HL Deb 04 December 1945 vol 138 cc286-332

4.9 p.m.

THE EARL OF SELBORNE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they could give further particulars of their agricultural policy; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I put down this Motion to give His Majesty's Government an opportunity of amplifying the statement that was given on November 15 by the noble Viscount the Leader of this House and by the Minister in another place. I should like to say straight away that I found some parts of that statement very satisfactory. First and foremost was the fact that His Majesty's Government have taken a large part of their policy from the agricultural industry itself. Some time ago the Royal Agricultural Society published a symposium of the policies of all those authorities and bodies which are entitled to speak on behalf of the different sections of agriculture. I should like to congratulate His Majesty's Government on having taken some of their policy from them.

One thing that is most necessary is that as far as possible agriculture should be taken out of Party politics. There is another statement by the Minister which I should like to commend, which he made in answering supplementary questions on his policy in another place. The Minister of Agriculture said: The best thing any Government can do to assist the agricultural workers is to ensure that there is a healthy, well-balanced, prosperous and stable agricultural industry. I hope that noble Lords opposite and their colleagues in another place will always remember that. I am quite sure that it is entirely true. But, although we are able to applaud some portions of the Government's policy, we are, I think, entitled to know a little more about it. We are entitled to know how that policy is going to be implemented. A pious and in some cases a rather cryptic phrase is not sufficient; what we want to know is how in fact this policy is going to work out.

For instance, take the Government's proposed procedure in regard to the fixing of prices. The long-range fixing of prices, which was introduced by Mr. Hudson when he was Minister of Agriculture, is entirely sound in principle, but the most important question is, what prices are going to be fixed? That is what really matters. Everything depends on that. I should like to know whether the Government can give us any assurance in that respect. Merely to tell us eighteen months in advance that the prices for such-and-such a commodity are going to be wholly unremunerative would simply be to antedate the debacle that would inevitably follow. We must remember that wages at present are higher than they have ever been before in agriculture. In my opinion they are not at all too high; the agricultural labourer is the most skilled of all the great artisans in this country; but the wages bill that all farmers have to pay at present is greater than anything that has ever been known before in the industry.

I am sure the Government will agree that prices must be related to costs; and of all the costs that the farmer has to meet wages are far and away the greatest— probably more on most farms than all the other costs put together. It is essential, therefore, that the prices that farmers are going to receive shall be related to the wages which they have to pay. I would remind the Government that farmers have not been allowed to come out of this war with the cash reserves which they had after the last war, cash reserves which were of tremendous importance and benefit to the whole industry in the bad years that followed the last war. The farmers are coming out of this war in a very different condition; a great many of them have not made big profits at all, and those who have made big profits have had to pay them out in E.P.T. If, therefore, the Government are not going to fix prices which enable the farmers to pay the high wages that prevail at present, there will be greater unemployment in agriculture than we have ever known before, and we shall have the biggest debacle that we have ever known in the industry.

That is what I meant when I said at the beginning of my remarks that, although we welcomed parts of the policy announced on November 15, we want to know how it is going to work out and how it is to be implemented. Now that my noble friend the Leader of the House is here, I cannot help reminding him of the agricultural policy of the last Socialist Government, which was announced by the noble Viscount himself when he was Minister of Agriculture. He said "Farming must be made to pay." I was always a very warm supporter of that policy, but the trouble was that the Government took no steps whatever to carry it out.


You turned us out!


I think my noble friend had longer in office at that time than perhaps he is going to have this time, so that if he did not have enough time on the last occasion I hope he will hurry up now! what tile farmer is interested in and what is important to the country, is how these fine and excellent phrases will actually work out.

Let me put the question in a different form. Let us take it by commodities. There is no commodity more important to the health of the nation than milk, and I should like to ask the Government whether they will translate their policy into terms of milk. What is the milk target at which the Government are aiming? What is the yearly gallonage that they hope to achieve, not next year or the year after, but in, say, five or six years' time, when their policy has been able to produce results? They are always telling us of the necessity of planning, and I think that that necessity is just as great in agriculture as in other spheres. We want to know where we are going, and therefore I should like to ask the Government how much milk they think that the industry can and should produce under their policy. I should also like to ask the same question with regard to the principal meat products of the country—beef, mutton and bacon. How much of what we consume in this country do the Government think should be home-grown?

There are other branches of agriculture about which we should like to hear something. The Minister said in his statement: The objective will be to promote a healthy and efficient agriculture, capable of producing that part of the nation's food which is required from home sources. There is not a word in the whole statement about such crops as fruit, vegetables and hops, and I should be glad if the Government could tell us what the fate of those very important branches of agriculture is going to be. I am a hop-grower and a fruit-grower myself. I live among hop-growers and fruit-growers, and noble Lords arc aware that there are no branches of agriculture which give more employment per acre than those crops do. Furthermore, there are few branches of agriculture which are more exposed to the danger arising front gluts than those crops. I would like to ask His Majesty's Government: Are fruit-growers going to have any protection against gluts of fruit from overseas countries being dumped into this country? In regard to hops I would like to ask whether the Hops Marketing Scheme—which is due to expire next year, I think—is going to he renewed. Also, I would like to ask whether it is the policy of the Government that the very considerable importation of foreign hops, particularly American hops, that used to take place before the war, should be continued in the postwar era, or whether it is the policy of the Government that we should ourselves grow more of, or all of, the hops we consume.

In that connexion, I desire to remind. His Majesty's Government that at Wye Agricultural College, in recent years, there have been bred a whole series of new varieties of hops which contain the qualities for which foreign hops have been imported in the past. There has, however, been no inducement to English farmers, so far, to grow varieties with which they are not familiar. Therefore, I would like to know whether the Government propose to take any steps to enable the work which has been done by Wye Agricultural College to be followed up in the hopfields of England—as, for example, by giving a special hop quota for those varieties.

Then we come to the second part of the Government's statement, the part where we are told how landowners and farmers— but not agricultural labourers, I gather—are to be taught how to conduct their business. We read that: … the Government propose to take appropriate steps to ensure that agricultural land is not only properly farmed but properly managed and equipped. … I should be very grateful if the spokesman for His Majesty's Government could tell me what arc the appropriate steps they contemplate to ensure that agricultural' land is to be properly equipped. I do not see, in this statement, one word about Death Duties, and yet, my Lords, everyone who has investigated these problems knows that Death Duties are more responsible than anything else for preventing the proper equipment of farms. How can you maintain the equipment of an estate properly if at every generation you have to convert a great chunk of the capital invested in it into cash and surrender it to the Government? It does not matter whether the farm is worth £5,000, £50,000 or £500,000, the problem is the same. It is that which has crippled the efforts of landowners to keep their farms properly equipped, and equipped as they would like them to be. The Income Tax Act which was passed this year, at the instance of Sir John Anderson, was, I think, the greatest agricultural reform that we have had for many years. But even that, without some alteration in the law concerning Death Duties, will not enable the equipment of farms to be such as modern conditions require.

I am quite sure that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will agree with me when I say that in this year, 1945, in order to conduct agriculture efficiently we require far more capital equipment than was required, say, forty or fifty years ago. Therefore, this problem of equipping an agricultural estate and maintaining that equipment is a far greater problem than it was, say, in our grandfathers' days. I should like to ask the noble Viscount whether the Government are going to help landowners in that matter at all, and if so, how? Or do they not want to help landowners? Do they want to set landowners an impossible task? Do they want to ham-string the horse and then shoot him because he cannot jump? I am sure we should be much obliged to know what the "appropriate steps" are going to be.

Another question I would like to put is about the Land Commission. We read that: The Government propose to set up a Commission for the purpose of managing and developing for agricultural use land acquired under these powers. … I would like to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House if that means that the Commission will take over land, acquire it, recondition it and then sell it to farmers, or does it mean that the Commission is going to farm that land itself or hold it, itself, in perpetuity and let it to farmers? I think that the Government ought to tell us a little more about that plan. If, after all, this is going to be piecemeal nationalization of land, I cannot see how that is going to help the countryside. We shall be creating a great and ever-growing non-resident landlord, and of all landlords the worst is the corporate non-resident landlord.

Then we come to that part of the policy which tells how the efficiency of farmers is going to be looked after. Upon that I would like to say this. I believe that the Government will be making a great mistake if they think they are going to get the same stamp of man to serve on their agricultural county committees in peace-time as they had serving on, their agricultural county war agricultural committees during the war. Then the very best farmers in the country gave up an immense amount of time to this work and rendered service of the utmost benefit to the whole agricultural community out of motives of patriotism. But it will not be unreasonable if those men say that, now the war is over, they must devote more time to looking after their own businesses. I think there is a danger that these agricultural committees—and it is a danger to which all committees are apt to be exposed—may become the happy hunting ground of "gas-bags"—people who are very fond of airing their views, but who have not got the record of accomplishment behind them to entitle them to express them so freely.

