§ 3.35 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That this House warns His Majesty's Government that British agriculture can only make its maximum contribution towards relieving food shortage if the Government 1083 (a) enables it to plan ahead by taking farmers into their confidence in good time; (b) gives not only a strong lead but full support to the war agricultural executive committees; and (c) makes available labour and houses in rural areas. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I think we shall all be agreed that it is not entirely inappropriate that within a week or two of discussing the general food position of this country, and, indeed, of the whole world, we should now have a debate on what contribution the agricultural farming community can make towards the solution of the food problem. We are told on all hands, by His Majesty's Government, by representatives of U.N.R.R.A., by those responsible for control on the Continent, by those responsible for India, that, in fact, at the present moment, misery and actual starvation face many millions of people throughout the world. Within a few weeks of being told to adjust itself to peace-time conditions, British agriculture has once again been recalled to arms. Long-term plans for building up our livestock population, even at the expense of tillage, have certainly had to be modified, if not actually laid aside, until happier days. The country has appealed to the farming community, that is to the farmer and to the farm worker, to help it in this moment of difficulty. Those who know the farmer and the farm worker, are quite sure what their reply will be. It will be to do their utmost.
The purpose of this Motion is to attempt to make it clear to His Majesty's Government what will be required of them if the good will and the efforts of the farmer and his workers are, in fact, to be really effective. If I seem to be a little critical of His Majesty's Government, I implore them not to think—not to attempt to deceive themselves into thinking—that I am being in the least bit partisan. The present Minister has done a great deal towards removing agriculture from the cockpit of Party politics, and it would be a very poor friend of the industry who said a single word that was likely to undo the work either of the Minister or of his predecessor in that direction. But mistakes, I think, have been made—terrible and tragic mistakes. They are tragic because the less food that is produced at this moment the greater the misery and the greater the toll of 1084 death; tragic because the missing of a sowing season even by a very few weeks means in agriculture a lowering of food production during the whole period of twelve months.
One acre of land produces, in this country, something like one ton of wheat. As I work it out—the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will probably be able to correct me if my figures are wrong—on a basis of 80 per cent. extraction that means something like half a pound of bread per head for 3,500 people. If we calculate what we have lost by the delay in telling the farmer what is wanted of him I think it would be reasonable to say, up to a minimum of 200,000 acres of wheat. Your Lordships will be able to see what a very large number of people have been deprived of a very large quantity of food. There is not the slightest point in exaggerating what one small and overcrowded country can do. We certainly cannot hope to feed a hungry world. But what we can hope to do, and what we can do, is to ensure that we, ourselves, make the minimum demand on the world's larder.
Thanks to the persistency of the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, we have now got from His Majesty's Government the actual official figures of the increase of food production that took place during the war. Those figures, as I remember the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, said, were 30 per cent calculated on pre-war monetary values, 120 per cent. in terms of shipping, and (the figure that affected us most in the war) 70 per cent. in terms of food values, that is, in terms of calories. This shows what we can do, given the right lead and given real support from the Minister of Agriculture and the Government. I speak as one who is quite convinced that we could do a great deal more. None of us can travel through the country by road or by rail and look around us and not see hundreds of thousands of acres of semi-productive grassland that could produce more.
Whether it is a matter of tillage—or of better grassland—or, if tillage, whether we should grow on it human or animal foodstuffs, is not really the question. The fact is that, one way or another, those acres could certainly grow a great deal more food. Bat there are certain conditions, and the first condition is this, that farmers do not have desperate last-minute appeals thrown at 1085 their heads but are enabled to lay their plans for years ahead. Whether it is arable farming or stock farming, you cannot farm from day to day. The second condition—this is a point I am not going to deal with in my speech, because other noble Lords who are going to speak can deal with it much better and I do not want to weary your Lordships with repetition—is that the Minister should give not only a strong lead, but strong support to his agents, the war agricultural executive committees, on whom he is calling for another very difficult task. That is all I am going to say on that most important point, for the reason that I have given. The third condition is that farmers should have adequate labour for tending their increased acreage of crops and their increased stock. I regret very much to say that, as far as I can see, the Government have failed on every one of those three counts.
The noble Earl will know I am sincere when I say that we appreciate very sincerely the agreed, all-Party, long term policy for establishing a stable and planned basis to our industry. But it is really not the least bit of good in these days talking of planning if you have neither the common sense nor the courage to look ahead of you and see the troubles that are coming. That is indeed a denial of all planning. I listened very carefully to the Minister of Food's speech the other day in another place, on the food situation. It is fair to say that every single word of the Government's defence was proof positive that in fact the Minister of Food was fully aware of the growing gravity of the situation last October. It is quite true to say that he received worse blows after that date—further disappointments. It is quite true to say that there was the bare possibility at that time of just squeaking through, if nothing else went wrong from then onwards.
But, my Lords, knowing the position, (and you will remember that in his defence he actually quoted the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs showing that in October the position was known), the Minister preferred to take a chance, instead of facing up to the situation and getting the country, and particularly the farmers, to face up to it. He took a chance where no man had a right: to take a chance. His duty is to safeguard the people's food, and on that no one, I repeat, has a right to take a 1086 chance. So far as it is possible to ascertain, he did not even tell the Minister of Agriculture of the growing 'seriousness of the position. If he did, then the Minister of Agriculture is equally to blame, because as late as the middle of January he stood by and allowed the Minister of Labour to announce to an anxious agricultural community—because we were all beginning to be aware of five position, even if the Minister of Agriculture was not—that they still intended to call up 8,000 skilled men. It was not until next month, when the Prime Minister came in and over-ruled both of them, that that call up was ultimately cancelled.
We have to look back for many a long year for a better sowing season than we have had this autumn and early winter; yet that was passed over and allowed to drift by until February, when the first official intimation we had was a bombshell thrown into the middle of all our carefully-laid cropping plans. I would ask your Lordships' House, and I would ask His Majesty's Government, this simple question: suppose we had fought the Battle of the Atlantic in that spirit, where would this country be to-day? I have said the farmers are going to do their best; of course they will. They did so during the war and they will do so again. But if the Minister really hopes for some increase from the appeal that he made in February, what does he imagine the result of that same appeal might have been if he had delivered it in October? How much more wheat would in fact have been sown in the soil of this country if he had given us adequate warning? We may get a certain increase of wheat now, but it is going to be at the expense of other crops. As the result of the Bill to which we gave a Second Reading earlier this afternoon we may get a few more acres ploughed up, but on the whole it will be a transfer from barley to wheat, and will mean little increase in food production. If we had had good warning we could have had a real addition to tillage which I am afraid we are not going to get now.
Nor is disturbance of the cropping plan the only matter to be considered. Why let us go on building up our population of pigs and chickens again, not only without a word of warning but with actual Government encouragement and assurance of rations? As late as December the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture were making 1087 optimistic speeches in that direction. That was cruel and unjust to the individual farmers, many of them small men who were at last encouraged to feel they could get going again. They had made their contracts with the hatcheries, they had laboured to put chicken houses into a state of repair and some of them had spent hundreds of pounds on re-equipment. It was not only cruel and unjust to those men but an unsound national food policy to encourage the rearing of stock in that way. The ex-Minister of Agriculture in another place said that this was the first time since the beginning of the war that the ration had been dishonoured. All through the "blitzing" of the harbours, the sinking of ships and the horrors and uncertainties of war, every coupon issued or promised was met and honoured.
I said at the beginning that I did not want to say anything of a partisan character, but is it unfair to comment on the fact that it has taken this Government, whose whole philosophy is based on the need for greater planning, seven months of peace-time in which to reverse six years' proud record of wartime planning? I repeat that it is no good talking of planning or delivering propaganda speeches on planning, today. It is just years out of date. Three or four years ago the whole agricultural community, through every representative body that exists in agriculture, had accepted once and for all the need for a planned agricultural industry. We do not need propaganda for planning; all we need is perfectly ordinary Ministerial competence and perfectly ordinary Ministerial co-ordination of their activities. I labour this point because it goes to the very roots of our whole future policy.
Many of us want to carry on in principle the planned policy we had during war-time. The whole root of the success of that policy was absolute confidence between the Minister and industry doubt if many people outside—I am not at all sure if the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, would not be horrified if he knew—realize what agricultural liaison officers were entitled to tell the war agricultural executive committees about our stock position and shipping losses. That information was the very basis of success, of what happened. That knowledge by 1088 people in the agricultural industries that they were never asked to do anything for which they did not know the reason, enabled us to make a success of the war-time policy. This whole policy for a planned industry, which the Minister has now laid before us and which we welcome, is at stake in this question of restoration of confidence. It would at least be some recognition that the Minister realizes what he has done in shaking confidence if he were prepared to grant a degree of ex-gratia compensation to farmers who have suffered loss from an expansion, with Government encouragement, of their pigs and poultry.
This point was brought up a second time in another place yesterday and the Minister of Agriculture there turned it down. He turned it down on the ground that the decision was forced on the Government by the world shortage of cereals and was not dictated by any change in Government policy. Really, a Minister cannot get away with that. No one suggests that it was a change of Government policy but what we state definitely is that it was on the basis of quite definite Government assurances, first given last summer and continued right up to last December, that men expended very large sums of money. If the Minister likes to make some exceptions with regard to larger men and to restrict compensation to the smaller men in the industry, those of us who farm on a large scale would be perfectly prepared to accept it. But a great many of the men who depend for their livelihood upon pigs and chickens in the agricultural industry are extremely small men with small capital. Really the issue at stake here—the shortage of food—is too great for any questions of false pride, and it is essential for the Minister not only to recognize what has happened but to say publicly that he recognizes what he has done. Increased production for the future can only be secured if he takes some such step as that to restore confidence.
Now I pass to the next condition with which I want to deal, the supply of labour. Where, at the present moment, is the supply of labour going to come from for increased production? No good farmer is going to sow more crops or breed more stock unless he is confident that they can be properly looked after. What is the position? We are promised more German prisoners. That is all to 1089 the good. On the whole they work quite well, but they turn up at a farm about 9 o'clock from their camp—an attempt has been made to make them arrive earlier—and they leave at four. How can you organize a farm on that basis? It is said that there is going to be a big drive for the Women's Land Army. That is to be welcomed and I hope the Minister will feel he can be assured of support from all classes of the agricultural community in that drive. But without going into details I think the Minister is going to have to think out some way of making the Women's Land Army a little bit more attractive to girls in peace-time. This is a point which is not only the responsibility of this Government but the Government before and I want to make that quite clear to the noble Earl opposite. The members of the Women's Land Army are still smarting under their treatment under the gratuity scheme. I think there are many other things to be given consideration. The question of coupons and clothing may not seem so important to the male mind as to the female mind. But let us face it. We are now dealing with the question of females, and it is just as well to try to take their individual feelings into account. I hope the noble Lord will give some undertaking that he will look into the question of coupons.
You cannot however plan permanently for an industry on the basis of temporary labour. Out of a complete labour force at the present moment of approximately 75,000 in total for England and Wales, 44,000 are land girls; 124,000 are prisoners, either Germans or Italians, and about 8,000 are conscientious objectors. That means that just under 25 per cent. or practically a quarter of our labour force is of a temporary character. In my own county the proportion of temporary labour is rather higher. It is nearer one in three than one in four, but the proportion no doubt varies with different counties. How can we plan our operations on that basis, having no assurance hitherto, so far as I know, that the Germans are going to stay after the next harvest?
If we turn to our permanent supplies of labour, up to the end of January—I have not seen a later figure; doubtless the noble Lord can improve on this—about 4,000 I think have come out of the Ser- 1090 vices under Class B. I understand we have lost something like 10,000 of the older men, who only hung on because of the war, and we are likely to lose more. Then I gather (perhaps the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong here) that after June—we must remember that demobilization is going on all the time—there will still be left in the Forces something like 45,000 farmers or farm workers. Those are the men that the industry needs. They are the men who know the job, who know every job on the farm. That sort of man, if you send him right to the other end of a farm, and give him a certain task to do, has got the wit and the knowledge of the industry to find himself another job if it starts to rain. That is something you can never do with an unskilled man. The return of those 45,000 men will not solve the problem, but until every single one of these men has been not only offered release but has been positively encouraged to leave the Armed Forces and to come back to the land, the Government really cannot possibly contend that they are taking the food situation seriously, even if the food situation was only half as grim as we are being told it is by Ministers at the present moment.
