§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Hare)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am pleased that it falls to me today to introduce this Bill. Together with last year's Agriculture Act, it establishes a balanced long-term policy for British agriculture appropriate to present day needs. This policy aims to secure better equipped farms and to give better opportunities for efficient farming. The 1957 Act gave farmers long-term price assurances to enable them to plan ahead. It also introduced the farm improvements scheme, with its ten-year programme, for modernising the buildings and equipment on our farms.
This Bill rounds off the picture. It will create conditions in which the landlord-tenant system can work more effectively. It will maintain security for the good tenant, and, at the same time, create opportunities for new blood to be infused into the industry. It gets rid of the disciplinary powers of the 1947 Act, which today, in my opinion, are an impediment to our efforts to raise agricultural efficiency. The Bill also gives effect in the agricultural sphere to the sound and fair recommendations of the Franks Committee.
I emphasise that the 1957 Act and this Bill do not represent a sudden or dramatic change of agricultural policy. They are in line with the main trend of agricultural policy since the war. The amendments which are being made to the 1947 and 1948 Acts are essential adjustments shown to be needed by experience and changed circumstances.
Most of the provisions of the Bill relate to Scotland as well as to England and Wales. But I will describe it primarily from the standpoint of England and Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland will be intervening later to deal fully with the Scottish position.
I will deal, first, with the repeal of the disciplinary provisions of the 1947 Act, which is dealt with by Clause 1 of the Bill. It is, I am told, an essential qualification of a veterinary surgeon that he 1110 should be able to recognise a dead horse when he sees one. Bluntly, these provisions have been dead for a long time, and I do not want to spend too long on their funeral oration. If there had been doubt about the need to bury them, then the conclusions of the Franks Committee should have clinched the matter.
Dispossession of farmers or land owners by the State was necessary and justified in war-time. Nor do I suggest that it was wrong of the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) to put these powers on the Statute Book in 1947 at a time of acute food shortage. Indeed, we supported him at that time. I should like personally to pay a tribute to him for his work as architect of the 1947 and 1948 Acts, and also to wish him many happy returns of the day, as I understand that it is his seventieth birthday.
In the last ten years only 377 people have been dispossessed under these provisions. We shall never know how many would have left their holdings in any case through the pressure of ordinary economic forces if the State had not intervened. Nor can we tell how often landlords have refrained from exercising their rights against a bad tenant, or tenants from exercising their rights against a bad landlord, because they thought it easier to leave it to the Ministry. There is, therefore, all this cumbrous machinery of State intervention to deal in ten years with an average of 40 farmers a year. Experience has shown how little these powers have achieved in relation to the time and effort their administration has involved.
This is another important point. We shall never know the extent to which farmers in real need of help and advice may in the past ten years have been deterred from approaching the advisory services for fear that they might be picked out for supervision and then dealt with by dispossession. This is a fact. We must face up to it, and hon. Gentlemen opposite must face up to these things realistically. Whatever our hopes, supervision has been regarded as a punishment and not an opportunity, and this has been said straightforwardly by the Franks Committee. I cannot, therefore, believe that in times of peace and plenty the State is morally justified to throw people out of their homes, their farms and their land. 1111 Whatever is said in the House in the next two days, I believe that this view is shared by most people who believe in the freedom that Western democracy is trying to preserve.
I would like to ask anybody who is still doubtful how they consider they would operate these conditions today. The Franks Report recommended the setting up of subordinate land tribunals to take over the judicial functions at present carried out by the county agricultural executive committees. Members of these committees would have to act as detectives to bring to light those cases which called for disciplinary action. They would then act as prosecutors before the tribunals. These committees are not organised to act as detectives and they can hardly be expected to relish the role of prosecutor of their neighbour. They have done an extremely difficult job with great tact and patience, but this would have been trying them far too much.
I know that there is opposition to the repeal of these powers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—but that does not stop me from being convinced that this opposition, and let me be kind, is misguided. Farmers do not really want to see the effective and widespread use of these powers, and, frankly, I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Don Valley, in his heart of hearts, does either. The opposition seems to be based on a fear that in some way the repeal will endanger the price guarantees.
§ Mr. Hare
May I explain this point to the hon. Gentleman. I assure him that this fear, which he apparently shares, is a fear that is not based on logic. I have said, and I repeat, that the long-term assurances embodied in the 1957 Act are in no way connected with these obsolete disciplinary powers. No one should be frightened by the argument that to do away with these disciplinary powers will imperil the price guarantees and subsidies.
Nor need they fear that the townsman will criticise support for farming because there are no penal sanctions against inefficiency. Our system of production grants and minimum prices is similar in 1112 its effect to the protection provided to many other industries by tariffs or other means. Nobody argues that those other protected industries should have supervision or dispossession as sanctions. That being so, why should farming have them?
In any case, the guarantees introduced in the 1947 Act are enshrined and buttressed in the 1957 Act. We all know that that Act was passed at a time when the Government were already seriously considering the repeal of the penal powers. We need an altogether new approach. Surely, in these days, we need persuasion and not compulsion. We need the helping hand and not the big stick. The whole elaborate and ponderous machinery of supervision and dispossession concerns itself with literally the bottom 1 per cent. of farmers and landlords. Instead, we need positive measures to set free the energies and resources of the other 99 per cent. No reasonable person will deny the justice of this argument. Therefore, I and, I think, most people who are prepared to approach the question without prejudice will shed few tears at the burial of these powers.
I should like now to turn to the practical and positive proposals which comprise the rest of the Bill. Most of them are concerned with the relationship between the landowner and the tenant. For many generations, a sound and progressive tenancy system has been the backbone of efficient farming. Perhaps it has been one of the peculiar successes of British country life. Unlike the position in many other countries, it has been a proper partnership. The tenant has looked to his landlord to provide and to keep in good repair the wide range of buildings and other fixed equipment without which efficient farming, particularly today, is impossible.
Partnership, however, works only when rewards and responsibilities are fairly shared. The experience of the last ten years has, I think, shown that the landlord-tenant partnership has tended to become rather onesided. Last year, my predecessor introduced the farm improvement grants and these will make a real contribution. Other steps are, however, needed if the landlord-tenant partnership is to continue to work smoothly and if new capital is to be attracted into our 1113 farms. What we propose is a clarification of the arrangements for rental arbitrations, a change of emphasis in the existing security of tenure and certain rights for tenant farmers concerning the provision of essential equipment.
Rents are an explosive subject. Some people have exploded about Clause 2 of the Bill without first understanding it or wanting to understand it. The overwhelming majority of farm rents, as the House well knows, are fixed by agreement between landlord and tenant. Nothing in the Bill alters that. If they cannot reach agreement, there is provision for arbitration under the 1948 Act; and nothing in the Bill alters that.
At present, the arbitrator is instructed to fix what is called the "rent properly payable". Arbitrators have complained that this is highly ambiguous; it can mean very different things to different people. The Bill gives arbitrators what, I think, are clear terms of reference: that is, to fix the rent which the landlord would be able to obtain if he was able to let the farm on the open market. Some arbitrators already do this; others do not.
The sitting tenant has all the advantages given to him by security of tenure. If tenant farmers do not pay adequate rents, landowners will find difficulty in keeping the buildings and equipment in good repair and they will find it impossible to provide sums with which to carry out improvements. We must remember that since before the war, rents have increased by an average of about 60 per cent. Maintenance costs, ordinary building repairs, and so on, have trebled. Some people have been trying to create the impression that there will be a sudden large increase in rents and that on thousands of farms rents will rise as a result of this new instruction to arbitrators. I must emphasise that that simply is not so. Some rents have been rising in recent years; others have not done so. Any changes caused by this new instruction to arbitrators will simply form part of a gradual process of adjustment. We must also remember that rent is taken into consideration when the Price Review determinations are made.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Is the right hon. Gentleman not opening the market for land to grossly 1114 inflationary tendencies in a situation where, as is at present the case, people want to invest in land as a hedge against depreciation of other investments?
§ Mr. Hare
I cannot accept that interpretation. The case I was making would, I should have thought, have made it clear that what the hon. Member has suggested is not true. For instance, the number of cases for arbitration in which it was impossible for the tenant and landlord to agree, which came forward to my Ministry to appoint an arbitrator last year, was 139. That shows how completely out of proportion the hon. Member views the problem.
The wording of Clause 2 follows the precedent of Section 34 of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954, in relation to business tenancies in referring to the rent at which a holdingmight reasonably be expected to be let in the open market by a willing landlord".The words "reasonable" and "willing" are used to avoid any risk that arbitrators will take account of freak or fancy rents which might be paid by people determined for some reason to get possession of a farm regardless of its worth.
This question was fully explored in debates in this House during the passage of the 1954 Act. The House was satisfied at that time that it was reasonable to expect that a willing landlord would not hold out for a freak rent. Accordingly, the rent fixed on this formula will be a fair rent which would be offered by a steady and responsible farmer to whom a willing landlord would be ready to entrust the cultivation of his land. I hope that this will clear up certain misconceptions which I have already seen appearing in the Press.
Now, a word about security of tenure. Clause 3 represents an agreement between the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association. I hope that this will encourage hon. Members, on both sides, to agree with my contention that our proposals are both sound and fair. The 1948 Act was intended, as, I am sure, the right hon. Member for Don Valley will agree, to give greater security to the competent farmer so that he could plan ahead with assurance.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that 1115 when discussing the Clause we should bear in mind the agreement between the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association. Were views expressed by the N.F.U. on the previous Clause?
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
When the right hon. Gentleman says that the N.F.U. agreed to the Clause 3 arrangement, can he say whether that agreement was reached before or after the N.F.U. knew his intention to abolish or repeal Part II of the 1947 Act?
§ Mr. Hare
Yes, Sir. I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that the agreement was reached after it was known that it was our intention to repeal the 1947 Act. I am sorry not to help the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. I think that it is not unreasonable for me to suggest that we will argue less about this part of the Bill than about others.
In view of what has been said, I want to make it perfectly clear that while the N.F.U. did not accept the view that legislation was needed to put things right—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] I am being perfectly fair to the House—it held discussions with the Country Landowners' Association. I pay tribute to the N.F.U. and the C.L.A. in that, in view of all the circumstances, they were prepared to come to an agreement, which is embodied in Clause 3.
§ Mr. Hayman
Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that many of the people concerned are in both the C.L.A. and N.F.U., although they may not be officers?
§ Mr. Paget rose——
§ Mr. Hare
I have given way to the hon. Members opposite several times.
The terms of Clause 3 enable a landlord to obtain possession of a holding if 1116 he can show that it would be put to better use if he did so. That gives effect to what I think was the original intention behind the 1948 Act. Under this Clause, the landlord will be entitled to possession if he makes out his case on a number of grounds. The main ones will be: if it is desirable on the grounds of good husbandry; if it is desirable on grounds of sound estate management; and grounds of hardship, in which case the tribunal will balance against that the hardship to the tenant.
At present, the Minister of Agriculture and the Agricultural Land Tribunal have an unqualified discretion to refuse consent if they choose to do so, even though the landlord has made out his case. That discretion is too wide and we propose the following change. Although a landlord may, in cold logic, make out his case, the tribunal will be required to refuse possession if the particular and special circumstances are such that in the tribunal's opinion a fair and reasonable landlord would not have sought to turn out the tenant. That seems to me a proper and just overriding proviso.
I will give one short example. A sitting tenant is a thoroughly sound farmer, but the landlord may wish to let the holding to an exceptionally good farmer with plenty of capital. Technically, the landlord could make out his case in the interests of good husbandry, but in those circumstances the tribunal might feel that a fair and reasonable landlord would not disturb a competent sitting tenant.
I do not expect for one moment that this change of emphasis will have any sudden or dramatic results, but over a period of years it will have its effects. It should make it easier for landlords to reorganise their estates, where that is needed for thoroughly efficient farming, and, more important still, it should provide a better ladder of promotion for the many young, energetic and well-trained men who are coming forward on our farms.
I regard that as extremely important. We are spending very large sums of money on the training of young men and women in farm institutes and agricultural colleges. And, as we all know, a sense of frustration is growing up because they see little chance of ever getting a farm of their own. Security must, therefore, 1117 not be allowed to degenerate into stagnation. We must see that there are opportunities for the up and coming to show what they can do.
The next main provision, which, again, I hope will not lead to too much argument, is Clause 4. This gives an important new right to the tenant farmer.
Before I come to this, however, I should like briefly to outline the existing rights that a tenant possesses in his relation to the landlord. The tenant's main safeguard is, of course, his tenancy agreement. If the landlord does not carry out his contractual obligations, the tenant can sue him for damages. The usual form of tenancy agreement includes what are known as "model clauses" which are prescribed in regulations for all tenancies, unless they are excluded by agreement in writing.
I draw particular attention to the means of enforcement at the tenant's disposal. If the landlord fails to carry out his repair liabilities, the tenant can give him three months' written notice to execute them. If the landlord does nothing, the tenant may carry out the repairs himself and recover the reasonable cost from the landlord.
If the landlord is not prepared to make an improvement in the fixed equipment, the tenant has a very important right. Provided he gets his landlord's consent, he can carry out the improvements himself and is entitled to compensation from the landlord when he quits the holding. If the landlord will not agree to that, the tenant can apply to the Minister—in future it will be the tribunal—for approval.
Those are comprehensive remedies which are in the tenant's hands, but there is one loophole which should be filled. That is where statutory requirements in connection with buildings are laid down. The obvious examples are the obligations on dairy farmers under the milk and dairies regulations and the obligations on all occupiers under the safety, health and welfare regulations. Because of these, a tenant may have to have new or improved buildings to carry on a particular line of farming. In fact, without them he may be thrown out of business.
In cases like that, it is reasonable that, subject to proper safeguards, the landlord 1118 should be under an obligation to provide the necessary improvements. It is not enough to say that the tenant should provide them himself, because he may not have the resources. In Clause 4 we propose that in such cases the tenant should go to the Agricultural Land Tribunal for a direction on his landlord. The Clause will work fairly between landlord and tenant and the landlord will not be required to do anything unreasonable. At the same time, it is an important new right for tenant farmers.
There is one other provision to which I call attention, and that occurs in Clause 7. One of the responsibilities which does fall properly on the State— and I am glad to note that the right hon. Member for Don Valley is already beginning to agree with me—is to see that farmers have safeguards against being damaged by their neighbour's neglect of land.
One example of that is injurious weeds. The Minister of Agriculture has power, at present, to take action against occupiers of land who allow injurious weeds to grow, but they are not adequate, and Clause 7 we propose to strengthen the powers and to modernise the penalties and make it easier to take action where an owner or occupier cannot be traced. I think that the House will agree that it is right for us to take these powers to protect the community.
On this theme, another example is provided by occupiers who neglect their farm ditches. I hope that it may be possible, under legislation dealing with land drainage problems, considered some time ago by the Heneage Committee, to amend the 1930 land drainage legislation to help an occupier whose land is being damaged as the result of his neighbour's failure to keep his ditches clean.
I am sorry to detain the House, but I want now to refer to the machinery provisions. I ought, I think, to make this clear. Hon. Members on both sides of the House welcomed, I think, the general line of the Report of the Franks Committee. What grounds are there for departing from these general principles in the case of agriculture? Honestly, I do not think there are any sound reasons why agriculture should be excluded from those proposals. We are, therefore, in this Bill implementing the recommendations in the Franks Report that the judicial functions exercised by the 1119 county committees should be entrusted to independent judicial bodies.
Let me say at once that members of county committees, as I said earlier, have done a difficult job fairly and with the utmost loyalty. The change implies no criticism whatsoever of the way in which they have carried out their work, but I think that hon. Members will agree that judicial functions ought not to be carried out by Ministers or their agents.
We propose that applications for consent to notices to quit, applications for certificates of bad husbandry, applications by tenants to carry out improvements without the landlord's consent, all should be heard by the agricultural land tribunals, and we propose that the Lord Chancellor should make the rules of procedure for those tribunals. In other words, in this and other respects we are bringing the procedure into line with the conclusions of the Franks Report.
I have heard it suggested that, when this is done, the county agricultural executive committees will have no real job to do and that first-rate people will not be willing to serve on them. I do not accept that view for one moment. As the House knows, I have arranged for a thorough review of the future of the county committees, and I am hoping very shortly to have full and detailed discussions with all the chairmen of the county committees. But I can say without hesitation that in my opinion the committees have as valuable and as constructive a job to do in the future as they have had in the past. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am quite sure that I am right in saying that.
I have given the House a description of the general policy which is incorporated in the Bill, whose provisions, although they may be limited in their scope, are, I believe, of the greatest importance to the long-term future of British farming.
The farmer today has great opportunities, but the State does not guarantee him a living. He has got to earn it in a highly competitive world. Our policy is to give farmers a chance to take advantage of their opportunities The price guarantees established by Part I of the 1947 Act, buttressed and 1120 placed on a firm long-term basis by the 1957 Act, give the farmer real assurances for long-term planning. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is no use hon. Members saying, "No". They really do. The wide range of production grants are there to help him modernise his methods and to improve his land. The handicap of out-of-date buildings and equipment can be cured under the Farm Improvement Scheme. The advisory services are there to help him all they can, with increasing emphasis on farm management. Under this Bill the good farmer will still have security of tenure. The good landlord will find it easier to make the best of his land.
Our policy, as befits a long-term policy, looks forward to 1967 and not back to 1947. By 1967, the farm improvement grants will have encouraged a £150 million worth of new equipment on our farms. The good farmers of today will still be with us, but I hope that many good men who today are awaiting an opportunity to take on holdings of their own will by then have shown what they can do.
This Bill brings our post-war farming legislation up to date. It flows logically from the Acts of 1947, 1948 and 1957, which both sides of the House brought into being without division. Our proposals are based on the commonsense requirements of today. The Bill will, I believe, help all those who live by farming to build up their industry with increased efficiency. We in this House will also be able, at the same time, to satisfy the taxpayer that his money has been well spent in establishing British farms and British farmers as the best in the world. With real confidence, I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)
Let me, first, say "Thank you" to the Minister for his birthday observations. This is not quite the sort of way one would choose to celebrate one's birthday, because I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman how hopelessly wrong he is in all that he has been saying today. The Government are thoroughly expert at doing the wrong thing at the wrong time and in the wrong way, and we have all learned to expect nothing better from them. The Bill is the masterpiece of the Government's grotesque illogicality, the 1121 hallmark of their ideological doctrinaire blindness, and the winner of the first prize for legislative stupidity.
I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman is not the legitimate parent of the Bill, since it was conceived while he was keeping the peace in Suez and the pregnancy was announced by the Prime Minister before the right hon. Gentleman took over his present office. Of course, we all know that the real parent is the bachelor Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has been preparing for the Bill for a considerable time. What a product! There never was a better case for birth control than the sterilisation of this Bill. The Archbishop of Canterbury has recently been talking about A.I.D., telling us we should discriminate between sin and crime. Clause 1 of the Bill and all the consequential amendments made by the Bill are both a sin and a crime.
Despite all that the right hon. Gentleman has been saying, I think that he has failed to impress anyone who really knows any thing about this subject with the need for this Measure. I regard it as being mischievous. It is not in the national interest. It has already had an unsettling effect upon the industry. Certainly, it can do no good, but it could do infinite harm. In other words, it is a typical example of the kind of legislation that we may expect from this Government.
When I look at that Front Bench—excluding perhaps, one or two right hon. Members who are sitting there now—I am reminded of an incident in 1931 when the Conservative Party was in opposition and had a Motion of censure on the Order Paper against the then minority Labour Government for not having solved all the problems of agriculture in eighteen months, during a world crisis. The late Mr. Lloyd George had observed that not a single senior ex-Minister's name was down in support of the Motion. He asked, across the Floor of the House, "What is this impertinence?" He, answered his own question with considerable scorn:It is a Charge of the Light Brigade."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1931; Vol. 255, c. 1141.]This is another charge of the small-minded brigade. Otherwise, we should not have had this Bill before us today.
1122 It is clear that the Government are totally incapable of producing constructive policies of their own, but they are very adept, and have been all down the ages, at destroying the policies of others. But why this unwanted, stupid, doctrinaire Measure? We know that the main feature, to which I shall devote most of my observations, was officially opposed by all sections of the farming community. We know that it destroys an honourable, joint undertaking between the producers, the consumers and the taxpayer in 1947, and that it destroys the basis of a scheme which has done so much for agriculture and the nation since 1947. There can be only one explanation for it, and that is that the Conservative Party, in 1958, is treating the farming community with the same contempt it experienced between the wars and for many decades before.
Lord Halifax summed up the position accurately in his recent book, "Fullness of Days," when he said, in page 100, referring to the administration of 1924:I served as Minister of Agriculture, a post at that time of almost complete futility and frustration. There was little to be done outside routine administration. For the rest it was dispiriting to know that given the atmosphere prevailing in both parties, the soundest advice to give to any farmer was to get out of his head all fancy ideas of high production, to lay his land down to grass, reduce his labour bill and run his farm with the traditional dog and stick.Lord Halifax was, and still is, a very sincere statesman. He knew his party inside out. He spoke the truth because he knew that that Government had not got a solitary clue that would lead to an agricultural policy. Indeed, to the Conservative Party in 1924—and in 1958, too agriculture was merely a side issue, a necessary evil to be tolerated, but not to be encouraged. Fundamentally, they have not changed their minds very much. It seems to me they have forgotten everything and learned nothing, and that this Bill is a cynical reminder of how near they still are to their 1924 philosophy.
I am sorry to see that The Times was equally oblivious to and cynical of agriculture's contribution to our national economy when it said on 5th March:Once the submarine menace was overcome in the last war maximum agricultural production ceased to be a matter of life and death.It was implying, of course, that agriculture did its job during and since the war, but that we should now send it back 1123 to the doghouse of the 'twenties and 'thirties. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] How could it be otherwise, if words mean anything at all?
When we emerged from the Second World War, no longer a creditor nation but perhaps the largest debtor nation of all, we needed all the efficient, economic production we could get from both field and factory to help the nation solve its financial problems. Is there any hon. or right hon. Member in the House who would deny that agriculture has delivered the goods, when we are producing 60 percent. more food today than we did prewar? Why, then, destroy the machinery which is the basis of that success? What are the excuses for or arguments in favour of this repeat performance of the Corn Production Act? I will try to deal with both.
I will take the excuses first. The right hon. Gentleman referred once or twice during his speech to the Franks Committee, whose word he seems to regard as the last word to be said on this subject. I say that on totally inadequate grounds the Franks Committee made some fantastic recommendations which that political Jack-of-all-trades, the Lord Privy Seal, said later the Government accepted in principle. Both the Lord Privy Seal and the Minister of Agriculture must have known that the recommendations, to which I will refer in a moment, were utterly impracticable, and that no self-respecting county agricultural executive committee would ever have dared to try to carry them out.