I read in the paper to-day that we are to have 1,500 officials, or 15,000, I am not quite sure which, who are going to advise farmers how to farm. I hope these officials will carry with them a certificate that they themselves have successfully managed farms and run them at a profit, because although, of course, there are inefficient farmers as there are inefficient members of every profession—I have even known inefficient politicians and inefficient civil servants—the number of farmers who can be classified under that title or given that epithet, is a very small minority indeed. A great deal of nonsense has been written about inefficient farmers by townsmen who do not know the difference between a turnip and a mangel-wurzel. Because land was under-farmed before the war, it did not necessarily prove that the farmer was inefficient or a fool. With the limited capital resources at his disposal and with the falling markets with which he was confronted, he was, in many cases, making the best of a bad job. If he had been given decent conditions he would have farmed that land as well as he farmed it during the war.

With regard to the number of farmers who had to be dispossessed at the commencement of the war, the great majority of them were due to the Act passed by the first Socialist Government which made it practically impossible for a landlord to get rid of a bad tanner. Many farmers who had been hood tanners in their time had got too old and ceased to be able to fulfil their obligations, and that Act made it almost impossible for their landlords to get rid of them. So far as the evil did exist, it was very greatly aggravated by the Socialist legislation of 1924. Therefore I believe the idea that bad farming is rife in this country is misconceived. In fact, it is only men of ability and energy who have been able to weather the depressions with which the industry has been afflicted during the last fifty years. I say to His Majesty's Government that if they will give fair prices, fair markets, fair conditions and rid the land of this crippling attack on capital equipment that the Death Duties bring to every generation, the farmers of to-day are fully capable of maintaining the great reputation which was built up by their predecessors in generation past. I hope the Government will therefore be able to give us further information on these aspects of their agricultural policy on which I have asked them questions.

But there is a further final question I should like to ask His Majesty's Government. What are they going to do in the immediate future in regard to labour and cottages? Other noble Lords are going to speak at greater length about this. but I cannot sit down without saying that however good your long-term policy and however well designed it is (if it is well-designed), unless von do something about labour and cottages now, agriculture will receive a very severe setback. Conditions are intensely serious on hundreds of farms at present. Agriculture is at this moment going downhill simply through lack of labour, and lack of cottages in which to house the labour, and that is particularly the case in regard to stockmen because white the Government are appealing to us to increase our dairy herds, it is, impossible to get cottages in which to house the cowmen, and cowmen must live close to their herds. I should like to make an appeal to His Majesty's Government for immediate results in that respect. I hope also that they may be able to reassure us in regard to the other questions I have ventured to address to them this afternoon. I -beg to move.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, it is quite like old times having the noble Earl on the other side of the Table when we are discussing agriculture. I remember an occasion many years ago in another place when I had the responsibility of introducing the Agricultural Marketing Bill, and I remember that the noble Earl served the same purpose, shall I say, with the same efficiency in those days. But In those days, as now, he was willing to wound but vet afraid to strike. I well remember—and I remember it with gratitude—how on more than one occasion, convinced against himself, the noble Earl rendered me considerable help in regard to improving the Agricultural Marketing, Bill and in getting it through, although I suffered from his admonitions from the other side of the Table quite frequently. However, I would raise the question as to the accuracy of some of his history. I believe that the noble Earl prefaced his remarks by suggesting that the Government had taken its policy from the National Farmers' Union, or words to that effect.


I said a large part of their policy was taken from the agricultural industry, and I quoted the symposium published by the Royal Agricultural Society.


That only makes the sphere a little wider, but I will answer that question and this is where I am afraid I must correct him in the matter of history. It is now twenty years ago—a little more than twenty years ago—when I myself with the present Minister of Agriculture and the late Mr. Wise, who had been Secretary of the Ministry of Food, were appointed as a Committee by the Labour Party to consider agricultural policy. It is twenty-two years ago, my Lords! That Committee found that unreliability of farm prices, the general insecurity of outlook of the industry, affected both owners and farmers, and had been mainly responsible for the deplorable conditions into which the industry had drifted. We therefore set about trying to formulate a policy which would have the result of giving security of price to the farmer. That policy was debated by the conference of the Labour Party in 1926—nineteen years ago. It shows you how slowly we move in this country. I am just putting the noble Earl right in a matter of history. It was adopted in 1926, and we had rather a fight because it was contrary to the usually accepted maxim that you should get your food as cheaply as possible. We contended, and we succeeded in carrying the conference with a unanimous vote—I had the honour of moving the resolution myself—that it was a mistake to beat down the primary producer to the lowest possible figure. Of course, that is all accepted now since Hot Springs, but what I am pointing out to the noble Earl is that we passed it in 1926. Therefore, I think we can at least claim, to some extent, that we are pioneers of this policy. I put it no higher than that.

At all events, we agree that the lowest possible price to the producer, whether it be fruit or wheat in England or bananas in Jamaica, was not a sound policy and that it impoverished the primary producers. What was true of other parts of the world should be applied in Great Britain if we could find ways of applying it. When you examine security of price, it immediately emerges—as it did in the first Great War, and, in fact, it is insuperable—that if you are going to obtain security of price you must have some machinery for controlling supply somewhere in its passage from the primary producer to the consumer. You may, if you like, use established business agencies so long as you have your control somewhere, for you cannot get security of price without it. It is also necessary, if you are going to get security of price of home and imported commodities, to have an arrangement for dealing with imported supplies as well as home supplies.

I well remember when the expression "import board" was founded; and for some reason or other it has obtained an unpleasant flavour. I well remember, too, a colleague of the- noble Earl asking my advice on a certain matter. I advised him as to how I thought—after due examination, of course—a stabilized price for a particular commodity could be obtained. He accepted my advice, but he exhorted me, whatever I did, not to call it an import board. That is because the name was supposed to be Socialistic, or something. Of course, whatever you call it, it is the same thing in effect; it is a body of men who manage the importation of a commodity, and such management must be applied in the case of any commodity which is partly home produced and partly imported.

I now come to the point where the noble Earl rather amplified my statement in saying that we have taken our policy from the industry. I would remind him that if you are going to establish stability of price, you must have control. The first effort must be to obtain an organized market in respect of home-produced supplies, and the Agricultural Marketing Act was passed for that purpose. So far from our taking our policy from the industry, if the noble Earl will recollect, he will remember well enough the bitter and strong fight I had with the then executive committee of the National Farmers' Union who opposed me tooth and nail. In fact, I remember they invited me to go to a meeting in the West of England where I was met by an agreeable Chairman who tried to allay my misgivings by giving me a good dinner before the meeting. Afterwards he said: "There are 2,000 farmers in the meeting, but I do not think you have a friend among them." I am only reminding the noble Earl that that was the atmosphere when we tried to establish machinery for stabilizing prices. Whoever is responsible for this policy, it can be claimed, as a matter of historic fact, that the policy was designed by the Labour Party. It has had a great many people to extol it since it has become relatively fashionable, but, as to the origin of it, do let us be fair to the unfortunate inventors.

The noble Earl asked me a number of questions on the basis of price fixing, and they were very proper questions indeed. I am much obliged to him for sending me notice of the questions beforehand, and I will do my best to reply to them. Of course we want to fix a fair price. I notice that in one place the noble Earl imagined that we should fix prices which were unremunerative. Of course not. The whole idea of a stabilized price system, as, in fact, is stated expressly and clearly in the policy, is to have a system which will enable an efficient farmer—I am sure your Lordships will agree with the word "efficient"—to produce the goods and pay adequate wages to those who help to do the work. We have no desire to depart from that understanding. In fact, it is in order to enable that to be done that the whole scheme is devised, because we all know the dreadful vicissitudes that the industry went through in years gone by, when you had such extraordinary variations in prices that nobody knew what was going to happen next year, and many were ruined in consequence.

The method for determining the prices will, naturally, vary according to the different commodities. That must be so. For instance, for live-stock prices we contemplate a four-year period because it takes four years to breed and grow an animal, and that is why the long period is taken. It is provided that during that period there will be a two-year fixing of a minimum price every alternate February so that you are always working on a four-year basis with a two years' fixation immediately in front. The periods, as the noble Earl is well aware, have been fixed differently for other commodities—for cereals eighteen months—according to the necessities of the actual production.

Here I would remind your Lordships that not long ago it was announced in this House and in another place that it was proposed to continue the Ministry of Food as a permanent body. The reason for that is obvious. It would not do for the Ministry of Agriculture, representing an interested industry, to be the Ministry responsible for all the importation proceedings and bulk purchases of foreign supplies, and so on, and, above all, to be the sole arbiter of prices. Therefore, it was clear that the Ministry of Food, the Treasury and the Ministry of Agriculture must all be concerned in the review of prices. The whole basis of the scheme is to encourage efficiency with the understanding that I have previously elaborated. We think it is desirable and necessary that there should be some plan in our method. We want to see our land producing those portions of the country's food for which it is best suited. That is sound agriculture and, therefore, you must have a scheme sufficiently elastic and sufficiently general for your bulk production. But that does not mean—and is not intended to mean—that the individual farmer will be harassed in the planning of his cultivations. It will mean, in general, that the country will see that we require so many thousands or hundreds of thousands of acres of potatoes or sugar beet, or whatever it is, and local agencies will be left to adjust the cropping accordingly.

