HL Deb 12 July 1938 vol 110 cc762-88

LORD ADDISON rose to call attention to the recent declaration by the Prime Minister of the agricultural policy of His Majesty's Government and to its effect of restricting the full and proper use of British land for food production; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it does not, I am sure, call for any apology from me to invite your Lordships to give consideration to the statement of policy on agriculture which was included in the speech made a short time ago by the Prime Minister at Kettering. That speech contained some exceedingly frank and greatly important statements by the Prime Minister and I should like to ask your Lordships to give them a little closer examination. The Prime Minister, in his comments on this branch of Government policy, said: I have seen it said that we ought to grow at home all the food we need, and he added that he wanted to give a reason or two why he thought that was a wrong point of view.

I am not disposed to controvert the "all." I do not know myself of any responsible person who has given consideration to this subject who has ever suggested that we could grow all the food we need. But whilst we may not be able to grow all the food we need at home that is no reason why we should allow great areas of fruitful land to go out of cultivation. That is no reason why great food-producing resources, of an unequalled character in some respects, and close to the best food market in the world, should not be fully used. I suggest, too, that it is no reason why we should not seek to develop the wealth-producing capacities of our countryside to the utmost possible extent, because they would provide a greatly increased market for our town manufacturers and certainly they would add to our safety in times of peril. I do not forget also that we still have in this relatively prosperous time 1,750,000 people without any work.

That is apropos of the expression "all." Therefore, I think we might look a little further to see whether we are making proper and full use of our resources. The Prime Minister went on to say: We are predominantly a trading and industrial nation. We sell a large part of our productions to the Empire and to foreign countries, and in return we buy from them very large quantities of food and raw materials. That is true. That is the philosophy that has dominated our national policy for fifty years. Our agricultural policy has been dictated by considerations of that kind. The Prime Minister went on in the next sentence to invite us to consider the reasons why we should not try to produce "all" our food. He said: The first thing would be that we should ruin those Empire and foreign countries who are dependent on our markets. The next thing would be that as their purchasing power was destroyed those markets would no longer be able to buy our manufactures. Our unemployment figures would go up and the unemployed would have to reduce their purchases of the farmers' products. In other words we are, I take it, to plan our food production so that we do not, for example, make greater inroads upon the import of Argentine beef !

We are able in this country to produce the best beef in the world. Most of the beef that comes to us from the Argentine is the product of the descendants of British stock that were bought here and taken over to the Argentine. It cannot, surely, be a reason for our failing to make the best use of our splendid stock-producing capacity that we might make inroads into the importation of Argentine beef. I suggest that we ought to develop our stock-producing capacity to the utmost to which it properly can be developed. There would certainly be very manifest advantages if we did set out to do so. We ought not to allow City financiers and, shall I say, manufacturing considerations to dictate our agricultural policy.

Let me postulate this. I shall prove before I sit down that we certainly can increase, and certainly ought to increase, our food production by a figure of not less than £100,000,000 worth of food a year at present values. Supposing we did, where would the rural communities spend the money? They would buy the manufactures of our towns, would they not? I suggest that they would be as good a market for our manufacturers as any outside population might be. Besides, there is this consideration, which does not seem to have entered into the scheme of policy designed by the Prime Minister. Is the balance of trade in our favour at present? We all know the answer: it is not; it is increasingly against us. I suggest that, merely on balance of trade account alone, we ought not to hesitate to make a fuller use of our own splendid land. We ought to produce more food at home on that account only. At the present time I find that even as things are, rural England, as the result of the sale of food products, spends about £80 in our manufacturing markets as compared with £100 for the whole British Empire put together. Rural England is one of the best markets still for our manufactures in one form or another, and it would be a better market if we made full use of our land. How far short we are from doing so I will indicate before I sit down.

Let me, before I come to that, however, ask your Lordships to ponder one other consideration which appears to have been overlooked in the Prime Minister's statement according to which we should plan our food production, so to speak, by or against our sales of manufactures abroad or imports from foreign countries. Is this moneylending business quite a success? Has it been a success? I dare say there are a few noble Lords in this House who have money—or have had—say, in the Argentine railways. Is that as good an asset as a more prosperous rural England? What about Brazilian bonds: are they a paying proposition? Or Greek rails; what about them? And Mexican oil, and many more I could mention? As a matter of fact one or other person is defaulting upon our overseas loans from one end of the world to another, and I suggest that the security for these overseas lendings is at all events extraordinarily groggy.


May I interrupt the noble Lord just for a moment? He is distinguishing, no doubt, when he says "overseas," between the Dominions and foreign countries, because the Dominions have not defaulted in any way.


I am well aware of that.


If the noble Lord will forgive me, I only wanted to put that point.


I was mentioning a few cases; I mentioned Argentine railways and Brazilian bonds and Mexican oil and Greek railways. Thank God they are not in our Dominions! But still the fact is, as far as the Prime Minister's statement is concerned, that he was balancing our agricultural policy against receiving payment in terms of imports from the countries to which we have lent money. I suggest that, so far as that is concerned, a more prosperous rural England would be a better debtor than some of these other countries. It has proved to be. The fact is, we have had air eyes on the ends of the earth and we have overlooked our own fields. That is what has been happening in this country for the last fifty years.

