HL Deb 29 February 1940 vol 115 cc670-725

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, before beginning my speech on this Bill, I think perhaps your Lordships will expect me to mention the recent death of Lord Bayford. After filling many minor posts in the Government he was Minister of Agriculture from 1922 to 1924. It is twenty-one years since I first knew him, when he was a Whip in another place. Peter Sanders, as we all knew him in those days, had a host of friends, and he will be sadly missed, not only by that host of friends but by your Lordships in this House.

I do not know how many of your Lordships have followed the career of this Bill when it went through another place, but it certainly had a stormy passage, and a very critical, or fairly critical, Press. That was not, I would submit, because it was a bad Bill. Not at all. It is an excellent supplementary measure, as I shall hope to show your Lordships, and it is only a supplementary measure. I feel that it had this stormy passage in another place only because it was not until the measure reached its Report and Third Reading stages in another place that the House really appreciated what was in the Bill itself, or was able to put the Bill in its proper perspective. How true that is I think can be judged from this fact. The Second Reading stage in another place took six and a half hours, the Committee stage took two solid days—some thirteen hours of debate—but the Report and Third Reading stages went through in under three hours. That was because by that time Members had realised what the Bill in fact did. They realised its true worth, and had put it in its proper perspective.

Let me then try to tell your Lordships what is in this Bill, and what it exactly does, in order that no such mistake as occurred in another place should occur here. To do that I think I must do three things. I must explain to your Lordships first what is in the Bill, secondly, why the Bill is necessary, and thirdly, the true background against which only the contents of the Bill can be properly tested and appreciated. I will, if I may, take these three things in their reverse order. First the background, then why the Bill is necessary, and lastly, what is in the Bill. As to the background, in the first place long before the war started my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and the Government knew very well that if war should unfortunately materialise, the Home Front and the necessity to produce far more from our own fields in this country would become of vital importance. All the plans for a vast food production campaign were therefore set on foot, with the result that on the very first day that war broke out—on that Sunday the 3rd of September which none of us will ever forget—a county war agricultural executive committee was set up in each county, its Chairman had already been chosen, its executive officer was also there in his place, and on the first day of the war the county committees were ready to begin their work. In the second place wide powers were taken under the emergency regulations to ensure the necessary ploughing up and control and direction of cultivation and cropping. Thirdly, right at the beginning of the war, farmers were given not only a guaranteed market but a guarantee of reasonable prices for the main staple agricultural products; and fourthly, steps were taken to provide supplies and reserves of fertilisers, machinery and other farm requisites, and to mitigate the shortage of agricultural workers as much as possible.

Your Lordships will remember that right from the beginning of the war nobody over twenty-one years of age in agriculture need or could join the fighting forces. Therefore the first great objective of this campaign was to plough up two million acres of grassland in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and to get if possible 500,000 additional allotments. This was all for the harvest of 1940, and in effect it was an attempt to do in the first twelve months of this war what was only achieved in the last eighteen months of the last war—a very big project. So the campaign started in the first few weeks of the war, and although in the last eight weeks we have had the most terribly unfavourable weather, great progress has been made. Out of the 1,500,000 acres which were scheduled to be ploughed up in England and Wales already 1,300,000 acres have been chosen and scheduled for ploughing up by the county committees and a large proportion of this has already been ploughed.


HOW much has been ploughed?


I am afraid I cannot give the figure, because it varies from day to day and from moment to moment, but what I can assure the noble Lord is this, that since the last few days of fine weather ploughing has been going on sometimes as long as twenty-two and twenty-three hours in the day and right through the night. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, very wisely, right at the start, determined there should be no farming from Whitehall, and therefore he planned a scheme of decentralisation so that each county committee could be clothed with the necessary powers and authority, and, above all, so that the local knowledge and the local people could be harnessed to the task of this great food production campaign. I feel that this House, and indeed the country as a whole, should pay some tribute to members of county war agricultural executive committees, and not only to them but to the district committees also and to the parish representatives for the splendid drive they are putting into this work, and for all the time and the effort that they are contributing to it. We at the Ministry of Agriculture realise, I think every county committee realises, and I think now more and more every agriculturist realises, the importance of saving all the shipping and the foreign exchange that we possibly can by an increase of our food production. This is necessary in order that shipping and foreign exchange shall be available for the supply of the vital services which are needed in this country, and also in order that this country shall be made much more self-supporting.

Here I should like to remind your Lordships of at least two Government pledges which have been given. One was a pledge given by my right honourable friend on December 14 last in the House of Commons, when he warned the country that it must recognise that there would have to be a generally higher level of prices if we were to get the increased production that we desired. That is the first thing. Secondly, there was a pledge, which has been repeated by members of the War Cabinet, that prices of crops and livestocks will be from time to time reviewed and fixed so that the farmer can make a fair and reasonable profit on his transactions, and so that he may be able above all to pay a reasonable wage to the workers he employs. There were also very important pledges given by the Prime Minister in my hearing yesterday to the chairmen of the county war agricultural executive committees to which I will refer in a moment.

Now I come to my second task, which is to explain the need for this Bill. I want to deal first with wheat because that forms the subject matter of Part I of the Bill, and I should like to remind your Lordships, by way of explanation, of five simple facts about the Wheat Acts. The first is that it cannot be disputed that they have been very successful since the year 1932, when they came into operation; the second thing is that the standard price was fixed at 10s. a cwt., which works out at 45s. a quarter; the third is that the deficiency payment made up to the grower approximately the difference between the standard price and the average price at which the grower sold his wheat throughout the year; and the fourth that the money to pay this deficiency payment came not from the Exchequer but from a levy called the quota payment which was paid by the millers and other processors of wheat to the Wheat Commis- sion. Lastly—and this is a very important point because it is dealt with in the Bill—there was a limit fixed to the amount of wheat grown which could qualify for the deficiency payment. That limit was called "the anticipated supply" and, as your Lordships know, it was fixed at 36,000,000 cwt. a year and was commonly called "the ceiling." If in any year the wheat crop exceeded 36,000,000 cwt. then the deficiency payment to individual growers had to be scaled down accordingly. So successful were these Acts that whereas in the years 1929–31 the average yield amounted to 23,000,000 cwt., by the year 1938 that average yield of 23,000,000 cwt. had gone up to over 39,000,000 cwt., and the best estimate I can get of the yield of the last year, 1939, is just under 32,000,000 cwt. Moreover, during the seven years 1933–39 the total sales of home-grown millable wheat by registered growers have amounted to the fabulous figure of 204,000,000 cwt. There was distributed to home growers in those seven years no less a sum than £36,500,000 in deficiency payments, which works out at an average payment of 3s. 7d. per cwt.

Now I come to the need for the amendment which is contained in this Bill. Part I of the Bill adjusts the peace-time machinery to war-time needs, and at the same time leaves that machinery in the Bill—in operation so to speak—so that as soon as the war is over the peacetime machinery can once more function. Clause 1 of the Bill removes the ceiling. The immediate effect of that is that farmers can grow as much wheat as they like and the whole of that wheat can qualify for the full deficiency payment. The second thing that Clause 1 does is very important. It enables the deficiency payment to be made in respect of a shorter period than heretofore. Up to the present the period taken has been the cereal year from August 1 to July 31. It was only at the end of the cereal year that farmers could expect to get their deficiency payments because the cereal year had first to be completed.

I want to explain the need for this provision in Clause 1. In war-time the price of wheat fluctuates much more widely than in peace-time. Perhaps I had better explain that by giving an example. If you take the period from August 1 to September 8 last, the price of wheat was 4s. 3d. a cwt. From September 9 to October 20 the price per cwt. rose from 4s. 3d. to 5s. 4d. a cwt. and from October 21 to the present date it had risen again to round about 7s.

Obviously if the deficiency payment were based upon the average price over the whole cereal year, what would happen would be that those farmers who sold early would get less deficiency payment than those who hung on to a later period. Therefore subsection (1) provides that the cereal year shall be divided into separate accounting periods so that the deficiency payment may be calculated separately in respect of each period. If I apply the figures to the three periods I have given, I think your Lordships will see what a splendid amendment to the present Wheat Act this new provision will form. Taking the standard price of wheat at 11s. a cwt. the grower who sold between August 1 and September 8 when the price was 4s. 3d. a cwt. will get a deficiency payment of the difference between 4s. 3d. and 11s., namely 6s. 9d. Those who sold between September 9 and October 20, when the price had risen to 5s. 4d. a cwt., will get the difference between that 5s. 4d. and 11s., and those who hung on and only sold their wheat when the price had gone up to 7s., will get a deficiency payment of 4s. The result will be that every farmer will get, for the first time I think, the full deficiency payment that is due to him.

There is another great advantage, and that is that the grower will not have to wait until after July 31 to get his deficiency payment. He can sell his wheat as soon as he likes, and as soon as the accounting period is over he can get his full cheque. There are other changes in Part I of the Bill which I should like to mention. Clause 2 gives legislative sanction to the increase in the standard price of wheat from 10s. to 11s. a cwt., which was announced in Parliament last November, which is equivalent to an increase from 45s. to 49s. 6d. a qr. The Clause also enables the Minister, by Order made with the consent of the Treasury, to fix a different price in the cereal year beginning on August 1 next, or in any subsequent year falling within the period of suspension, which is defined in Clause 7 of the Bill. Clause 3 suspends the quota payment and enables the Ministry of Food to make the necessary payment to the Wheat Commission in order that the deficiency payments may be made. There are other clauses in Part I which are useful bits of machinery, but I do not think I need trouble your Lordships with more about this Part of the Bill at this stage.

Now I come to Part II of the Bill, which deals with oats, rye, barley and ploughing. It has been found necessary to bring into line with war-time requirements Parts I, II and IV of the Agricultural Development Act of last year. That Act, in Parts I and II respectively, dealt with the price insurance schemes for oats and barley respectively. It also imposed certain restrictions on the Exchequer liability as regards the acreage for oats and the quantity of barley allowed to qualify for the full rate of subsidy. It did another thing: it laid down that if a man had wheat as well as oats on his farm he could choose to apply for assistance both for wheat and for oats, but he had then to take a lower rate of subsidy for his oats. These provisions had, as your Lordships will see, a limiting effect on the acreage of oats, wheat and barley, which is inconsistent, of course, with our ploughing-up campaign and our invitation to the farmers to grow as much as they possibly can.

Part II of this Bill, in Clause 8, enables the farmer to get a higher rate of subsidy on his oats irrespective of whether he has wheat on his farm and gets that subsidy or not. Part II also removes the ceilings from oats and barley, so that now there will be no limit to the amount that is grown, and all that is grown can qualify for subsidy. Clause 9 is interesting, because it brings in rye for subsidy for the first time, as far as I know, in the history of this country. Rye is brought in on the same terms as oats, principally so as to encourage its growth on poorer and lighter soils, where it is very often the only cereal that can be grown. It is, of course, a valuable dual-purpose crop. I ought perhaps here to say that, owing to the higher level of prices prevailing this season, no subsidies will in fact be payable for the 1939 crops of oats, barley or rye; but we cannot forecast what the prices will be in subsequent years, and if farmers are being encouraged to grow as much of these crops as they can, they ought at least, I think, to be assured of a minimum return.