For example, the one referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, that there should be a second tribunal set up so that a tenant or landlord could appeal against being placed under supervision, would mean that a body of volunteers—landowners, farmers and agricultural workers —would have to go before two tribunals and prove their case against tenant or landlord if they were failing to fulfil their obligations.
Not unnaturally this was opposed vigorously by the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and the Ayrton Wilson Committee. Its only supporter, as far as I can tell, and I have read all the evidence, was a small organisation with perhaps less than 100 members, many of whom 1124 had already been dispossessed because they were bad farmers, and one professional body.
The same Committee made some ill-considered references to the powers and functions of county executive committees, and described them as being detectives, prosecutor and judge in their own case. That was a pure fabrication and actually an abuse of language; unless, of course, one can apply the same terms to every policeman, sanitary inspector, food inspector, wage inspector and scores of other people. The Committee must have known that in the last resort the Land Tribunal could be the final judge in every case where an appeal had been made. However, if the recommendations are impracticable, they have proved to be a first-class excuse for the Government to dispose of all the disciplinary powers, and they have jumped at the chance. Those are the excuses.
What are the arguments? The Prime Minister at the Farmers' Club annual dinner said:The disciplinary powers of Part II of the 1957 Act were out-of-date and ineffective.The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who sits in another place, said that public opinion and agricultural circumstances had changed a good deal since 1947—and sometimes serious personal hardship had occurred.
Now we have heard the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. I prefer to quote his first opinion after taking office as Minister of Agriculture. He said this at Ipswich:My first reaction is that the proposal we have in mind is in fact a practical and commonsense one.Then he asked this question rhetorically:Do farmers really want to see Part II properly enforced?He might just as well have asked: do children love to swallow castor oil? After all, it depends what follows. Then he said:The great gains in efficiency and production have not come from the use of dispossession or the threat of it.Finally he claimed that:…the guarantees in the 1957 Act give more stability than it has ever possessed before.So farmers need not worry about PartI of the 1947 Act. I will return to that later.
1125 We can dismiss the Prime Minister because obviously he knows nothing about the subject. The Prime Minister has travelled a long way since he wrote his Fabian pamphlets, but unfortunately he has been travelling backwards. When he talked about out-of-date, ineffective disciplinary powers, he could not have been aware of the Minister's advice to county agricultural executive committees for, replying to a Question in this House on 10th December, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said:My right hon. Friend's advice to county agricultural executive committees in recent years"—remember, they have been in office for only three years, so "recent years" would be all three of them—has been that the disciplinary powers of the Agriculture Act, 1947, should be used only in really bad cases when other measures to bring about an improvement have been tried and failed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1957; Vol. 579, c. 122.]Only in really bad cases, and now the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has been saying in effect, "Do not waste time on this funeral. The carcase has lain there all too long already." The question I put to the right hon. Gentleman is, who killed Cock Robin? Who produced the body?
§ Mr. John Hare
I would say that the right hon. Gentleman himself, in inaugurating so few dispossession orders, was the first person to kill Cock Robin.
§ Mr. Williams
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that in 1950, when I was still in office, there were 750 persons under supervision, and in 1956, when the Conservative Government were in office, there were only 48? This was merely because the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then Minister of Agriculture, exercised all the power and influence he had to discourage county executive committees from carrying out this duty. When The Times gives the number of tenants under supervision from 1950–56 in order to prove its case, it should be honest and tell the whole story. It should tell why the Act has not been administered during the past few years.
Hon. Members should note that if the Bill is carried not even the really bad cases can be dealt with, including all the owner-occupiers, who constitute 40 per 1126 cent. of the total number of farmers in the country. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary referred to serious hardship. He must have had in mind at that moment the case of Lady Garbett. I do not recall that the noble Lord who made that statement has been equally solicitous when an agricultural worker has been evicted from his house. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary in another place seems to consider that three or four Lady Garbetts are more important than agriculture and the financial stability of the country.
§ Colonel Richard H. Glyn (Dorset, North)
Is not it correct that Lady Garbett's case was one of the 750 under supervision when the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Agriculture? Does he think that there should have been more like that?
§ Mr. Williams
I think that if there are more like Lady Garbett they ought to be dismissed so that somebody can farm the land properly.
Does the flimsy argument that there has been serious hardship in a few cases like that of Lady Garbett justify the repeal of Part II? The Minister has no doubt about it. He thinks that the proposal is common sense and he boldly claims that sanctions have had nothing to do with either efficiency or production. I can quote something to answer that, and I shall do so in a moment. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has not occupied his high office long enough to know all the basic details of this very difficult and peculiar industry, but has he never heard about the 4,200 tenants who were placed under supervision and all of whom, except for 376, with the help, advice and encouragement of the National Agricultural Advisory Service and the county agriculture executive committees, so far improved their husbandry which is just what we sought— that nothing further happened to them? Or has he never heard of the 811 estate owners all of whom, except for 23, escaped further trouble because of improvements?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about voluntary efforts. It might interest him if I told him that on more than one occasion, at the request of a county agricultural executive committee, I went to see a very large owner-occupier who was not 1127 doing his duty. I always took my scientific adviser with me. I need quote only one case. In this case the owner was a very influential person who had extremely large industrial interests, but the farm itself was run very badly and was a bad influence on the adjoining farmers.
It was a farm of nearly 2,000 acres. The trouble was that the foreman was the boss and that he knew a lot about horses—and that is about all he knew. The farm was producing less than 50 per cent. of its potential. The owner would not have learned the truth if visits had not been paid to him, and when he learned the truth, appropriate steps were taken and there was no more trouble. Presumably that is now one of the best farms in the country.
How can the Minister claim that sanctions have had no effect on efficiency and how can The Times or anyone else justify the abuse of the limited number of acres in this country? The fact is that they still do not grasp the realities of the changed world in which we now live. Nor have they produced one solid, substantial argument against the balanced approach of 1947.
Indeed, as a I see it—and I say this with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman—the statement which the Minister made this afternoon was a typical Tory view of 1924–25 onwards. It is a view which would never have allowed the 1947 Act to find its way on to the Statute Book. If we must be frank, the Tory backwoodsmen in 1947 never liked Part II, and I am not sure that some of them even liked Part I. From the moment that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) was unceremoniously driven from office on a wholly fictitious issue, county agricultural executive committees were told to go slow with disciplinary powers, not because they were out of date or ineffective but because the Government were anxious to avoid embarrassment in certain cases of the Lady Garbett type. We discovered that from the hon. and gallant Member for Dorset, North (Colonel R. H. Glyn) a few moments ago.
If these powers had been administered in a harsh manner with little or no concern for the individual, or if the grotesque caricature sketched by the Franks 1128 Committee had any relation to the truth, with 300,000 farmers being harassed, bullied and intimidated by their neighbours and friends who were members of the county agricultural executive committees, who would have been the first to complain? Surely the National Farmers' Union or the Country Landowners' Association.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether they have protested or sought the repeal of Part II. On the contrary, they have always accepted Part II as being complementary to Part I. They faced the challenge of efficiency from the word "go" and are still willing to face it. They made their position clear to the Minister last September, when they said:The industry had found in practice that broadly speaking this part of the Act had worked fairly. Only in exceptional cases had supervision failed as a means of helping farmers and landlords to improve their standards and, in the small proportion of cases where it had to be followed by dispossession the farming community as a whole had accepted this part of the industry's duty to the country to ensure that our limited land was properly used.I think that was a statesmanlike attitude for the National Farmers' Union to take. The Union said—and this is very important:It was significant that the opposition to the operation of Part II had never come from responsible representatives of the farming community, or from the landlords, and that the Government's decision appeared to have been taken against the advice of the representative bodies of the industry.Thus, all the official bodies in the industry are ignored—the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association, and the National Union of Agricultural Workers, as well as all those who have a profound interest in the welfare of agriculture and the financial stability of the country.
We see this Bill as the first or second instalment of history repeating itself. What the Tory Lords did in another place in 1920, the modern Tory Government are doing in this House in 1958. Let hon. Members listen to what a Tory Minister of Agriculture said in 1921 when moving the Second Reading of the Corn Production Repeal Bill:In another place that very modified form of control of cultivation was practically swept away, and we were left with a very heavy liability as regards guaranteed prices and with no power whatsoever either to issue ploughing up orders or even to maintain under the 1129 plough land which was under the plough at the time. If the Government is to be criticised… it would be a fair line of criticism that Part I was not dropped when control was mutilated as it was in another place."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 4th July, 1921; Vol. 144, c. 65.]So the Tory Minister of Agriculture justified the repeal of the Corn Production Act because all controls had been removed in another place. There is no wonder that the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association are opposed today to the repeal of Part II of the 1947 Act. They are not only satisfied with the fairness of the sanctions and their vital value to efficiency—based not upon Frank's legal theories or The Times grandmotherly special pleading but on ten years' practice—but they also appreciate the close connection that Part I must have with Part II, and the danger of one without the other. The Farmer and Stockbreeder, on 19th November, said:But in the farmer's mind there is a niggling fear that this convenient amputation will leave Part I of the Act—his only legislative right to assured markets and guaranteed prices—vulnerable to criticism, to attack and may be eventually to the same fate as is planned for Part II.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Is the right hon. Gentleman asking us to accept the view that the defence of farmers in this vulnerable position is the right of the Ministry to dispossess forty farmers per annum?
§ Mr. Williams
I do not know from where the hon. Member gets his figure of forty farmers per annum. He could not have heard what I said. I said that there had been 4,200 tenant farmers under supervision, of whom only 376 were dispossessed. I also emphasised the point that those who were not dispossessed—nearly 4,000—escaped because their standards had improved, with the help, guidance and advice of county agricultural executive committees.
The National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association are right when they tend to disregard the assurances that the present Minister, the Prime Minister, the Lord Privy Seal or any other Member of the Government tries to give them. The industry has had assurances from Ministers before. The Lord Privy Seal, at the annual farmers' dinner in 1955—I was there so I know what I am saying—with his hand on his 1130 heart, a grim smile on his face, and his mind on a vote of censure, said that he would not hold his office if agriculture were let down.
The industry was let down. It is true that the Lord Privy Seal lost his job as Chancellor of the Exchequer but, like the conjuror that he is, he picked up another office on the same day.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain his extraordinary statement that the industry was let down at that time?
§ Mr. Williams
Yes; I am just about to do that. I was just saying that the Lord Privy Seal got another job on the day that he lost the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer—so his political conscience was clear. But what has happened to agriculture? That is the question which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary wants me to answer. I will tell him. Between 1951 and 1958 the value of the net income of farmers was reduced to 8 per cent. below what it was in 1948. Does he deny that? The Joint Parliamentary Secretary had better not try, because he knows that he cannot; these are Government figures.
The industry was let down all right. What substance is there in the right hon. Gentleman's claim, or that in The Times of 5th March, that the 1957 Act gives more stability than the industry ever had before and that it safeguards the operation of Part I of the 1947 Act? There never was a more bogus claim. In the nine preceding years the average under-recoupment per annum was about £15 million. Under the terms of the 1957 Act the net income of the farming community can be reduced by £30 million per annum, based upon the value of the output last year. Does the Minister or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary deny that? Where is this extra stability?
§ Mr. John Hare
The right hon. Gentleman has just said that I made a bogus statement. He will be well aware that until the 1957 Act was passed there was nothing to stop any Government from reducing any guarantees imposed under the 1947 Act to any degree they liked.
§ Mr. Williams
That is exactly what I am saying—and over nine years the 1131 average under-recoupment for increased costs amounted to approximately £15 million per annum.
Under the 1957 Act the Government can deduct anything up to £30 million, based upon the value of last year's production. I am saying that this is not an extra guarantee; it is only a guarantee that farmers' incomes cannot be reduced by more than twice what they used to be before the 1957 Act was passed. What faith can the farmers have in Ministerial assurances?
I repeat that this is not the first time that the Conservative Party has betrayed agriculture; there was the great Corn Production Repeal Act of 1921, to which I have already referred. That was a betrayal which revived memories of twenty years' depression, desolation and demoralisation of the countryside. Ironically enough, the Minister and his advisers have reminded us of it in Clause 7. I believe that the far-seeing hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), who is Chairman of the Conservative Party Agriculture Committee, must have had the Corn Production Repeal Act in mind when, speaking in the Second Reading debate on the 1947 Bill, he said, in reference to Part II:It has been said in this debate that this is a part of the bargain, that this is the rather bitter part of the Bill, I do not regard it in that way. It does not worry me, even though I am a Tory Member of Parliament, to take a part in placing firmly on the farmers and landowners in this country the responsibility for using our agricultural land properly … I am a strong believer in a code of good manners in farming."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 721.]I believe that he was, and I hope that he still is.
§ Mr. Williams
I know that some hon. Members opposite have qualified for Bertram Mills circus as acrobats on many occasions, but I fully expect the hon. Member for Newbury to lead the agricultural flock into our Lobby tomorrow night; otherwise we shall feel that he is a better acrobat than we had given him credit for.
Speaking in the same debate, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said:The Minister"—1132 referring to myself—has referred … to the county executive committees as the kingpins of the setup and I think he is right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 701.]Well, he stayed at the Ministry of Agriculture just long enough to sentence the executive committees to death, but he left the present Minister to carry out the execution. I cannot quite understand why the right hon. Gentleman should have gloried in becoming the executioner in this case.
The repeal of Part II definitely means the end of county agricultural executive committees as effective bodies. There will be no more farm surveys; husbandry and estate management committees will be abolished, and their leadership, help and inspiration callously dismissed. These committees have helped to increase production by no less than 60 per cent.; to improve efficiency more rapidly than ever before; to create increased yields per animal, bird, acre and person employed. Their achievements are there for all to see.
Potato production is up by 15 per cent.; sugar beet by 36 per cent.; barley by 42 per cent.; wheat by 35 per cent.; oats by 21 per cent., and milk and eggs to an equivalent degree. If the Minister thinks that those results could have been achieved upon a purely voluntary basis, without the help, encouragement and, sometimes, pressure from these committees, I can only say that he deserves the world's top prize for being the greatest optimist. He seems to have soared higher into outer space than the Russian Sputniks, whilst his arguments have been weaker than the American "Flopniks."
On Clause 2 and the remaining Clauses I do not intend to delay the House for more than a few minutes. The right hon. Gentleman said that there is a strong difference of opinion between the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association upon Clause 2. The National Farmers' Union opposes the Clause not only because it objects to the wording but because the Government have decided to act before receiving any guidance from the survey initiated by themselves to discover the full facts about this rent problem. I think they have a good case. The owners and the Country Landowners' Association made clear in 1133 1956 and 1957 what they regard as a reasonable definition of fair rents. No doubt agreement could have been reached after adequate discussion, which unfortunately never took place; but in this Bill the Government have provided instructions to arbitrators which seem to go far beyond what the Country Landowners' Association asked for.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the subject of rents is an explosive one, and I thoroughly agree. Though I do not propose to deal with Clause 2 in detail, I warn the right hon. Gentleman that unless before the Committee stage more thought is given to the word "willing" allied to the word "reasonable", he may be in for a rough time when we consider the Bill in Committee.
I understand that agreement has been reached by the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association which I agree is all to the good, and I would hesitate to question any such agreement. The Minister will forgive me if I say that my attention has been drawn to Clause 3 (2, b). There seems to be some doubt whether the proviso is strong enough to prevent injustice and, where an estate owner can make out his case, whether the tenant interests are properly protected. To take an extreme case, where an estate owner gives notice to quit to three or four adjoining tenants in order to increase his own farm and put it on a more economic basis, there is no provision for compensation for work carried out by the tenant during the time he was on the farm. I shall not labour the point now, but we shall examine it more closely between now and a later stage.
As the Minister has said, all the functions of the Minister—which means county executive committees—regarding notices to quit, certificates of bad husbandry and greater hardship are transferred to agricultural land tribunals—one more concession to the Franks Committee. I believe this to be a retrograde step, but it is characteristic of the policy of this Government. The valuable experience of county agricultural executive committees is completely lost; the intimate relations within the industry are ignored and for all practical purposes the final arbiters on questions of farming efficiency, sound estate management and 1134 greater hardship will be lawyers mostly without farming experience at all. It is one more deadly blow at the agreed approach of self-imposed discipline from within the industry.
The right hon. Gentleman talked airily about the new procedure providing opportunities for young men. He implied that notices to quit and certificates of bad husbandry will be as plentiful as snowflakes at Cheltenham last week. Did he mean that?
§ Mr. Williams
From some of the quotations I have seen, the right hon. Gentleman has gone a little further than that, since he pointed out a vista of opportunities to young farmers who cannot get hold of a farm. It seems to me that those opportunities will not present themselves for a long time. If, as I will put it, the right hon. Gentleman is exaggerating the opportunities that will be opened up, it would be deceiving both the sitting farmer and the would-be farmer, for we cannot have it both ways.
I have already spoken far too long and, therefore, I do not intend to deal with the other Clauses. This is a rank bad Bill. For the first time this century the agricultural industry had a policy and a programme that generated a maximum amount of confidence and enabled the industry to play its part in our economy. The industry responded magnificently to every call made upon it. Not only did it earn its own prosperity but it served the nation very well indeed. Now by this Bill the Government are determined to destroy it. We shall always think of this Agriculture Bill of 1958 as the second great betrayal, and we shall not hesitate to vote against it.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
We listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), but I found his speech, though full of witticisms, completely unreal. That is the initial difficulty. I feel as though I have been dreaming and hearing about some other century or some other country. I do not feel that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was directed to the 1135 practical facts of 1958. I have been surprised at the vehemence of the opposition to this Bill, which, I believe rounds off the work started by the 1957 Agriculture Act in order to put our agricultural policy and its machinery on a basis which accords with the economic facts of a world surplus of food in general and a need to improve our general economic and competitive position.
If any hon. Gentleman cares to look at the current farming Press he will see that this Bill is warmly regarded. Look at the Farmers' Weekly of this week, to which I am sure farmers pay some attention——
§ Mr. T. Williams
Did the hon. Gentleman note the quotation gave from the Farmer and Stockbreeder, which takes a totally different view from the Farmers' Weekly?
§ Mr. Hill
I know that what might be called organised opinion is powerfully against the Bill. I realise this because I am a member of the National Farmers' Union and also of the C.L.A. and have been serving on the executive committee. Those organisations and the N.U.A.W. are all against it. That is the organised opinion. I think it springs from the fact that most people would like to keep what might be described as the "big stick" in the background as the ultimate safeguard in time of crisis. That was probably the general feeling. If it could me left in the background and not used, well and good. It was not realised that we cannot do that constitutionally.
There is the further point that since the publication of the Franks Report, which I was sorry to hear the right hon. Member for Don Valley criticise so harshly, the N.F.U., having reconsidered it and consulted again with its branches, went on record that in view of the discussions with the branches it no longer thought it appropriate to oppose the Franks Committee finding that supervision orders are to be regarded as penal. Organised opinion, as I say, wanted to keep the disciplinary sanctions—if we cared to use that term—in the background in case of some future emergency.
1136 We are all agreed that they are appropriate to conditions of war or of famine where ordinary personal freedom and individual rights are restricted in order to meet the nation's needs. We have then to give place to the paramount needs of the nation. But those conditions have passed away, and I found my argument on this. In so far as I have been able to consult any individual people, be they farmers, landowners, or officials, or even chairmen of county agricultural executive committees, I have found that in nearly all cases they say that the present system is unworkable.
It is a practical matter that we must bear in mind. We are concerned not with raking over the past or deciding what was suitable for wartime conditions, but in creating the best conditions for our agriculture to compete, as I am sure it can, over the next ten years. We have to provide the best conditions we can, and that is the purpose of the Bill.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
The hon Member has been quoting people he has talked to. Can he mention any particular county executive agricultural committee or any leading person in the industry among farmers and others who substantiates what he has been saying? The hon. Member has given no definite sources so far.
§ Mr. Hill
It would weary the House if I read out a whole list of names. I will leave it to hon. Members themselves to go round and ask people privately and individually about the operation of the old system and they will mostly say that it cannot be done. That is true if only for the reason that when the supervision orders were in full spate —not that they were numerous because, as the right hon. Member has said, they were only 4,200 in ten years on over 360,000 farms—they were generally directed to some specific instruction. The inefficiency which might today require some sort of discipline is of a much vaguer kind and is, generally speaking, a lack of managerial capacity. It is not easily specified in neat directions or provable under cross-examination in a court.
The fact is that we now need to move on and to found our agricultural impetus on the traditionally British basis of the law of contract and of economic pressures and incentives. In that way we shall 1137 get the momentum towards efficiency and improvement maintained as we wish. The main benefit of Part II of the Act has been its advisory aspect. The best work of the agricultural executive committees has been and will be in their capacity to help and advise. I do not believe that the big stick has been as effective as all that. There is great force in the argument that no other industry which has protection—our system of deficiency subsidies, etc., is a form of protection—has to submit to this detailed discipline of a State nature. British agriculture is capable of meeting fair competition from abroad, but only if it is free from some of the rigidities which have impeded progress and the adoption of new methods. The Bill is likely to achieve that.
There are other sides to the question of maintaining good standards on the land. We regard the system of tenanted land as something we wish to perpetuate. No one would suggest that the landlord and tenant system should be done away with. All sections of the industry wish for it, because it affords farming occupiers a chance of using their resources to farm as widely as they can. There has been an interesting tendency since the beginning of the century for owner occupation to increase, but still a larger area of land remains tenanted rather than owner-occupied. There is evidence of a renewed trend in favour of tenancy. That is true also in Holland with a very efficient agriculture. The basic reason for this is that modern agriculture requires much more working capital per acre than ever before, which reduces the amount of capital available to farmers for investment in the land. If the farmer has to own his land, the area he can afford to farm is halved. Therefore, we surely must want the landlord and tenant system to go on.
On the other hand, the return on agricultural land ownership has been remarkably low. The Minister has given figures to that effect. We believe that the right way of dealing with this problem is so to adjust economic conditions that land-owning becomes fair for each side. Then it is likely to continue. That is the basis for the present alteration in the instructions to the arbitrator.
Obviously there will be many points about the Bill to be discussed in Committee, especially on the exact meaning 1138 of the words. I would make it abundantly clear in black and white that the rent properly payable should be that acceptable to an experienced and efficient tenant, or words to that effect. That provision seems absolutely essential. I understand that it is implied in the words of the Clause. Again that is essentially a Committee point. No one wishes the tenant to be asked exorbitant or unfair rents. We need to restore the balance in order to make people willing to own land and to let it.