Later on in the speech I see that the Prime Minister, with singular courage but I cannot say with very much accuracy, said: Our agricultural policy has been highly successful. I invite your Lordships to test that statement. It is in any case strange evidence of success that the industry should be full of discontent from one end to the other. "Well," you may say, "farmers are accustomed to grumble." Suppose we allow that; let us look at the facts. Since this Government came into office—and, mind you, I do not wish to attribute responsibility to the present Prime Minister; I am taking the Government as a whole, the Government of which the noble Lords opposite are representatives, which came into office in 1931–538,000 acres have gone out of arable cultivation in this country. That seems a lot, but when we are confronted with these astronomical figures they do not acquire the look of reality which perhaps they should have. So I have transferred these figures into counties. Since this Government came into office an area has gone out of cultivation by the plough which is as big as the Counties of Bedford and Huntingdon put together. An area of about fifty miles by twenty miles has gone out of cultivation by the plough since this Government came into office in 1931. That land previously employed, as a minimum, four men per hundred acres; it now employs, as a maximum, one man per hundred acres. It is producing far less than half the food per acre that it was producing—not in the distant past; I am talking about six years ago. At the same time 60,000 highly skilled workers have left this land with their families, given A up, and the villages have become somewhat derelict. With great respect, if this is highly successful policy, words cease to have a meaning.

I want to criticise, however, the policy which lies behind the general view which is embodied in the Prime Minister's speech and which has dominated our policy for fifty years. It is the policy of the city. I do not use it in any disrespectful terms. According to the official returns, since 1891 4,488,000 acres of land, that used to be actively cultivated by the plough, have gone down to rough grazing or ordinary pasture. I will transfer that again into terms of area, so that your Lordships will appreciate what the catastrophe is that has been happening in this country. It means that an area of land has ceased to be cultivated as big as the whole of the County of Essex, the whole of the County of Suffolk, the whole of Norfolk, the whole of Cambridge, the whole of the Isle of Ely, and the whole of Bedford and Huntingdon, with the County of Rutland thrown in. If you put all these acres into one area, they would make a chunk of land as big as that, which has gone out of cultivation in this country during the last fifty years. Three hundred thousand workers have left the villages, left their employment, and their villages have become derelict.

That is the kind of policy which is embodied in the Prime Minister's speech, in which the sale of manufactures and terms for foreign loans have dominated our policy. It is a national catastrophe of almost incredible dimensions, because this land was employing as a minimum, as I have said, four men per hundred acres, and now it employs about one man per hundred acres. Perhaps this is inevitable. Is it? I invite your Lordships to look with me at the undoubted capacity of our own arable land, and the figures which I will quote are not my own. They are the findings of Mr. Middleton, Chief Adviser to the Board of Agriculture in 1915, and Sir Daniel Hall, formerly Chief Scientific Adviser on Agriculture to the Government. In each case I shall understate the figures. According to these authorities an acre of good pasture will produce about 130 lbs. of meat or 168 gallons of milk per annum. The produce of the same land under the plough is 256 lbs. of meat or 360 gallons of milk. In other words, land when ploughed produces some two and a-half to three times as much food per acre as when under permanent grass, or, in terms of human and animal food together, it will produce as much meat per acre as good grass in addition to the corn and other food provided for human consumption. So that the whole of that vast area is now producing much less than half of what it did produce, and employing less than a quarter of the labour, according to these authorities.

I venture to quote from Sir Daniel Hall's excellent book Agriculture after the War. This is how he sums it up: The bulk of the grassland of this country could at best only be described as useless and with skilled management and a due expenditure on labour would pay the farmers just as well under the plough, while it would yield for the nation more than twice as much food in the shape of meat or milk or ten times as much in the form of grain. That is the description which is applied to this area as big as the whole of East Anglia, and a considerable part of the hinterland, which is suffering in this way.

Now let me ask your Lordships to turn to another side of our neglected producing capacity. Since 1911, there has been a great increase, with this diminution in arable acreage, of the land described as rough grazing. We know what a lot of that is like. We have seen to our sorrow miles of it, full of thistles, reeds and rubbish, and producing little. The area of rough grazing has increased in Great Britain from 12,800,000 to 15,800,000 acres in the same period. The meat-producing capacity of this rough grazing land is about 15 lbs. per acre per annum. I am informed—I am still making an understatement of what can be done as a result of proper treatment of grass land—that the meat yield of rough grazings can be increased by a minimum of 7o lbs. of meat per acre, that is, by ploughing them and seeding them down properly, and so on. Some noble Lords in this House are able to tell us of their experience, after having applied this method with advantage to some of their own land. This is a fact, that the producing capacity of grass land, even meagre grass land, can be increased by 70 lbs. per acre, and that of good pastures can be increased by even more than that, even up to 150 lbs. of meat per acre. I am still hammering at the same point, that here is before us this immense undeveloped, unused productive capacity, that it is increasing in amount rapidly, and that it is a discredit that it should be so.

I want to test this a little closer. A few years ago we used to have 4,000,000 acres of land under wheat. Now it is something under 2,000,000 acres. I dare say the noble Lord has the latest figures, but it is round about 2,000,000 acres. I am informed by the authorities that I have mentioned that we could regularly have 5,000,000 acres, but I continue to understate it. If we had 4,000,000 acres under wheat with an arable area of about 17,000,000, we should then be producing 45 per cent. of our wheat requirements, and now we are producing 21 per cent. I suggest that, with the balance of trade against us and with the added safety that that would give, that is something to be aimed at. In the year 1934—and I dare say the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, will have in his portfolio a copy of the paper to which I am going to refer—there was provided for the Government a Report from a number of scientists as to the food the people required. This was a very distinguished body of scientists, and their findings have not been questioned by anybody. They have made the same statement publicly, so I am giving nothing away. They said that the people of this country needed so much milk, so much butter, fruit, green vegetables and so on, and I have taken the trouble to translate their recommendations—unchallenged recommendations—into figures as to what the people require of these foods. I want to put it before your Lordships as another example of our undeveloped resources.

