reclaiming badly drained land as a result of coalmining subsidence, so that it can be brought into use for smallholdings?
§ Mr. Nugent
There is no reason to exclude reclaimed land, but I have not examined in detail the proposition of using land which has been affected by coal-mining subsidence. I should doubt very much whether it would be suitable. 1930 I think that it would be fair to say that we want good, well-drained land for this purpose.
I was also asked whether we were considering using land now held under requisition by other Government Departments. The answer is that if and when that land comes to us as a Department, it then goes to the Land Commission and the Land Commission, when considering how they will dispose of their land, always consider first whether any of it can be made suitable for county council smallholdings. Of course, almost invariably it is not suitable. It is probably some bare piece of not very good land which would not make particularly good smallholdings. There are one or two possibilities in Sussex where we may get a few new smallholdings from that source. We do not miss an opportunity if, in one way or another it is land in Government control, of offering it to county councils if, in our view, it really would be suitable.
Turning to one or two of the general considerations, let me assure the House that we do see this provision of county council smallholdings as the first rung in the ladder to give the farm worker a chance of having a holding of his own and of perhaps going on to a bigger holding later. That is why we have continued with the arrangement started by hon. Gentlemen opposite of requiring a five years' contract of service to establish that the man is in fact a bona fide farm worker. We have only made an exception in the case of a widow, to which an hon. Member opposite referred, where the county council concerned is satisfied that she in fact was a partner of the husband and does know how to work the holding. That seems to me to be the soundest basis both from the point of view of the industry as a whole and from the point of view of the individual, if we are going to make as sure as we can that he will be able to make a living out of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) asked whether we could make loans to assist the smallholder when he is starting. The answer is that the 1947 Act does provide for such loans. A county council can make a loan of up to 75 per cent. of what the smallholder requires on his ingoing and he has to find the other 25 per cent. 1931 himself. That enables a man with relatively small resources in the way of his own savings to borrow the rest in order to start up his holding——
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion, made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Studholme.]
§ Mr. Nugent
Some use has been made of that by smallholders who are starting in different counties. I should mention that the cost of in-going is, of course, heavy. Again talking of the small dairy holding of 40 to 50 acres, it would probably cost a man anything from £2,000 to £2,500 to go in. That is simply the live and dead stock and the tenant right valuation, apart altogether from the value of the holding itself. That is a lot of money at the present time, but it is inevitable. It is part of the structure of the industry, and it makes it very difficult for young fellows to start.
We certainly want to see them moving through the holdings, if it is possible, regarding them really as a ladder. However, in my experience I have not seen many fellows move out of their holdings. I have seen it happen in the next generation; a father has started on a smallholding, made a living out of it and saved a bit, and has had his son working there, and then when his son has reached about 30 he has gone to a bigger holding with the savings created by his father. It would be optimistic for us to expect men to travel fast up the ladder in one generation, but we certainly see it as the ladder for the farm worker, and we shall proceed to encourage county councils who have satisfactory propositions to continue their development.
However, it is right that I should put this in perspective and remind the House that, after all, we are a country of smallholdings. Two-thirds of our holdings—200,000 of them—are under 50 acres, so that the provision which the county councils make with their 10,000 or so is really a very small part of a general agricultural economy mainly made up of small holdings. One must not get this aspect, very important and valuable though it is, out of perspective.
§ Mr. Nugent
I have not the definition before me, but my recollection is that a smallholding must not exceed 50 acres. The point I am making is that the general provision of smallholdings in the country is very great indeed.
There are certain considerations which we as the Ministry of Agriculture responsible for production have to keep always in mind. One has been referred to by hon. Friends of mine today, and that is that this is the day of mechanisation in farming. The greater part of the mechanisation that we have today is mechanisation for the big farm, and the problem of mechanisation on the small farm remains to a large extent still to be solved. It is extremely difficult to find machines which can do the operations which are required and yet not place too big a capital charge on the small farm.
It is difficult to design machines able to do the job when they have only a relatively small amount to do. One or two of our manufacturers have given a great deal of time and thought to this, but it still is a continuing problem on holdings of 50 acres or less. We have to be careful from the point of view of strengthening our general agricultural economy and reducing our costs, which is vital in the general picture of production. We want to increase production, but at the same time we want to reduce costs so that our people as a whole can get the benefit of cheaper food wherever it is possible.
In that context it is, therefore, most important to ensure that we do not lose the benefits of large-scale mechanisation as it proceeds to develop more and more. I certainly agree with those who have contended that there are many smallholders whose standard and volume of production are unequalled anywhere. There is no doubt about it. The man with his wife who works from dawn to dusk and does so with skill and industry will probably get a greater level of production off a smallholding than can possibly be got off a larger farm. That does depend upon good land suitable for the purpose, and where that is so and there is dry working and a good range of buildings the general management can be intensified.,
I have in mind going through one European country this year where they 1933 have a big policy of land reform and are very anxious to get a good deal of development on smallholdings. I motored through miles and miles of land which had been developed in this fashion by these smallholding estates, and, practically speaking, all that had happened there was that someone had gone through that land with caterpillar tractors and had ploughed it up. Then someone else had come along and built small dwelling houses. How on earth those smallholders were going to make a living with no place to keep their animals and no way of increasing production to get a sufficient volume of output I do not know. That kind of approach to the smallholding problem is likely to do a man who settled there far more harm than good.
So I say quite emphatically that our policy is to see a steady development of county council smallholdings, to ensure that kind of development which will enable the men and women who go to live and work there to get a good living for themselves, and maintain at least the level of production that existed on that land before they started. I think the House can be assured, particularly my hon. Friend for Norfolk, South-West, that we shall do all we can to help the county councils with their holdings, but we shall try to preserve a policy in this matter which will keep a fair and proper balance between getting the fullest possible production, and at the same time settling as many men and women on the land in sound economic circumstances as we can.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Will my hon. Friend answer those points which I put to him about the position of smallholders who have an acreage of oats or barley which is less than one acre, and whether or not they would be able to benefit by the Government scheme in this matter? If they do not will my hon. Friend look into it?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Could my hon. Friend deal with the point I raised about the Smallholdings Advisory Council?
§ Mr. Nugent
I have to apologise to my hon. Friends for not answering all their points, but I would have taken a long time if I had answered all the questions put by everybody, and particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts). He has now raised the particular issue of the deficiency payment not being applicable to areas of less than one acre. The answer is that the guarantees of prices which are given and fixed at the price reviews are applicable to commercial farming and are not applicable to horticulture or to very small holdings. Therefore, the guarantee of price in this respect is not an obligation to those with less than one acre.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely has referred to the Smallholdings Advisory Council. That body has done useful work both under this Administration and in the past. It is a technical body and was appointed because of the value of the technical advice of the members. I am sure my hon. Friend would not wish my right hon. Friend the Minister to change members because of their party affiliations so long as their technical advice is sound. They are only consulted on technical matters. We have not found it necessary to burden them with a great deal of work since we have been in office but, from time to time, they are called together when a fresh problem arises, for instance, on these part-time smallholdings. When we were considering that problem they gave me most objective and sensible advice, and I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that there is no aspect of party bias in the committee. That being so, I am sure he would not wish that any members now serving should cease to serve on that account.