There is a further point on labour. The Government must face up to the wages issue. I do not want to raise what is a very difficult subject; at least, I do not want to raise it in its more difficult aspects. Thank heaven, discussions have been conducted in such a way between the Workers' Union and the National Farmers' Union that there has been no spirit of conflict between them. It has been a mutual facing of a problem. There is no solution to this question short of a national wages policy. The Lord President of the Council in another place turned this down the other day. Nobody wants to start a spiral, a vicious spiral I think we generally call it, but why must it always be agriculture that does the dirty work? Why let the wages in all other industries go up, and yet, when it comes to agriculture, say "No, we cannot start a spiral"? One reason—and I think it is the only - reason—is that it is regarded as a sacred right by every urban worker in this country that he should be paid more than the agricultural worker. I would very much like to impress this point on the noble 1091 Viscount, the Leader of the House, because I think it is a point he would appreciate, and it is a point that I would ask him particularly to impress upon his colleagues. If it were laid down as a cardinal principle of the Government's wages policy that the farm worker is a skilled labourer worthy of equal treatment with other skilled labour in the country, then half of this problem of agricultural wages and agricultural labour would be solved straight away. I am afraid the problem does not end there, because we are never going to get more labour unless we have more houses. Houses are the sole responsibility of the Government. The private landowner, like the private builder, has been told that his efforts are not wanted.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Well, I will justify it. The Housing (Rural Workers) Act has been done away with, and the Minister of Health has not fulfilled his pledge to produce something better. The amount of the subsidy for new houses offered to the private landowner as compared with that offered to the council—and, after all, the council is going to charge a higher rent than the private owner—is laughable. I contend it is quite clear our efforts are not wanted. The responsibility for the provision of houses in the countryside henceforward does in fact rest with the Government. There is one point that is worth mentioning here. What steps are the Government going to take to ensure that the houses that are built in the country villages are in fact let to agricultural workers? My own personal experience is that they are generally let to everyone but the agricultural worker. It may be the postman, it may be the railway worker, or it may be someone who comes out from the nearby town. I would like to ask the noble Earl what steps he thinks the Government will be able to take to ensure that the agricultural workers do in fact have these cottages. I do want to make a very earnest appeal to the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and to the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, to ask their colleagues to reconsider their attitude towards this problem of housing. By all means limit the rent we are allowed 1092 to ask. Impose any conditions on us that you like, but do give to those of us who live in the country, who love the country, and who want to do something to serve the country people who live round us, an equal opportunity with the council to make our contribution to this problem. I make that very definite appeal to the noble Earl.
The problem of food production is never going to be solved in terms of a short-term policy. The world food shortage may be over in two or three years or in three or four years, but the dollar shortage is going to remain with us a very great deal longer than that. This makes the Minister's task considerably easier, because it means that all factors point in the same direction, both short-term factors and long-term factors. I appeal to the Minister to make up his mind, here and now, whatever the day-to-day reports that he may or may not receive from the Minister of Food. For a very long time forward it is going to be necessary for the agricultural industry to go "all out." I wonder if he does not think, in terms of the seriousness of the crisis, that he is "pulling his punches" a little in his speeches. Like many others in the agricultural industry, I have been deeply charmed and delighted with the Minister's speeches lately; they have been so friendly to the industry and so anxious to help. But do we not want just a little more sense of urgency and of real leadership from him during the crisis?
We have shown that we will take leadership during the war, and we are prepared to take it again if the situation is really put to us. I know that countrymen cannot be driven very easily, but we can be led. By all means let him drive his colleagues: let him drive the Minister of Labour to get us more workers; the Minister of Health to give us more houses; the President of the Board of Trade to allow the import of labour-saving machines, and the Minister of Food to keep him in touch with what is really happening and what is likely to be required of him. Then let him come to the agricultural community and tell us what he wants, in good time ahead before he wants it. Let him give us a feeling that, having given us a job to do, he is going to get us the tools and, if necessary; fight to get those tools from his colleagues. When he has done that, I can assure the noble Earl and, through the noble Earl, 1093 the Minister, that he can count on full support from the whole industry and a generous response to any appeal, however drastic, that he makes to us for further help for the country.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House warns His Majesty's Government that British agriculture can only make its maximum contribution towards relieving food shortage if the Government:
- (a) enables it to plan ahead by taking farmers into their confidence in good time;
- (b) gives not only a strong lead but full support to the war agricultural executive committees; and
- (c) makes available labour and houses in rural areas.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ LORD QUIBELL
My Lords, this debate is both timely and appropriate, and the House, will, I feel sure, be indebted to the noble Earl for raising this important subject at this time. I feel bound to say that there is nothing in his Resolution with which I could very greatly disagree or that is inconsistent with the policy that is being pursued by His Majesty's Government. In the course of his remarks, he quoted figures giving the yield of wheat per acre—five quarters to the acre. It is no fault of the present Administration that the price of wheat was so low, even last year, as to encourage farmers to grow barley instead of wheat. You must take that into account, and admit that so far as planning out is conic.erne:1, the late Government, which has some support in this House and had very important members in it, was responsible for the policy.
§ LORD QUIBELL
That has been responsible for the disastrous condition in which agriculture finds itself to-day. Let us look at the matter. The noble Earl's own case is, and I agree with him, that you should plan ahead. Six months after the late Government went out of office, the complaint is that there has been no planning ahead, because if wheat was to be sown it should have been sown last October. Where was the vision of the previous Government? Had they any? So far as the previous Government are concerned, it was responsible for a lack of proper, balanced agricultural economy.
1094 I put myself in the position of a farmer. One can easily criticize the farmer, but personally I rather like him. He is a realist. Put yourself in the position of a farmer. He can grow six, seven or eight quarters of barley per acre—six or seven quarters at the very least. At £5 per quarter that amounts to £30 per acre for barley. If he grows wheat he will get £3 a quarter, which is £5 per acre. On which crop do you think he is going to concentrate? Which crop do you think he has concentrated on planting for next year? I could give you the instance of a big farmer in my area. I have been to see him within the last few weeks, so that I could be prepared, because I expected this matter to be raised, sooner or later, from one side or the other of this House. He has planted 300 acres; of barley instead of 300 acres of wheat, and the barley is already in. If there is not an improvement in the weather very soon, it will be altogether too late to plant wheat. Spring wheat has got to be in during the next fortnight or three weeks: otherwise it will be too late. I say, so far as the noble Earl's complaint is concerned, it ought to have been made against the late Government. They did not plan ahead; otherwise we would have had wheat planted, to the reaping of which we could look forward.
Labour is also an important factor, as he said. I do not think you can do without it, although a lot of people would like to. You cannot get away from the necessity of labour in agriculture. I remember that some years ago, when unemployment was very bad, the Society of Friends bought tools and seeds and presented them to men who were willing to take over the very bad patches of land in their area—derelict land which was growing thistles, docks, twitch and every kind of rubbish. One fellow in Westhoughton, set about this task on land where nothing but thistles would grow before. With the tools bought by the Society of Friends and with his own hard labour, he produced a fine crop on his allotment. They talked about it in Westhoughton, where the pit was closed down. Finally the vicar walked town to look at the allotment. He had heard men talking about the peas, potatoes and greens which had been grown on it. The vicar was amazed at what he saw had been produced from this little piece of land, 1095 and to the man with his coat off, working hard and sweating with his toil, he said: "What wonders the Lord can perform!" The man who had performed the hard task of cultivating the land said: "You ought to have seen what it was like when he farmed it himself." I think that emphasizes the need of having a man on the land and the necessity for hard work. We shall never get away from that so far as agriculture is concerned.
I should like also to draw attention to several other aspects which I think ought to be considered immediately. I recently visited a very big farmer friend of mine. I was most anxious to know what corn was standing in his stack—you may call them "ricks," but we call them stacks in Lincolnshire—because when I was going round the previous week I had seen some of the 1944 harvest still in his corn stacks; it was there on his farm. When I said to him, "So far as this new appeal is concerned, if it had come earlier we might have got a lot more corn in land which has gone to barley and other crops," he said "Yes." I said, "I have noticed there are a large number of stacks about and I have been wondering what is the reason why the harvest has not been threshed. I have tried to put myself in a farmer's place and I have said to myself 'I am bound to market my potatoes; they have got to go because they are perishable. My sugar beet has got to go in the season; my carrots must go. I shall feed my fat stock in the yard and eat some of my seeds. When that is done I shall put a roof on the wheat'"—you know what I mean by that. "'That will then be taken care of and if there are no vermin it will stand for a long time, but if I thresh it, having had a very bad basic year, all I shall do is to take it out of the corn stack and hand it to the Revenue.'" He replied, "You have put your finger on it." He then told me the amount he had had to pay in what he called E.P.T. He is keeping his grain; it is there to be looked at. That is not a rare case. I venture to say that if a census were taken of the amount of corn that is in stacks in this country the results would be surprising.
We know, through the county committees, how many acres of wheat are sown in any year but we do not know how much is threshed and delivered. No 1096 member of the Ministry knows that. I can tell you from my own observations that a great deal of it is in stacks, and if somebody spends a week-end with me I will take him to have a look at it, with the permission of those who have it, because there is nothing to stop them keeping it. The farmer has no need to worry about it. Why should he? He concentrates his men on cleaning and preparing his land for next year's harvest. Contrary to what the noble Lord has said, at Christmas time they were burning twitch when I was on a farm, and it has never been in a condition like that within the memory of the man who is on it, and he was born on it. He has never been so far forward with his work as he is at the present time. As far as E.P.T. is concerned, however much one may regret it, it is a fact that it does encourage farmers, instead of threshing wheat, to leave it where it is. There is a roof on it and nothing can happen to it; it is better than sending it to the mill. That is not a result of any policy pursued by the present Government, but nevertheless is a fact. This Government has inherited this slackness; it has not just been created.
If a farmer is asked "How many potatoes have you got? "he will say" I have got 120 tons" or "I have got 150 tons." Who is to say what there is or what there is not? In many cases there are far more potatoes than are disclosed in any return made to the authorities. I saw the representative of a very big area and he told me "If we get 120 tons, we pay them with two cheques; we pay for a hundred tons with an open cheque and the other one is 'pay cash to the bearer.'" He said "There is perhaps 150 tons, but they keep twenty or thirty tons to see themselves out of a difficulty, and if they want to sell them to somebody who has no potatoes they can get some oats in return." There is no method whatever of assessing the amount of food of one kind or another on the farms of this country.
In the House of Commons I have always urged the necessity for a balanced agricultural economy. I am not blaming the farmer for growing barley because it is more profitable to him than wheat. It seems to me very natural that the farmer should grow the crop which is going to bring him the best results, but I blame the Ministry for not finding this 1097 out. I am convinced in my own mind that the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, was right when he said in a speech in this House the other week that there were no figures which could be produced by any department which could be said to be sufficiently fundamental on which to build a case as to what the food supplies were in this or any other country. I look at it in my own peculiar way. When the war started this old country, faced with difficulties greater than those facing any other country which took part in this war, set about intensifying its agriculture and increasing the production of food, and succeeded in doing so. What did they do in Germany? They did precisely the same thing. What was done in Poland? The Nazis compelled the inhabitants to grow food for their armies, and they did the same thing in France. As they marched into Russia they reaped what the Russians had sown and when the Russians pushed them back they reaped what the Germans had sown. Where has all this food gone which was grown in those countries?
I am convinced in my own mind that in the scores of thousands of little farms and homesteads in Europe you will find repeated what I have said is happening in this country, but to a greater extent than in this country. America and the Argentine were remote from the areas of the war. Where has it all gone? After five years of war, with all its difficulties of transporting food from one country to another, we are suddenly faced with what is called a food crisis. I was fortified in that belief by meeting a boy who had been in Germany. He came home to my farm the other week and I interviewed him. He says that he has never been so well fed in his life before. He was not in Berlin, but in some other part of Germany. And his case is not a rare one by any means. Many other cases could be quoted. Indeed, we have seen that so far as other countries are concerned—America and Canada, for instance—the populations are doing very well for food. I have here a copy of a report from a Special Correspondent who has recently been into the Russian zone of occupation in Germany. It was published only last Sunday. I hope that I am in order in quoting this. The correspondent writes:In the last few months, among other food production, Saxony has exported 1,000 1098 tons of wheat, and rye to other Russian occupied provinces—They could not do it if it was not there. I think it is to be found in other places besides Saxony. The report goes on—and 1,070 tons of meat to Berlin and the Province of Brandenburg. In addition, 500 horses have been sent to Brandenburg, and 500 goats to Pomerania.I think that we should do well not to take too much notice of all the tales that are circulated by different countries about the shortage of food. We have always been at the feeding end of the cow instead of at the milking end. That is what I would call a cow-partnership and not a co-partnership. We have had the feeding end to look after, and they have cut the cow in two. I would not mind if they had cut it lengthways, but I do object to their cutting it crossways. I protest: against that.