Among the first that they mentioned were milk and butter, and if you work it out you will find that the increased requirements of the community with regard to milk and milk products represent as near as may be twice the total of our present milk production for all purposes, and if you were to use the 5,000,000 acres of grass land—the experts recommended 10,000,000 as a matter of fact, but I take half of it—in the way I suggested, we should be producing all the additional milk that the community requires. But this amazing fact emerges. If you take the whole of the butter that we produce at home, from lands which are as suited as any in the world for the production of good milk cows, you will find that the butter we produce at home, including all the butter produced on the farms, represents rather less than 300,000,000 gallons of milk a year. I asked the Milk Board if they would kindly convert for me our butter product and imports of butter into gallons of milk, and this is the result. We produce at home, on the farms and in the factories, butter which represents the product of 300,000,000 gallons of milk. Our imports of butter alone represent the product of 2,506,000,000 gallons; in other words, about ten times as much as the total of our home production, whilst we have in our grass lands here the immense undeveloped resources of which I have been speaking. The scientists told us that the people require 6o per cent. more eggs than we now produce, that is, about 2,000,000,000 eggs more than we are now producing. And ftuit-9,000,000 additional cwts., or 78 per cent. increase on our present production; vegetables, an increase of 6o per cent. on our present production, and meat an increase of 25 per cent.

I have limited this commentary to commodities for which this country is unequalled. There are no lands in the world better than ours for the production of these commodity—milk, butter, fruit, vegetables, meat, and eggs. And yet during this time we have had this enormous decline. Well, the neglect of our food-producing capacity of this gigantic character, side by side with the declension of a great part of our country from cultivation to rough grazing, is no subject for satisfaction. The Prime Minister and the Government must have a strange idea of logic if they ask us to believe that their agricultural policy has been highly successful. The Prime Minister had had prepared an explanatory memorandum which was issued to members of another place. I have a copy of it as issued to the Press, and I have no doubt it is correct. This was an agreed memorandum issued to explain the Kettering speech. I am rather sorry that the Prime Minister took the trouble to explain it. It did not need explaining. It was a very frank and manly speech. I respect him for making it. It was the mind of the city, that is what it was, and he stated it with truthfulness, candour and straightforwardness. That is the mind that has dominated British policy for fifty years, and it is ruining the countryside. That is my point, and I do not see any necessity whatever for the issue of this explanatory memorandum.

However, in the explanatory memorandum we are told that the proper course, the only permanent course, is to assist home agriculture by all possible means to develop along its own natural lines. Well, if it was allowed to, there might be something to say for it. But is it? What was the cause of the great slump after 1921? It was not the repeal of the Corn Production Act, which the Prime Minister blamed for it, it was the sustained, deliberate, cruel deflation which forced down the price of everything. Agriculture had no say in it, not all the farmers in the country had a voice in it. That was the cause of the tremendous fall in prices and of the enormous importation that followed later on during the 'twenties up to 1930. That was the cause of it, and everybody knows it. The re-imposition of the gold standard had its share, but those were the causes. Agriculture was not allowed to develop along its natural lines, it was forced down into the morass by the financial policy that was adopted.

May I suggest to your Lozdships that there should be at least three features of agricultural policy, and that unless these three are present it cannot possibly be successful? First, the land should be well equipped—equipped in such a way that a full and proper use of it can be made by a competent producer. Nobody will deny that that is right. If we are going to make the best use of the land it should be properly equipped, properly drained, have proper buildings and proper equipment in many ways. The second condition is that there should be sufficient reliability and fairness of price to encourage a competent producer to make a full and proper use of the land. Nobody would dispute that. I thought I might get some approval even from the opposite side on that proposition. A man with a good lamb to sell a year ago would make £1 or 15s. more than he would get for the same lamb today. It is the same with other products. A complete uncertainty and unreliability of price has spread like a blight over the whole of this industry for fifty years. No one knows what he is going to get next year for products for which he is getting so much this year. I notice your Lordships approve this second condition that there should be sufficient reliability and fairness of price to encourage a competent cultivator to make full and proper use of the land. We shall never get the land properly used until that condition is fulfilled. The third condition which I suggest should be a characteristic of a proper agricultural policy is this—conditions of work and wages on the land should be such as will secure a good and satisfying standard of life for the worker and will make him and his children want to stay there. I notice that is approved also by your Lordships. When we get such a measure of unanimity among your Lordships we are getting on.

Let me ask your Lordships, is there any one of these three conditions, with which on the whole I believe we all agree—we are not splitting hairs as to a word or two—which is attendant upon the agricultural policy of His Majesty's Government? Not one—not a single vestige of one. How can you expect it to succeed? Whole counties have gone out of cultivation; there is no reliability of price; the farmers are grousing about it from one end of the country to the other, and if you ask the first sheep farmer you come across directly you get outside I have no doubt he will tell you in completely un-parliamentary language exactly what he thinks about it. So far as the labourers are concerned, wages have gone up, I am glad to say, a little bit in the last year or two, because skilled agricultural workers are getting as precious as rubies—they have been starved out of the industry by a mistaken policy. We ought to have such a policy as will ensure such a price to the producer that he will be able to pay such wages to his men as will keep them on the land. We shall never succeed until we do that, and there is no glimmering of that reality in the policy of His Majesty's Government. Instead of that you have a queer, weird, patchwork quilt arrangement of bits of quotas, bits of tariffs, bits of quantitative regulation, a few odd subsidies, and all the rest of it—a glorious medley, but it is not a policy.


