§ EARL DE LA WARR rose to move to resolve, That this House is of the opinion that a sound agriculture is vital to the economic and social well-being of this country and urges the Government to carry out its pledge to formulate an agreed All-Party agricultural policy. The noble Earl said: My Lords, in asking your Lordships to approve the Motion which stands on the Paper in my name, might I preface my remarks with four sets of facts and figures? The first is that even before the war, that is, before we started to increase our production, Great Britain was pro- 12 ducing from her land 35 per cent. more than was Canada, and 60 per cent. more than was Australia; the second is that British agriculture is the greatest single industry in this country; the third is that British agriculture is the most highly-mechanized agriculture in the world; and the fourth is that the British farmer and his labourer are producing just over two and a half times as much per head as is the German agriculturist. I think those facts and figures will give some idea, if indeed it is necessary in your Lordships' House, of the importance of the subject we are discussing, and also of the fact that the British farmer is not quite so stupid and old-fashioned as some people like to think.
§ It is now well over two years since His Majesty's Government pledged themselves to formulate an agreed All-Party policy for agriculture. Since then, nothing more has been heard. We must assume, I think, that all the Party leaders who gave that pledge had given full consideration to what it implied, and had also had the necessary consultations with Party colleagues in order to ensure, when the time came to deliver the goods, that they could carry their Party colleagues with them. Although we have heard nothing more hitherto, there has been no complaint from any agricultural leader, and I think for a very good reason: We realize that the Government have been getting on with the war, and so have the farmers. But the time has come now, I think, when we have a right to ask the Government whether they intend to honour that pledge and, if so, what they intend to do.
§ And when they come to consider the problem I do not think that they will find themselves short of advice. Almost every agricultural body in the Kingdom has prepared, and I think presented to His Majesty's Government, its ideas on policy, and so far as I have been allowed to see any of them, they have amazed me not only by the breadth of view that they have taken but also by their unanimity. I think perhaps I should take this opportunity of informing your Lordships that during the last year or so a small number of members of this House have been meeting together and have prepared—speaking, of course, purely as individuals—a completely agreed agricultural policy. It is a group composed of men with the most surprisingly different and varied political 13 views. That policy has already been presented to His Majesty's Government, and may in future be published.
§ I want, first of all, to ask the Government what their intentions are, and then I should like to go on to place before your Lordships reasons why, on grounds of the widest national interest and also—I am not exaggerating—of international security, it is essential that this country should take the lead in planning a world food policy. In saying that I do not want to conceal from your Lordships for a moment that I am inspired, first and foremost, by devotion to the land of this, our own country and of those who live on it and by it. I have seen farmers and their labourers during years of depression when, as far as one could see, nobody really seemed to care what happened to them. I have seen them during this war when, as during the last war, they have assumed sudden front-rank importance. No single appeal has been made to them to which they have not responded with patriotism and enthusiasm. Every year more and more demands have been made upon them which, at first sight, to some of us, seemed impossible of fulfilment. It is true the farmers have maintained their true British right to grouse and to say it was quite impossible, but they have gone quietly off and done a little more in the end than they were asked to do. In spite of all the promises made during the last war—promises which were very rapidly broken—they have never stopped to discuss the future.
§ It is a very fine story, this record of the British farmer during this war. But it is not upon those grounds that I wish to base the case for an agricultural policy in future. The case is strong on the merits of agriculture itself. It is strong on national grounds, in the interests of industry and the towns. I believe it is quite overwhelming from the point of view of world economic reconstruction. Different sections of opinion are bound to put different degrees of emphasis on different points. Some will be most impressed by the shortage of foreign exchange and the difficulty of exporting in future to countries which have become industrialized during the war, and therefore by the impossibility of embarking on a policy of unlimited imports. Others will feel that a high standard of living, measured in terms of money, can be 14 bought very dearly at the expense of the beastliness and slums in an over-industrialized area. Others may observe that cheap food for the towns, which is being procured at the expense of the ruin of potential customers, the food producers, is a very doubtful blessing, and that the attempt of industry to live on the backs of the farmer and his labourer has been a ghastly failure from the point of view of industry itself.
§ Others will hope that agriculture will be able to contribute to the absorption of labour in the period of demobilization. Yet others will feel the danger of an island rendering itself over-dependent on imports—a danger that has materialized twice during the present generation, and is exercising our minds more than any single problem at the present moment. Others, taking a longer view, will see soil erosion spreading throughout the world, and that within the United States of America they have turned no less than twice the agricultural area of this country into what is known as the "Dust Bowl." From that they will doubt the wisdom, even in peace time, of relying permanently on cheap markets. There is one last class, to which I confess I belong, consisting of those who see all these highly reasonable reasons for sound agriculture in the future, but who are more than anything else influenced by a deep horror at the criminal folly of allowing our most fundamental possession—the soil of our country—to deteriorate and decay, throwing its population into already overcrowded towns, allowing its buildings to crumble, and its chief crop to be weeds.
§ All these different reasons add up to one perfectly simple sum—that it is vital to the social and economic well-being of this country that there should be a sound agriculture, and that the sooner the Government do something to produce their policy, to ensure that we get it, the better not only for agriculture but for the country as a whole. How can they do that? Very briefly, I would say this: they should proceed along three main lines. First, there must be stable markets and stable prices for the basic products of agriculture; I shall develop that point later and define it. Secondly, we should see to it that we expand our markets by ensuring that everyone has enough to eat. Thirdly, we should ensure that cheap 15 food gets to the people of this country, not through the chaotic and disorganized state of markets which bring ruin to producers, but by organizing efficient production and efficient distribution. All these three points bring us to one simple conclusion which is, that we failed to deal with this problem in the past because none of us recognized the size and scope of the problem.
§ We have been unwilling or unable to realize that this is a problem that can never he solved by one nation acting on its own. Do not let us forget the size of this problem Seventy to eighty per cent.—it is impossible to ascertain exact figures—of the world's population are, in fact, food producers. You do not have to be a theoretical international planner to recognize that a world market of that size can, in fact, only be organized by international action. Before the war prices were so low that even the great prairie wheat-growing countries of the world were growing their wheat at a loss. I shall give two extremes of their fluctuation The price in 1920 was $3.23 a bushel; in 1932 it was 40 cents. with corresponding variation in the intervening years. How can you carry on trade and production on such a basis? It is perfectly clear that no form of national remedy such as tariffs or restrictive quotas can begin to deal with such a problem. In so far as they may give temporary help, by the harm they do to other interests and other countries ultimately such help is bound to strike back at the very people we are trying to assist. Even before the war I think we were beginning to see this. The quotas of the then Government were attempts, successful or not, to help our own producers without bringing ruin to producers in other countries. The Marketing Acts, the Livestock Industry Act and the Wheat Act, were all attempts to bring some sort of order into chaotic marketing conditions, although admittedly those attempts were mainly on a national scale. But the Sydney Conference, organized by our own Farmers' Union, was evidence that within the industry itself it was being realized that producers from other countries were not enemies but were fellow sufferers from a common malady. Then the question of nutrition was raised at Geneva in, I think, 1936 or 1937, and that was a recognition of the need for a 16 world food policy and for expanding the market for food.
§ Our task surely is this, to take these admittedly perhaps crude beginnings before the war, built up in the light of the war-time experience that we have had of national purchase, and build on them a constructive policy for the future. If it is agreed, as I think it must be, that national remedies of tariffs and quotas are inadequate to the situation, we are really thrown back upon this, that the system we adopted during the last war and this war of national purchase is the only possible alternative. Whether that is conducted by the Ministry of Food now or through Import Boards is a matter of detail, though personally, for a permanent peacetime organization, I should prefer an Import Board appointed by and directly responsible to the Government. I say that so as not to alarm the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, into thinking that there is any idea that we want to set up some outside body or commission to which we should hand over the control of our essential food-stuffs. The purchases would be made by such a body according to market allocations, agreed through international machinery The final distribution of the product would probably be carried out through existing channels.