Tenanted land let below an economic rental is apt to be under-farmed. Slightly higher rents are likely to encourage the better use of grass land and the maintenance of the cash-crop acreage. Economic rents will provide more funds which the landlords can plough back into their estates by way of repairs and improvements. It is rather significant that after fifteen years of farm prosperity the fixed equipment of our farms is not, on the whole, so good as it might be. That indicates that the balance has gone rather against the ownership side.
Moreover, low average rents for tenanted land hear hardly on the owner-occupier, when the guaranteed prices under Part I are calculated each year. If the price review figures for costs of production are based on low rents, the owner-occupier, who has to bear all the obligations of repair and maintenance on his farm, has no corresponding return for these expenses in the prices which he is guaranteed as occupier of the farm. Naturally he gets the same guaranteed prices as the tenants, who may be paying less than an economic rent. The owner-occupier is under-recouped on the ownership side and, therefore, his fixed equipment tends to suffer.
Another point about rents is that at the moment it is not very easy to get a very accurate measurement of exactly what they should be. That will now become easier as time goes on and there is a greater uniformity and turnover. It suggests that we might consider whether it is not worth while trying to carry out a much more accurate and scientific survey of farming land. It could be done in conjunction with universities. Two years ago the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) and I saw a very effective and interesting system in Germany. The German 1139 universities and their scientists have classified farms in the greatest detail so that it will be possible over a period of years to make an accurate comparison, one farm with the next. That is one of the most difficult things to do in agriculture at any time. It is fair to say as a broad generalisation that neither rents fixed by agreement between the parties nor those awarded by arbitrators as a whole reflect the real measure of difference between one farm and another, between the relatively good and bad.
There is one point I wish to make in regard to Clause 4, relating to the tenant's, new right to compel provision of repairs and improvements required by statute from the landlord. It should be equally clear in black and white that some regard must be had to economic circumstances in ordering such an improvement, not the personal economic circumstances of the owner, but the economic circumstances of the land and the farm in relation to the required improvements. If that test is not explicit, there is a danger that we should invest capital in holdings which are not big enough to warrant it. That ties up with the tests required in the Farm Improvement Scheme.
On security of tenure, I welcome the agreement reached between the N.F.U. and the C.L.A. I am sure that will make for improvement by avoiding some of the ambiguities which have persisted in the past. I wish to pay tribute to the statesmanship of the N.F.U. in coming to that agreement. Quite clearly it is making some concession, and its leaders see that it is in the long-term interest of the industry. One does not quite know what the turnover in tenanted farms is. That has a bearing on the prospect of young men getting into farms. We all know that there are many more young men wanting farms than there are farms available. The last number I heard for the average length of tenancy was twenty-six years, which would suggest a turnover of some 4 per cent. a year.
There are some interesting figures about turnover in relation to the statistics given by the right hon. Member for Don Valley. He said that as a result of dispossession forty farmers a year had been turned out by C.A.E.C.s. Simultaneously, the C.A.E.C.s and the A.L.T.s on appeal had been consenting to notices to quit, 1140 presumably brought by private landowners during these same years, which amounted to in total 2,076 cases. These figures are contained in a Written Answer given me on 6th May, 1957. So, throughout the running of the dispossession arrangements, no fewer than five-and-a-half times as many notices to quit were being passed by the C.A.E.C.s or the A.L.T.s under Sections 24 and 25 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948. This shows that the disciplinary activity influence of the C.A.E.C.s was much less significant than the right hon. Member made out.
I should have thought it fairly obvious that the main strength of the C.A.E.C.s was advisory and even during the period of supervision the main impetus still came, as traditionally it has done, either through the landlord or the tenant, depending upon which was the aggrieved party.
This Bill is to be welcomed because it is putting agriculture and the relationship between landlord and tenant back on to the obligations of contract, back on to the broad basis of economic incentive and pressure. I do not think I could select any better words in its favour than those which one of the leading farming papers, the Farmers Weekly, used this week. It is summed up in one word which I think is a perfectly sufficient headline to leave with the House, the word "Progressive".
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
My Member of Parliament has given the House the benefit of his views on this Bill. Before I conclude, the House will have gathered that at least one constituent does not agree with what he has said.
§ Mr. Gooch
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) has often said that agriculture should be freed from party politics and there is much to be said for securing agreement between the parties on legislation. I realise that is an ideal which is not easily possible of achievement. I think it should be possible to secure agreement between the various sections of the industry on major legislation. There was a measure of agreement within the industry on the 1947 Act. Even then in the final stages 1141 the party opposite voted against that Measure. When framing the 1947 Act, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) consulted all three sections of the industry, which proved worth while.
The present Minister of Agriculture and his predecessor, who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will go down to history as Ministers who, having consulted two sections of the industry, determined to steamroller through the House of Commons an important and dangerous Measure, to which, in a large degree, the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association are opposed. I have in mind the proposal to abolish Part II of the 1947 Act. I have a complaint to make here. I have made it before, but I insist on making it again today. The National Union of Agricultural Workers has never been lacking in co-operation with any Minister of Agriculture when the welfare of the industry has been at stake. That union does not withdraw its representatives from Ministry committees whenever there is a change of Minister, or even a change of Government. We carry on and do the best we can for agriculture.
The least a Tory Minister of Agriculture can do is to give full recognition to the third partner in the industry, the farm worker. He may not fully subscribe to the views held by the Minister, but he will never be lacking in constructive criticism. I commend this point to the Minister. Ministers of Agriculture do not as a rule stay so long as my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley did, but if the Minister stays in office long enough to deal with other aspects of farming policy, I suggest that he should not embark on anything of this kind again without consulting the representatives of the so-called junior but indispensable partner upon whom the whole industry is based. It will pay him to do that. I want him to take to heart the words I am saying.
§ Mr. John Hare
I would be only too willing to do so, but this Bill deals primarily with the landlord-tenant relationship. In that case, it was not really necessary to do what the hon. Member suggests, but on matters relating to farming generally I shall be delighted to consult the union.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
Are we to assume from the intervention of the Minister that he did not consult one of the three main elements of agriculture? Is that what he is telling the House?
§ Mr. Gooch
We have never been officially consulted. I suggest that in future the Ministry might talk to the representatives of the farm workers. Not having been consulted about this Bill, all that representatives of the farm workers knew about it was when the Bill appeared in print. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman can put that right on a future occasion, and I hope he will do so. Although the men's representatives may not always agree with the point he advances, I assure him that we shall not be lacking in sympathy for the ideals he may have in mind. It will even pay the Tory Party to talk sometimes to the representatives of the farm workers.
The Minister having overlooked this aspect, I will give the House the views that I hold which are shared by my colleagues in the National Union of Agricultural Workers. I am completely opposed to the abolition of Part II of the 1947 Act which empowers the Minister to supervise, direct and dispossess farmers and landowners. I feel that the farmer, be he owner or tenant, is really holding the land in trust for the nation and that it is right and proper that he should have to answer to the nation for his stewardship. That is all that Part II of the 1947 Act really requires of him.
Moreover, the industry willingly accepted a degree of discipline under that Act in return for the guarantees enshrined in Part II. As the industry, quite properly, is subsidised by the nation, the nation should have the means of ensuring that those who receive the money put it to good and proper use. There can be no doubt that when the public realises that it no longer has any sanction over the industry, the pressure to reduce subsidies, without regard to the effect it would have on production, will be increased.
Clause 2 clarifies the instructions to arbitrators in determining rent in the event of disagreement between landlord 1143 and tenant. It defines "the rent properly payable" as:… the rent at which … the holding might reasonably be expected to be let in the open market by a willing landlord …The actual arbitration procedure has not been altered, but I believe that this new definition of "rent properly payable" is likely to result in arbitrators determining rents at a level higher than the present rents. It is most unfortunate that the Conservative Party should be pushing through this House a Bill which will increase farming costs at a time when farmers are asked to reduce their costs as much as possible.
Although the proposals for security of tenure are the result of agreement between the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union, they all do something to lessen the security of tenure of the tenant farmer. Clause 3 (2) makes the following changes. First, whatever hardship may be caused to the tenant, it cannot be taken into account unless the grounds of the application happen to be those of hardship on the part of the landlord himself. Again, although there is a lot to be said for the reorganisation of certain holdings within certain estates, it means that a perfectly efficient farmer farming an economic unit can be turned out if it can be shown that his holding is needed in order to reorganise other uneconomic units within the estate.
Clause 3 (2) also limits the tribunal's overall powers to refuse a notice to quit to those cases where it appears… that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist on possession.These cases should never have been taken from the jurisdiction of the county agricultural executive committees or the Agricultural Land Tribunal, especially when, as will be the case when this Bill becomes law, the farmer concerned in such a case will have no right of appeal. That is the most serious aspect of all.
I have heard what the Minister has said about the tenant's rights in relation to fixed equipment, and although I am opposed to the Bill as a whole I am prepared to give the Minister full marks for that provision. It is on the right lines, and we welcome it.
Clause 5 and Clause 3 (1) together implement the recommendations of the 1144 Franks Committee in connection with agriculture. Clause 5 transfers to the Lord Chancellor the Ministers' functions in regard to the Agricultural Land Tribunal, and Clause 3 (1) transfers to the Agricultural Land Tribunal functions at present carried out by the Minister of Agriculture through county agricultural executive committees in relation to consents to notices to quit, the granting of certificates for bad husbandry, and the approval of the carrying out by the tenant of long-term improvements with the right of compensation on quitting.
As the Minister said, the Franks Committee on Administrative Tribunals and Enquiries considered that functions of this kind were judicial and should be carried out by an independent tribunal and not by a Minister. Although I do not demur, I have a reservation. The Lord Chancellor will now appoint the chairmen of the tribunals, who have to be barristers or solicitors of not less than seven years' standing. He will also draw up a panel of deputy-chairmen who will be similarly qualified.
For each hearing of the Tribunal the chairman will select one person each from a panel representing owners of agricultural land and another representing farmers. But even on a matter like this the farm workers are not regarded as having either sufficient intelligence or ability to play their part. They are not mentioned. I do not see why, even with an administrative machine like this, some regard should not be had to the calling in not merely of a person owning agricultural land or a person farming it but a man who works on agricultural land. I commend that suggestion to the Minister.
I have listened to what the Minister said about the future of the county agricultural executive committees. I served on a number of them throughout the war, and I know what they did then. I will not say that the work they do today is anything like that, but I am by no means happy about what the Minister has said is to happen to these committees. I think he passed it over in too light a fashion. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley has said, far from being encouraged, they have been discouraged. They have been told to go slow. They have been told, "Don't worry about what you should be doing—just leave things as 1145 they are for the time being." That, in effect, is what the last two Ministers have said to them, and when one thinks of the last two cases to come before these committees it is surprising that there have been any cases coming before them at all.
In view, not of what the Minister said, but what he did not say about the future of these committees, I ask, are they on their way out? There are hundreds of land owners, farmers and workers sitting on these committees today who would like to know if they are facing dismissal in a very short time. I think that that is the Minister's intention, and I hope he will tell me if I am wrong. Let me quote the Secretary of the Norfolk branch of the National Farmers' Union—coming from what I believe to be the best agricultural county in England and Wales, I like to keep my arguments to the point. He says:The county agricultural executive committees are being gradually and surely deprived of all their interesting duties and it seems doubtful whether it will be possible to persuade leading members of the agricultural industry to serve on them much longer. The Government may even be forced to disband these committees, and we should then be left with no local and practical control over the Ministry's officials who perform so many functions on the county level. It implies no criticism of them to say that such a development would be little short of a disaster, and I think that most of them would agree with this view.The committees should not be disbanded. As bodies of representative landowners, farmers and workers, they have done a good job over the years and can do more if given the opportunity.
I have already indicated the Clauses of the Bill with which I agree. To sum up my conclusions on the Bill, it is, in my view, mostly bad and against the best interests of farming and all engaged in it. I shall welcome very gladly the opportunity to vote against it.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) expressed his pleasure to the House at following his Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill). Perhaps I, too, may express my pleasure at following my Member of Parliament. It will not surprise the hon. Member for Norfolk, North, if I tell him that, as usual. I disagree with almost everything 1146 he said, except his statement that Norfolk is the foremost agricultural county.
We all enjoyed the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). It is quite right, on his birthday, that he should be to the fore and have a good party; we hope that many more birthdays of this nature will be granted to him. He made a number of very good jokes about the parentage of this Bill, wondering whether it was the result of A.I.D., and so on. I should like to put to him one suggestion for a new interpretation of "A.I.D." His speech gave me the impression that "A.I.D." meant "Artificial Indignation from Don Valley".
I really do not understand why hon. Members opposite make such a fuss about the disciplinary powers under Part II of the Bill being abolished. Almost every fair-minded person knows that the disciplinary powers under Part II were not only not working but were, in peace time and normal times, quite unworkable. In times of war and great national stringency, in times of seige economy, as it were, when maximum food production, regardless of costs, is an essential part of defence, one can get tough with ones neighbour; one can and must impose sanctions against him if necessary.
In normal times, it is quite contrary to the British character, whatever political affiliations one may have, to expect individuals on these voluntary county agricultural committees to go round the countryside, trampling over their neighbours' fields and looking over their fences to see whether a supervision order is necessary, thereby setting in motion a series of events which may end in dispossession. It is completely unworkable.
The main difference of opinion between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley and myself is upon the interpretation of the supervision order. We had this argument ten years ago, during the Second Reading and Committee stage of the 1947 Bill. He and his hon. Friends always thought that a supervision order issued by a C.A.E.C. was a kind of nice birthday card—here was a helpful C.A.E.C. wholly anxious to assist the farmer to do better and make more money. Here was the supervision order to be followed by a direction order, and so on. It never worked like that. Inevitably, a supervision order was always a stigma.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I should like the hon. Gentleman to do me justice. On the Second Reading of that Bill, I made it transparently clear that our desire was not to dispossess but to encourage and help individual farmers to become better farmers in their own as well as the national interest.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
The right hon. Gentleman has changed his views as a result of ten years' experience. If he will forgive my saying so, the right way to help farmers to improve their efficiency is through the advisory service, not through disciplinary action by the C.A.E.C., which, I repeat, in normal times, is not only unworkable but goes contrary to most of our traditions and customs.
The Report of the Franks Committee introduced a completely new element into the problem, by recommending that the disciplinary powers of the C.A.E.Cs. should be confined to prosecuting before a land tribunal. It is very strange that, when the Franks Committee made that recommendation, the N.F.U. seemed to make no protest at all.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
Whoever winds up the debate will correct me if I am wrong about that. I was under the impression that, when the Franks Committee recommended that the C.A.E.C. should only prosecute before the tribunal, the N.F.U. did not protest.
In the light of that recommendation of the Franks Committee, the Government were faced with a completely new situation. It was not a choice between scrapping Part II or leaving it there; it was a choice between scrapping it or putting something in its place. I quite agree with the right hon. Member for Don Valley and with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South, that, in fact, the Franks Committee proposals in respect of county agricultural executive committees made an unworkable position even worse; it would have become a farce. The Government have done much better. They have scrapped the disciplinary powers altogether and gone for incentive and encouragement rather than the big stick.
§ Mr. Williams
I do not disagree with what the hon. Gentleman says, but we ought to have it clear. I read every word of the evidence submitted to the Franks 1148 Committee on supervision, as well as on any other aspect. It is true that the National Farmers' Union may not have made any direct statement concerning the Franks Committee as such, but in its evidence to the Committee it opposed from beginning to end a second tribunal or an appeal against the supervision order. The Franks Committee recommended a second tribunal and the supervision order, despite what the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association said.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
The point I am making is that, when my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, I think it was, made a statement accepting the Franks Committee's recommendation, there was no howl from the N.F.U. at that time, and I cannot quite understand why the National Farmers' Union has now suddenly discovered that it affects entirely the whole structure of the disciplinary side of Part II.
As regards Clause 2, it is high time for more specific guidance to be given to arbitrators. Until now, as my right hon. Friend the Minister said, there really has not been any uniformity at all. Owing to the difficulty of interpreting the "rent properly payable", arbitrators have arrived at completely different rents for similar types of holdings. The interesting thing, of course, is that the rents fixed by arbitration—this will interest the hon. Member for Norfolk, North—are a great deal lower than the rents fixed by agreement.
This does not suggest to me that the rents fixed by arbitration have always been fair to the landowner. Taking the 1957 figures, the average rent fixed by arbitration was 42s. 1ld. an acre. The average rent fixed by agreement between landowner and tenant was 47s. 6d. an acre. The average rent arrived at when a farm was put out to open tender was 57s. 6d. an acre. There is thus a difference of very nearly 15s. an acre between the average price fixed by arbitration and the average price a farmer was prepared to pay by tender.
That suggests that clearer guidance to arbitrators is overdue, and I welcome that. While on the subject of rent, I know, as has been said before, that this is a thoroughly explosive subject. The fact remains that in many cases rents are still too low. When we consider 1149 that building, maintenance and repair costs have gone up by over 300 per cent. since 1939 while rents have gone up by only 60 per cent., no further comment is needed. If landowners are to keep their properties in good repair, as they ought to, and maintain the buildings in good repair, it is clear that there must be an up-to-date rise in the general level of rents, otherwise a simple sum does not add up to the necessary figure for repairs, maintenance and insurance.
Security of tenure is in some respects an even more explosive subject than rents. Perhaps I hold more explosive views about it. What the industry is suffering from in many respects is over-security of tenure. For ten years we have been in a strait-jacket. That has not been in the best interests of either the landowner or the tenant.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
The hon. Gentleman did not tell that to the electors during the Election.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
Certainly I did, and I will tell them again. If the hon. Gentleman wishes it, I will tell his constituents as well. I will say why over-security of tenure has done damage to both sides of the industry.
The landlord, for his part, has found himself largely hamstrung. It has been difficult, if not impossible, for a young farmer to find a farm unless his father, or, more likely, the bank manager, is prepared to buy him a farm at a highly inflated vacant possession price. A farmer near where I live—no doubt the hon. Member for Norfolk, North knows him, too—has a married son, who is a go-ahead and very competent farmer. For four years he tried to find a farm to rent for his son. In the end, he bought a farm for his son with vacant possession at about £104 an acre, although the real value of the land and the farm buildings was very little, if anything, over £40 an acre. That has been happening much too often.
§ Mr. J. Johnson
Surely conditions will get worse under the new Bill. The Minister is now directing the tribunals to take into account the scarcity value of a farm. This is the opposition of the farmers. The young men with little money will not be able to buy, but the wealthy butchers in Birmingham or the 1150 businessmen in Coventry will pay the money to get these farms.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
If there is a greater turnover in tenancies, the scarcity value of a farm with vacant possession becomes a good deal less. Therefore, the price begins to even out.
I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite have always appreciated the difficulty about over-security of tenure. When a farm falls vacant, because a tenant dies, the landowner is faced with three courses. He can sell the farm at an inflated vacant possession price. He can take it in hand himself if he wants to and if he has the capital to farm it, or he can let it again to a good tenant. Of course, nobody but a fool would let it to a bad tenant. But if he lets it to a good tenant and that tenant is younger than the landlord, under the old Act, with the completely rigid security of tenure, he has parted with control of the farm for the rest of his life. There is a strong temptation to adopt either of the first two courses.
If this process were to go on completely uninterrupted, in another sixty, seventy or eighty years the amount of rented land would be very small. There would be a few very large estates with thousands of acres in hand, and at the other end of the scale there would be a large number of smallholdings of owner-occupiers. The amount of land available in between those two for farmers to rent would become every year proportionately smaller. Hon. Members opposite may think that that is a good thing. They may wish to change the whole composition of British agriculture in that way. There may be arguments for it. But if there is a completely rigid security of tenure from which nobody can break out, in the long run we shall break the landlord and tenant system, and those who want to do that have to find something else to put in its place.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
It is right that it should be made easier in the Bill, under certain circumstances, for a landowner to change the occupation of a farm if it is obviously fair and reasonable that he should do so.
With regard to Clause 4, I agree that the Bill establishes a completely new 1151 principle. The landowner has no corresponding powers to impose an improvement upon a tenant, even where the tenant might, for example, deny the use of water and electricity to other neighbouring farms on the same estate. If we look into this carefully, I do not think we should be too worried. We might have to look at it in Committee again, but I think that it will work out all right. It is a perfectly adequate safeguard from the tenant's point of view, provided that the general economic aspect of the landowners' estate is considered when Clause 4 is being applied.
I support the Bill for these four reasons: first, it abolishes the disciplinary measures which were a farce; secondly, it gives definite guidance to arbitrators; thirdly, it loosens the strait-jacket of security of tenure; and, fourthly, it gives the tenant statutory powers against an unreasonable landlord, and I am all for that. The Bill will be welcomed by both landlord and tenant.
In conclusion, let me say that the landowner and tenant in the agricultural industry well understand each other's problems. That is why the system works. I have often thought that if in certain other industries, notably nationalised industries, relations were as good as they are in the agricultural industry, we should not have any balance of payments problems.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I should like to reply to the first and main argument of the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe), his opposition to disciplinary powers. He must be aware that even his party in 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953 supported disciplinary powers in principle, and that it is no good raving about Western democracy, as the Minister did, and saying that we shall destroy the freedom that the farmer and landowner possess by wishing to retain these powers.
I should like to quote from a booklet which I obtained from the Conservative Bookshop not long ago. I think it is always satisfactory to get things from the horse's mouth. This booklet is entitled "Agriculture and Politics" and there is a foreword by the then Chairman of the Conservative Parliamentary Committee 1152 for Agriculture. The writer of the booklet—and this has been approved by the Tory Central Office—says:The final sanction of dispossession must be retained, with adequate safeguards against hardship and injustice, for those who, after due warning, refuse the disinterested advice of the Agricultural Advisory Service and continue to abuse the security of guaranteed prices and markets. Indeed it would be impossible to operate the guaranteed price system without this sanction, since the prices are calculated very largely on the basis of costs of production.This booklet was issued by the Conservative Party and hon. Members can still buy it. It contains a view which has been expressed by many Conservative Members and it is no good the hon. Member for Windsor waxing indignant about it.
§ Mr. Peart
It was first issued six or seven years ago, but it continues to be sold. I bought a copy. I am suggesting to the hon. Member for Windsor that this principle has been endorsed by hon. Members opposite. I could quote speeches by Conservative Ministers of Agriculture endorsing both Part I and Part II of the 1947 Act. All I am suggesting is that the hon. Member for Windsor is rather extravagant in his attack on my right hon. Friend.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
That was written six or seven years ago and since then a lot of progress has been made. Incidentally, the Report of the Franks Committee threw a lot of light on a great many of the administrative and other problems.