In a later part of the report which I have just quoted, the correspondent goes on to talk about the general prosperity in Germany. He tells how the people feed well, and how their diet generally is better than ours here. Indeed, from what he says, their standard of feeding is infinitely superior to that in this country at the present time. In my view—and I say this in support of Lord Cherwell—we should take steps first of all to see what we have in this country. Then we should say, as a certain gentleman once did when talking to the French about their ability to pay: "Turn your pockets out." I should also like to see an approach made to Russia—who must have tremendous resources of food—and other countries. The call for help should be made to those countries as well as to this country. If, as we are told, people are starving, then those nations too should be asked to make sacrifices. We should all make sacrifices in equal proportion in order to feed the starving people.
I am getting on in years, but so fat as my recollection goes, it has always been the case that whenever there has been a shortage of food in one part of the world, there has been a surplus in another.Nature, God, provides for allAnd 'tis man that says man nay.I feel that, in the present circumstances, this Government and the Ministers concerned are receiving some criticism that they do not deserve. If there is any 1099 criticism at all to be delivered, it is with regard to what has been left behind for this Government to attend to. There would have been nothing wrong if the former Government had continued to plan ahead as they did in the past, and had encouraged or demanded the sowing of wheat in even greater quantities than before. It is my firm belief that it is possible to increase enormously the potential yield of our next harvest if we only set about our task in earnest, if we realize that our duty in these difficult times is not to try to score off each other in a political sense, but to harness ourselves to the great task of winning security from starvation, of overcoming the shortage of food which faces our people, and of trying to bring to an end long-term rationing. We do not want rationing to continue longer by a day than is necessary.
I would like to make this comment concerning what the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has said. He stated in the early part of his speech that he was not going to be partisan, but I am afraid that he could not have made the speech which he did make unless he had been partisan. I am not blaming him; in fact, I may say that I liked little bits of his speech. But he was sufficiently partisan for me to understand that he was attributing some blame for this food shortage to an insufficient number of acres being sown with wheat, and he laid that blame at the door of the present Government. My point is that if there is going to be a shortage of yield in this next harvest by reason of reduction in the number of acres sown, that will be due to lack of foresight on the part of the Government which was formerly in power.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Would the noble Lord kindly tell us what Government was in power in October? I understood that the General Election took place round about July, but I may be wrong.
§ LORD QUIBELL
Not much planning could be done between July and October. It was of long-term planning, planning ahead, that I was talking. The point which the noble Earl sought to make, concerning lack of foresight, should really have been applied to that Government which he and I at the time both supported. So far as the present Govern- 1100 ment are concerned, I believe that the Minister of Food has rightly said that he is doing all he can to meet the situation. I would, however, urge the Government to try to use the war agricultural executive committees and other organizations to the utmost. I would also suggest that an endeavour should be made to get a correct census of the food available if only for the information of the Department concerned. Let us all pull our weight and make equal sacrifices. And in saying that I ask that every effort should be made to get others to make sacrifices equal to those which we in this country are asked to make.
§ 4.37 p.m.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, the noble Eard, Lord De la Warr, has certainly done a great service in raising this matter, and the manner of his doing so is equally to be commended. There is only one small reservation in regard to his speech which I should like to make. Otherwise I am in complete agreement with it, as I think will be the case with most of your Lordships. But before coming directly to the noble Earl's speech, let me deal very briefly, if I may, with the noble Lord, Lord Quibell. I must confess that I found his speech to be in some parts contradictory. On the one hand he was at great, if somewhat laboured, pains to prove that the lack of foresight shown by the Government in the late autumn was due to the Government which had become defunct a good many months before. That is an analogy which I was quite unable to follow. Far be it from me always to throw bouquets rather than brickbats, but the late Coalition Government at any rate was a Coalition Government, and the Party to which the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, belongs, must share responsibility for its errors as well as for its good deeds.
So far as I could make out, Lord Quibell seemed to me to be in some doubt as to whether the shortage which his own leader claimed to exist, and which, I think it is generally recognized does exist, on the Continent of Europe, was really there, and he drew a picture which I believe to be reasonably accurate on the state of Germany. But, frankly, I think it is not so much the plight of the population of the German aggressor with which we are concerned as that of the victims of the German aggression. While no one would wish children anywhere, even German 1101 children, to go short of food, surely it is our duty to consider the children of the occupied countries first before we show an undue sympathy for those who precipitated the recent catastrophe. There was one other point in the noble Lord's speech that I was unable to follow. If I heard him aright, the noble Lord suggested that farmers were endeavouring to escape Excess Profits Tax by refraining from threshing the stacks. That would not do them any good, because the profit on a farm, as I know from my own experience, is calculated not on the cash balance alone but also includes the question of the increase of the valuation at the end of one year over the beginning of that financial year. Therefore, I am afraid that those would-he cunning farmers will find they gain nothing in the long run.
To come more directly to the Resolution of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, I do agree that it is absolutely essential that whatever Government are in office should, as far as is humanly possible, take the agricultural community into their confidence. The fact that this present Government adopted the name of Micawber, and at the same time stuck its head into the sand, was a tragedy of the first water, because it meant that a considerable area which could well have been sown with wheat in the autumn was not so sown, and that in an autumn which was noticeable for the mildness of its temperature and weather conditions generally. We hope that in the future this will not occur, and that the Government will take both the farming community and the Opposition into their confidence. In this matter there should be no Party feeling whatsoever. Matters of this sort are far too serious and far too weighty to admit of any petty sniping or attempts to gain ground.
The one point on which I have a slight hesitation is paragraph (b) in the terms of the noble Earl's Resolution, in which he asks not only for a strong lead but for full support to be given to the war agricultural executive committees. While I am in agreement with that, I - would venture to suggest one addition; that is, that certain of these committees should be brought to realize that the purpose of a committee is to get things done with as little friction as possible. The committee of which I am a member is, I think, no 1102 more unpopular than any committee can hope to be, because it has always taken as its view-point that the Object of a committee is to help the farmer and to encourage him rather than to bully him. It also believes that agricultural land should be farmed by the farmer and not by the war agricultural executive committee. The result is that only in very few cases have we ever taken over agricultural land and worked it ourselves, and when we have done so we have always taken the very first opportunity to hand it over either to its former cultivator or to some new person. I am afraid that is not the case everywhere, and I do think that while it is felt that support should be given to these committees, it should also be made plain to them that their real function is to encourage the farmer and to deal with him by persuasion, rather than by using driving and dragooning methods, which should only be as a very last resort.
The main comment I want to make this afternoon is upon paragraph (c), dealing with the question of labour and houses in rural areas. I want particularly to-allude to one point which I do not think has yet cropped up in the course of the debate; that is the question of the employment of juvenile labour in the harvest. In various parts of the country certain self-styled educationists have waxed positively hysterical upon the evils of child labour. One would imagine that children were being sent to work in the salt-mines under the knout from the many exaggerations that have been openly expressed. Various education committees, certainly in Scotland and, I think, elsewhere, have tried to make it clear that if it is left to them there will be no child labour available for the harvest this year. If that is to be accepted, it is going to be a disaster. The noble Earl has given us a very good picture of the labour strength in England and Wales which mutatis mutandis can be applied to Scotland also. If we are going to have a crop as good as we can expect, and if we are going to have the mixed weather which so often exists at harvest time, the services of children will be needed, and if those services are not afforded much valuable foodstuffs will be lost to the nation and to Europe. I hope that, while I am in agreement that children should be properly paid and work in excellent conditions, His 1103 Majesty's Government will make it clear that they are not against the employment of children, particularly during the potato harvest.
Lastly, there is the question of housing. I do hope that the present distinctly discouraging attitude of the present Government towards improvement or the rebuilding of rural houses by their owners will be modified. Like many of your Lordships and other landowners, I was modernizing houses at the very beginning of the war and would have got them all finished had it not been for the war. Are those of us who are doing that work not going to get the labour and materials to make those houses into proper and satisfactory dwelling places? If not, many of us will go to the building black market, because we do consider it absolutely essential that the agricultural labourer and farm worker should have as good housing conditions as his fellow worker in the city. Up to date the conditions cannot be considered to be in any way satisfactory and we must have, I think, an assurance from the Government that they are going to do all in their power to increase the number of houses available for rural workers. It will also be remembered that the very heavy arable programme of cropping which exists at the present time means that there are not enough houses for the workers, even if the workers are available, because for a great many years past the mixed farming programme has been more or less stabilized. You had therefore a more or less fixed number of workers and usually an adequate number of houses for them, although in all too many cases those houses were not modernized. To-day, not only are many of those houses needing modernization, but their numbers are often entirely inadequate for the labour force which is required in many districts.
Although not so important, I would ask the Government also to do what they can to release materials and labour for the erection of implement sheds, particularly in the more exposed portions of the country, because farming methods have changed very much in the last generation, and farmers now require several times the number of implements they needed only twenty or thirty years ago. Fortunately, farmers are beginning to realize it is not 1104 really very good economy to leave their binder in the corner of the stackyard or to leave their potato-lifter in the corner of the field from the end of one harvest until the beginning of the next harvest. They do realize that these implements ought to be under cover. No farms, unless they have been modernized fairly recently, have anything like adequate accommodation for these implements, many of which are, of course, delicate and complicated, requiring overhead and, in many cases, side shelter. If, therefore, we are not going to have a deterioration of implements, and a loss to the country in general, it will be necessary for implement sheds to be provided. I hope that the Government will do all within their power to see that labour and materials are released for this purpose.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether in view of the grave shortage of food now existing in the country, they will cause all agricultural lands owned, or under requisition, by the three Services and not at present used for Service purposes, to be again put under cultivation. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise at this particular moment in the debate with your Lordships' permission and for the convenience of the House, to ask His Majesty's Government the question which stands in my name. I am indeed deeply grateful to the noble Earl for having given me this opportunity to raise this point with His Majesty's Government at this particular moment. I do not know whether it is a coincidence or not but within a very few days of having put my question down, certain authorities under the War Department began to get very busy in my neighbourhood—I am talking, of course, of Salisbury Plain—and they proceeded to go round to the farmers and ask them at this eleventh hour if they would make their land arable again. For three reasons, many of these farmers have found it impossible to acquiesce. Firstly, they have only been granted a two-year tenancy under this great War Department and in this vast area over which the War Department hold sway. Secondly, many of them have not got the necessary capital at this moment to get the ground cleaned and put down to arable and thirdly, when they have sown this land the clause in their agreement holds good that the 1105 troops can go right through it whenever they wish. It appears to me somewhat farcical at the eleventh hour to ask farmers to take on such a job.
One farmer, who rented under the War Department a 1,200 acre farm up to 1943, when the army of occupation in that area was still manœuvring and the guns were still firing, produced no less than sixty-one and a half tons of prime meat in a year as well as corn, wheat, barley and so on. He has taken on two hundred acres on the fringe of this area because he is prepared to take a chance and he has got the tackle to do so. But is he allowed to put his men back into the cottages he owns in that area? No, his workmen have to live out and only officials of the War Department are allowed to live in his cottages. It is very difficult to think that this is a sane policy or that you are going to get the best out of the farmers who are the tenants of the War Department in this area.
In 1940 we knew we might have an invasion at any moment and in consequence the whole of this country was mapped out. Prisoner-of-war cages were made. It may seem very strange, but now, nearly nine months since the war has finished, one of the largest prisoner-of-war cages erected in 1940 is still in the middle of this area. It is within 300 yards of a main road where no possible manœuvring of any kind can take place. Anyone can see it as he drives along the main Salisbury to Devizes road. Do His Majesty's Government really mean business? One is really beginning to doubt from their own example whether they do. We shall be told, no doubt, that a committee has been set up and that they are very carefully investigating whether this or that land shall be continued under the War Department but that no decision has been arrived at yet. No doubt I shall be told that I have not given the noble Lord notice, but quite frankly I did not think it was necessary. I raised this matter with the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for War last August and last September and I have had a letter from the Minister of Agriculture to say that it is receiving his urgent attention. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, I do not quarrel with Governments, but I have not heard anything at all and the Government have been in office since last July.
I wish to place before His Majesty's Government three points. Firstly, if land 1106 is to be offered to these farmers again and they are asked to put it down to arable, the minimum tenancy should be five years and not two years. Secondly, once this ground has been ploughed up and put back to arable for corn, wheat or barley, the troops should be forbidden to traverse it. I think those are two suggestions which His Majesty's Government might very well accede to and grant. Lastly, in these vast areas of Salisbury Plain—I live there, so I know what is going on—there are hundreds of acres now, alas, under Government control, growing nothing but dandelions and thistles. They could easily be turned over to the farmers and could be producing food by next year. So long as the present policy of His Majesty's Government exist;—especially that of the War Department—I feel with regret that these hundreds of acres will continue to grow dandelions and thistles.