§ The home producer would have to have his allocation. Taking the case of wheat as an illustration, I would suggest something like the 1939 acreage with a small increase up to, say, 10 per cent. There would have to be corresponding allocations of the other products that enter mostly into world trade—sugar, meat and various forms of dairy products. They should be sold, as now, at fixed prices by the producer, and the sale price to the consumer should be based on the average of home and import produce. Any temporary surplus would either have to be put into stock or else diverted to low consumption countries, say in the Far East. On such a basis it should be possible to remodel our system of trade in international foodstuffs in such a way as to give our own producers and producers in other countries a fair market and a firm price. It is a bold statement to make that it is possible to solve a problem like this that has perplexed us so much and caused such chaos in the past, but it has been attempted in the wheat agreement of, I think, 1941. 17 Whether it will succeed or not I do not know, but I think sceptics who doubt that it is a possible system must be prepared to offer some alternative.
§ That, my Lords, is of course only one side of the problem. If we are able to bring security to the market in what I call the basic products of meat and wheat and sugar and dairy imports—those products which enter into international trade of which, in the past there has been a continual slump and over-production, and products also which are essential to the proper farming of our land—we shall have done a very great deal. After all, it is much more important to a farmer to grow 40 acres of wheat at a fair profit than 100 acres of wheat at a loss; but we have to admit that this does not bring about any increase in agricultural production. There is, however, a very large market waiting for us in the form of products such as milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables if we cart only develop their greater consumption. They are sometimes called the protective foods. I do not want to stress that point, it is one for the doctors to discuss. But as one who played a small part in pre-war food policy I would say that I and many others with me were revolted at the policy we had to carry out of setting a limit to production when we knew perfectly well that there were hundreds of thousands, and even millions of people in this country and in the world who were not having enough to eat. There is this immense new market if only we can organize so as to expand consumption, and that is proved by the pre-war surveys carried out in the United States, in Canada and in this country—all of them countries in which there is a high standard of living. What the deficiencies must be in Eastern Europe and the Far East we can only guess.
§ But it should be made clear that such a policy can only be an addition to, and not a substitute for, establishing security in the market for basic products. It is true that if we were to drink all the milk we need in this country, we should probably have to increase our cow population by something like a million, but no one suggests that it is going to be possible to turn this country into a large-scale dairy and poultry farm, with, I suppose, a few orchards and cabbage patches. Those who think in that way 18 are just as much on a wrong track as the Americans and others who think they can get wheat out of prairies year after year. The basis of farming in this country is mixed farming, and we must continue that. Those who thought that they knew better are learning an exceedingly costly lesson through soil erosion and other forms of soil destruction. I know there are some who say that our agricultural policy should devote itself to feeding the people and not to maintaining the fertility of the soil, but you cannot have the one without the other. I think we all remember hearing at the beginning of the war that some evacuees found it difficult to believe that milk came from cows because they had only seen it come out of milk bottles. The fact remains that we have to farm our land on a rotation basis, and that cheap wheat, grown at the expense of making something like fifty million acres in one country into another form of the Sahara Desert, may well turn out to be the most expensive wheat which has ever been grown in the history of the world.
§ Therefore our policy is, and must be definitely, security of market and prices for some products and an increased market for others. Such a policy can be planned in such a way that it recognizes that farmers in other countries are not our enemies but our colleagues in the great project of feeding the world. It can be planned in such a way that at aims, to use the terms of the Government pledge, at the establishment of a healthy and well-balanced agriculture. It justifies, I believe, the words of the Motion "that a sound agriculture is essential to the economic and social well-being of this country," and it is in accord, I believe, with the terms of the Atlantic Charter. I will say only one word more on the Home Front. The subject is such an enormous one that I think it is best probably for the convenience of your Lordships that we should divide it amongst us and not each try to cover the same ground. Other noble Lords will deal at greater length than I have dealt with the question of home policy, but I think it needs saying that a sound agriculture cannot end by just giving greater security or wider markets to producers. The community has a right to demand something in return. It has the right to demand efficiency on the farm. We have learnt during the war that the farmer is much more efficient than we thought. The 19 community has a right to demand efficient farming, efficient landowning, efficient distribution and a fair wage to the men who do the hard and skilled daily work on the farm. The community has a right to demand sufficient control to ensure that efficiency. A price has to be paid for everything and that is the price which I believe agriculture will gladly pay in return for security.
§ We recognize that the happy-go-lucky ways of the old days are not compatible with a planned economy favouring agriculture. Those who want to be their own masters must be prepared to make their own way in life. War conditions of control, fixed prices and guaranteed markets have taught us a great deal, and most of us, I think, are prepared to accept those conditions provided they are genuinely a part of a real policy. As one who believes that perhaps the greatest need for this country in the future is to preserve and develop and make the best use of this country's resources in land, I close by urging the Government to fulfil their pledge, by assuring them of wide support if they do so and by assuring them also of a wide volume of pressure and of criticism if they fail to do so. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House is of the opinion that a sound agriculture is vital to the economic and social well-being of this country and urges the Government to carry out its pledge to formulate an agreed All-Party agricultural policy.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, the Motion that is before your Lordships' House deals without a doubt with one of the greatest of our social issues. Agriculture is a very scattered industry—it is everywhere—and on that account it is not appreciated by many as a great entity. I have been disappointed that up to now the pledge of more than two years ago has not been implemented by any effective proposals. It behoves us to clear our own minds and know what it is we really want. The question is, do we want to use the land as it ought to be used? Do we really want to make the industry of food production a progressive and competent industry or not? Do we really want to ensure that those who do their duty in this industry may be certain, therefore, of a decent standard of life?
20 This is the second time within the memory of everyone here, as the noble Earl said, that the nation has turned to the industry and said: "Produce more food." It has said "Use the good Soil. We know that it has been neglected, but it is good soil; use it; produce more food. We know that we have disregarded it. We know even that we have broken our promises concerning it, but this is a time of danger and we must produce more food." The response, my Lords, has been tremendous. Speaking only as a human being with narrow human memories, it might perhaps be suggested that the response has been better than we deserve. I speak feelingly in this matter, having been in this industry since I was a boy. This country, although it has rendered lip service from time to time, has in fact disregarded this industry. The people who have been dominant in deciding the policy of this country have very often been much more interested in taking minerals out of some distant land, and in floating companies to secure them, than they have been in developing the riches of the soil of Britain. We have paid a bitter price for that neglect. One thing I am sure is incumbent upon those of us who have that conviction, and that is to convince our fellow citizens of the towns of the necessity of this policy, because without their verdict progress cannot be secured.