Clause 11 enables ploughing grants to be given beyond the original limit of time—October 31—and during the whole of the war period, and widens the conditions so that in the first place certain land which probably would not produce a good wheat crop or a cereal crop can now be re-seeded to grass. It also widens the choice of crops which a farmer can cultivate on his plough land and yet get the £2 subsidy. It is proposed that the first Order to be made under this provision should extend the period to March 31, and if necessary, and if the war lasts, further extensions will be made. Clause 11 also reduces the minimum required to qualify for the grant from two acres to one, which will be certain to help not only smallholders but crofters as well. It includes for the ploughing grants such land as undeveloped building land, parks, golf-courses and so on. Applications have already been received in respect of over one million acres in England and Wales alone, and, but for the very unpropitious weather that we have had, this figure would have been very much larger.

Now, my Lords, I come to what I suppose is the most contentious part of this Bill, the drainage clauses in Part III. There was prolonged criticism of these clauses in another place, and especially of Clause 14. Yet most of this criticism, I submit to your Lordships, was based on the supposition that this Bill contained the whole of the Government's proposals for land drainage. Of course, that is a fantastic fallacy and an absolute travesty of the truth. Had it been true, well might the Bill have been dubbed in another place "piffling" and "mingy," which in fact were the epithets that were applied to it, and well might my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture have been described as "clanking about in the chains hammered on to him by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as he moved about from clause to clause" No, my Lords, most of the criticism that this Bill underwent in another place was due to that fallacy—the fallacy that this Bill contained all the provisions for drainage that the Government are utilising. That, of course, is a grotesque untruth.

I will try to describe to your Lordships exactly what the drainage provisions in Part III mean. They are intended simply to fill a gap; that is all. Now, what gap? Let me try to explain it to your Lordships. To do so I must go back and say a word or two about the Report of the Royal Commission which reported in 1927 and over which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, presided with such skill. As a result of that Royal Commission's Report your Lordships will remember that a most important Drainage Act was passed: the Land Drainage Act, 1930. This Act, as far as drainage was concerned, was a revolutionary measure, recognising as it did that the first requirement of land drainage is to start with the main stream of the river, beginning with the outfall and working gradually to the source. The 1930 Act established an entirely new kind of drainage authority called the catchment board.

Before it was passed and the catchment board was invented, there was a real muddle. Some 400 bodies were concerned with land drainage, and they had jurisdiction over very little of the land, practically no co-ordination and a pitifully inadequate supply of finances. Then came the 1930 Act, and at once 49 catchment boards were set up which dealt with over 26,000,000 acres of land in this country—about 70 per cent. of the land in England and Wales. I may here add that the remaining 30 per cent. is in the main composed of land which does not want such arterial drainage. These catchment boards were made directly responsible for all main channels of rivers, and were endowed with general powers of supervision over the whole gathering-ground of their main rivers. Under Section 55, catchment boards receive Government grants and money for improvement work varying according to their particular needs. Since the Act was passed, schemes amounting to no less a sum than over £13,000,000 have been approved for grants, apart altogether from what is in this Act.

This brings me, my Lords, to the work of draining the minor watercourses, streams and ditches, which carry the water into the main rivers. These minor watercourses are the responsibility, as your Lordships well know, of local drainage boards. Where there is no local drainage board, they are the responsibility of the county council. That is very important, because it is on that fact that Clause 14 is really built up and becomes necessary. By 1937 the Government thought that enough work had been done by the catchment boards on the main rivers to justify an extension of grants to work on the smaller streams and ditches; hence the Agriculture Act of 1937 gave to drainage boards and to county councils grants for the purpose of dealing with the smaller streams.

When this Bill which we are discussing this afternoon was going through another place, already some £760,000 worth of work had been done on the minor water-courses; and so fast is the work going on under the 1937 Act that in the month of February alone, of which we are now at the last day, over 100 schemes have been passed by the Ministry of Agriculture, involving an extra £120,000. I can therefore give your Lordships now a total of £885,000, which is the money passed for grants by the Ministry of Agriculture for work under the 1937 Act. Schemes are now coming in to the Ministry at the rate of twenty fresh schemes every week. The cost of these schemes varies; some of them are £10 schemes, and there was one last week of over £40,000; but in general the cost for each scheme is somewhere between £100 and £1,000. Incidentally, grants are now being given at 50 per cent., and they will be available for a further year, namely, up to July 31, 1941. An Order to do this will be laid before Parliament under Section 15 of the Agriculture Act, 1937, in a very short time.

This, then, is the real picture of what is going on, apart from this Bill. The catchment boards are really busy and keen, as well as the local drainage boards. Your Lordships may ask, however, "Why then the necessity for Clause 14?" It is necessary for this reason. There are areas in which there is no local drainage board set up. In those areas the county council ought by rights to have stepped in and done the necessary drainage; but, owing to lack of men or lack of time, many county councils have not found occasion or time to do the necessary work, and Clause 14 enables a catchment board, if invited to do so by the county war agricultural executive committee, to step in and do the necessary work. Grants are to be given up to 50 per cent., just as under the Agriculture Act, and it is estimated provisionally that some 230,000 acres of land may well be dealt with under Clause 14, at an average cost of about £2 an acre It would appear, therefore, that some £460,000 worth of work will be done under this clause. That, of course, is in addition to the catchment board work and to the £885,000 which is being spent under the drainage boards. I may say that there is no limit to the work which can be done under Clause 14, and if more land can be found which ought to be dealt with under that clause, so much the better.

Now let me come to the third phase of drainage. Clause 15 deals with grants for mole drainage, and it is intended by them to complete the structure of State assistance by encouraging the drainage of the fields themselves. In another place many speeches were made in which it was contended that mole drainage was all very well, but that tile drainage was much better. I am advised, my Lords, that tile drainage would probably be too expensive, that there are probably at least 200,000 acres which would benefit very much from mole drainage, and that the average cost would work out at something like 30s. an acre. With regard to some points of detailed criticism of these drainage clauses which were made in another place, I hope to be able to deal with these when this Bill reaches the Committee stage in your Lordships' House. I trust that your Lordships will now see exactly what the drainage clauses of this Bill are meant to do, and how unfair was at any rate most of the criticism which was directed against them in another place.

I now come to Part IV, which deals with miscellaneous and general matters, and I think there are only two clauses there to which I need draw your Lordships' attention. Both are important clauses. One is Clause 23, which says that when the State has occasion to take over either derelict land or land which in the opinion of the county war agricultural executive committee has not been cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry, then the State may stay in possession of such land for at least three years from the end of the war period. This, of course, is to give both the State and the tenant a chance to recoup themselves for all their expenditure and effort. The clause also enables the Minister to recover from the owner, when he does hand back the land or give up possession, the value of the improvements made.

I now come to Clause 25, which looks quite an innocent clause when you read it; but, under the cover of the words of that clause, I hope that a great deal of assistance is going to be given to certain farmers who may possibly need it. Under that clause it is intended to provide goods and services—not cash, but goods and services—to farmers who cannot get any more credit and who cannot afford to pay for the goods and services themselves. In the vast majority of cases, of course, farmers will use the ordinary channels of credit—the banks and the merchants—and will not have recourse to Clause 25; but we are anxious to help the small, keen farmer who may have had orders from his county war agricultural executive committee to plough up ten or twenty acres of land and who is in such a position that he does not know where to find the money. He can apply to the county committee, who, if they are satisfied that it is a bona-fide case, can supply him with goods and services in order to enable him to carry out his work. In return, that farmer will be asked to enter into an agreement to pay back the money, plus interest at the rate of 5 per cent., within a specified time, which normally would be when he gets the receipts from his harvest. In default, the money is to be stopped either from his milk cheque or from the wheat deficiency payment which may be coming his way. That is the broad outline of the scheme. I have arranged for copies of it to be placed in the Library in case your Lordships would like to see the actual details given there. I would emphasize, my Lords, that this scheme is intended to be self-supporting, and is not intended to replace the ordinary existing forms of short-term credit. We think it will be of service, and we mean to make the working of it as successful as possible. There are other machinery clauses in Part IV, but I do not think I need refer to them at this stage.

That is the Bill, and I apologise humbly to your Lordships for the length of my speech, but I was anxious to try to put this Bill in its proper perspective and to give your Lordships as clear an explanation of it as I could. It will be a great help, we feel at the Ministry of Agriculture, to the efforts that we are making to spur on our food production campaign; and, judged in its proper perspective, I can commend it to your Lordships. The Government attach the greatest importance to this food production campaign. They realise to the full the many difficulties with which farmers and workers are contending, and all the efforts of the Government will be directed towards fixing, so far as they can do it, a range of prices which, being adjusted from time to time, will enable farmers, as I said earlier in my speech, to pay a fair rate of wages to the men whom they employ and to gain a fair profit for themselves.

The Government, I claim, have planned wisely in this great campaign for the production of more home-produced food. They realise the fundamental importance of the campaign, and they feel confident that, given fair prices and good wages, both farmers and workers will not fail. Only yesterday the Prime Minister enormously encouraged a big and very important meeting of the chairmen of all the county committees, not only by repeating the pledges which had been given but by adding two very important further pledges, namely, that in so far as the Government could help, no farmer should be short in the next harvest for lack of workers—the Government will help him to gather in his harvest—and, secondly, that so far as the Government could secure it, at the end of this war there should not be the same cataclysm and the same letting down of agriculture as was unfortunately experienced at the end of the last war. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has a standing and an experience almost unique, and possessed by few if any of his predecessors. This supplementary Bill will help us, and I hope that your Lordships will give it your blessing. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Denham.)

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, this is a suitable occasion to pay tribute to the late Lord Bayford. His advice and his experience would have been invaluable to us whilst we are discussing this Bill, and my friends and I on this side of the House would like to associate ourselves with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Denham. I should like also, before saying anything else, to congratulate His Majesty's Government on the admirable advocate they have found to present their case to-day. I feel, after listening to the noble Lord's speech, that this Bill is all and everything that British agriculture requires. Perhaps I should say "nearly feel"—not quite, because I must come back to the Bill and to reality. The noble Lord did underline, quite rightly and most necessarily, the fact that this is not a total scheme, and, in fact, the criticisms I shall make of it, and which I suspect other noble Lords will make, are criticisms rather of omission than of commission. It was, I believe, understood that this debate to-day would rove a little beyond the immediate Bill, and noble Lords will forgive me if I refer to agriculture generally and to the Government's policy for food production rather than stick closely to the immediate provisions of this Bill.

We on this side of the House have been accustomed for many years to being the Cassandras of agriculture, and I can assure noble Lords that it is no satisfaction to us now to find our prophecies fulfilled. For many years my friends and I have urged upon the Government's consideration, here and in another place, a comprehensive scheme for agriculture, for its complete reorganisation, and for the placing of it upon a proper footing. We are the only people, we maintain—and I maintain now—who have always had a comprehensive, consistent, policy, and have always urged it. That policy has received a good deal of criticism—often, I would say, very helpful criticism, and criticism from which our scheme has benefited—but in this time of national emergency we have the satisfaction of finding that much of what we have been urging is now being adopted by the Government, which finds itself in extremis. In so far as one is bound still to criticise the Government's scheme, in so far as these schemes are still inadequate, we believe they are inadequate because they have not followed more closely the lines which we have been laying down and urging upon the Government for many years past. It is not my desire to damn this Bill with faint praise. It is, as the noble Lord has said, a limited Bill. It is not a total policy for agriculture and food production. But unfortunately the fact that it is not such a policy is really the burden of my complaint.