I turn from that matter to the question of the aerodrome, built it is true at a moment of great urgency, in the finest part of our county. For security purposes it is known as the Keevil aerodrome but: it is actually in the parish of Steeple Ashton. There is a 1,700 yards runway there and there is a Spitfire factory still turning out Spitfires. They are assembled there and sent out a few at a time. Most of this aerodrome is under water throughout the winter and yet: we are told by the authorities that this is going to be a permanent aerodrome. We cannot have: any premanent barracks there for ten years. The aerodrome is costing the country, a fortune because of the wet ground where it is placed. I submit here again that His Majesty's Government could well return this land to the tenants and allow them to grow food for this country for the next two or three years rather than lot it go on as an aerodrome. I am grateful to your Lordships for allowing me to put forward these facts. We feel very strongly that we are being frustrated and that the example sot by His Majesty's Government is not a good one. If your Lordships will come down there you will see that it is not a good one. I trust that what is now a land of dandelions and thistles will be turned back to a land flowing with milk and honey.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD NATHAN)
My Lords, I have no 1107 technical qualifications for taking part in a debate on this vitally important question of agriculture. Indeed, I have less than no qualifications, because in my own experience of farming on a small scale, I have consistently made a loss year by year. I think it is convenient, perhaps, that I should answer at this moment the question put by the noble Viscount, Lord Long, whose question appeared on the Paper as a separate question independently of the Motion made by the noble Earl opposite. I must confess quite frankly that, couched as the question was in general terms, I have directed my mind to replying in general terms. I was not aware, although I make no complaint of course, that the noble Viscount was likely to raise specific questions. Before I come to the general reply, perhaps I might say this, that I have myself devoted some attention to the use of land for agricultural purposes, and I think it may be the result of some suggestions I have made that inquiries have recently been made of farmers, particularly round the perimeter of training areas, as to whether agricultural pursuits could be carried on without interference with the particular purpose for which the land was acquired. I am not familiar with the point as to the two or five years' tenancy, although I appreciate it, and I can certainly, I feel, give to the noble Viscount an assurance that where there are growing crops of wheat or barley, which I think he mentioned, appropriate steps will be taken to ensure they are not wantonly trespassed upon by the troops.
May I come to the more general reply which I would give to the noble Viscount? I wish him to understand that the urgent need for the maximum cultivation of land is fully real Ad by the various Service Departments, and that all possible steps are taken to ensure that the land owned or controlled by them is made available for agricultural purposes whenever and wherever Service requirements make that practicable. As he has asked a question with regard to the three Services, let me take the Army first. The bulk of the land held or used by the Army is required for military training, and for this purpose it is held under Defence Regulation No. 52, which only confers rights over the land when it is not necessary to displace the farmers or the other occupants. Indeed, the major part of such land, if 1108 it is suitable for agricultural purposes, is being farmed in the normal way, without interference by the War Office in the training that is being carried out under its direction. But there are extensive areas of land either owned or controlled by the War Department—I think I identify one of those areas which the noble Viscount had in mind—or held on requisition under Defence of the Realm Regulation No. 51, which confers different and more extensive rights than those conferred by Regulation 52, to which I referred previously. Now, land which is owned by the War Department, whenever the use to which it is put by the War Department makes it possible, is as a matter of routine let to agricultural tenants or to grazing licensees, and in addition, there is the Army agricultural scheme, which does useful work. I do not wish to exaggerate —
§ THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
May I ask the noble Lord what is the length of the period for which they are let?
§ LORD NATHAN
I mentioned just now I had not been informed of that precise question and that I was not familiar with it. I am unable to say whether it is two or five years, which I think was the period.
§ LORD NATHAN
The noble Viscount, Lord Long, suggested it was two years, and asked that it might be turned into five. I said I would look into that matter.
§ THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
Does the noble Lord realize that a two-year tenancy makes it impossible for people suddenly to go on growing wheat in the middle of March?
§ LORD NATHAN
I made it quite clear that I appreciate the point, although, not having been forewarned that that particular point would be put to me, as to the length of the tenancy, I am not in a position to make a specific reply at this moment to the noble Earl. So much for that. I was speaking of the Army agricultural scheme, and saying that it does useful work, which I do not wish to exaggerate. It does useful work within camp areas, and in places where cultivation by civilians would not be practicable. Then there is the land requisitioned under Regulation 51, which gives full rights of possession. That is released to the owner 1109 as quickly as possible after it ceases to be required for Army purposes. Large areas have already been released, and release is constantly proceeding.
The future requirements of the Army are at the moment being reviewed in detail at the War Office, and I hope that as a result, more land will be released. But the temporary retention of considerable areas of land is unavoidable, even after they have been declared as surplus to military requirements. In some cases the land must be held pending the clearance of unexploded missiles—a long and difficult task, for which only a limited amount of skilled labour is available. I think noble Lords would be astonished if they knew not only of the labour involved and the difficulty involved in the clearance of unexploded missiles, but also of the very large area to which this difficulty applies. It is not felt that it would be wise or proper finally to release areas although they are no longer used for War Office purposes, for training purposes, unless and until they can be handed over in what might be called a tolerably safe condition.
That is in itself a delaying factor which it is right should be mentioned and taken into account. That land must remain out of cultivation until it can be made safe. I am sure there can be no question on the part of noble Lords as to that. Other areas are necessarily held pending the disposal of War Department assets. In all types of cases, however, it is the policy of the War Office to facilitate the re-use of all available and suitable land either by arrangement with adjoining owners or farmers or though the Army agricultural scheme. In cases where large areas of requisitioned land have been very bady damaged, and the owners are unable to take the land back in its present state, local war agricultural executive committees are invited to assist in bringing it back into condition.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
May I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? Do I understand by that statement that what are now prisoner-of-war cages will be handed back to the tenants so that they can be put under cultivation?
§ LORD NATHAN
In so far as the prisoner-of-war cages are no longer used, and that is doubtless of fairly general application, they will be handed back provided they are not required for any 1110 other purpose for which they had been requisitioned, or rather, that the area upon which they stand is not required for any other War Office purposes. I turn from the War Office to the Air Ministry, who are similarly taking all possible steps to release land for cultivation. They have worked out a comprehensive and detailed plan designed to make available this year the maximum amount of suitable land at airfields compatible with Service use. Airfields which are no longer in use, and which are known to be outside peacetime requirements, are handed over for unrestricted agricultural use. Where an airfield is scheduled for further flying use, though not so used at present, the cultivation of limited areas is allowed subject to precautions regarding drainage. The cultivation of areas outside perimeter tracks where the safety of flying would not be affected has always been arranged and continues. Land requisitioned by the Air Ministry for bombing ranges can seldom be put under cultivation because of the danger from unexploded missiles. As in the case of the Army, which I mentioned before, grazing is normally arranged when the more harmless ranges are temporarily out of use. Surplus land at wireless stations is also let wherever possible.
So far as the Admiralty is concerned, it has been throughout the war and still is the policy to devote all suitable land under Admiralty occupation to food production to the greatest possible extent consistent with the Service use for which the land is held. In some cases arrangements have been made in consultation with the local war agricultural executive committees for local farmers to graze land in Admiralty occupation, and in other cases land has been cultivated on an allotment basis by Service personnel. In furtherance of this policy, and in view of the present food situation, the Admiralty, in agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, are placing considerable areas of land within the enclosures of Royal Naval Air Stations at the disposal of the war agricultural executive committees for cultivation, where this can be done without serious interference with the safe use of landing grounds. Requisitioned land is being released so that it can revert to agricultural use immediately it is no longer required by the Admiralty. The noble 1111 Viscount asked me questions as to the three Services, and as to the three Services I have answered.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ LORD CORNWALLIS
My Lords, I am somewhat at a loss to know quite where to get back to the agricultural debate and to the Motion moved by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. I have listened in the last quarter of an hour to discussions about prisoners' cages, unexploded missiles and I do not know what, and I honestly felt that I was a churchwarden (which I am) in my church, reading the Lesson, or something of that kind, on Sunday. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, that he is not the only farmer who makes a loss; so perhaps he may take some comfort from that. But may I get back to the noble Earl's request that we should seriously get down to the question and consider whether we could not plan ahead a little more in our agricultural industry?
It does seem to me rather incongruous that, in a world where everyone is being controlled by planners and where life is now apparently to be planned from the cradle to the grave, agriculture should be the one industry where every farmer's plans, however sensible and well thought out, are always the ones to be completely frustrated. It is just a platitude for me to say that a farmer has to plan his cropping rotation, the layout of his farm, and so on, some years ahead, and he cannot alter his plans because of miscalculations in a Government Department, or because politicians have changed their mind. I do want noble Lords on the opposite side to realize that there is nothing so exasperating as this "blow hot, blow cold" policy, an "enduring policy" one month, and a panic policy the next. It is no good. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has tried to show you it is no good. Moreover, it is no use saying it is this Government's fault, or that Government's fault, or the previous Government's fault. It is no good sending out an S.O.S., as one was sent out at the end of last November for autumn sowing and another in the middle of February for spring sowing, when, in my particular country, we have six inches to two feet of know on the ground.
1112 I want to emphasize the tragic loss there has been to the small man owing to the exhortations and the contradictions about pigs and poultry. They are the very farmers who have received the hardest blows in these last years, and they are small men. I know many of them. On the exhortations of whatever Government it was—and I do not care a hang which one it was—they got their hatcheries back, they built up their flocks and I do not know what they did not do. The small dairyman was told he should keep every single heifer calf, and now he is told that the livestock resurrection or reconstruction, or whatever it is called, has got to be put back for goodness knows how many years. I believe your Lordships discussed allowing the female sex into this House yesterday. Do, please realize that the agricultural industry is not one which can change as quickly as ladies' fashions. Careful thought and timing are required.
May I just emphasize, if it wants emphasizing, though surely everybody knows it, that Government timing—whichever Government, again, I do not mind in the least—is always too late. May I take an example of Government timing that is too late? I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Southwood, is responsible for the paper I hold in my hand. It does not seem to me very good timing for this periodical to come out on February 9, just about the day when they were talking about cuts in rations, with a big picture of the Minister of Food and the words: "Sir Ben Smith Plans 1946 Menu" on the outside. In the middle of the periodical you find there is what is obviously an inspired article—an interview—which is published on February 9:Guardian of Britain's food, Sir Ben Smith, the Minister of Food, looks forward to improving and varying our diet this year.That does not seem to me very good timing, and it is about the same sort of timing as we get in requests to plough up our land. Of course it may be sheer publicity: possibly the figure of the Minister of Food may be good publicity for a cut in rations!
It is to the last two points in the noble Earl's Resolution, however, that I wish specially to direct your Lordship's attention. I may say some quite critical things, because I am unfortunately one of those people who have had experience. Therefore I want to say that there is no personal 1113 reflection on the Minister of Agriculture at all. I am sure he is utterly sincere in his desire to put agriculture on a proper and lasting basis. I want also to make perfectly clear that neither do I wish in any way to minimize the efforts of the officials of his Ministry, because I have never received anything but complete courtesy, help and encouragement from them throughout the whole of the last six and a half years. But I do want to show this House and perhaps tell the Minister of Agriculture that their efforts and his efforts seem to be thoroughly frustrated by political panaceas and by other Government Departments.
If your Lordships will bear with me for a little while I will try and give you some definite examples, which create the feeling that, whatever the food crisis, agriculture is not considered a priority and is still the Cinderella of Government Departments. On Saturday, June 8, I believe there is to be a victory march. God knows, it seems to be a pyrrhic victory! I believe there is to be a Victory march. In his announcement of the proceedings on that day the Prime Minister, in another place, enumerated all those who were to take part, from Allied troops to N.A.A.F.I., the N.F.S., the Red Cross, and I do not know whom else. There was not one mention of agriculture, and, as usual, the women's service that I consider anyhow has done the finest job of all the women's services—the Women's Land Army—was completely ignored. Now they may be used to that sort of treatment, but it does not help the recruiting campaign for the Women's Land Army that has just started. I wonder if 'those of your Lordships who have not served on war agricultural executive committees have any idea of the scope and size of their operations.