I am not going to enlarge the review indicated by the noble Earl, but it is right in determining whether or not we should have a decided policy in this matter that we should have in our minds the governing facts. The first fact is that if you neglect land nature takes care that it rapidly deteriorates. I am talking, and I think we ought only to talk, of good land, of land that is worth being cultivated and that ought to be cultivated. During past generations that land in hundreds of places has developed into panoramas of rubbish—ant-hills, thistles, brambles. I have in mind one case—and there are hundreds of such cases before the county agricultural war executive committees—of splendid land which I saw myself not long since: eighty acres, just as I have described it, only worse, providing sufficient sustenance for eight cows; one cow per ten acres. Now this was magnificent soil, as we have since proved, capable of producing abundant crops but characteristic, in fact, of what 21 has been shown to be the case by detailed survey. I will inflict on your Lordships one set of figures only. We had 16,000,000 acres of what is called grassland in England and Wales, and a survey has shown that only 250,000 acres could be classed as first-class pasture, and 950,000 as second-class, while 14,800,000 acres are classified either as indifferent or bad. That eighty acres of which I have just spoken, covered, as I said, with ant-hills and rubbish, was in the fourth class. It deserved to be, but it is splendid soil. Now the milk production capacity of first-class pasture is estimated at 350 gallons per acre per annum and of fourth-class pasture at 54 gallons. That indicates the measure of our neglect, and I am not overstating it, I am understating it, when I say that in this country there are at least 5,000,000 acres of land so describable.
During this time, of course, the equipment has deteriorated just as the land has done, and the cottages, the buildings, the farm roads, the fences and everything else, have gone the same way. Standards of husbandry, of course, have gone with them, and one of the most tragic facts of our generation is the way young, bright men have left the land and decided to devote themselves to something else. As for the workers, what has become of them? I am not talking of ancient history, but during the present generation 250,000 of them have left the land. It has not been worth their while to remain. The outlook was too bad. Their children, too, have drifted away, and often they, themselves, have augmented the queues at labour exchanges in our towns or have displaced somebody less competent than themselves. And these are skilled men—we have found that out now. My noble friend opposite knows this, and he has good cause to complain. He has had a lot of damp corn to contend with this year, and we have had to comb the country for men who could thatch a rick. Such men have gone in great numbers from our countryside. In many districts you cannot find men able to build a stack properly so as to keep the wet out. Now that is only a single illustration of the abundance of skill that has been dissipated. We have lost the skill of honest men, industrious men, self-respecting men, decent living men, God-fearing men, the salt of the earth.
22 In my judgment, our neglect of this industry is a national crime. Why? Because we have never decided as a nation that the land should be used. I am not talking about fancy uses, I am talking about real uses which proved knowledge indicates to us ought to be made of the land by sound practical husbandry. If we decide this, if this House will decide, if our fellow-citizens of the towns will decide, that good land ought to be properly used, we can formulate an agricultural policy. But that decision has got to be reached first. The policy must be a long-term policy because of the nature of the industry. Many things you have to plan, two, three or four years ahead in connexion with your produce. Therefore, I say it must be a long-term policy, and, further, it must be progressive and must encourage efficiency. Strange as it may seem to some people, science has made almost greater advances in relation to the subject of husbandry, in the last twenty-five years, than in almost any other branch. And the results of those advances can be applied. What I am hoping for—and so are my noble friends—is a policy; not a hotch-potch of derating, doles and subsidies and odds and ends such as we have been accustomed to in the past, but a policy. These things are just placebos. They are apologetic, brainless substitutes for a policy.
I understand that we are going to have a number of discussions, and one discussion, I expect, will relate to the matter of what the land has had. I am going to say one word about what I am sure will be one of the most controversial issues to be decided, and it concerns the question of prices, which is absolutely basic if we are to get what is called a "healthy industry," in the terms of the Government pledge, and be able to increase efficiency. Now, my Lords, I wonder if we could agree on this: If a man produces from the land what the people need; if he uses the land efficiently for suitable purposes, is he, or is he not, entitled, on that account, to a decent standard of life? If he is, we must plan accordingly. We need to have, to guide this industry, a production policy, as indicated by the noble Earl, showing what foods are needed and what the land is suitable to produce, and we must have organizations to secure that the land is kept properly equipped and fit to produce what is needed. Production, however, is 23 a matter of years. This is the only major industry which has ever been conducted on the basis of a gamble. If a man wants to build a bridge, for example, he has a contract, and he buys forward whatever materials he requires for his undertaking; but the farmer plans a course of rotation of crops—for example, to plough grassland this year and take one or two corn crops, and then to plant a suitable grass ley to feed young stock four years hence —without the faintest idea of what price he will get for his stock in four years' time, or what the market is going to be like. In all my lifetime, at any rate, this industry of agriculture has been conducted on the basis of a gamble. We want to get away from that, and unless we do we shall never succeed.
I am not one of those who believe that booms and slumps are dispensations of Providence. They have been accepted as such very often, but they are not. I regard them as the products of human indolence in refusing to undertake the intelligent management of these matters. That is what they are. We can manage these matters, but the primary producers, because they are scattered all over the world, will never be able to manage prices. They are helpless in the world's markets; they are indeed children in the market-place—if some of them would only believe it! By themselves they are helpless, and, as the noble Earl said, the reports of the League of Nations show that primary producers ail over the world have lived on the verge of penury. It is because of that that they cannot buy our products. I have never been one of those who worship at the shrine of cheapness. It does not follow that because a thing is cheap it is good. The anxiety to buy at the cheapest possible price and to beat down the producer to take the lowest price that you can make him take has spread desolation all over the world. The producers cannot help themselves, and, in my judgment, it is the duty of the State to protect them, to safeguard their existence and to encourage and stabilize their industry. But, as my noble friend opposite said, our efforts and undertakings will have to be international. In this country, as a matter of fact, it would be remarkably easy to organize a reasonable stability of price for our major products. In non-Parliamentary language, my noble friend opposite would find it as 24 easy as falling off a log. That is because we are largely an importing country, so that it would be possible to stabilize sufficiently the prices of the main products.
What should be the basis of price? We have never translated these things into terms of national intention, but I think that until we do we shall suffer for it. I suggest that a man is entitled to be paid for whatever he produces, if the people require it, whether it is potatoes or anything else, such a wage as will enable him to live decently. That is a human right. Moreover, the people ought to have sufficient wages to enable them to buy what is produced. I want to see those principles embodied in national administration, as they can be. It will never be done by cut-throat competition—we have found that out—but it can be done by national management. It means a Ministry of Food or. other organization which will take account of what the people need—and, as the noble Earl opposite said, millions of them have been undernourished in times past—and which will act as the instrument of national policy, through appropriate agencies, in securing supplies in bulk and stabilizing prices. I hope we shall envisage, as a part of its duty, a wider control of price margins than the producers' price only, because our fellow-citizens of the towns, whom we seek to convince, are habituated to paying more than twice as much for what they consume as the producer receives, and there is a vast and growing margin between producers' prices and consumers' prices. Whatever oragnization is responsible in the future for the management of this business, it must not be tied to a producers' interest, and it ought not to be tied to a distributors' interest; it must be an independent national authority.
There are two things which are interdependent and essential; adequate land equipment and use, and a reliable living for the people who use it properly. If we could get these two, I have no fear of what would follow. We could soon get better housing in the countryside, better education, better training, and improvements in method; because, alongside the Ministry of which I have spoken, we must have organizations under the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure increased efficiency and maintenance of standards. Above all—and that is the opportuneness 25 of this debate—we must have, if we are going to have the time that this industry requires to develop sound system, a sufficient measure of agreement between the main political Parties to enable the policy steadily to be pursued. If we can get that agreement then there will be confidence that will give a new spirit and a new life to our countryside, and those Who come after us will praise us because in the time of danger we had the courage to plan for a better Britain
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Earl opposite, Lord De La Warr, has introduced this subject, and I am sure most of your Lordships will agree that the future of British agriculture is a matter of vital importance. I am not sure that in the full sense that proposition is entirely accepted. If you come to think of it, it is possible to conceive that an island such as Great Britain, with no wide prairies or windy steppes, might come to the point of practically ignoring agriculture in a large sense, depending upon its mineral wealth, on its shipping and fisheries, on its skill in working up raw materials for the purpose of manufacture, and in fact becoming completely industrialized, leaving here and there a few dairy cows to provide fresh milk, a certain amount of poultry to provide fresh eggs and a few roods of land to provide fresh cabbages and carrots. And although I cannot suppose that such views are held by any great number of people, yet I think in the urban population there may be a certain tendency in that direction, and it may even in its fuller form be sometimes enunciated by public speakers.