Like Free Trade !


I am not an apostle of Free Trade. I am an apostle of a managed market. That is not Free Trade at all. We want to have a managed market. We want to have a managed price system, and until you have you will never get restoration in agriculture. So the noble Viscount is pushing at a door that has long been open. These are some of the results which attend, and will continue to attend, the agricultural policy of His Majesty's Government. More and more cultivated land is becoming derelict—not odd fields but great tracts, in six years as big as two counties. Secondly, precious skilled workers—10,000 to 20,000 every year—are leaving the villages they love and the work they know. Thirdly, the industry is seething with uncertainty and discontent from one end of it to the other, and I find the responsible and highly competent farmers more bitter than anybody else because they know what can be done and what ought to be done. The policy that has been and is being attended beyond question with these results is not a successful policy. It is a manifest and desolating failure. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, I am personally very glad that this Motion has been brought forward in your Lordships' House, and I am also very glad that it has been the noble Lord who has brought it forward, because, in company with others of your Lordships, I well remember, when the noble Lord was at the Ministry of Agriculture, his administration as sympathetic as it was able, and I hope, when an unfortunate turn of the wheel brings back, as it will some day of course bring back, the noble Lord's Party into office, we shall again have the pleasure of having the noble Lord at the Ministry. Against that day I shall keep the OFFICIAL REPORT which will in due course appear to-morrow, and I shall have the very greatest pleasure in quoting it to him—that is, if the whole edition has not been bought up by our friends in New Zealand on account of his remarks about butter, with which, for my part, I entirely agree. One thing which struck me as I listened to the noble Lord was how very much easier it is, and must be, to criticise the policy of a Government of which you are not a supporter—not that some of us do not do our best from time to time to undertake that unpleasant duty! The noble Lord will possibly acknowledge, and at all events will remember, that during the years in which he held office the harvest of measures for the benefit of agriculture was a singularly bad one.


I am sure the noble Lord does not wish to misrepresent me. I was in office about fifteen months, and during that time I was engaged in passing the Land Drainage Act, the Marketing Act, and the Land Acquisition Act, which I wish your Lordships would use. All of these measures were placed on the Statute Book by me, and most valuable Acts two of them have been, for they have been made great use of by the present Government.


I do not in the least desire to belittle the achievements or intentions of the noble Lord, but I do not detract from my statement when I say that while the Marketing Acts owed their origin to the noble Lord in great measure if not entirely, I venture to say that what little good the Marketing Acts have done for agriculture is mainly due to the control of imports which was not in the original Act, but was put in by the present Government. There has been, I think, a change of heart in the policy of noble Lords opposite in respect of agriculture. As I came up in the train I had the pleasure of reading the latest pamphlet brought out by the Socialist Party with regard to agriculture, and, if I might, I would like to congratulate the noble Lord opposite most heartily on one of the best bits of propaganda that I have ever read. I believe he had a very great part in it; I saw a very excellent picture of him in it; and he has quoted from it just now. I think it is quite excellent. As I read it, and I read it with great interest, I should say that the allusions to grass lands made to-day are really a shoddy dream in comparison to the state of agriculture under the next Socialist Government. Profits are not only going to be enormous for farmers, but they are going to be certain and safeguarded, and the price of food is going down to practically nothing. How is all this going to be done? It is perfectly simple and easy. It is going to be done by the wave of a wand. And what is that wand? That wand is nationalisation.

If I might make the slightest criticism, I would have been better pleased if the noble Lord had said in this work, or indeed in his speech to-day, why it was that nationalisation of the land is going to effect all these benefits. He says nothing of the sort. Indeed in this pamphlet he carries the process of negation even further, because he says if you will look at the land nationalised to-day, the land under the county councils—the biggest landlords in England I think he said—you will see that that state of things already exists. May I suggest to him with the greatest humility that that statement probably requires a little revision, because I think every boy in the country knows that the wages on these nationalised lands are exactly the same as those on the farms which are in private ownership, and there are a great many people who know that on the whole the rents are a little bit higher and that the losses, the inevitable losses—that is to say, the difference between the interest on the money which purchased them and the return they make—is made good out of the pockets of the ratepayers and the taxpayers? A little revision in the next edition is perhaps desirable there.

I personally think that the National Government are to be congratulated on two things. I am well aware of the use that is made of the word "intentions," but I still think their intentions have been from start to finish admirable. I would go further than that, and I would say that their acts have been good. At all events it would not be denied, even I think by noble Lords opposite, that no Government has produced so many measures intended to be for the good of the agricultural industry as this Government. I must, however, agree with the noble Lord opposite that the results have been eminently disappointing, and it is true to say that at the present time the position of agriculture is as bad as I ever recollect it to be. I must, I am sorry to say, agree with the noble Lord there. I believe that the Ministry are suffering under one great delusion; at all events I have heard this in the Ministry. They believe that at the present moment agriculture is in a position to render a greater service to the nation in the event of war than was the case in 1914. I venture to think that the sooner they rid themselves of that delusion the better. I am not going into a great mass of figures because they have already been traversed in a most admirable way, but I will just give four reasons in support of what I have already been saying that agriculture is not so ready and not so able to help the country in the hour of war as it was in 1914.

