§ 2.50 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR moved to resolve, That this House is convinced that maximum agricultural production at home, both immediately and for many years to come is essential for safeguarding the food of our people, and to that end desires to stress (a) the importance of an adequate supply of agricultural labour, and (b) the difficulty of obtaining that supply without an immediate increase and improvement of rural housing and of the general amenities of life of the countryside.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the object of the Motion which stands on the Paper in my name is to impress upon His Majesty's Government the vital importance at the present moment of the agricultural industry being placed in a position to make its maximum contribution to the increasingly serious economic position with which many of us feel that the country is faced to-day. In that Motion, your Lordships will notice, I mention especially the vital needs of labour and rural housing. Other noble Lords who are going to speak in this debate will deal with many aspects on which I have not time to touch, so I think that it might perhaps be for the convenience of your Lordships if I mainly attempt to establish just why we feel it is 773 right, at the present moment of intense shortage of labour in the country and intense shortage of houses, to make a particular claim on the labour market and a particular claim on the housing market.
§ Your Lordships will no doubt remember that at the beginning of November a letter appeared in The Times under the signature of the noble Lord, Lord Brand. That letter uttered grave warnings about the danger to the economic position of this country due to the shortage of foreign investments and exchange, the extent of our foreign indebtedness, the rapidity with which we are drawing on our loans, especially from America and Canada, and also the very considerable excess of imports over exports. In your Lordships' House—I think it was in reply to my noble friend Lord Cranborne—the Lord Chancellor, some of us thought, almost went out of his way to state that he agreed with every single word of what the noble Lord, Lord Brand, had said. Since then the Prime Minister has added his views to the growing chorus of alarm, whilst the President of the Board of Trade has, I think, been just a little more specific. In addition to reminding the country of what I think we already know, that we have to put ourselves in the position of exporting a minimum of 75 per cent. in volume more than our exports during the pre-war days, the President of the Board of Trade also reminded us that whilst we drew no less than 50 per cent. of our imports from the Americas, our exports there were only approximately 14 per cent. of our imports.
§ I think that we have a right to ask the Ministers what they really mean by the warnings. Are they really just pious exhortations designed to stimulate what perhaps some people feel are the somewhat flagging energies of some of us after a long war, or are they really meant to be a warning of what we can only describe as an approaching crisis? Do these warnings really mean what I think some of us find really difficult to believe that they do not mean—that in about 1948, when our loans from the United States and Canada are exhausted, we may find ourselves in the position that, no matter how cheap and how plentiful food overseas has become, we shall just have neither the exchange nor the credit nor the exports with which to satisfy the minimum food needs of this country? I do not want to speak to-day in any spirit of alarm, but 774 I do not think anyone would say that this is an alarmist view to take on what has been said by responsible Ministers of His Majesty's Government. Of course, we have to remember that since the warnings were uttered we have come to an arrangement with the United States about Germany which certainly looks like being a further burden on our exchange. It may well be that that may be the final straw that will produce a crisis even sooner than some of us were expecting.
§ No one in your Lordships' House, no one in the country, and no one of the farming community, would in any way deny the importance of the export trade. We all of us realize that the estimate of the President of the Board of Trade of 75 per cent. increase in volume is certainly not an understatement. I think we would wish to congratulate both the community and His Majesty's Government on the extent to which the export trade has made progress, but what I certainly find it extremely difficult to understand is that, while we know that to save £100 worth of imports by the increased production of food in this country is just as important a contribution to the saving of exchange as is the finding of an export market for £100 worth of goods, there appears to be no sense of urgency whatsoever in increasing the production of food. The present agricultural production is in the neighbourhood of £600,000,000 a year, and a 10 per cent. increase in production would, therefore, he worth approximately £60,000,000 a year. Yet I think most, agricultural experts would say that I was underrating the possibilities of the situation if I said that even to-day, in spite of the increase that took place during the war, we could well bring about a further increase of at least 20 to 30 per cent. That is either £120,000,000 or £180,000,000 a year.
§ I said I detected no sense of urgency, and I think that is a remark that needs some justification. I make it in no spirit of controversy: I think it is a fact, and that most agriculturists and those in touch with the position would agree with it. How many of us know that production to-day is on the decrease? How many know that since 1944 our acreage of wheat has gone down from 3,000,000 acres to 2,000,000 acres, and that the whole tillage acreage has gone down? That might be all right if we were deliberately 775 decreasing that area of low-priced low-value tillage craps in order to concentrate cur energies on the production of high-value goods in the form of animal products. Yet if we look at the last returns we find that our cattle and sheep figures stand very much where they did in 1944, whilst we know from the reduction of feeding stuffs that there is going to be a heavy decline, and has been, in both pigs and poultry.
§ I cannot help getting the impression that His Majesty's Government are not altogether seeing this problem as one. The Ministers of Food and Agriculture, one finds, are intensely worried about the food situation, and they have uttered most grave and serious warnings. Equally, one finds that the Prime Minister, the President of the Board of Trade, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others are intensely worried about trade and the need for exports. It may even be that each of them worries about each other's problems. But it strikes me that they are not looking at the two sides of this problem and recognizing that they are merely two sides of one problem.
§ Agriculture saved millions of tons of shipping during the war, and I think we all agree that it might save millions of pounds worth of exchange to-day if it has the wherewithal to do it, if it has the machinery, if it has the labour, and if it has the houses. It is borne in upon me, going about the country, that there is a feeling of intense discouragement amongst farmers to-day. I am not going to say now whether it is justified or not. This is not meant, in any way, to be an attack on the Government. I am simply stating a fact. The feeling to which I have referred is almost a feeling of impending doom. How far it is due to the losses from the last harvest, how far it is due to the fact that profits have undoubtedly declined, how far it is due to the fact that the last price settlement does not make up for the increase under the last wages settlement, how far it is due to the shortage of labour, how far it is due to the shortage of machinery, and how far it is due to the shortage of rural houses, I do not feel able to say. But I would say that behind the depression about these pathetic facts is the feeling that if the Government really appreciate the importance of agriculture and what agriculture could be doing at the present 776 moment to help the country in this period of new trial through which we are about to pass—indeed, through which we are passing—these shortages, these lacks, will disappear.
§ That is really the background of my Motion. The point which I would like to stress very strongly is that the purpose of this Motion is not to make a plea on behalf of the farmer for more labour, or on behalf of the farm worker for more houses. Though I believe that that plea would be justified, it is not the plea I am trying to put forward to-day. What I do feel is that a warning should be conveyed to His Majesty's Government that if they want to get the food which we gather they will need by 1948, when our loans have run out, then a very much stronger lead and very much stronger support must be given to the agricultural industry. If that is not done the Government will not get that food.
§ I have mentioned certain points that are worrying the farmer, but it seems to me that, from the point of view of this debate, it is best to concentrate upon the two main deficiencies—labour and housing. I should like, if I may, for a moment to examine the labour position. In 1939, the total working force in agriculture, including farmers, was about 910,000. To-day it is 1,020,000. But this latter figure includes such wasting assets as over 30,000 land girls, over 150,000 prisoners of war, and a very considerable number of old men who stuck to their jobs during the war. Those old men were stretched to the limit. They are now tending very rapidly to retire. Taking it all in all, when we look at those figures I think we can agree that we shall be extremely lucky if, by the end of twelve months, we have not lost at least 100,000 workers, mainly prisoners of war, from the industry. That will leave us with just about 10,000 more than we had before the war.
§ Now what has that extra 10,000 got to cope with? First of all, 4,500,000 extra acres of tillage (an increase of 50 per cent.); 1,500,000 extra acres of temporary leys (an increase of about 40 per cent.); and 800,000 more cattle. At the most, if we are lucky, to deal with all this increase we shall have 10,000 more workers. Therefore, before we can speak of any increase in production, or any additional contribution which we may make to save foreign exchange, we must provide, first 777 of all, for the replacement of the 100,000 men we are going to lose. We must remember, also, that the bulk of the labour that we are going to lose will consist of prisoners of war and land girls who have been living in camps, billets and hostels, and are therefore not going to vacate cottages. We shall need additional houses, and at a very moderate estimate I should say we shall need 50,000 to 60,000 houses to house the 100,000 workers. That is an extremely moderate estimate.
§ How many men do we want to increase production and to what extent do we want to increase it? These are very difficult questions and I think we really want to hear the answers from His Majesty's Government. How much increased production of food do they look for? How much exchange do they hope that agriculture will help them to save? How is the necessary increase to be brought about? Is it hoped to bring it about by ploughing up a few more millions of the ploughable acres of land? (I believe there are about 12,000,000 such acres left actually.) And if this land is to be ploughed should it be turned into arable for crops or into grassland? What is going to be the machinery position? It is quite obvious that if we are going to suffer from a shortage of machinery as well as housing, if we are going to have to carry on with machinery that is continually breaking down, we shall need very many more men than if our labour force was properly equipped.
§ While I am on this point I should like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, who is going to reply, whether his Department intends to continue the war-time policy of saving the import of grain and bulky foodstuffs—which was a sound wartime policy as we were then short of shipping—and then making extensive purchases of finished products? Perhaps I might illustrate the meaning of my question by reminding your Lordships of the fact that at the present moment we are importing dried eggs, or at least we have been doing so during the last two or three months, at the rate of about £48,000,000 worth a year. It is difficult to give an exact figure.. It is an admitted fact that we could produce that same quantity of eggs, and in fresh form, for an expenditure of about £20,000,000 on feeding stuff—an exchange difference, in that one field, of something between £20,000,000 778 and £30,000,000 a year. Of course, a policy of that character affects the demands on the labour market, in order to save the exchange.
§ Although it is impossible to say how many men we shall need, because it depends on the answer to these questions, I think your Lordships will agree that to make any serious contribution to a solution of the problem we shall need at least a further 100,000. In terms of houses, it means that in order to maintain production at its present level we shall need between 50,000 and 60,000 new houses. In order seriously to increase production, we shall need between 90,000 and 100,000 new houses. These figures are very rough; I do not think anyone outside the Department can give accurate figures. Perhaps it is foolish of me to risk trying to give figures to your Lordships, but it seemed to me that it might be helpful to attempt to present a rough picture of the problem which we are discussing.
§ I would like to ask His Majesty's Government this question. In assessing the number of houses that we shall need for agricultural workers in the rural areas, are they basing their assessments on calculations of this character? Are they saying to themselves: "This is the question that matters. How many houses shall we need in rural areas?" Assuming that the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade and others are right in their warnings, how many houses for agricultural workers will be necessary if we are to safeguard the feeding of our people? That is the question which matters. The slow rate of progress of the Government's building programme, the discouragement of private effort, the difficulty of obtaining licences to build houses for one's own workers, the endless number of permits and restrictions to which we are all (including local authorities) submitted if we try to build houses, the lack of any policy for reconditioning, are all of immense importance. They are, however, really incidental to the question of whether the Government realize the gravity—I might almost say the desperate gravity—of the problem with which we shall be faced in the next two or three years.
§ If the Government have realized the gravity of the position, they will surely face it, and sweep away these restrictions. If not, quite frankly, I do not think it 779 will be very much use talking. The prejudices which the Government have on these subjects go very deep, and unless they are extremely concerned, not to say frightened, about the future, I am quite sure that nothing we can say will affect them one iota. On this question of housing, therefore, I will content myself with asking His Majesty's Government the one single question which I have already put: "Are they basing their calculations of the number of houses needed in rural areas to ensure the feeding of this country, on the assumption that the Prime Minister is right in the warnings he has given to us, on our exchange position?" At the same time, I will simply point out to His Majesty's Government that unless we do have the supplies of labour on the land, there will not be the food, and unless we do have the houses for that labour there will not be the labour.
§ One other point has occurred to me very strongly since I put this Motion on the Paper. We must have the food; we must have the labour; we must have the houses. But there is another "must". Farmers must be in a position to employ labour. During the last twelve months the price of everything that farmers buy has risen. During the last month I myself have cancelled an order for a tractor for which I have been waiting for eight months, and the price of which has gone up just over 25 per cent. I know that I have had the worst financial year at my farm since 1936, and I believe I am not alone in that experience. Therefore, just as I have assumed, for the purposes of this debate, that His Majesty's Government realize that if labour is to be effectively used it must have an adequate supply of machinery at its disposal, so I will assume that His Majesty's Government realize that if more labour is to be employed by the farmers they must be able to meet the cost.
§ I close by wishing the Minister of Agriculture and his Parliamentary Secretaries well in the task that lies ahead of them. It is a colossal task, and it is not an easy one. The whole of the agricultural industry—every section of it, quite irrespective of politics or Party—is looking to them to enable the industry to make its maximum contribution to the problems that are facing the country at the moment. During the war, every time the Ministry asked for something, they 780 gave more than was asked or expected. I would assure the noble Earl and his colleagues, if I may venture to speak on behalf of the industry, that, given the lead and given the tools, the industry will do again what they did in the war to help the country face the problems of peace.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House is convinced that maximum agricultural production at home, both immediately and for many years to come is essential for safeguarding the food of our people, and to that end desires to stress (a) the importance of an adequate supply of agricultural labour, and (b) the difficulty of obtaining that supply without an immediate increase and improvement of rural housing and of the general amenities of life of the countryside.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ LORD SAVILE
My Lords, I rise with the due humility of one who addresses your Lordships' House for the first time, but at the same time I feel sustained by the courtesy and indulgence which your Lordships always so generously extend to newcomers and new speakers. I can assure your Lordships that I shall need the benefit of those two qualities very much in the next few minutes. I am also encouraged by the fact that the subject of this Motion is to me one of deep and absorbing interest and a matter of personal responsibility.