But, after all, the real question, as pointed out by the noble Earl opposite and also by Lord Addison, is that in some form or another this industry must be made to pay, because it is quite obvious that unless the market value of its produce equals the sum which it takes to produce it and to provide a certain margin of profit, the work will not be done at all. And whether that is done by a system of subsidies, a system of fixed prices, or a system of protection, is not now, I take it, a subject for general argument. But it is, I think, worth while to point out that this problem arises in the fullest degree whether the land is nationalized or not, because as I understand it, it is no part of the Socialist creed to nationalize the 26 industry, that is to say, to make every farmer and every farm workers a state servant; but it is doubtless to turn all the land of the country, so to speak, into Crown land, and to abolish the system of private ownership. Well, that problem of making the industry a paying industry would arise in all cases.
Now the cost to the occupier consists in the main of the wages which he has to pay, the wages of labour, and the cost of certain materials, implements and fertilizers, which are required for the carrying on of his business. We shall all agree, as has often been said in this House, that the present scale of agricultural wages, greatly increased though it is—something like trebled within comparatively recent memory—is not too high. We have over and over again said that an agricultural labourer is a skilled man: there is hardly any labour on a farm which can be described as really unskilled, and some of it is very highly skilled indeed. Therefore it is obvious that you could not expect agricultural labour to go on being content with a scale of wages far lower than that of workers in towns. But it remains, of course, to discover how far in any system of good farming a sufficient profit can be made by a farmer while paying good wages. And the natural tendency must be to employ as little labour as possible, and that is facilitated by the great increase in mechanization, but of course it tends to have the unfortunate result, which we deplore, of reducing the agricultural population, which we should all like to see greatly increased again.
Well, what has to be considered is what is the way of helping farming to be made a paying proposition. Of course improved education is bound to do much. We all realize the importance of agricultural colleages and farm institutes. Many of your Lordships will no doubt have known in the past old farmers, extremely shrewd and thoroughly prosperous, who could not by any flight of imagination be described as educated men. But that type, I imagine, has been dying out for some time, and a young farmer now as a rule has some good elementary acquaintance with geology, with botany, with veterinary medicine and possibly some knowledge of entomology, particularly so far as it affects the kind of land which he is working. All that helps, and it is reasonable 27 to hope that, under the well-planned system that is spoken of, the good intelligent farmer, without pretending to be an absolute genius at his work, should be able to make a reasonable living assisted by one or other of those methods of State assistance which we are not attempting to discuss to-day.
But the question of planning has to be borne in mind. I was accused the other day of speaking too lightly of planning. There is a certain danger in planning, which is a stimulant and, like other stimulants, liable to go to people's heads; but there are cases in which, I am sure, planning ought to be carefully thought out, and this is one of them. Surely it comes to this, that in planning the future of British agriculture you have to make up your minds whether the probability is that, once more, there will be a considerable risk of this island being, as it is now, practically blockaded, in which case provision will have to be made for one type of farming, or whether we may hope that in future years, under whatever international body is constituted to do the work which the League of Nations attempted to do but which it was unhappily prevented from doing in full—that of ensuring peace in the world —each country will be able to grow the kind of crops and, in general, to institute the system of agriculture most suited to its position, its climate, and its tradition. I hope it may be argued, without speaking with any degree of certainty, that we can look forward to something like the second state of affairs rather than the first—that is to say, that we shall not, so far as those now alive can look ahead, be living in perpetual dread of another war and of the repetition of the submarine menace which is now so hampering our military efforts and affecting our civil life.
If that be so, it is surely fair to Consider what kind of agriculture Great Britain ought to attempt to pursue. In the first place I should say that far less wheat should be grown in these circumstances than is grown at this moment. I am assuming, of course, that larger imports can be brought to this country. That is not at all to say that the growing of wheat ought to be abandoned. There is an abundance of excellent wheat land in this country. The particular quality 28 of wheat which we grow appeals to the palates of British consumers in distinction to the harder products brought from different climates. Wheat straw, as we know, is a farmer's standby, and wheat in general is popular with most farmers. We all remember the story of the old farmer who, on being congratulated on a marvellous bumper harvest, complained there was no damaged wheat for his stock. The other cereals—high-class barley and oats—will undoubtedly be grown in sufficient quantities.
What I do feel is that what may be considered almost the sheet anchor of British farming ought to remain—namely, the special breeds of animals for which we have become so famous in the past, horses, cattle, sheep and pigs, special breeds of which have been evolved, some as long as 200 or 30o years ago, by the skill and patience of practical farmers and breeders. Owing to the peculiarities of our climate, it is generally recognized that when animals are exported to other countries the type is greatly changed and sometimes reduced in value. So far as shorthorns are concerned, I have never had the advantage of seeing the herds either in North or South America, but I have seen a good many portraits of prizewinning animals there, and it seemed to me there was a distinct difference in type between these prize animals and those which we cherish here for the production of milk or as beef animals. My impression is that the same applies to a good deal of other stock. The owner of a Jersey or Guernsey herd always found it necessary to replenish his stock from the islands every few years in order to keep the type precisely the same. It is one of the tragedies connected with the temporary loss of that integral part of the United Kingdom that these two beautiful breeds of cattle may, one fears, be somewhat imperilled by the hostile occupation, when one thinks of the care which has been taken for hundreds of years to keep their identity separate.
I therefore hope that the encouragement of pedigree stock of all kinds will be one of the objects which will be aimed at when the whole of this matter is thought out. In this connexion I should like to mention the name of one who has lately died and has been a great loss to agriculture, Mr. Charles Adeane, who was, I am sure, a friend of many of your 29 Lordships and a great figure in the world of agriculture. I feel sure that this debate will prove to be an illuminating contribution to this great subject. I only wish that it could find a fate not usual to debates in your Lordships' House, that of coming somewhat more to the notice of those outside so that it may be studied by those especially conversant with the subject and particularly interested in it.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl who introduced this Motion on an extremely eloquent speech. No one has a better right to speak on this subject, for he has, during the last twenty years and more, shown unfailing enthusiasm combined with great practical knowledge. I, of course, intervene in this debate as a layman speaking among experts; but I was brought up in the country, I have always been interested in matters concerning country life, I have always looked upon the great movement from the country to the town as a national disaster, and I am keenly anxious to see the villages once again active and agriculture flourishing. I always feel that there is something splendid in the life and the character of the countryman. He may not have the versatility of the townsman, but he has a steadiness, a sense of responsibility, a patience, an endurance, and a foreseeing quality which is necessary for the character and welfare of the nation. I therefore approach this matter as one who is more interested in land as producing lives, and agriculture as a way of living rather than as a means of livelihood, but of course I recognize most fully that it is; quite impossible to expect village and country life to revive unless it comes from a revived agriculture. When people talk about village industries and arts and crafts in villages, admirable as their ideals are, they are really putting the cart before the horse, for village industries will never be flourishing, arts and crafts of the village will always have something artificial about them, unless behind all there is a community which is living on the land. Therefore I do support most strongly the appeal which has been made that the Government should state plainly, clearly and definitely their policy for agriculture.