One is that we have lost land. During the last ten years land has been lost to the nation at the rate of over 6o,000 acres a year—that is to say, approximately speaking, in this small island a hundred square miles of land has been lost every year. It has been lost in building, in roads, in aerodromes. I have no doubt most of them were absolutely necessary, but the land has been lost nevertheless. Since 1914 arable land has gone down by 2,000,000 acres, as has been pointed out. Another thing which has not been pointed out is that there are far fewer horses to work the land than there were in 1914. No doubt it will be said, it has been said, "Oh, tractors will take their place." When the next war breaks out petrol and oil will be at a premium. You can recall what they were in the last War. With the great increase in aeroplanes there will be still more call for petrol and oil, and if our horses have all gone we shall be hard put indeed to plough up the soil which will inevitably have to be ploughed. It is only too true that since 1914 we have lost 200,000 of our skilled men from agriculture, men who cannot be replaced, no, not in a day or a month or a year or many years. I am entirely with the noble Lord opposite when he points out that that is deplorable and dreadful and dangerous.

I read the Sunday before last the speech of the Prime Minister as reported in several forms by organs of different political leaning, and my first reaction was a feeling rather of consternation. I thought that the Prime Minister had been convinced by what I call the "blue water school." As I understand the theory of the "blue water school" it is this. When the next war comes the future and safety of this country will depend entirely on the ability of the Navy to keep our trade routes open. We believe we can do it now. We believe we are in a much stronger position to overcome the submarine menace; but if we cannot that is the end of Great Britain, and it will be no use prolonging the suffering by having a certain amount more of food to eat. I hope those people who say that, and they are a very large number of people, are right about their prognostications with regard to the protection of our sea routes. I sometimes wonder whether they have taken fully into account the enormous increase in aeroplanes and the number of bombs that these are able to drop, but I am not in a position to judge as to that.

I agree, however, in the main with what they say. Where I fail to agree is in the conclusion drawn. I do not say "therefore it is no good doing anything about agriculture." I say our Navy must be supreme and we must keep the trade routes open, and, therefore, we must have a better production of food in this land, a better agriculture, so that we can spare for our fighting Navy some at all events of those cruisers and destroyers and submarines that were used in the last War to protect our trade routes. I feel that every increase of wheat here, every increase of meat on a certain scale, is going to release one more war vessel to keep the command of the sea and to save our homes from being violated. Thus it is that I find myself in disagreement with the conclusion that is drawn from the theory of what I call the "blue water school." What, in fine, I feel about the Prime Minister's speech is this. If he means—and this we shall be told—that it is not right at the present time to put the agriculture of this country on a war time footing, to plough up playing fields, to plough up old and beautiful pastures, to plough up parks, but that he intends by every means in his power to increase the productivity of our land, to put up wages, to allow to the farmer farming reasonably a real chance of a reasonable profit, as the noble Lord opposite said, I agree with him. But if it is the intention of His Majesty's Government by their agricultural policy just to keep agriculture alive in suspended animation like the Sleeping Beauty to be roused in the event of war by a kiss from the Minister of Agriculture supplemented no doubt by the Secretary to the Board, then I do not agree with the policy of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I am sure I shall be voicing the opinion of those members of your Lordships' House who have had the opportunity of listening to this debate when I say that we have heard from the noble Lord the mover of this Motion a speech of deep thought and study which was particularly distinguished for its subtle propaganda on behalf of the Labour Party. There can be no doubt whatsoever that there are a great number of your Lordships—I myself am one—who deplore certain aspects of the present state of our agricultural industry. I particularly refer to the land continuing to go out of cultivation and of labour continuing to be withdrawn from agricultural occupations into other directions. The Government are as conscious of these problems as any other section of the community. What we would have very greatly appreciated, and what would have been of great advantage to the Government and indeed to all those deeply interested in agriculture, would have been to hear more from the noble Lord of the policy by which the Labour Party would manage to solve some of the problems which he says we have been so unsuccessful in solving.

The noble Lord, Lord Addison, has passed a strong indictment upon the policy of His Majesty's Government for agriculture, and in particular upon the Prime Minister's statement of that policy in his speech at Kettering a week ago last Saturday, on the ground that that policy makes no contribution to defence. I believe that there is a sound answer to the criticisms that the noble Lord has made in this respect, and the noble Lord has himself realised that certain of those criticisms have been met in the statement that was issued after the Prime Minister had interviewed certain members of another place. The noble Lord said that the Prime Minister's speech at Kettering was a frank, manly speech, and naturally I would be the first to concur in that opinion. But there has been great misrepresentation of what the Prime Minister actually did say. The fundamental fact that should be appreciated with regard to this problem, as both the noble Lord, Lord Addison, and tie noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, have already pointed out, is that this country owing to its situation cannot be entirely self-sufficient in food supplies, whatever steps we may take. As your Lordships are no doubt aware, we are to-day importing 77 per cent. of our wheat, about 5o per cent. of our meat, and 90 per cent. of our butter. These figures could, of course, be lowered, but I believe that the majority of people appreciate that they could not be brought down to nothing.

Here I may be expressing what the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, called the view of the blue water school, but whether it be the opinion of that school or the opinion of those who have made exhaustive inquiries into our food supply in time of emergency, there can be no doubt that we must depend on supplies of food from abroad. In other words, the command of the seas is as vital to the interests of this country to-day as it has ever been in the course of the whole of our history. We cannot contemplate losing that command of the seas and it would give a very unfavourable impression to certain countries abroad if it were thought to be accepted by the thinking people of this country that there should be great extension of our agriculture because we can no longer count on retaining the command of the seas. If that command of the seas is necessary, it is obviously not in the national interest to divert the natural processes of agricultural operations to the point of causing uneconomic dislocation in farming.