We all remember how a few years ago the 14th Army in Burma was referred to, and regarded as, "The Forgotten Army." I am beginning to think that, in exactly the same way, the farmer fears for his future. The status of the farmer to-day is due to the experience of war. Naturally what he is seeking is to safeguard his industry for the future. The thoughts that must be running through the farmer's mind to-day are these: "Will history repeat itself? Are we going back to the bad old days of the inter-war years?" My noble friend Lord De La Warr has already referred to what the agricultural industry did during the war. It was a weapon of war; indeed without the tremendous help of the farmer I doubt whether we could have successfully waged the war.
Experience has taught me to realize that it is essential to gratify the agricultural industry in its demands for public utilities (which I prefer to call welfare) plus encouragement in recruiting the agricultural army. When I speak of recruiting 781 for agriculture I am thinking of educational centres. I should like to see full use made in every Government technical college of an agricultural department. I should even like secondary schools to have agriculture included in their curriculum. In this way we could ensure that the future population would be agriculturally-minded, and we might gradually secure a drift back to the land in place of the urban-mindedness of the rising population of to-day which has produced the drift to the towns which has been going on for so long. I submit that that is one way of ensuring our future agricultural labour.
Now what do we mean by foodstuffs? Do we mean wheat and vegetables, or do we mean dairy produce? From my investigations I find it is a common topic of conversation amongst farmers to-day that the continual use of artificial manures is, sooner or later, apt to bring about the complete disintegration of our soil. I earnestly put the point before your Lordships that, if the land i' to be kept in good heart, dairy farming and animal husbandry will have to become the main concern of British agriculture. I say that with full knowledge of what our responsibilities are going to be in the next six months. I read in The Times the report of a debate that took place in another place about our immediate needs. I am now talking of a long-term policy. I wanted to snake that point quite clear. Abroad we can proudly say that the finest stocks of cattle have been built up on British stock. Yet in our own country our dairy herds and standards of equipment for milk production leave very much to be desired. I should like to stress the point of giving farmers every encouragement to breed first-class milking herds by the introduction of centres which would be handy for breeding and be quite near their farms.
We realize—and this is my main point—that if the farmer claims it is necessary to have humus fertilizing to avoid erosion, then we shall have to concentrate on dairy farming and stock raising for the future. By so doing you are overcoming a problem, which may quite possibly beset the farmer in the near future, of competition from the wheat-growing countries of the world, and stabilizing a badly-needed industry. At the same time, you are resting the land so that at any time in the future when it should be needed it can once again become the scene of that intensive 782 cultivation which is practised to-day as it was during the whole course of the war.
I have said a few words about labour. I should now like to refer to welfare, because without welfare you cannot get labour, and without labour you cannot: get food. I take electricity as an example of what one amenity alone can do to revolutionize entirely the life of any farm or rural dwelling. Not only does electricity provide the housewife with the means of cooking her Sunday joint, and the farmer the light whereby to make out: his numerous Government returns; it is also a means of mechanizing his farm. Most of the great industries of this country and the trade unions have decided on shorter working hours. The only way by which the farmer can reduce his working hours is by mechanization. If this is brought about on a large scale I think it might prove an incentive to the agricultural recruit.
Give the worker some leisure hours. A great deal has been said about the need for attractions. I am of the opinion that leisure is one of the greatest. Last week I was talking to an optimistic young farmer in the district of the West Riding of Yorkshire from which I come and he asked, "Might it be possible one day, and within the bounds of modern science, for a cow to produce milk on a five-and-a-half-day week?" Well I do not know if we shall ever get the five-and-a-half-day cow. What we can do is to ensure a maximum reduction of working hours by electrical appliances and mechanization generally. I have tried to put my case in the shortest possible space of time. For so long the farmer has seen the red traffic light, that it is imperative, if farming is to retain its place in our economic structure, to show him not only the cautionary signal but the all-clear and go-ahead light.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ LORD QUIBELL
My Lords, it is my pleasant duty to congratulate the noble Lord who has just addressed your Lordships' House for the first time. He made a most interesting and able speech, and I trust that on many other occasions in the future we shall have the benefit of his wise words. I listened with more than usual interest to the noble Earl who opened this debate. The Resolution he has moved is pretty wide and general, but I did not anticipate that almost the whole of his speech would have been occupied in illustrating 783 the depths to which agriculture has sunk and how depressed it is. The noble Earl usually has a smile on his face, but while he was delivering his speech he looked as if he had this afternoon come straight from some funeral. He painted a very sorry picture of agriculture, indeed it was really a despairing one. Yet it was not very long ago that representatives of the agricultural industry met the Minister of Agriculture and new price levels for agricultural produce were fixed.
All I can say is that the noble Earl's information is at variance with my information from farmers in Lincolnshire, who have never had a better time in their lives than they have had in the last five or six years. In fact for the last 25 years they have never had a better time. It may be they have need of some things. If they adopt one system and another is proving more remunerative, they may be "in the cart." The one system of farming for this country—I have said it many times before—is a system of mixed farming. Those who have followed mixed farming have had a fairly easy time of it for the last five or six years.
I sometimes think some of those who talk about farming being in a parlous state and ask the Government what they are going to do for farming, talk with their tongues in their cheeks. Well do I remember working on farms for 9d. a day. Farmers were in a bad way in those days—there is no mistake about that. Wheat was only 22s. 6d. a quarter, and you could get a ton of potatoes, even in the year 1930, at 19s. or 20s. a ton. There was some room for complaint in those days. From my own personal knowledge of intimate friends of mine who are farmers I know that the farming community to-day is not in such a bad way as the noble Earl would have us believe. He made a point about the diminution of the acreage of wheat. I myself thought that, so far as this was concerned, it was due not to the causes that he suggested, but to a lack of direction to farmers to grow wheat at the end of last year, and too late in the spring for them to plant it. I blame the farming community equally with the Government, for a price level for wheat was fixed at about £5 a quarter, and a price level for barley at far more than £5 a quarter. The consequence was that you had six quarters 784 of barley to the acre and only about four quarters of wheat to the acre.
When the price of barley was higher than that for wheat, which do you think the farmers thought they ought to grow? So far as the farmer was concerned, he took it as an indication that what we wanted was barley and not wheat. One farmer I know planted over 200 acres of land with barley, because of the bigger yield of barley per acre, and because he had no directions whatever to grow wheat or any indication that there was a wheat shortage. To some extent I blame the Government for not giving directions soon enough last spring. The barley was already in. The picture painted of the wheat acreage going down is due to the fact that more barley was grown because it made a better return per acre to the farmer than the wheat did. It is known everywhere that that is the fact.
A steady drift from the countryside has been going on ever since I have known the countryside. Houses are going derelict whilst young people want to marry and stay in the village. The lack of houses is no new thing; it was the same when I was a boy. The best men from the villages went into the industrial centres of this country. They were driven from the countryside, where they ought to have been employed and where many of them would have liked to have stopped, by the lack of proper housing. In some places indeed, no houses of any sort could be had. As I have said—I do not know whether I have said it in your Lordships' House, but I have in another place—I went to Epworth, one of the places near where I live, and said to an agriculturist friend of mine: "What are the people parading up and down for; is it a popular place?" He replied: "No, they are building a new house and they go up every Sunday night to see how far it has grown." No one in this village, in their lifetime, had seen a new house being built; it was the first one. That was in the village of Epworth, the birthplace of John Wesley, where they went to look at this sight, wondering what kind of animal they were seeing. And that is not the state of only one village. That picture could be painted of village after village, and well might Oliver Goldsmith have been stirred to write his Deserted Village having in mind some of the villages in rural Lincolnshire and other parts of the country.
785 I think the questions of food and housing must be uppermost in the minds of everybody, particularly those of us who have come into contact with the women-folk to-day. In this country, and in some other parts of the world where there is a family or a man working on shift work, the wives find the greatest difficulty in securing food to pack up for men engaged on nightshifts. From the women I talk to I hear that the most difficult thing is to find food which they can pack up. The shopping problem of the women is not a little problem, it is a tremendous problem. People say they like standing in queues but believe me they only do it out of necessity. When they hear of anything fresh corning into the town the womenfolk in our districts can be seen running to form a queue in order to get something to pack up for their husbands or sons going to work. This is not a fanciful picture but a true one. The problems of food and housing are very near to the hearts of everyone. So far as food is concerned, in some parts of the world people are living in semi-starvation; yet, if what I hear from friends is true, in the United States, in Switzerland, and in several other parts of Europe, there is an abundance of food. That I think is a reflection on those countries who shared with us the glory of winning this victory. They should take a more magnanimous view of the need for feeding other people in starving Europe if it can be done. I think they could help if they would only try.
But of all the problems the lack of proper housing accommodation causes more unpleasantness and misery than any other single problem that I know of. There is scarcely a week-end passes when I do not have a dozen people come to me who are living in rooms where they are not wanted and do not know where to go. A week or two ago an ex-Service man asked me what he was to do. He was living in rooms and he had been told that he was no longer wanted there. I could not do anything for him, the local council could not do anything for him, and no one could do anything for him, so far as I could see, unless he went to the police station and slept in a cell, if there was one empty. He said: "I know what I will do, I will put my few little tucks," as he called them, "on to the footpath, I will bring my wife and two kids there, and I will stay there 786 until somebody does something with me. I am at my wit's end." He went home to trouble every night. There were two women living in the same house, and I say emphatically that there is no room in any house for two families.
Our aim should be to resolve this terrible problem of housing. Most intimate and touching stories could be broadcast in this country by those who try to meet it. Any Government or council which neglects to deal with this problem will be consigned by the people to the limbo of forgotten things. Many of the people affected, as we all know, fought for England and they think they have a stake in this country. So do I: I think they have one—and a big one. They fought that England might live; they sacrificed that we might survive; and I think that the least we can do is to remove every obstacle in the way of providing them with homes in the land which they love and for which they were willing to die. Let those who are trying to resolve this problem be encouraged and not threatened. Let them be helped and not shot at. I consider myself that it is unwise and un-statesmanlike to threaten the building trade for not gutting on with the job that it is not allowed to get on with because it cannot get the materials. If anyone is enthusiastic enough to want to start shooting after we have had five or six years of it, I should not stand in his way. But as far as I am concerned, I am one of those builders who wants to do this building, and I think it would be wiser if we used statesmanlike words and gave encouragement to the trade to get on and do its job instead of threatening it. It would undoubtedly be far more statesmanlike and sensible to do that than to threaten.
What is our real difficulty? Our real difficulty is supplies. We want to do the job. What builder who has got a staff of workmen and an organization wants to sabotage housing? The more houses he can build, surely the better it is for him, even if he only looks at it from a selfish point of view. It is his job and he is anxious to do it. As a matter of fact, there is great trouble inside the industry because some builders are getting more houses to build than others. As was mentioned in this House the other week, the first obstacle is timber. I am pleased to be able to congratulate the Government on obtaining increased supplies of timber 787 from Germany. It is, I know, coming in to certain ports of this country. Good luck to them. I hope that they will intensify their efforts to get that timber, because there is plenty of it in Germany. If they do that, it will probably help us to find a solution to that particular problem.
Another difficulty is hollow bricks. It really astounds me to think that the brickyards that were being worked during the war were levied for the purpose of encouraging other brickyards which were not being worked to keep their plant and machinery in such a condition as to be able to operate whenever they might be required. All over the country there is a shortage of hollow clay bricks for partitions in houses. We have got the clay and we have got the brickyards, but scores of them are not yet working. I wonder if they are still receiving the three shillings per thousand levy that was paid by those brickyards which were in operation to those which were not. I know of some brickyards in my own area that have not turned a wheel since the war ended. There is plenty of good plastic clay, and labour could be obtained for the purpose of making bricks, but we are told that we shall have to wait from six to eight weeks before we can get the hollow bricks for the partitions for the upstairs bedrooms, bathroms and so on. I think that is a scandal, and one which could be easily remedied.
It may be that there is such a great demand that no Government could have foreseen it. I am not charging the Government in respect of that, but I am saying that there could not have been much vision on the part of the manufacturers and the Departments responsible if they did not foresee the demands that would be made. There are so many houses provided for in the housing programme and the number of bricks required in a house can easily be estimated. There is no difficulty whatever about it; yet you are told when you write for them that there are no partition blocks. You cannot get on with the plastering and you cannot complete your house. All you can do is to put a lid on it, if you can get the timber for the spars. A shortage of a thing of that sort is a scandal, and those who have been receiving the levy of three shillings per thousand ought to be told that it was their 788 duty to keep their plants in such a condition that they could have provided a remedy for this hollow brick shortage.
As to electrical fittings—I think it is right that you should know that this is so, because a Government that has the necessity for providing houses at heart ought to be as concerned about it as I am, and I am very much concerned—they are in exactly the same position. If you have got your partition blocks up you cannot get on with the plastering, because there is no tubing. I am told it cannot be obtained because it is in short supply.