The farmer has been badly let down in the past. Noble Lords have pointed out what a terrible condition agriculture 30 had sunk into. I recognized and realized how great the contrast was when, after working some thirty-three years in towns, I came once again into contact with farmers and compared the farms of ten years ago with what they were like thirty or forty years before. The change was deplorable. Then there came the last war and the farmer did his utmost. He was promised many things and then he was neglected, and agriculture had sunk to a depth which it had never before reached in this country. After all, we have to remember that with the exception of the last century the greatness of England has been built by those who are living in the country and in the villages. Now this war has come and the farmer, notwithstanding all the handicaps with which he has started, has really worked miracles; he is working miracles to-day, he is making a wonderful contribution to the national cause. But the farmer is suspicious, he has a lurking suspicion that the Government will once again let him down. Often, when I am speaking with farmers, they say to me: "Yes, it is all very well to have these promises, but there is no definite policy yet; you will see they will let us down again later on." Farmers would receive an immense amount of encouragement and hope if the Government were able to bring forward an agreed agricultural policy and pledged themselves to carry it through.
There is one controversial matter on which I want to touch. I may be regarded in what I am going to say as holding rather old-fashioned views. I hope that in this policy for the agriculture of the future there will be found room for the small farm and for the owner occupant of the farm. I know how strong the case is from the economic point of view for large farms worked by machinery, and if we were approaching this matter from the economic point of view only the case for the large farm might be regarded as extremely strong. There must, of course, be these large farms worked in the latest scientific way, but let room be found for the little man who, with his family, works his own farm, who has a sturdy sense of independence and self-reliance, and who takes a deeper interest in his farm because he feels that it belongs to him and that afterwards his sons will inherit it. If that is done there will undoubtedly have to be State credit to help the small 31 man for the capital outlay, and there will have to be a continuation of State control—State control over the large farms and the large owners as well as over the small farmers. Here I should say that I hope the present policy will be continued, and that State control will not be exercised directly from Whitehall but through the agricultural county committees that are doing such excellent work. It does make a great difference to the farmer whether he is advised by a man who he thinks comes from London and does not know the difference between a cow and a bull, or whether he is advised by men whom he knows to be practical farmers, men who are his own neighbours and who know what they are talking about. It is hard to over-estimate the work done by these county agricultural war executive committees.
But my real purpose in speaking was to remind your Lordships that we shall never get a flourishing agricultural community in this country unless we are able to attract the people to the land. You must attract them, as the noble Lord who has just spoken said, by seeing that they have wages which compare favourably with the wages of their brothers who are working in the towns, but you must also see that they have houses in which they can live. Anyone who knows the country to-day understands that this is one of the great difficulties. There are nothing like enough houses. If the war came to an end to-morrow, and if you found tens of thousands of keen men—if you found them—anxious to go back to the land, you could not house them at the present time. Even before the war, committees which inquired into the matter came to the conclusion that one of the reasons why so many people moved from the country to the town was due to lack of housing accommodation. The Scott Report refers to this and says that this is one of the chief reasons. The young man who is going to marry and wishes to live in the village often finds there is no house to which he can take his wife. I notice that it has been announced that some three thousand houses are to be built for rural districts in the near future. Three thousand! It is hopelessly inadequate. A noble Lord opposite, in a paper he wrote last year, said we required something like a quarter of a million houses in the country. I 32 should say that was a more accurate figure than three thousand. Let us regard this three thousand as a very feeble token payment of what we hope will come in the immediate future.
You want, as well as good houses, a really active interesting life in the village It is often said that village life is dull. That is not true of all villages. In many villages life for various reasons is quite as lively in another way as one finds in the towns, but people feel that living in the village does mean missing many amusements and recreations which they could get much more easily in the towns. In the middle ages, of course, the recreation of the village centred very largely round the church, which was not only the place of worship but the cinema, the music hall and the theatre of the people of the village. For quite obvious reasons that will not be so in the future, but the personal life of the village should centre round the village hall, and in every village there should be a village hall, with its library and its cinema and various other attractions which people enjoy in the towns. It seems rather a come-down to speak of these matters in comparison with the very great issues which have been raised by other speakers, but in the long run it is always the human factor which is decisive. You will not get the people back to the land, however good your agricultural policy may be in other respects, unless they are certain there of good wages, good houses and social life in which they can obtain fellowship and recreation.
My Lords, it is a privilege to be allowed to follow the most reverend Prelate with his consistent and knowledgeable enthusiasm for the land. It is a second privilege to address your Lordships at all on this subject. It has an importance which I venture to think no other debatable subject at this moment contains. It can open a policy which more than any other will lead to peace and co-operation in the world after the war. We have not so far distinguished ourselves by elaborating any policy in anything but the most general terms which can confidently be described as a contribution to world peace after the war. Here is an opportunity which no other piece of human endeavour gives to establish a period of real co-operation. I hope I shall speak to-day, in, I think, 33 Goldsmith's language, rather as a citizen of the world than as a British farmer. The subject is a vast one over which it would be only too easy to spread oneself until all your Lordships were bored.
A sound policy for agriculture, and it is for that that we are asking, is one that insists on efficiency. It is one that insists on the adequate use of the land, as the noble Lord opposite pointed out in much more eloquent language than I can command. It is one which postulates that agriculture should be the servant of the people, supplying the people with what they require. It is finally one which, as the most reverend Prelate has pointed out, secures an adequate livelihood for all those concerned in it. It is most difficult for the British public to appreciate what has been said more than once, that seventy to eighty per cent. of the people of the world get their livelihood from agriculture and from nothing else. Unless you feel what I may call agricultural sympathy for that vast body of people how can you expect to lead them into the ways of peace and co-operation? We must try to divest ourselves of our industrial point of view when we are making contact with the citizens of the rest of the world.
The mere enunciation of such aims opens a very wide field for discussion but their magnitude should bring support from all men of good will. The very loftiness of our aims should increase the scope of their appeal. It should in itself cross the division between Parties. To a world sickened by bestiality it is a relief to turn down an avenue which may lead through co-operation to peace. It is an avenue that is wide open to-day and I hope the Government will soon take the first steps to march down it. It is impossible to deny that agriculture all over the world before this War began was in a distressed condition. We have heard about the "Dust Bowl" of Oklahoma and Texas. We have heard of the erosion of the soil elsewhere as well. We know the peoples of the world were everywhere struggling for a market which was everywhere underpaid. Yet we expected them to buy our highly-finished industrial products. There was hopeless inconsistency about that attitude. No bargain can be any good unless both parties benefit by it. No market can possibly be a good market unless the buyer is able to pay the price 34 the seller demands. There was, therefore, and much of our troubles may be traced back to it, a steady dissatisfaction among the peoples of the world with their lot. What, after all, is this freshly-arisen interest in our Colonies but a recognition that we must pay even the black man a fair wage for the products of his industry?
It is perhaps proper at this moment to consider what will be the situation of the world when peace is, at last, declared. There is not the least doubt that the first demand of all will be for food, but food will be short, and even the labour force which the demobilization of the Armies may set up, will be insufficient to produce the food and what I may call the consumer goods that the world will be demanding. That will ensure—and this is why I am dwelling on it—a demand, and a good demand, for the products of agriculture during the first one or two years after the war. But that is a great snare. Our very prosperity after the war, coming after our prosperity during peacetime, or at any rate our busy-ness during peace-time, will lead us once again to neglect this question unless in advance we can have an All-Party agreed policy. This must be a policy not confined to these islands but one which will take the world into its purview. Since the Spanish Civil War ended the unfortunate country of Spain has found herself, owing to the outbreak of the world war, cut off from supplies of foodstuffs which she was accustomed to draw from abroad. It is true that she was short also of other raw materials, but I am told, and I am afraid it is true, that the condition of Spain since the Civil War ended and the world war broke out, has been one of consistent wretchedness and penury. We do not want that to occur in other countries of the world that have been involved in the fighting. We do not want a policy which will starve our friends as well as our enemies.