It is a Bill which, as the noble Lord has pointed out, could do a great deal if it were enforced and carried out to the full extent of its possibilities. It is a Bill, like most Bills, whose efficacy must necessarily depend on the enthusiasm, good will, and efficiency with which its terms are enforced. It would be more comforting to those of us who cannot, and do not, in this Bill find a complete scheme for agriculture in wartime—and I will add in peace-time—if we had any feeling that it was, in fact, part of such a comprehensive scheme. But we cannot repress the uneasy feeling that no such comprehensive scheme does, in fact, exist. Let me take, for example, the case of ploughing-up. We are all in agreement that an immense area of land in this country must be ploughed up, that for many years past it has not produced to capacity, and that very much of it has been allowed to run to waste. But to some of us, perhaps because, being in the middle of the wood, we are prevented from seeing the whole view by the trees, what seems to have happened is that His Majesty's Government have said, "We require 2,000,000 extra acres of arable land. That is such-and-such a percentage." They have then sent to the county agricultural committee, and said, "You shall plough such-and-such a percentage." The noble Lord shakes his head, and I am glad to know that is not so. What is true is that very many of the county committees, when they have been told to plough a certain percentage, have gone to the individual farmer and said, regardless of the kind of land on his farm, "You will plough such-and-such percentage of your total holding." Mistakes will happen, I know, but one does hear, and knows personally, of quite a number of such mistakes.

It is probably the case that the Ministry of Agriculture has in its files a survey of agricultural land all over England. It ought to have been possible—and please do not understand I am urging farming from Whitehall, to which the noble Lord referred—to produce a scheme for the whole country, and I should like an assurance that this has been done, although there is inadequate evidence of it. It should have been possible to say such-and-such an area is suitable for arable land, such-and-such is obviously pasture, and your county committee could have been told accordingly, and would have used discrimination in giving further orders. In addition, it is unfortunately the fact that, willing and no doubt able as many of the county committees are, they have been in many cases very slow off the mark. The noble Lord has referred to our altogether exceptional winter. That winter has, of course, held up work for probably the best part of two months, but if the ploughing orders had been made in September, whilst no doubt we should have been still behindhand, a good deal of the work would have been put in hand. In too many cases it is only now that these orders have been made. It should be remembered that this is pasture land which is being ploughed up. The farmers who have farmed this land are, very largely, dairy farmers who have not got the labour or the materials for doing the ploughing themselves. The result, at the moment, is that those firms who undertake this work are absolutely snowed under with demands from people who are only too willing to carry out the scheme. Might I therefore, with all urgency, beg the Government to do everything in their power to give the county agricultural committees all the machinery and labour needed in order to help farmers to carry out this scheme?

My Lords, with the clauses that have to do with wheat, oats, rye and barley we find ourselves in substantial agreement. These clauses aim to give the farmer what we on this side of the House have always urged, a certain return on his crops. This seems to us to be entirely admirable, entirely desirable, and consistent with what we ourselves have urged—on one condition: that this reasonable return shall be combined with what we have promised that it shall be combined with, a Bill to be introduced shortly dealing with agricultural wages. We have welcomed equally the overdue clauses, if I may venture to call them so, dealing with drainage and undeveloped or badly farmed land. May I say how deeply I personally regret the absence, owing to illness, of my noble friend Lord Addison? He would have been, I think, profoundly gratified by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and his references to the Bill of 1930 dealing with catchment areas of which I believe Lord Addison was the parent.

May I say in passing that one to our minds profoundly important, and I should think to many minds on the other side of the House almost revolutionary, item under this head is the claim which the Minister is going to be entitled to make for improved value of land taken over as either undeveloped or badly farmed. This provision seems to us to indicate a good deal of that difficulty which must be faced when it is a question of putting agriculture on its feet, when the land on which that agriculture is carried on is in private hands. It is inevitable that a Government, no matter what Government, must necessarily hesitate before spending very large sums of the taxpayers' money on the improvement of the property of one particular kind of property-owner. That is a difficulty which must always occur and for which we have constantly urged a cure which I do not expect to find popular with many members of this House; though I fancy I am right in believing that the present Foreign Secretary once remarked that we were likely to get our solution by what he described as "a side-wind." Perhaps war emergency may prove to be that side-wind; we hope so.

I must now come to the one really serious criticism of this Bill that I have to make. As I have said, this Bill could be, I am sure, an extremely valuable measure if it were carried out enthusiastically, but as one reads it through one feels in nearly every clause the dead hand of the Treasury. I am glad to see the noble Lord opposite shake his head. Perhaps he will be able to prise up one or two of those dead fingers and get a little more from underneath them than one fears that they are inclined to release. Particularly mean, if I may say so, is the provision in connection with the financing of those farmers who have been described as lame dogs, to whom the noble Lord opposite referred, because we find that loans to them are to bear interest at 5 per cent. These are men who, apparently owing to their circumstances, are unable to receive credit from banks and the ordinary sources. They are still to be asked a rate of interest very much higher—at any rate considerably higher—than the ordinary commercial rate, and of course, vastly higher than the rate at which the Treasury itself can obtain the money. My Lords, I fear—I think we all fear—that this provision will make the advantages of this particular clause a dead letter. Some of us may have a suspicion that that was the reason why the Treasury had that provision inserted. I hope that in Committee we may perhaps be able to move an Amendment. I myself cannot help thinking that the Ministry of Agriculture itself would not be sorry to see at least this item altered in a more generous direction. The noble Lord shakes his head. Of course he is bound to do that, but perhaps he will not repine if other noble Lords on the other side of the House who may possibly agree with us should force him to change his mind and to disappoint the Treasury.

This Bill deals with what I might describe as the heavy industry of agriculture. I am not going to take very long and I have not taken very long, but I warned your Lordships that I might go a little beyond the scope of this Bill, and I think perhaps your Lordships will excuse me if I say one or two words about pig and poultry farming, because on these subjects it does seem to me that the Government's policy is really mistaken. So far as we can make out, it is the policy of the Government to encourage back-yard pig and poultry keeping at the expense of the large and scientific farmer. I should be the last to discourage back-yard poultry keeping and pig keeping, but such farming cannot possibly take the place of the large-scale scientific farmer when it comes to real production and highly efficient production. Such help of the back-yard may to some extent mitigate the hardships caused by the difficulty of importing food, but when it is a question of raising as much food in our own country as we possibly can, then I am sure that this lack of encouragement, not to put it more strongly, to the big-scale farmer is a profound mistake; for, apart from anything else, I have some experience, and I am sure that any other noble Lord who is experienced knows perfectly well that in fact you cannot produce eggs or pigs on pure refuse, on swill, or on scraps as the case may be. It is not possible.

To start with, the fact that there are sufficient scraps to feed your poultry is a sign that your household is not really being economical. If you are going to make sufficient scraps, you will be feeding your poultry on human food. It has been the universal experience of people who have tried to keep poultry on scraps that in order to get satisfactory results it is absolutely essential to give them additional poultry feed. This naturally entails the most uneconomical kind of distribution of such feed—distribution in small packets; and in addition, there is no doubt whatever that you will not get the quantity of eggs; you just will not get them. I would beg of the Government most seriously not to discourage, by releasing insufficient supplies of feed, the large-scale pig and poultry farmers. They are the people who produce, for the amount of feed or whatever it is consumed, the greatest quantity of foodstuffs for the people generally.

There is one other point upon which I would like to touch; it is the question of labour. As the noble Lord opposite has said, all agricultural labour from twenty-one years up is in a reserved occupation. Unfortunately, already quite a number of men who were reserved have been taken. In only too many cases, by some curious coincidence—in too many of the cases of which I hear at any rate—they seem to be tractor drivers who have been taken, and I have heard of cases where these men have been asked for back, and the reply has been that they are essential to the Army because they are now driving lorries. Any farmer will agree with me that driving a tractor is a highly skilled task, whereas driving a lorry—well, I expect most of your Lordships could do that. I am not suggesting that your Lordships are not highly skilled. In addition to that there are also certain rural occupations which are not reserved occupations. I would ask the Government to look into the question of whether certain of the trades should not be scheduled.

Finally, there is as it were a psychological problem. Young men whose friends and relations are being called up, and who take perhaps a rather juvenile view of war, are inclined to regard the whole thing as a great adventure, and do not want to be left behind and so left out of it altogether. I know cases of employers whose men have come to them and said, "Don't please say anything about it if I am called up. I want to go. Tom, Dick and Harry are going, too." The employer's position in that case is a difficult one. It is useless for him to go against the man's will. A labourer kept against his own will would not be a very useful workman. I think it would be extremely helpful if the Government could again—I know it has in the past—make as public and as categorical a declaration as possible of the absolute necessity for people in reserved occupations remaining in those occupations. If they could make it clear in some way which would make these young men feel that by foregoing this experience they were in fact doing a bigger, or just as big and as good a work as those who go, it would be a very good thing. I do urge this particular point on the Government, because I am afraid that as the war goes on, and as we have more and more acres of land under intensive cultivation, this problem will become more and more pressing.

There is another point, also psychological. There is the psychology of the farmer. For many years now the farmer has got nothing but kicks of one sort or another. He has found that it does not pay to go in for experiments, and his tendency, unfortunately, has been always to play safe, to plant crops or do the kind of farming which will cause him to run the least risk. I think that this Bill does something to meet that case. I think it does give the farmer some kind of assurance that if he will undertake new ventures, those ventures will not go unrewarded. And if the Government find that the farmer is slow I do not think it is because he is unwilling to co-operate; it is because as a result of many years of bitter experience he has learned that he must not take risks, that he has to play safe. It is up to the Government to give the farmer back his confidence, and that confidence has not to be a mere war emergency confidence. It has to be a confidence that this is now a real scheme, a long-term scheme for the benefit of English agriculture.

I was relieved to hear the noble Lord's reference to the Prime Minister's speech to the county agricultural committees when he did make some such reference to a post-war policy. This was particularly consoling, since it appeared to be in direct contradiction of his remarks made at the luncheon at the Dorchester Hotel. However, I hope the noble Lord can comfort us, and assure us that the Prime Minister's remarks to the county agricultural committees contain what is in fact the Government's policy.

As I have said, this is not a comprehensive scheme. We hope the Government has a comprehensive scheme, and we should like to know what it is. We think that they should take warning now from the difficulties we have had this winter, and realise the probability of shortages in the carrying out of any scheme which they may have. It is, I am afraid, almost certain now that the ploughing scheme can hardly be carried out to its full extent. We all hope it will be as successful as possible. I think the Government ought to know within a month or so how much land can be ploughed, and what its production is likely to be, and ought to take the necessary steps to obtain those feeding stuffs without which much of our agriculture next winter will be at a complete standstill. God knows, it has suffered enough this winter. This is not, I repeat, a comprehensive scheme. We hope the Government have a comprehensive scheme, and if they have, and if this Bill is carried out in the right spirit, with the right force and the right enthusiasm, we believe it can be useful, and as such we wish it luck.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, may I without presumption venture to offer to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, my congratulations on his successful introduction of this Bill—congratulations which are the more sincere on account of the magnificence of his optimism. As he spoke I almost thought I could see the spring corn sprouting from the soil. It is that spirit of optimism which is required in agriculture to-day, and I am delighted to think the noble Lord possesses it in so great a measure. Indeed, he and all those he is endeavouring to help will require it in order to compete successfully with the programme which the Government have laid down. I should like to refer very briefly to the Bill which the noble Lord introduced. Although his introductory speech lends itself to a dissertation upon a much wider field than that covered by the Bill, at the same time the Bill is the subject to which we have to give at least some attention, and I would like to refer briefly to its provisions, and to certain features of it which are, I think, worthy of general congratulation.