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Member cannot get away with that. I am suggesting that there are responsible elements in his own party who will endorse Part I and Part II. If he looks through the speeches of many Members of his party in any of the agriculture debates he will find that there has never been a suggestion that we should abolish Part II.
1153 I have listened to practically all the debates on agriculture in the House since 1945 and, apart from the stupid sniping of some hon. Members when we were discussing the 1947 Bill, in the main hon. Members opposite have accepted Part II. They have done so both through their party and at their conferences.
As my right hon. Friend said, I believe that Part II has worked well. That is why I was surprised when the Minister, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), admitted that he had not even consulted the agricultural workers about the Bill. The county executive committees include representatives of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. There is a three-two relationship—three representatives from the National Farmers' Union, three from the Country Landowners' Association and two from the National Union of Agricultural Workers.
In any legislation which affects the administration of county committees and the work of representatives of very responsible agricultural bodies, the Minister should have consulted these bodies. I do not suggest that the Minister should necessarily accept the advice of even the National Farmers' Union or the Country Landowners' Association, but I believe that as a matter of courtesy in this issue the agricultural workers should have been consulted. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North, who is the distinguished president of that union, has certainly made his point, and I hope that in future hon. Members who are responsible for agricultural administration will not be so cavalier in their treatment of a very responsible section of the agricultural workers.
Today is a black day for British agriculture, because this is a wrecking Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members say, "No." Let me demonstrate my case. I believe that the very act of the abolition of Part II strikes a blow at the main Act of 1947. We cannot consider the 1947 Act and the trend towards an expanding agricultural industry, with in-increased efficiency, without linking Part I with Part II. That is my view, and I am pleased to think that it is also the view of a very responsible body, the National 1154 Farmers' Union. If hon. Members opposite listen carefully, as they must, to responsible opinion in the farming world, they must recognise that responsible elements in the industry are opposed to the abolition of Part II.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill
The hon. Member referred to the abolition of Part II. I would remind him that all that is being abolished is the disciplinary provisions in Part II. Much of the concern shown has arisen from the fact that it was mistakenly thought that the Government were abandoning the standards of good husbandry and good estate management which are contained in Part II. In fact, they are being retained.
§ Mr. Peart
I thought that the hon. Member intended to challenge me on the facts and not to make another speech. I believe that certain powers which are essential to an expanding agriculture are removed by the Bill, and I repeat that farmers through their National Farmers' Union, and not only through their national leaders but through the county branches, have expressed themselves as opposed to this. They have said so in practically every county branch in the country,. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) could speak for Warwickshire on this subject. In many other counties the farmers, to a man, have opposed this Bill. All I am saying is that responsible opinion in the industry is opposed to what the Government are doing today.
For political and doctrinaire reasons, hon. Members opposite may take the contrary view. They are entitled to do so, but they should recognise that influential elements in the industry believe that the Bill, which takes away powers contained in Part II of the Act, is a retrograde step. I emphasise that I believe this to be a black day for agriculture. In my view, the 1947 Act was a partnership. When we talked of assured markets and guaranteed prices in Part I, these were linked with Part II and with the desire to have efficiency, improved estate management and good husbandry. For precisely those reasons, the farming, community accepted the Act and a bargain was struck. They accepted the disciplinary powers in the 1947 Act. They accepted Part V, which set up county committees with functions which we are to remove today. There was a bargain 1155 As my right hon. Friend said, I believe that the Act has worked well. I do not think anyone should gibe at my right hon. Friend for taking pride in the 1947 Act. Most of it worked well. Indeed, hon. Members opposite and the Ministers have over and over again paid tribute to the Act and have sometimes even tried to claim credit for its parentage.
We therefore should not have that type of criticism. Hon. Members in the main have praised the 1947 Act and have agreed that it was a partnership between the farming community, the landowners and the State. Here was a great Measure which established a partnership in the community, between the State, through the Minister and the executive bodies, the producers in the industry and the owners of land. It was a tremendous achievement. I assert that the Act worked well.
If we look at the figures we see that it was an Act designed to give farmers opportunities to be efficient. It was an Act designed to improve agricultural production. Immediately the Act had passed through the Committee stage, we began a tremendous expansion programme, which was initiated by my right hon. Friend in August, 1947. We set off to increase agricultural production by £100 million, at 1947 prices, over a four-year period, and we achieved it. My right hon. Friend set targets, the counties were planned and the farming community responded. They responded because of the Act and also because of the powers contained in the Act.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
I do not think that it benefited the sheep industry very much at the time.
§ Mr. Peart
My right hon. Friend introduced the Hill Farming Act in 1946, a year earlier. That was the first time that anything positive had been done for the fell farmers, whom I am proud to represent. That Act was a positive Measure. Even Conservatives paid tribute to it in their Agricultural Charter. It should not be said that we did nothing for sheep farming. My right hon. Friend put legislation on the Statute Book to help sheep farmers. Unfortunately, we later had the dreadful winter of 1947, but my right hon. Friend was not to blame for the winter.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris rose——1156
§ Mr. Peart
I have given way on several occasions. The hon. Member should let me make my speech.
The agricultural industry responded. We had a very great expansion. Indeed, the achievements of the farmers and of farmworkers were praised by every impartial agricultural committee of inquiry from every responsible international agency which visited this country. Nobody can say that the 1947 Act had not achieved success or that the main powers that we were seeking did not achieve some purpose. Then, of course there was a change of Administration.
We must also remember that certain hon. Members opposite in their hearts did not like the 1947 Act. That is precisely why they are introducing the Bill today. The farming community will never forget that they voted against Part I in Committee. In their speeches, they sniped at my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) talked about my right hon. Friend leading agriculture into boozy pastures. We know the gibes with which my right hon. Friend was faced at that period. There was cheap propaganda from the party opposite that we were engaged in farming from Whitehall, when we had at the Ministry—and there still are at the Ministry—very able officials, competent men, who were working with a scientific agricultural service in the country and with men and women who sat voluntarily on county committees.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
I certainly cannot recall the 1947 debates, because I was not here. It is now eleven years since 1947, however, and what we are considering is agriculture under the conditions of today. That is what the Bill is in aid of.
§ Mr. Peart
That is true, and the purpose of the Bill is to repeal part of the 1947 Act. We are, therefore, entitled to look at the 1947 Act to see what it achieved. Perhaps to the hon. Member the 1947 Act does not matter. He probably does not like it. If he wishes to know more about his party's attitude, he should read the speeches of some of his colleagues.
Hon. Members opposite were responsible for an extremely vicious type of propaganda against voluntary representatives on our county committees. 1157 Today's Bill, which takes away the powers of county committees, discourages the work of those who have served voluntarily and who have given local leadership to the farming community. As I said earlier, hon. Members opposite are returning to their extreme views in their most doctrinaire moments. Many hon. Members opposite opposed the positive measures in the 1947 Act. I therefore understand why they wish to wreck it by the Bill which they have introduced today.
Since the party opposite took over, there has been great uncertainty in the farming world leading up to the present time and to this black day in British agriculture. Hon. Members opposite must surely have read the farming Press over the last five or six years and the speeches of Conservative Members of Parliament at National Farmers' Union meetings, speeches trying to explain what Tory policy was, and the angry criticisms which we have seen over and over again in the farming Press. I have with me their speeches and reports of meetings indicating that hon. Members opposite have pursued a lack of policy which in the end finds its culmination in the Bill that is presented to us today.
I have a quotation from a former Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who, when questioned about the long-term policy of the Government, said that it was being given "earnest and urgent study". The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) was so disgruntled with the trend of events that he pleaded for a Royal Commission because the Government had no policy. Not so long ago, he said in the House:I hope the day will come when we shall take steps to put agriculture where it rightly belongs; to regard it as the most important industry in this country, instead of the lowest form Of life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 1779.]I agree with the hon. Member. Surely, he does not dispute that?
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
I agree with that. In those days, I was protesting against agriculture being treated as a featherbedded industry. I wanted it treated as a business concern, without Part II and all that sort of thing. I wanted it treated as a real industry.
§ Mr. Peart
It was a strange explanation to say that the industry was the "lowest form of life". The hon. Member was criticising the place of agriculture under the present Government and that was not unusual. Right to this day, agriculture has been let down. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members opposite must restrain themselves. I will give one example. The Minister denied it when my right hon. Friend challenged the Government.
I take the issue of credit as a test. In its Agricultural Charter, the party opposite promised cheap credit. The Leader of the House, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, promised the farming community cheap credit facilities. That promise was repeated by the former Minister of Agriculture, who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer. Does any hon. Member opposite believe that any Ministers of the present Conservative Administration have given cheap credit to the farming community? Do they believe that they have fulfilled that specific promise, on which they fought an Election and which subsequently responsible Ministers, including the present Chancellor of the Exchequer at a farmers' dinner, gave to the farming community?
Do hon. Members opposite really believe that cheap credit has come to the farmer? Of course not. With the raising of the Bank Rate by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, considerable pressure has been imposed, not merely upon the farming community, but upon its ancillary industries. I challenge the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) to deny that. He knows that it is true. The farming community can only deduce that hon. Members opposite are not sincere in their promises and that the culmination of their economic policy, which is revealed in this new legislation today, will inevitably bring disaster for the farming community.
We can quote farm incomes. My right hon. Friend has dealt in great detail with the 1957 Act, which was debated at great length. He showed that it is a piece of legislation for diminishing returns. Indeed, during the Committee stage of the 1957 Bill, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) gave figures of the decline of farm incomes under the present Government. Those figures were never denied. In 1948, agriculture's proportion of the 1159 national income was 2.9 per cent. Throughout the period of the Labour Government, it remained at that level. Agriculture retained its slice of the cake right to the end of 1952, during the time that our Price Review was operating.
This is important:From that date onwards, it has started to fall. It was 2.8 per cent. in 1953, 2.4 per cent. in 1954, 2.3 per cent. in 1955 and 2.3 per cent. in 1956."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 9th April, 1957; c. 78.]Not only has that taken place, but if hon. Members opposite will look at the Blue Book, "National Income and Expenditure, 1957", they will see that gross investment in fixed assets in agriculture have not increased. Indeed, in 1952, to quote the official figure, £93 million was the gross investment in fixed assets. In the last available year according to the Blue Book, 1956, the figure was only £92 million. There has not been a rapid rate of increase.
As I am quite sure my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North can tell, there has been even a serious decline in manpower in agriculture. I wish that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) were here to make one of his customarily eloquent speeches on the subject such as he used to make when criticising the Labour Administration. During the last five years there has been a decrease of 100,000 in the number of regular workers on the land. All this indicates the decline which has set in in a major industry. Hon. Members opposite need not argue today that their economic policies and legislation have brought benefits to the farming community.
Make no mistake, there is tremendous uncertainty in the farming community, and hon. Members know quite well that Clause 1 of this Bill, which deals with the repeal of the powers of supervision, direction and dispossession under Part II of the 1947 Act, were opposed by the farmers themselves. I have stressed that in the earlier part of my speech.
On the question of the fixing of rents under Clause 2, hon. Members must also know that there has been opposition by responsible farming opinion. It may lead to a tremendous increase of rents when the farmers can least afford it. A year, two years or three years from now they will be in extreme difficulty 1160 because farm costs, the costs of machinery, fertilisers, labour, and so on, will have increased. For that reason, farmers can rightly feel that they have been let down on this issue.
Why go ahead with this? After all, the Government have initiated a survey of farm rents by the Department of Estate Management. Why go ahead with this tendentious Clause at this stage, before that information is available? Surely the Government could have waited. I believe that to be the view of responsible opinion in the farming world. On the issue of farm rents there is tremendous opposition. The Bill, when it becomes law, will do untold harm to many small farmers, some of whom I personally represent, who live in my partly rural constituency in the County of Cumberland.
I will not argue Clause 5 again. I stated my main principles in reply to the hon. Member for Windsor. I do not accept the Franks Report as it affects agriculture. My hon. Friend has stated quite definitely that the farmers, in their evidence before the Committee, before it came to any conclusions, did not wish the removal of the judicial powers from county executive committees. No responsible body in the farming community, no responsible body in the countryside, not even the Country Landowners' Association, wanted the Franks Committee's recommendations.
For that reason we believe that Clause to be retrograde. As I have stressed, the Clause will also discourage those people who have served so well on our county committees, and I am fairly sure that one of the main results of this Bill will be that voluntary work and effort by people who wish to play their part in British agriculture will be considerably hindered. That is part of the tragedy of the Bill.
My right hon. Friend, by his main Act of 1947, did not wish to impose a rigid State discipline on the industry. He believed that it was, as I have stressed, necessary to create conditions in which there would be a partnership, a partnership even in the conduct of executive functions carried out by responsible county committees. Indeed, my right hon. Friend never regarded the Act as sacrosanct. Certainly, it could be improved by experience, and, indeed, it 1161 was my right hon. Friend who set up the Ryan Committee, which produced its Report on the organisation of the Ministry of Agriculture and the work of the county executive committees.
Hon. Members will remember that the Ryan Committee was comprised of extremely able business men and administrators who reported to the Minister, and its conclusions were partly acted upon. We have never regarded the Act of 1947 as sacrosanct. We sought a partnership, and that is why I am sorry that this Bill is introduced by the party opposite.
I am sorry, too, because we need an expanding agriculture. We still need it.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
We have got it.
§ Mr. Peart
I have never said we should grow bananas or grapes on Ben Nevis. I believe our production must be economic. [An HON. MEMBER: "Groundnuts."] Hon. Members may quibble about it, but I am talking about British agriculture. On that issue, I could probably agree that it would have been better if something had been under the control of the Colonial Office. However, I will not be sidetracked.
We need an expanding British agriculture. We need to create confidence among the producers in this industry. This Bill destroys confidence because the farmers are against it and have said so through their officials and organisation. We need to expand our agriculture because there is still, despite what the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) opposite said, a world food shortage. Despite the fact that surpluses have been accumulated in certain countries, there is still a world food shortage, and Britain has pledged its word to make its contribution through the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
However, there is another reason. We still have a balance of payments problem. There is another reason, too. I believe that agriculture is a valuable element in our defence strategy, as was proved during the war. It is right that agriculture should be safeguarded. For those reasons I do not accept the philosophy of the hon. Member for Leominster that agriculture is cosseted—a view which seems now to be the official policy of his party.
1162 There is also another reason. We cannot neglect the fertility of our soil. The Government and Parliament must see to it that the national resources are developed properly. Our farmers believe that. Undoubtedly, they are worried by events in the United States of America and the accumulation there of specific wheat surpluses. They have memories of the 'twenties and 'thirties, when the crisis in agriculture had its repercussions all over the world.
There are dangers today of a crisis in industry which affects agriculture as well. There is no rivalry between town and country when a crisis sets in, for it affects both, and the farming community knows it. It can see that danger today, even in British industry, where, unfortunately, because of the policies of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, there is a measure of industrial stagnation, which, in turn, reflects itself in agriculture.
For that reason, the farming community is worried. It does not want to go back to the days which saw the repeal of the Corn Production Acts by a predominantly Conservative Administration, days after the First World War when the minimum prices given to the farming community for wheat and oats were removed. The farmers do not want to go back to those days. That is why they are worried. That is why we oppose this Bill, and that is why we shall challenge the Government, because they are neglecting agriculture.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I am glad the Government have given two days to this Second Reading debate, because this is our most fundamental industry——
§ Sir I. Fraser
That shows very good sense, does it not? I am glad that Parliament is devoting two days to this debate because, after all, this is our most important industry and we must remember that agriculture is not merely an important contribution to our food and security but also to the variety and balance of our economy.
I welcomed the attitude of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), 1163 the esteemed President of the N.U.A.W. Quite rightly, I 'thought, he said how important it was that in these matters the views of the N.F.U., the Country Landowners' Association and the N.U.A.W. should be consulted. I discern an infinitely greater consensus of agreement about the proposals in this Bill than would appear to anybody in the Gallery who happened to be listening to the debate; unless, of course, he was a student of politics, in which case he would know very well that behind this apparent attack upon the Government and upon this Measure there was really a considerable latent agreement.
I do not believe that anyone listening carefully to the speeches from the other side of the House could find any really convincing case made against this Measure. What has been mainly said by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is that if 1947 was 1947 then 1958 must be 1947. That is not true in fact and could never be made true. One would almost think, hearing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), that he had invented the 1947 Act. One would almost think it was his production alone.
I would be the last to denigrate the great services of the right hon. Gentleman to agriculture. I sat in this Parliament during many years in which he helped the nation through some of its most difficult times, first as Parliamentary Secretary and then as Minister. Yet the processes of thought and the circumstances with which he had to deal as a junior Minister during the war years and afterwards as Minister were entirely different from the situation now. Now we are not at war, nor is there great scarcity of food, and the virtues and value of his services in those days are not emphasised by continuing to think in terms of ten years ago. This is quite a different time and quite a different situation. As a matter of fact, the 1947 Act, in which the Labour Party takes such pride——
§ Sir I. Fraser
Of course it should, but it did no more than make de jure the previous de facto method invented by Lord Woolton and Mr. Hudson. That is a fact, and all credit to the right hon. Gentleman who, as junior Minister to them, helped them to do it.
1164 We ought to make it clear that Part II of the 1947 Act is not being removed by this Bill but being amended, so I will use the word "amended". The Amendment of Part II of the 1947 Act by this Bill, it is said by some, threatens the guarantees. I think we shall find in a day or two that this is falsified when we get the February Price Review, which always seems to come in March. We shall then find that familiar arrangements are made, unaffected by any of these proposals we are discussing, and that this will be the case next year and the year after.
The only difference between the Price Review proposals as we may see them at the end of this week, and as they have been seen since 1947, is that they are now strengthened, and any drop in them will be limited by the 1957 Act. Therefore, far from this Government having weakened the guarantees, they go on record as having taken practical action to strengthen them. So it is untrue to say that this Government by any previous action or by reason of this Bill undermines the guarantees or the guarantee system. This is a bogey which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are raising to bolster themselves in agricultural areas where they have never had much support and are unlikely to get it. I do not believe the average Labour Member of Parliament knows the difference between a plough and a heifer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Perhaps one or two do.
The principal matter to which criticism has been directed is the question of the disciplinary powers that are to disappear. It is obvious that they have fallen into desuetude. They are not being used, and no one would wish them to be used, least of all the farmers. Yet to listen to hon. Gentlemen opposite one would imagine it was a delight and pleasure for 4,000 people to receive little chits telling them that they are to be supervised—a kind of birthday present from a benevolent Minister. They are nothing of the kind. It is always an anxiety to a chap who is doing his best but is not sure that his neighbours will think he is. Farmers generally must be, and I am convinced are, delighted to think that their neighbours can no longer snoop over their hedges to any effect.
It has been said that the Labour Party thinks that farming can best be done from Whitehall. Hon. Gentlemen opposite 1165 deny that and are very cross when it is said. There is some truth in it, however, and anyone who is listening to today's debate will realise that they are hankering after more controls, more teeth for the county agricultural executive committees, more powers. They want to keep on all the existing controls, and even have more because they think the more the better. They want to boss the "blanks" about because they think it will be better for farming.
I object to that attitude of mind for a variety of reasons. First, I think it is bad for farming; secondly, I think it is contrary to the British way of life and thought. I believe that the extent to which we move towards allowing competition and economic factors and the play of the market to influence the results of farming, no less than any other industry, to that extent it will prosper and the nation will benefit.
That does not mean that I want to see the guarantees removed. On the contrary, I approve and applaud them, but the element which has been introduced in the last few years, and which has made it possible for a man to benefit more by his own skill and extra energy and ability, has been very good for British agriculture, and the more we do in that direction the better it will be.
I hope that the speech of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) will be printed in the Cumberland newspapers. He said that he feared for all his farmers' rents. He might even mislead some of them to fear, too, but the Bill does not propose that there will be a free-for-all with rents. Contracts are not to be abolished, and it is only that a new definition is to be provided about the way in which rents will be fixed in future. That new definition will clearly afford an opportunity for higher rents to be fixed when the time comes.
One of the surprises about the rent question in politics is that all the ebullient irritation of the Labour Party, which we have seen manifested from day to day and week to week, has been directed towards the question of eviction and not to that of the raising of rents. That is because every hon. Member opposite knows in his heart of hearts—and many of them are landlords—that in this world one cannot have something for nothing 1166 and that it is not fair arbitrarily to hold down one part of the community from a fair return on its investment, either money or labour. The irritation which they have worked up about the Rent Act, for example, has been directed towards the possibility that a few hundred or a few thousand people may be evicted. Their irritation has nothing to do with the raising of rents. This Bill will have the effect over the years of enabling rents to be raised more readily and more easily by agreement.
If ever there were a partnership, here is one, a partnership of tenant, landlord and farmworker, and the benefit of all three is bound up in the healthy economy of the industry, which involves a good return for the man who invests in the land, a good return for the man who works the land, the farmer, and good pay for the agricultural worker.
The hon. Member for Workington deplored the fact that statistics showed that the proportion of the national income going to agriculture had been decreasing in recent years. I do not know what the answer to that problem is, but I suspect that the reason is that certain highly organised wage-earners, such as the miners and engineers, have taken out a litle more than their share. Perhaps those workers should consider the men in agriculture before allowing their powerful unions to suck out so much.
The Bill does not greatly affect security of tenure, about which there seems to be general agreement. I will make no comment on that beyond being glad that that should be so. There is to be an appeal to the land tribunal instead of to the Minister. That is a good thing. We have had too much of appeals to Ministers who are judges in their own courts and in matters in which they are interested. This is an aspect of the Franks Report of which I fully approve.
The hon. Member for Workington said that he did not approve of the Franks Report. I do not know whether he meant in a general way or as it applied to agriculture, but I suspect that he meant it generally.
§ Mr. Peart indicated dissent.
§ Sir I. Fraser
He certainly gave that impresssion.
However, many hon. Members opposite do not approve the Franks Report 1167 in many of its aspects because it tries to give the individual a little more freedom and a little more fairness and tries to get a little further away from the bureaucratic control of Whitehall, the civil servant and the Minister.
I am one of those who believes that the powers of Ministers should not be as great as they are, but that the powers vested in central Government are far better kept in check and spread generally through the community, by local authorities, private owners and so on. The more powers are spread, the better. Hon. Members opposite would prefer more concentration in a powerful State and, to some extent, that accounts for their opposition to the Bill.
Hon. Members opposite say that we are supporting the Bill for doctrinaire reasons, but they are saying that precisely because of their doctrinaire love of central control and bossing people around, and they want to continue the arrangements which we propose to drop. It is a curious thing that when people have said something for a long time, they come to believe that it is true. One example concerns nationalisation, in which hon. Members opposite believe, and another concerns Imperial Preference, with which some of my hon. Friends have for so long thought to be almost a gospel. Neither of those measures is wholly right at all times and under all circumstances.