Following the first two years or so after the war, during which time we shall be fully occupied in serving the barest needs of the world, a time will come when Ceres once more assured of her worshippers will give her bounteous crops, and man will not rest until at last he has forced from his little plot of earth sufficient for at least the sustenance of himself and his family. From that time abundance, though ill-regulated abundance, will take possession of the field, 35 and after that what is to be the next step? Is it to be the burning of Texas cotton, the shooting of coffee into the seas of Brazil, the reversion of our land to ranching as so graphically described by Sir Daniel Hall? After all, at the end of the last war it did not take more than about two years to bring us back to that condition. Would it not be a bold man, or a very blind man, who did not connect something of the slump, unemployment and misery of the thirties with the decay of British agriculture? There was no longer a market for the industrial goods. But be that as it may, no country at the outset of this war was satisfied with its agricultural position. Certain crops and certain farmers were protected by heavy protection, by the help of large subsidies, but there was no generally accepted attempt to regulate the flow of agricultural commodities. No fresh ground was broken in this connexion except by Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith on his visit to Sydney. I confess that I have the greatest admiration for that achievement.
But now peoples' minds are turning very much along the way that the noble Lord opposite and Earl De La Warr have sketched for us. In October, 1941, Mr. Sumner Welles, who, as no doubt your Lordships know, represents the State Department of the U.S.A. with Mr. Cordell Hull, quite deliberately, and no doubt as a result of what we should call a Cabinet decision, made a speech in which he put forward a dual policy of stabilizing the prices of basic commodities, which are the foundation of the whole world's economic texture, and, secondly, of raising the dietary standards of the world's populations. These are the very principles which we are pressing on you today. If I may be allowed to quote from a statement by a member of our own Government, I would recall that the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently said that we needed "a policy of expansion so that employment was maintained." And also that we needed "a strong effort to prevent the disastrous swings in the prices of raw materials and primary products." He further said that we were apt to forget that a large majority of the peoples of the world were engaged not in industry but in producing foodstuffs and other primary products. I was extremely happy to read of the Chancellor's speech. Precisely it is so. If we want the world to buy our 36 exported goods, we have got to buy their primary products. I have said this thing in different ways, and I am afraid that I am repeating myself again, but it seems to me to be an odd kink in our character by which we rely on our British commercial ability to reconcile contradictions and to defy logic. This principle, that if we want to sell we must buy and pay a fair price, holds just as much for plums from Evesham exported to the London markets as it does for raisins imported from Turkey or Australia. So far as the argument goes there is no difference.
Apart from reasons of national security, you cannot have a policy of full employment unless you have a market willing and able to buy from you. You cannot have a policy based on restriction; it must be based on the expansion of your possible markets. It is first and foremost the stimulation of your buyers' capacity to buy that is required. It is useless to have a policy of buying in the cheapest markets if you find that by so buying you have knocked out your own customers. Since you cannot regulate prices without regulating quantities, you must regulate quantities. You cannot regulate prices without regulating quantities. If you are to be at the mercy of these swings to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred, the surpluses and the dumpings will break your back. You will have no alternative except to go in for a policy of quotas. Do not let us forget that if the agriculturist bears the brunt in the first place, the townsman will bear it in the second. If we could once get this interdependence of town and country, looking at it especially from the world point of view, accepted as the truism that it is, we should have given the peoples of the world a lead along the path which leads to prosperity and to peace. The target is expansion, and especially expansion in the production of those articles of food which are increasingly needed for the diet of our people.
It may be asked why Great Britain should take the initiative in this movement, and why it falls to her lot to do so. It falls to her lot because she is, and certainly will be after the war, the world's greatest market for foodstuffs. She has therefore the ball at her feet, and it is for us to open up the game. What we want to say, in the first place to our Empire and in the second place to the world at large, is this: "We can, after making 37 proper reserves for our own agriculture, afford to buy and to pay a price for a given quantity of your exports of food. We do not say that you will necessarily receive for a bushel of wheat exactly the same price, or even such a good price, as a bushel of wheat will make in the British market for our own farmers; what we do say is that we will endeavour to buy from you at such a price as will ensure that your grower gains his livelihood out of that product. But we promise that only for a given quantity. If you do not play the game, or if the seasons are exceptionally bountiful and the surplus exceptionally difficult, we will help von out as far as we can, but we would point out to you that there are millions and millions of people on this earth who have never had what we call a square meal in their life. There are millions who are under-nourished and who would be the better if they could receive some of these surpluses which are created. 'Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days' would not be at all a bad motto for the surplus crops which the season produces from time to time."
There is one corollary to that policy of paying a fair price; it is that the countries from whom we buy must be prepared to give us a fair price for our exports, where they can penetrate into those countries. In making this stipulation, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that, having put money into their farmers' pockets, that money must be spent somewhere, and, if we are in a position to compete with other manufacturing countries, quite apart from any preferences accorded to our Empire, then that money is bound to flow back in the purchase of our own exports. We shall say to Australia, to the United States and to Turkey that in sending us their agricultural products they will have to find the means of dividing up internally the quotas as between their farmers. All this will make for a certain increase of State control, and it cannot, in my regretful judgment, be avoided; it must be so, I am afraid. There are tides in the affairs of men which cannot be set back. It may be, however, that an era of cooperation and common sense, when the people of their own accord will carry out the measures that are most beneficial to themselves and to their fellows, will supervene on an era of State control while 38 we are learning our lesson. I sincerely hope that the Government will find themselves fully prepared to lead the way in this great matter.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I rise to support with the utmost conviction the Motion moved by the noble Earl. I suggest to your Lordships that there are many things that agriculture needs, but perhaps the first of them all is confidence. It may well be that, when the noble Duke replies to this debate, he will say: "Confidence? The agricultural industry has confidence in the Government, who have given it a square deal." If he does say that I shall most heartily agree with him, and indeed I would go further and say that, even if the agricultural industry had not confidence in the present Government, it would not make much difference, because the agricultural industry, from the top to the bottom, is quite determined to win this war, whatever may happen, and to see that the people of this country do not starve. When, however, we come to the question of confidence after the war is over, I am afraid that that is rather another matter. The cry of "For the duration and one year after" rings in the farmer's ears, and I am afraid that many farmers are working with one eye on the clock—perhaps not a very good frame of mind in which to work.
Now, why should the farming community have this lack of confidence in the future? I do not think it is very hard to see a good reason for it. Those of your Lordships who are old enough will realize that nearly everything that has been said to-day was said during and at the end of the last war. Indeed, the Government then went further than your Lordships have gone to-day, because they translated words into deeds and produced a Bill which became an Act. That Act, however, very soon died a premature death, and what desperate ills followed! Farmers who have seen their farms go back as the result of the broken word, who have seen their fathers and other relatives grow grey and sad, are not going to forget that lightly; you may be sure of that. The farmer will say to himself —and are you surprised?—"The devil was sick, the devil a saint would be."