The first of them would be that it removes, let us hope for all time, that most desperate policy of the restriction of production. I wonder how many times I have ventured to speak in your Lordships' House in opposition to that policy, a policy the reason for which we have always understood. It was, of course, imposed upon us by the limitations of finance. None the less it was a disastrous policy. Now it has been well said that it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Although this change has come in consequence of the war, the "illest" of all winds, yet let us hope we shall never go back to that disastrous policy. The Bill does not, I think, set out to do much directly for the agriculturist, but it does indirectly, and when the need arises, enable the Minister and the authority to give assistance here, a restriction there, a little push here, and a larger one there, which is really what is required in time of war. It is a machinery Bill, and as such does not lend itself to much adverse criticism, even if, on the other hand, it does not lend itself to a great deal of enthusiastic support.

There are in it one or two clauses to which reference should be made, and I would refer in passing to that clause which changes the system of making up to a farmer the price of his wheat. It is regrettable that that admirable Act, which has operated so well for a number of years, should have to go even into temporary suspension. The reason for it is understood. I would just like to make one slight suggestion in passing with regard to that. I feel that it might pay the Government to provide a small premium to the farmer who is prepared to keep his wheat in stack. It would be very unfortunate for the Ministry of Food if, by reason of shortage of cash, every farmer should employ all threshing tackle as soon after harvest as he possibly could. It is desirable to get a level production. We all of us know that wheat keeps better in stack than anywhere else, but we also know that the rats have to be fed, and it is impossible to prevent depreciation of the contents of the stack. That depreciation is very considerable and it gets greater the longer the stack remains standing as a stack. I think it would be a good thing to give a sufficient premium to farmers who are prepared to keep their wheat in stack so as to fit in with a level production of that cereal.

I pass now to Clause 14 of this Bill. There is something in this Bill which irresistibly compels me to refer to things I have said very often here before. I have always thought that sooner or later Parliament would have to depend on the landowner, and here it is. For years, beginning with that catastrophic advent to power of the Liberal Party in 1906, the landowner has been made—well, he has not been given the best of times. Now he is going to be wanted. I see in this clause that he is going to be made to pay for the cost of drainage, which may be entirely beyond his financial capacity. I am not suggesting for a moment that it should be a reason for land not being drained that the landowner is unable to bear the cost. By all means take compulsory power to drain the land, but what is going to happen if the landowner is unable to pay?—and there will be hundreds who will not be able to pay. I cannot see, in this Bill, any means afforded to the landowner to recoup himself for his expenditure. Quite clearly he will have to borrow the money. The law being inexorable, he will have to pay. He cannot borrow money unless he can pay interest, and from whom is he going to recover the interest? That is a matter of interest in more senses than one. I cannot find anything in the Bill to enable the landowner to raise that money. It will have to be raised, and I think the Government should take the matter into consideration and endeavour to give the landlord, if possible, some loophole for recovering his cost.

Again, in this particular clause, there is no opportunity given to the owner of the land—who as a rule knows more about it than anybody else—to go beyond the catchment board to the Minister. The catchment board are bound under the Bill to hear the landowner's representations—they may not necessarily be objections—but when the catchment board in their wisdom have overruled them, that is the end of the landowner. I think he ought to have an approach to the Minister himself. Under the Bill the catchment board need not pass on to the Minister one word of what the landowner has said. If they do not happen to like him they probably will not, and I think it would be advantageous that the landowner should be given the right of approach to the Minister from the catchment board. Certainly it would be our intention to move an Amendment to that effect.

Now I come to Clauses 16 and 17. Under Clause 16 the Government are taking power to remove dams. I do not think we have any right to take any exception to that. There are certain drainage schemes which may require it. In war-time much has to be tolerated which would not be tolerated at other times. In Clause 16 there is provision for compensation to the individual if a dam is removed, and so there can be no exception taken to that clause. When we come to Clause 17, which lays down that the owner of a dam or sluice shall shut it or keep it open according to demand without reference to his own convenience, I suggest that there should be compensation payable to him for any damage he may suffer thereby. But there is no compensation payable to him. It may be that we do not use our waterways in Great Britain half as much as we ought to use them, but at the same time anybody who is familiar with them is aware that upon those waterways there are multitudes of mills, there are many electric light plants, there are watercress beds, there are sluices and dams erected to preserve fisheries, and altogether the user of the waterways is very considerable. When, in the national interest, an individual is compelled either to keep closed or to keep open his sluices, to the destruction perhaps of his own business, then I think it is only reasonable that he should be given compensation for sacrificing his particular interest to the national weal. We will propose an Amendment to that effect.

I think I have said quite enough at this stage about the details of the Bill itself. Important though the Bill is, it is perhaps better to discuss these relatively minor points in Committee, and I would like, if I may, to reverse the usual procedure of going from the general to the particular and go from the particular to the general. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, in introducing the Bill, gave the impression—I am sure it was an impression which he will not wish to gainsay—of the extreme urgency of our national agricultural programme. He is an administrator doing all he can to aid his chief, and is of course anxious to get this Bill passed and to do all other things that an administrator can do. Not being an administrator myself but a practical farmer, and being concerned with putting into practice the things which we are expected to do, when I have to consider the relative importance of the practice compared with the theory of administration I of course come down heavily on the side of practice. I would like if I may to devote a very few moments to explain to the House exactly what difficulties the practical farmer is up against at the present time.

There are two fundamentals in agriculture, first the weather, and second finance, and the weather has a very remarkable effect upon the second. The weather has been referred to somewhat lightly in the speeches which have preceded my own. One never wants to be a pessimist, and one feels that in Germany the extravagances of the weather have happily been greater than they have in our own country, but that, I think we shall have to agree, is cold comfort in more senses than one. What has the weather done for us and for the Minister and his schemes, and for all those who are determined to do what they can to produce the maximum in the coming harvest? I mention these things because they lead up to something I want to say which perhaps will not be quite so acceptable.

The weather in October and November last did everything it could to prevent the ploughing of arable land. It rained on the average six inches more than the normal in those two months. As a matter of actual fact that was not too bad, because you can plough old grass-land in wet weather. I do not mean you can do anything more to it, but you can plough it out. In spite of everything that the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, said, I consider the amount of ploughing-out of old grass-land accomplished in October and November was a very remarkable feat. It went very far, very far indeed, but I am afraid that it was done very largely at the expense of the other, the ordinary arable land, which should have been ploughed down and could not be because of the weather; so that on balance we have not gained as much as I should like to think we had at the end of November and into December. I do not think I remember ploughing being so backward as it was at the end of last year. One had looked forward, of course, to being able to make up—not an easy thing to do—and then the week after Christmas there came the weather which has afflicted us all in a greater or lesser degree, and in most parts of the country agricultural operations were impossible for eight weeks. So we have lost eight weeks in midwinter, on the top of the wet season that came before. Now we have to try to make them good. Miracles happen in nature, and there is no saying that a miracle is not going to happen this time. You never know, and I speak with all seriousness: it is quite remarkable how your most pessimistic plans may blossom and your most optimistic ones may fade. We hope that on this occasion the pessimistic ones will blossom. It is quite possible they will; it depends, of course, on the weather that we are going to have in March. That curse of the town population, the bitter east wind which catches you when you go round the corner, is going to be a blessing to agriculture. The colder it is the better, so long as it is dry. What we want is dry wind for as many days as we can have; then perhaps we shall catch up. But we are only going to catch up at a tremendous expenditure of effort and of money.

That is what brings me to my point. First in respect of effort. Farmers have, I hope, as strong a sense of patriotism and of duty as have other people, and when they make a great cry about lack of confidence induced by insufficient encouragement, it must not be thought that they have entirely forgotten the duty that they owe to the country and the patriotism that is innate in themselves. None the less, I do not think that any person speaking with authority to-day can do better at the outset than impress upon the agricultural community the tremendous duty that they owe to the country now to get to work instantly and not to spare themselves or their men. It is essential that every effort should be put forth at this instant; and that the farmer should leave it to humble individuals like ourselves in both Houses of Parliament, and to our own strong organisation, to do the best possible for their interests while they get on with the job. That, to my mind, is the first thing that should be said and done.

That done, it then becomes the duty of those of us who believe that we are competent to speak, to represent their difficulties so that they may be ameliorated and, if possible, cured. This desperate weather about which I have been speaking is going to make it most terribly difficult for a farmer to produce at the same cost as he would have done in a normal year, and it may be that some classes of farmers are compelled to look forward to crops of a much less considerable content than they would have had in a normal year. Take, for instance, the wheat farmer. None of us knows yet with any certainty how much of that autumn-sown wheat is ever going to come to ear. It may or it may not: I think it would be unwise to prophesy. Where the snow fell first and the frost came afterwards, the wheat would be safe; where the frost came first and the snow came afterwards, I should not like to say what has happened to the wheat, particularly as that land was frozen to perhaps a depth of a foot or eighteen inches and remained so for eight weeks. We can hope for the best.

But imagine the case of the wheat farmer who drilled in the autumn, whose land was suited for wheat but who was not able to drill the full crop because of the wet. It is now too late to drill it in the spring, and he is reduced to re-seeding some of his wheat land and re-sowing some of the wheat on land less well suited to wheat. He is faced with a loss at the outset; consequently the price of such wheat as he is going to grow must be brought into line with its cost to him. There is going to be an immensely strong case for a very large increase in the price of wheat for this harvest. In anything I say in this matter I should like it to be remembered that it is of this coming harvest that I am speaking. This coming harvest is influenced entirely by the most incredible winter. What I say may not apply to any other harvest; we need not make any positive assurances for other harvests, nor commit ourselves beyond this one. We have only to think of the wheat farmer this year. The man who harvests arable land on a very large scale normally puts his oats down in February, his barley in March and his roots in May. If he starts a month late, he is a month late at the end; if two months late, he is two months late at the end. If you plant and sow at the wrong time, you do not get the same crops as if you had put them in at the right time; that is obvious. There is the risk of depreciation the whole time.

There is only one way of obviating this to some extent, and that is to work longer hours. We can make six days into seven or into eight, but it costs money. I am not so sure that the men would object. I feel, as a matter of fact, quite confident that they would agree to give the hours if the labourers' union were approached. I do not believe there is a labouring man in the country who would refuse to work almost the hours of daylight in order to help out the tenant farmer, or the landowner who is farming himself, to make up time. But of course he could hardly be expected to do it unless he were paid, and who is going to pay? That is the crux of the question. Overtime is a serious thing to have to pay to a large extent. But we have to work those hours. It has got to be done from the beginning of next month; it ought to begin next month, and it ought not to stop at the earliest until the end of April, and if possible it should continue right through to the end of May. I very greatly hope that the Minister will be able to suggest a national scheme whereby the labouring man, through his union, is induced to work these additional hours, and the farmer is given an incentive to pay the additional sum which will be required.