Nevertheless, the Opposition rely for much of their opposition to the Bill upon the fact that in years gone by some of us supported the terms of the 1947 Act. If we then said that it was a good balance and a quid pro quo and that it was right as we were paying out so much that we should keep an eye on the position, hon. Members opposite now say that we must be doctrinaire if in the circumstances of ten years later we change our mind. It simply means that we are the open-minded, progressive people and that no one is so conservative as a Socialist. Hon. Members opposite cannot change their minds because of what they have said so often.
The Bill does not affect hill farmers or egg farmers, and it would therefore be out of order if I referred to them. However, I emphasise again that the Bill will in no way invalidate or damage the system of Price Reviews which affects the 1168 whole of agriculture and which has been built up by all parties and by all sections in the industry so well over so many years. It is wrong to suggest that the whole system of guarantees upon which farmers rely will be damaged by the Bill, and hon. Members opposite ought not to put that idea about. I hope and believe that farmers have more sense than to suck it in.
If agriculture is to be profitable—and I use that word advisedly, believing that it is a good word which we should not be afraid to mention—all the elements in the industry must get a fair return. The Bill not only affirms the British sense of fairness, decency and justice, but pays a small tribute to ownership. I believe in ownership, regarding it as one of the most vital forces in men's affairs, one of the things which makes men work and save and cherish things. I believe that the trend of the nation's thinking, as exemplified by the Bill, is towards greater freedom and less control.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
I always listen with interest to the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) but, to be quite frank, hon. Members on this side of the House would rather hear him talk about the magnificent work he has done for the Services than hear him enter into the polemics of his party's philosophy in connection with one of the most vital problems facing us today. From the point of view of a constructive contribution to what I would call the defence of his party and the reality of the situation, there was nothing in the hon. Member's speech.
The hon. Member said that the miners—from whom I am proud to come—probably take a greater share than they are entitled to take. Does he know what they are asking for, as a minimum wage, when they work underground. and does he know how it compares with the 11 guineas a week earned by a secretary to a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons? He should be ashamed of uttering such rubbish in a serious debate.
§ Sir I. Fraser
That is very noble of the hon. Member. I did not say anything of the kind. I said that the fact that the total amount of money spent on agriculture by the nation had gone down a decimal point was probably accounted for by the fact that some of the big trade unions, like the National Union of Mineworkers, had taken a very great deal out. I did not say that they should not have it—but the agricultural workers have not had it.
§ Mr. Davies
I have made my point. It will be recorded in HANSARD. I could add, perhaps, that brewers, property owners and investment companies are taking more than their share under the Rent Act. That fact could have been mentioned by the hon. Member, in which case it would have been fair for him to mention miners. But that is finished with. I shall not argue about it any longer. [Laughter.] Look at them, on the benches opposite! Derelict, bankrupt and tired—I am not talking of their numbers, I am talking of their attitude—distressed, bewildered, quarrelling like Kilkenny cats and ruining the country's economy.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale spoke of ownership as though hon. Members on this side of the House did not like to own things. My people have been struggling for years to get a share of what hon. Members opposite have been owning for a long time. Little by little, as a result of the efforts of the Labour Government, we have introduced a policy of fair shares, but now, more than anything else, the Government are taking away fair shares in agriculture.
We are returning to the phase referred to in the document of Mr. Philip Bembridge, published by that hive of intellectuality round the corner in Victoria—the Conservative Central Office. The document shows that between 1904 and 1913 the average number of bankruptcies among farmers was 317; between 1925 and 1930, it was 376; in 1931, it was 500—hon. Members opposite accused the Labour Government of that—in 1932, it was 615; in 1933, it was 425; and in 1938–39 it fell to its lowest figure of 200. These figures come from the Conservative Central Office.
There is a reality about commodity prices all over the world which the party 1170 opposite has not faced by introducing the Bill at this critical period, when the world is confronted with international economic problems. Raw material prices all over the world are dropping, but my right hon. Friend showed that since the party opposite came into power there has been a drop of 8 per cent. in the incomes of the farming fraternity. We were told by the Minister of Labour—no, I am sorry—by the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer; I cannot keep count of the coming and goings of Ministers opposite these days—that the only measure of an increase in wages or incomes is productivity.
The Bill provides an example par excellence. We have had increasing productivity in agriculture, yet its income has dropped by 8 per cent. since hon. Members opposite came into power, and now they introduce this Measure, which will still further reduce farming incomes.
Most of the more serious journals dealing with agriculture—apart from the Farmers' Weekly, which never seems to know where it is; half way through its leading article this week it seems to be in favour of the Bill and at the end against it—criticised the Bill and asked the question which my right hon. Friend asked. Why do the Government introduce this thorny problem of rents at the very moment when an inquiry is taking place? Why should not the House have been presented with the facts, so that an informed debate could have taken place upon the economics of the rent of land, on the basis of the inquiry that is taking place?
The Government. on their way out, having already made a present to the brewers—that was one of their first acts when they came into power—and to investors and property owners, are now making a present to the landowners. I accuse them of not seriously studying these problems and their effects upon the ordinary, decent producer. We were told that we ought not to be too concerned when the Government introduced the Rent Act. We were given quiet, slow and steady speeches by a right hon. Gentleman with a thicker skin than any creature since the pterodactyl, standing at the Dispatch Box. He told us not to get emotional about the effects of the Rent Act, so everybody kept quiet. We are now finding that London and the 1171 other cities will not be able to provide houses for all the dispossessed.
We are told that Clause 2 is a little Clause, but what does it say? We were assured by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale that it was quite an innocent, little thing, but it says—I will make the semantics correct and cut out the legal jargon—thatthe rent properly payable in respect of a holding shall be the rent at which, having regard to the terms of the tenancy"—I have to watch these parentheses; all the Government's Bills are in parentheses—the holding might reasonably be expected to be let in the open market by a willing landlord.What about a willing tenant? What is a willing landlord? I want the Minister to tell the House, in crystal-clear language, what the phrase "a willing landlord" means. What we are doing is setting land free for the "boys" of the City to have a hunting, shooting and fishing place to go to at weekends.—[Laughter.] Oh yes, the Cotswolds, in the old days, were crowded with City types looking for something that they could let go to grass to provide some duck shooting, so that they could invite the lads down to recuperate after working on the Stock Exchange. Always, when the Conservative Party is in power, agriculture is sacrificed to the City of London.
How beautifully the Minister put it this afternoon. He said that he was going to give agriculture a shot in the arm; that we want to encourage young and enthusiastic people to come into British agriculture. Who is it that the right hon. Gentleman is encouraging? It is the tired business men who have made a lot of money on the Stock Exchange—[Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but they should watch what will be happening in eighteen months to two years from now. They will then see that what I say is true.
Speaking at the National Farmers' Union dinner, the Leader of the House promised security for the farmers. Not only that, but he promised the British public that in twenty-five years the Government would double the present standard of living. If, after the foreign and 1172 defence policies of this Government, there is anyone living in twenty-five years time, I am willing to bet that far from the standard of life in this country being doubled, because of the unplanned policies of this Government our standard of life will be lower than it is now.
I wish to refer now to a subject about which I admit I am not well-informed—[Laughter.] Well, that is an honest confession, is it not?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I said that I was not well-informed, but I have been listening to hon. Members opposite who are uninformed. I wish to refer to the sheep population in Britain. For years I have urged in this House that the sheep population should be increased, but very little has been done. In 1947, we lost 2 million sheep because of the bad winter. I have urged that an investigation should take place.
I have gone through beautiful villages on the Downs where I have discovered that the sheep population has been reduced and land is quietly being enclosed with no one making any fuss about it. The Government should watch this matter. I should like the Minister to say what encouragement is being given to British farmers on the Welsh hills, and on the Downs, and in other parts of Britain, to become sheep producers.
The small farmers—and most British farming is done by men who farm 80 to 100 acres—have been told to produce milk, and then to produce pigs, and after that to produce something else. What is the result? Every agricultural newspaper is accusing the Government of a completely muddled policy. First, farmers were urged to increase milk production. The Government then increased the price of milk and took away the subsidy. More milk went to the manufacturers and less was sold. Then the farmer found himself not so sure about his regular income. We are told today that if we have a security Clause regarding property, equipment and farm buildings, the small farmer will be looked after by the so-called "willing landlord" and that he and the tenant—there is no reference to a "willing tenant"—will work amicably together.
We may now be entering on a most difficult period and I ask whether the Government think it wise at this time to upset an Act which has given more 1173 security to agriculture during the six-and-a-half years that the Labour Government were in power than was provided during the sixty years during which the Conservatives neglected agriculture. I do not think the present Government have thought out this matter. A point was made about rising costs of maintenance, but I can think of a better way to help the farmers. The Government have not kept their promise to investigate monopolies. It is time that the House of Commons investigated the monopoly activities in the fertiliser and chemical industries. Farmers are held to ransom by these powerful combines and it is the duty of this House to do something about that.
For years it has been urged that standardised equipment should be provided for farmers who cannot afford large machines. An effort by the Government in that direction would be like a shot in the arm for agriculture. A good many people do not realise that agriculture machinery and factory machinery are quite different. The machinery installed in a factory may be operated continuously, but an expensive tractor or similar piece of equipment on a farm can be used only for a limited period.
This is one of the problems resulting from the industrialisation and mechanisation of agriculture and we have not worked out the answer. It might provide an answer if somebody spent some money, or if Government money were used, to conduct research into the standardisation of equipment and the provision of more power on the farms in order to increase output.
I represent a hill farming area where life is tough and rough and people may be stranded in the winter for lengthy periods. In page 11 of this Bill we find that we are to have a change in the Hill Farming Act, 1946, which did a lot of good for upland farmers. We are told that on the appointed day this subsection shall be substituted:Where a lease of land in England or Wales contains a covenant, condition or agreement whereby the burning of heather or grass by the tenant is prohibited or restricted, the Agricultural Land Tribunal, on an application by the tenant, may if it appears to them that the covenant, condition or agreement is preventing or impeding the proper use for agricultural purposes of the land comprised in the lease or any of that land and that it is expedient in all the circumstances so to do. 1174 give such directions for avoiding or relaxing the covenant, condition or agreement as they think fit.In other words, if a farmer in some of the areas in my constituency where there is grouse, says, "I cannot develop my farm unless I can burn this heather and the grouse go," the Government intend to change the existing Act and enable him to do so, but the tenant has to apply to the tribunal.
What is the reality of this'? In many of these benighted places there is a fear among these people that if they make a request to burn heather the tenant will get his notice to quit. Now the notice to quit is made easier. I do not want to be unfair, but, far from hill farmers and those in moorland and heather districts all welcoming the change, many of them will be afraid to apply the Bill. They will be afraid of the consequences, which might not be welcomed by the landlord.
In cases like that, are the Government quite sure that the Bill will give the security that existed before? I think that it will not. The Government have let the farming fraternity down, after it has supported them traditionally for many years. When the next General Election comes, the Government will find that Britain's countryside will not be prepared to support Conservatism as it has done in the past.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)
I was unable to hear all the speech of the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) but I heard enough of what my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) called his "artificial indignation" to get the gist of the speech.
We all know that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose. Those who have been in Opposition know that it is great fun to have a crack at the Government. Quite possibly one of the factors which has influenced the Opposition today is that there happens to be a by-election going on in a rural constituency in Devon.
§ Sir H. Studholme
I suggest that the Opposition have said to themselves, "Let's make as big a stink as we can". The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) made a very impassioned speech. 1175 The last part of it would have sounded very well on a soap box in the market place. He said that we had been opposed to Part I of the 1947 Act, but the only ground upon which we opposed it was that it did not give real security. The 1957 Act has given that security.
I congratulate the Minister; this is a good Bill, in the best interests of agriculture. It will be proved to be in the best interests of farmers and landowners. As the representative of an agricultural constituency, I thank the Minister. I thank him also as a landowner. Many hon. Members opposite think that all landowners have hoofs and horns and that the land should be nationalised. It is a fact, nevertheless, that two-thirds of the land is farmed on the landlord-and-tenant system, which works very well. I do not find that my tenants have any particular dislike of that system.
The Bill is an example of the constructive steps which the Government are taking to do away with sanctions and restrictions which have ceased to serve their purpose. When any control is taken off, the Opposition always predict that the result will be disastrous. It has been proved again and again since the Conservative Government have been in power that the removal of controls does nothing but good. It is time, as the Minister said, that the penal Sections of the 1947 Act were abolished. More than thirteen years after the war, the conditions which made them necessary have largely ceased to exist. The party opposite are the reactionaries because they would like to fasten the 1947 Act on us in its entirety for ever, although the conditions which made it necessary have changed enormously.
Those sanctions are out of accord with the spirit of the times, are rarely used and are unworkable. Nobody likes the Gestapo powers of the agricultural executive committees. It is right that the duty of taking the tenant before an agricultural lands tribunal if he is not farming properly should now devolve upon the landlord. The Bill embodies safeguards for the tenant. The tribunal is an independent body appointed by the Lord Chancellor and its impartiality cannot be questioned.
I should like to clear up a point and to obtain an assurance from the Minister. I have been asked by farmers what would 1176 be the composition of the tribunals, and whether there would be people on them with first-hand knowledge of the industry. I have replied, "Yes, I am sure there will be," but I should like the Minister to confirm that. Farmers will get great confidence if he does so.
It is right that penal sanctions shall no longer be enforced against an owner-occupier unless he is being a nuisance to his neighbours by allowing ragwort, thistles and other noxious weeds to be blown over their fences. It is in their own best interests to do as well as they can, and in 99 cases out of 100 advice and persuasion can do much more good than the stick. How often have I heard farmers say that people would be far more ready to take advice from the Ministry of Agriculture, if they did not feel that it was acting as a policeman at the same time. The sanction against the bad farmer is his own inefficiency. There are plenty of good, young farmers who would like a chance, and the Bill will help to give it to them.
The hon. Member for Workington described this as a wrecking Bill, because of the removal of the penal Sections. That is absolute nonsense. I cannot understand how anybody can think that by doing away with the stick in Part II of the 1947 Act we shall endanger the price guarantee to farmers. Anyone who thinks so disregards the long-term guarantees written into the 1957 Act which give farmers a better guarantee against falling world prices than they have ever had before. Never in the lifetime of any hon. Member have farmers had a better deal under Act of Parliament than they have had under the 1957 Act. The right hon. Member for Don Valley whom we all like very much would, if he took his tongue out of his cheek, have to admit that.
The Bill has had a good Press in many of the newspapers. The Farmers' Weekly describes it as progressive. Hon Members opposite want to freeze the whole of the 1947 Act on to us in perpetuity, regardless of the fact that conditions have changed enormously since it was passed. It is the Opposition who are the reactionaries; we are the progressives. This is a very good Bill, fair to both farmers and landowners. It provides safeguards against unfair eviction, while enabling landlords to get possession where they can prove the justice of their case. It 1177 allows more realistic rents where they can be proved to be reasonable and it provides safeguards for tenants against extortion. As everyone knows rents are taken into account in the Annual Price Review. This is a good Bill in the true interests of the land, and I congratulate the Minister upon it.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
The hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) made a curiously mixed speech. In part it was emotional and in part—the part with which I agree—it was factual. He asked the Minister to give some information about the composition of the tribunals. I should like the Minister also to give the full facts as he knows them—not as he thinks we ought to have them—about the future of the county agricultural executive committees.
There is a great deal of anxiety on this subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) asked about the future of the committees. This is most important. The Minister has taken away nearly all the functional activities of these committees—the duties which matter and which give them status in the eyes of the agricultural community. What is left is vestigial; there is nothing left. If the right hon. Gentleman can tell us what work he has in mind for the committees, we shall be delighted to hear it.
Unlike the hon. Member for Tavistock, I cannot thank the Minister as a landowner. I want to point out that my party does not believe in nationalisation of the land, as was so carelessly suggested from the benches opposite. Hon. Members must know that ever since the Blackpool Conference some years ago the Labour Party has not stood for land nationalisation.
§ Sir H. Studholme
What I meant to say, and what I thought I did say, was that many hon. Members opposite believe in the nationalisation of the land. I believe they do.
§ Mr. Johnson
We have a large representation under our banner. It includes industrial unions, the co-operative societies, and the Fabian Society. It is a bit thick to have slung at us again 1178 this canard about land nationalisation. I think it had better be buried and forgotten by hon. Members opposite who occasionally look at the reports of our party conferences. They should see what the leaders of the movement say and what we stand for and fight for in elections.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Whether or not the official declared policy of the Labour Party at the moment is land nationalisation, the hon. Member cannot avoid the hard fact that at every Labour Party conference since the war there has been resolution after resolution urging that policy.
§ Mr. Johnson
This is somewhat childish. Those resolutions have been turned down, as we all know. I will send the hon. and gallant Member a copy of the records of the last few years of party conferences at Blackpool. Scarborough, Margate and so on.
§ Mr. Kimballrose——
§ Mr. Johnson
I cannot give way again as I have already given way a great deal.
I wish to speak about what the Minister is to do with Part II of the 1947 Act. I have much affection for the Minister. We are both interested in Colonial affairs, and he did a good job in his short term of office as Minister of State. I wish he was doing as well in the more exalted post which he now occupies.
The right hon. Gentleman said that hon. Members on these benches had a false idea of the opposition there is to this Bill. I challenge hon. Members opposite for the evidence on which they make statements that there is no opposition. I intend to quote to the Minister from Leamington Spa Courier and Warwickshire Standard, which reports a meeting of the county executive committee of the National Farmers' Union. I am willing to wager that this is typical, or at least not untypical, of about forty-eight other county branches in the country.
§ Mr. John Hare
In giving the information, will the hon. Member quote the date on which the speeches were made and say whether any speeches have been made on the subject in his constituency since then?
§ Mr. Johnson
This was published on Friday, 14th March, 1958. I also spoke 1179 to some members of the executive about seventy-two hours ago. What I quote is absolutely authentic. I met many of these farmers at a dinner in my constituency on Saturday evening. The newspaper said, in big black type:Farmers Warn M.P.s. 'Repeal the 1947 Act and Lose Your Seats'.By an almost unanimous vote, the Warwickshire Executive Committee of the National Farmers' Union, meeting … on Wednesday, passed a resolution that the county 'go on record' as being gravely apprehensive at the outcome of the proposed repeal of the 1947 Agriculture Act.Mr. Stanley Harrison, of Rugby, said this action by the Government would hit agriculture worse than anything else for many years.I can quote statements made by other leading members of the county executive committee. There is no doubt that every farmer in the United Kingdom has considered for at least a decade that the 1947 Act is the Magna Carta of his industry. It has been the sheet anchor of the industry. I am sure that none of them expected a disturbance like this in their lifetime as yeomen farmers. I quote from the newspaper report again. Mr. Harrison said:Farmers aren't fools. They can show who will be the fools at the next general election. We should warn any Conservative M.P. who had a majority of under 5,000 at the last election in a rural area that if he doesn't raise his voice or lift a finger on our behalf, or is so shortsighted as to go into the division lobby to vote for this senseless measure, he will assuredly lose his seat, and deservedly so.There was a unanimous vote by my county executive committee, and I am willing to wager—I am waiting for the Minister to interrupt me again if he will—that this kind of thing has been said in forty-eight other county executives. A few minutes ago the hon. Member for Tavistock was attacking hon. Members on these benches for speaking in this fashion and he referred to the by-election in Torrington. I am quoting, not what Labour Members have said, but what has been said by leading farmers. The report continued:Mr. Harold Green said there was a lot of sense in what Mr. Harrison stated. The tenant farmer who had improved his holding would be penalised by higher rents, and it appeared that the arbitrators were being instructed what line to take, which undermined the general conception of independent arbitration.These are not quotations from speeches of Labour back benchers. Mr. Green is 1180 a member of the National Executive of the National Farmers' Union.
I could quote many other farmers of substance who do not belong to my party. This is not a party matter at all. It is a matter which affects the wellbeing and the whole substance of the future security of the industry. These farmers say this is the worst thing that has happened to them in a decade. I hope that the Minister will take note of this and that he will not say that it is electioneering at a by-election in Devon.
What we on these benches ask, tens of thousands of farmers would also like to ask—why inflict this change on the industry at this moment? It is something which is not wanted. I can assure the Minister that farmer after farmer will tell him that it is not wanted.
A lot of drivel and nonsense about dispossession has been talked by hon. Members opposite. We have heard the term "Gestapo". That takes us back to the 1945 General Election when the term was used by a more distinguished member of the party opposite than the hon. Member for Tavistock. A lot of drivel and nonsense has also been talked about the British way of life. Hon. Members opposite have no monopoly of the British way of life. We on this side of the House value it as much as they.
It is really nonsense to talk of "Gestapo" and "British way of life" when practically every farmer one talks to acknowledges that he is merely the custodian of our national asset, the land—our national heritage, which belongs to all people of all parties. While farmers possess this land, they possess it as stewards for the national good. Farmers of decent Midland yeoman stock certainly concede most readily that they are the nation's custodians of this national wealth under our feet.
Surely, if these men are in charge of this land, and in charge of it for posterity as well, they should be made to look after it or, if they cannot—and I say this most sincerely—let them give it up, and let someone else look after it for the nation as a whole. The agricultural community has accepted dispossession in the past, and it still does. There have been few cases lately, but this power of dispossession in the hands of their elected colleagues on the county agricultural 1181 executive committees is the ultimate deterrent.
Hon. Members opposite have said that this does not matter, but it does. It is like the headmaster and his cane. Who can calculate how many of the boys in the school yard have behaved themselves because, hanging in the headmaster's cupboard, was a cane, perhaps never used, or used only six or a dozen times a year? I admit that there are bad farmers just as there are bad boys, and this deterrent should be there for those who cannot farm, and who set a bad example to their neighbours.
I know that modern psychologists do not believe in punishment. I have recently been to America, and I was appalled by the psychologists there. On the other side of this House, apparently, we have some quack psychologists who believe, as do those modern psychologists in Chicago and Philadelphia, that there should be no punishment; that all people behave themselves, and that there is not a small core of anti-social people—boys, juveniles or adults—who cannot, and do not intend to, pull their weight. Our farmers do not think that; nor do I.
The Minister may say, "But the tenant can be dispossessed by the landlord." Of course he can, but how many tenant farmers are there? At a guess, I should think there are about 62 per cent. I believe that at present about 40 per cent. of our farmers are owner-occupiers. Are they to be allowed to waste this national heritage? They are stewards as well as farmers. I am not sure in which part of the Bill there is this reference to inspection and to "noxious weeds", but it will be quite possible under the Bill for a wealthy man in Birmingham—or, indeed anyone in the country with plenty, of money—to buy up land, even with all the talk about scarcity value. People like that will become owner-occupiers and will use the farms.
