HL Deb 13 October 1943 vol 129 cc172-82

THE EARL OF MANSFIELD rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are in consultation with the Governments of the Allied countries now in enemy occupation, not only regarding the amount of live stock likely to be needed by each, but also the various breeds considered most suitable, and the countries from which they can be best obtained; whether they are also consulting the agricultural organizations of this country, with the view of securing the timeous co-operation of our own farmers in this object; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, some of your Lordships will remember that shortly before the Recess I raised the question of the agricultural policy of this country, with particular regard to the policy which would have to be pursued respecting our Allies in Europe. The Government reply, although reasonably satisfactory, did not go very far; in fact, it went such a short distance that I felt myself not merely justified in putting down a further Motion but obliged to do so, with a view to elucidating whether the very important questions which are mentioned in this Motion are receiving the necessary attention from His Majesty's Government as well as from the Governments of our Allies. The matter has become all the more urgent in view of the increasingly favourable war situation. As more than one journalist has remarked, it may not be very long before the horrors of peace are upon us. That remark may seem to be rather cheaply cynical, but, if it is analyzed, it will be found to bear out the true if trite remark that many a true word is spoken in jest; because difficult and complicated as have been the problems which have confronted the Government so far as the war is concerned, those which they will have to face after the war will be even more difficult and complicated.

As your Lordships know, the Germans, in characteristic fashion, have ruthlessly devastated all Europe, carrying off whatever could be made of use by themselves; and they are continuing so to do. Particularly are they removing all possible foodstuffs to Germany, such foodstuffs including, of course, live stock from the occupied countries. We have it on the authority of a certain apparently overfed Field Marshal that, Although the whole of the rest of Europe may starve, Germany will not starve. I think that for once we may assume that Field Marshal Goering was telling the truth. The result of this is that once the war in the European area is over we shall have to face a position throughout all the countries of Europe which have been occupied by the enemy, of virtual emptiness so far as live stock is concerned.

Our first problem must be merely one of maintaining life among the populations of those countries; that is to say, of the provision of actual foodstuffs—grain, meat and the like. The time will come, however, and at no distant date, when it will be absolutely necessary that the devastated flocks and herds of Europe shall be replaced; and it is to this point that I wish to direct the attention of your Lordships to-day. I think that we may take it as certain that in every country which has been occupied by the Germans the live stock will be reduced almost to vanishing point. There may be certain variations of degree; in Yugoslavia, for example, a mountainous country and one difficult of access, in which German control has hardly penetrated into the more remote valleys, it is quite probable that a certain amount of live stock has been successfully hidden away. On the other hand, in Poland, the most sorely tried of all our Allies, invaded from both west and east, and a flat country with very few facilities for concealing live stock, it is probable that hardly anything will be left.

It is absolutely vital that these flocks and herds should be replaced at the earliest possible moment, and I wish to ask His Majesty's Government, therefore, what steps have been or are being taken to enter into full consultation with the Governments of these occupied countries to discover what will be their needs and how best those needs may be met. The live stock in question will consist principally of cattle, horses, sheep and pigs, and also of poultry. In South-Eastern Europe, goats may also be required, but I do not think that they will be of very great importance. It is almost certain, I think, that in many of these countries the local breeds will be reduced to vanishing point, and in some cases they may have become entirely extinct. At any rate no breeding stock will be left sufficient to replenish in a measurable number of years these flocks and herds. That means that it will be the duty and the task of the Allied Governments outside these territories to supply the necessary live stock.