Now, what is the incentive going to be? That is the difficulty. You can subsidise wages. I am not fond of that solution; I should very much prefer the farmer to be given an incentive which would induce him to employ and pay out of his own pocket the labour which he will require in these few months, because I think that would be infinitely preferable. But, my Lords, prices, high though they may seem to some, are not adequate to give that incentive, and they are not adequate for a very particular reason which I should like to explain, and then I shall sit down and give way to others, for it is not fair that I should hold the floor too long. I should, however, like to explain why it is that these prices, which do on the face of it appear to be so high, are not adequate. It is because this war opened with an insolvent industry, and for no other reason than that. If you had begun at a level datum, these prices would have been in the main quite adequate; but you began with an industry loaded with debt, and prices which would be adequate to a man who was prosperous at the outset are wholly inade- quate to an industry which has to pay off the debt before it begins to make any profit. That is the whole problem.

Noble Lords and Members in another place who are not agriculturists will point at once to the tremendous subsidies paid to agriculture of recent years. "Why is it," they will say, "that agriculture is still a bankrupt industry?" The answer to that is that the farmer is the necessary channel through which money of all kinds must pass both upwards and downwards, and almost the whole of the money which has been paid by the State in subsidisation of agriculture of recent years has gone through to support the wage of the agricultural labourer. No member of the House will suppose that I am entering here into a controversy as to whether the wage of the agricultural labourer is too little or too much, or anything of that kind; that is not my purpose. All I want to point out is that this money which has been paid by the State in subsidy has gone through the farmer to the labourer, and that by that means and that means alone a reasonably adequate sufficiency of labour has been retained on the land. Therefore there are no regrets; on the contrary, it is a matter of congratulation and I make no complaint; but it would be the gravest error to suppose that this assistance to farmers has remained in the farmer's pocket. It has not done anything of the kind. It has retained on the land men essential to its cultivation, but it has not put money into the farmer's pocket.

The result is that the farmer up and down the country is in hopeless debt, and until he can get out of debt he cannot expand. If any Government Department wished for rapid expansion of production in a particular line of goods, it would not go to the small man with a shaky little business; but in agriculture we are all little men with shaky little businesses. That is the problem. Until we can get out of debt it is very difficult to expand; and, unreasonable though prices may be, they have to be large enough to get the farmer out of debt first. When that is done you can put the screw on him, but you must give him a chance before you do that. If there is any reluctance to expand, and expand rapidly, that is the reason. When any of us ask for higher prices and better prices and complain of the prices that now prevail, our reason will be that you cannot induce a man who is hopelessly in debt to spend that which he has not got in expanding his production to suit a national need of which he is as conscious as you are, but which he is literally unable to play up to. That is all that I propose to say on this subject. I do hope very much that by what I have said I may have impressed at least one or two of my hearers with the knowledge that this question is not in the farming industry one of profits; if it were, I should be the first to wish them kept to the lowest possible figure. This is not a war in which profits ought to be made either by the agricultural industry or by any other; but we must give the farmer a chance to get out of debt.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to my noble friend Lord Hastings when he delivers a discourse such as he has just done upon matters relating to the land; he is always well informed, always courageous, always emphatic, and possessed of a clarity of utterance of which many of us are supremely envious. I should like, if I may, to join with those who have expressed appreciation of the speech of the noble Lord who represents the Ministry of Agriculture in introducing this Bill, and I do so with greater zest because it is one of those Bills which to me, and I dare say to others of your Lordships, is peculiarly incomprehensible without a considerable amount of clear explanation. It is one of those Bills which is a very good illustration of legislation by reference. I do not think I shall be overbold if I suggest that any President of the Board of Agriculture introducing a similar Bill in another place thirty years ago might have done so with much greater ease than a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary would find in submitting an Agricultural Bill to either House in these days: indeed, I am bound to say that unless one is well acquainted with most of the Agricultural Acts of the las decade it is almost impossible on reading through such a measure to understand a large part of it without detailed Ministerial explanation. In that respect I am bound to say that I do not know that I have ever listened to a more successful effort than was made by the Parliamentary Secretary to-day.

I should like, if I may, to endorse the words of appreciation that were uttered in reference to my old friend Lord Bay-ford. He was a fellow undergraduate with me at Oxford, and we sat for many years together in another place. He was, if I may say so, a very fine type of English gentleman. He was a good administrator, an exceptionally fine scholar, a fine sportsman and a thoroughly sound agriculturist.

I am not sure, my Lords, that I should have risen so early in the debate but for the speech which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon. I am sorry that I have to refer to his speech in his absence.


He will be back in a minute.


Let me say in passing that I for my part welcome this Bill, always bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, reminded us of just now, that it is merely a machinery Bill of a piecemeal character—a definitely piecemeal character—and introduced, of course, under emergency conditions. The debate has travelled to a large extent outside the terms of the Bill, as is almost necessary and inevitable in dealing with a Bill of such a piecemeal nature as this Bill is; but I venture to suggest that the time is coming when we shall have to explore to its very foundations this problem of British agriculture; otherwise we shall go on adding bit by bit to a very imperfect structure, with the inevitable result that sooner or later we shall have to blow up this structure altogether and face possibly revolutionary conditions.

I regretted to hear at the outset of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, his reference to what appears to be the agricultural policy of another Party. Surely the time has come when the various political Parties in this country should get together and see if they cannot agree upon some fundamental policy in relation to the agricultural industry which will place it, once and for all, upon a thoroughly sound basis. As it is, the noble Lord referred to the lack of confidence which farmers and agricultural landowners entertain in regard to agricultural policy. Is not that lack of confidence largely, if not mainly, due to the fact that they do not know, with every quinquennium that passes, whether the agricultural policy of the country for the time being will not be fundamentally changed? Surely we shall never have confidence on the part of our agricultural community until we know what the agricultural policy of Great Britain is. Who knows? I certainly do not. Even my noble friend Lord Hastings would be unable to tell us what is the long-range agricultural policy of the United Kingdom. Other countries know. Germany knows what her policy is. Italy certainly knows. The result is that they are, without any hesitation, giving encouragement to that basic industry of all countries, which creates a feeling of confidence in the agricultural community and enables a continuous policy to be adopted by whatever administration may be in office. As I say, I regretted that reference during a period of emergency to some other agricultural policy which is favoured by some other Party.

The most encouraging event which has taken place, to my mind, during the last six months is the statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday, when he said that the Government are determined, if they are in office, that agriculture shall not a second time be allowed to collapse as it did after the last war. "If they are in office"—does not that phrase of itself indicate that the time has come when all Parties should get together and say, "This shall not happen again whatever Party is in office"? I go further and suggest this, that it is going to be extremely difficult to see how the Prime Minister's undertaking, even when endorsed by the leaders of the Opposition, is to be implemented unless and until there has been a thorough exploration of the whole agricultural problem by a perfectly impartial tribunal intent, not upon the needs of the farmer, the landowner, or even the agricultural labourer, but on the claims of the nation. Surely that time has come, and I for my part shall do my best, during this period of emergency, if such an investigation takes place, to keep it in the forefront, so that all Parties, realising the gravity of the situation, should come together and see whether we cannot plant British agriculture once again on a thoroughly sound foundation.

I really got up in order to deal with the specific point mentioned by the noble Lord opposite who, I am glad to see, has now returned to his place. To my surprise he, with an immense amount of emphasis, said to the Government, "Why are you encouraging these small-scale food producers as represented by the backyard fowl keeper and the cottage pig-keeper?"—and, I suppose he would add, the allotment-holder. I happen to have been for many years one of the large-scale pig-keepers in this country and I am at the present time one of the largest poultry-keepers in this country, and I believe the proposition he has put forward is absolutely wrong. In the interests of the food output of this country, I am perfectly certain, in the light of the experience of the last war, you have to put a premium on the small food-producer whether he keeps a pig in one of the very numerous empty pigsties of this country, whether he keeps fowls in his backyard or on his cottage premises, or whether he tills one of those derelict allotments which are all too numerous at the present time. I know the noble Lord opposite indicates that it is difficult, if not impossible, to mature pig meat or produce eggs without depending very largely, if not entirely, upon food obtained from overseas. I am bound to say I join issue. If you are going to produce what I am inclined to call a modern de luxe pig or a modern de luxe hen, then he may be perfectly right, but in times of emergency, I say, let us get back to the practices of our forefathers and see if we cannot keep our pigs alive very largely upon house and garden waste, with a certain amount of hard corn so far as it is available—and the same with poultry.

If I may say one word in regard to the policy of the Ministry of Agriculture, if I understand it aright, they fix three priorities in regard to imported foodstuffs. They put a dairy or milch cow first, the feeding bovine second, pigs a rather indifferent third, and poultry nowhere. We have often been told—it has come to be a proverb—that there is as much meat in an egg as in any other product of its size and capacity. What I would urge in regard to the allowance of food that is going to be available for these more humble farm animals, kept so largely by small-scale producers, is this. You can feed your bovine very largely on the grass and other farm products of this country. You can indeed, by producing silage as well as hay, very largely in the summer provide for their winter requirements. But you cannot do that to the same extent as regards your poultry or your pigs. They depend to a material extent on what comes from abroad; so I suggest, in fairness to those who keep these animals and in the interests of the augmented food supply of this country, do not relegate to your pigs and poultry the leavings there may be after attending to the feeding of your bovine stock. That view was put very strongly at the Royal Society of Arts only ten days ago by Dr. Crowther, the well-known authority on poultry and the Principal of the Harper-Adams Agricultural College, and I hope the Ministry of Agriculture have taken notice of it.

There was one suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Hastings which I hope has been noted by my noble friend Lord Denham, and that is his suggestion that it would be well worth while to put some premium upon keeping wheat in the stack. Your Lordships may remember that that was one of the chief recommendations of an historic Royal Commission which sat under the chairmanship, if I am right, of the late Lord Chaplin forty years ago. One of their main recommendations was that if you wished to safeguard the food supply in time of war you should put a premium in the hands of the farmers for keeping their wheat in stack. I am not sure that I should quite agree with my noble friend Lord Hastings when he says that there is necessarily deterioration. I have every reason to believe that if your wheat is harvested in reasonably fine weather, if the stack is properly thatched, and if it is erected upon staddles so that the rats cannot get at it, it will be better preserved in the stack than anywhere else.

May I say just one word on the subject of drainage? I must necessarily take some little interest in this problem of land drainage because, as my noble friend has reminded you, I was Chairman of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage which sat some thirteen years ago. The Land Drainage Act, 1930, founded upon the Report of the Royal Commission, has not produced the amount of "rare and refreshing fruit" that some of us anticipated, and I think it is largely due to the fact that the work of the internal drainage boards has not been sufficiently re- lated to that of the catchment boards or to that of the county councils. Unless the internal drainage boards and the county councils are stimulated to more drastic action than they have undertaken in the past, this growing curse of our waterlogged land will undoubtedly persist. The evil of course needs systematic and comprehensive treatment. It is often suggested that if only a landowner would undertake the effective drainage of his estate, most of these troubles arising from waterlogged land would cease; but landowners and their farm tenants are at the mercy of those situate at either a, higher or a lower altitude, and particularly at the mercy of those who control the larger watercourses and the outlets into our rivers and estuaries.