I will not use the language of my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) with reference to wealthy City gentlemen looking for shooting boxes in the Thames valley, but it is easy to imagine that wealthy people can, and will, buy land. Wealthy industrialists are doing it in the Midlands now, and have done for a year or two. They can then enter upon the land as owner-occupiers. These are the people whom the farmers fear. 1182 Tenant farmers know that they can be disciplined by the landlord, but owner-occupiers cannot be so disciplined. What powers has the Minister, apart from this reference to "weeds in the garden", to deal with those people?
We on this side of the House believe that the continuance of these disciplinary powers is, in a wider sense, town and country planning. If we are to stop anyone erecting hideous hoardings by the wayside, if we are to have disciplinary action against the National Coal Board because by opencast mining it may desecrate the landscape in some way, we submit that there should be some powers in this Bill to tackle farmers and landlords who will waste our national asset and also desecrate the landscape.
Clause 2 deals with the fixing of rents. I will not labour the point about this instruction by the Minister to arbitrators, but I beg of him to think again about "scarcity value". Today, with a smaller number of farms being offered each year, it is quite possible, with all the wealth there is in the towns, for the scarcity value to become almost a fictitious value. This is happening in the Midlands. Only a small minority of people are buying up the land, but they are setting the pace for the sons of farmers, and others who may wish to buy it.
This fictitious value, of course, is now becoming quite scandalous. As the Minister knows, there are very many young men who wish to become farmers, but who have no chance whatever of getting the land. In my own constituency, there was a farm for sale. The young men had no chance whatever of getting it, because a wealthy Birmingham butcher was determined to buy it for his own son. That is also happening in Coventry, among the car manufacturers.
Hon. Members opposite know this, because it has happened in the past even under the old Part II, and the new conditions, whereby the Minister is to advise arbitrators to work on the principle of a willing buyer and a willing seller in an open market, taking into account vacant possession and scarcity value, will merely accentuate the difficulties. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but, if at the moment young men cannot get into farming because the wealthy men in the towns are buying——
§ Mr. John Hare
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to put into my mouth words that I have not spoken. I tried to make it absolutely clear in my opening remarks that, in fact, the arbitrators would not take into consideration freak rents. I spent about five minutes on that topic.
§ Mr. Johnson
I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman, and I have looked again at the Bill, but that is my impression, and it is the impression of the National Farmers' Union. Their interpretation of this part of the Bill is that arbitrators may increase the rent by as much as 30s. to 40s. an acre. That is the view of many farmers, but I am glad to accept the Minister's assurance that that will not be so. It will, at least, calm their fears about the effect on the market in the Midlands of people coming from the cities, with all the money that is floating about there.
The Minister earlier said, quite complacently—and he has, of course, repeated it—that there will be little danger in these words "scarcity value." Speaking on Tuesday, 4th March, to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Minister said:There need be no fear whatever that arbitrators will be influenced by absurdly high offers which are sometimes made in the open market by inexperienced or hobby farmers. No sensible or prudent landlord would willingly let his farm at a fancy rent to an unreliable tenant of this character; that would be only asking for trouble.The man need not be unreliable. He can be a farmer who is badly wanting the land, and will offer the money in the open market. All this competition each year for a diminishing number of farms by increasing numbers of applicants is pushing up the value of the land, and the farmers fear as much as I do that this is a danger. They feel, as I do, that the existing set-up has worked perfectly well for some years, and that there is no need to alter it.
I want to say a few words about amalgamation. The words of Clause 3 (1, b) are:… that the carrying out thereof is desirable in the interests of sound management of the land to which the notice relates …It is possible to amalgamate smaller portions with a larger farm or to take two farms together. One is glad to see the 1184 word "sound" in there. It is quite possible that one could have amalgamations, and I beg the Minister to be careful about how he looks at that matter. There is a natural flight from the land to the towns, to begin with; we are losing our farm workers, and we wish to lose fewer in the future. It may be that farmers can be squeezed out under the terms of this Clause.
I want the Minister to look not so much at the economic implications of the Clause but at the social and cultural ones. If this sort of thing were to go on to any large extent, we should lose a number of good people, people of good stock and stature in our countryside. We are already losing the leaders from our local councils, and we are losing village school population. We are losing far too many people from our countryside. I hope that what happens under this Clause will not accentuate the tendency for people to leave the countryside.
I am not one who believes in larger and larger farms for the sake of sheer size. Mechanisation, of course, means the lessening of work, fewer workers, and, possibly, more efficiency; but I do not want to see "factory farms" brought about by amalgamations under the Clause. Basically, I believe, man is a peasant. I do not want too many people to leave the countryside for the towns. Living in towns tends to make some people rather like "spivs". It is much more natural to live in the countryside. One finds in the country, especially among tenant farmers, people of more independence. They are an asset, and among them are leaders in our village life. Anything which tended to drive them to the towns would be bad. I know that the Minister earlier referred to the proviso which would, he said, guard against abuse. He quoted the words in the proviso to Clause 3 (2), and said that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist upon possession in all cases. There is a safeguard there, but I beg him to watch the matter carefully.
There has, in the past, been a tendency in speeches on both sides of the House to accentuate the antagonism between town and country. We do not want too many speeches about farmers' subsidies being too great, about farmers being this and that. Our job is to 1185 cement town and country together, not to emphasise what has in the past been the malaise of antagonism between town and country dweller. The townsman wants his food cheap, and some of us feel that, perhaps, this Government, in their search for cheap food to please the townsman, is going a little too far in Measures such as this. Our job is to hold them together, not to widen the gap. I have no wish to make any speeches about feather-bedding, as some of my Friends have done. I do not believe that farmers are feather-bedded at all.
It is entirely foolish to talk about £290 million worth of subsidies for farmers. A lot of that goes on behalf of my wife and the wives of hon. Members when they go shopping. Let us keep the thing in perspective. When the farmers do a good job, let us say so. Let us be honest. The figure is not £290 million; it may be less than £100 million. It is difficult to sort out; but, at least, let us do our best to be helpful in this matter and not attack farmers needlessly. Let us endeavour to keep the country, so to speak, at one with the town.
I spoke a moment ago about the Government searching for sources of cheap food. We have seen the dumping of butter in the United Kingdom, and New Zealanders complaining. Farmers here are very worried now lest the Government, in their search for cheap food to keep down the cost of living, and, consequently, of course, to lessen taxation, in their wish to make economies, should desert the farmer. Deserting the farmer means deserting the farm worker. It means deserting the villages and our countryside. I do not wish to see too many people coming to the towns. We are being Americanised enough as it is in our towns and cities; we do not want too many people to come to an atmosphere of juke boxes, Coca-cola, and the like. Village life has much more strength and independence and is a much more natural life, giving birth to typical British fibre. When hon. Members opposite talk about the British way of life, they are really talking about the way of life which has its origin in our countryside.
I wonder whether the Government really wish to preserve the countryside, in their desire to have cheap food in order to cut taxes for electoral advantage. Are 1186 they willing to jettison the countryside as the Government were in the 'twenties and 'thirties? I suspect that they are. Farmers, who have traditionally been the supporters of the party opposite, are moving away now; they certainly are in my county. My earlier quotations gave damning evidence of how they feel about the behaviour of the party opposite. I believe that the Government are willing to jettison the countryside. They have been and still are a Government of "gimmicks". They are hoping to hang on for another twelve months or so until 1959.
§ Mr. J. Johnson
Yes. Heaven help us if they do. This is another of their gimmicks, this time to the landlords, before they have to get out. I and farmers, too, think that it is a ghastly mistake. The National Farmers' Union thinks so. Even the Country Landowners' Association thinks so. Certainly, the farm workers think so. The Minister would be well advised, if not to tear up the whole Bill, at least to look at it very carefully and to delete a few of these Clauses later in Committee.
§ 7.48 p.m.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
We have heard several speeches from hon. Gentlemen opposite, each of whom has tried his best, somehow, to associate the existence of such parts of Part II of the Bill as are to go, with the high standards of farming in this country recently. None of them has been able to produce the smallest shred of evidence to show that that is so.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) was extremely eloquent and tried to leave that impression, but what he never referred to was the fact that the disciplinary code in those Clauses of Part II has not been operated for several years. In spite of that, the standard of our farming in recent years has become better and better. I am sure that we are all proud of it. Our production has been steadily increasing.
We have heard that there are misgivings among the farming community; farmers are wondering where they are going next, and all the rest of it. That could have been said every year since 1187 the end of the war, no matter what Government were sitting on the Front Bench. The fact is that the standard of farming since the war has gone up and up and is better than it has been for many years. What is more, it will continue to do so, and the Government are determined that it shall.
§ Mr. J. Johnson
May I pin the hon. Gentleman down to one particular misgiving of the farmer? Will he not agree that farmers as a whole are anxious about the Bill and are opposed to it?
I have noticed reports in various newspapers during earlier discussions on the Bill and I have seen that farming opinion is divided as to whether there are advantages in it or not. Certainly, in the end, the National Farmers' Union said that it preferred to see it remain.
I am convinced that a short time after the Bill has become law lamentation over these Clauses will have been forgotten altogether. One of the instincts of those of us with our roots in the farming industry is that we are always suspicious of any change. We are never sure whether we are changing the devil that we know for the devil that we do not know. In addition, hon. Gentlemen opposite have done their best to stir up ill feeling and to encourage the facility in some of the farming community for chasing shadows.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) is not here, but I regret to have lived to hear such a cheapjack speech. We like to think of the speeches that the right hon. Gentleman made in 1947 during the passage of the Bill with which his name will always be associated, and the line that he took during the Committee stage and other times in welcoming constructive criticism but always discouraging any tiresome criticism which he thought might harm the agricultural community.
We listened to what the right hon. Gentleman had to say this afternoon. He dipped about in the past and referred to other people being cynical about agriculture in the past. I am sorry that I did not bring my copy of the book that he wrote in those days. If anything is cynical about British agriculture, then it 1188 is some of the chapters in that book. I have never yet heard any renunciation from his lips of his old belief in the nationalisation of the land. It may well be that at conferences resolutions have been passed——
§ Mr. Willey
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not mean to be, but he is being most unfair to My right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend has said that he does not think that this is the time for nationalisation of the land. It is not fair to pass judgment on different circumstances. We can judge things only as they are at present. The hon. Gentleman has outrageously misinterpreted my right hon. Friend because, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, he has spoken at Labour Party conferences and has been reported as being against nationalisation of the land.
I would like the right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition to say something clear and categorical about this matter, and so would the farming community.
As for the objections which agricultural opinion is supposed to have raised against these two or three sections in the 1947 Act, it is interesting that the National Farmers' Union's enthusiasm for these sections have grown as they have been less operative. The enthusiasm of the Country Landowners' Association has always been subject to the proviso that the real sting should be taken out of them and, as for the enthusiasm of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, I do not think that it would ever be able to resist the temptation of taking the opposite line to a Tory Government. I cannot feel that the opposition which is supposed to exist is based on very solid foundations.
Another conclusion which might be drawn from listening to some of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite is that vast changes will immediately be felt by the majority of farmers. In fact, I think that only the very smallest fraction is ever likely to notice them at all. The landlord and tenant system as we know it is peculiarly British. It is not to be found in any of our neighbour countries on the Continent, and most people agree that, as it has shaped itself through the ages, it has created advantages for the majority of tenants and agricultural landowners.
1189 There are some on both fringes who may feel the reverse. There are some on one fringe to whom the advantage of complete independence would probably be greater. Similarly, there is a small minority on the other fringe who, shall we say, are occupying land which could be better occupied by others. But in general, the system has adapted itself through the ages and suits the majority, otherwise it would not exist.
The main reason is that it provides the capital for fixed equipment at substantially less cost than the market value of the sums involved. There is also not only an obligation but also a tradition that there shall be a flow of new capital into the industry. Surely we are all agreed that one of the greatest needs of agriculture at present is that the flow of capital for long-term improvements should increase. Probably the weakest point of the policy as developed by hon. Gentlemen opposite was that they did not make any provision for this flow of capital for fixed equipment except in limited fields.
They may have been right, that at a time of food shortage in so many parts of the world they should have put all their efforts into increasing this year's and next year's food supplies—short-term production rather than long-term production. They talked a great deal about long-term policy but they were more concerned, maybe rightly, with this year's and next year's crop. When we got through that period, this Government, properly, tried to stimulate the flow of capital for the provision of fixed equipment, and we are all glad to see that it has been increased.
With regard to agricultural rent, I am both a landowner and a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which has been mentioned, from whose ranks a great many arbitrators have been chosen, although I have never been on the panel and I am never likely to be. Nevertheless, one has friends who are on the panel. The intention of the Government in redefining what is the rent proper to the holding was not to change the effect of the wording in the 1947 Act, which was copied from the 1923 Act in the belief that circumstances post-1947 would be much the same as pre-war, and that everybody would know what that simple word meant.
1190 In fact, there has been a curiously artificial market, not for all land to let or for sale, but for some land, and the professional societies have made representations, I imagine, to the right hon. Member for Don Valley when he was Minister, as well as to the Ministers since his day, to give them a more precise definition of what they are supposed to do.
I am now going to agree with several sentences of hon. Members opposite. I should have thought that we humble Members of Parliament, amateur drafts-men, ought to be able together to find a form of words in Clause 2 which is not only fair, but will be seen to be fair by large sections of the agricultural community. I do not want to disparage the efforts that have gone into the drafting of this Clause, which has occupied the brains of dozens of committees over months. The farmer may feel that because of the complication in the language there is something meant to be incorporated which may work to his disadvantage. I do not believe that there is any such intention.
I hope that during the Committee stage we shall be able to find another form words which, if nothing else, incorporates the words "willing tenant". If we can have those words inserted it will appear to be fair, even if the meaning of the Clauses is not greatly changed. Some of the remarks which have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite about rent are suited to the variety stage rather than to serious consideration of this point. No one in his senses wants to accept an absurd rent for a farm, not least because after three years the occupier is entitled to go to arbitration. He will then lose the rent, but keep the doubtful tenant. In the ordinary run of good estate management, arbitration is practically unknown. All that the Bill is dealing with is the small fringe of difficult cases for which any code must provide.
The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) was talking about rent. I have heard him talk about it before and one thinks that he is rehearsing for an auction mart speech. Of all the farmer's main outgoings, rent is the item which has moved least since pre-war days. If the price of raw materials and the cost of services, the costs of distribution and the general level of salaries and wages, 1191 throughout the country had not moved more than the average rent of agricultural land since 1938, the word "inflation" would never have been heard.
Those who own land can be proud that in spite of increased costs of repairs, they have managed somehow to keep the show going. It has been done, however, only at a certain price. That price has been a reduction of the flow of new capital into the industry. If somebody who is fortunate enough to have a little capital to invest and is considering whether to put it into agricultural improvements and sees that the money already invested in agricultural land is yielding practically nothing, he may well be encouraged not to improve the land, but to invest his money elsewhere. There is, therefore, this other side to the picture.
The temptation to hon. Members opposite to try to create the biggest possible fears may well be too great to resist, but I am certain that there will not be any big or rapid change in rental values as a result of the Clause, either in its existing form or with the incorporation of any Amendments which the two sides may together be able to persuade my right hon. Friend the Minister to accept. At present, the average rent of agricultural land represents 5 or 6 per cent. of the outgoings of a typical farm, as compared with about 11 per cent. before the war.
My right hon. Friend points out that the pre-war figure was 15 per cent. Every farmer knows the costs of servicing borrowed capital, and rent is in many ways to be compared with interest on borrowed capital.
I hope that as the Bill proceeds on its way, hon. Members opposite will make constructive criticisms which bear some relation to reality and are not designed simply to create ghosts with which they hope to frighten farmers. One knows that they were piqued at the end of their term of office because they made so little impression in the agricultural constituencies. One understands that they might wish to have another try, but they are not likely to do themselves much good by referring to the Bill as a "black day for agriculture."
1192 The Bill is largely administrative. The 1947 Act reached the Statute Book soon after the end of the war. It included an extremely complicated administrative code. Now that we have left the war ten years behind, when we look at agriculture and its administrative set-up in the light of today and how we intend it to develop tomorrow and the day after, it is not surprising that we do not wish to be bound by the complicated administrative set-up which emerged from the war and which was appropriate in those days. I support the Bill and I hope that it will have an easy passage through its various stages and through both Houses of Parliament.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), because it is not often that we in Wales are faced with a real landlord. Most of the people in Wales are owner-occupiers. I was glad to listen to the hon. Member, because I assume that he is a good landlord. If as a landlord he is anything like the same as he is as a Member of Parliament, he is a decent gentleman. That does not, however, give him licence to say what he did about my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams).
My right hon. Friend is always forthcoming in his advocacy of agriculture, and I regret that the hon. Member for Westmorland said what he did today. I advise him to await the Labour Party annual conference, which will deal with agriculture when it meets this year in Scarborough. The hon. Member will no doubt be surprised at what the Labour Party says about agriculture in view of present-day conditions.
I can understand why the hon. Member should criticise us on this side for our criticisms of the repeal of Part II of the 1947 Act, but we are not alone. The whole farming community makes the same criticism. I hope that every organ of the Welsh Press which deals with agriculture will carry a full report of what my right hon. Friend said today, because he made an excellent speech. I have not always spoken in those terms about my right hon. Friend, but I can do so today.
It would be as well if copies of my right hon. Friend's speech were made available for distribution by my own 1193 party, not necessarily at the Torrington by-election, but for future agricultural policy. [Interruption.] I did not realise that the Torrington by-election was taking place today. If the constituents there have the same Celtic fervour that we have in Wales, there is no doubt that some kind of radical, at least, will displace the Tories. We have had great lamentation from the hon. Member for Westmorland about what has been happening in agriculture, but there will be greater lamentations in a few years' time from the operation of the Bill.
I have tried to take part in our debates on every agricultural Measure since 1945, but on no other occasion have I had to cross swords with the Government Front Bench as I do today because of the controversial Clauses. I am certain that the small farmers will read carefully what is said during these two days of debate. They are apprehensive of the Government's intentions in repealing Part II of the 1947 Act.
One hon. Member has told us that the Bill has had a good Press. I have with me all the cuttings from the Welsh Press, but not a single one supports the Bill. For example, the paper which circulates widely in the farming community in Wales—the Welsh Farm News, a new publication—carries headlines of this kind:They resent amendments to 1947 Act.Hardship to the small man.Less security at a higher rent.That is a good one. I hope that in Committee hon. Members on this side will try to improve the provisions of the Bill.
The leading article in the Welsh Farm News as recently as 8th March had this to say:The obituary notice of Part II of the 1947 Agriculture Act has been published.It is, in fact, an obituary notice. What I am afraid of is that there is something more sinister behind it, because the article goes on to say:The decision to repeal Part II has been taken against the advice of the industry and the Government's action will plunge agriculture into a morass of unnecessary controversy.I very much regret the unnecessary controversy.
1194 The National Farmers' Union in Wales and the Farmers' Union of Wales, both organisations which cater for farmers in Wales, oppose the repeal of Part II. The 1947 Act was accepted in good faith on both sides of the House. In the 1950 Election campaign, when I said a great deal about the 1947 Act, the Conservative Party brought a galaxy of speakers to oppose me in my rural constituency and they all said that that was an agreed Measure between the two parties. If it were an agreed Measure in 1947, what has happened since then to cause the disagreement about Part II? I shall be interested to hear the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's reply.
Part II of the 1947 Act laid down the rules of good husbandry and good estate management. It was accepted as a corollary to public support for agriculture. No one will deny that. It is the provision which should be made for agriculture today. As far as I know, there has been no great protest against supervision as such. I am not a farmer in this sense, but my experience is that supervision has been good in some cases because it has carried with it advice from the National Agricultural Advisory Service. In most of the cases under supervision there has been advantage to the farmers themselves. In any case, what is wrong with disciplinary measures? If there were no disciplinary measures in the rule of the road people would drive on each side of the road. We need a rule of the road in order that there should be good conduct on the road. What is wrong with applying the same principle to agriculture, as long as it is applied in the right direction? The agitation for the repeal of Part II has come not from inside the industry but from outside it, and it has arisen because of such cases as that of Lady Garbett.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) knows as much about Radnor-shire as I do, because many of his activities—good and honourable activities—have taken place there. He was one of those good persons who declared himself opposed to Part I of the 1947 Act. I admired him for saying that, but he will admit that there has not been a great deal of agitation against Part II of the Act. After all, who should do the supervision? Who better than the colleagues of the farmers themselves, as members of executive committees? If there had 1195 been anything wrong, surely it would have been spotted.
My quarrel with the county executive committees at one time was that they were inclined to overlook some people with whom they were too closely connected. I am sure that the hon. Member for Leominster agrees with me about this, because he has had the same experience. But to condemn the whole system is wrong, and I hope that there will be second thoughts about it. If there is a reason for the repeal of Part II, the Parliamentary Secretary ought to be more forthcoming about it than was the Minister.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson), I cannot understand why the Government should say anything about rents at this stage. I agree that rents should come under consideration at some time or another, but why not await the independent survey into farm rents now being conducted by the Department of Estate Management at Cambridge? Why not await that report? Open market value would be an entirely impossible criterion for rents, but the lawyers can argue that in Committee. I am not a lawyer.
Security of tenure will be undermined by the Bill. We have a great cause in our fight for security of tenure in Wales which goes back to the beginning of the century and before then. I raise the issue now because I am concerned about the future of small farms and small units. In my opinion, there is a danger under Clause 3—a danger which is mentioned in the Mid-Wales Investigation Report—of small units being compulsorily amalgamated. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has made declarations on other occasions to the effect that he is not in favour of compulsory amalgamation, but there is a danger under Clause 3 that if a landlord makes out a case for the amalgamation of units it will be difficult to resist it.
The landlord will be encouraged by the Farm Improvement Scheme, because if he wants a grant towards adequate surveyor's fees he can obtain a grant of one-third towards expenses. It would be a great temptation to amalgamate some small units under that Clause. It would become another method of compulsory amalgamation without using that name 1196 for it. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will set my mind at ease about this and will reassure others, too, when he replies.
I am in favour of Clause 4 because it gives a direction to the landlord to provide, alter or repair fixed equipment. That is very welcome. On the other hand, I am not happy about the position which the county committees will occupy when the Bill becomes an Act or about the Minister's intentions towards them. I know that he is awaiting a report on the administration of county agricultural executive committees, but I should like to emphasise that the nation can ill afford to be without some administration in this sense and without the advice which is required on farms.