I do not agree with the noble Lord that the good men who are serving the county committees who have necessarily been used in surveying other farms, in translating to the industry the general scheme of the food production plan, and all the rest of it, with which we are familiar, will desert them. I hope not. We shall do our very best to keep them and I am sure the noble Earl will help us, because he realizes, as we do, the need to enlist the best and most experienced minds in the industry in helping to guide this scheme. We do not propose to farm from Whitehall—not at all. We are decentralizing. it. We want to find in the counties the best minds in the industry and get them to help us to guide this scheme in the county committees as they are doing now. I do not agree with the noble Lord that those people will make way for, to use his own words, "gas-bags." It is not a habit of the farming community, I am glad to say, to produce "gas-bags." The noble Lord may have found some, but I have not. I have found them into rise realists—some of the most obstinate realists in the world—and that description of "gas-bags" should not be applied to them.

However, jesting apart, I have no reason whatever to suppose that we shall fail to enlist the good will and help of the most experienced farmers in the different districts, and I am glad to say that the National Farmers' Union is clearly desiring to help us as much as it can. The committees will be used far the general purposes of survey, and so on, as they are now, and for another purpose to which I will come in a minute. The noble Earl even allowed himself to suggest that farmers are to be taught their business, and that if they do not deliver the goods—I am using his words—these various pains and penalties will be inflicted on them. He really knows as well as I do that those are what might be called figures of speech. They have no relation to the actualities of the situation. The county committees which have served during the war have enormously improved the standard of farming. For the most part they have been served by district committees which have been constituted, almost completely, of the best farmers in the district. They know perfectly well who are the B farmers and the C farmers, and they visit the C farmers, exhort them and give them instructions. The noble Earl knows, as well as I do, that there are C farmers. It is no good pretending there are not. It is desirable that you should improve the standard of cultivation, and these commit- tees and those who have helped them during the war have enormously improved the standard of cultivation in many parts of the country. But what they have done already is only a portion of what can be done. We all agree that the application of new knowledge and of science to agriculture is capable of an immense development in the future and we want to use this machinery to see that it is done.

The same applies, if I may say so with bated breath, to the landowner. There are bad landowners as well as bad farmers, and it is quite fair that if the Government of the country, at the expense, if need be, of the taxpayer, are assuring an adequate market at a fair price, they should be entitled to request in return that there should be a good standard of cultivation. It would be wrong if they did not. Therefore you have to establish machinery for securing it. The same applies to the equipment of the farms. It clearly is right that a farmer, if he is going to produce milk, should have a proper water supply, proper sheds to house his cattle, and so on. It is not giving him a fair chance to do his business properly if he has not these things. Therefore it is our business to see that there is adequate equipment. Nobody wants to be hard on any particular owner, but it is quite clear—and the noble Earl would be the first to admit it, as the Landowners' Association have admitted it—that the obligations attaching to the ownership of a farm should be complied with and no: evaded. As in the case of the farmer, when, after due, proper and often prolonged inquiry (as we all know), a particular farmer is not allowed to go on wasting the land any longer, so it is also provided here that if the landowner is unable or unwilling, or both, to equip his land properly, he should pass it over to somebody else who can; or if not, the Land Commission can acquire it. But there will be provision for appeal. Nobody, I am sure, wishes to deal with it other than fairly, but it is an essential concomitant of the State undertaking these great obligations with regard to the industry and I am quite sure no fair-minded landowner or farmer objects to it.

I entirely agree with what the noble Earl said as to the inadequacy of cottages and the crux of the case for the next few years is labour. I have great apprehension as to what will happen with the 1947 harvest. There may not be prisoners of war, as we have row, and perhaps a good many members of the Women's Land Army will have gone. Unless there is a substantial reinforcement of the labour forces in one way or another we shall be in a very difficult position indeed in. 1947 in getting in the harvest. Nobody realizes that more acutely than His Majesty's Government, and anything we can do to provide cottages and to increase the provision of labour between now and then we will do.

Here may I interrupt my remarks for two or three minutes to reply to the questions the noble Earl has sent to me, because they are appropriate at this point? I will do so as briefly and as well as I can. He asked me if prices are to be fixed to increase the present agricultural population or to maintain it at its present level. I think I have answered that fairly well. But clearly, we foresee great developments in agriculture, and they ought to be made. The country's land is worthy of it, and the whole scheme of this policy is designed to promote those developments. That will, of necessity, mean an increasing number of people employed in the industry. That is what we hope, and the policy will be a failure if it does not lead to that result.

The noble Earl asks if there will be a target for milk. If he means a target of so many million gallons, as the case may be, the answer is No. Although during the war there has been a great increase in the consumption of liquid milk, the actual production of milk has diminished—fifty million gallons is about the diminution in production, in gross, for the whole country. The explanation is that 150,000,000 gallons of milk have been saved either by not being used on the farms or by not being made into butter, or whatever it is, so that the extra amount of milk has found its way on to the liquid milk market. On the liquid milk market a very much smaller proportion has been processed than was the case before the war. Those two figures between them, notwithstanding the gross decline in the total output, have made some 270,000,000 gallons more milk for people to drink. We have by no means, I hope, satisfied the demand for liquid milk. We have by no means satisfied the demand for processed milk, because we have merely cut it off. Therefore it is quite evident that we can look forward to a substantial increase in milk production. What the gallonage will be I cannot say, but it must be very substantial if it is going to meet the need. One of the most important contributions to that end will be an increase in the yield of milk per cow. That has been going on very satisfactorily. A lot of animals not worth keeping have been got rid of, and there has been a great improvement in the standard of herds. That improvement, of course, should be, and no doubt will be, continued.

The noble Earl asked me some questions about meat. There again, I can only say that the policy I indicated will be pursued, but what that will mean precisely in terms of tonnage of meat I cannot say. Our live-stock policy is clearly, after milk, the chief element in British agriculture of large scale application. It is in live stock that British agriculture is almost preeminent, and we shall do our best to encourage it in every way possible. The noble Earl also raised a question about fruit and vegetables. My reply to that is—I hope he will not scoff at it—that the Advisory Service will contain, we hope, a considerable number of experts in horticulture, fruit-growing and suchlike industries. It should be very considerably expanded in districts which are suitable for it. Nobody knows more about that subject than the noble Earl himself, or, if I may say so, has practised it more successfully and efficiently.

The Hops Marketing Scheme was not suspended, and there is no likelihood of its being suspended. In order to examine what is to be done in the future with regard to the Hops Marketing Board, I am fortunately in a position to-day to announce that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has just appointed a Reorganization Commission to inquire into the arrangements to be devised for continuing this industry and for dealing with it. The noble Earl asked me some question about foreign hops. I think perhaps Oregon hops were in his mind. In the first place, apart from our not wanting to spend any more dollars than we can avoid at the present time, it is not at all likely that there will be any particular demand for those hops, as far as we can see, at dl events in the near future. With regard to the special varieties that are being cultivated at Wye, I have some in- formation here which will encourage the noble Earl. These: two new varieties—I am afraid I know nothing about them, so I can only quote from the paper—called gold and bullion, which have apparently a remarkable yield as compared with other varieties, have made some headway. The present production is about 1,500 cwt. annually. Provision is being made for planting, and to speed up the supply of planting material, the East Mailing Research Station and the Wye Agricultural College have been asked to study rapid propagation. These institutions are receiving grants for this purpose from the Agricultural Research Council, and part of them are provided by the Ministry itself. I hope that reply is satisfactory to the noble Earl.

Then he said—with unquestionable truth and justice—that a good deal of the decline in the standard of farm equipment has been due to the taxation policy of the past generation. I do not deny it. All I have to say is that it was certainly not the Labour Government which imposed those taxes. There have been many years of good solid Conservative government since these pernicious Acts were passed. Whoever may be responsible for these sins and wickednesses, it certainly is not the present Government.


What are you going to do about it?


I am only making a very proper plea that it should not be cast up against us. By the way, the noble Earl made a mistake about the Agricultural Holdings Act, which he said the pernicious Labour Government of 1924 passed, and which made it so difficult for a landowner to get rid of a bad tenant. Unfortunately he is a little wrong in his history. That Act was passed by the Conservative Government in 1923. In any case, if it had been passed by the Labour Government—it was not—there have been twenty years of Tory administration between then and now. If it was so harmful, I really think the noble Earl might earnestly be requested to think up something a little more novel and ingenious. It certainly was not our fault, and there has been plenty of time for his friends to remedy it. However, I agree with him that it has been exceedingly difficult and has been a real hardship on landowners by reason of Death Duties and otherwise to carry out the repairs which are required.

It has been partly, I think, due to neglect on the part of the community generally, for instance, with regard to water supply schemes, electricity and so forth. In our view they are public services and should be much more economically dealt with on that basis. At the same time, already my right honourable friend is arranging for loans to be made to landowners at 3½ per cent for the purpose of assisting them to provide better equipment and so on. This, in conjunction with the 10 per cent. allowance, to which the noble Earl referred, in last year's Income Tax Bill will at all events afford very substantial assistance. I sincerely hope that as the industry gets into a more stable condition, there will be more confidence in carrying out these improvements. They are certainly badly needed. It is no part of the Labour Government policy to take advantage of the situation, as I think the noble Earl suggested, by asking landowners to do impossible tasks. Our aim is to be helpful. At the same time, if a landowner is not prepared to do his job, then he ought to make way for somebody else.