I would suggest therefore that, if it has not already been done, it is extremely urgent that His Majesty's Government should obtain from each of the Governments of the occupied countries a statement of what they regard as their minimum requirements in each class of live stock; not only that, but what particular kind of each class of live stock they consider would be most suitable. Because it by no means follows that one particular breed that may be suitable for one part of Europe is necessarily suitable for another. For example, it would be, I think, absurd to introduce Highland black-faced sheep into the plains of Poland, and it would probably be equally absurd to introduce Friesian milch cows into the valleys of Yugoslavia. I hope, therefore, that full consultation is taking place with the Allied Governments, and that they are being put in touch with our live-stock experts in this country to discover what breeds are most suitable for replenishing their various countries, and from what sources these breeds can most easily be obtained. They will be obtained not only, I think, from ourselves and the United States of America, but also from our Dominions, and indeed probably from certain neutral countries as well, because it is likely that to restore the flocks and herds of Greece we might well draw on Turkey, a neighbouring country with a climate in many areas not dissimilar. Similarly, Norway and Denmark might well draw their stock from Sweden, at least to some extent.

It is a matter of the greatest importance that the live stock which is brought in should be of a character likely to be successful in the particular climatic conditions of the country. The importance of that cannot really be over-stressed. And equally, although it does not occur in the terms of my Motion, which I endeavoured to keep as simple as possible, similar considerations will apply in the case of providing seeds of all kinds, and agricultural machinery. Furthermore, the opportunity will occur, which should not be lost, of raising the standard of live stock throughout Central and Eastern Europe from its decidedly low condition, which I think was the state in which it was in most areas before the war. The urgency of the question lies mostly in the fact that it is quite impossible to produce live stock overnight. That does not always seem to be realized. And if we are going to be able within a measurable period of time to restore these devastated areas, we must have some form of careful plan worked out beforehand. Unless we do that we shall find that a delay will ensue which will definitely imperil the very existence of many of the peasants of Central and Eastern Europe, and indeed of others besides the peasants.

As regards the part which our own live stock breeders are to play in this, I hope that His Majesty's Government have already been in touch with the central agricultural organizations, that is the Royal Agricultural Society of England and the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, as well as with the National Farmers' Union in both countries and the corresponding bodies of Northern Ireland; because it is only by getting into contact through these organizations and through the breeding societies with the ordinary farmer, that he will be able to know what he will be required to produce. And I would further like to know whether any steps have been taken to work out a definite system for the purchase of the necessary animals, whether in this country, among our Allies or among our Dominions. The last thing that anyone wishes to do is to profiteer at the expense of our Allies, who have suffered so terribly in this war. At the same time, no one can expect that the fanners of this country will be willing to produce live stock at an unreasonably low price. The whole question, therefore, not only of the production, but of the methods of acquisition of this live stock is of the utmost importance.

This, of course, involves to a considerable extent the question of the long-term agricultural policy of this country. Unfortunately, up to date His Majesty's Government have maintained a masterly silence on this subject, and this is very regrettable, because undoubtedly, as I told your Lordships a few weeks ago, a feeling of despondency and anxiety is creeping into the agricultural community. Only last week in the course of my duties as a member of the Committee now considering the state of farm buildings in Scotland, I had to tour some 300 miles in some of the chief stock raising areas of Eastern Scotland, and I can assure your Lordships that the anxiety felt there is very considerable. Unless some definite pronouncement can be made at a reasonably early date it is going to be difficult to ensure production of a sufficient standard, either as regards the necessities of this country in the future, or as regards the necessities of our Allies whom we wish to help. The question admittedly is difficult, but it is an important one, and, as I say, unless come pronouncement comes at a reasonably early date, production at home for all purposes is going to be imperilled. We are given a sort of four-year programme, which is totally inadequate as far as planning ahead is concerned. We are told to study the resolutions at the Hot Springs Conference. I am afraid that the majority of those farmers whom I have questioned take Hot Springs to be rather a synonym for hot air; they are beginning to fear that the whole agricultural community are again going to be "let down," as they put it.

For this reason, although I cannot expect that the noble Lord who is to reply will to-day produce an agricultural policy, I do hope that he will represent to the Government that it is absolutely necessary that such a policy should be produced and at as early a date as is feasible. In the meantime I 1rust that some kind of organization on the lines suggested for getting the necessary information from those countries which we are going to help after the war, and from our own agriculturists, from the United States and from our Dominions, who are going to be in a position to assist, will be forthcoming in order that, once the war comes to an end, the whole machinery may be put into immediate operation and unnecessary delays avoided, which will certainly, if they take place, bring about undue and unnecessary suffering to all the populations of these sadly devastated countries. I beg to move.