Is that the only reason? The farmer and the farm-worker of to-day read a great deal more than was once the case. They 39 read the newspapers probably every day, and they have seen, as I have seen and you have seen, how many people there are in this country to whom the prosperity of agriculture means nothing, who do not care about it and do not mean to have it. I venture to say that I do not think any one man has done a greater disservice to agriculture than the man who produced the Minority Report in the Scott Report. That Minority Report is read and discussed to-day in every market-place in the country, and at nearly every meeting of farmers. I have heard these discussions myself. What is the reaction to it? It is a very obvious one. They say: "Here is a man of sufficient importance to be made a member of this great Committee, and, at a time when we are producing two-thirds of the food of this country by our utmost endeavours, and at a time when his own belly is full of our food, he says that he neither envisages nor desires a prosperous and expanding agriculture. If that is said now, what hope is there for us when the cry of cheap food is raised?"
I should like to point out to your Lordships that it is not going to be easy after the war to reconstruct agriculture. I would give you two reasons—no doubt there are many more. The first is this, that whenever the war ends to a lesser or greater degree the fertility of the soil will be diminished. I do not know to what extent. There are favourable factors, I know, working everywhere—vastly improved drainage, to a certain extent improved cultivation—but on the other hand we have white straw crop succeeding white straw crop and less and less good farmyard manure put on the land. I think to some extent it is quite undeniable that the fertility of our land, which has been built up, and by no one more than by that great Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Morrison, is to some extent being diminished, and will be diminished at the end of the war.
The other point that I would make is less capable of argument, and that is that the standing equipment of the land has gone down progressively for many years up to the beginning of the war, and since the war the pace of its decline has increased. The landowner is naturally—and he makes no objection to that—in a much worse position than he was when war broke out. Even if he had the 40 money he would not be able to get the labour to keep farm buildings and equipment in repair. But he has not even an opportunity to put by money, so that when the war is over he can do the work, which is getting every year more and more behind. That will be a very great problem to be faced after the war, because the standing equipment must not only be replaced, but it must improve.
I spoke about confidence. As far as I can judge there is really no alternative to the proposals of the noble Earl to restore that confidence. There may be some, but I do not see it. I do not think anything will restore confidence but a general declaration of policy by all the political Parties. Now, is it impossible to get such a joint declaration? I do not think it is. My nurse used to say to me, "Count your benefits." Count the things on the plus side, count your blessings. Now, let us see what points there are on which all Parties find general agreement. The first one is that they want a prosperous agriculture. Lord Addison very rightly said we have had lip-service of that sort before, but I do not think there ever was such general agreement as there is to-day. Then, are we not all agreed that the status of the agricultural worker must be improved? By that I do not only mean wages, and I do not only mean in amenities, though that aspect is vitally important, for he must have the amenities of electric light, of water, of transport on the same scale and at the same price as the man who works in the town. There is one more thing he must have: he must have made more readily available to him a ladder by which he can rise. Education is that ladder. I believe that all Parties will find agreement on that.
I believe that all Parties will agree that the farmer, working hard and knowing his stuff, a reasonably good farmer, not a superman, who can make money anywhere, but a remarkably good farmer, should have an opportunity to make a decent living and to pay a decent wage. I think we are all agreed upon that point, but it throws on him the obligation of being a reasonably good farmer; of making a reasonably good use of his land. if he does not do that, such land must revert to those who will. I think we should be agreed about that. I think we should also be agreed that the standing equipment of 41 the farm should be maintained and improved in whomsoever's hands the possession of it should be lodged. I think we can agree there. Then I think we shall be agreed —I have heard no dissent to-day—that the country will demand that it should have good feeding at a reasonable price. The country has not been well fed for fifty years and more; it may have been adequately feel, but it has not been well fed; it has been progressively worse fed. And those fifty years have shown it in the physique of the population, though not, thank heaven, in their spirit. Their physique has been affected by the manner of food that they have eaten. I venture to hope that the communal feeding which we now see coming, which is' increasing every day and which I venture to hope will be a feature of post-war reconstruction, will mean that the workers of this country will get not only plenty of food but good and healthy food, and good and healthy food for the main part raised in this country. I see no reason why we should not be agreed about that. Again, I would suggest that we are all agreed that the drainage age of this country, the method of administering it, the method of paying for it, needs drastic alteration. Those who have worked on war agricultural committees, in some parts at all events of this country, have grasped what an immense amount of production we have lost through our failure in that particular respect.
Those are large sources of agreement. You cannot expect to find agreement on everything. There is, of course, a cleavage on the great question of nationalization. I am not frightened about nationalization. I am never frightened of a word, however long it is. After all, we had a lot of nationalized land in this country before the war, and we have got a lot more now. I do not think we need worry overmuch about that, although for my part I venture to hope that complete nationalization will not be attempted with a stroke of the pen, but will be allowed to come over a long period of years. I myself, I am bound to say, see certain objections to it, and it will be enormously expensive. Indeed, I venture to say that if the cost of the nationalized land worked by the war agricultural committees is ever presented to the public, it may cause them to think a good deal. Furthermore, I myself do confess, and confess gladly, to a deep-rooted feeling against the dictatorship of the bureaucracy. I do not like 42 it, I never have liked it, and I like it less every day when I see more and more of it. We are seeing a lot of it now. The agricultural industry suffers it because it believes it is necessary for the prosecution of the war, but it likes it less and less every month, almost every day. Many of these officials are admirable men who know their jobs, who have full knowledge; but there are others who like their dictatorial powers, there are others whose knowledge of their subject is extremely elementary. I venture to think that before nationalization is embarked upon on a total scale it will be necessary to see that a large body, of those who administer it are trained in the job and know it, and not only trained in the job, but trained in the tolerance of human nature.
I have taken too much time already. In conclusion, I would only say I support very strongly the noble Earl and what he has said. I believe there is sufficient measure of agreement; I believe such agreement would do quite a bit even during the war to improve production; and I believe it is essential for reconstruction when the war is over.
§ LORD BINGLEY
My Lords, at this stage I will keep your Lordships only a very short time, but there are one or two things I desire to say. First of all, I wish to thank the noble Earl who introduced this Motion for the very interesting debate which it has produced. We are all agreed that agriculture has been badly let down for many years past, and that in consequence there is an enormous leeway to be made up now. I must say that people who are always talking about the wonderful new world we are going to build up lead us to suppose we are living in a hell now and that there is nothing good in the world as it has been. Everyone knows, as regards agriculture, that it has not been due to the inefficiency of the agriculturist, but to the fact that the country created conditions under which it was impossible for agriculture to be profitable. The derelict land, the decrepit buildings, the obsolete drainage—all these things were due to the fact that there was not enough money in the industry to attend to these matters. Therefore a good deal of assistance is required from the nation before the industry can be put right.
I fully agree that before it can be asked to produce any large assistance towards 43 putting agriculture back into the position in which it would have been if it had been left an opportunity of being profitable, the nation has a perfect right to say that as a condition agriculture must be thoroughly efficient, land must not be left in the hands of those who are inefficient, and some measure of control must be maintained to see that efficiency is assisted. The form of control, as has been so well said by the Archbishop, which is most practicable and most popular, has been the system of war agricultural executive committees which has been working so well. We ought to express our great gratitude to those committees for the amount of work they have been doing—unpaid work given unstintedly and without a grudge—landowners gladly lending their agents, agents gladly adding to their own duties, and all working in harmony and generally in peace with those they have to coerce and control. Their work has been popular because they come from among the people whom they are controlling. They are thoroughly trusted by them, and that is the sort of control we must try to pursue. Of course we shall have to have some financial adjustment because we cannot expect unpaid work to go on indefinitely, but that is a matter which can easily be put right.