The statement issued by the Prime Minister to members of another place should have made it clear that there is in fact no foundation for the suggestion that there has been a change of policy on the part of the Government with regard to agriculture. But it was also made clear in that statement that the Government had no intention of embarking on a spectacular policy of artificial expansion of home production. The Government are convinced that any plans for agriculture, however attractive they may be at first sight, would be excessively misleading and dangerous in practice unless they could form part of a sound permanent policy for agriculture. All those of us who are engaged in a practical manner in farming operations agree that the one thing that the farmer regards as absolutely necessary is some degree of certainty both as to the manner of working, under the heading of farm economy, and the level of prices that he is likely to get for the crops and the livestock that he produces. If this is going to be effective, not for to-morrow or the next day, but under what can accurately be termed a permanent policy, the Government must necessarily encourage the development of agriculture upon its own natural lines, and do what can reasonably be done to improve farmers' returns.

It is not that permanent policy that is criticised by the agricultural community to-day so much as whether the application of that policy has been successful. With your Lordships' permission, I shall refer to that in a few moments. This policy has been adopted by His Majesty's Government in the faith that, as a result of greater prosperity, land will be better utilised and farmed, and farmers will be stimulated to improve their methods. I believe that your Lordships will also be aware that the statement to which I have referred has disposed of the notion that Government policy was directed to restricting production. It said that efforts were being made to increase production where that could reasonably be done. That is where the Government join issue with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Addison, and in some respects with those of the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth. Lord Addison suggests that the Government should undertake a ploughing-up campaign of grass land, and in support of that contention he points to the large decreases that there have been in arable cultivation since the beginning of the century. He has informed the House that in six years 538,000 acres have gone out of arable cultivation, and he says that labour has consequently been withdrawn from the cultivation of the land by 60,000 in the last six or seven years. I do not dispute those figures. In fact, I would say that the noble Lord's figure of 60,000 could more accurately be given as 66,000 in the year that he is quoting.


That is right.


But why has this taken place? There are, as the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, says, some very good reasons for the decrease we have seen in arable cultivation. First, the noble Lord has informed the House that the reduction in arable cultivation is largely in respect of the oats and barley crop and not of the wheat acreage, and that is largely due to the reduction in the number of horses and the quantity of oats required. The number of horses has decreased by more than a third since the year 1913. Another reason is that, under the conditions of the last few years, it has obviously been very attractive for farmers to buy cheap imported feeding stuffs rather than to grow them themselves. I should say here that I entirely agree with the noble Lord that it would be a good thing to arrest this tendency away from arable cultivation, and it would seem at first sight as if the suggestion made by the noble Lord was a simple and easy solution. But if we examine them we find some very real difficulties. If great quantities of the existing grass area were to be ploughed up we should, of course, be able to get an increase of home-grown arable crops. But it would be a great mistake to suppose that our dependence upon imports would be reduced by a like amount, for in any case we should lose the grass or the hay from the area brought under the plough, and further, we should lose some of the livestock from the grass areas.


May I interrupt the noble Earl?


May I just substantiate that remark? United Kingdom agriculture produces a current net food output of approximately £240,000,000 a year. It carries a reserve of food in the shape of livestock, including pigs and poultry, to a value of approximately £170,000,000. My point is that clearly, on the merits of our own agricultural system as it is at present organised, there exists a reserve of food which is of no mean proportion, and this livestock reserve is constantly being turned over. It incurs no storage charges, it contributes to land fertility, and it in no way interferes with the normal farming practice.

Even if the arable acreage were increased on the same scale as in the last War, it has been calculated that only an additional 2,700,000 tons of wheat could be produced, and that is on the supposition that the whole area would be devoted to the wheat crop. Your Lordships will recall that in the last War the figure which the noble Lord, Lord Addison, quoted which was put under arable cultivation also included parts of Ireland which are now inaccessible.


My figures related entirely to Great Britain.


That amount is barely half the average imports info this country in a normal year; so that even a campaign of this kind would not by any means bring us within sight of self-sufficiency. Any attempt to make this country a pre-eminently cereal-growing country would mean to divert our agriculture from its natural line of development, for which our soil and climate are best suited. It does not need any emphasis from me, because it has already been expressed in this debate this afternoon, that livestock is traditionally the main variety of farming in this country, and it has during the course of generations become so proficient that, as Lord Addison himself remarked, this country is the market, the world over, for buying the best breeds of cattle, sheep and pigs. Steps have been taken under the Wheat Act of 1932, and also under the Agriculture Act by means of the oats and barley subsidy scheme inaugurated last year, to redress this tendency for agricultural land to go out of cultivation, and I think it is worth adding that the home production of fodder crops is to-day being stimulated by the subsidy on lime and basic slag, administered by the Land Fertility Committee, over which Lord Cranworth presides, and by the grass land and improvement campaign.

Another suggestion that was included in the speech of the noble Lord is the cultivation of the marginal and derelict lands of this country. I can well understand the almost instinctive feeling that land should not be allowed to become derelict.


May I interrupt the noble Earl? I did not say 10,000,000 acres, which is the figure given for land which the noble Lord has described. I deliberately cut the figure in halves, and I said 5,000,000 acres. I do not want to be misrepresented as referring to it all. I only spoke of half of it.