These committees could do a great deal. In my opinion, they could go even further than give advisory services to farmers on cultivation and production. I want to see them launch out with an advisory service on machinery. At present, a number of farmers have too much machinery while others have no machinery at all. It should be possible to provide an advisory service in that respect or even an advisory service for the machinery already on the farms in order that the maximum activity can be obtained from it to make agriculture efficient.
From time to time I talk to people who understand something about agriculture, and I hope that the House will take my remarks on the next subject in a kindly way. From time to time I travel with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). He has a farm, and I have been surprised at his knowledge of some aspects of farming. Because of the problems of the hydrogen bomb, he does not have time these days to declare his interest in farming, but I have gained a lot from him. First of all, I asked him why he went to England to do his farming, and he said, "If in your constituency you had some good services to enable me to travel backwards and forwards to London as quickly as I wish, I should not mind residing in your constituency." That is why I am constantly agitating for better electricity services and better water supplies and sewerage schemes.
My right hon. Friend made one or two very good suggestions about farming. He said that we should have more progeny 1197 units for pig breeding in order to produce first-class pigs for our farms. There is something in that. I know nothing about it myself, but I think the House should consider the suggestion. Next, he asked why we cannot have centres for breeding milking cows. Instead of farmers bringing up calves in the present way, why not send milking cows from the centre to the farm? After we have obtained all possible productivity from the milking cow, we can afterwards dispose of the cow. That is not a bad idea, but, like other ideas, it is not being considered. The House ought to be concerned not with reactionary steps but with positive steps.
I think that the timing of the Bill is entirely wrong. If the Bill is required at all it would have been much better to have introduced it after the Annual Price Review, because all farmers, and particularly small farmers, are anxiously awaiting the news from the House on the B.B.C. or on television about the Price Review. Before they hear that news they have to contend with this Bill. If we are to consider anything about agriculture at the moment we ought to consider something of greater importance than the Bill.
What we need and ought to be debating is a good agricultural policy, which we should consider irrespective of party and for the sake of the nation. We ought to be debating the problems of a free market in agriculture. When I examine the problem of rural depopulation in my constituency, what is the first thing everybody asks me? "Can you guarantee a stable and a good agricultural policy?" Would it not be better to come to that aspect of the matter and not to consider the things which are the subject of this Bill, which is not really needed and has not been asked for by the agricultual industry? We ought rather to be considering a vital policy for this very great industry of agriculture which can make this great nation greater.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Percivall Pott (Devizes)
I am delighted to hear from the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) that the two branches of the farmers' organisation there agree at least in one thing. That would not necessarily make me feel it to be the correct answer.
I am amazed to have heard what has been said in the House today about the 1198 activities of those people who have served so loyally on the estate management committees of the county executives. I can assure hon. Members that when I was honoured to do that we were not looked upon as the blue-eyed boys of the industry. We were certainly always referred to as interfering snoops. I do not believe for one moment that the agricultural industry ever wished to see the disciplinary powers of Part II put into full force, and they never were. They never were for the simple reason that in the period immediately after the passing of the Act we had a very small national agricultural advisory service and, therefore, it was impossible to undertake all the work which was needed at that time.
I was very surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) talked as though the number of dispossession cases had fallen. There never was a very large number of bad farmers, and if they were thrown out of their farms it would be pretty deplorable if there were an equal number at the finish who needed to have dispossession or supervision orders made against them. Of course the numbers were going to fall, but no one who had practical knowledge of the workings of the estate management committees of the county executives really believed that the methods used were sound.
They were semi-judicial, we are told, and yet a defendant had no knowledge of what the case would be against him before appearing before them. I personally am delighted that the system is shortly going to be dead and buried. I believe, and I certainly hope, that the Lord Chancellor will see that the instructions given to the chairmen of the tribunals are such as to ensure that any party appearing before a tribunal shall have full information of the charge he has to face.
I am surprised that no one today has referred to Part IV of the 1947 Act, because Part IV is the Part under which statutory small holdings are set up. In his speech on the Second Reading of the 1947 Bill the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture said, referring to small holdings:If they make a success of these holdings, as we certainly hope they will, then if they have managed to build up their own resources and wish to advance still further, they will be qualified to take a bigger holding."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 787.]1199 Those with experience of the statutory smallholding organisation know that every time we put a tenant in one of those holdings we are almost certainly putting him in as a life tenant, because there are no bigger farms for him to go to. We have heard it said that the smallholding system should be the first rung of the ladder so that a man can climb to a big farm. A one-rung ladder is a pretty useless tool if one is striving to climb to the heights. We know that as a result of the security of tenure given under the 1947 Act we have been unable to get the necessary movement among the tenant farmers to allow our smallholders to go ahead, or to allow the sons of our good farmers to find holdings on which they could develop their ability. If we can get fair rentals, if we can get reasonable security of tenure, but not an absolutely full security, then I believe we may save the tenant-landlord system in agriculture; but only then.
We have heard much said to the effect that rents going up is very serious, but I do not think that even if rents went up appreciably the situation would be anything like as serious as the position in which we were—not now that we are bringing in this Bill, but before it was published—when a landlord who got hold of his farm was faced with one of two alternatives, to farm it himself or to sell it. Far too many sold; I believe they sold because they did not wish to put another life tenant into a holding.
In my opinion, this Bill is not a replacement but an improvement, and the House will agree that if after ten years' experience of the 1947 Act we found that there was nothing that needed improving in it, it would not be an Act of Parliament: it would be a miracle.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott) doubted the wisdom of the supervision orders which are the subject of Clause 1. He doubted their value. On the other hand, I take the view that the value of the supervision orders, and ultimately, of course, the dispossession orders, which were very few, lay in their being a form of sanction in the background of agricultural policy, to be used only occasionally, only rarely, being there more for their moral effect than in order 1200 to count the number of cases or sequels arising out of them. It is that which we have to bear in mind, and particularly the fact that the Agriculture Act, 1947, was drawn up on the understanding that all its Parts, I, II and III, stood together as a whole.
Part I laid it down that the nation had an interest in the industry and was prepared to pay money provided by the taxpayers in order to stabilise the industry and to get prices on a level. On the other hand, Parts II and III, in return for this, laid it down that support for the farmer carried obligations to the nation, particularly to the taxpayers who provided the money. The landlords, too, were under an obligation to keep their properties in order so that the tenant could operate. The State, in fact, had a right to demand a proper standard of farming from the tenant and to demand from the landlord a proper standard of maintenance. Machinery was set up to ensure that farms and lands were maintained in this way.
In this Bill the Government have driven a coach and four right through the delicate balance of the 1947 Agriculture Act. Even worse, it seems that the abolition of the obligations of the industry under Part II may be only a prelude to nibbling away Part I of that Act. I notice it has been widely protested by supporters of the Government today that this is not so. They put their hands on their hearts and say it is not so, but it is significant that if one looks at certain organs of public opinion, such as The Times and the Economist, who are always ready to snipe and carp at the subsidies to agriculture, they have been most enthusiastic about getting rid of Part II of the Act, as is provided under Clause 1 of this Bill.
The Economist said on 8th March:The Government are right to remove this meaningless birch from the cupboard.It does not want the birch, of course, but it wants the excuse to say that the industry is inefficient and, therefore, the subsidies ought to go. Small wonder that the National Farmers' Union and even the Central Landowners' Association are nervous about the situation created by this Bill.
I maintain that the 1947 Act has worked fairly on the whole. Complaints made against Part II do not come from 1201 farmers and tenants but largely from those outside the industry. One or two cases, like the Crichel Down case, have pinpointed the issue and, in consequence, there has been agitation to get rid of it. Moreover, supervision orders have in general succeeded in helping the farmers. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) pointed out, only a few supervision orders led to the final sanction of dispossession. In most cases I know about in my neighbourhood, supervision orders led to a steady improvement and the dropping of the order.
One hon. Gentleman opposite argued that it is now much more difficult to supervise a farm because conditions are vaguer than they were in the days when it was a question of raising production at all costs to meet the wartime situation and shortage. It is true that the problem today is not so much one of raising production as of reducing costs and of the industry being efficient. I maintain, however, that even now there can be just as much use for advice from the Agricultural Advisory Service and the next stage, supervision, although perhaps dispossession now is much more difficult and less necessary than before. Still, supervision is as necessary in the much more difficult task of reducing costs as in the easier job of raising production.
Particularly significant is Clause 7, which provides that the spread of weeds on to a neighbour's land must be prevented. It says nothing about the existence of weeds on a farmer's own land. That is practically equivalent to saying that it does not matter how much couch grass and docks grow on one's land so long as one does not grow thistles, because neither couch grass nor docks spread easily whereas thistles matter very much to one's neighbour.
Clause 7 reveals the true intention of the Bill, to abandon all attempts to insist upon standards of cultivation. There can be no safety for agriculture unless the mutual guarantees between the State and the industry, laid down in the Act of 1947, are maintained.
On the other hand, I agree, Clauses 2, 3 and 4 do something to remove anomalies in the renting and holding of agricultural tenancies. Today a dual system exists and values may depend on whether there is a sitting tenant or vacant 1202 possession. As the hon. Member for Devizes pointed out, it is often difficult for a landlord to get rid of a bad or indifferent tenant to make way for a better and younger man.
Clause 2 lays down as the basis of rent what a willing landlord would ask as rent. It says nothing about a willing tenant, and the Clause can be criticised on that ground. I understood the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) to raise that matter. We can consider in Committee whether we should insert a provision to lay down the basis of rent not only on what a willing landlord would ask, but on what a willing tenant would be prepared to pay. On the whole, Clause 2, if it is amended, should get rid of certain anomalies.
There is something to be said for referring not only to a willing landlord but to a fair and reasonable landlord, an expression which is found in a later Clause. A landlord may be willing, but he ought to be reasonable and fair as well. Clauses 2 and 3, particularly Clause 2, make it possible for a landlord to get his fair return, but not an unreasonable return. He is entitled to that, as long as the system exists.
On the whole, as things are today, the landlord-tenant system is reasonable and does work, and with wise legislation to prevent abuses on either side it can continue. On average, rents have increased by only 60 per cent. over the 1939 level, whereas costs, maintenance and so on, have increased by 200 per cent.
When I inherited my agricultural land from my grandfather in the years before the First World War, we always reckoned to put by year by year not less than 30 per cent. of the rents for repairs. We always tried to do our best, and I think we succeeded. Then came the two world wars, and between them the terrible world economic blizzard which blew everything —values and prices—to smithereens. Today, at least 50 per cent. and very often 100 per cent. of the rent income has to be spent in repairs, and even more if capital improvements are taken into account.
My experience is that good tenants will willingly pay interest upon capital approved by county advisory committees and others who have knowledge of these matters. In that way, if a landlord has the urge to do it—as he should, or he has 1203 no right to be a landlord—he can get a return. Nevertheless, there is still a case for a greater freedom in negotiating rents, as provided by Clause 2, if abuses are prevented. The Clause goes some way in the right direction, but the matter will have to be watched very carefully in Committee and the Clause will have to be tightened up here and there in order to prevent abuse.
Clauses 3 and 4 also have some good points which can be accepted. Clause 3 makes it possible for a landlord to get rid of a really bad or an indifferent tenant and so provide an opportunity for a younger man. Many of the keen young men who have been to college and have studied in agricultural educational institutions have a fearful job finding an opening. Although there is very little bad farming, there is a great deal of indifferent farming, and it is necessary to loosen the provisions a little and make it possible for this problem to be dealt with.
A serious weakness about the Clause is that it no longer provides that the Minister should arbitrate in cases of dispute; it sets up agricultural land tribunals as the final arbiters. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley that that is a dangerous precedent. I do not see how a lawyer can properly judge these intricate technical matters. The land tribunal will have to define the meaning of "good husbandry" as mentioned in Clause 3 (1, a); "sound management" in subsection (1, b), and the sort of equipment that should be provided on a farm as mentioned in Clause 4 (1, a).
These are very technical and difficult questions, upon which we cannot expect a man without some knowledge or training in agriculture to give any opinion, much less come to a vital decision. I have read the Franks Report, and there is much truth in what it says in regard to the preservation of the civil liberty of citizens, but I do not think these difficult technical questions should be given to lawyers to solve, because I do not think they can do so satisfactorily. In these days, when questions of technique and of industrial and agricultural efficiency come up for adjudication, they cannot be given to a lawyer to solve; they must be given to someone with a knowledge of agriculture. To my mind, 1204 the provisions of the 1947 Act are as good as it is possible to get, and I am sorry that the Bill takes away from the Minister his function in this respect and sets up the land tribunals to adjudicate in these cases.
Although this Bill has some good points which may be improved during the Committee stage discussion, it has the fatal defect of Clause 1. It is so serious that we on this side of the House are under an absolute duty to oppose it unless the Parliamentary Secretary can give us an undertaking—I am sure that he cannot—that Clause 1 will be withdrawn.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
The whole of the debate today has centred round this Bill, which is unique, because when we have a debate on the Second Reading of an Agriculture Measure very often advantage is taken by hon. Members to get away from the actual contents of the Bill.
In following the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), which I also had the honour of doing about three weeks ago in another agriculture debate, I was struck by the fundamental difference between the approach of the hon. Member and my own to this subject. Everyone who knows the hon. Member has the greatest respect for his knowledge of agriculture and many other matters. It seemed to me that there were two things upon which he concentrated today.
The hon. Member thought that the "stick" had a moral value and that the moral value would be effective. That has always been the argument for retaining legislative "sticks"—that they will not be used very much but they have a moral value. One must consider whether that moral value is worth legislation which, to a certain degree, imposes a restriction upon the liberty of the subject.
The second thing which struck me while the hon. Member was making his speech was that the kind of sincere and genuine speech which he always makes as a supporter of the Labour Party is so truly Conservative that he cannot see that there should ever be change. He dislikes the idea of change, and a number of hon. Members opposite are of the same 1205 opinion. They look for a Machiavellian reason why Clause 1 has been included in the Bill. They argue that, after all, the powers to be repealed were rarely used. Yet the change that has come about has been considerable.
Hon. Members have referred to the 1947 Act. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West and myself were in the House when it was going through. The speech made today by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) horrified me. I trust that he did not do it deliberately, but the hon. Member misrepresented the position at that time. The 1947 Act had a Second Reading without a Division. It was considered by a Standing Committee of which the hon. Member said that I was a member, but I did not have the honour of serving upon that Committee. I have been to the Library and confirmed that the Amendments moved to Part I of the Act dealt with this very important point.
The Act as it then was, and as it was ultimately written, did not give the security to the farmer for assured markets and guaranteed prices other than in these words, in Section 1 (1):… the provision of guaranteed prices and assured marketsfor promoting and maintaininga stable and efficient agricultural industry capable of producing such part of the nation's food and other agricultural produce as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom".Consequently, many of us felt at that time, and, indeed, we were right, that should the scarcity markets of the world ever change to markets of abundance those words would give no security whatever to our agricultural industry.
The former Minister of Agriculture, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and myself expressed ourselves on many occasions upon this subject. Parliament buttressed the 1947 Act with the 1957 Act, so that whether or not Governments were faced with difficult economic conditions in which scarcity markets no longer existed, having become markets of abundance, and falling commodity prices, our farmers could be secure in their long-dated knowledge that the overall figure would not and could not be reduced more than 2½ per cent. on the global figure. It is entirely a misrepresentation to suggest that the principles underlying the Agriculture Act, 1947, were not entirely 1206 agreed by both Government and the then Opposition.
I was very surprised at the truly remarkable speech made by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). Those hon. Members who have been here for a very long time have a great respect and affection for him. I hope that he will not mind if I associate myself with the Minister in wishing him many happy returns of the day.
The outburst that started forth on the Bill focussed my attention on the fact that the 1947 Act was the right hon. Gentleman's baby. Whether time had altered it, and whether abundance had replaced scarcity or not, somebody was touching his baby, and an outraged "nanny" was facing me across the Floor of the House. I have a great partiality and liking for "nannies," but I must point out that it is the parents who should be in control of the child.
Moreover, a child does not always remain an infant. That is where the hon. Member for Don Valley appeared to be forgetful. To him, this was a major question, because something was altering the life of the infant. All the words in the world could not direct his attention to the fact that the infant had grown up, and was no longer an infant, that times were different, and that his original great Act of 1947 needed not only the adjustment provided in the 1957 Act but the adjustment in the present Bill.
§ Mr. Marshall
I not only observed that, but, if the hon. and learned Member will allow me, I will give him at least my opinion of why that body feels that way. I will not put it higher.
In casual conversation with a number of individuals I do not find that all who belong to that group share the view expressed by the National Farmers' Union. It is a great and important body which has done much and will do much for farmers. I believe that this attitude arises purely from conservatism and fear. Its job is to look a long way ahead and it may well be that one of its fears is that the present Government might one day change.
§ Mr. Marshall
I should like the hon. and learned Member to listen to me.
If it changed it might well use the excuse that if this were not buttressed by the big stick it had some reason not to do as Her Majesty's Government are doing at present, safeguarding the health of the farming industry. That might be the fear, but I do not believe legislation based on fear is ever, or ever will be, good legislation. I do not believe that the actual instrument of taking and dispossessing of land in this way is a matter which really worries the N.F.U. at all.
The right hon. Member for Don Valley and the hon. Member for Workington suggested that this was a tragic, bleak day for the farming industry. They said this was going back to the dogs. Some pedigree dog, worth £260 million or £270 million! I think it worth mentioning, in passing, although it has not anything to do with the Bill, that if we look at the different prices for agricultural products throughout the world, nation by nation, overall the cheapest producing nation is Great Britain. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member would like me to quote that at great length.
§ Mr. Marshall
That is so, but I was talking of production of the land acre by acre and making the comparison with production throughout the world.
We must realise that although almost the whole of the debate has been concerned with Clause 1 of the Bill, there are other Clauses which have to do with the views expressed by the Franks Committee in its Report. The tribunal system of inquiry was set up primarily to deal with the principle of the liberty of the subject. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members opposite and my right hon. and hon. Friends, apart from ultimately dividing the House for reasons I shall not go into, on this subject will retain in their minds at all times, in all forms of legislation, the question whether the principle of divorcing something from the liberty of the subject is, in fact, sufficient reason for divorce.
1208 There, again, I go back to what was said on this very subject by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West. If part of his reason for being against Part I of the Bill was its moral standing, but that, quite possibly, he would not want to see the actual device being used too frequently, then, as a lover of our form of liberty and democracy, he must weigh whether, in those circumstances, it would not be far better to remove that device from our Statute Book to obtain the spirit, with which, undoubtedly, he agrees, and for which I should have thought he would have been prepared to sacrifice the very few cases occurring, and the doubtful question of a stick. If, on the other hand——
§ Mr. Philips Price
What I really wanted to say was that although I think that dispossession is something that should very rarely be used now, I do not think that supervision should be whittled down. On the contrary, it can be used just as usefully as before. Dispossession is a very serious matter. There might be serious cases, such as that of which we heard the other day, when it should be used, but, otherwise, certainly not.
§ Mr. Marshall
I think that our difference of opinion is narrowing somewhat. I believe that the National Advisory Services will be used far more when this power of dispossession is taken away; that more advice and knowledge and skill will pour into those places that need them than there would if this Bill never became an Act. That must be a matter of opinion, but it is what I believe.
The right hon. Member for Don Valley mentioned certain income figures for farming generally. I will not attempt to dispute them; in fact, up to a point, I may even add to them. I am sure that the Minister will have noted that in the Report of the "Three Wise Men" there appear these words, in page 19:Farmers' income rose very fast from 1938 to 1948; it has hardly risen since 1952.I trust that when considering these matters he will take into account that although efficiency and all the rest of it have gone on, the income has not risen. All these matters weigh very considerably.
1209 In a Second Reading debate on a Bill like this, one cannot go into many questions to which I am quite sure hon. Members would otherwise like to apply their minds——
§ Mr. Marshall
The hon. and learned Gentleman may not have heard me. I said that I was not in any way disputing the figures given by the right hon. Member for Don Valley, but only confirming them in another way and, therefore, in another way, putting pressure on the Minister.
There are other matters concerning the farming industry as a whole of which I am sure hon. Members would very much have liked to have spoken. I began by saying that in some ways it is quite remarkable that hon. Members have kept more or less to the Bill itself, whereas on previous occasions, over the last twelve or thirteen years, we have had a roving debate on agriculture when the opportunity arose. The interest in the Bill itself has been such as to keep us to it.
When I first heard what this Bill contained and when I read it after it was published, it did not give me any startling delight. I did not feel the passion which the right hon. Member for Don Valley felt, that his child had been hurt, nor, on the other hand, did I feel that it would revolutionise the farming industry. I felt that Part I of the Agriculture Act, 1947, had been so buttressed by the 1957 Act that the agriculture industry had security there. Equally, I felt that, to conform with the principles of the Franks Report, with which, in my heart, I agree, as, I believe, do hon. Members generally, it was right and proper to support the Bill in the House. It will, in the end, benefit the farming industry and will lead to the injection of capital into farming. At no time will there be any hurt caused by it.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) made an extra- 1210 ordinarily good debating speech. It was one of the best speeches on the Bill I have heard from the opposite side of the House. If the hon. Gentleman had not quoted from the Cohen Report, I should have done so. It spotlights the fact that, while his party has been in power, the incomes of farmers have fallen. That is not a good thing. It is indicative of the failure of the Government really to safeguard the interests of this great industry.
I shall not range over the whole of agricultural policy because, like the hon. Member for Bodmin, I consider that there is sufficient in the Bill for us to discuss. There are points in it which ought to be brought out, and I propose, therefore, very largely to deal with the Bill itself and what I think it means to the industry and the country.
The brilliance of the attack of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and his rapier-like thrusts, backed by his unique knowledge of agricultural politics, found all the weak spots in arguments which the Minister put in favour of his Bill. My right hon. Friend tore the Bill to pieces, and left very little for anyone on the opposite benches to say. The only fault I can find in what my right hon. Friend did is that he made it very difficult for those of us who have to follow after him from the Opposition Front Bench, so completely and so well did he cover all points of attack upon the Bill. He had a "birthday" in more senses than one today.
My hon. and right hon. Friends have mounted an attack upon the Bill which it will be extremely difficult for those who speak from the Government Front Bench to answer in any attempts they may make to justify the Bill. My objections are directed mainly against the parts which deal with supervision and dispossession and the fixing of farm rentals, though this is not to say that I am wholly in favour of the provisions which enable a landlord to obtain possession of his farm more easily than in the past.