I will not keep your Lordships any longer. This fascinating subject has been one which has been near to my heart for many years. At long last we are trying, after an opportunity long hoped for, to establish a scheme of agriculture in this country which will provide a real basis of security for the industry. We have confidence that if we can succeed in doing that we shall have provided a basis upon which a great many helpful developments will ultimately be founded. What is wanted, above all, is confidence. Once we get that, we can get all sorts of other things gradually arising. I believe in the course of time—we know it will not happen quickly; it cannot happen quickly by the processes of nature—this policy will result in bringing much more good land into fruitful cultivation, and we shall produce more good food for the people and a better life for many of them.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, towards the end of his speech the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, told us that this subject has been very near to his heart for many years. I think we all know that to be true. Years ago, when he and I sat on the same side of the House, and even worked in the same Department, when I was his Under-Secretary, I well remember feeling all the time that there was no better friend to agriculture than the noble Viscount.

The statement that we are discussing to-day is of immense importance to the future of the industry. It is of historic importance, because it really means a declaration by the country as a whole that they have come to realize that the old conflict between town and country, which this country has endured for many years, is wrong, and is hurtful to both sides, agriculture and industry alike. The country have come to realize that what is to-day an annual purchasing power of well over £500,000,000, which is in the hands of the agricultural industry, is of immense importance to the towns, and that cheap food, as it was understood in the past, was not only a bad policy for farmers who were driven down to rock bottom by it, but was bad business for the towns by destroying the markets for their products. The country has really been driven to this point of view, and the fact that this policy is inevitable should make it all the more welcome to us. I was a little sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, was driven into making Party claims about it.


Quite rightly.


It is perfectly right. I remember discussions on the Advisory Committee of the Labour Party, and I well remember the passing of the resolution in 1926; but equally I well remember the struggles that the noble Viscount and I had in 1929 and 1930 to persuade the Labour Government to adopt even a modicum of that policy. After struggling for a year to get the Wheat Quota Act through, it was left to the succeeding Government to do so, because we failed; and that was only the Wheat Quota Act and had nothing to do with import boards. What was the good of talking of import boards in 1922 and 1926, when in fact when we had a Labour Government we could not put anything into force? That, however, is a matter of history, and who minds about it at the present time? We are concerned with the present and the future; and, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has told us, this policy that we are discussing has behind it the approval of the whole agricultural industry. It was put forward by the industry over three years ago. More than that, it has the approval of great chambers of commerce, like the Manchester Chamber of Commerce—it is at least two years since they passed what is now regarded as their famous resolution—the London Chamber of Commerce, and others, as well as of the Engineering Industries Association and a great number of other trading and industrial bodies.

I have no criticisms to offer whatsoever. My only regret is that rather more is not made in the policy of the Hot Springs Conference; which laid down that the basis of agricultural policy not only in this country but throughout the world must in future be the proper feeding of the people of the world. Very little, I regret to say, is said about that aspect of the question in the statement, although it is perfectly true that Hot Springs is mentioned. But if, like the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, I have no criticisms to make, I have a number of questions that I should like to put. The first is concerned with something which the noble Earl has already dealt with but which seems to me fundamental, and I am not sure that: the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has dealt with it sufficiently fully. We are all delighted that the industry has been given an assured market at assured prices, and the machinery for the assessment of prices is on the whole satisfactory. But the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, when defining the basis on which the price was to be arrived at, said it would be a price which would enable the efficient fanner to make a good living and to pay good wages. At first sight that seems eminently satisfactory. The trouble about the agricultural industry, however, is that the efficient farmer has quite different costs on one type of land from those which he has on another: and it would be perfectly possible for the Government completely to fulfil the pledges given in this policy, by giving assured markets at assured prices which would enable the large farmer, on good land, to have a highly satisfactory life, and to pay wholly satisfactory wages, but which would cause ruin to the great mass of the countryside, the farmers who had farms of average size on land of average quality. It is very important, therefore, that the Government should be quite specific in the reply which they give on this point, and I suggest to the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, that it would be a good thing if he could be more specific on this point than was the noble Viscount, Lord Addison.

The policy lays great emphasis, and rightly, on the word "efficient." There is no one in the agricultural industry who would in any way deprecate that emphasis. It is a challenge to the industry, and a challenge that the whole industry is prepared to accept. It is only fair that, if we are given assured markets, we should in our turn give every assurance to the community that we shall produce their food as cheaply and efficiently as possible. But, it efficiency is impressed upon us, we are entitled in reply to demand from the Government the conditions which will make it possible for us to be fully efficient.

On the first point that I am going to mention—the subject of marketing—I definitely welcome what the Government say. The noble Viscount and I have worked together upon that point in the past. There is no need for me, now, to stress the difference between what the farmer receives and what the consumer pays. That is really a hardy annual, and the problem does not need any further underlining. The present Government are not the first to set out to tackle this problem of marketing. I wish them all success, but there are one or two questions which I would like to put to them. Are they going to be content to give a friendly reception to any proposals that the farmers themselves may put forward for the reorganization of marketing, or do the Government feel that it is their duty definitely to give a lead? More important than that question, there are a number of matters such as milk distribution and central slaughtering which are, very largely, outside the control of the farmer himself. What steps are the Government going to take in dealing with problems such as those? I would appreciate a definite answer from the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, on those two points.

We have been told what is going to happen to us, as an industry, if we farm badly or equip out farms badly. I say again what I have already said on the question of efficiency generally. None of us can have any ground for complaint in that connexion. I certainly shall have none. If we farm our land badly, or we equip it badly, as landowners, we have got to take what is coming to us. Land is a trust. That is the basis of land ownership in this country, and it is right that it should be so. Again, I welcome what the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said to the effect that if we are to farm and equip our land properly—I am thinking now of new equipment—we do want some very definite assurance from the Government as to how they are going to make it possible. This is not a question of Party politics. It is true, as the noble Viscount has said, that the Labour Party were not responsible for the imposition of Death Duties. But they are now the Government and, therefore, they are responsible for everything. What we have got to break away from in this country, surely, is this system that we have been pursuing for so long a time of neither nationalizing the land nor giving the landowner a chance of making the best possible use of his land from the point of view of the welfare of the country. As the Government have decided—and rightly decided, I think—not to nationalize the land, it is up to them to make it possible for the landowner to function properly and to make the best use of his land. As Lord Selborne has stated, never has capital been more necessary for the development and proper maintenance of agricultural land than it is to-day. You require three or four times more capital now to work a farm efficiently than was required in the past.

The subject of Death Duties is one which the noble Lord and I have discussed in the past, and it is not perhaps fair to throw at him now what he has said previously or to bring up reports that he has signed. But I think that we arc all conscious that this great levy, generation after generation, on the ownership of land—it may or may not be just: I am not discussing that now—certainly makes it impossible to equip land as it should be equipped. The noble Lord referred to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, and to the rate of 3½ per cent. interest. I would not have referred to it, but as he seems to be interested in history I would just mention that to the best of my recollection this was laid before Parliament by Mr. Hudson before the last General Election. But apart altogether from taxation or credit, both of them long-term considerations, I should like to refer to certain short-term considerations. At the present moment it is a matter of sufficient difficulty to get even a few tiles to replace any that may be missing from a roof, let alone, in view of the scarcity of labour and materials, completely to re-model a farm.

Now what about the immediate position, to which Lord Selborne has just referred? It does seem to me that even more important than policies for the future is this question of what is happening here and now. The whole basis of our appeal to the country is that we, as an industry, are able, at this period of crisis in the world's supplies, to make our contribution, and, what is more, we are determined to do so. But are we, as we are now placed, able to do so? Certainly never was the atmosphere more favourable. I am not sure that Lord Selborne was not just a little pessimistic about the possibilities of getting the right type of farmer to serve on the county agricultural committees. I believe that if a proper lead is given to them, and if they are made to feel that it is necessary having regard to the economic position of this country, and to the world position in respect of supplies—if they are made to realize that they are being given their opportunity to lay the foundations of an efficient and prosperous industry for the future—they will make the response which we desire. Never was the industry as a whole more anxious to play its part in national life. Never was it more open-minded to new ideas.

Speaking, for a moment, as Chairman of the Agricultural Research Council, may I say that I know very well how great is the pressure we get from those in the industry for more research, more help, more knowledge. I know, because of my contacts with farmers serving on the war agricultural committees and in other capacities, how desperately anxious farmers are, at the moment, to acquire more knowledge. I fear that at this very moment a train is leaving London which I had hoped to catch in order to go down into the country to attend one of those educational meetings of the kind which farmers, in different parts of the country, are arranging for practically every evening. I ask noble Lords who are not connected with the country to realize that never at any time have the farmers been more determined to acquire all the knowledge that can possibly be put at their disposal, But can the Government tell us of a single county in England that is not, at the moment, crying out for labour? The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, mentioned this matter, I was very glad to note, but he did not actually tell us what was going to be done to relieve the situation. He told us that our milk production was down by some 50,000,000 gallons, I thank, compared with the pre-war figure. I do not know whether I have been given some different figures, but I rather think that there is a divergence with regard to the estimate e what is being used on farms.