Then baths and taps. This is a concrete case. We have six houses almost ready for occupation. All they are waiting for is taps, but we cannot find a tap to put into them. That is the only thing that they require now. After struggling with and overcoming all the other shortages, we have finally got to the position where there is not a tap. I made some very definite inquiries myself last week. I thought I would have my worry before the appointed day, because I could see it was certain to come along! I took time by the forelock and went to see my supplier. He said to me, "There are plenty in Hull," to which I replied, "That may be so, but this is where we want them, not in Hull." He said, "But I cannot get them," and when I asked, "Why not?" he said, "Because they are put into store." They are stored in Hull and are waiting until the "pre-fab" houses come so that the "pre-fab" houses can be completed. The permanent houses must wait because they are expecting the "pre-fabs," and they want the bathroom taps so that they can be completed in record time. I have one word to say about that. I consider it is downright wickedness to leave a house uncompleted which only requires a tap, if the taps are there—and they are where I have said they are. As far as the "pre-fabs" are concerned, you heard what the noble Lord, Lord Portal, said about them the other week. He has as high an opinion of some of these "pre-fab" houses as I have! I should like to see the last of them. Much of this material is in store in different parts of the country, but it is reserved so that this "pre-fab" programme may be completed.
I hope and trust that the few tips I have given to the Government will not have fallen on deaf ears. For heaven's 789 sake, let us do something about it. I have said many times that the difference between a Government Department and a snail is the difference between a snail and something that does not move at all! The snail moves slowly, it is true, but, by heavens, it does move, anyway! If there is anything that can be said to induce the Government Departments to get a move on and to deal with this problem of supplying material, then it should be said. Do not shoot the builder; he is doing his best! Give him the materials, and if he does not then provide the goods, deal with him. Let us criticize him less and give him more encouragement. I am sure that houses, either in the countryside or in the urban districts, will be provided if you give the builder the material he wants. He has both the men and the will to do the job.
§ 3.50 p.m.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, in offering my very humble but sincere congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Savile, on his maiden speech, and to tell him that we rejoice to hear speeches made up of such substance and so well delivered. We hope that he will do us the honour of joining in our deliberations as often as he can.
I would also like, if I may, to thank the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, for raising this question in your Lordships' House this afternoon. There is no doubt whatever that everybody agrees that this problem of food production is a very serious problem to-day. He speaks as an agriculturist of repute, and what makes me like him more than anything else is that he took the trouble to come up to my country and have a look at what we do there. I like that because not many people do come, except in August or September. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison—and I am delighted to see that he is in his place to-day—in a very able speech on the Address in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne, spoke of an old political adage, which I think ran something like this: "If you see a political head bob up—hit: it." I could not be more pleased to hear him say that and I could not feel more in agreement with him. I had intended to do some of it myself this afternoon, but the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, has done it for me. I shall not have to worry your Lordships with all this hard hitting 790 because it has been done, if may say so, most effectively, fearlessly and honestly.
The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, divided his Motion into two parts. He dealt with the question of the labour shortage, and in the second part with the shortage of rural housing. He made it clear, and I think perfectly rightly, that he wished not so much to approach it from the point of view of actual shortage of labour and shortage of houses, as to draw the Government's attention to the fact that if they want food they have got to do something for the agricultural industry. Although I gathered that the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, did not agree with him, I think it is common knowledge to most of us—and it certainly is to experts in the north—that something has got to be done if we are going to deal with this food-production problem. There is one school of thought who possibly believe that this desperate food situation need not have arisen to the full extent it has. If I may use a vulgar phrase, as I see it we are "in the soup." and we have got to get out of it. I would like to see a little less of what is known as bulk buying by people who are really not qualified to buy because they are not experts. This applies equally to shipping. You have people interfering with transport who really do not know, and you have a body of men going out where it would be better to send out one expert who knew what he was talking about. I am quite certain he would come back with the goods.
Apart from all that, if we are going to safeguard the country's food supply we must plan well ahead. The noble Earl, Lord De La Wan, spoke on a very high level, and I do not propose to follow him, but we have got to face facts. It is true that 1947 will be bad enough, but I am quite sure—and those who are more qualified than I are equally sure—that the crucial year will be 1948. May we for a moment re-examine this? What will be the labour situation? The German labour will have gone. I can give you an instance in my own country of Scotland, where His Majesty's Department of Agriculture informed the agriculture executive committees that the necessary extra labour, that is to say, the labour required over and above the professional labour for 1947, would be in the neighbourhood of 90,000 people. They maintain that they 791 can get this 90,000 people, but if you come back to this year of 1946 and examine the statistical figures which they gave us, we find they were very far short of what they promised Had it not been for the grace of God, three weeks' excellent weather and the stout hearts of a lot of school children, in my county of Angus we could never have gathered the potato crop which had to be got in.
We cannot continue to go on gambling on labour and expecting results. You cannot go on living from hand to mouth, and you have got to try to get some specific plan going. Another aspect of this case is that the land is getting very tired. You cannot go on growing wheat again and again without giving it a rest, and something will have to be done about that. Whichever way one looks at it, it seems that somehow or other we have not only got to maintain the present food production, but we have probably got considerably to increase it for 1948 if we are not going to starve.
May I once again touch on this question of the loan? How are we going to meet this loan? Is it not true that in 1948 both the American and Canadian loans will have nearly finished? Shall we not be faced again with importing more food? Even though we increase our production we cannot produce all we need to eat. We are faced with importing more food, importing machinery and materials for industry with no money or exchange to buy them. What does that mean? It probably means that we have got to negotiate another loan, and we had a bit of difficulty the last time. Many of your Lordships will have travelled in the United States and will know the American people and their financiers. I have had that privilege, although not very often and I do not know them well; but I know them well enough to know that they are hard-headed realists and they do not like, if His Majesty's Government will forgive my saying so, their financial pranks—they are frightened by them. I think when you get to 1948 there will be even less desire on their part to help us with another loan.
The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said that this was dangerous ground, and so it is, but we have got to face facts sooner or later. Why wait until 1948? We must do everything that we can in our power now to produce all the food 792 we can. What is really worrying most of us, I think, is the extraordinary lack of desire on the part of His Majesty's Government to put the picture as a whole in front of the public. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, mentioned that point. It is no good having piecemeal driblets from Ministers here and there. We have got to have the picture put in front of the public, because the people should know what the picture is from the highest aspect and from the highest authority; no less, in my mind, than the Prime Minister.
If I may, I will now turn to the second part of the noble Earl's Motion. The first part is really the still-born child of the second. Lack of rural housing is, in the opinion of many who have studied this question, one of the main reasons for the lack of labour in the industry. In Angus, which is the second largest potato-producing county in Great Britain, and which grows a great deal of grain as well, between 1939 and 1946 we have dropped 1,000 regular male and female agricultural workers—1,000 workers have gone. This was discovered by the chairman of the agricultural executive committee by watching the prisoner of war labour and noticing how it was allocated to the farms. He wanted to know why prisoners not only attended on certain farms for odd days for specific jobs such as potato-lifting, but kept on going on and on to the same farms. The answer was because the labour was not there. I do wish, if I may, to stress this need as I have done before—and I hope your Lordships will forgive me—especially from the point of view of remote areas. I come from a remote area, and the problem will affect other noble Lords who live in England and who also come from remote areas. Although there is a slight difference it must apply to them equally.
I know how difficult it is for noble Lords and His Majesty's Government to understand how difficult the conditions are in the north. I tried about a month ago to impress upon your Lordships what an important part in the agricultural economy of this country is played by the uplands and the high lands, and in this I was supported, I am glad to say, by the noble Earl who moved this Motion. If you are to keep a strong virile healthy stock of seed, animals, and man, you must keep the places populated where they breed these types. You have to do everything in your power to check the drift from 793 these areas into the towns, and one of the chief means of doing this is to improve the housing conditions by fair means or foul—or what His Majesty's Government call foul—and thus induce them to stay where they are.
May I develop this a little further from the general point of view? We want houses in this country desperately; we want them both in the urban districts and in the rural districts. We must have a proper balance, otherwise we get once again an unbalanced economy throughout the whole country. The country cannot live without the town, nor can the town live without the country, though one is encouraged to believe that His Majesty's Government believe that the town can live without the country for all the interest they take in rural matters at the present moment. Most of us realize—landlords, county councillors, and all the sinful people of this world—that you do not cure difficulties by palliatives, but you do gain time by these palliatives until the country is in a position to deal drastically and radically with the real trouble. I am not going to question who is responsible for the present muddle. We all hold our own views, most of us very strongly, and from different angles. But when things are as bad as they are now we can only hope to use every means at our disposal to try and give the people some comforts and some amenities, especially those who are living in the outlying districts whose lives in winter are extremely grim. I know that the noble Lord and His Majesty's Government will probably quote the new Hill Farming Act, but I would remind them that it has only just become law. These schemes take time to get out winter is on us with short days in the north and adverse weather conditions. We want help at once.
Meanwhile, what is happening at present in the housing world from the rural point of view? Everything possible is being done to prevent houses being built in the rural districts. I think I am borne out in that by the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, who gave instances from his own experience. Lord Quibell is, after all, a practical man, and if I may say so, I think we enjoy his speeches as much as anyone's. I have a report here from one of the officials of the county council of which I am Chairman. This report shows the difficulties and the obstructions which are thrown in the way on all sides by the 794 present regulations and by the frightful red tape. Nearly every single thing that this official has mentioned has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Quibell. Cannot His Majesty's Government get away from what we call in Scotland the "Surrey mentality"? I think that describes it much better than anything I know. Surrey does not fit in with Scotland, and although it is a magnificent place in itself you cannot put Surrey in Scotland.
Cannot His Majesty's Government realize that contractors, with heavy commitments on large housing schemes at their own front door, so to speak, require some inducement to go out into the wilds to build? It is not easy, it is not even funny. They have transport difficulties; roads are bad because of weather; lodgings are non-existent; broken time cannot be easily estimated; water may often have to be carted to the site; and overheads in the way of office, stores, and shelter accommodation at the site are relatively more expensive. In fact, it is nothing but a nightmare to a contractor. Local authorities, with their full programmes on their hands in urban and rural-urban areas, cannot take them on. What is the result? The result is that no houses are being built in these outlying areas. One of the chief troubles is that it is not possible to build within the Government controlled limit of £1,200. It is physically impossible. I approached the Secretary of State for Scotland and said that houses cost nearer £1,700 or £1,800, and could not he help us. He said he could not possibly advise, or even go near the Cabinet and suggest to them that these prices should be put up to that extent. I asked him what was the answer, and he said the answer was to reduce prices. I could not agree with him more, but prices are not going to be reduced; they are rising. Wages are going up at Christmas.
I will give your Lordships an instance of three houses for which application was made and permission sought to build. These three cottar houses—that is, ploughmen's houses—were to replace condemned houses under the Agricultural Population Act. Two were to cost £1,300, and one was to cost £1,360. They were not allowed to be proceeded with 'because the cost exceeded £1,200 each. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, will agree with me that it is not possible to knock off as much 795 as £100 from a house which consists of three rooms, kitchenette, scullery, bathroom, etc., when it is some distance from a town. You cannot do it. What has happened is that these houses are not being built. They cannot be built, and these fellows are having to live in the condemned houses. Is it reasonable that permission to build these houses should be refused when terrible little erections such as the prefabricated houses at Clydebank are costing something near £1,500 a house? Is that reasonable? It does not make sense.
Landlords know only too well that to try to improve and recondition houses that may be eighty to one hundred years old is not perhaps quite so sound as a permanent policy as one would wish, but to advocate doing nothing to better your condition because the Party believes in perfection only is sheer lunacy and downright dishonesty. What about these promises made so freely at the Election? It is definitely dishonest. We believe that in a desperate situation you must improvise. We know the Rural Housing Act is not perfect, but why stop it now in the midst of a desperate shortage? At any rate it did do something towards making the people more comfortable and happy till labour and material get easier and complete rebuilding can be started. We know that one day building has got to be started, but do not stop the Act now just at the time when you are on your last legs and not knowing where to turn.
You cannot go on living on fetishes and theories with the country in its present desperate state for houses. I believe the Lord President of the Council has begun to think somewhat differently from his former way of thinking. I read in my paper the other day—I hope it is correct—of a speech he made on December 1 at Newcastle-on-Tyne. He was referring to the output of coal, and he said they could not wait for new machinery and many of the old methods of production would have to stay for a time. He is only just finding that out, but does not that also apply to housing? Until you can get your houses rebuilt, must you not do what you can so as to give people something to get on with and thus keep them on the land? If you do not they will go from the land. Get the country on its legs first. Of course control is necessary—we all 796 know that—but decontrol as far as you possibly can and delegate powers in order to remove this complete stagnation. And it is stagnation. Work on rural housing in my county has absolutely stopped since there has been such a shortage of wood. We cannot get on, and I presume that the situation elsewhere is very much the same.
I trust that His Majesty's Government will not think me impertinent—that is the last thing I would wish to be—if I say that at one time I was almost persuaded that their Party had some honest intentions towards the welfare of the country as a whole, and that they had some justice and commonsense, withal, within their policy. I formed this opinion through serving with, and under, a member of their Party—one of the most respected men in Scotland today. What impressed me almost more than anything else was that in those days, Country came first and Party second. I will say nothing more, but leave noble Lords to make what deductions they like from that last remark.