I want now to give you some examples of the difficulties we are up against. To carry out our task we have to have workshops to repair and service vast quantities of machinery. It does not quite give confidence that agriculture has priority when the President of the Board of Trade orders you out of a workshop where threshing machines are being overhauled, binders are being repaired and tractors are being serviced, because he wants it to export screws, or something else to another part of the world. We had to look elsewhere and 1114 we eventually found a place which the N.F.S. wished to vacate, and so we went in. We had to find it in another town, but the N.F.S. were perfectly prepared to relinquish it. We went in there and we had not been there a week before the Ministry of Health said it was a building site, the whole thing had to be pulled down and we should get out at once. We refused. What happened next? The Rural District Council was ordered to billet people in the bunks behind the workshops where we hoped to house our mechanics, so that we should have to move out in any event. We appealed to the Office of Works. There was another place which we could get for £600 a year, but the Office of Works refused to requisition it for £600 a year. They said the rent was too much and they would not do it because we went into the other place before they had requisitioned it. They would not do anything at all for us until they got orders from the Ministry of Agriculture. Do not blame farmers if corn is not reaped and threshed; inquire of the four or five Departments who have been frustrating whilst that corn rotted.
I want to give you another instance. I have been searching for about two years to find war agricultural executive committee offices. The only really suitable place was occupied by a very small section of the Army, so we have had to go into nine different places, with a motor to take the papers from department to department. Now the Ministry of Health say that the Town Council is turning us out of those places so that they may billet people in them, and the Town Council has passed a resolution, and sent it to the Ministry of Health, stating that huts are good enough for the staff of war agricultural executive committees. Yes, anything is good enough for those who produce the food! I am sorry if I am wearying your Lordships, but it is time this sort of thing came out.
Another difficulty with which we have to contend is that of transport and tyres for the lorries. I wonder how many tyres of the size we want are lying rotting in Army dumps at this particular moment? I know of a case where thirty per cent. of the lorries are off the road owing to the shortage of tyres of the size 34 by 7 as used on five-ton lorries. One firm of tyre distributors has seventy-six outstanding orders for them, and another one has had 1115 500 demands for them. I am not worried about that, but what is happening is that it is holding up the delivery of fertilizers and other essentials for agriculture, because the small sized tyres now being issued burst when the lorry is loaded to capacity. Therefore there is not an agricultural lorry running in those districts with more than two-thirds of its possible load. If food production is so vitally important, is it not possible for agriculture to have priority over the Service scrap heaps?
I want to ask the Government one more question; what are they going to do about the reorganization of war agricultural executive committees? I warn them that unless they carry through that reorganization soon, the war agricultural executive committees will lose all the best men from their staffs. The staffs are only on a temporary basis, they have no security whatever, they do not know what their future is going to be, and in consequence all the good men are getting much better jobs at much higher salaries. Exactly the same applies to the National Advisory Service. I stress the importance of a decision, and a generous one, because I can visualize that the whole of the organization which has been carefully built up over the last six and a half years may simply disintegrate and collapse if we do not do something about it.
Now I want to come to the last part of the noble Earl's Motion, labour and housing. I wonder very much whether even the House of Lords realizes how serious the agricultural position is. Looking at the empty Benches around me I wonder whether they really do care whether agriculture survives or not. Do your Lordships realize how serious this labour and housing question is? I know of three counties in which I checked up, and in which I corroborate the figures given by the noble Earl. In these three counties at this moment for every three and a half British workers on the land there is one German or Italian prisoner. May I remind your Lordships that in that three and a half there are conscientious objectors and members of the Women's Land Army—although I would not couple the two together if I could help it? We have lost about 1,500 of our Women's Land Army girls, the very 1116 best of them, and the "conchies" are, to say the least of it, not quite Too per cent. skilled agricultural craftsmen. We must have an answer in the counties. What is to happen when the prisoners go away? How long are we going to have them? We must have answers to those questions. In my county we cannot even man the threshing machines without them now.
May I show you another side of the picture, a financial one? In my county alone we are sending out bills to farmers for payment for gang labour, machinery hire, contract work, etc., to the tune of £ 20,000 a week. That is in one county; that is how the work is being done. What will be the position when the prisoners leave and when there are no contract gangs for us to send out to farmers and to bill them for? May I make a still further plea for the release, not only of agricultural workers in the Forces but also of young farmers who want to start on their own and who, in many cases, were not in possession of their farms at the beginning of the war or when they were called up? Some of them were just going to agricultural courses and things of that kind. I appeal for them to be released at once. Everyone has to make a start at some time, and we do want to build up a younger generation in this great industry of ours. I hope the Government will do that, because there are many farmers' sons in that category.
I should like also to say a word about the agricultural training scheme. Candidates are not coming forward quite as fast as we should like. We find there is a great deal of ignorance about this scheme and that labour exchanges and welfare officers are not properly posted in the details and in the intricacies of its working. The men who do come before us for interview are those who have fought their way through obstacles and discouragement because they are absolutely determined to go on the land. I would warn you that the pamphlet "Farm Workers and Farming" is now a damning document. I know that it was issued, and quite rightly issued, because of the wish to stop the tragedies of ignorance which occurred after the 1914–18 war, but I warn the Minister now that that document is having a seriously deterrent effect on the people who want to come forward. It frightens would-be applicants. I have 1117 had welfare officers say to me that they could not possibly advise men to take up the profession of the land after they had read that document. I ask that more enlightenment and encouragement should be given in respect of this scheme.
I must say one more thing about housing, which is perhaps the most serious feature of all. My Lords, do believe me when I say that wages are not the crux of this matter. Good men who earn them are getting good wages, but no one is getting any houses. The Ministry asked us to get out a census of what our requirements were in the various counties for agricultural workers' houses. We based our census on the increased tillage area, and we halved it because we realized that certainly not more than half of that increased tillage area would be kept in production or in cultivation after the war. On the basis of only three houses to 100 acres, on half the tillage acreage—and not counting in our fruit and hops and goodness knows what else, which need twice the Labour that the ordinary open arable needs—I want 3,000 agricultural cottages in my county now.
That is a very serious situation. We may be worse off than in other counties. But we did have a war on down our way, and there happen to be some 100,000 agricultural buildings, including cottages, that were damaged. So the position there may be worse than elsewhere, but that is the situation. Now I want to make what is, perhaps, a disclosure. I hope that the Minister will not think that I am betraying him as his agent. The Minister told us to—this was the word he used—"intimidate" the rural district council into building agricultural cottages. I did not go back and intimidate. I went back and asked them what their troubles were. If your Lordships will bear with me, I will just read to you the answer that I got from the rural district councils as to the processes they have to go through before they can get one house.
May we start with the matter of the "Selection of the site?" The answer states under this head: (a) Normally in conjunction with Parish Council. Site or sites suggested then referred to (b) the Surveyor who makes preliminary survey as to suitability and then (c) refers to housing committee for decision. The housing committee having decided on a site it is, after preparation of site plans 1118 by the surveyor (d) referred to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning who consult (e) the Ministry of War Transport and (f) the Ministry of Agriculture and (g) the Ministry of Health Regional Office. If no objections are raised by the Ministries (d), (e), (f) and (g) the site is (h) approved. Do your Lordships want the rest of it? I can go on for another page and a half. Every single detailed stage has to go through some five controls and four Ministries and goodness knows what else before you ever see a sign of a house. Are all these hamstringing restrictions really necessary?
And now I hope that for the first time in this speech I am going to be rather partisan. I desire to warn the Government. There is an impression gaining ground that the Minister of Health is putting Party politics before house building. He has said that only one in four houses will be built by private enterprise. I know private individuals who, even at sacrifice to themselves, are prepared to build to-morrow as hard as they can go, if given the chance. But they are not allowed to do so. And is not the real issue this: that when someone builds a house and owns a house, he has a stake in the country, and he perhaps, ceases to be a Socialist? So that, even at the cost of no houses, no one must own a house. He must be a tenant of some council, and then he will have less chance of deserting the Socialist faith. That is the feeling that is gaining ground, and it is believed that it is a definite thought-out policy. If it is, then we can whistle for agricultural houses. I only hope to Heaven that it is not.
In conclusion, there is one further remark which I am very sorry to have to make. I notice that in another place, in answer to a question from a Member as to whether the Minister would restore the wheat deficiency payments as an incentive to grow spring wheat, the Minister answered: "Farmers ought to do it out of loyalty." I am sorry that he made that remark. I know the loyalty of the farmers. They have supported my Committee and every other Committee that I know of, where they have been run properly, for six and a half years. In spite of order and counter-order, they have always responded when asked, but there is a great deal of difference between asking and ordering. Well, they are, perhaps, 1119 legitimately wondering now whether miners are getting coal out of loyalty, or whether dockers refuse to unload food ships out of loyalty.
Farmers do not strike, you know, though apparently it is now going to be encouraged and made perfectly legal to hold a pistol to the nation's head. I ask the Government to stop these exhortations to people to come to the rescue in the nation's need, for these exhortations are nearly always made when it is almost impossible for us to comply with them. But the farmers always have done, and always will do—even at sacrifice to themselves—their best to respond to the country's call. But I do beg—and I hope that the noble Earl, who is going to reply, will not think that I am being vindictive or too critical—that they should be given confidence. Do not let them be frustrated and harried by other Departments. Let them be paid fair prices for what they produce. Give them the tools, give them the houses, give them the men, and they will not let the nation suffer.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I feel somewhat diffident in addressing your Lordships' House after the splendid and stirring speech which we have just listened to, but I desire to say a word about the war agricultural executive committees. Those of your Lordships who have served for six or more years on war agricultural executive committees will know one thing, and that is that the members of those committees are getting tired. And they have reason to be so, for although I have heard very considerable criticism as to the quality of their work, I have heard very little criticism concerning the quantity of it. There is no disputing the great amount of work that they have done. But they are at the present moment in a state of some doubt. They know that, as at present constituted, they are about to be abolished, but they do not know when. The general impression would seem to be that the abolition will come about between August and October. Each committee knows that it is to be replaced by a body which is to consist of two farmers, two landowners, two agricultural workers, and an undefined and indeterminate body of nominated members with presumably some qualifications. That is going to be a pretty radical change, because whereas 1120 a war agricultural executive committee has had on the average 75 to 80 per cent. farmers running it, it may well be that in the future there will be less than 20 per cent. As I say, this is a radical change. We have come to the stage now when it is desired to breathe new life again into the moribund bones of these present war agricultural executive committees. I agree that there is only one way to do it, and that is for the Government to take them into their confidence, to tell them what they want, and also why.
Next we come to the district committees, and here the position is even more obscure, because, remarkable though it may seem, in none of the Minister's speeches nor in any of the numerous memoranda that have gone around have I seen any single mention of district committees. Yet I think those who work on war agricultural executive committees will confirm me when I. say this, that the spadework has been done by the district committees; it was the district committees, not the war agricultural executive committees, who made the farm surveys, who have graded every farm, who have been responsible for every cultivation order, who have supervised the farms, bringing many of them up from C to A grade, and who finally have been the originators even of the dispossession orders and have borne the brunt of the unpopularity—though I quite agree there was plenty left to go round to the war agricultural executive committees.
Who are these district committees? They are three or four thousand of the best farmers in England, and they have worked. My own district committee during the years 1940 to 1942, I reckon, did on the average fifteen hours a week on this work alone, and they also had a full time job to do. In addition to that, they were nearly all of them Special Constables, members of the Home Guard, or Air Raid Wardens. I venture to think those men have served their country well, and I would suggest that we should be told what is going to happen to them. Are they going to be abolished? Are they going to be permitted to resign? Are they going to be reorganized? Or are they, in accordance with the precedent set by the late Minister with regard to the land fertility committee, just to be allowed to fade quietly away? I think they deserve an answer, because 1121 they do not know; most of them think they are going out this autumn.
What about the farmer? I suggest to your Lordships that at the present moment the farmer is flummoxed. In the late autumn, but after the harvests in Canada and U.S.A. were got in, he was informed that there was any amount of wheat in the country; the acreage subsidy had been cut in half; the orders for growing wheat were being discontinued; there was even talk of rationing, if you please, the wheat acreage! The time of the hoe, the pig and the hen was coming. And, as you have heard, many a small man invested his savings to make a start in this direction. Further than that, eminent authors emerged from their lairs and in a most attractive way told us that mixed fanning was muddled thinking. The cow and the cabbage were the things we had got to keep an eye on, not the corn. A few months passed, five or possibly six, and then the bomb fell, and the farmer was told, to his amazement, that there was a grim shortage of all grain, and that starvation stared us in the face; and, further than that, remarkable as it was, that that grim shortage was going on for two or possibly even three years. My Lords, I would ask: how can these things be?