I think that the figure which was in the noble Earl's mind was the consumption of liquid milk which, of course, has greatly increased.


The figure I was given showed an increase, but I have no doubt that the noble Viscount has access to official figures and one must leave it at that. Unless something is done about the labour situation there will be a very real decrease in milk production quite soon. One hears all over the country of herds being given up and dispersed at the present moment, simply because the farmers are unable to get the labour for having the cows milked. I do not think it is being alarmist to say that the position is becoming desperate and worse every day.

Let us look at the labour position generally. The Women's Land Army is on the decrease and incidentally, when we remind ourselves of the numbers of members in the Women's Land Army who are actually working in the cowsheds, we realize, with milk as a first priority how doubly serious that is. The conscientious objectors have gone, the Italians have gone and as the noble Lord said, we cannot count on the Germans for ever. In my own county one in three and a half working on the land to-day is a German and I am told that next year the proportion is going to be even narrower. We had a reply to a question that I put down the other day on the subject of release from the Forces. We were told that out of io,000 applications for Class B release. 664 have actually been released. I made inquiries from various friends of mine on war agricultural committees who have to recommend these releases and asked them for their explanation of why things are going so slowly. They said that no alternative is left, that the stringency of the conditions laid down by His Majesty's Government is such that they cannot make recommendations for releasing more men than they are doing at the moment.

I was told only to-day by the chairman of a labour committee in one county that they were recommending about one in fifty, although they knew that most of the 49 they had to turn down were needed on the farm. I gather that only men in a supervisory capacity are to be released. It is not supervisors we want on the farms; it is workers. What is the Minister going to do on this question of the conditions that have been laid down with regard to Class B? Is he going to lie down under it? Is he telling the Minister of Food what effect it is going to have on rations? Is he telling the Chancellor of the Exchequer what effect it will have on foreign exchange if we cannot produce the food? And is he telling his colleagues as a whole what effect it will have on starving Europe if we are to make a greater demand on world pools of food supplies? I think that the Minister worked for some years under Mr. Hudson. Did he not learn something from him of how to deal with recalcitrant colleagues? I hope he will look back and ask himself whether Mr. Hudson would be sitting down to-day under these restrictions which are making it impossible to get labour on the farms at the present moment.

Even if he is able to get labour, where are the people going to live? I gather from an answer to my question last week that at the present moment no houses at all have been built. There is nothing at all in the statement about houses. I was very glad it was referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison; but there was not a word with regard to rural housing in the statement. I ask the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, quite categorically, what is going to be the rural housing policy of his Government? What is going to be their target? What are they aiming at? Let them remember that all private individuals have been told very firmly that their efforts are not wanted in housing. I gather that if I were to build a cottage for £1,200 and let it at 3s., 4s., or 5s. a week, I should get no assistance at all. If, a local authority likes to put up a house like that, and charges 7s. 6d. to 12s. to the same man, the authority is going to get assistance. So it is the sole responsibility of the Government to-day in a way it never was before, to see that these houses are, in fact, provided. I would also ask the noble Lord whether he is pressing the Minister of Health for the better Act he promised us when he threw over the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. It seemed a strange thing to do if you were preparing a better Act to throw over what you had got until you had produced that better Act. Nevertheless, that was what was done, and I have no doubt that he is daily pressing the Minister of Health for his better and improved version.

These points I have ventured to put forward are not simply in the interests of the agricultural industry. After all, if we are short of labour and houses for labour, there is an obvious solution for the individual farmer to cut flown the number of cows he keeps and put land down to grass, but we are told that the country needs food, and we want to be allowed to play our part. I can assure the noble Lord that if we are given the tools we are determined to do our best to work and serve the interests of the country. We are definitely encouraged by the statement we are discussing to-day, but I implore the noble Viscount and his Minister to realize that they have done nothing more than lay foundations—sound foundations—for the grim, hard, grinding work that has got to be done in the next few years. I congratulate the Government, but I say that a much stronger lead must be given here and now, at the present day, if these fine great plans for the future are not to prove castles in the air.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that with your Lordships' kindness you will be a little blind to a new boy's faults. The noble Earl who moved this Motion and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House had a little controversy of a historical nature as to a gathering of agricultural organizations which took place at the Royal Agricultural Society. As I was the Chairman and the convener of that body, perhaps I may say a word or two about it. It took place about one and a half years ago and it was not remarkable for any originality. The last thing we should do would be to claim any credit for what the noble Viscount did in days of long ago. But it was remarkable for the tact that I think, for the first time, a range of bodies representing every phase of agriculture—owner, farmer, surveyor, agent, agricultural labourer and various other bodies concerned with land—came to complete agreement on a policy which has teen included, to a very large extent, in that of the present Government and also in the policy which the late Minister of Agriculture put out just before the Election. It is the great variety of minds that agreed on that for which we claim value, and not for picking up anyone else's original ideas.

As there has been a discussion about control and the need for good husbandry and good estate management, perhaps I might quote one sentence from that agreed document on the subject: In return for a guaranteed price limit, all owners and occupiers of rural land must accept an obligation to maintain a reasonable standard of good husbandry and good estate management and submit to the necessary measure of direction and guidance subject to provision for appeal to an impartial tribunal. That was accepted unanimously, and I can only say that I am delighted to find that the present Government, as well as the late Minister of Agriculture, accept so many of the points on which all these different bodies were agreed.

I should like, also, if I may do so without impertinence, to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture upon his appointment of Professor Scott Watson as Chairman of his Advisory Committee. In my opinion there is no one in the whole of our agricultural community better able than Professor Scott Watson to carry out the function which I understand that that Committee is to undertake. I see that he is described in the newspaper, quite correctly, as the Agricultural Adviser, until recent times, to our Embassy in Washington. He was also, until to-day; editor of the Royal Agricultural Journal. He has had to give up that position. Perhaps, as I have mentioned that, I may mention that he is also the author of one of the most remarkable books of agricultural history which has been produced for a very long time—the Centenary History of the Royal Agricultural Society which he published on the occasion of the Royal Show in 1939. I apologize for introducing those little incidents, but I was incited to it by the historical controversy with which this debate began. Most of what ought to be said, I think, has already been said, and a great many of the points which I had noted down for my speech have become out of date and obsolete owing to the speeches already made, but I should like to mention two or three points in the agricultural picture about which I have grave anxiety, and to ask His Majesty's Government not to overlook them.

The first is that I am very worried about the decline in the sheep population. I do not look upon this from the point of view of mutton or of wool—in fact, I think it is quite possibly due to the wool situation that the decline has taken place—I look upon it from the point of view of fertility. There are many hundreds of thousands of acres of our lighter land to which the presence of sheep and the folding of sheep was of the utmost importance, and I hope the Government will not overlook this point. I know that, perhaps, the needs of bill sheep and the keeping of them free from the forester may be more insistent of recent years, but a much greater importance ought to be attached to the presence of large numbers of sheep on our lighter land, for, unless it is looked to, I am afraid the decline in the sheep population will continue.

Another point about which I am very worried is the quality of our horned stock. It is not improving as fast as it ought. I have no doubt that the policy which the war forced upon us is, to some extent, responsible for that. We were more concerned with quantity than quality during the war, and we still arc, to some extent. But I want to emphasize, particularly, the importance of encouraging the maintenance and the increase of the pedigree herds of high quality. A great many of our best breeders of horned stock are giving up their pedigree herds. It is becoming too difficult and too expensive to maintain them, although it is of the utmost importance that high quality should be maintained and that it should be made possible and worth while for the stock-owner to keep up a very high standard of quality.

I am going to throw out a suggestion that came into my mind during a recent visit I made to the Argentine. I went there in my capacity as President of the Royal Agricultural Society to visit the Argentine Rural Society and to see what they had to show. I found an almost incredible number of high quality animals. I do not suppose there was any animal in any breed that we could not match with a picked animal from the corresponding breed over here, but while we should have a difficulty in finding the two or three picked animals to equal or beat the Argentine animals of the same breed, they have them by the hundreds, and of such quality that it was not easy for anyone, even those accustomed to the judging of stock, to reduce the number to a quite small dimension for the purposes of judging.

The suggestion I want to throw out is this. We are, quite rightly, keeping a tight experimental hold on artificial insemination. In the Argentine, they are using artificial insemination not, as we do, to try to eliminate the scrub bull, but to multiply the number of females that can be served by their most expensive animals. They use artificial insemination in connexion with the bulls for which they have paid thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, in order to spread the high quality through as large a number as possible. I think it might be well worth while our considering the possibility of something on those lines. Of course, I know it is more difficult for us, in a way, because in any given area, and on any given farm, there is not a very large number, as a rule, of the female animals in a suitable condition at any one time for this insemination to be used, whereas, in the Argentine, you have herds of 20,000 animals, and it is relatively easy to arrange. But those are difficulties which I think can be overcome.