But I can honestly and fearlessly say that, as far as the people of my part of the country are concerned, they are utterly miserable from top to bottom. The fact that the top section is unhappy will not, I suppose, cause a great deal of concern to His Majesty's Government. They were always quite honest about their intention to make that section unhappy. But in my country we do not have top and bottom strata in this way. We judge men by how they perform their jobs. Even if those in the top section are miserable what I cannot understand is why it is that the very people whom noble Lords claim to represent are every bit just as unhappy. That surely cannot be a matter of congratulation to the noble Lords. So for the present the one thing we can do is to hope and pray that those who are in power will have enough honesty in their make-up to wish to listen to the warnings and advice of experts and not to continue to let the country go as fast as it can to rack and ruin by reason of His Majesty's Government's strict adherence to unsound fetishes and unpractical theories. To conclude, I would humbly give three counsels all beginning with "d." First, decontrol as far as possible; second, decentralize and delegate powers; and, third, do not poke the Government finger into intricate machinery but let nature deal with the matter as far as possible.
§ 4.14 p.m.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, whilst I rise with great trepidation and do not wish to weary your Lordships by asking you to listen for long to one so inexperienced in speaking as myself, I would like to support and enlarge upon, if I may, one or two of the points which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and others have made. First, I would like to stress once again that if our agricultural industry at home is to last and be maintained and expanded—which obviously it must do if we are to feed our people adequately in the ensuing difficult year—then the most important part of the industry is going to be the labour force. If this labour force is to be maintained it is clear that we must house it properly. As the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, has told us so colourfully, the housing situation in urban and industrial areas is somewhat different to that obtaining in our rural areas. In the rural areas we have a large number of oldish cottages, and numbers of large and substantial buildings of brick and stone. I would suggest to His Majesty's Government that these are the very things that should be used. Many of them are very strong and they could easily and comparatively cheaply be adapted by small builders, that is to say by builders who are not employed by the local authorities because their undertakings are too small to carry out big housing schemes. If they were employed on this work the labour force required for new housing schemes would not be depleted.
In my own area, I have a pair of old cottages which, if we could get the necessary licences, could be adapted up to the standards required by the local authority at an approximate cost of £450 by a small builder who is not employed by any of the local authorities, whereas to build a new pair of cottages—even if we could get the requisite licences, etc.—would cost at least £2,500, if not more. Moreover, to erect and complete new cottages would take a great deal more time than would be required to adapt older cottages of the kind of which I have spoken. If I may be allowed to mention it, there is a financial side to the question of these cottages. I suggest to His Majesty's Government that, if the necessary accommodation is to be provided—and the landlords are fully prepared to carry their full part of the burden—there 798 must be a rent commensurate with the capital outlay. In the days when cottage rents were about 3s. a week, that was a rate commensurate with the wage earned by the agricultural wage-earner of the time. I am prepared to say that at their present rate of wages they would be willing and able to pay a reasonably higher rent for a decent house, equipped, of course, with such amenities as a bath, electric light, w.c., a decent kitchen and cooking arrangements. They would be prepared to pay more, and to, pay a rent which would pay for the repairs and the building of these houses.
Finally, I would like to say that we of this generation are merely trustees for the future. It is our bounden duty to look after the historic beauty of our villages and of our countryside and not to go haywire and build a lot of houses in such a way that another generation, when things have settled down, wall curse us for having done sc. I submit that His Majesty's Government could produce a lot of adequate houses very quickly and cheaply and still safeguard the beauty of our countryside by following out the suggestions which I have made. Farmers are crying out for labour, and I suggest that His Majesty's Government will be crying out for food. This cry, equally, can be answered if we only provide the necessary houses—and do it in the best and quickest was—for the farm labourers. We have got to remember that potential labourers are coming out of the Services now and will continue to come out for many years to come. Many ex-Service men have not been trained in any job at all and, therefore, they are prepared not necessarily to go back to their old trade but to enter upon a new one, and many of them are prepared to go to the country and work on the land. But, many of them—even those who originally came from rural districts—are married to girls from urban areas. These people, quite naturally, are not willing to go and live in something which is little more than a hovel, and you cannot blame them.
If only His Majesty's Government would allow us to repair and make good these cottages and to convert and recondition some of the substantial buildings to which I have referred—like large blocks of stables, for example—then we shall get the labour force that is needed on the land. It is work which, as I have tried to point out, can be done cheaply and 799 efficiently. I am sure that we can accomplish the task if we tackle it in the way in which I have attempted, very badly I am afraid, to point out, and which other noble Lords have put with much greater eloquence.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships would wish me to express on your behalf congratulations to the noble Earl who has just sat down after making his first contribution to our debates. You will agree that it was a most eloquent speech. The noble Earl, I am confident, will carry on the traditions of his noble father and we shall hope to hear him very often in this House. I rise to support my noble friend Earl De La Warr in his Motion. I do so because I feel that this matter is a very serious one, and one which must cause alarm in all parts of this House. I come from East Anglia, where we are now engaged in the sugar beet harvest, and I think it extremely doubtful whether we shall get it in. If we do, it will be at the expense of other work. Much of the wheat is not in yet. Much of what has been got in has been muddled in, and will be ploughed out. Much of the ploughing is still undone. Yards are still full of muck; ditches cannot be touched, and are rapidly going back to the state in which they were in 1938. If that is the case this year, it is likely to be worse next year.
I would like to draw the attention of His Majesty's Government to the difficulties in which the war agriculture committees will find themselves. They act as agents for the Government, and they have issued, and are issuing, orders to the farmers of their respective counties to grow sugar beet. The farmers are going to them to say: "We have this order; this is all the labour we have. If we grow this sugar beet, we look to you to provide the labour to lift it." That places the committees in a very difficult position. It costs approximately £35 an acre to produce sugar beet. If a farmer has ten acres of beet left in the ground, and he has warned the agriculture committee of the state of affairs, it is quite clear that the committee have a moral obligation to provide him with the necessary labour. I wonder a little, too, what is the legal position with regard to that, because His Majesty's Judges have not shown any great friendship for the dictatorial powers 800 possessed by agriculture committees. I am a little anxious about the position there.
Taking a longer view, the position is equally serious—for this reason. The young men are not going into agriculture; or at least, very few of them. And why? The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has indicated housing and amenities as two reasons. They are strong factors, but are they the only factors? In my view, they are not. I doubt if they are even the most important factors. When we talk about agriculture, and when people write about it, they are a little apt to shut their eyes to disagreeable facts. I am going to suggest a disagreeable fact—that is, that there are certain very unpleasant and dirty duties connected with agriculture, such as muck-spreading, while lifting sugar beet and mangels is a hard, unpleasant and dirty task. I never see a party of land girls engaged in pulling up sugar beet in weather like we are now having but I say to myself that such things should not be.
When the man who has been engaged all the morning on that task sits down—if he is lucky—in a shed and eats his sandwiches of bread and cheese, he must make some comparisons with the lot of, perhaps, a brother, or a cousin, who is employed in a big firm, or in a Government Department, who works a 37½-hour week, sitting in a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned room, getting a hot meal in the middle of the day—off the ration—and once an hour having a cup of sweetened tea brought to him. When the man makes that comparison does he not say—and does his wife not say even more—"We will spare no effort to see that our children take that path, rather than the one we have followed"?
What is the answer? There is only one answer. It has been touched upon already. It is mechanization. Although our engineers seem to show more skill, and almost more determination, in producing weapons of destruction than in introducing engines of production, combines, tractors, manure distributors and beet-lifters are coming off the stocks in large numbers. But—and there is always a "but" nowadays—the farmer cannot have them. If they are produced in this country, they are going abroad. A man came to our agriculture committee the other day with the complaint that a Ford-son tractor which he had ordered six 801 months ago had not arrived, but to his knowledge there were 3,000 such tractors standing at Dagenham for export, and going rusty as they stood, I cannot vouch for that, but the man is a trustworthy man, and I think there must be something in it. On the other hand, if the machinery is made abroad it is not imported, either because we have not the dollar exchange or because of the overriding claims of gangster films.
I come for a moment to the question of cottages. In my part of the world cottages are going up, although not as fast, of course, as the promises of politicians would have indicated. But when you reach my age you never expect they will. The cottages are, nevertheless, going up. Are the agricultural workers going to live in them? Many cottages have already been built, but I have known only two agricultural workers to go into such cottages; and those two changed their occupation within two months. I would ask, in all seriousness, what steps are being taken to see that agricultural workers do go into these cottages? That is a question which I think should be answered. To me, it looks as if the much-abused tied cottage is about the only cottage which is to be provided for agricultural workers. I have just put up two of these cottages, and I think it somewhat of an achievement in face of the immense obstacles placed in my way. But the roof is on and I congratulate myself. I would point out to your Lordships, however, that these two cottages have set me back, for the rest of my life and a lot longer, £60 every year. Why have I done that? Why have I saddled myself with that financial burden? Why have other people done the same? For one reason, and one reason only; we know that without an irreducible minimum of tied cottages agriculture, and more especially animal husbandry, cannot be carried on. That is why these tied cottages are being built.
Meanwhile, farm buildings, farm houses, and the ordinary tied cottages—if you like—of the countryside are deteriorating, month by month and year by year. Some of the houses are good, some moderate, and some bad. Whatever their condition, they are all getting worse; and that is not only because of the scrapping of the Act which covers reconditioning. There are other causes. I believe that your Lordships' House is a privileged House. I have a matter of 802 which I wish to unburden myself. They say that confession is good for the soul, and I propose to confess one thing to your Lordships. Last summer I committed a crime! It was a heinous crime! I am duly ashamed of it. This is what it was. In August of last year we had a thunderstorm and lightning struck the cottage occupied by my shepherd. What made it worse was that it was a tied cottage. Fourteen tiles were knocked off. I sent my carpenter to replace those tiles. I know that that is a heinous crime! I had not appreciated—and possibly not all your Lordships will appreciate—that that made me liable to a fine of £5,000 and seven years penal servitude. Your Lordships laugh. But when you come to my age, of seventy, seven years penal servitude is not a thing at which to laugh. I mention this matter to illustrate the difficulties with which those people who wish to build houses are faced. Indeed, I think it has more significance than that. It is quite clear that such a measure has brought His Majesty's law into derision, and is apt to bring it into contempt. If that is so, that is not a thing at which to laugh. It is a very serious matter.
We had in this House the other day a debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Templewood in which was described the great increase of crime which has taken place in this country. It was a very good debate. I was, however, astonished at one thing, and that was that no one made reference to the vast number of new crimes in the last six years which one can commit. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that, if one is a landowner and a farmer, it is almost impossible to go through twelve months without committing some sort of crime, even if it be not quite such a heinous one as that which I have so brazenly admitted. I would say to the noble Earl who is going to reply on behalf of His Majesty's Government that surely the really important thing now is to improve the housing accommodation of our rural population, whether the houses be old houses or new houses. That is more important than sticking pins into unfortunate landowners merely because they are landowners. I am not sure that it is not more important than making an experiment in a new ideology. I would humbly beg of His Majesty's Government to put first things first, and to get on, first and foremost, with the provision of new and 803 better accommodation for those men of our country who are engaged in producing food for you and for me.
§ 4.35 p.m.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, I was expecting to speak a little later, but apparently the noble Earl opposite desires to speak after me. I rise to support the Motion of my noble friend Earl De La Warr. In his speech he mentioned—and I do not think with undue emphases the very serious situation which confronts the agricultural industry and, through the agricultural industry, the whole country. Amongst other things, he spoke of the sense of impending doom to be found among farmers. I think he is right in saying that, although I do not know why there should be that feeling of impending doom, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, mentioned, the price-fixing machinery seems to be on a fairly stable basis, and farmers should not be unduly worried on account of the fear that they will not get an adequate price for their produce. However, I think that there are other causes which may make them feel that doom is approaching.
The first, of course, lies in past history. Farmers have never forgotten the betrayal after the 1914–18 war. The second cause is the continued depression caused by the endless stream of forms which still come the way of farmers, which they have to fill in, and which so rarely produce any result in return for their labour. If you want machinery, you have to fill in forms. If you want feeding-stuffs, you have to fill in forms, or produce coupons, and so often all this produces no adequate result. Another question—and this perhaps is the main reason for their feeling of impending doom—is the difficulties with regard to labour. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said that there did not seem to be any reason why the present level of agricultural output should not be maintained, and he even suggested that there might be a modest increase. There is no doubt in the minds of all those who know our countryside, and who have had close experience of it during the war, that potentially there is still a very large increase in output in agriculture if the land is properly managed.
In passing, might I say that I wish to take up my noble friend, Lord Savile, on 804 one point. We all enjoyed the noble Lord's speech, and we all hope to hear him speak again. But he did quote a widely-held opinion amongst farmers—and I think he quoted it with approval—that what he called artificial fertilizers were harmful to the land. That was noted with approval by a number of noble Lords on this side of the House, if one may judge by their applause. As Chairman of Rothamsted, which is the home of the mineral fertilizer, I would state that there is nothing very artificial about it. I must say that I think that that attitude of mind is doing a great deal of harm to the agricultural industry. As was proved over and over again during the war, the mineral fertilizer properly used—and I do not decry the necessity for humus in our soil—can make a very great contribution to increasing agricultural production. If the use of mineral fertilizers is decried by any one, a great deal of harm will be done to the agricultural industry and, as a consequence, to the country.