The House must examine the Bill against the background of our increasing difficulties in the balance of payments and all that that involves. We have to face Britain's altered and continually altering relationship with the rest of the 1211 world, clearly recognising that we can hope to keep 50 million people alive in these islands and on a rising standard of living only if we make the maximum use of all our resources—resources of brains and inherited and acquired skills—and of our few raw materials, the most important of which, I think, is our land.
It was this realisation and the clear recognition of the fact that farmers and farm workers are entitled to a reasonable share of the nation's prosperity that called into being the 1947 Act. This Act was not based on any ideology. There was nothing doctrinaire about the Act. There is nothing doctrinaire about our objections to the Bill. Our objections do not stem from a doctrinaire principle. They are rooted in the simple fact that the circumstances which brought the Act into being have not changed sufficiently to warrant a fundamental alteration in the structure or framework within which this great industry has to function.
If anyone is being doctrinaire, it certainly is not Her Majesty's Opposition; it is the Government of the day, those who have brought the Bill into being. Neither are we looking backwards, except to learn from the past in order that we might build for the future. It is right that we should remember what happened in the past and ensure that we never make the same mistakes again.
That is what we are doing. Hon. Members on this side of the House still want the highest practicable degree of prosperity for the men and women employed in this industry. In addition, we still want the optimum use of the nation's land. It cannot be stressed too often that we are discussing the nation's land. Those who farm and own it hold the land in trust for the nation; and it is our job to ensure, as far as possible, that the land is properly used and is not misused by anybody. It is such a vital and precious asset that we dare not see it misused.
Parts I, II and III of the 1947 Act were parts of a comprehensive whole. Part I provided for the prosperity of the industry. Of course, a vital part of the prosperity of agriculture is based upon Part I of the 1947 Act. Part II provided for the assistance of poor and bad farmers and gave them substantial help through the guidance of the county agricultural execu- 1212 tive committees, composed, as they are, substantially of farmers. Finally, in incurable cases, the sanction of dispossession was made to apply both to farmers and, as was proper, to landowners. Part III provided security of tenure to enable the tenant-farmer to plan ahead in his own and the nation's interests.
It has been said, and rightly so, that the 1947 Act was a mixture of the carrot and the stick. Part I provided the carrot and Part II the admonition and then, if necessary, the stick. The carrot remains. It is true that it is a bit smaller than it was, and I venture to prophesy that it will be smaller still after the current Price Review. This carrot will be diminishing as a result of the actions of the Government and I believe that the Price Review will carry on the policy which, the hon. Member for Bodmin says, has been going on since the present Government came into power—a diminution in the farmers' incomes.
The stick has not been wielded over many of the past years. Indeed, the county agricultural executive committees have not been encouraged vigorously and robustly to carry out their tasks in this connection. If the Minister talks about veterinary surgeons saying that it is part of their job to recognise a dead horse when they see one, I would agree with him, but would say that it is the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors who killed the horse.
§ Mr. John Hare
Both the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and the hon. Member have tried to make out in their arguments that even supervision orders have played a major part in the last ten years. In the last ten years, however, for three of which the right hon. Member for Don Valley was in office, there have been only 4,200 supervision orders. Supervision orders, therefore, have been made at the rate of only 400 a year. I have already explained that dispossessions have been at the rate of only 40 a year.
§ Mr. Champion
These are some of the figures to which I am coming and I shall dilate upon them. In 1951, when the county agricultural executive committees were sitting in judgment on their fellows, 1,588 out of 277,000 farmers were under supervision. In that same 1213 year, 70 farmers were dispossessed. Estate owners under supervision numbered 344 and nine of these estates were the subject of compulsory purchase.
The present position is as follows. We were told by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on 11th November last year thatSince February, 1956, estate management supervision orders have been served on 8 owners, and husbandry supervision orders on 23 occupiers. None of these has been recommended for dispossession."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 11.]What I am suggesting is that as a result of a deliberate act of policy, if not a deliberate instruction, it was understood by the county agricultural executive committees that they were expected not to use these powers as strongly as they ought to have used them.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle) rose——
§ Mr. Champion
I should like to think that that state of affairs represents the efficiency of the industry. The facts, however, are different and every good farmer knows that they are different. Anyone who has eyes to see or ears to hear knows full well that there are still too many bad farmers in possession of our land today——
§ Commander Maitland rose——
§ Commander Maitland
I congratulate the hon. Member on his wit and apologise for interrupting him, but I had previously tried to interrupt him when he was not in the middle of a sentence. What the House wants to know is this: if the hon. Member and his party were returned to office, would they replace Part II? If they would, then would they apply the same sort of sanctions to the other industries which are indirectly protected?
§ Mr. Champion
It must be remembered that this was part of a comprehensive whole. It was part of a bargain which was entered into between the Government, representing the taxpayer, and the industry as a whole. I believe that that bargain was right and that it was the correct bargain to make in the circumstances. We ought not to depart from the bargain which was entered into at that time.
§ Mr. Champion
We have very many first-class farmers in this country but there are still too many bad farmers. I am not talking about farming judged from a railway carriage window or anywhere like that; I am stating what is the knowledge of every good farmer, which is that there are still too many bad farmers. Despite what he said in an excellent speech, the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott) knows perfectly well that that is the case.
Ministers and others have spoken about increased productivity and the production of this industry. We on this side of the House are entitled to take some pride in this increase, unlike Governments of pre-war days, which were composed mainly of Tories, of whom Lord Beaverbrook said:The Conservative Members of the House of Commons have done nothing whatever to increase production on our soil since the day when they came into power through our exertions.Despite what has been said about the increased output, I believe that we have not yet reached the limit of the capacity of our land to feed us without a lavish and wasteful use of input. That is extremely important in this connection; we must always have regard to the amount of input in order to obtain a given output.
The Sections of Part II of the 1947 Act were part of a complete policy for the industry. This is made clear when it is remembered that a conference in 1944, held under the auspices of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, said, among other things:In return for a guaranteed price level, all owners and occupiers of rural land must accept an obligation to maintain a reasonable standard of good husbandry and good estate management, and submit to the necessary measure of direction and guidance subject to provisions for appeal to an impartial tribunal.Those who subscribed to that fair statement were the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the National Farmers' Union, the Council of Agriculture for England, the Council of Agriculture for Wales, the Country Landowners' Association, the National Union of Agricultural Workers, the Transport and General Workers' Union, the Land Union, the Chartered Surveyors' Institute, 1215 the Land Agents' Association and the Land Settlement Association. Those are bodies which I should say represent every interest on the production side of this industry.
I should like to ask the Minister this question. How many of these organisations have written to him or approached him or his predecessors asking for repeal of Part II of the Act of 1947? How many of them? [HON. MEMBERS: "None."] I have not heard of a single one. I dare say that we should have heard if they had asked for repeal of Part II of the Act. Certainly the National Farmers' Union has not, judging by the statements that have been quoted here today and its firm pronouncements on this matter.
It is not merely the people at headquarters saying this. The branches are saying it, and individual farmers within the branches are saying precisely this sort of thing. It so happened that the week before last I met the Derby branch of the National Farmers' Union, and the case for the retention of the powers under Part II was stated better by members of that branch than it has been from this side of the House today—and it has been stated extraordinarily well from this side.
The Country Landowners' Association certainly has not. The trade unions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) has pointed out, certainly have not. Indeed, all the organisations I have mentioned have done the very opposite.
I think it is right that I should ask a question of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), who is to conclude the debate tonight, and who said, what was quoted by my right hon. Friend, and what will bear repetition, on the Second Reading of the 1947 Bill:I come to Part II of the Bill, which sets out the responsibilities of landowners and tenants in using agricultural land. It has been said in this Debate that this is a part of the bargain, that this is the rather bitter part of the pill.… It does not worry me, even though I am a Tory Member of Parliament, to take a part in placing firmly on the farmers and landowners in this country, the responsibility for using our agricultural land properly. Of course, this part of the Bill not only insists on the proper use of the land, but gives the State wide powers to serve directions and insist on proper use, and if the farmer or the landowner is recalcitrant, to dispossess him. I am a strong believer in a code of good manners in farming."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January. 1947; Vol. 432, c. 721.]1216 I want to ask the hon. Member whether he is backing out of what he said then. If he is, I am sure it is not because he believes that there is no longer a need for a code of good manners in farming, or that there are not still very many bad farmers, and many landowners who are not even now facing up to their responsibilities, the responsibilities which the tenancy of a farm or the ownership of land brings.
If the farmers, the landowners and the workers have not backed out, who then has? Who wants this repeal of Part II? Clearly, the Lady Garbetts of the industry; certain newspapers—and we know them very well—supporting the right of people to do what they like with their own regardless of the consequences to the rest of us, those papers which, at that time, made a song and dance about Lady Garbett's case; certain doctrinaire Tories; and, I am bound to say, the somewhat doctrinaire Franks Committee, which was certainly doctrinaire in the section of its Report dealing with agriculture. Clearly there has been a knuckling under to a few misguided people. The Government have succumbed to them.
The Bill does not say that there shall be no dispossessions. What it says is that the whole of the very valuable provisions for supervision must go, that the trial of a farmer by farmers—that is, trial by his peers—shall go, and that in its place there shall be a trial of a farmer's ability or otherwise at the hand of his landlord, whose interest it is to obtain possession of the holding for financial or other reasons. I believe that to be the position, otherwise I would not say it.
It is true that the appeal remains to the agricultural land tribunal, but the prosecution of a farmer before the tribunal will no longer be in the hands of his fellow farmers. The landlord will appear before a tribunal composed of a lawyer chairman, a landowner and a farmer. There will have been no period for supervision and help, no preliminary appeal to the county agricultural executive committee. If I were a farmer fighting for my livelihood I know which procedure would offer me the best chance to retain my farm and make the necessary improvements. I would choose the 1947 Act before this Bill.
1217 As far as I can see, it is only the bad tenant who can be dealt with by the procedure laid down in this Bill. What of the owner-occupiers? Some of them are bad farmers. I have an idea that our dear Lady Garbett was an owner-occupier. How would she be dealt with under this new procedure?
The Minister told us on Thursday last that 61 per cent. of the holdings are farmed under the landlord-tenant system, leaving 39 per cent. of our farms, and the lands they comprise, held in trust for the nation. As a result of this Bill owner-occupiers, will be able, without let or hindrance, to neglect, to starve and to misuse the nation's lands. I do not regard that as a good thing for the nation. Going, too, under this Bill is the machinery which can deal with the bad landlord, that machinery which my right hon. Friend so rightly put into the Act of 1947. The bad landlord cannot be dealt with by the State, by the nation, by the people. His power, too, in relation to the tenant is greatly increased by this Bill but his obligations, despite Clause 4, appear to me to be lessened. We must remember that 61 per cent. of the farms of this country are landlord owned.
Rents are to be fixed in accordance with a new set of words. If they mean anything at all, rents will go up. The Government think that this will make it easier for landlords who come before an arbitrator. If it does not mean that, this Clause of the Bill is meaningless. The Daily Express has pronounced upon this. I need not quote what it said, but it has written pretty good sense in this connection. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Strangely enough, it does occasionally. On 4th March the Minister said to the Institute of Chartered Surveyors:I am glad to say that only the blindly prejudiced can throw stones at the agricultural landlords.There is much to be said for that, but it has a strangely familiar ring about it. I fancy I heard the Minister of Housing and Local Government saying something similar about the landlords of houses. Now we find that Minister busily engaged in throwing stones at house landlords because they are doing the very things he gave them power to do. Is the same kind of thing to happen in relation to this Bill? There is no doubt in my mind that 1218 some rents are uneconomically low, but existing legislation, if operated properly, is sufficient to deal with that.
The booklet issued by the Country Landowners' Association in February, 1956, shows that rents in new lettings by agreement have risen by 76 per cent. on the rents prior to re-letting. Presumably those were cases of willing landlords. The willing landlord and the open market are to govern arbitrators in the future. The rights of the tenant vis-à-vis his landlord have not improved, except in the narrow case of conforming with regulations and statutory obligations placed upon the tenant by Parliament.
The Minister is starting these rent increases rather late in the life of the Government. I am sure that he hopes to escape the odium which they will cause, because he will be gone when they come into operation. I am sure that Kelvin-grove has taught the Tory Government something about the Rent Act. I am fairly sure that Torrington will teach them something about this Bill and all that it stands for and all that the Government stand for.
In speeches inside and outside the House the right hon. Gentleman has made much of the agreement between the National Farmers' Union and the C.L.A. and has said that they have agreed on the landlord-tenant position. The other March Hare said:You might just as well say that 'I like what I get' is the same thing as 'I get what I like'.This March Hare has said, "You will like what you get, so get together and help me to see that you will get it. "That seems to be precisely what the Minister has done.
There is nothing in the Bill which holds out a hope of an increase in the productivity of our land. There is nothing which will help to solve the outstanding problem of the balance of payments. There is nothing in the Bill which will add to the prosperity and stability of the industry. If the whole edifice of agricultural prosperity, so painfully but surely built up since the end of the war, comes tumbling to the ground, it will be solely due to the party which likes to think of itself as the party of the countryside.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
I always listen to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) with pleasure, because he gives us thoughtful speeches. However, having listened to most of the debate, I cannot make out why the Opposition should make such a fuss about so little. The true feeling of the Opposition was very well displayed about one and a half hours ago when I returned to the Chamber after having had a quick supper and found on the Front Bench and back benches opposite five Labour Members and one Liberal. Now there is not even a Liberal. That is a measure of the interest and genuine concern of the Opposition in this matter.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Member is wrong. I took a careful tally of Conservatives and found three times as many hon. Members on this side of the House as on that side. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) was not here. He was not one of the five.
The main objection to the Bill which the Opposition have fabricated is that it does away with the State control of farming through the Minister of Agriculture and his agents, the county agricultural executive committees. Farmers and most ordinary people will ask themselves whether the Labour Party wants today to reimpose the controls which were necessary in the war years and which were necessary so long as the country was short of food and had to endure food rationing.
That went on until 1954. It was not until Conservative policy had produced more pigmeat that we were able to get rid of food rationing in 1954. Does the Labour Party in these days really want to go back to State controls, necessary as they were in those days? That is a question which the Labour Party will have to answer before the country. Does it really think that those controls—essential in wartime—will produce results in peacetime? It is nonsense for the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) to claim as he did—and I took down his words very carefully—that county agricultural executive committees increased production by 60 per cent. It 1220 was not the committees; it was the farmers and farm workers who did it.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I never said anything of the kind. I said—and the hon. Member could not have taken down my words accurately—that they had helped to achieve that result. Those were my words, as HANSARD will show tomorrow morning.
§ Mr. Hurd
I do not know what will be reported in HANSARD tomorrow, but I know that the right hon. Gentleman said that county agricultural executive committees increased production by 60 per cent. All I say is that in recent years those powers have been in disuse, and yet production has continued to increase. I shall be disappointed if, when we get the next Price Review, we do not find an increase above the 60 per cent. which we already know of for the previous year, and that will have been achieved, in the main, without supervision orders or dispossession. I do not believe that the kind of discipline which was necessary in the war years is necessary, desirable or effective in peacetime in order to have a fully productive agricultural industry. Yet the right hon. Gentleman and his friends somehow hanker after retaining these powers. It may be because they know that otherwise, if they want to exercise them if they get back into office, they will have to bring before Parliament a new Bill openly saying what they want to do and why they want to do it.
§ Mr. J. Johnson
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House why the farmers, organised in their own national union, object to the Bill? It is not merely a question of back benchers on this side of this House objecting to it.
§ Mr. Hurd
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to make my speech in my own way. I realise that in the Socialist Party there is a very vigorous sector—"Victory for Socialism" and all that— 1221 which wants to go further and nationalise the land. I realise that the right hon. Member for Don Valley is probably in a rather delicate position today, doing a tightrope walk as he did during the Second Reading debate on the Agriculture Bill in 1947. He then said:For better or worse, nationalisation of the land was not part of our mandate for the present term of Office, and we must, therefore, contemplate a continuance of the existing system of land tenure, and if the proposals for stability and efficiency are to be fully effective, we must make sure that the relationships between landlord and tenant do not hinder but are such as may conceivably help."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 638.]That is just what this Bill sets out to do. We have found by experience from working the 1947 Act that those parts of it affecting the relations between landlord and tenant have not fulfilled the hope and purpose of the right hon. Gentleman when he said what I have just quoted. That is why this Bill is being brought forward today.
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman cannot recognise what has happened and what is happening, and cannot take his mind away for a few minutes from his dear, darling child of 1947 to see what is the present position and what we hope it will be in ten years hence. The right hon. Gentleman is rather like an elderly parent who remembers with delight what his little boy looked like in a sailor suit but cannot bear to see him grow up and leave the nursery. But we have moved on. This is a useful Bill which, I think, can be worked with a wide measure of agreement within the industry.
I know the political line taken by the National Farmers' Union. I think I have a fair idea of what ordinary farmers and landowners are thinking for themselves. I will say no more, but I do know that the great majority of farmers as well as landowners want the landlord and tenant system to continue, and they want it to work effectively. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East was good enough to quote something I said during the Second Reading debate on the 1947 Act. I fully agree with what he quoted. I should like to quote more. I said:I am a strong believer in a code of good manners in farming. We are fortunate in having a well-developed sense of good husbandry in this country … the Minister … may stifle British agriculture with red tape; 1222 that is the danger of this Bill … I shall support the Second Reading because I am a sufficiently profound believer in the vigorous common sense of the farming community to think that it will prevail …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, cc. 721–724.]That vigorous common sense has, in fact, prevailed. We have not allowed ourselves to be stifled by the red tape in parts of the 1947 Act. Things have gone all right because of the innate commonsense and good judgment of the farming community. It could have gone all wrong, but it has gone all right. Today we have reached the state where food production is steadily increasing. I think our standards of husbandry in this country today are as high as they have ever been, despite no supervision orders and despite no dispossession orders.
Of course I stand for a code of good manners. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East asked if I stood for it, and of course I do. But a code of good manners is not imposed from Whitehall. Good manners are not imposed on anyone. They are innate, something which people feel to be right. That is just what farmers and landowners are feeling today. Indeed, in this Bill we preserve the sections of the 1947 Act which lay down the rules—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman would listen for a moment he might learn something.
We laid down these rules of good husbandry and estate management. They are in this Bill; they are not effected in this Bill; they are carried on from the 1947 Act. Therefore, that will remain on the Statute Book. There is this code for landowners and farmers to carry out and to keep alive or make more alive than in recent years. I should not object to them getting together to codify it in practical terms even more clearly, which would be all to the good. Of course I stand for the code of good manners about which I spoke in 1947. I say just as firmly today that it is not something which can be imposed from Whitehall.
It has been said that the Bill will give too much responsibility to landlords, who might exercise their authority harshly. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) dealt very fairly out of his full experience, with the landlord and tenant system as we have it working in this country. The way we work that system is the envy of the 1223 world. Canadian, American and French farmers come here and study our system. I was talking with some Germans only this morning, who said, "That is a wonderful thing you have. You will be wise to preserve it."
It is a system that divides responsibility and the provision of capital between owning and actual farming operations. By this we achieve a wider field of investment and enterprise, which is well worth preserving. The Bill will not only preserve it, but it will ensure that it can work with give and take much more effectively than under the Act of 1947.
It is also said that the Bill leaves the owner-occupier without control or sanctions over him, that he has no landlord and that one-third of the farms in this country are held and operated by owner-occupiers. That is true, but it is right to allow a man to use and develop what he owns and relies upon for his livelihood. Let him do it to the best of his judgment rather than seek to dictate to him from Whitehall how to do the job. I do not think there is anything wrong about this.
It is right and proper, however, if the owner-occupier becomes a nuisance to his neighbours, that some action should be taken. The Minister therefore takes fresh powers by the Bill to subject the owner-occupier to prosecution if he lets injurious weeds seed and grow on his land to the menace of adjoining land. If the owner-occupier will not remove the weeds himself, he can be subjected to a continuing fine, and in the end the Minister can go in, destroy those weeds and charge the owner-occupier with the cost of the operation. The Minister already has similar powers if the owner-occupier allows rabbits to multiply. The Bill ensures that the owner-occupier does not become a menace and a nuisance to his neighbour.
We also put a responsibility upon the landlords, who own two-thirds of the farmland in this country to carry out a code of good manners in estate management and good husbandry. The landlord has the right to go to the agricultural land tribunal and to make his case before that impartial body appointed by the Lord Chancellor. That is right, prudent and practical, and it will give 1224 better results than we have been able to get in recent years from county agricultural executive committees.
No one has a higher regard than I for the work of those committees in the war years and afterwards while we still had food rationing. Their job as the agents of the Minister in ensuring the supervision of farming operations has become impossible in the climate of today. It is not fair to ask them to go on doing a job which the Statute Book expects them to do, because it runs counter to the general feeling of the public in Britain.
I know this is the birthday of the right hon. Member for Don Valley. I have, I hope, as friendly and as affectionate feelings for him as has any hon. Member, and I join in wishing him many happy returns of the day. May he be here for many years, even if I am not. But I thought this afternoon as I listened to him that he had got himself into a rather unnecessary and unwise state of excitement. I felt he was not really doing justice to his reputation in the farming community as a statesman.
§ Mr. Hurd
I felt that quite genuinely, because a lot of people have taken notice of what the right hon. Member said. He was a good Minister of Agriculture. He had a good wicket to bat on while food was short and prices were going up all the time. Even so, I was grateful to him, but in what he said this afternoon I felt he was not doing himself justice. He even spoke of this Bill as the second great betrayal. Those are extravagant, irresponsible words to be used even in the inter-play of Parliamentary debate.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am a member of the National Farmers' Union, so do not worry about that. This Bill is mere commonsense in today's circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Minister showed great political courage in bringing the Bill forward. If I had been in his shoes I would not have had that courage. I should have been content to let sleeping dogs lie so far as Part II of the 1947 Act is concerned. After all, we got what we really want in the Agriculture Act, 1957. That is our guarantee for the future. If 1225 people are happy in their minds and sleep more quietly at night because Part II of the 1947 Act is on the Statute Book, we could treat it as we treat the Sunday observance laws and leave it a dead letter on the Statute Book. My right hon. Friend courageously decided to go forward with this plan, and he has been wholly straightforward in putting his arguments for removing that part of the Act—not the whole Act—from the Statute Book.
What he has done in no way adversely affects the policy for which I have striven since I have been in this House since 1945. We should all join with the least measure of party politics to see that our countryside and British agriculture are fully productive to serve the country in providing what the country wants at reasonable cost, and in ensuring that those who live by the land get a good chance of making a decent livelihood and competence from it. I see nothing in this Measure which will not be helpful in that direction. Therefore, I support my right hon. Friend, although personally I should not have had the courage to take the action he has taken. I think he is quite right and I fully support him.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.