But I still understand the noble Lord to raise the question of what we call marginal and derelict lands. Of course it is not open to dispute that substantial intensification of production is technically possible. No doubt it could be put into force on a large scale if this country were prepared to adopt measures of the type employed elsewhere in the Continent of Europe, particularly by a severe restriction of imports, bringing about a rise in the cost of food which would pay the farmer for the extra cost of intensification of farming on uneconomic land. But I should like to put this question to Lord Addison. Who would foot the Bill in such a scheme? Either, it seems, it must be the consumer, through an increase of food prices, or it must be the taxpayer, by a heavy subsidy. The first of those alternatives would, I understand, hardly commend itself to the noble Lord opposite, and as to the second, the difficulties of increasing the burden of the Budget at the present time, when the rearmament programme is so closely before the public, are such that it would hardly commend itself to noble Lords behind me. Having said that, I will add that of course much can be and is being done to improve individual farms at the present time, but this, like any scheme of development, must largely depend upon the extent to which the industry has the will and ability to co-operate in the plan.

I would suggest that the real solution of Lord Addison for all the problems which have been mentioned is the nationalisation of farming land, upon which the noble Lord did just touch in the concluding remarks of his speech and to which Lord Cranworth devoted the greater part of his remarks. This is a fundamental issue of principle, on which the noble Lord and I start from different premises and arrive at completely different conclusions. We see what this would mean in practice by glancing at the manifesto to which my noble friend Lord Cranworth has referred. What do we see from this manifesto? We see the outline of a grandiose scheme of committees and bodies for the control of prices and supplies, leading eventually to the full nationalisation of the land. Bureaucratic control is substituted for individual management and there seems to be throughout an assumption that the farmer needs to be told how to farm.

I need not remind the House that this manifesto mentions, as the noble Lord did in his speech as one of the three essential points, that there should be reliability and fairness of price in order to encourage the cultivator to make proper use of his land. The noble Lord will recall better than I, for at that time he was a member of the Government, the events that followed the Corn Production Act. Under that Act a guaranteed price was given to the farmer, but owing to the change of political wind that Act was repealed and that price was no longer guaranteed. The farmer still recalls the damage that was done to his farm economy, he is still apprehensive of Government measures because he feels that any reliance upon a guaranteed price is apt to have the same results as it did in the case of that particular Act. And yet we see in the policy advocated by the Party of the noble Lord opposite that the only means whereby the second essential point that he has mentioned can be secured is a guaranteed price.

I do not believe that the agricultural problem can be simply solved by laying down a guaranteed price under all circumstances, taking into account our trade with the Dominions and foreign countries. If that were the case the bill might be so large that the resources of the country could not meet it. That is especially so when one contemplates the other policies that the Party of the noble Lord means to bring into operation directly it comes into power—for example, great extensions of the social services, which would surely mean for agriculture a scramble for the sums which it is suggested in the manifesto will be devoted to it. All these schemes of the noble Lord, as contained in the manifesto, mean a very big disturbance of the present system. Vast changes would be made overnight, and that in an industry which perhaps is the least adapted of all industries for drastic measures of that sort.

But, apart from any objections of principle, I have grave doubts whether the results would be anything like those anticipated by the noble Lord. The Government's policy, on the other hand, seeks to leave the farmer in full control of his own enterprise, while making available to him, by education and by propaganda, avenues for improvement. The vast store of traditional knowledge of any given farm, which is necessarily handed down from one occupier to another, and is assumed to be in the possession of the existing tenant is, under the policy of the Government, brought into full operation and use. I believe that if the policy advocated by this manifesto were to be carried into effect that store of knowledge would immediately be lost. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, has said that the policy of the Government is to-day the policy of a city man, that it is the policy of the city. I am myself a farmer and a man of the land, but, speaking as a representative of that section of the community, it would in my view be the very greatest error for agriculturists in Britain not to realise that we are essentially a country of cities, that we have a population of which 90 per cent. is dependent upon industrial occupations. If that be the case, in order to fulfil the functions of a Government and view the interests of all sections of the community, there must necessarily be a city aspect to the formulation of agricultural policy.

Our agricultural policy in peace time must surely be considered against the general political and economic background. If it is to be framed with full regard to the interests of the country there are certain fundamental principles which must be observed and which nothing except war itself would justify us in departing from. Perhaps I may briefly enumerate what those fundamental principles are. There must be no unreasonable disturbance of the existing organisation of agriculture; there must be no unreasonable disturbance in the cost of food to the consumer; and there must be no unreasonable disturbance in our relations with other countries. It is on those three principles that the Government's policy is founded. Perhaps I might in conclusion mention some of the results of this policy and reply to one of the points raised in the course of the debate. I would admit that in many ways the Government have very similar objectives to those of the noble Lord. We believe in increasing the consumption of food, giving farmers a reasonable profit, and in expanding home resources on a reasonable scale. But there is a vital difference in method. I hope I am not pressing the point too far in saying that we believe in evolution and the noble Lord believes in revolution.




But I think it is important to recognise that we want to assist agriculture upon what we term its natural lines. An important place in the programme that has been brought into operation during the last few years is given to efficiency measures and the reduction of costs. The Livestock Act of last year was a big step in the direction of marketing efficiency for livestock, both in the procedure by which markets could be rationalised under the Livestock Commission and the experiments in slaughtering whereby we could compete with greater advantage with Argentine producers in slaughtering methods. The Bacon Industry Bill, which was before your Lordships' House yesterday, has also much to say about efficiency, and the reduction of farmers' costs is perhaps the keynote of the Agriculture Act which was passed last July, with its provisions for increased fertility of the soil, healthier herds through the country, and better drainage.