This country has been an importer of food, I would not say "from time immemorial," but for many years—otherwise she would have starved. That, I more than presume, those responsible in this country for studying the growth of the wheat harvests of the world from the time of sowing to the time of harvest—I do not know how often they get reports, but I always imagine they are probably fortnightly or even weekly—would know. We hear of droughts and things of that sort. But a drought is not a thing which happens in a night. It is a thing that goes on and on. I tell your Lordships this, that of all the grain crops wheat is the one that stands drought the best. Many a good crop of wheat has been grown on four inches of rain. Is it surprising that the farmer is saying to himself (and I hope the noble Earl will answer this): How is it that, when one harvest fails, that accounts for two or three years of scarcity? "Surely one harvest cannot amount to more than one year. Anyway, it is puzzling to the farmer, I can assure the noble Earl of that. The farmer is 1122 saying to himself "I believe the Ministry is now being just as pessimistic as it was too optimistic in the autumn."
Just one word about the farm worker and what he is saying now. I think he is really talking mainly about wages at the present moment. He looks upon this wage question as an elusive prize which always escapes him, the prize being a comparative reward for his skill and energy in accordance with that which other workers receive. It always eludes him, for this reason, that, the moment he catches up all the other industries, they attempt at once to put their wages on a higher level. And, mark you, very often there are grounds for saying, "You would not have us paid like an agricultural worker!" It is amazing. The question of wages to the farmer, on the other hand, stands like the sword of Damocles above his head. It may be different in some parts of the country, but in my part of the country farming is by no means an Eldorado. There are many farmers in the same position as Lord Nathan confessed himself to be in at the present time; they are only just on the right side, and many of them are on the wrong side.
It seems to me that there are two lines which the Government can lake. They might say (and this is what I wish they would say), "The farm worker is the man we regard as having the first priority in the profits of the industry. This is what he ought to have; this is a wage suitable for his skill and his work. That is the first charge, and we will see that the prices allow him to get it." On the other hand, they might say, "This is the most that the country can afford for its food," and allow the present or some better machinery to see that he gets as much as reasonably possible out of it. But they do not do either at the present moment, and the uncertainty is having a very disastrous effect. I am encouraged by seeing a question asked but not answered in the other House, to put it here. One of the things that most affects the farm worker is the fact that he pays Income Tax on his overtime. Although, of course, that is reasonable enough, he dislikes it above all things, and he even sometimes goes to the extent of not doing overtime at his own farm but doing overtime at a neighbour's farm, because he finds that more profitable. I suppose that it is not possible that the farm 1123 worker who works overtime should get some revision of Income Tax, but if it was possible not only should we get a lot more overtime from him but the farmer would have a lot less overtime in doing his accounts. So there seem to be two advantages there.
I should like to stress the question of the German prisoners. I hope we may be relieved of some uncertainty as to when they are going. Some say it is after the 1946 harvest and some after the 1947 harvest, but no one knows. In some ways I shall not be sorry, although at the present moment we could not possibly get on without them. I do not like the system which is growing every day of a farmer keeping a minimum number of men and sending out for a gang to do his work. I was brought up on the understanding that a farmer kept a full staff. During harvests and at other times they worked full time and overtime and during the slacker periods they did such work as cleaning out hedges and ditches and so on. What is happening now is that these drainage operations are not being done in many parts of the county and if we are not careful in a year or two we shall find the drainage position in just as bad a position.
With regard to cottages, I hope the Government will bear this in mind. When these cottages are built—and I hope that our views are pessimistic and that they will come quicker than we think—I trust that they will be occupied by farm-workers. We have had county council houses built before for farm-workers. I have been to see them after three or four years and the number of farm-workers in them was very few. If a cottage is built for a farm-worker it is to that extent a tied cottage, and I may say that I attended a meeting addressed by the Minister of Health the other day when he made a statement that he would not insult an honest workman by asking him to go and built a tied cottage. That does not lead me to the belief that those cottages ostensibly built for farm-workers will be "tied" in the sense that they will be really reserved for farm-workers. At any rate it is not very encouraging.
We listened not so very long ago to the noble Viscount who leads the House telling us the Government's long-term policy and we welcomed it not only for the way he introduced it, but also for 1124 the fact that it was in accordance with the proposals of practically every reputable body which had been put forward before. That is the picture and I think the time has come to make it a little bit more definite and by seeing what can be done practically to make that picture a living work. If I may say so without offence, His Majesty's Government are remarkably good at demolition. I do not think that anyone on either side of the House will deny that. Their efficiency, their speed, their earnestness and their temerity in pulling down the ancient system under which we have lived for so long is simply marvellous. Of course, the system has many faults. I quite agree, but after all it was the envy and admiration of Europe for many years. But although demolition is fun—I should have enjoyed it myself enormously—building is really a higher job and I hope the Government will turn some of their attention, more of their attention, to the restoration rather than the demolition of things and that they will do it particularly with regard to agriculture.
It is only the producers who can restore prosperity to this country, as the Prime Minister so rightly said, and especially the producers of primary products who are really the only producers of wealth. One of the things which frightens me to-day more than anything else is this. I have every respect and admiration for the Civil Service. They are a fine body of men, probably the best in the world. They can help the producers and when they can they enjoy it. Sometimes they hinder the producers and it seems to me that sometimes then they also enjoy it. But whether they are good or bad, everyone of them has got to be fed, clothed and paid for by the men who produce and when I hear, as was stated in another place, that one man in every four is in some form or another in the Civil Service and when I see every day that their numbers are being swollen and that their emoluments are going up, I am terrified as to how the ever-dwindling body of producers is going to support these men. I have spoken too long, but I would just add this. I would ask the Government to go to the industry, all sections of it, and tell them what they want and may I stress this?—tell them why they want it. I am quite sure that if they do that the industry will not fail them. It has not failed them yet.
§ 5.58 p.m.
May I ask the noble Lord his authority for the figure of one man in every four being in the Civil Service?
§ LORD CRANWORTH
It was stated in another place during last week. The Civil Service includes all the public services. I have also seen the statement in print, besides seeing it in Hansard.
I venture to offer the opinion that it is a long way off the mark if it refers only to Government service.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ LORD HARLECH
My Lords, as usual in agricultural debates we have had speeches from noble Lords familiar with East Anglia and south-eastern counties. Coming from Wales, I should like to say something on behalf of western farmers who are, of course, in a very different position. I personally think that the Government's chief fault in this sudden change of policy instituted by their review of the cereal position should have been, and could have been, foreseen. I remember before I left South Africa, where I was High Commissioner, seeing the report of their expert committee under the permanent head of their Agricultural Departments and of their scientists who told South Africans more than two years ago that never again would South Africa be in a position to export either maize or wheat but would become an increasing importer of both those cereals. I see in the Government's recent White Paper giving the speeches of Sir Ben Smith and the Minister of Agriculture the other day, a brief statistical summary at the beginning. The first thing that came to my eye was the fact that not recently, but before last harvest in the Argentine, the area that had been sown under wheat was down by 50 per cent. Surely that is an indication that something is likely to happen. What is the position to-day? The position to-day is that although we have a wheat famine at this moment, what we do not realize nearly sufficiently is that the mere existence of these cereal famines is intensifying the meat famine already upon us, which is going to get worse and worse.
1126 Let us always remember that in this country it is only a certain area, which is usually described as south-east of a line drawn from Whitby to Weymouth, that is really the wheat-growing land, that has the requisite geological formation, the high rate of sunshine, and the more porous soil—because wheat is a deep-rooted plant—and the lower rainfall. We in the west, and particularly in Wales, have tried to grow wheat during the war. We have been made to do it. We have been getting £4 an acre for doing it, a fantastic subsidy on top of a high price for wheat. True, we produced a sample of millable wheat. I never succeeded. I admit my farm was nearly 700 feet above sea-level in a very high rainfall area. It is silly to expect us in Wales to produce much wheat, but we can and always have produced oats magnificently, as they have in Scotland. Let us go on doing that.
And there is this sudden drive and talk in all the papers by the Government for more wheat. It is quite futile if you want results, particularly results this year. I happened before the war to be Chairman of the Wheat Commission under the Wheat Production Act, and I think it is often forgotten how much was done as a result of that Wheat Production Act passed many years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Quibell, comes from Lincolnshire. His county has pride of place in achievement as a result of that Wheat Production Act, as I well knew when I was Chairman. What were the conditions in 1939? You will remember that under that Act there was a levy on all imported wheat and flour, and that went into a fund to guarantee a minimum of 45s. a quarter for English-grown wheat, and 45s. a quarter was certainly when I was Chairman anything from 12s. 6d. to 15s. above the price of imported wheat, a very substantial subsidy. But if there were enormous subsidies paid during the war to get wheat grown, look at the position just before the outbreak of war. The area of Lincolnshire, the top county, under wheat was 237,000 acres, very nearly a quarter of a million acres. Adjoining Norfolk had 120,000 acres, and in our west country Devon, the largest of the west country counties, 214,000 acres. Yet in the whole of Wales and Monmouthshire there were only 12,000 acres under wheat. Even in 1944, with the drive of the 1127 Ministry and the war agricultural executive committees compelling people in Wales and Monmouthshire to grow wheat, and the £4 subsidy and the high price that was being obtained, the wise Welshman still put over four times as big an area under oats—which he got a harvest from—as he did under wheat.
Every Minister of Agriculture, in planning agriculture, whether short-term or long-term, ought to have three maps in front of him on his desk. The first would be a geological map. As you go from Dover to Holyhead, only 280 miles, you cross over the outcrops of every known geological formation known to geologists from the most recent, at Dover, to the pre-Cambrian at Holyhead. We are a unique country geologically. The pampas of the Argentine, the steppes of Russia, the prairies of Canada, are utterly different. We have no large areas of uniform soil, great, long, narrow strips going northeast and south-west. The next map would be a rainfall map. Within ten miles of my home up the hill at Harlech, the mean annual average rainfall is exactly 100 inches a year. In the Isle of Thanet, where they grow the best malt barley, except for one patch in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the mean annual rainfall is twelve inches a year. That is quite enough for the barley, provided it has got plenty of chalk underneath to get its roots into. Everybody knows that the annual sunshine hours in London are exactly double the mean annual sunshine hours in Manchester. We are a very remarkable island. We are a most diversified island in soil and climate, for a small area; consequently our agriculture must always be diversified. That is why it is vital we must not have farming from Whitehall. That is why our policy should be a free policy, and not a policy of one crop and one particular form of culture.
If you are going to continue in peacetime, as I hope you are going to continue, those war agriculture executive committees, admirable bodies as they are, do give them plenty of power to decide what suits their area and what does not. Do not always be issuing instructions from Whitehall. Leave it to them and their expert officers to decide what should be done on what land, on what farms, and what not, to get the maximum production.
1128 The next point I want to make is this. It is vital to us in Wales, where we are predominantly milk producers, beef producers or sheep producers, to know where we stand with regard to feeding, not merely for next winter, but for some years ahead. We read in the papers and it has been announced on the wireless that there has been an unprecedently good ground nut crop this season in British and French West Africa. Are we going to get any ground nut cake, or are we not? Or has it all got to go to Central Europe? As we cannot expect to get any maize or any wheat, or any feeding barley imported, what are we going to get, if anything? Is there any hope of any linseed cake, or of any cotton-seed cake? That can be ascertained statistically now, and should be ascertained statistically now from the data which the Minister's advisers and his technical departments could put before him at any time he asks them. It is vital that we should know. I am not talking of the poor pig and poultry keepers who have been led up the garden path; but the Minister has announced he wants production for market.
Nobody is more keen than I have been—and am—on being as independent as possible of all cereals, and, above all, of all imports. In between the two wars the farmers of this country got all too dependent on imported feeding stuffs, and the people who made money out of British agriculture—the only people who did—were the corn merchants, the commission agents for those corn merchants, the millers and the importers. Unilevers made more out of the British farmers than they ever did out of the British housewife with Pears' Soap. Can it be done? I know that in the west country a great deal more can be done and should be done to enable cattle farmers to be independent of imported feeding stuffs or cereal food, except a very little just to sweeten the bin at the milking time. But it does mean certain things. In the first place it means devoting a considerable proportion of arable land on every farm to the production of really high-quality silage. Last year I had three concrete towers made for making silage in three different ways for feeding my animals in the winter. Between the autumn sown silage crop, harvested at the end of May or before the hay harvest, and properly made, as against the aftermath silage and the scrapings that are put into silos, there is a world of difference in food values.