I live in a part of the country looking down upon what was some of the most fertile land in England fronting upon the estuary of the Severn, land which in my grandfather's time would feed a beast to the acre and would let at 50s. an acre at least. To-day a very large proportion of that land is waterlogged. The water table—that is, the height of the water in the land—has risen by at least two feet, and during a long period every winter that land is under water; and it is worth not more than one-third of what it was worth some thirty years ago. My Lords, I am perfectly certain that you will never deal with a case like that unless you are far more drastic in carrying out the intention of the Land Drainage Act, 1930, than the Department of Agriculture has been in the past. In regard to this particular clause, which refers to the powers of the county councils with regard to drainage, I want to know who is going to stimulate the county councils to carry out their duties in regard to the waterlogged land in their administrative areas. I have reason to think that they require a deal more stimulus than is being applied at the present time. Of course your Lordships are well aware that a large number of the existing drains under farm land to-day were placed too deep and too far apart. There was a great impetus given to land drainage about 80 to 100 years ago, and over a great part of England the drains laid then are blocked up and, as I say, too deep, and are not operating as they should be.

Of course the unfortunate feature of these machinery Bills is that very often they deal piecemeal with a large problem We are talking at the present time about grants towards the provision of mole drainage, just as in the last agriculture Bill which came before Parliament we had financial encouragement given to the application of lime and basic slag. Just as all land does not benefit by lime and basic slag, so all land is not going to cease to be waterlogged because you are giving a bonus to those upon whose land mole drainage is going to be effective. When all is said and done, mole drainage is only effective upon the stiffest land, and stiff clay, and I do not think I should be wrong if I were to suggest, speaking with a certain amount of experience in different parts of the world, that if you put a premium upon de-watering good loamy land—really good rich land—you are going to do far more in augmenting the food supply of the country than you will do by making a present of public money to those only whose land is so stiff that it will admit of mole drainage. I venture to say that every shilling that is spent to-day upon de-watering good land will reap at least four times the return that the same shilling would reap if spent only upon stiff land in which mole draining can be carried out.

My Lords, I know that other noble Lords have something to say, and I do not want to take up further time except to say this. I do want to make a plea, in addition to what I have already said, on behalf of the small food producer in this country. As a member of the House of Commons I had something to do with food control during the most critical period of the last war. We all came to realise what a very large percentage of the augmented food output came from cottage gardens and allotments. We had no actual figures to prove our case, but we estimated, by the time the war was over, that something like one-sixth to one-seventh of the whole of the augmented food supply of the country actually came from additional food raised in those small units of cultivation. We are told that the objective of the Minister of Agriculture is 500,000 additional allotments. I should be much happier if he had at least trebled, if not quadrupled, that estimate; because you must bear in mind that at the outbreak of this war there were nothing like the same allotments, particularly village allotments, in a state of cultivation as there were at the outbreak of the last war. If I remember rightly they were increased during the last war, so far as statistics go, by about 800,000, and I have every reason to believe that, starting at the poor datum level at which you would start now, you could quite easily anticipate something like a million extra allotments if you could only give the necessary impetus to those who might be expected to cultivate them. To-day a very large proportion are derelict, and they do require some little impetus, such as the force pump very often requires in starting a flow of water, an impetus in the way of the provision of seeds to the working people, or the provision of tools, or any little stimulus like that. Many landowners are doing it in their areas to-day.

A little Government stimulus of some kind to re-arouse that enthusiasm for allotment cultivation would, I am perfectly certain, have a very remarkable effect throughout the country in improving the food output. The frost has played terrible havoc with the gardens, particularly the small gardens, and allotments, and what the frost has left in the matter of winter growth the pigeons have carried off, at any rate in the West of England, and that must necessarily mean that you have a far smaller amount of winter-preserved food to carry forward into the early spring months than you would have in any normal year. I should like to learn from the Minister whether Clause 27—which refers to land wholly or mainly cultivated for the production of vegetables or fruit, and is going to be deemed to be agricultural land during the present emergency—is applicable to allotments or allotment land controlled by parish councils or allotment societies, and, if so, whether he will seriously consider providing some extra inducement at the public expense in order to bring a very much larger number of these allotments into effective cultivation.

I only want to end as I began in expressing the hope that, now that we are in the middle of another emergency, it will have demonstrated to all citizens that the most vulnerable front in this war, as in all wars in which we are engaged, is the food front. I venture to hope that we shall carry out in the future a peacetime policy which is well adapted to war conditions if they should arise—a policy which can only be based in my judgment on a full investigation of the whole agricultural problem, and encouraged and carried out with the full approval of all political Parties in the State. I wish all fortune to this Bill, and I accept it as a very small but desirable bit of machinery to meet war conditions.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, I rise also to welcome this Bill not only exactly in the spirit that we were told to welcome it, but in the spirit in which my noble friend who has just sat down has given it his final blessing—that is to say, as a small instalment of the whole story which I shall hope to hear as soon as may be. I welcome it, too, because I have watched with the utmost admiration the efforts of the present Minister of Agriculture on behalf of agriculture and, through agriculture, of the nation. During those very many years in which I have been connected with agriculture I have learned a little, and one thing I have learned is that the great difficulty of dealing with the agriculture of this country lies in the complexity of the interests of the industry. It is in fact not one industry but many industries, and when you do something for one part of that industry you may be doing something harmful to another port of it. Further than that, even these many industries differ from county to county, and what suits one county may well not suit another part of the country.

May I instance this? In a way I venture to think that the Government have lost sight of that fact in what they have done with regard to the prices of beef. Thus, they have given the man who produces beef off grass a price which is quite reasonably good, and which I believe satisfies him, but they have given to the man who produces beef out of the yard a price which will ensure that in many parts of the country there will be no such beef produced out of the yard. I have heard it said that we do not want these animals finished in the yards at all, that they are a peace-time luxury, and we do not want them. I believe that is true; but we do want, and we must have, the farmyard manure that they are going to produce, not only for the corn that we have grown up to now but for the additional acres that are coming in.

It is said that this is a machinery Bill, implementing the policy of the Government to a small degree, and so it is There are in fact, as has been shown I think by other speakers, really only two things in this Bill which stand as a new part of the policy which require some comment. The first one has been dealt with by several speakers, most admirably if I may say so by the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, and that is drainage. But I have a question to ask which I am extremely anxious, and not I alone but others, to get an answer to, and that is, is there not now a gap? We have been told about the catchment boards dealing with the big rivers, and the internal drainage boards dealing with the streams, and we see in this Bill a useful provision for mole drainage. It does not go very far, but the Government anticipate that it is going to drain some 200,000 acres of land. That may well be, and I think you may assume that from each of those acres something like two additional sacks of corn may be expected. After all, 400,000 or 500,000 additional sacks of corn is no mean contribution in itself. But I ask, is there or is there not a gap with regard to the ditching?

Now in large proportions of the best corn growing land of this country the fields, often small, are surrounded by ditches which drain them. Such ditches are three, four, five and even up to eight feet deep, and those of us who go round see to our distress tens of thousands—I have no doubt it runs to hundreds of thousands—of acres in which those ditches are completely filled up to the top. In some cases you will have to go through ten yards of encumbrances before you can even find the ditch. Now the question I want to ask is, is there any means whereby the occupier—because this is an occupier's question—can get a grant for that work, which is very expensive? I would point out to your Lordships the importance of this matter. Not only do these ditches themselves drain the fields, but mole drainage, until they are cleaned out, is perfectly useless. Furthermore, in many cases, when they are cleaned out, there will often be met with the great drains of forty to fifty years ago, when farming was farming because it paid to farm well, and these will have to be made to function again. Many people are trying to find out about this grant, including many agricultural committees.

I would like to explain to your Lordships the steps I have taken to try and get an answer to the question. I went first of all to our executive officer, a very good official. He said he thought the farmer could get such a grant. I then went to the clerk of our county council, who is a most excellent clerk, not only administratively bat in his knowledge of the law and of Bills, and he said "I am very sorry, but you are misinformed. The farmer is unable to get a 50 per cent. grant under any legislation." That is one all. I next went to the Land Fertility Committee of which I have the honour to be Chairman, and I asked the officials there. They said, "We do not know, but we will soon find out, because we will ring up the Ministry." They knew the real people to ring up. The first one they rang up said, "The farmer can get a 50 per cent. grant." Two to one. They then rang up another official who was more important, and he said, "I am sorry, but the farmer cannot get the grant." Two all. I then went to the Ministry itself, and I saw the highest official I could. He said, "I think the fanner can get that grant; I hope he can; but I will tell you what I will do, I will get hold of the highest authority on drainage here, and he shall write you a memorandum and explain to you whether the farmer gets the grant or not, and what he has to do." This is what he wrote to me—a very good letter: You need have no doubt that farm ditches (though not of course under drains) are eligible for inclusion in schemes submitted for grant. I said, "splendid," and I read on to the end of the same paragraph, and this is what I found: The work done on ditches under a grant-aided scheme must of course be genuine improvement work: the ordinary work of annual maintenance is ineligible. So that the first sentence said he got it and the last sentence said he did not.

As a matter of fact, as everybody knows, the cleaning of ditches is a work of maintenance which is usually included in the terms of the lease. This is a really important matter, and I would ask the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry if he will answer this plain question in due course: is, or is not, the farmer—that is to say the occupier; this is not an owner's question—entitled to a 50 per cent. grant under this Bill or any other legislation? If the answer is in the affirmative—it is exactly even money as far as I know now—will he tell me and cause to be circulated to the county war agricultural committees a short memorandum in simple understandable language, and also in the King's English, explaining the method by which the farmer is to get it? If the noble Lord will do that he will be doing a very great service, not only to farmers but also to the county war agricultural committees.

With regard to agricultural credit, I find myself, somewhat to my surprise, in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, on the other side of the House. I think everybody will agree that the capital of the agricultural industry has suffered a disastrous diminution in the course of the last twenty years. I believe I am right in saying that both the owner's capital and the farmer's capital have been reduced by 30 per cent. or more—in the case of the owner mainly, of course, by Death Duties, and in the case of the farmer mainly owing to inadequate prices. The fact of the matter is that the works I that the owner ought to do in the maintenance of farm buildings and so forth are in many cases lamentably below what they ought to be, and that the state of such things as ditches is not what either the owner or the farmer would wish. The Government very rightly are doing something to restore by credit that capital, but it does seem to me that they are wrong in charging this comparatively high rate of interest. The only justification for it would seem to be that they do not expect the farmer always to pay back the money, but any banker will tell them that the farmer is one of the best payers of debts in the country. He pays his debts practically on all occasions. It has even been a matter of reproach that the farmer refuses to go bankrupt. People say that he cannot be doing so badly because he does not go bankrupt. The truth is that the farmer always pays his debts, and he starves himself and his land sooner than not pay them. If it is possible I hope that this matter may be reconsidered.

Those of us whose duty it is to go round the country districts examining farms must, I think, one and all be horrified at what they see in many cases—neglected land not growing what it could grow. I think we in this country are rather a credulous people. We nearly always believe what we see in print, par- ticularly when we see it two or three times. The result is that the man in the street is apt to think that the amount of food which can be grown in this country is so small that it is really not worth bothering about and that we must import more food. That is very far from being the case. I believe it to be demonstrable that this island is more capable of feeding itself than is Germany proper. I believe it to be arguable that with the possible exception of meat it is possible for this country to be self-supporting on a war basis. That shows that the general feeling engendered by our credulity is very far from being true.