There are a great many things connected with agriculture which require to be developed—the chaotic system of slaughter-houses, the chaotic system of markets, the whole system of agriculture maintained by conservative farmers who do not wish to change their obsolete ways. A great deal of money will be required to put that right. There again, the nation will be prepared to find a great deal if it is sure that inefficiency will be eliminated and efficiency insisted upon. One should see in every big city one big slaughter-house—certainly not more than a very few—compared with the many slaughter-houses now. If possible, the market and the slaughter-house should be alongside one another so that the cattle can go from the one to the other; better use must be made of the by-products, and in this way much of the profits now lost to the farmer could be secured to him. All these things mean a considerable expenditure of money.
Finally, may I say one word on the subject of Death Duties? We are all 44 agreed that Death Duties have had a very deleterious effect on the financial position of agriculture. The capital of the agricultural industry has been drained from it, and this in itself has made it very difficult to maintain the proper equipment of the land. In a case where a landowner was prepared to guarantee that any relief that is given to him will go into the development of the industry and not into his own private pocket, it is quite possible for some adjustment to be made, and the country would be ready to make it, if it was quite sure that the industry was going to get the benefit and not merely the individual. I believe that to save the agricultural industry, and therefore to save itself, the nation would be prepared to make considerable sacrifices. I am not suggesting that any special class should be subsidized, but it is of such immense importance to this country to maintain its own domestic food supply that I hope the Government will consider how many of these plans can be carried out. I hope they will not leave it too long. It is easier to plan for agriculture than for other things, because there is no question of changing from war production to peace production as in the case of munitions. You merely develop on the lines you have now. I hope that the Government, without delay, will institute plans so that before the end of the war we shall have the prospect of a better future for agriculture, and therefore greater security for the country.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE DUKE OF NORFOLK)
My Lords, I hope it will be convenient for the House if at this juncture I say a few words and my noble friend Lord Woolton will speak at the end of the debate. I should like to preface my remarks by thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, for his kindness in allowing me to intervene at this moment. The debate which the noble Earl has introduced has again shown the fundamental importance of agriculture to this country. It is true to say that the interest which is being taken in all Parties and bodies of opinion has never been so keen. When we look back over the past three years we have ample proof that the farmers of this country know their job and that the land can produce the food. To-day we are discussing the future, and it may be as well if I say just a very few 45 words about what has been done in order to show that the labours of the farmers during this war have not been wasted.
It is well known that more than 3,000,000 acres were lost to agriculture between the two wars, and it is also well known that training grounds and aerodromes have made many productive acres useless for producing food. Nevertheless, millions of acres of permanent pasture are now under cultivation and hundreds of thousands more acres have been reclaimed. The drainage schemes throughout the country, though by no means complete, have made many acres suitable for ploughing. In fact, the increase in the arable acreage of this country so far during the present war is nearly three times as great as was the increase during the whole of the last war. All Departments have necessarily been short of certain equipment at various times, but this is merely consequent on total war. It is true to say that, given the labour and the machinery, a good deal more might have been done.
But, above all these things, agriculture has made its own contribution and provided its own quota for the Armed Forces. To-day, as a result of all the efforts not only of the men who work for actual production but also of the educational work done in order to raise the standard of farming, this country is, I believe, producing more food per acre than any other country in the world, and it is also producing more food per man per acre. The farmers of this country have raised the total amount of food produced from the soil by over 70 per cent. since 1939. This has been clone in spite of the loss of the acres which I have mentioned. This increase, in its turn, has saved many millions of tons of shipping space. It is no idle comment to say that the farming community place no one higher than the men who sail the seas, and any help or relief that can be given to the sailors is always in their minds.
These few remarks on the past will, I hope, bring before your Lordships a picture which I believe speaks for itself. At the end of this war we shall have a countryside that, generally, is in better shape than ever before. There will be certain acres lacking fertility, but that fertility has only been lost because the ground has peen hard hit during these years of war. We shall have land that is better drained. 46 Much good soil will have been reclaimed, and time will show that that fertility can be regained. Surely no one wishes to see all the money and the labour that have been expended on the agricultural effort during this war wasted after the war is over. Those of us who can remember the period between the two wars must shudder at the very thought, but it has appeared to me that in certain recent debates in this House, whereas some of your Lordships have kept urging the Government to get on with plans for post-war policy, other noble Lords have told us to keep our eye on the ball and wait to plan the future when peace has come. I cannot see that both things are impossible so far as agriculture is concerned. Farming really is a long-term matter; it needs planning ahead, and it is only natural to hear that farmers are to-day thinking of their future. Many changes have come about, and all concerned with the industry want to know something of to-morrow so that they too may plan their farms. We, too, in my Ministry, are thinking like the farmers.
Some of your Lordships may not fully appreciate how important the future of agriculture is considered to be by the various industrial organizations of one kind or another who are discussing various post-war problems, and I will therefore with your Lordships' permission read one or two extracts which have come from time to time into my Department and have also appeared in the Press. All these pronouncements are very carefully read by the Minister, and all are very carefully considered. He, like others, has been struck by the sympathetic and helpful terms in which they are drafted. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce say:A prosperous and efficient agricultural industry is necessary for the well-being of the nation both rural and urban. The Association recognizes that agriculture is and always must be a major industry and considers it must be placed on a more satisfactory basis than existed prior to the outbreak of the war.Then the London Chamber of Commerce say:Nations now recognize that the maintenance of a correct balance between industry and agriculture is essential, both for social stability and for the health and happiness of the community. This does not mean that the industrial nations will in the future produce all the food-stuffs they require, or that primary producing countries will produce all the manufacturing goods they require. It 47 does mean that an international trading system based on the assumption that a nation will always welcome imports if they are cheap enough, is out of touch with modern reality and will constantly break clown.The Federation of British Industriesrealize that a prosperous agriculture employing a large number of our fellow-countryman on a reasonable standard of living is desirable, both from the economic and social point of view. Such an agricultural community would represent an important volume of purchasing power for industrial products as well as operate as a stabilizing influence on the country generally.Finally, the Wholesale Textile Association submitthat a long-term policy for the restoration of British agriculture should be placed in the forefront of the post-war reconstruction programme.These utterances are of great significance. We have had many other memoranda sent to us, including one from the Royal Agricultural Society so long ago as 1941. All these communications are naturally of great help. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has said quite recently, and on more than one occasion, that he is even now discussing the problems of a long-term policy for farming with his colleagues prior to discussing it with the various interests in the industry. Therefore a debate such as we have had to-day cannot but be of very great help, and I thank the noble Lords of all Parties who have so frankly expressed their opinions.
Naturally to-day's speeches will be very carefully read and considered by my Department. Enough has been said to show the many questions which have to be asked and the many answers which have to be found, and the many sides of the industry both at home and abroad that have to be considered. The noble Earl who moved this Motion has asked the Government for a plain statement of their future policy, having in mind the pledge of 1940. I regret that I am not in a position to-day, for the reasons which I have given, to make such a statement. Rather is this debate one which has given us the opportunity of hearing your Lordships' views and it has been valuable. My right honourable friend when he is ready in another place or I in this House will welcome another full discussion on this great industry. In the meantime let me once more repeat that pledge which was given in 1940 by His Majesty's Government: 48The Government, representative as it is of all major political Parties, recognizes the importance of maintaining after the war a healthy and well-balanced agriculture as an essential and permanent feature of national policy. The guarantee now given is meant to secure that stability shall be maintained not only during hostilities but during a length of time thereafter sufficient to put into action a permanent post-war policy for home agriculture.''That this pledge shall be fulfilled must be our constant aim. In the meantime, I ask your Lordships to get together so that we may in 1943 reap a harvest that will be second to none in the annals of this country.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Viscount Bledisloe).
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.