There is plenty of room for increased output, but the labour problem is the one which is very seriously exercising the farmer's mind. We have been able to manage by one shift and another during the war, but the only basis of a satisfactory labour position in the country is a permanent resident labour population in the rural areas. We cannot rely, and shall not be able to rely for very much longer, on prisoners of war, the Land Army, voluntary land clubs, and all those other shifts with which we have made do in the difficult years during the war. Certain areas which were grass before the war—and I know some of them—are now producing a great deal more of different types of agricultural produce from what they were before the war. I can mention to your Lordships one area in Somerset through which I have passed several times, where the land can produce, and has produced, very good crops and which was indifferent grass before the war. Now one can motor across that vale and see derelict farm buildings and derelict cottages to the right and left. Those areas need more houses. Other areas probably do not need new houses to the same extent, because besides getting new labour there is another method of improving the labour situation, and that is to increase the output per man. That can be done largely through the increased use of labour-saving machinery.
805 I could make a long speech about machinery, but I do no.: intend to do so. I very much appreciated what the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, said about the mucky jobs one has to do on the farm. I do know that the Agricultural Machinery Institute has been working hard, in conjunction with the agricultural machinery manufacturers, to try and devise machines which will relieve the farm labourer of those burdens. But the development of new machinery takes time, and I cannot see an output of labour-saving machinery of the type which will save those works of drudgery in time to save the situation in our countryside. We must, however, look forward. I think this country, so far as farming is concerned, is more highly mechanized than any other country in the world, not excepting the United States of America. A high degree of mechanization requires a high degree of skill in the worker on the farm. It is those more highly skilled men that we want to attract to our farms in order to make use of the machinery we have got now and the even more complicated machinery that may be found on our farms in the comparatively near future.
You are not going to get the highly skilled men to come to live in the country unless you provide them with a house which is not only a roof and four walls but which has the amenities which people would expect to find in the towns. That is the real point. It is not only new houses that we want. We want to be able to give to the existing workers, and to the future workers who may be living in existing houses, the same amenities as those which attract them and their wives to the towns. I do not know how many of your Lordships realize what an enormous comfort to the housewife an electric iron is, for instance, and how extremely economical it is for a family to have a refrigerator. I know, as the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, knows, that such things as electric refrigerators, and so on, are being kept back for the prefabricated houses which are going up in the towns. If only some of those amenities of the towns could be released for use in the country, it would make a great deal of difference not only to the type of man but to the number of men we could attract to the countryside.
806 Houses in the countryside are hardly going up at all. I know it is the policy of His Majesty's Government to rely upon the local authorities to provide the necessary houses, but there is no obligation upon the local authorities to ensure that those houses are used for rural or agricultural workers. The speed at which those houses are going up—or rather the lack of speed at which those houses are going up—is accounted for by a number of things, but mostly by regulations emanating from Whitehall. It may be of interest to your Lordships to know that I was talking to a member or my own rural district council the other day. That council had negotiated the purchase of a site for four houses in a village where I owned the land. I said to him: "How are you getting on with those houses? So far as I can see, nothing has happened." I think they put up four yellow flags on one day, but they took them down the next. He said: "We are going out to tender." I said: "Then they will soon commence building?" He replied: "No. You see, the tenders are sure to be above the figure that is fixed, and we shall then have to spend weeks and months going through that tender, nail by nail, seeing where we can cut down." That regulation emanating from Whitehall about a £1,200 or £1,300 house is designed to deal with large housing schemes and mass production; it is not designed to deal with four houses here and two houses there in country districts. There should be some relaxation of that regulation if houses built by rural districts are to go up in our countryside.
Moreover, the private owner finds it almost impossible to build a house himself. I shall have to have a word with my noble friend Lord Cranworth on how he got two tied houses built recently, because I am certain he must have committed an even greater offence than he has confessed to. It is almost impossible for the small country builder to tender with any likelihood of success, because, as a general rule, when local authorities go out to tender they go to the bigger builders and with the bigger schemes. The private landowner cannot go to tender, because he is not allowed to build a house. If there were some relaxation, and permission were given to private landowners to build houses—and there are any number of private landowners who wish to build houses to let to agricultural workers 807 —they would find these small builders and, possibly with a certain amount of assistance from their own estate staff, they would build those houses, they would build them well, and the agricultural worker would be housed. There are even possibilities that if material could be made available, the estate staffs on some of the larger estates could build the houses.
I may tell your Lordships that I wanted to build four cottages as a beginning. I had a builder who was prepared to build them, and I was prepared to spend the money. That project has been postponed indefinitely because the rural district council have outrun the four to one ratio. They have outrun it rather badly, so I am not likely to get my licence to build for quite a time, particularly as the council-built houses have not begun to go up. I am also converting what was my private bothy into a number of houses. I have only one bricklayer and his mate on my estate, but I could get a licence to do this conversion only on condition that I engaged no labour outside my own estate. So in order to get houses I am having to neglect repair work on my estate. I am glad to say that the bricklayer and his mate are men of considerable public spirit and, knowing the situation, they have voluntarily been working overtime, including Saturday afternoons, for, I think, seven or eight weeks on end.
There is still a potentiality for building in the country districts if some of these restrictions, particularly those on materials, could be relaxed, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will look into it with the greatest care in order to see how it can be done and to take the necessary action. It has been said that 1948 will be an acute year as far as the food problem is concerned. I think it is only a matter of degree. Next year it is going, to be acute, but in 1948 it is going to be far worse, unless we get something moving soon. Unless the towns are prepared to give up a little to the country, they will soon see their mistake when they find themselves on very short rations.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON)
My Lords, I should like first of all to congratulate very warmly the noble Lord, Lord Savile, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, on their extremely interesting and excellent maiden 808 speeches. I hope that they will often take part in our debates. I understand that to-day we are to have four maiden speeches, and I should think that that is very nearly a record for your Lordships' House. It is particularly interesting to me because the fact that four noble Lords have chosen agriculture as the subject on which to make their first speeches shows that your Lordships generally are realizing how important this industry is to this country and how important it will be in the years ahead.
In regard to the noble Earl's Motion, may I say that I thought the speech with which he opened the debate was an extremely powerful one. I should like to say quite frankly that the Government accept his Motion and agree with it. The object of maximum agricultural production at home, immediately and for some years ahead, is accepted by His Majesty's Government as being in the interests of the consumers, and as vital in regard to the question of foreign exchange. We must grow food; we must make our agricultural industry as productive and as efficient as it possibly can be made. Therefore on those points there is, I think, no real difference between your Lordships on that side of the House and the noble Lords who sit on these Benches. During the war farmers increased their net output by something like thirty per cent. in value, and I think that was a magnificent achievement.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
In fixed money value. The truth, however, is that there is no possibility of a further large expansion unless we extend agriculture on to unsuitable land or make calls on materials and labour (which are very scarce) and on fertilizers and machinery which would be out of all proportion to the expected benefits we should obtain thereby. Your Lordships must realize that agriculture, important though it is, is only one unit in the national economy. We have continually to balance the claims of this very important problem of food production against the claims of housing and the building up of our export trade, without which we should have very little chance of existing. It is doubtful whether we could expand our agriculture very largely without regimenting farmers and workers to a degree which would, I think, 809 be utterly impracticable in these days of peace. Nevertheless we are, on the whole, maintaining the same level of production as was achieved during the war. There have been acute shortages of supplies in some directions, and we have also, as your Lordships know, been extremely unfortunate in the weather this year.
One of the greatest difficulties with which we are faced is the shortage of feeding stuffs. The Government realize only too well the immense difficulties which are caused to farmers by this shortage, and they have been taking all possible steps to obtain additional supplies. In view of the general world shortage this has not been an easy task, but I am very glad to be able to announce to your Lordships that, as a result of the efforts which have been made, certain purchases of cereals, mainly milling offals, have now been made, which will allow further small improvements to be made in the ration scales for certain classes of breeding stock from January 1 onwards. Part will be needed for dairy cows, but we have also been able to increase the ration for chick rearing from one unit per 120 birds kept on June 4 last to one unit per 80 birds. Farrowing sows will have six units instead of five, and the monthly allowance for calf food will be restored to a half unit for each calf up to six months old. Details of these increases are being issued to the Press to-day.
We regard the shortage of labour as one of our fundamental problems. His Majesty's Government are fully aware of the importance of this question in relation to food production, and we do not underrate the absolute necessity of doing everything we can to attract labour to the land, and to ensure, so far as possible, that supplies of labour will be available for next year's harvest—and the harvest of future years. As a first step, we must create confidence and stability in the industry and we must see that proper remuneration and proper living standards are assured both to the workers and to the farmers, so that recruits will be attracted to the industry. At the same time everything possible must be done to increase the number of houses in rural areas. On that score there is no disagreement between the two sides of the House.
I want to deal with labour first. So far as 1947 is concerned, there has been, I am glad to say, a very welcome increase in the number of regular male workers in 810 the industry. The present number is a good 40,000 higher than in the middle of 1945 and is, in fact, the highest since 1936. This increase in the number of regular workers is mostly due to the release of former agricultural workers from the Forces, including those released under the special Class B release arrangements made by the Government for agricultural workers. Earlier in this year Class B release was offered to all agricultural workers in the Services who had performed more than one year's service, and His Majesty's Government are continuing to defer, at any rate for 1947, workers in the main agricultural occupations. These additions to the strength of the regular labour force of the industry will need to be supplemented during 1947 in view of the very heavy cropping programme which the industry is being asked to undertake. It will be necessary to keep as much as we can of the auxiliary labour which we have had in 1946. It is also hoped to keep the Women's Land Army in being for a further period. Inevitably, with the end of the war, there was an exodus from the Land Army. Its strength is now about 30,000, but it contains very many of the most experienced women who have been long on the land. We also hope that new recruits will continue to enrol, so that the Land Army can be maintained at a reasonable strength.
In recent years it has been necessary to use a great deal of prisoner of war labour. The German prisoners are now beginning to be repatriated steadily, month by month, but it is expected that there will be large numbers available next year for the harvest, and food production will have a high claim when the men are allocated between different Departments. Consideration is now being given by the agricultural industry to the employment of the Polish Resettlement Corps. The employment of these men is being discussed with a number of industries, and it is hoped that in view of the shortage of agricultural labour a useful contribution can be made by the Poles, a fair proportion of whom we find have had agricultural experience of some kind or another.
Volunteer and school camps will continue, and attention is being given to the question of making conditions at the camps as attractive as possible. Every effort will be made by His Majesty's Government, in conjunction with the two sides of the industry, to recruit labour for 811 seasonal pressure. Special attention is being given to this, particularly with regard to the possibility of recruiting unemployed men to work in agriculture. There is one point I should like to make clear. It is, of course, quite impossible for His Majesty's Government to give specific guarantees of certain numbers of men who will be available on certain days. That could not possibly be done. The Government, however, do feel confident that it will be possible to get through the 1947 production programme. They will do everything within their power to see that enough labour is available to deal with the crops which farmers have been asked or directed to grow. In their view, the farmers have no need to be frightened of planting the acreages which they have been asked to grow because of fears concerning the supply of labour next harvest time.
With regard to 1948, which has been mentioned by several noble Lords as a possible critical year, the requirements for labour will depend upon the production programme which has not yet been settled; it is still under discussion.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Could the noble Earl give us any idea when we shall hear something about the programme?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I cannot give a definite date as to that, but it is being considered. We obviously cannot forecast requirements for labour until we have considered what the programme will be.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Could the noble Earl give us some assurance that his Ministry will not wait until after sowing time, as last year?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I think I can give the noble Earl that assurance. To continue, the Government's principal aim is to create such conditions as will encourage the recruitment of the necessary labour by normal means. Such questions as wages structure and apprenticeship schemes are already being examined by the industry. I think a very important step forward is being taken in the form of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Bill, which transfers permanently to the Agricultural Wages Board the power of fixing minimum wages, and extends the powers of the Board in such matters as holidays-with-pay and so forth. The Government's hope is that the various long-term 812 measures which are in action, or in contemplation, will result in a steady increase in the volume of labour. If in the next year or two a very high level of food crop acreages continues to be required, special arrangements of some kind or another will no doubt be necessary.
My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is of course vitally concerned with the provision of rural housing, and also with amenities in the rural areas, which in a way I think are just as important. This is fundamental to the building up of our rural population, and for securing the labour needed for postwar food production. The Departmental responsibility for this is, as your Lordships know, shared between different Departments; it is on a sort of national basis. The Ministry of Health is in charge of the housing programme, and the rural schools are under the Minister of Education, and so on. However, I can assure your Lordships that progress is being made on all sides, and substantial progress is being made by the rural district councils in the planning and building of houses. As your Lordships know, subsidies are available at a special rate in respect of houses for agricultural workers and progress is being made in the erection of the Airey House, which I think is particularly suitable for agricultural and country needs.