I have heard with gratification the statement, which I believe to be the absolute truth, that there is only one method by which the full measure of agricultural production can be achieved. There must be paid to the producer, the farmer, such a price as will enable him to pay a wage comparable—I do not say equal—to that which is paid in other industries of national importance and to get a return comparable to that received from those other industries. Once that is done—and with what pleasure did I read the speech of the Prime Minister yesterday—all these other things will be added unto us, and there will be no need for the Bill we have before us now. Drainage will be done, credit will flow back, ploughing will be done. I hope that after what has been said on all sides to-day, and after what was said yesterday by the Prime Minister—a man of his word—that is now about to become a completed fact. It is not yet, and until it is we must live in hope, but I believe it will be, because it is the one solution that can bring the food that is so urgently wanted for the nation.

6.19 p.m.


My Lords, I deplore the introduction of this Bill, I deplore the ability with which the Bill was introduced, I deplore the attitude of the House towards this wretched little Bill, so far as the House has considered the Bill at all, and I am going to take this opportunity of dealing with the two really important difficulties of agriculture. Both of them were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. The first important question is the supply of capital, and the second is the supply of labour. What does this Bill do for either of these things? I would ask your Lordships to refer to Clause 25 and to refer to that Paper which has been so kindly placed at our disposal in the Library and see what are the Government proposals as to capital. Some noble Lords have no doubt studied them, but to those who have not I would say that I think a full study of the Government suggestions as to the supply of additional capital, as evidenced by Clause 25 of this Bill, would be interesting reading.

Dealing first with the point of capital, as Lord Hastings so well said, we are dealing with an industry that was substantially insolvent at the beginning of this war. It is a well-known business fact that if the price of the goods in which you deal goes up, the amount of capital that you require has to go up with the price. Has the price of goods gone up to the farmer since this war began? Enormously: 25 to 33⅓per cent., I should think on an average, on what the farmer buys. Has any attempt been made to replace the farmer even in the position in which he was with regard to these purchases before the war? He is told that at some future date he will be paid—"a reasonable return," I think, is the phrase. I will quote the exact words: He has a guarantee of reasonable prices for his main farm crops, and he is to be assured of a minimum return. All that is in the future. It would not matter its being in the future if there were not a war, but unfortunately there is a war, and every £500 worth of foodstuff which the agricultural labourer is not there to produce means that that £500 worth has to be shipped across the seas at the risk of our sailors' lives, and foreign exchange has in most cases to be produced to meet it.

It is a fact that the capital invested in the existing arable land before the Government's food production campaign was inaugurated was inadequate to get the best out of the land—a fact which I am sure the noble Lord below me will never think of disputing. Time was when landlords could insist on a farmer having a capital on entry of, shall we say, £10 per acre. Those times have passed, I am sorry to say, many years now, and the landlord is only too thankful to get a man who has any capital at all to enter on to his land. The land has been starved of capital for years and years, and Death Duties have taken it out of the power of the landlord to replace that capital. What have the Government done about it—done already in the first six months of this war? I cannot see anything. Look again at that Paper in the Library and see what the Government's proposals are. It must be remembered that it takes much more capital to bring land under the plough, keep it under the plough and reap its fruits than to raise ranching cattle over it. Has any provision of any substance been made for the increased capital required for another 1,500,000 acres of arable land? The official answer is that an advance will be made on the subsidy, that subsidies have been granted. But those subsidies and those advances of the subsidies all come months after the sowing, the cultivation, the employment of the labour and the expense on the land. We are not now primarily considering the farmer; we are considering the production of food, and the production of food at this moment is of vast importance to this country.

Now I will turn to labour. Does the Cabinet as a whole—and I join with all the other speakers in praise of what the present Minister of Agriculture has done for the farming industry—appreciate that to take away a skilled agricultural labourer in the prime of his life from the land means, roughly speaking, that you must buy £500 worth of food from abroad? That may be a slight exaggeration, but the picture is not far wrong. When it comes to a question of that man being withdrawn from agriculture, what actual steps do the Government take? It is true that they have produced a schedule of reserved occupations, but they have made it largely a farce by paying to the contractors who put up the camps and the aerodromes in the neighbourhood of agricultural land such enormous prices that the agricultural labourer is faced with the choice of 37s. 6d. or £4 per week. May I ask the Government whether there are at the present time more, or fewer, agricultural labourers on the land than there were when this war broke out? I am going to judge this Government on this point as I judge everything else: by the results produced. If there is less agricultural labour on the land than there was when the war broke out, what is the hope of increased food production? It is very nice even of the Prime Minister to say that when harvest comes we shall be assured of a plentiful supply of labour. Will that be skilled labour? And which is the more important—to ensure that the harvest will come, or to ensure the gathering of it in? The one cannot take place without the other, and if you take your agricultural labourer off the land now, you will not get the harvest.

All of us who really know and live in the country realise that this campaign, like everything else to do with agriculture, is risking failure because of the paucity of labour. There can be no doubt in the mind of the Minister of Agriculture that such is the case. Apparently no sufficient pressure can be brought upon the Cabinet to recognise the fact, and I would implore the Parliamentary Secretary and those who take pains to read my speech that this cardinal fact should be recognised, that no food production campaign can succeed without a greatly-increased supply of labour now and capital now. Failing those two requisites being met, the food production campaign will be largely insufficient. I do not want to be too pessimistic, but as a matter of fact, if 1,500,000 acres are brought under the plough and do produce an average cereal crop, what they produce will be something like one-third of the foodstuffs which we used to import before the war, and nothing more.

Faced with that shortage, the most vigorous and energetic steps ought to be taken to ensure far greater food production in this country than has been contemplated. Anybody who has ever had to run a business, still more to start a campaign to get something done, will realise that the two cardinal faults in a leader who is running such a campaign are tardiness and meanness. Prompt action furnished with the necessary powers is required; we cannot manage without it.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, I should like to thank all your Lordships who have spoken and who have been so particularly charming in the references which were so kindly made to myself. I only wish that in my place standing at this box now there was the Minister of Agriculture instead of his Parliamentary Secretary, because, of course, he could speak with far greater experience and far more knowledge, and could without any trouble at all, I have no doubt, answer all the questions that your Lordships have asked. I will do my best, however, to deal with as many questions as possible, and if I may I will start with the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, who said when he began that this Bill in his opinion could do much so long as it was carried out with energy and goodwill. Let me assure him that this Bill is going to be carried out with all the energy and goodwill in the world.


By the Treasury?


Certainly. I can speak only for the Ministry of Agriculture, but in so far as we can bring pressure and the very enthusiasm for which the noble Lord was asking to bear upon the problem and upon all the powers contained in this Bill we shall do so, because we are not only conscious of the importance of this food production campaign but determined to see that it is a success. He talked about the ploughing-up campaign. I may have misunderstood him, but he gave me the impression that he himself had the idea that the county war agricultural executive committees had been given by the Minister a percentage to plough up—which is not the case—and that they themselves (I gather he meant to go on) when they visited individual farms gave the farmers a percentage to plough up. I think that he has a wrong impression altogether. What in fact every county undoubtedly has is a ration or an actual figure of the acreage which is expected from that county by the Ministry of Agriculture. That acreage may be 30,000 or 40,000 or 15,000—it will vary, of course, in accordance with the size of the county.


And surely the quality of the land?


And the quality of the land. It will vary with all the conditions, but those conditions are very well known at the Ministry of Agriculture, and were very much taken into account when the actual figures which were first asked for were decided upon. Each county having been given its ration—let us say, for the sake of example, 30,000 acres—the committees go round to all the farms through their district committees and so on. Every farm is visited and they make up their minds what land can best be brought under the plough for the immediate harvest of 1940. While the proportion of 10 per cent. has been mentioned and is some sort of rough guide, believe me, every member of a county committee knows that they are not tied to any such figure as 10 per cent., and that the whole thing really depends upon the capacity of each farm to contribute towards the solution of the problem which we have in hand.

The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, did, I thought, an injustice to the evil influence of the weather, and my noble friend Lord Hastings corrected him with regard to that. He spoke only of the last eight weeks as being unkind, but as a matter of fact the unkindness of the weather can be antedated very much further back than that.

There were two serious criticisms which the noble Lord made. One was the fact that under Clause 25 the Government expect the money to be paid back and will charge 5 per cent. interest. I think my noble friend Lord Cranworth dealt with the same point, the charging of 5 per cent. interest. I should like to put forward this answer to that criticism. It is necessary to bear in mind, of course, that Clause 25 deals only with a very small section, or at any rate a comparatively small section, of the farmers of the country. The vast majority, as I said in my opening statement, will rely upon ordinary credit channels—the banks and the merchants. Some of them, of course, will have their own resources and will not want to trouble the banks, but not so many now as there might have been some years ago. Clause 25 deals only with the man who has really come to the end of his cash, and very likely to the end of his credit. He cannot get more, and it is in that difficulty that Clause 25 says to him, "We are not going to give you cash, but we can give you goods and services, and ensure that your land in the first place will be ploughed up and, secondly, will be cultivated, seeded and harvested."

I submit that that is really the important thing, and the question of whether or not he is going to pay 5 per cent., or, as was advocated in another place, 3 per cent., is going to make very little difference to him. If he is going to get a crop and if he is not going to be asked to pay for the goods and services he has offered to him until he has gathered his crop, it seems to me that the vital thing, as I say, is the provision of the facilities whereby he can first plough his land and then harvest a crop on it. That is much more important than the actual percentage rate. Let us take the rate of 5 per cent., however. That is a commercial rate. Why should the farmer, who after all ex hypothesi has fallen rather on evil days, be let off and pay a lower rate than his good, honest, stout competitor in the next farm who gets his money from the bank and who has to pay 5 per cent.? I cannot for the life of me understand why this particular man who comes in under Clause 25 should pay any less. I listened to every word of the debate in another place, and I have never yet heard an argument to show why he should receive more favourable treatment as compared with the ordinary-farmer.

There is one more point about Clause 25 which I should like to make clear. I do not know whether any of your Lordships actually mentioned it to-day, but in another place a great deal was made of the point that there is a limit of £50 to the value of the goods and services which can be given to such a man under Clause 25. Let me make it quite clear that there is no such limit at all. The only limit attaching to the figure of £50 under Clause 25 is this, that up to that limit the county war agricultural executive committee can help such a farmer without any authority from the Minister, but if more than £50 is concerned the sanction of the Ministry must be obtained. In every proper case whatever should properly be advanced will be sanctioned by the Minister; I am perfectly certain of that.

The other serious question to which the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, addressed himself was the shortage of labour, and my noble friend Lord Phillimore ended up, I thought, upon rather a pessimistic note on the same topic. Nobody can appreciate more than we do at the Ministry of Agriculture, and nobody can appreciate more than the Government as a whole, the extreme difficulty involved when there is a labour shortage. There is no country which has ever gone to war which does not feel it, and every country which is at war to-day, and many of the countries which are on the brink of it, feel the question of shortage of man-power. I do think, however, that the pledges which the Prime Minister gave yesterday have a direct bearing on this point. He specifically addressed himself in one of those pledges to this question of shortage of man-power in the harvest, and he said that that is going to be tackled by the Government as a whole.


May I ask the noble Lord a question? I am really interested only in the labour point of view, because I do not know anything about farming; but what has happened to the great army of land women which was raised, and has the noble Lord overlooked the fact that we still have a vast army of unemployed, something of the order of 1,300,000?