At all events, I sincerely hope the Government will not overlook this possibility of trying to maintain our herds. If we do not maintain their quality, we shall lose our export market. One of our best export markets, if not quite the best, has been the Argentine, but their breeders are not going to come over here and pay huge prices for bulls in order to introduce fresh blood unless those bulls are of at least as high a quality as the herds for which they are buying them. Their quality is very high. So I hope no stone will be left unturned in order to maintain the high quality of our horned stock.

Now I want to say a word or two, if I may, about buildings. I do not want to repeat what has already been very well said by the two noble Earls who have already spoken from this side and with whose remarks I entirely agree. But most of their remarks dealt with housing. That is very serious, but so are the conditions of farm buildings. In many parts of the country farm buildings are in a deplorable state. I know the difficulty of labour and I am not going to say anything about it, but I do beg the Government not to allow any other consideration to increase the difficulty of repairs, and not to make it difficult or impossible to utilize such labour as one has.

The obligation is put on to the landowner. For the moment I am speaking about the landowner and his quite proper obligation to maintain the equipment of his farms on a reasonably high level. Most landowners who have a number of farms to look after, whether they are occupying them themselves or letting them to tenants, have found it necessary to maintain a small staff of what we usually call estate tradesmen—bricklayers, carpenters, painters and so on, to do the continual round of repairs to farm buildings, cottages, etc. During the last year or two it has been very often impossible to make the fullest use of one's estate tradesmen, owing to the difficulty of getting materials. Obstacles have even been put in the way of using timber which is one's own. That is constantly happening. Frequently, on my own small estate, I have had repairs for which I have labour and timber available which were held up for quite a long time owing to the necessity for getting a licence in order to use £10 or£15 worth of timber which one had cut from one's own trees and which one wanted to use to carry out urgent repairs. Do not let that go on. There is no earthly reason why, when there is a small estate staff available to carry out urgent repairs, a general licence should not be given to them to use such materials as are on the estate.

I hope also licences to purchase such things as hardware which are not grown on the estate will be expedited. I have known several cases where a cottage which had been knocked about by blast from bombing could not be repaired for many weeks because one could not get a licence to obtain a new sink, and the cottage was useless without a sink. That sort of thing ought not to happen in these days when every possible facility for the housing of one's labour is so urgently needed. I very much hope that these things will be taken into account and that the Government will not allow any avoidable difficulty to be put into the way of people who want to repair and maintain their buildings.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure you will all agree that we have just listened to a most instructive and informative speech from the latest agricultural recruit to your Lordships' House. I venture to hope that we shall hear on many occasions in the future in this House from my noble friend Lord Courthope similar speeches of a real and valuable constructive nature. To refer for one moment to what he said about live stock, I deplore more than I can tell you the unfortunate gap in quality between the best of our farmers and the worst, and the best of our live stock and the worst. There are many countries, including Argentina, where the average quality of both is higher than the average quality in this country. He referred incidentally to sheep. There is a good old motto—I am not sure that it did not originate with Jethro Tull—"The sheep hath a golden foot"; and all those who in days gone by have folded their sheep upon arable crops on light land would, I am sure, agree that the decline in the sheep population in this country is a very serious loss, at any rate from the point of view of the fertility of land.

I do not propose to look a gift horse in the mouth. We have in the Government's agricultural policy a valuable contribution to the national security of this country. The foundation of security in this country is to be found in the countryside. It is more than seventy years ago that that great statesman, Disraeli, said that "the nation which neglects its agriculture is bound to decay." I would venture to say that two devastating wars have reminded not only the man on the farm but a large proportion of our urban population of the serious possibilities of our losing our national health, our national prosperity and, above all, our national security, by neglect of a sound and fundamental agricultural policy.

Thirty-six years ago I entered Parliament solely as an agriculturist and I claimed from my constituents, in the most preponderantly agricultural constituency south of Yorkshire, and had conceded to me, a free hand in regard to the policy of either political Party which might affect the welfare of the agricultural community. I claim the right to explore this new charter for the British countryside quite dispassionately and wholly uninfluenced by political partisanship. For the last half century we have dealt with our agricultural problems in a woefully piecemeal fashion and without any systematic overhaul of the whole creaky fabric, tottering on shaky foundations. Now, for the first time, we are offered a sound and solid basis upon which, if we all pull our weight, we can effect a veritable renaissance of the British countryside.

I do not hesitate in telling your Lordships that I regard the Government's scheme which has lately been put forward by the present Minister of Agriculture as a British Agricultural Magna Charta, or, if you like, a Bill of Rights, providing security of markets and stability of prices over a sufficient period to enable every farmer to lay his plans with confidence and with a fair prospect of a reasonable reward for his labour, a due return upon his capital outlay and, I may add enterprise, after adequately remunerating his workpeople. The quid pro quo that the Government, speaking on behalf of the public, demand is efficiency, skill and competent management. Incidentally, in regard to the attainment of that efficiency and skill, they now offer free technical advice to improve conditions in those respects. We now have our chance. It is up to all of us, whether we be agricultural landowners, farmers, or agricultural workers, to justify it by efficiency, hard conscientious work and public spirit.

Reference has been made to the noble Viscount who now leads this House. He is by profession a doctor and a politician, but at heart he is a son of the soil. I am bound to say, in candour, that I cannot remember any leading politician, sitting in either House of Parliament, who has so consistently, and if I may add, so logically, done his best to improve conditions in the British countryside. I have a sort of idea—I may be wrong—that he is in regard to this scheme a sort of deus ex machina, the god behind the throne. However that may be, I am perfectly certain that his- influence is most salutary, and I for my part trust his assurances without any lurking suspicions which may be entertained from a purely partisan standpoint.

I am not going to take up your Lordships' time in uttering, as I am rather tempted to do, oratorical periods at what I regard as a great crisis and turning point in our agricultural history. I do want very seriously to ask whether the Government have sufficiently considered—I think it was incidentally referred to by the noble Earl Lord De La Warr—the case of the small farmer and the smallholder. I honestly see a danger, if this scheme is worked out, bearing in mind the extended use of labour-saving machinery and implements, of the small man, with little or no capital behind him, being squeezed out to the disadvantage not only of our British countryside but also to the disadvantage of those spacious and somewhat vacant lands overseas which are to-day sadly in need of re-population by members of our British race. In fact, the small man's economic existence depends upon co-operation. I want to urge that in the Government scheme for agriculture something in the nature of definite assistance be offered to the smallholder on condition that he accepts co-operation as a compulsory factor, as, 'by the way, has been so admirably insisted upon by the Land Settlement Association. If I may venture to say so, I think we can learn some valuable lessons from the experience of that association, with its remarkable results in putting small people (including miners, alter a state of serious depression in the mining industry), upon the land and not only preparing them for a life of prosperity and good health in the British countryside, but fitting them to be settlers, with a welcome awaiting them and their children after them in some part of the British Commonwealth and Empire overseas.

The noble Earl who opened this debate has become a very prominent fruit grower. He has applied some of the latest teachings of research which has been carried out at the East Mailing Research Station in immensely extending the production of dessert apples—of which by the way, in former days we grew only a very small proportion of our total consumption—on the same area of land. That leads me to request that we do not in future draw a hard-and-fast line between agriculture and those more intensive forms of husbandry which may come more properly under the heading of market gardening, fruit production and the like. After all, it is all one science. Whatever may happen to the products of our more extensive husbandry, I do foresee an immense fillip being given to intensive husbandry, particularly to fruit-growing and market-gardening, in the years to come. They can he well linked with poultry keeping, and to some extent with pig-keeping, and thus constitute a valuable economic unit for the smaller type of husbandman.

I want must warmly to welcome—perhaps I do so with more avidity as I have devoted a good part of my life to agricultural science and the application of science to agriculture—the setting up of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. It is admirably planned, so far as one can judge from accounts in the newspapers, and as regards its principal officers, most excellently manned. The names of Scott Watson, H. V. Taylor, Troup, and Slater are sure guarantees of efficiency and public confidence. I rattier wish it had been found possible to include in that list the name of Engiedow. I really do not know of any man who has done more valuable work in promoting knowledge of agriculture, particularly' among the younger generation, than Professor Engiedow. In that connexion I should like to say this. Our agricultural research work is the best in the word, but our conveyance of its results into farm practice is relatively poor and ineffective. In this respect we have much to learn from the United States of America, Holland, Denmark, and New Zealand.

Another point I should like to make is that an effort should be made to induce our agricultural scientists, or at any rate those who work in this advisory service, to convey their advice in language that farmers and their employees can understand. For many years past there has been too great a tendency for young agricultural scientists to talk scientific jargon. I remember my dear old friend Henry Armstrong, possibly the ablest agricultural chemist we have ever had, at any rate during the last generation, per- petually declaiming against technical jargon as applied to the instruction of practical agriculturists. Curiously enough —and I have reason to know something about this because I have travelled on agricultural tours of investigation in a large number of countries—our scientific discoveries in the field of agriculture are far better known and much more universally acted upon in certain other countries than they are in our own. That ought not to be the case. We ought to take care that the discoveries that are made in our research stations are, to use a modern phrase, "put over" in language that farmers and farm workers can understand, to the maximum advantage of our own husbandry.