My Lords, my noble friend need not apologize for bringing this matter again before your Lordships' House. It is a most important matter, with which I am sure he is most competent to deal, and I only wish we could have had some views expressed by various other noble Lords whom I see in their places and who know a great deal more about this subject than I do. If I take the last part of my noble friend's speech first, he said he did not expect me to-day to go into any general dissertation on post-war agricultural policy. I can assure my noble friend and your Lordships' House that I certainly am not going to do anything of the kind, but I am very glad that my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, is here because he will no doubt report to the Minister and his Department the views on this particular subject which have been so cogently expressed by the noble Earl. I am sorry the noble Earl was not satisfied with the answer he got from my noble friend a fortnight ago when he raised a cognate question. I shall try to satisfy him a little better to-day, but in answering his question it will be necessary for me to go at some length into the history of what has been done and what we hope to do.

The Inter-Allied Committee on Post-War Requirements was set up in September, 1941, to consider the post-war needs of the liberated countries in Europe. At an early stage it appointed a Technical Advisory Committee on Agriculture under the chairmanship of Sir John Russell. All the Allied countries in Europe, together with the British Government and the Governments of the United States and the Dominions, are represented on this Committee, which has been engaged in assessing the present position of agriculture in the occupied Allied countries, and the imports of seeds, implements, and other materials which will be necessary immediately on liberation in order to restore food production and rehabilitate the agricultural industry. In addition to this, a Sub-Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. G. R. Paterson, of the Office of the High Commissioner of Canada, has been considering, with the help of British experts, the position of live stock in occupied Europe and the measures of restoration which it will be possible to take at an early stage. The losses in live stock resulting from enemy occupation have not been uniform in all countries, but in the aggregate they represent a very severe decline, running into millions of head of draught animals and dairy cattle. In proportion to pre-war numbers, I am told that the decline in pigs and poultry has been even more severe than in the case of cattle, though this can be more rapidly made good as soon as feeding-stuffs become available.

The losses already sustained in cattle will probably take six to seven years to make good, and the losses in horses an even longer period. It has also to be anticipated that further heavy losses will be incurred before the Allied countries are liberated. Indeed, even after liberation, excessive slaughtering may take place before adequate meat imports are available. As my noble friend said, it may not be so long before we are confronted with what he called the "horrors of peace" I wish we could see some of these "horrors" a little nearer than I think they are. However, one never knows, but it is wiser to look on the worst side. The restoration of these losses presents a very serious problem. In view of the difficulties of transport and acclimatization of imported stock, restoration will have to come mainly from natural increase of the remaining herds, but there will be scope for the imports into Allied countries of good-class breeding stock as well as of commercial dairy cattle and horses, if transport can be provided. The Sub-Committee has issued a confidential report estimating the number of live stock in both categories likely to be needed by each Allied country, the breeds considered most suitable, and the countries from which they can best be obtained, and this document has been submitted, through the Technical Advisory Committee on Agriculture, to the Allied Governments.

In the same way reports on estimated needs of seeds, farm machinery, fertilizers, and other agricultural requirements have been prepared and submitted to the Allied Governments, and it is expected that all these reports will be considered by the proposed United Nations' Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, with a view to specific proposals for assistance being addressed to those of the United Nations who are able to help in the work of relief. After the Sub-Committee to which I have referred had completed its report on live stock, the Hot Springs Conference took place, and the Twelfth Resolution of that Conference has an important bearing on this question of the restoration of Europe's live stock population. I must say I was a little disappointed and rather surprised to hear my noble friend speak with some contempt of the Hot Springs Conference. That was what I should call a useful conference, and I do not think that the contempt with which my noble friend spoke of it will be shared by most members of your Lordships' House.


I did not express my contempt. I was only voicing the feelings expressed by agriculturists throughout the country.


Not by all agriculturists by any means.