I am going to deal with both the matters which my noble friend has raised, but if I may I will take the story in my own way, because I think it makes the picture a little clearer. I was going to say that there were certain steps taken before the war over this most important question. Before the war, for instance, no agricultural worker who was over the age of twenty-five was allowed to join any of the armed forces, but at the outbreak of war, as your Lordships know, the reserved age of twenty-one was fixed for almost every agricultural worker. A few workers who work in horticultural gardens are, I think, exempted only at twenty-five, but the vast majority of agricultural workers are exempted at twenty one.


I am sorry to interrupt, but did the noble Lord say as a fact that before the war an agricultural worker over the age of twenty-five could not join the Territorials?


That is my information. Of course I know that a very great number over that age were in the Territorials, but whether or not they joined when they were already over I do not know. If they joined before they were 25, that is another story, but I am informed that before the war the Government did what they could to stop those who were 25 and over from joining the armed forces of the Crown. I think that is right. The next step was that on the outbreak of war the reserved age was fixed at 21. This had the result of limiting agriculture's annual contribution to the armed forces to 3 per cent. of those engaged in it. During the last war 15 per cent. of those engaged in agriculture joined up in the first five months, so that whatever noble Lords may say about the present situation, it is obviously better than anything we knew in the last war. Let me say a word about complete reservation because that seems to be the only inference to be drawn from the speeches of noble Lords—that this food production campaign is so important that we had better keep the men from joining up altogether.


I think the noble Lord has made a mistake there. I do not think the question of agricultural labourers joining the forces entered anybody's head. It is the drain on agricultural labour by other forms of industry that is the real drain.


I am grateful to my noble friend, and I shall pass from that. To my mind, when you are dealing with men taken from agriculture, the wages question is absolutely fundamental. After all, whatever steps Government or anybody else may take, if a very nice Government factory starts in the neighbourhood, paying perhaps twice the wage a man can get in agriculture, there is nothing to stop that man from leaving his work in agriculture and taking the higher paid work. Wages are fundamental. We have done a tremendous lot with regard to getting calling-up postponed, and as a matter of fact 80 per cent. of the men who have been called up have had applications put in on their behalf. Some are still under consideration, and most are likely to succeed if recommended by the county war agricultural executive committees. As to the question of additional workers, where is there a reserve of workers to be found? The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, says there are so many unemployed. That is perfectly true, and the Ministry of Labour is helping us at the Ministry of Agriculture every week to try and persuade anybody who has got agricultural knowledge to go back and tackle an agricultural job if he should find himself out of work.


At the wages he was used to in his own industry?


At the wages he can get in the industry he joins up with. I do not know how my noble friend can expect a farmer to pay the same wage to a man as he was getting in an ordinary industry. I am willing to give way to him if he would tell me what steps we could take.


Unless you put the farmer into a position to pay a competitive wage you can never get these men into agriculture, still less get them back into it.


I would say it is mighty difficult for the Government to do that in a moment, but I do not think we ought to forget what the Government is, in fact, doing to help the farmer to pay as high a wage as possible. After all, the farmer is getting, as I reminded your Lordships earlier, a guaranteed market. He has got guaranteed prices for all the main commodities he wants to sell. He has got as much cash, being sent towards him as the Government can arrange to put in his direction. He has got subsidies for this and that—for instance, he has this £2 subsidy for ploughing up. At the Ministry we try and hurry up the cheque so that it gets to the farmer as soon as possible. By and large, it is the guaranteed price and the guaranteed market which are going to be the best stand-by and the best security for the unemployed man who wants to get a job in agriculture, more especially when we remember the Prime Minister's pledge that these guaranteed prices are not going to be guaranteed once and for all at their present scale, but are to be reviewed and fixed again in accordance with the cost of production. These are the two main points that the noble Lord raised.

Then came a most interesting speech from my noble friend Lord Hastings. He advocated that a small premium should be paid for keeping wheat in stack. This is a question that has been considered at the Ministry very many times, and certainly once since the war began, but I promise him that I shall bring it before my right honourable friend at the earliest opportunity once more. I should like him to know some of the difficulties which stand in the way. After all, it is wartime, and it becomes much more difficult to do that in war-time than in peace-time. It would be very difficult, for example, to supervise the stacks over a large area when all the time at the Ministry we are finding ourselves short of people to do the vital work that has to be done without allotting more work to them. It has been found better in war-time at the Ministry to get the same result—which is, after all, to get a real supply late in the cereal year in this country—by building up reserves of imported wheat in warehouses. The noble Lord went on to complain of the lack of cash in the pocket of the farmer. Under the Bill, the farmer who wants cash, surely, from his own selfish point of view, would do much better to sell his wheat at once, because under the terms of this very measure he can get his cheque for the whole of the deficiency payments in a few weeks.


From the national standpoint I suggested it might be advisable, not from the farmer's standpoint.


As I have said, the matter will be reconsidered. I must refer to the latter part of the noble Lord's speech, and point out that from the selfish point of view of the farmer, as distinct from the national point of view,. that is one of the ways of getting cash that ought not to be overlooked. The next point, about Clauses 14, 16 and 17, as I think the noble Lord himself said, had better be dealt with in Committee, when we shall see upon the Paper the Amendments which the noble Lord has in mind, and then they can be dealt with fully. He then went on to say that there were two fundamentals. One was the weather, for which, thank goodness, not even the Ministry of Agriculture can be blamed, and the second was finance. I must say that I was most interested in all that the noble Lord said upon that matter, because nobody in this House speaks with greater authority upon agricultural questions than the noble Lord. I listened with the greatest interest especially to what he said about the farmer holding the pivotal position in agriculture. Of course he does that. The Government does realise that prices are fundamental, as I have just said, and it has given a pledge, which the Prime Minister repeated only yesterday, that this question of prices will be reconsidered from time to time in accordance with then existing circumstances.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, referred to the Prime Minister' statement and suggested that the parties should get together and hammer out a real policy for agriculture. Would it not be grand if that could be done! But, my Lords, a mere Parliamentary Secretary does not do that sort of thing. That is right above my head. But again, I will talk to my right honourable friend about that very valuable suggestion. As to feeding stuffs, I agree with a very great deal of what the noble Viscount said, and was very grateful to him for the remarks that he made with regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon. With regard to drainage the noble Viscount complained, I think, that the Act of 1930 had not produced enough fruit; I think those were the words that he used.


I used a popular expression: "rare and refreshing fruit."


I would submit that after all it has to be remembered that the 1930 Act in the main dealt with catchment boards, and—I speak with great diffidence because of course the noble Viscount knows a very great deal about this subject and I know very little—I should have thought that it is the most difficult thing of all to gauge, the success or otherwise of the operations of catchment boards. It is much easier to gauge, under the Act of 1937, the results, be they successful or not, of local drainage boards. When you get works on one of the main rivers, starting at the outfall and working up to the source, I have always been led to suppose that it is almost impossible to say for instance the number of acres that are involved, or the value which you can measure in pounds, shillings and pence of the drainage done, but that it is much easier when you come to local drainage boards.

Then the noble Viscount asked me who is going to stir up the county councils and to make them do their job? My Lords, the answer to that is this. It is precisely because the county councils have had too much to do and have been short of staff and so have failed to find the time to do this, that Clause 14 has been inserted in this Bill; and it is the catchment boards now, and not the county councils, who are going to fill the gap—catchment boards invited to do so by the war agricultural executive committees. I think that is provided for by almost the first words of the clause, if the noble Lord will look at it.


Yes, but I wanted to refer to the effect of that particular clause. Clause 19 confers power upon the county councils to move in the matter, and I was suggesting that in many counties they are not likely to exercise their power until some stimulant is applied from outside.


That may be so.


Will the noble Lord forgive me if I interrupt, as a member of a catchment board? I am perfectly certain that there is one thing that is holding up the whole thing as regards both catchment boards and county councils, and that is the absolute terror of exceeding the twopenny rate. If some county councils could be advised that it really is of national importance to exceed that twopenny rate or if some assistance could be given to the hard-taxed ratepayers towards the excess over the twopenny rate, I am sure the schemes would start straight away.


I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Cornwallis for the statement which he has made, and I will go into that question very carefully. Then the question of allotments was raised, and I think the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, asked me about Clause 27.




Allotments are already included in the scheme made under Section 32 of the Agriculture Act, 1937, and the whole object of Clause 27 is to widen the basis of that scheme by including cottage gardens as well. My noble friend Lord Cranworth dealt with drainage, and he asked me a specific question. He asked me to be a sort of adjudicator between the various letters and advices that he has had on the matter as to whether a man can get a grant for cleaning out his ditches. That is roughly the question, I think.


An occupier.


I do not know that I can add very much to the letter which the noble Lord received from my Ministry dated February 2, a copy of which I have in my hand, but let me try. You never know. I will do my best.


Is the noble Lord really unable to give me a definite answer to the question I asked him? I may say in the strictest confidence that the Minister of Agriculture assured me that he could.


My Lords, this is one of those cases in which it is quite impossible to answer Yes or No, because it all depends on what is in the noble Lord's mind. If he will allow me, I think I can make a very good shot at giving him the answer he wants; but whether it will suit him or not I do not know. The position is this. Under the Agriculture Act, 1937, grants are intended to help schemes of improvement. Ordinary annual maintenance work is definitely not eligible for grant; is that quite clear? What a man ought to do, very likely as the result of the terms of his tenancy, is not eligible for grant.


But will the noble Lord——


Forgive me, I must finish this explanation.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon, I thought he was passing to the next point.


No. What I have just said means that ordinary work such as weed-cutting and the brushing up of ditches, which is normally done each year, cannot be included in a scheme, and grants cannot be paid for it; but—and this is the point which makes it quite impossible for a Yes or No answer to be given—if the annual maintenance has been neglected for so long and the ditches are so bad—or be it what it may—that actually what wants doing amounts to reconditioning, then this work would be eligible for the grant.


To the occupier?


Yes, certainly.


Thank you.


But not if it is really such work as he ought to do every year.


It is very difficult for me to take a clear answer back to the people who want to know. This is work that should be done every year It has been neglected in some cases for twenty years. Could the noble Lord give me a period of neglect which would make the work eligible for a grant?


I think it is quite simple. If the work has been neglected a grant will be given to recondition the land and put it right, but it has to be maintained by the tenant year by year. If the land has got so bad as to amount to a necessity for reconditioning, then it is eligible for grant. If the noble Lord has any difficulty as the result of what I have said, I hope he will write to the Ministry and let me know.


In regard to my supplementary question, will the noble Lord write, or cause to be written, a small memorandum in simple language to the county war agricultural committees so that they can act upon it?


As a matter of fact I think our present practice is very much better. We clearly say that no sharp line can be drawn between mere maintenance and reconditioning; it is quite impossible; but actually we have found that no difficulty is presented in practice, and every case is judged on its merits, and that is much the better plan in my opinion. The noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, talked about Clause 25 and the importance of capital and labour. Clause 25 specifically rules out cash. It deals only with goods and services. Specifically, cash may not be part of the transaction at all. Of course I agree with all the noble Lord said about the importance of capital and labour, but I maintain that the Government are doing all that they can to get as much cash into the farmers' pockets as possible and as quickly as possible. They realise the importance of confidence, and they think that by their guaranteed markets and guaranteed prices, and their promise to review prices from time to time, they are doing all they can. I am sorry once more to have inflicted upon your Lordships so long a speech, but I am most grateful to you for the way in which you have received this Bill. I shall look forward to meeting the points your Lordships may care to put upon the Paper for the Committee stage.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.