The latest figures I have been given are for October 31, 1946, and they show that in general the number of permanent houses in rural areas for which sites have been agreed, the numbers actually started and the number completed on October 31, compare not unfavourably with the respective numbers in urban areas. In figures the total number of houses begun by local authorities or licensed to be built privately in rural areas was 38,838, and the total number completed 7,216. I think it can be reasonably assumed that the bulk of the 39,000 houses begun by rural district councils or licensed for private building on October 31, 1946, will be completed by the harvest of 1947. They will, of course, be in addition to the 7,200 already completed. Therefore, it would not be, I suggest, unduly optimistic to hope that in spite of the enormous difficulties which everybody admits, the number of houses completed in the first two years of peace will exceed the average increase for the inter-war years, which was roughly 12,500.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
Would the noble Earl tell us how many agricultural labourers will be allocated for these houses and actually live in them?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I was just corning to that. It is a point which is particularly pertinent to this debate. We do not know exactly the proportion of houses built by rural district councils which are let to workers, but we have obtained figures for nine typical rural districts which give an indication of what is happening. It is, of course, only a small cross-section, but it perhaps gives an indication of the proportion. In these nine typical rural 'districts 125 houses out of a total of 215 actually received the agricultural subsidy. That of course means that agricultural workers have actually gone into them. Whether that will be the same proportion all over the country we cannot say, but it does, I think, give a fair indication, which is not altogether unsatisfactory. Of course, as more information comes in we will obtain a much more complete picture of what is happening.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
Would the noble Earl tell us whether there is any means of assuring that the houses which have received the agricultural subsidy remain in agricultural occupation?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
The only thing we can say is that as soon as they are not occupied by agricultural workers, the subsidy will be withdrawn. That is the only inducement, but I think it is a very strong inducement. Quite apart from these houses built in rural areas by the rural district councils, it can be assumed that a reasonable proportion of houses built privately will go to agricultural workers. I think the privately-built cottages are finding their way to agricultural workers. I should like to say that adequate machinery exists for consultation, where necessary, between the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Health, and the local authorities to ensure that proper consideration is given to the needs of agriculture in the licensing of house building. I ought to point out here that the rural building resources cannot be wholly mobilized for house building without endangering essential work in the rebuilding or repairing of farm buildings. In other words, we cannot put the whole labour force on to houses. We must allow a certain proportion to repair 814 farm buildings which are, in some cases, in an exceedingly dilapidated and bad condition.
In regard to water supplies, a point which has also 'been mentioned, I should like to say that plans made by local authorities under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944, are now being put into effect on an increasing scale. This is very important as in 1943 approximately 740,000 houses in rural districts in England and Wales were without a supply of piped water under pressure into or on to the house. His Majesty's Government are encouraging the promotion by local authorities of schemes for the provision of piped water supplies to all sizable groups of houses in rural areas where this is practicable at reasonable cost. Substantial grants are made towards the cost of this work from the Exchequer under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944, and from county councils. Applications for grants have already been received from local authorities in England and Wales in respect of schemes estimated to cost some 7,400,000, and other schemes are known to be in course of preparation. The Government are encouraging local authorities to bring these schemes as quickly as possible to the stage at which tenders may be invited, so that work on them can be put in hand as far as labour and materials are available. Since January of this year, authority has been given for the commencement of 'work for the provision of water supply in rural areas to the value of nearly £1,000,000.
Under the grant-aided scheme for farm water supplies, for which my right: honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is responsible, 4,667 schemes were approved in the ten months from January to October, 1946, at a cost of £1,057,000. The average of 467 schemes per month approved this year compares with an average of 443 schemes in 1945, and it is anticipated that as the main extensions are made in rural areas by the local authorities and water undertakers, many more farmers will undertake farm water supply schemes. Under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1944, the connexion of farmhouses and cottages to all suitable farm water supply systems is encouraged by means of grant-aid given by His Majesty's Government. This provision is intended to dr al with the more isolated dwellings which will not normally 815 be served by the schemes of main extension carried out by local authorities and water undertakers. Particulars as to the numbers of dwellings connected to farm water systems are not available, but in April last certain war-time restrictions were removed and the number of isolated dwellings provided with piped water has increased.
Electricity, as several noble Lords have suggested, is extremely important, not only in the use of electric irons but in cooking and in various other ways. It is a vital need of the countryside. The Government have received and discussed the programme agreed with the National Farmers' Union and the supply companies for the extension of electricity in rural areas. They are trying to get over the difficulties created by the very great shortage of generating capacity and the supply of poles, and other matters. The proposal to bring the electricity industry under national ownership will, I am sure, have an important effect on these plans. The same may be said with regard to the inland transport services. Generally, the Government policy regarding housing, water supplies, electricity, transport, education and other services and amenities, is on a national basis; but it is adapted where necessary to meet the special requirements of rural areas. There is always the problem of planning a big programme, and mobilizing our resources, and yet being careful to try and adapt ourselves to meet the specialized rural needs of which the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, told us of in his part of the world.
Finally, and I am afraid I have kept the House rather a long time, I should like to assure your Lordships again that His Majesty's Government do fully realize the vital importance and the urgency of this question of food production, and the necessity to produce as much as we possibly can. Moreover, we are very glad indeed that both your Lordships' House and the people outside in the country are beginning to realize the importance of this. I think that only by this can we get that co-operation which we so badly need.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
Before the noble Lord sits down might I ask him a question. First of all, he mentioned the supply of labour. Have the Government gone at all into the question of asking for volunteer German labour to remain?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
That has been suggested and is still under discussion. It might be a useful solution.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
I did not quite hear what the noble Lord said on a point I had raised. He did not answer my point about the reconditioning of houses. He left it entirely alone. I know it is very difficult for the noble Lord because he comes from England. I would like sometimes to have someone representing Scotland to answer these questions. We never get a noble Lord from Scotland to answer unless it is a specific question, and I think it is not out of place to have someone from Scotland. I tried to make it clear in my speech that because of the limit of £1,200 most of us were prevented from building in isolated areas. Could we not get some help to recondition our houses until such time as we can get labour and 'materials to build new houses?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
The noble Earl will know that the question of housing is one for the Department of the Minister of Health.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I will bring it to the notice of my right honourable friend and see if something can be done.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
This is my last question. You mentioned the water schemes. Does the noble Lord know that at present, as the scheme is laid down, you are not allowed to get a grant for a water scheme for a shepherd's cottage some considerable way away from your farm unless it is connected to the same water supply as the farmhouse. That means to say, if you have a shepherd running a flock for a farmer, you cannot get a grant because he is some distance away and it is not connected with the main farmhouse scheme. Will the noble Lord look into this?
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, so many of your Lordships have a great experience of agriculture that I intervene in this debate with great timidity, and I hope your Lordships will show your traditional kindness to one who speaks in this House for the first time. For those of 817 us who live in the country one of the greatest problems we have to face is the shortage of houses, and consequently, the shortage of labour. His Majesty's Government are to be congratulated on introducing a system of guaranteed prices, but that will be of no use if the crops for which those prices are paid are not going to be harvested. In the county in which I live, most of the farmers are anxious to do everything in their power to grow as much food as they can in these critical times. The answer almost always given when officials of the war agricultural executive committees go round and ask for extra acreage of wheat, is that they are prepared to do it if sufficient labour can be guaranteed for the 1947 harvest. When it is realized that in my own county 40 per cent. of the total labour force is prisoner-of-war labour and that at the present rate of repatriation only 50 per cent. of this will be in England in 1947, it can be seen that the position is indeed serious.
Obviously, in the long run, the solution is not foreign labour, whether German labour or Polish labour. We have got to make work on the land sufficiently attractive; to see that it is sufficiently well paid and well housed to bring in the best type of men. Far and away the most important of these things at the moment is good housing. It is the common experience that if you have a cottage you can get labour. If you have not, you cannot. I should like to see more encouragement given to landlords and to owner-occupiers to build their own cottages, and the restoration of the £100 grant for rehabilitation, At the moment, as you know, if a landlord is lucky enough to get a permit to put up a cottage he is entitled to a maximum grant of £15 a year for forty years on condition that he does not tie the cottage. I do not think that any of your Lordships would claim that that is a princely sum. Indeed when the landlord discovers that he has not got to tie the cottage it may deter him from building.
I cannot quite understand the purport of this. I think that it is meant to act in favour of the tenant. In point of fact, it does not. Supposing a landlord puts up a cottage, as it would not be a tied cottage and would be modern and up-to-date, instead of charging the usual rent of 3s. a week, or as in some counties 5s. or 6s. a week, he would be entitled to charge 818 10s. a week and rates. Now supposing the tenant left the farmer's employment. Naturally, the farmer would do everything in his power to get the cottage back. He would apply to the war agricultural executive committee for a certificate of essentiality. As the cottage would not have been built if it had not been essential for the proper working of the holding the Rent Act Panel would be more or less bound to give him that certificate. Armed with that, he goes to the County Court Judge who, for the same reason, more or less, is bound to make an order. Therefore, this regulation may deter a landlord from building and may act unfairly against the tenant who may have to pay up to 5s. a week for the privilege of interviewing the Rent Act Panel who are, by their terms of reference, bound to find against him.
Now on the question of rehabilitation. In some quarters, I feel that it is considered that four walls and a roof make a good enough house for an agricultural worker. That is the effect of the removal of the £100 grant and of the stringent regulations sent round by the Ministry of Health about modernization and repair of existing cottages. In these days ex-Service men are not prepared to live in houses without water sanitation and a lot of those other amenities which they can find in dwellings in the towns. May I give an instance? On a farm that I know in the Midlands there were four exceedingly bad tied cottages. One after another the tenants left and the farmer applied to his landlord to see what could be done to put the cottages in repair. The landlord got out a scheme whereby at a cost of £550 the four cottages could be turned into two cottages equipped with water, light and so on. As a direct result of thaf transformation two ex-Service men and their wives are now living in those cottages. Those men had previously refused jobs there owing to poor accommodation. If it is agreed that rural housing must be satisfactory in order to attract labour, by far the easiest way to ensure that is rehabilitation, with or without a grant. It will, incidentally, save a great deal of material. If the Government could see their way to restore a grant of some sort, it would be widely welcomed. We are not all like a farmer I visited the other day. He is laying water on to his farm and I asked him if he was taking advantage of the 50 per cent. grant. He replied: "I 819 am too old for that sort of silly monkey trick."
Another point which sometimes worries me—but I do not quite see what can be done—is in regard to the large extensions which are being carried out to existing factories in rural areas and in some cases the building of new ones. In my own area there is a factory now employing 300 people at an average wage of £7 for a five-day week. As the result of that many men who should be going back to work on the land are not doing so. And they are hardly likely to do so, faced with this competition. I think that something should be done about this but I do not quite know what.
Lastly, I should like to mention very briefly the agricultural training scheme for ex-Service men in which I am greatly interested. This is an excellent scheme and if it met with the success it deserves it should provide a very useful number of recruits for the industry. At the moment, entirely due in my opinion to the lack of publicity given to it in the Forces prior to the demobilization centre, this scheme is failing. There are great numbers of ex-Service men who have spent a considerable time in the Forces leading an open-air life and they are not prepared to go back to jobs in offices in towns. Those are the sort of people whom we should seek to attract to the agricultural industry. At the moment, only those who by persistence and good luck have found out about the scheme are coming before the Selection Boards. If the noble Earl could persuade the Service Ministers to do something in this connexion it might ensure the success of the scheme and bring a number of valuable recruits into an industry which is badly in need of them.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, it falls to my lot to add one more to the numerous speeches of congratulation which have been made to noble Lords upon maiden efforts this afternoon. I am sure your Lordships will agree that, in this case the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has not only kept up the high standard set by the maiden speeches which were delivered before his but has put before the House a most instructive and interesting series of points in a debate in which such points are badly needed. We all hope that he will speak to us many times again.
820 I feel somewhat less inclined to throw bouquets to the noble Earl on the Front Government Bench who has just sat down. It seemed to me that what I heard him say in effect was—I did not, of course, get his exact words—that it might be imprudent, incautious and unwise, and might strain the resources of the nation if we were to extend agriculture too far. That is the sort of incidental music, the kind of funeral march which we have heard throughout the last thirty years. It takes one back to Kettering and a great many places where people announced that you could do nothing about it. The reply to that is that you can do something about it if you will. The question which we have under discussion to-day is of vital importance and I think that the noble Earl who introduced this Motion deserves the congratulation of your Lordships for stressing the real urgency of the situation as it exists to-day. I could not help feeling that the noble Earl when he replied was seeking to make up a sum of trifles to obscure masterly inactivity, though there were certain points which we gladly welcome. After all, when you get a permit for a little more food for your farrowing sows it does not really do much good because you have to knock the little piggies on the head as you have not got food to give them.
Every speaker who has risen this afternoon has stressed the very great urgency of housing, and, like the noble Lord who has just sat down, I haw had a considerable amount to do in my own county with the training scheme for ex-Service men. Against all obstacles, as the noble Lord has suggested, they have made their way into the industry. I have not only to see them at interviews when they start, but I have to follow their careers, and I am particularly struck—except when doctors sand us epileptics because they think that agriculture is the only thing for them—by the really high quality of the men who have come into the industry. I am also certain that these men are some of many who would come in if the houses were there. You cannot get men of that quality, however, unless you have the houses for them.
I will not weary your Lordships on the housing question, except on one point. When the noble Earl said that 39,000 houses were being built, and he hoped a large number of them would be reserved for agriculture, I felt—and he himself has 821 admitted it—that it is a very small sanction in the reservation that once a man has got his house he does not change his occupation. When a rural or urban district council come to allocate houses in rural areas, they cannot at the moment, in all fairness, give more than a small fraction to the agricultural labourers. There has been an over-spread and dispersal of industry during the war, and it had begun even before the war. It is still going on to-day, and the rural areas are demanding houses for all sorts of new reasons that never existed before.