1129 What our farmers have got to realize, particularly our dairy farmers, is that they have to make silage. In fact, they have to conduct their dairy farms ever increasingly as arable farms. The contrast between arable farming and stock farming is rapidly disappearing, because the best stock farming postulates the continuous run of the plough over the whole area of the farm. The days of permanent pasture and permanent meadow are over, scientifically and economically. You can produce so much more and maintain so many more animals in this other way.
The problem is how to keep your dairy animals, beef animals and young stock, out on your pastures—I hope improved pastures as a result of reseeding—from the 1st of April to the 1st of December. In our high mountains and western country we have to keep them inside in the winter. If you let them out in the day time they will not get much, and will do more harm than good. If you are going to get winter milk, which the country wants, you have to feed them. You have to grow more kale, more man-golds, above all silage crops, and better hay, if you are to get anything from them. It can be done, but it means really getting a silage drive on. It is no use unless the farmer is definitely told that he has to get early silage; that he has to make it properly; that he has to buy a cutter and blower, so that the crop is pushed green into the cutter and blower and chopped up fine, when it can be treaded down at once. You then get a protein food out of vetch and bean silage which is absolutely second to none. Far more farmers ought to do it.
When I heard the announcement from Sir Ben Smith on the wireless of the food crash, I immediately got in touch with the firm from whom I bought my last concrete silo, with a view to ordering another. What was the answer? It was: "We have ceased manufacturing owing to the fact that there is no longer any demand". Quite frankly, these wire silos are better than nothing, but the amount of wastage in them is terrible. I have tried them. Now as to our kales. Last year I could not get any seed of rape kale, which follows on marrow-stemmed kale and is a magnificent food for dairy cows. After that one had to get thousand-headed kale. Not nearly enough seeds of the later kales are being produced. If we were to tell the farmers 1130 that they have to be more self supporting in winter for the feeding of their animals, believe we could and should succeed in doing it.
I wish to say another word about grassland farming before I conclude. I am connected with Aberystwyth and the University of Wales, and they have blazed the trail. Of course their researches suit our conditions; they may be quite value less for the other two countries. Certainly under our climatic and soil conditions—the early geological forms—reseeding with Aberystwyth pedigree grasses and clovers raises the carrying power of our land at least three-fold, if not four-fold. That is undoubted. I do not suppose those grasses would do so in the eastern counties or the midlands. The case is parallel with that of yeoman wheat, which was bred in Cambridge for East Anglian conditions. In our wheat areas in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Hampshire the one thing that is necessary is more store cattle. You cannot keep the lighter soils of the cereal areas of this country going from year to year unless you have plenty of dung, and, quite frankly, there is all the difference in the world between cow dung and bullock dung, as any farmer knows. It is vital to have the stores, and the stores are not being produced. They used to be produced in great quantities—the Welsh Black Runts, the Herefords and the Shorthorns in the west country. They went to Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and the eastern counties for the winter feeding, and above all to provide manure.
Is it not a striking fact that the only two counties in England where there is now a lower total cattle population of all types and ages than there was at the beginning of the war—there is a great increase in the dairy herds everywhere—are Leicestershire and Northamptonshire? If you study the figures you will find there has been an enormous increase of dairy cattle and a steady decline of beef cattle everywhere. There are only three counties in Great Britain where that is not true—Aberdeenshire, Angus and Perthshire. Why? Because the Scottish farmers of those three counties are quite frankly still the best farmers in the whole of Great Britain, and I say that although I am not a Scotsman myself. They know their lands and they know that without 1131 these cattle their lands will not produce good crops. They are proud of their Black Angus and their famous 'beef Shorthorns. That is vital; we have got to get it going. I come from Wales. You will not get more coal from the Welsh miner until you give him back his beef.
Whether the industry is nationalized or not, whether there is a miners' charter or higher wages, unless you give him the old Hereford beef that he used to have, you will not get more coal. What is the use of an egg sandwich to a man who has got to go down a shaft, walk two and a half miles to the coal-face and stay at that coal-face hacking coal for six hours? He cannot do that on a dried egg sandwich. It is the same with all heavy workers. I was Regional Commissioner for Yorkshire for the first few months of the war and I remember the noble Lord, Lord Woolton's admirable choice of his food team in Yorkshire. We did not tell the public, but it was arranged from the start that the men in the heavy forges of Sheffield would get all the best beef that came to market. All the prime beef went to them, and they were not very particular about strict rationing, and quite rightly. If you are working in front of a furnace for long hours on gigantic steel armour plates you want some beef. In the same way, you will never solve the coal problem until you get more meat.
As I see it, the herds of Europe are devastated by war. I have not been able to get the exact figures of the cattle population of the Argentine, but I am told it is down by 6,000,000 head compared to what it was on the outbreak of war. I know the South African cattle population is down, and I know the Australian drought cost them 30,000,000 head of sheep in one year and a very large number of cattle. I know that except for the exceptional breeders of high-grade cattle, practically every bull-calf born in this country is slaughtered when it is a few days old. What hope have we of maintaining the fertility of our soil or of getting a more generous meat diet for the heavy workers of this country?
As to the tied cottage, I say quite frankly that unless a Welsh shepherd lives near his flock on the mountains in lambing-time he is of no use as a shepherd, If he has got to be sent down to 1132 the village miles below his flock, because it is near the parish church, the parish pump and the parish "pub" and because it is the only fit place for him to live, then we can say good-bye to the sheep industry in the highlands of Wales. The same applies to cowmen. By all means let those employed by the East Anglian arable farmers live in the beautiful villages which existed from the Middle Ages in Lincolnshire and Norfolk, but we in Wales are scattered; in our valleys and in our hills there are very few villages. A cowman's house must be close to his cows, because sometimes cows calve in the night. I know that is all wrong, and I wonder why this Government does not issue an order that all cows are to calve between 10 a.m. and before the beginning of overtime in the afternoon! However, the cows will not do it. But if a cowman is quartered in a Rural District Council house three miles away, of what use is he as a cowman?
The hold-up in the building of houses is fantastic. Last summer I got through the plans, under the old Act, of two new agricultural labourers' cottages, fantastically expensive, with bathrooms, water lavatories and all the latest gadgets. The plans have gone through the Ministry of Health, the local authority, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Works. The site is ready and waiting but there are no drainpipes, bricks are diverted to Liverpool, slates—we have masses of slates in north Wales—cannot be released without a permit from the Ministry of Supply. We are told to apply to Birmingham to the Ministry of Health, and to apply somewhere else to some other Ministry for the release of gutters. We are beaten by bureaucracy. It is not the Minister, it is not Whitehall; it is this huge horde of offices, typewriters and telephones in every town in England.
They all have to intercommunicate—five, six or seven Government Departments—to get materials. I have got the bricklayers, I have got the site, but I do not believe those two cottages will ever be built. This bureaucratic hold-up of all materials and everything to do with building is a tragedy. Wales is ringing with the fact that one of our Welsh members, now the Minister of Health, has, since he has been in office, completed one house in the Principality!
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON)
My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate on an extremely important subject. I would particularly like to welcome the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Harlech and Lord Cranworth, as being constructive and helpful in every way. All the points mentioned in them, even if I cannot answer them fully now, will certainly be considered by my right honourable friend the Minister. I should like also to say how much I agree personally with the remarks on silage which have been made, and I hope we will be able to do more about it and also about providing materials for the purpose.
To return to the actual Motion before us, I was rather disappointed in one particular. The Motion moved by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, is a Motion which, as far as I can see, can be completely accepted by His Majesty's Government, but I cannot say that we can accept all the speeches made on it. This is a subject which my right honourable friend the Minister, the other Parliamentary Secretary and myself, have always tried to keep out of Party politics because we genuinely feel that agriculture is a national interest and must be so dealt with. I am sorry that a certain amount of Party politics and partisan spirit has been introduced into this debate both by the mover of the Motion and by the noble Lord, Lord Cornwallis. I should like to say that I think the first part of Lord Cornwallis's speech was excellent and constructive —
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I certainly take exception to one particular remark. The noble Lord suggested that the reason why we are giving priority to houses by local authorities is in order to obtain recruits for the Socialist Party. I think that is introducing a partizan spirit into this subject.
§ LORD CORNWALLIS
I said I hoped it was not true but that was the feeling which was becoming generally accepted.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord, and I am glad to take this opportunity 1134 emphatically to contradict that. To return to the actual Motion, I feel the noble Earl who moved it is in agreement with us on the first two points (a) and (b). Certainly my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is, as the noble Earl must know, in constant touch with the National Farmers' Union and generally with farmers throughout the country. The policy announced in November is one entirely directed towards bringing guaranteed prices, stability and security to the agricultural industry. That obviously cannot be brought about without taking the farming community, and farmers as such, completely into our confidence as regards plans and policy.
That is the subject of the first part of the noble Earl's Resolution, and we agree with it. With regard to the second part of the Resolution in which the noble Earl refers to the need for a strong lead and full support being given to the war agricultural executive committees, I should like to tell the noble Earl that last year my right honourable friend, the Minister of Agriculture, called a conference of all chairmen of these committees in order to discuss all relevant matters, and so that he might tell them his future plans and his future policy concerning agriculture and the industry generally.
In addition to calling this conference, the Minister also sent personal letters to the chairmen of these committees on all important points and subjects which came up, and upon which he wished to have their opinion, or to convey to them some information. There is, I think, in fact, no divergence of opinion between the noble Earl and His Majesty's Government on this question of supporting the committees, for we are so satisfied with their functioning in the war—and I must say here that in my opinion without the work of the committees it would have been quite impossible to have carried through our agricultural policy during the war—that the Government intend to put them on a permanent basis. At this moment discussions are going on with the various parties concerned to see how this can best be carried out. Here I should like to say a word about the district committees to which Lord Cranworth has referred. His Majesty's Government do appreciate their work tremendously. In fact, it has been the whole crux of the Government's plans to use these committees in future just as much as in the past. We hope that 1135 they will be strengthened and encouraged in every way, and that they will form an important part of the general set - up which we mean to bring into being.
Next, a word about the liaison officers. The Minister is able to keep in regular contact with the farming community through the extremely efficient work of these officers. I think that the noble Earl himself was a liaison officer during the war, and he probably knows better than I do how effective a means those officers provided of keeping communications between the Ministry and the committees and the general farming community. I think the noble Earl will be glad to know that the liaison - officer system has been expanded considerably, and that even more emphasis will be laid upon it in the future. Already these liaison officers have contributed much to the smooth working of the Department; and in the carrying out of our general policy and plans the liaison officers have given most able help throughout the country.
Having dealt with the first two heads of the noble Earl's Resolution, upon which there seems to be almost complete agreement, I come to the third part, which is perhaps the most important part, as it deals with labour and housing. These are, of course, fundamental problems that are facing the Government at this moment. Labour is, indeed, one of our greatest difficulties. We have heard a lot of criticism this afternoon about the labour situation, and we have heard some rather ominous forecasts. Questions have been asked also as to what is going to happen in the future; but I do not remember—and I have listened very carefully to the speeches which have been made in the course of the debate—any constructive suggestions as to how labour is going to be produced out of the air, so to speak, for this country. But I would like to take this opportunity of stating the actual position with regard to labour, and what the Government is doing and trying to do. First, to deal with our own labour in the Forces. I am glad to say that we hope that releases under Class A should bring over half the number of former agricultural workers out of the Services, certainly by the end of April.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Is that the figure of 45,000? There are, I understand, 90,000 altogether. Do you mean 1136 that 45,000 will be released by the end of April?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Yes, that is so. These men, one must admit, are quite free to choose their occupation. They do not need to come back into the agricultural industry, and although we have tried to find out what percentage are going back, it is extremely difficult to do so. We cannot get exact figures on this matter, but our information is that a good proportion are going back to agriculture. As regards releases under Class B, individual specialist releases will continue: and with regard to the block release of 18,000, the number of releases by the middle of February was 5,000. That means that 5,000 have definitely gone back into the industry. An extension of the arrangements of Class B block release is now under consideration, and it is hoped that a further statement will be made shortly about this. The combined effect of these releases should be that by the beginning of the summer there will really be no large number of agricultural workers in the Services. We hope that by the middle of the summer the proportion of agricultural workers in the Services will be relatively small in comparison with other categories.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Does that mean that the noble Earl is hoping that a very large proportion of the 45,000 left in the Services will be out by the middle of the summer?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Yes, we hope so. But, obviously, I cannot give exact figures on that. We definitely hope to have 45,000 out by the end of April, and we hope that a large proportion of the remainder will soon be out, which will leave relatively few agricultural workers in the Forces. I do not know if I have made that clear. I hope so.