I have heard none.


I do not think my noble friend expressed any great enthusiasm for the Conference. Let me put it that way, and leave the matter there. It is perhaps desirable that I should quote the first two paragraphs of the Hot Springs resolution because they are important. The first paragraph says: That, as a first step in overcoming the general shortage of food, every effort should be made by countries whose agriculture can be expanded in the short-term period, so long as this is required and so far as the conditions of individual countries require or permit, to increase the acreage under crops for direct human consumption and even to hold back the rebuilding of depleted live-stock herds,— essential though this rebuilding will ultimately be—as well as the production of other crops which compete for acreage with essential food. The second paragraph says: The countries whose agriculture has been impaired should, in the immediate post-war period, utilize to the full their agricultural resources to bring about a rapid increase in food production, even if this involves a departure from the use of the resources which in the long run will be required, and even if it delays a return to production policies which are desirable for technical, economic, or nutritional reasons (for instance, in Europe there may be need to be a concentration in the first years on vegetables, bread grains, and other products where production can mature quickly and which yield more calories per acre than live stock). That is the end of the quotation I wish to make. Consequently, the fifth and concluding paragraph of the resolution places the main emphasis upon the production and supply of seeds, machinery, and fertilizers in order to remedy at the earliest possible moment an actual shortage of food before embarking upon the increased output of live stock products. These are considerations that the Allied Governments will, of course, be taking into account, and it may well be that, in general, the provision of such requisites as seeds, machinery, and fertilizers for relief and rehabilitation must take prior place over the supply of live stock to help in rebuilding the depicted herds of Europe. In any case it has to be borne in mind that our stock is not always suited to the conditions obtaining on the Continent. It is important, there- fore, that we should avoid any tendency to over-estimate the possible calls that will be made for the supply of animals from this country, and it is the view of the Ministry of Agriculture that our main contribution may very well be made in the shape of limited numbers of certain types of breeding stock. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is now considering the whole problem of the provision of live stock from this country in the light of the factors to which I have referred and has already had some preliminary discussions with representatives of the Live Stock Export Group. Those discussions will be resumed in due course, but, as I have indicated, the time is not yet ripe for final decisions upon the numbers and types of live stock to be supplied to Europe from this country.

That is all I have to say in answer to my noble friend and I hope my answer has gone some way to reply to his question and to satisfy him. I can assure him (and I hope he needs no assurance), that this matter is considered by the Ministry of Agriculture and by the Government as an exceedingly important one. A debate like this short debate to-day can do nothing but good, and I can assure my noble friend that all the matters to which he has referred have been, or will be, very carefully considered by the Ministry of Agriculture and by the other Departments concerned.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for his reply and while recognizing that he does go a considerable way to meet the anxieties which are felt, I must nevertheless point out that there is no translation of the ideals of Hot Springs into practical politics at least so far as British agriculture is concerned. With all respect to my noble friend, who accuses me of showing no enthusiasm for Hot Springs, I have plenty of enthusiasm for its ideals, but I do wish to see those ideals translated into concrete terms which will be intelligible to the agricultural community of this country. My noble friend says that the time has not yet come when the exact figures of what would be required of each class of live stock and of the breeds deemed most suitable can be made public, but I would urge upon him and upon His Majesty's Government that this is a matter of very considerable urgency because, as I have already said—and of course it is a truism—one cannot produce live stock over night. Surely therefore it is necessary that the producers of the live stock required, whether in this country, in our Dominions, in the United States of America or other Allied countries or in neutral countries should be given at as early a date as possible some indication of what is expected from them. Unless this is done there is bound to be a time lag which may be as disastrous as I think it is unnecessary. I would therefore urge upon His Majesty's Government that at the earliest possible moment they should, if not make generally public, at least make known to the various agricultural authorities concerned a complete and comprehensive list, so far as is practicable under present circumstances, of what is required. Unless this is done unnecessary delay and harm must ensue. Otherwise, I am quite reasonably satisfied with my noble friend's reply and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.