May I return to this question of private building? Knowing that this debate was to take place, I went to some trouble, in a district which I know well, to take a census of rural builders who would be in a position, without impinging on labour for the general public housing schemes of the councils to put up new houses quickly, within the next six months, provided that the materials were there. I found that a very reasonable estimate was one house per 1,000 acres. In the 1941 census, in Hampshire, we found that we urgently needed 1,000 new houses for the county. If we could have put up one house per 1,000 acres we should have met something like 55 per cent. of that demand through local private enterprise, the use of which would not impinge on public demands for labour or, to any great extent, for materials.
One other way of easing the situation greatly, is to put the older people in smaller houses than they often now occupy. Reconditioning can often make four cottages serve for four older people, whereas for a young couple with children you could provide only two houses from the four cottages. Reconditioning, as well as the planning of new houses of much smaller types for older people and for couples without children, is very important. I realize that it may not be the concern of the Department of the noble Earl who has spoken for the Government, but it is disappointing that the Hobhouse Committee reported on reconditioning and rural houses two months ago, and yet we have no inkling publicly of what that Report says. Again, we know that the Rural, Housing Subcommittee has reported in favour of reconditioning, and yet no apparent action is being taken on that Report so far.
822 At this late hour, I will not go into the position regarding machinery. There are one or two points about this matter that are very urgent. Not only are new machines which are badly needed in our own country being exported, but in certain instances parts which are vital to the machines still working are being exported. Not long ago I had a considerable amount of trouble with my cows, because parts of my milking machine were worn out. I found that my cows were getting bad udders and that I was losing milk, and so forth. I tried every means, both fair and foul, to obtain new parts. Finally, I was told by the fountain head of the firm concerned that there were thousands of new parts, but that they were all earmarked for Denmark. And milk is a first priority in this country! If we are to produce the food that is necessary in this country, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said, we shall have to reconsider the position of bulk imports, quality imports, high-cost imports against the import of finished products. It seems almost Gilbertian that we should pay Denmark very much more for producing pigs from the same sources of food that we ourselves should have available to us. I may be wrong, but in all the investigations I have made Denmark and ourselves seem to have access to the same raw materials for producing bacon and butter.
We must also remember that when we cut clown the number of chickens, and make it unprofitable to produce beef, pigs, or sheep, we are doing a double thing: we are losing not only our foreign exchange, by paying too much for the finished product, when we could produce it at home, but we are losing the skill in our own labourers. When I was on the Milk Board something like fifteen years ago, we destroyed the whole farmhouse cheese industry in Cheshire in one season by making it impossible for the industry to carry on. It never flourished afterwards. Exactly the same thing happens when you get rid of sheep. Your shepherds disappear; and you cannot create shepherds, or good pig men, or chicken men, in a day. Labour for livestock is always the hardest to obtain, and it is necessary that there should be the greatest care in nursing it. I is therefore folly not to make every effort that we can to import food for keeping pigs and chickens alive, and thereby keep the labourer, with his skill, on the land.
823 Finally, as my noble friend Earl De La Warr said, the position now is urgent, owing to the danger that farmers, through a very discouraging year, through certain indecisions of policy, and the fact that it will probably go abroad to-day that it would be unwise for this country to try and increase our food production very much above the war-time level—
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
May I correct the noble Earl, in case he has misunderstood what I said? What I tried to imply was that owing to the shortage of labour materials we could not increase production; not that we did not want to increase it.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
It may be that there is a tendency, with the minimum wage as it now stands and with the uncertainty of the future, for a farmer to drop production to the extent that he is no longer willing to employ the less efficient farm workers. It always happens that when the cost of labour and the prices received for food begin to balance, one tends to dispense with the less satisfactory and less skilled type of worker. The farm is a place which can employ all types, if it is made economically reasonable and possible to do so. The price we pay for our own home-grown food is a matter for internal adjustment. It has practically nothing to do with foreign currency, so we are not in difficulties there. We can, therefore, afford to take the minimum wage as the price for the less efficient labour, and put up the wages of the more highly-skilled man, and so have a satisfactory opening for the more highly-skilled people whom we want to attract to the land for the future. If we do not do that, we shall be faced with a very much depopulated countryside and be at the mercy of other nations because we cannot feed ourselves.
I looked at the figures which members of the public—probably nearly everyone in varying degrees—are willing to pay to the Government alone for luxuries. Since 1939 the increased taxes which the people of this country have been paying to the Government on tobacco, on indifferent beer, which is very much watered—I am not attacking the brewers; I am attacking the beer because it is being watered—and on gangster films, amount very nearly to £700,000,000 a year. The public are not paying the extra to the producer of tobacco, to the grower of barley or to the 824 brewer. They are paying it in taxes to the Government. At the same time the Government, in pursuance of their policy and that of their predecessors, have been paying out to the tune of half that sum in subsidies to the consumers to keep down the prices of food. It is a curious state of topsy-turviness which I think we must face sooner or later. If we want food more than luxuries, if one is to live rather than to have amenities—and we must live before we have amenities—then we must face a complete readjustment of our values. As a nation we shall not be capable of independence if, through a shortage of foreign exchange, we are always forced to look somewhere else for food which we have not the money to buy.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD AMHERST OF HACKNEY
My Lords, I shall be as brief as possible, because there are still other noble Lords who wish to speak in this debate. There is, however, one question which I wish to ask, and it is whether we are not exporting too great a proportion of our production of agricultural machinery. During the first ten months of this year we have exported over 18,000 tons of tractors alone. Assuming that each tractor weighs about 1½tons, that is the equivalent of 12,000 tractors, which is one tractor for every fifteen farmers farming over 25 acres in England and Wales. The production of tractors during the first three-quarters of this year (these statistics are from the Summary of Statistics) was nearly 20,000 agricultural types and 11,000 market garden types—roughly 31,000 in all.
It seems that over 30 per cent. of the tractors produced are being exported. It is agreed on all sides that only by a large increase in the amount and an improvement in the condition of the machinery used on our farms can we hope to compete with the threatened labour shortage, and at the same time by increasing the output per man-hour enable the higher wages to be paid which are so essential to a sound agricultural industry which is the vital foundation of a prosperous nation. It must be assumed that no farmer will buy a piece of agricultural machinery unless he is convinced that it will not only pay for itself but will produce a profit. From the number of forms and things one has to fill in to get a tractor, one would think one was going to be given itit! Surely if the implement is going to earn a profit, it is better that it should earn that profit 825 in the British fields, where we can all share in the profit, rather than that it should earn profits in foreign fields while we have to buy the produce which not only pays for the tractor but also for the foreigners' profit.
Of course figures are very misleading, but I believe it is true to say—that is, if my mathematics are correct—that the volume of agricultural machinery exported in the first ten months of this year is nearly three times as great as the volume exported in 1938, whereas the total volume of exports in the last quarter of this year is 103.7 to 100. This is misleading for two reasons. The figures in 1938 were very low and in the meantime production has enormously increased. So also has demand. Surely now is the time to reequip this vital industry even if it means cutting down a certain proportion of ou[...] exports. I quite realize, as do the Government, the vital need for exchange. The Minister of Agriculture, speaking at Huddersfield the other clay, said:While American producers are buss' satisfying their own markets, this is our opportunity to capture continental markets previously supplied by the United States.''As one who is in the tractor queue and nearing the counter at the moment, I suggest that possibly we might look more to our home market than we are doing at the moment.
I shall not detain your Lordships for much longer, but there is one other point I wish to mention. It is not quite within the terms of this Motion. Last Saturday morning I happened to listen to the 8 o'clock News on the wireless. Some extracts were given from a speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to agricultural journalists. I am afraid I had not got a pencil and paper and some of the remarks had passed before I realized the significance of them. So if I misquote I hope I may be forgiven. The gist of the remarks was that the Government were giving various subsidies which included £1,000,000 for water supplies, £4,000,000 for research, totalling in all about £11,000,000. He then pointed out that £1,000,000 a day was being spent on subsidies for food, about half of which was going to the British farmer. I may have misunderstood the implication of the remarks in this broadcast, but what gathered was that, as the taxpayer had to pay these enormous sums, he would insist on efficiency in farming.
826 I could not agree more with the necessity for efficiency in agriculture, as in every other national industry. But I do think that many people resent the irnplication of this enormous subsidy. I submit it is not a subsidy to farming; it is a subsidy to wages. After all, £187,000,000 is spent on keeping down the cost of home-prod aced food, and £182,000,000 on imported food. If the prices paid to British farmers were above the world prices, then I agree that to call it a subsidy would be absolutely justified. But in fact this is not so, and in most cases the price paid to the British farmer is lower than that paid for imported foodstuffs. For example, the average value of wheat imported during the first ten months of this year, again if my mathematics are correct, is about £19 per ton, whereas the price for British wheat is between £16 and per ton, including the acreage payment. The position is similar in respect of many other crops, but I will not weary your Lordships with more examples.
There are many other things I would like to say, but as other noble Lords wish to speak I will not say them now. I conclude by saying that if our agriculture is to stand up to the test it must have top priority in equipping itself. Having heard one speech on behalf of the Government from the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, I have not quite convinced myself that it is getting top priority. And if agriculture is to hold top place in the eyes of the country it should not be referred to as a heavily subsidized industry when in fact it is nothing of the kind.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ THE DUKE OF BEDFORD
My Lords, I have listened with great interest and, indeed, with an unusual measure of agreement to the many able speeches which have been made this afternoon, including the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down, a much better maiden speech than I made under the same embarrassing conditions. I found myself in agreement with him in what he said about the folly of exporting agricultural machinery as long as our own needs in agricultural machinery remain unsatisfied. I saw this year—a very trying harvest year—literally tons of grain, not sprouting grain but quite sound grain, lying wasting on the ground simply because there was not the labour or the machinery 827 for picking it up under the rather difficult conditions.
I was interested also in what the noble Lord said about the food subsidy. I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer described it as a measure for sweetening both the farmer and the consumer, but I cannot help wondering whether if the farmer and consumer realized that in the capacity of taxpayers they themselves were providing the money they would be quite so keen about the sweetening process. I should like to support what has already been said by more than one speaker about the undesirability of landlords or others who wish to recondition an agricultural worker's cottage, or to put in the up-to-date modern sanitation, being met by a refusal of licence either from the local authority, or perhaps by the local authority intimidated by a Government Department.
There are just two or three points to which I would like to refer quite briefly, as I do not think they have been touched on during the debate. The first is the need of a really useful building in every village which would act as the social centre for the inhabitants; a building with proper provision for the elderly and the young, where quiet recreation could be enjoyed and also recreation of a more lively character. I would also stress the importance of the provision of proper village schools where the children could receive instruction not only in ordinary book learning but in agricultural work and pursuits. I greatly deplore the modern tendency in some districts to draft country children to town schools. The effect is not at all good for agriculture.
Then I would like to refer to two factors which either locally or nationally threaten, or are likely to threaten, the welfare of agriculture. The first is the operation of brickworks. We have been reminded of the undoubted importance of bricks to the building industry. There is, however, another side to the picture, and I have seen a good deal of it in the part of the world where I live. Brick clay is found to be under some piece of agricultural land. It is acquired by a brick works which then commences operations The result of those operations is to dig a gigantic cavity many hundreds of yards in length and width, and perhaps at the finish forty or fifty feet deep, and when the clay is worked out that land is 828 absolutely derelict and useless. It cannot be filled in because the labour is too enormous, and at the bottom of this cavity, an undrained cavity, you get pools of water, rubble and an immense growth of thistles and other undesirable weeds which spread themselves all over the countryside.
There is another serious nuisance. The smoke and fumes from these brickworks are of a peculiarly poisonous and unpleasant character. They have been known actually to destroy crops and even cattle in the vicinity, causing the bones of the animals to soften. They can also be an intolerable nuisance to people living in the locality who may be unable to let their houses if they desire to do so. As I have said, I fully realize that there are two sides to the question. Bricks form an important part of the materials for building, but it is necessary to remember that under modern conditions, even if you leave out of it prefabricated houses, there are many other materials of which houses can be constructed. It is desirable, I think, that the Government should weigh very carefully here the needs of the building industry against the needs of agriculture, bearing in mind particularly the fact to which I have just drawn your Lordships' attention, that a worked out brickfield is derelict, useless and ugly ground.
With regard to the question of fumes I think a really drastic policy should be undertaken. In my opinion, no country claiming to be really civilized would allow an industrial undertaking, and particularly one starting operations in a rural district, to pollute the air with its fumes or the waters with its effluents. In practically every case there are known methods of preventing these nuisances, and in cases where the industry is wealthy enough to put in the necessary machinery, or whatever it may be, it should be made compulsory upon it to do so. In cases where it would be an unfair burden on the industry I think there is a clear case for a Government grant of money. Money spent for such purposes would be far better spent in my opinion than if it were used to train and equip several more brigades of Government snoopers inquiring what John Citizen is doing and telling him not to do it.