Among other things, I see references in this statement to experimental farms and horticultural stations, which are going to be established throughout the country. The British farmer is a curious person; he does not like being lectured, but he is often quite easily instructed by seeing a demonstration or visiting an experimental farm. In fact, he learns almost as much by his eyes—what is called nowadays optical education—as he does by his ears. I wish that part of the scheme every success. Incidentally, this advisory service will, I venture to hope, result in greater uniformity in the matter of scientific advice delivered through the county education committees to our young farmers. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said, in effect, that the rising generation of farmers are sitting up and taking notice to a much greater extent than did their forbears. They are longing for just the sort of information which this advisory service and its executants can provide for them. Do not let them be disappointed. There are discussion groups which might be formed. I do not know whether the Government have in mind in this advisory service the formation of discussions groups. These groups have become a great feature during the war in all our Fighting Services, and to very great advantage. There are large numbers of men now being demobilized, some of them for work on the land, who are asking that these discussion groups shall be continued in civil life. I cannot imagine anything better than the development of these discussion groups under the ægis or influence of this advisory service.

I should like to say a word with regard to British manufacturers of agricultural implements, a question which was dealt with only yesterday in an admirable address given by Mr. Wright, the mechanical expert, at the Farmers' Club. There is no doubt that, particularly at a time when we want to save our dollar's, there is enormous scope for the manufacturers of agricultural machinery and implements to cater much more than they do at present for the small farmer. After all, the bulk of our farmers are small farmers, and there are comparatively few labour-saving implements to-day which an well adapted for use by the small fruit grower, the market gardener and the smallholder. I think that if the manufacturers could turn their minds to that problem they would get a full demand for appropriate implements in this country, and not a small demand from some of our overseas Dominions, including very particularly New Zealand, whose requirements I know full well. I was very glad to see the announcement in the newspapers to-day that Mr. R. R. Enfield was going to become Chief Economic Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture. I can confidently say that when I served very many years ago in the Board of Agriculture I found no official of that Department with a clearer brain or a greater capacity for conveying the information of which he was so well possessed than Mr. Enfield. As an old agricultural campaigner, and one who most earnestly has prayed to see a real renaissance of our British countryside, I most sincerely wish the Government all possible success.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Courthope, on the maiden speech which he has delivered. He was one of the most knowledgeable agriculturists that we had in another place, and, so far as his contributions to this House are concerned, they will be welcomed on all sides because whatever he says he says with authority and with experience. I first remember making contact with the noble Lord in 1930, at a time when some of us were very anxious about the poverty and unemployment in the countryside. It was one of the worst periods that I can remember, although I recall vividly the poverty of the countryside when, as a boy, I was brought up in a little agricultural parish.

In 1930 we endeavoured to form an All-Party Committee to grapple with this in- dustry and to deal with the dire need of the countryside to solve the problem of unemployment. The noble Lord was to be the Chairman of that Committee. I thought that we were going to put our house in order and do something for agriculture; but when we met he announced that the then Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons had stated that the best way to solve the unemployment problem in the countryside and to help agriculture was to get rid of the then Labour Government. So we came out of the room disappointed and disillusioned, and so far as agriculture was concerned nothing was done, and nothing came out of that All-Party meeting.

The object of a long-term agricultural policy must be to develop a healthy and efficient agriculture. This object can be secured only if reasonable and stable prices are fixed for all the main agricultural products. We are now paying, and have already paid, a very big price for the years of neglect by successive Governments of this vitally important industry. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House and I have been champions of what I call standard prices for primary agricultural products, including wheat, barley, oats and all the rest. Not only that but I remember being so courageous—I think the noble Viscount the Leader of the House was not in the Chamber at the time—as to deliver a speech on those lines. The matter did not end very well for me, because as a result I had to appear on what is called the carpet, to answer an accusation of delivering a speech that was not as orthodox as it might have been at the time. Nevertheless, I never regretted making that speech. I was convinced then, as I am now, and as I have been for twenty years, that unless we put upon each different commodity which we produce in the countryside an economic price then all else that we can do for agriculture will amount to little or nothing. I believe that time has proved that.

I do not see among the occupants of the Liberal benches any of those who advocated the stabilization of price levels, but I would like to remind them of the import board which was proposed. They said for some reason—God knows what it was—that they did not like the idea of an import board because it, so to speak, cut across the early Victorian free trade ideas of the Liberal Party. But we wanted an import board, and I believe that it would have helped to solve the difficulties with which we were then faced, and would have enabled us to fix an economic price for wheat and so on. An import board with single purchasing power could then have bought in the foreign markets, and, no matter how cheaply, at prices that cut across neither the old theories of free trade nor those of tariff reform.

It should be our object to secure improvements in working conditions and in wage levels. Such improvements are only possible if general price levels for commodities are secured and prosperity is brought to the countryside for a change. Poverty has reigned for far too long in rural England. I remember years when some of us struggled along with the noble Lord the leader of the Opposition in a campaign to give to the countryside unemployment insurance. We failed because, it was said, the farmer could not afford it. Thousands of members of the agricultural community were out of work, and in a great many cases they were driven to the towns. That was the picture, but it was not a picture resulting from the failings of a Labour Government. It was a picture the responsibility for which rested upon successive Governments, Liberal, Tory or Labour, because of their failure to tackle problems affecting the countryside in a fundamental way.

There is not a single noble Lord in this House who does not share, in some degree, some of the guilt for the conditions that obtained in the countryside during and before those years of which I have been speaking. I can rail against landlords. For some of them, at any rate, I have no great love. I can also deliver quite a strong speech criticizing some farmers. But that sort of thing would not do agriculture any good. It never has, and it never will. The fact of the matter is that before we can take out of agriculture we have to put something into it. As your Lordships know, farm buildings, in all parts of the country, have fallen into a state of disrepair. I have personal knowledge of this because I have inspected hundreds of such buildings in my own County of Lincolnshire. It is right to say that a great many of these buildings were a disgrace—but to whom? I have figures here relating to this matter, but it would not be right to detain your Lordships by quoting them at this late hour. They prove that so far as the landlord is concerned he was: receiving something like two per cent. on the capital invested in his farms in 1929–1930 and some subsequent years. In some cases farmers were quite unable to pay any rent at all and they were allowed to go on farming on some estates for as long as four or five years at a stretch absolutely rent free.

That was the condition of agriculture, and, as I say, there is not one of us who has not been partially responsible for the poverty-stricken state of the countryside. No wonder the farmers did not trust us. No wonder they learned to look askance at politicians in general. They said that they had been badly let down again over the matter of the Corn Production Act at the end of the last war. Now a long-term policy has been produced by my right honourable friend which is the sort of policy to which they have long been looking forward. The Government pronouncement gives them the assurance which they need in order to plan, to engage and employ labour and to lay out money. With the assurances which they have now they will be better able to go into that chamber which some of them were turned out of—I mean the sweating chamber—and ask for help on the security of fixed price levels for their products, with more confidence than they have ever had before.

With regard to farm buildings, mention has been made of the difficulties of getting them repaired and it cannot be denied that there are great difficulties. I happen to have carried out work on buildings for some agriculturists, and how those buildings were standing up before the repairs were done I really do not know. The condition of them, in some cases, was really unbelievable. In a great number of instances milk was being produced under conditions that would, I verily believe, if they came to your Lordships' knowledge, have the effect of making you refuse ever again to drink a glass of milk produced in our countryside. I assure you that I, myself, would never have drunk a glass of milk on some of those farms. I confess that I like a glass of beer, and it may he that I do not look too bad on it. Certainly I would far rather have a glass of beer brewed from Lord Selborne's hops than a glass of milk produced under the conditions which obtain on some of our great estates.

But the owners could not help the state of disrepair in which their buildings had fallen. The money just was not there to enable Clem to put it right. The labour shortage in the countryside has been stressed and it is not very difficult to understand how it came about in the bad old days of which I have been speaking. So many agricultural workers were driven by economic conditions into the towns, and many of those who remained became unemployed. It is owing to so many good men leaving the countryside that we have lost so much of that skill which used to be such a joy to all those concerned with agriculture and to all lovers of the country. How well I remember seeing my grandfather and my father thatch a stack with such neatness and precision that when they had finished it really appeared as though there was scarcely a straw out of place. How few workers there are in the country to-day who possess that degree of skill. What a delight it was to see a good man plash a hedge and note how every stroke was delivered with such artistry that the hedge was left as an object of pride and glory for the whole countryside. To scotch a hedge was also a task in which the skilled man took an immense pride, and the result of his work was a joy to the eye of the beholder.

Going about the countryside a great deal, as I do, I cannot help noticing how much of that skill is missing. The men of the younger generation have simply not had the opportunities of acquiring it. What we must do is to endeavour to attract younger men back to work on the land and keep them there. We shall only succeed in this if we give the agricultural labourer such an interest in life that he will remain in the country arid will develop his skill, instead of taking advantage of the first opportunity that presents itself to move to a big industrial town. What are the conditions which have attracted these men to the towns? First, of course, better wages; second, the advantage of living in houses provided with modern conveniences; and third, and not least, the opportunity for children to be given a proper education. In some of the non-provided schools in rural areas you find teachers who really ought not to be teaching at all in these modern times. It is for these reasons that so many people have left the country to go into the great industrial towns.