Turning to the commodity measures, the arable areas have had the advantage of the Wheat Act, of the sugar beet subsidy, and the oats and barley scheme, as well as an import duty on foreign oats. The production of fruit and vegetables has been expanded under the shelter of the Customs Duties, and the milk industry has received considerable assistance under the Acts of 1934 and 1937, which assistance is now to be extended for a further year. Largely as a result of the encouragement given, we can point to a very substantial increase in the production of certain commodities in the year 1936 as compared with 1930. For instance, the production of wheat has increased from 1,100,000 tons to nearly 1,500,000 tons, and your Lordships will be aware that under the Agriculture Act of last year the limit of quantity for the guaranteed price under the Wheat Act was raised to 1,800,000 tons. There has also been a remarkable increase in the production of pigs for bacon. Your Lordships will recall that between the years 1930 and 1936 the pig production of this country nearly doubled itself, and other commodities in which there have been increases are beef, mutton, milk, fruit, vegetables, eggs, and poultry. On the other hand, it must be realised, as the noble Lord has said, that oats, barley, and fodder crops have decreased. As I have pointed out, in the crisis conditions of a few years ago farmers found it very attractive to buy foreign supplies of feeding stocks rather than produce their own.

To sum up, the Government's policy is to assist the farmers of this country, commodity by commodity, and enable them to assist themselves. The underlying consideration behind it has been, naturally, the expansion of trade externally and the betterment of conditions generally in internal affairs. The noble Lord has mentioned that at the present time the wage rates of agricultural labourers are higher than they have ever been since the Agricultural Wages Board has been in operation. I am the first to recognise that much of the trouble in respect of labour going off the land is due to the discrepancy that exists between the agricultural labourer's wage and the industrial wage. The basis upon which that wage can be increased is surely to provide, by such means as are feasible, an increased return to the farmer so that he himself, without disorganisation or disruption of the industry, can pay a higher remuneration to the labour that he employs.

Let me say in answer to the main burden of the argument of the noble Lord in raising this Motion that, with the exception of butter, barley, peas, and to a slight extent beef and mutton, we are today producing a larger percentage of our total requirements from home sources than in pre-War days. That is some compensation for the acreage that has gone out of cultivation and for the men who have gone off the land, and it is especially valuable when agricultural policy is related to measures of defence. I feel that I owe an apology to the noble Lord, Lord Addison, that in spite of making a very long reply I have not dealt with all the questions he raised in his most interesting speech. Nevertheless, I hope I have at least succeeded in pointing out some of the main difficulties in the way of complying with common and popular appeal for greater activity on the part of the Government in re-cultivating derelict areas, and for a comprehensive scheme for the improvement of agriculture, which, on the existing economic basis of this country, cannot be brought about as rapidly as most agriculturists would desire.


My Lords, I desire to add one or two words only, if I may be permitted, in support of what the noble Earl has said. In doing so I make no excuse, because we all realise that agriculture is undoubtedly the primary productive industry in this country, and therefore it is essential that the welfare of that industry should be one of our paramount considerations. May I thank the noble Lord for introducing this subject? I am somewhat amazed at the discomfort in which he must be sitting on the other side of the House because, from the opinions he expressed in regard to agriculture, I am sure he would be more happily situated were he to come over to this side of the House.

He referred to the Kettering speech made by the Prime Minister, but he did not add one word of what the charge or change is. He did not suggest that there was any charge to make, and I suggest that no change has been made in the agricultural policy of His Majesty's Government. There has been much criticism, and much has been written in the newspapers, but if one examines the statement made at Kettering it will be clear that no actual change in policy has been suggested or is contemplated. With all respect, I would say that no Government has done half as much for the industry of agriculture as has the Government of this country during the past few years. I need not weary the House with a catalogue of what has been done—matters such as derating assistance, the milk and sugar marketing schemes, and the great fertilisation policy so ably carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, during the last two years, the full results of which we shall not glean for another year or two.

The noble Lord postulated two or three conditions for taking certain action, but to the most important of all he did not give expression. I suggest that there are two things, and two things only, which will bring about the re-establishment of agriculture on a firm and prosperous basis. First of all, adequate markets—markets which will always take the full produce which the farmer is able to put on to those markets—and, secondly, the certainty that in those adequate markets the farmer shall be able to obtain a fair price for his produce. So soon, and not before, as the farmer is able to obtain an adequate and open market for his produce and a reasonable price for that produce, will agriculture become prosperous in this country.

A suggestion was made in respect of nationalisation. I venture to say there can be little, there can be nothing in that policy. There can be nothing in having well paid officials marching about over the land of the farmer and telling him what to do and how to do it. We owe a great deal to officials; we owe a great debt to Whitehall; but their job is not in the fields of England; their job is in Whitehall. When the suggestion of nationalisation is made, I submit that there is no substance whatever in it, and that nothing can be done in that direction to help our agriculture. But there is one thing that the Government have failed to do to which I would like to refer, and that is in respect to milk. They promised to increase the premiums for the quality of milk, and they are now proposing to put off implementing that promise until next year. I hope they will reconsider that matter, for whatever promise as to future assistance they may make they may not be in a position to implement it. I think it will be in the best interests of the milk industry as a whole if the Government would take steps, however inconvenient that may be, to implement that policy and give premiums for quality milk.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships except to say that I am glad this discussion has brought forth the speeches to which we have listened, and that I welcome the advertisement of the little pamphlet which the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, has quite properly given it. I hope it will continue to receive the attention it deserves. I beg to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at thirteen minutes past seven o'clock.