The other possible danger, which has not yet materialized, is this. I believe there are very ambitious schemes under 829 consideration for the construction of new roads, including very wide main thoroughfares, which will inevitably destroy many thousands of acres of agricultural land. Here again there is a need of balance and common sense. I do not for a moment dispute that our road system needs improving, or that some of these new roads may be necessary, but I do say that we need to be careful lest we sacrifice valuable agricultural land merely to the modern craze for increased speed and to enable persons to send by road goods which could better be sent by rail, or even, in some cases, by sea.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT ADDISON)
My Lords, it falls to my lot, not for the first time by any means, to wind up a discussion on this fascinating but eternal subject. In doing so, I should like to say that I welcome the Motion of the noble Earl and to express the hope that, whatever Government may be in power in time to come, seeing the abundance of youth with which happily he is still endowed, he may continue these exhortations in the interests of the development of British agriculture.
We have to remember, of course, that we are dealing now with the results of a declension of this industry during two or perhaps nearly three generations. Whatever Government was in power, it could not make up this disastrous leeway quickly. That simply cannot be done. I do not say that in order to suggest any excuse for lack of effort, but solely to state an inescapable fact of which we should never lose sight. Owing to other urgent -work I have not had the opportunity of listening to the whole of the discussion, but that thought has been in my mind all the time I have been listening to it. Nevertheless, true as that may be, it only emphasizes the importance of our addressing ourselves to the task with all the energy and ingenuity we can summon to it. It is for that reason that I am very glad indeed that the noble Earl moved his Motion.
One of the themes that has been prominent in the speeches has been fthe shortage of labour and the necessity for providing cottages, because it is obviously true that until we provide a great many more cottages we shall not get the necessary labour. I am informed that an 830 amendment should be made to one figure given by the noble Earl opposite with regard to the number employed in the industry. In 1939 the number employed was 910,000, which was the figure given by the noble Earl, but the figure which he quoted for the number employed today is, I believe, a slight under-statement. According to my information, the present figure is 1,048,000, and not, as he said, 1,021,000.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I understand that the present figure is 1.048,000, which represents an increase of 138,000 in the number employed on the land as compared with 1939. That number is nothing like as many as we require, but at all events there has been a substantial increase winch I am sure we all welcome. Nothing was -more deplorable to many of us before the war than year after year to note the steady declension in the numbers of those employed in agriculture. As a matter of fact, I believe that in the years between the two wars the decline was more than 250,000. That decline has now been arrested and there has been a very substantial addition. That is something from which to take comfort but it is by no means enough.
I should like to join with noble Lords in paying tribute to the four noble Lords who have spoken in this House for the first time. As one who has been interested all his life in agriculture, I do not think they could have chosen a worthier topic on which to make their maiden speeches. I was particularly interested, if I may say so, in what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said. To some extent I may claim him as a pupil, because I was the Chairman all through the war (I am afraid I did not have the advantage of his help for long) of the county war agricultural committee upon which he now serves, and I am quite sure he will have derived much profit from the lessons and experience of that committee. I join with him in saying how necessary it is that the agricultural training scheme should be developed as much as possible, because, along with every other speaker, I look with dread upon the time when this large number of German prisoners will have returned to Germany. That is a dreadful prospect so far as labour for agriculture is concerned, and one which makes it all the more 831 necessary that this agricultural training scheme should be pressed forward.
I was very glad to hear the noble Lord say what he did as to the character of the scheme; I think it is a very good one. I confess that up to the end of the war I was rather disappointed at the numbers of men who were coming forward, but I understand there has been a great increase since then. This scheme is, I think, very much better than the rushed system, if I may so describe it, which was adopted after the last war. This scheme requires that so far as possible the men shall be trained in actual farm work on the farm by experienced farmers, apart from the training they get in institutes and otherwise. That will mean, I hope, that as these men become trained we shall not have those shocking failures which, I am afraid, occurred in a great many cases after the last war, when a number of men put their war gratuities and any other funds they could raise into small holdings which they were entirely unequipped to carry on
At all events, the scheme is being established on a sound basis and I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend is fully seized of the necessity for making progress with it as quickly as possible. Here again, there is a time factor. You cannot train a man to be a good agriculturist in a month or two. He must see seasons in their sequence, he must know the course of farming operations and so on. It takes time to do that, and nothing that we do will allow us to escape from the fact that it does take time. If we are to reinforce the labour on our land with experienced workers, I am afraid there is no short cut owing to the nature of the case. This scheme, so far as it goes, is making very good progress.
The noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, asked a question about the Hobhouse Report. Since the noble Earl asked that question I have been supplied with a reply. It is to this effect, that the Report is now in process of printing and will be published as soon as it is received from the printers, which I think is an answer to the inquiry he made. There was one other question to which I have also been supplied with an answer and to which I must refer. The question was what happens in the event of a local authority building a house for an agricultural 832 worker and the house ceasing to be occupied by an agricultural worker. That is a very important question. Nothing was more disappointing than the inquiries we made some years ago during the war, when we were asked to supply a certain number of cottages under Mr. Hudson's scheme, to find that in almost every case cottages that had been provided by farmers were inhabitated by week-enders and people from the towns; pensioners and in fact an infinite variety of people who never did any work on the land. That has happened all over the country, and nothing could be worse than for us to spend money and perhaps give subsidies for providing houses for agricultural workers and then for the community and the industry to be deprived of the benefits.
Therefore, in addition to withdrawing the subsidy in any case where it is known that a cottage of that kind ceases to be occupied or let to an agricultural worker, it is now provided that an agricultural worker occupying such a cottage must be provided with another cottage by the local authority. But as a matter of fact, in all seriousness, I do not myself think that the number of cases of that kind, at all events in the immediate future, is likely to be large. Rural authorities are just as much alive to the necessity of providing more agricultural cottages as any member of this House, and I am quite sure that in the vast majority of cases they will deal fairly with the community in this matter and not try to evade their responsibilities.
There is perhaps one other question to which I might refer before I speak on the general issue, a point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney—and I would join with other noble Lords in congratulating him on his maiden speech—when he said that he complained to some extent of the export of agricultural machinery. We all know how necessary it is that our farms should be even better and better equipped with agricultural machinery, but I do not think the position is quite as bad as the noble Lord perhaps thinks. Last year, of the production of agricultural machinery in this country 75 per cent. was taken by the home market and 25 per cent. exported. The noble Lord may be assured that we do not like exporting machinery any more than he does which we can well use in this country, but we are confronted with a double-barrelled necessity, and unfortunately these requirements are not 833 reconcilable. We must have foreign exchange and, at the same time, we must have food by increased development of our farms. The export of this machinery is only allowed because its value in providing us with foreign exchange and keeping open our overseas markets is very important indeed. At all events that is the proportion during the last year and, as the noble Lord knows, the production of this machinery is rising quite rapidly, and in fact it is I believe already considerably past what it was in pre-war days.
Now I come to the general question raised by the noble Earl's Motion, which I heartily welcome. He urges that more and more food must be produced from our land. He thinks that is possible, and I agree with him. Progress is not very rapid, but I am quite sure he is right in his statement about an attainable goal. In the course of the war the increase in production was really most remarkable, and one of the most successful ways of increasing production was by the improvement of our grasslands. There again you See what we were confronted with. Every noble Lord knows it as well as I do—thousands and thousands of acres of miserable pasture consisting of ant-hills, thistles, rubbish and indifferent herbage. That was the condition all over the country and one had not got to go far to see it. What happened during the war—and what is still happening I am glad to say—was that a lot of this land was ploughed LID and either directly reseeded, or after an arable crop a good ley was grown on it and the stock-carrying capacity of this grassland was thus enormously increased. I do not like to exaggerate, but in the county with which the noble Earl and myself are associated there were many thousands of acres in which the stock-carrying capacity of the land was more than quadrupled simply by ploughing and re-seeding with proper grass mixtures. That process happily is still going on.
There again you cannot do it in a day; it is a matter of time. Unfortunately time is an inevitable handicap in this industry, but I am quite sure the noble Lord is right when he says that by the adoption of improved methods and the expansion of improved methods we can produce much more food per acre from our land than we have been doing in times past. That is a truism and nobody is more alive to the necessity of doing 834 that than His Majesty's Government. Our present emergency makes it more urgent -than ever it was during the war. I can only tell the noble Lord that he is pushing at a door which is wide open. We intend to do our best in that respect, but it depends of course very largely upon the activity of agricultural committees in the different counties and upon their contacts and good working relations with the farmers. But I think the case has gone so far now that the farmers do not need much converting in any county so far as I know. They are well aware of the improvements that are possible. The noble Lord put the figure of possible increase at twenty per cent. Well, I personally do not disagree with that figure a bit. I should think myself that when we get to applying up-to-date methods generally—as they will have to be applied in the course of time—that figure may well prove if anything to be an understatement. But it will taco time to realize it. We are confronted all the while with the processes of nature so far as relates to what can be done in any particular season, and all I can say to the noble Lord is that we are as fully alive not only to the needs but to the possibilities as he is, and that we shall do everything we can to see that the work proceeds on those lines.
I sympathize with the noble Duke behind me in his remarks about the taking of agricultural land for roads and other enterprises. I can assure the noble Lords that His Majesty's Government are very acutely alive to the danger of having this little island too thickly dotted with aerodromes and of taking too much of our precious land for this and other purposes. I Would like to tell the noble Duke that we are fully aware of this risk, and I can say that many of us are standing as champions, in season and out of season, for the safeguarding of agricultural land so far as it can be safeguarded.
I do not think I need enlarge upon the topic any further because the plain fact—and it is inescapable—is that, with regard to the decline in the number of rural cottages available for labour, the decline of labour itself, as compared with fifty years ago, and the deficiency of machinery and so on, we are the inheritors—I am not blaming anybody—of what has happened during two generations. We have certainly made some progress with regard to the augmentation of the labour 835 supplies for the land, but it is still far short of what will be required. That applies also to cottages and to all the other necessities of the case. All I can say to your Lordships is that we are fully seized of these necessities, and will do everything we can to meet them so far as it is humanly possible.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I am quite sure we are all very pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has joined in this debate. To a small extent, he has certainly made me feel somewhat happier about the attitude of the Government. I must confess that the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Huntington, did leave me most profoundly disquieted. There seemed to be a complacency and a lack of any sense of urgency running right through it. If that does represent the attitude of the Ministry of Agriculture, I can only say that this country is going to be hungry in the space of eighteen months to two years. It may have been my fault, and I am blaming nobody, but I certainly have not got the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, to appreciate what I feel, and what I think a number of noble Lords in this House are feeling, about the present situation. I tried to raise a very direct question: Are our food supplies over the next two years or so in doubt or danger? That was the definite question, and it arose directly out of the speeches made by the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade. I have not even had an attempt—
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Of course we cannot look with certainty two or three years ahead, but I can tell the noble Earl that we are exceedingly anxious as to the position of our purchasing power in the years to come. We are very anxious. A great augmentation of our export trade is required, particularly in sales to dollar countries. We are not under any illusion about the necessities of the case, nor as to the necessity for increasing our food production at home as much as possible. As to the anxiety, I should have thought that was writ large upon every statement that any member of the Government has made on this subject. At the same time, the noble Earl cannot expect the impossible. For instance, there is at the present time a serious deficiency in the anticipated arrival of supplies owing to the shipping 836 strike and, recently, to the coal strike on the other side of the Atlantic. Nothing we can do can act as a safeguard against emergencies of that kind. We are very greatly short of the shipping programme that was anticipated some months ago because of these events, but we cannot provide against them. I wish we could.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I thank the noble Viscount for his intervention, but the fact remains—and it has been mentioned in almost every speech from this side of the House by noble Lords who really know the position in the country—that there is no sense of urgency as between the Ministry of Agriculture and the farmers. I am quite convinced on that point myself. No reply was made at all to my contention that production has declined. The noble Lord, Lord Quibell, mentioned the transfer of acreage from wheat to barley. I have the Ministry's statistics here, and I find that between 1945 and 1946 there was a small decline in the acreage of barley. I am quite sure, knowing what the noble Viscount feels on this subject and on the subject of the development of agriculture and its possibilities, that he would not have given the reply he did today if he were in as close contact with the situation as he was a few years ago when he was presiding over a war agriculture committee. I would ask him not to take it from me, but to ring up any executive officer he likes in the country and ask him whether he feels there is any sense of drive behind the Government in agricultural production at the moment. I ask him to ring up any farmer or any agricultural executive officer, and see what reply he gets.
He tells us, quite rightly, that all these things take time. We know that; and yet, when we were up against it in the year 1939 to 1940, what did we do? We saw an increase in tillage in this country of just over 6,000,000 acres in the space of one year. These things can be done, and that is why I am not attempting, in this short reply of mine, to deal with all the countless and important points which have been brought up about labour and housing and which seem to be details arising out of our sense of gravity of the position. What we want today are not statements by the Government that they realize the position; not even more speeches by Ministers about the gravity of the position. I do not even feel that the word 837 "campaign" for increased production is the word we want. It must be a real crusade conducted throughout every farming body, from the agriculture executive committees down to the individual farmer, such as we carried out during the war.
It is because I do not feel there is that spirit alive in the Government at the present moment that I must confess that this debate leaves me still deeply anxious about the future position of the food supplies of this country. I know that noble Lords who have replied have taken a great deal of trouble to go into the question, and they have done their best to satisfy the House with regard to the minor points of detail that have been raised. I thank them for that, but I repeat that I am deeply disappointed on the point that seems to be the real issue before the country to-day.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.