We have got to build the houses, but the Minister of Agriculture can no more solve that problem than any one of us in this Chamber to-clay. It is a question of labour 'and of materials, and if it had been in order I should have said something about the materials and labour necessary for building. I believe that so far as the immediate needs of the countryside are concerned, the temporary house is the one we should press for. They can he fabricated and carted through the countryside to remote places. By that means I believe we could get an enormous number of houses in the countryside erected in the next few years. It is essential that it should be done now and not in four or five years' time.

As to the question of ownership, we all seem to me to lack courage to say what we believe, nut I think that we ought to be intellectually honest with ourselves. I have never yet brought myself down to express the view that you can carry on farming in some of the remote places without the aid of what is commonly known as a tied cottage. I worked on a farm as a boy and walked two miles to work. Suppose there were not some houses on that farm of 365 acres. A large number of sheep, of beasts, and horses were there. Why, it was absolutely essential that there should be some cottages on that farm. The question of ownership and the rights of the tenant and of the farmer are matters which I cannot very well settle, but I believe the only solution is that we must continue to have some tied houses in the country districts, houses which are attached to the farm and part and parcel of it, for the shepherds. You could not expect a man to walk in February or March two miles to where his sheep were. The whole thing is absolutely unthinkable. These men live almost on the job, and it is essential that the stockman should be somewhere near the farm. I say that the answer to those who do not want the tied cottage is to say: "Build us a. sufficient number of freehold houses in the village so that if a man is not a decent employer of labour his employee has a right to go into a free house."

I believe that ultimately is the solution. I believe that not one of us here could do better than what is now done. We should want our labour at hand when it was needed. So far as the farm is concerned some cottages ought to be erected somewhere near it. In some industrial towns—my own, for instance—where there are huge steel works, if you wanted to turn the men out of the houses that lay nearest to their work, they would say something you would not like to put on the records of this House! Consider the conditions, especially in the winter months, and the cycling in the bad weather. So far as that problem is concerned, I think we should look at it again broadly before we decide whether a house is to be tied or not. The whole solution to the problem is the building of a large number of houses of a modern character in addition, in order that we may meet the needs of these people who are being dealt with in this fashion by the very few farmers who are doing it to-day. There arc not many of them. I have not had a case brought to my notice for a long time, and I hope it will be a long time before I do.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure you will agree that the noble Lord who has lust sat down has sent a very clear and pleasant breeze through the atmosphere of this Chamber, and one can feel that he is as sincere as his speech implies. He is not afraid, when he thinks that some of the members of his own Party are going wrong, to point out where, in his view, they should correct and review their ideas. As a chairman of a war agricultural executive committee, I thought it proper to seek the advice of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, as to whether I should take part in a debate of this kind. He advised me that he not only thought it was proper but that he himself as an ex-chairman of a war agricultural executive committee, regretted having to give that up perhaps more than anything else, which he had to do in order to assume office. I should like to endorse what other noble Lords have said about the debt of gratitude we owe to the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, for his deep interest in agriculture and a lifelong study of the workings of that industry.

I have also thought fit to convey in general terms the tenor of my brief remarks to the Minister of Agriculture. If I may digress for one moment—you will see the reason for it, I think, later on—during the passage of the Bill on the acquisition of coal royalties, whose exact name I have forgotten, the then Lord Chancellor who sat upon the Woolsack advised those who owned coal not to take part in the debate and in any case not to vote, as their financial interests were concerned. In ignoring that advice, I think most properly, I enjoyed for a very brief spell, a short-lived notoriety in the Press, but it is my view that your Lordships' House can make the maximum contribution towards ensuring good legislation being passed in the country if those qualified by experience are heard. As chairman of a war agricultural executive committee, as a landowner, and also as one farming about 700 acres, I feel that if not qualified by knowledge, I at least have sufficient experience of industry to make a few remarks during this debate.

I should like to make one further reference to the passage of the Coal Royalties Bill which is germane to the discussion on the purchase of raw materials by the State. At that time I warned the Government in office that whatever the merits of the purchase of coal were, they were at least establishing the principle of State purchase, where a case could be made and provided fair compensation was given. That was not only sponsored but pushed by the then Government and I ventured to say that it might prove to be a rod with which their own backs would later on be beaten. I myself do not consider that the compensation received by the owners of coal was fair, but I must say that they accepted that their case should be put before an independent Tribunal, as also did the Government. They also accepted the terms of reference agreed to before that independent Tribunal, but, after being politically outmanœuvred by the, Government then in office, they accepted conditions which were not calculated to produce fairness in the result. I mention this because the same principle is being perpetuated in agriculture.

In passing, I would like to pay a compliment to the noble Lord, Lord Hazlerigg, who has recently come to your Lordships' House, and who has had to leave before addressing you on this subject, for placing this matter before the Minister of Agriculture and pressing the point of an independent Tribunal. I am very glad that the Minister has thought fit to introduce this, but it is not to be of any value or, anyhow, its value will be greatly minimized if its terms of reference, under which they are obliged to act, are not such as will create fairness to both farmer and the State. Having said that, may I congratulate the Minister on championing agriculture so forcibly as to ensure the Cabinet—to use the Minister's own words—"giving an assured policy for the industry"? I would point out that an assured market, although important, is valueless unless the crops can be sown and harvested, and the stock housed and fed.

I was glad to hear the noble Viscount the Leader of the House point out that the Government were not unaware of the seriousness of the position of labour, but if I might be allowed for a moment to refer to my own county, the County of Leicestershire, which was, in the main, one might say, exclusively grass before the war and is now rather more plough than grass, labour there is in exactly the same position. We have about an equal number of regular employees and an equal number of casual labourers, the latter made up of the Land Army and prisoners of war, plus school children in seasonable times. And incidentally, may I pay, as I have clone before, a tribute to these children, and say that I hope that their help to the farmer during seasonable periods will form a permanent part of the labour for the industry? Not only are they of great value to agriculture, but, as I have been able to observe, the health of the children themselves has improved. However, there is one appeal I would like to make again to the President of the Board of Trade: that these children cannot continue to work in conditions such as existed last year during the potato harvesting unless they are given clothing or, in lieu, extra coupons so that clothing and boots may be purchased.

I would also praise the work of the Land Army and point out, at the same time, that the intake of the country as a whole is not at present, I understand, being offset by the wastage through sickness, resignation and other causes. As has already been referred to, the Italians will soon have left the country which leaves us with the German prisoners of war to provide 5o per cent. of the labour required in Leicestershire. That labour, we are assured, wall be available for the harvest of 1946 and, probably—although I was rather distressed by what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said today which reduces "probably" to "possibly"—for the harvest: of 1947; even though it may be in reduced numbers. We must plan ahead because it is am possible to live from hand to mouth. The Government are in a position to guarantee labour. If they do not give that guarantee, farmers must guard themselves against a possible shortage. In that event the land cannot give its maximum value and we shall go back to what was seen not long ago, ranching as opposed to farming, and I will pay your Lordships the compliment of saying that you will know what I mean by that.

I concede it is essential that the industry shall become self-supporting eventually. What has been stressed by several noble Lords already is good houses, with as good amenities as the workers in the towns get. It does not seem to me that this is the time, of all times, to put difficulties in the way of reconditioning houses in rural areas. What does agriculture want? Briefly, it is this, and quote the Minister's own words: "Houses, houses, and more houses." Of course, as your Lordships know, agriculture is not the only industry that requires houses and, therefore, it would look as if it will have to rely, for quite a number of years yet, on a casual labour force. If the Government wish the crops grown and harvested, it is up to them to ensure that that force is available.

In conclusion, may I ask the Government for information on three points which have not been referred to at all in this debate, although I do know they are present in the mind of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House? In setting up the National Agricultural Advisory Service—and I pay my tribute to the officers who will be responsible for conducting that service, as other noble Lords have done—it would appear that they have added yet one more body to deal with the industry in the counties. There would now appear, on the face of it, to be three such bodies. There are the National Agricultural Advisory Service, itself responsible direct to the Minister; the successors of the war agricultural executive committees—whatever their name may be—respon- sible direct to the Minister, but in no way over, and not a part of, the Advisory Service; and some administration by the county councils through their agricultural education sub-committees. I know it has been stressed by the Minister that with good will everything can be made to work, but is it the best solution to have three separate bodies? Is it a compromise in order to avoid hurting the feelings of some of the existing bodies? Will it not cause over-lapping and even create difficulties, whatever good will is applied? I am sure good will will be applied by all three bodies concerned. Before closing may I ask the Minister if, in summing up or replying, he can give some indication as to the merits of such an organization, and whether he will think again to see if one organization can be created to do the work of the three at present proposed?


My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Nunburnholme.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.

House adjourned at nine minutes before seven o'clock.