As regards prisoners of war—and this is a very important side of the labour problem—we definitely hope to get as many Germans as there are Italians who have to be repatriated. Most of these are coming from North America, and every effort is being made to get them over as soon as possible. The length of time for which prisoners can be employed is not indefinite, but they will be a temporary stop-gap. Now we come to the Women's Land Army. We are all, on all 1137 sides of the House, in agreement, I am sure, that the Women's Land Army have done magnificent work. To whatever Party we belong, I am sure that we all desire to pay tribute to them. We earnestly hope that as many members of this Army as possible will stay on, and we are now planning a recruiting campaign which it is hoped to launch in April. We are working out the best ways of encouraging more women to join and serve in the Land Army at least during the emergency period. We hope that they will stay on for at least two years.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
That may be. I will certainly direct the attention of my right honourable friend, the President of the Board of Trade, to that. In view of the food shortage, we are going to call on volunteers again to help with the harvest. We hope in view of the really tremendous crisis to get some help in that way. The Minister of Education, too, has agreed that assistance of elementary school children can again be given this year. Their help was extremely valuable, especially in the potato harvest, and we hope that in view of our need they will respond again, and that we shall be able to make full use of them. It is true, of course, that we cannot depend to the same extent as we used to on help from men from the Services, because they will be fewer in numbers. That is on the debit side one might say. But I do hope that I have helped to convince your Lordships that we are doing what we can about this extremely difficult problem of labour. We do realize its extreme importance and as much as it can be done we will try to get labour for the agricultural industry.
For a moment we pass to the next thing in the Resolution, which is the question of buildings and housing. That, I think, next to labour and coupled with it, is one of the most serious situations that we face. In fact the Government take this point of view, in regard to the provision of houses for the agricultural population in rural areas; it is a matter of importance which cannot be over-emphasized. It is the crux of the whole situation to-day, and in fact if we do not get houses we shall not get workers; that is the matter in a nutshell. We have—and I think noble Lords here may probably part com- 1138 pany somewhat with me—we have given priority to the rural district councils. I should like to emphasize that we do not want finally to stop or forbid private building of houses, but there is a great shortage both of materials and labour, and it is a fact that actually more houses will be constructed by giving every facility and encouragement to the local authorities at this stage than would be the case if they were restricted.
I would like to say, and this is very gratifying, that recent results that have come in to us encourage that course of action. I should like to quote a few figures as to the position on January 31., On January 31, the rural district councils' housing programme stood as follows: possession obtained on land was for 62,924 houses; schemes authorized to proceed to tender for was for 18,029 houses; tenders were approved for 7,109 houses; and construction was begun on 2,427 houses. Now your Lordships may say that is a small thing in relation to the total houses needed. That of course is obviously true, but it does show that a start has at last been made, and not only that, but the rural districts have actually got under way quicker than the urban districts. In fact we get the following figures—compared with urban districts and boroughs, the tenders approved for rural districts were 55.8 per cent., as against 41.5 per cent, for urban districts and boroughs. I think it is very gratifying that the rural councils are playing up and have got off the mark quicker than the other boroughs. Your Lordships have also seen that the Government have given what is very generous and, in fact—
§ LORD CORNWALLIS
I just asked whether those really are for agricultural workers. That is what I am frightened of, that the district council roadman will go into those cottages.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I should particularly like to emphasize this fact that these cottages which are being built would not qualify for a rural subsidy unless they were cottages for agricultural workers. If by any chance the cottages were let to other people not employed in agriculture, the subsidy would automatically stop.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
It would automatically stop. One of the conditions for getting the subsidy every year is that the cottages are let to agricultural workers.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Will the noble Lord forgive my interrupting him? Is the noble Lord quite certain that a roadman would not be classed as an agricultural worker?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
That is a real danger and I request the noble Earl to make a note of that.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
There are subsidies for urban houses, too, and I take it that if cottages built in the villages went to semi-urban workers, they would get the normal subsidy?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
There is a different subsidy for a rural house than for a town house. The rural subsidy would not be payable unless it was let to a rural worker. To continue on the subject of subsidies it is expected that with these subsidies the cottages will be let at their net rent of 7s. 6d. There is one other little item which I think your Lordships may appreciate, that is in connexion with the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts which were dropped some time ago. The Minister of Health has now asked the Rural Housing Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee "to advise generally on the reconditioning of rural cottages, with special reference to the supply of labour available without diversion from new buildings, and to consider what improvements could be made in the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts." This is now being considered, which, I think, will be gratifying to many members of this House. Not only are we concerned and very much concerned with the question of the maximum number of houses, but we are also concerned that these houses should be built according to need; that is a very important point. It is important that they should be put in the right places to satisfy the right demand. For this purpose, arrangements have recently been made to ensure that 1140 there will be a special close contact between the rural district councils and the war agricultural executive committees. They are going to work together, because the war agricultural committees know far more about the housing situation in regard to agriculture, so that they can inform each other and see that the houses are put in the right places.
In many cases in which land has been reclaimed during the war, or the production from it has been obviously increased, the councils may not be aware of it in the same way as the committees. We do hope that this will help in this particular respect. Members will probably be aware of the recent publication of the Report of the Farm Buildings Committee which was appointed by the Minister's predecessor, and the Report of a Mission on Farm Buildings which returned from the United States in the latter part of 1945. There is, of course, considerable need for work in the countryside, not only in connexion with the putting up of new buildings but for the repair and maintenance of existing farm buildings, and various adaptations which must be carried out. If we are going to carry on efficiently, unfortunately labour cannot be concentrated on this and taken away from housing, which is the most important and the number one priority. The Agricultural Improvement Council has now under consideration the report of this Farm Buildings Committee, and is going to recommend a programme of investigation on what can actually be carried out and how soon it can be carried out.
A NOBLE LORD
May I interrupt the noble Earl to ask: if one has some cottages that want repairing, can one use the wood one has on one's own property to repair them?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Not without a licence. I will refer that question to the Department concerned. In the meantime, I should like to say that my Department is developing its policy which is designed to secure the most effective use of the labour and materials available from the point of view of food production. I am sorry to notice that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, is not in the House because I particularly wanted to congratulate him on becoming President of the Royal Agricultural Society of England and to say that we took notice of his speech in the food debate when he 1141 said that the farmers and the farming community would co-operate as far as the weather allowed. Obviously we cannot control the weather but we are doing the best we can about labour supply and houses.
I want for one moment to go back to the last and important point, the food situation, which has cropped up during this debate here, there and elsewhere. The Government has been very severely criticized for not warning farmers in good time of the food supply situation, particularly the question of wheat supplies. I want to recall quite briefly some of the circumstances leading up to the present reduction in supplies of home-produced wheat. Noble Lords will realize and know only too well that during the war the production of cereals, particularly of wheat, in this country had to be pushed up to a very high level indeed. This could not be done, as noble Lords also know only too well, without exhausting the fertility of the soil. We did this during the war at a very great sacrifice and during the time of the Coalition Government, in 1945, that Government decided that the time had arrived when we ought to give some thought to long-term farming needs and to return to a system of mixed rotational farming.
The late Minister of Agriculture was pressed in another place very often to give a long-term policy on farming and he always refused to do so; and I do not think that this Government, which only got into the saddle in August, can be blamed for not having a long-term policy which had to be worked out over the course of months. However, this Coalition Government did decide that something ought to be done about the position and actually they were responsible for reducing the acreage payment on wheat which formed part of the price, from £4 to £2 an acre. I should also like to remind noble Lords that at the meeting of Allied Ministers on Food and Agriculture held in London last June, the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who was at that time Minister of Food, reported his discussions in Washington and said as regards the exportable wheat surplus that:The problem of wheat is one of movement rather than supply, adequate quantities are available in North and South America to meet the needs of the liberated countries for human consumption.1142 That was the opinion which the Government apparently had at that time. This was last June. It was in these circumstances that the late Government decided that directions should not be served for the growing of wheat at home, the 1945 harvest, and that the acreage payment should be reduced.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
No, it was 1945. Since that time, however, other reviews have taken place with results which you all know. At this point I should like to emphasize that at no time since the present Government came into office have the farmers been led to believe that they could sit back and relax and not produce as much food as possible. That has never been done; in fact, far from it. We have always stressed the need to maintain a high level of production during this difficult period of transition, although we were expecting that there might be a little less wheat and more live-stock products In fact, in September last, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, speaking at Manchester, said:It is because peace has made our food prospects rather worse, that I say that at this time we are not going to forget so easily the lesson which the war has taught us. We must plan our food supplies and look to our home agriculture to take its right and proper place in the economic life of the nation.Again, in October when speaking to allotment holders in the London County Council area, he said:The time for relaxation is not yet. We are having to ask the farming community to carry on with its prodigious efforts. I would ask every domestic food producer to do the same.Then on November 15, when the noble Viscount the Leader of the House made his statement on the Government's, agricultural policy, he said:The world food shortage is extremely serious. For the time being, therefore, compulsory directions to grow sugar beet and potatoes must be served, and supervision exercised where necessary over the laying down of grass, so that this process keeps in step with the anticipated increase in live stock, with the requirements of home-grown feeding stuffs and with the continued need for a large tillage acreage.Similar warnings were given on November 22 in a broadcast by the Minister of Agriculture; and, when speaking to the 1143 Council of Agriculture for England on December 5 last with reference to wheat, he said:As you know, directions are not being issued this year to compel farmers to grow wheat, but that does not mean that we are no longer interested in wheat.. On the contrary, we want a lot of it. We have taken as our target an acreage figure somewhat greater than last year, when sowings were reduced by inclement weather, but unless a great deal of wheat is sown this coming spring, I am afraid we shall fall a long way short of our target.I think that what I have said is sufficient to show that the Government were aware of the seriousness of the position last autumn and that steps were taken to see that our farmers were under no misapprehension about the state of things and the need for their continued help. However, since that time it is only true to say that the position has deteriorated in the world beyond all measure. There is now, not only a national calamity but a world - wide disaster. I wish I could agree with Lord Quibell in his very able speech on which I congratulate him. If there are hidden reserves they will be only too useful to us. What is more, we are taking steps to find out whether in the Nazi-occupied zone in Germany there are stores hidden anywhere, so that they can be brought to light and used, but I am afraid there is no doubt about the general shortage. The final straw has been the failure of the rains in India, threatening the whole continent with famine.
§ LORD CORNWALLIS
May I interrupt to ask a question? Does anybody know what is supposed to have happened to that exportable surplus which was apparently in the world last June? Has someone eaten it?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I must have notice of that question. I do not really know, but I presume that a miscalculation must have been made, for it is impossible to calculate exactly to a ton what a harvest will be. We are so dependent on the weather and when you get added to that an absolute series of world - wide calamities, the position gets worse and worse and worse. However I will take notice of the noble Lord's question. To proceed, I do not want to keep your Lordships much longer, but I would like to say that we do realize that everything that can possibly be done to meet this crisis must be done, and that we must 1144 distribute what grain there is to the best possible advantage. I would like to submit that the Government is doing everything it can, but we badly need the help and the co - operation of the farming community. I do feel confident myself that when they do realize the position which the world is facing, they will respond as they always have done, and do the best they can.
§ 7.1 p.m.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, I hope the House will excuse me if I speak just for a couple of moments on one point with regard to which I think the Government has not sufficiently blown its own trumpet, and also to put right a misapprehension under which I believe the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, is suffering, with regard to rural houses. He stated that the subsidy under the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts had been cancelled, and that the Government had put nothing in its place to replace it. On the contrary, I believe that the Government has replaced it, and in a most magnificent fashion. I do not know if the noble Earl has noticed (in fact, it would seem he has not noticed) the provisions in recent Finance Acts. Under those any landowner can claim back out of his Income Tax 10 per cent. of the cost —
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Certainly; it is nothing to do with this Government. It is true that Mr. Hugh Dalton was to some extent responsible for actually setting it in motion, but I really must put the noble Lord right; it was not this Government.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
That, in fact, surely recompenses the landowner 100 per cent. He gets it 'back off his Income Tax. He gets it back at 10 per cent. per annum, and in fact in ten years he gets the whole thing back. He gets 10 per cent. of the cost of his rural cottages back every year; so I am informed by a firm of auditors in the City of London. I am sure they are right.
§ LORD HARLECH
I do not think anybody complains that there are no helps in this way, but the difficulty, whether 1145 you are a rural district council, or a private farmer or landowner, is to get the material, because the priority for all the labour and all the materials is for the cities and the towns. It is no use publishing beautiful figures for a rural district council's scheme when you will not allow them to have a brick or a gutter or a rainpipe.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I think we are all very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, for his reply. He certainly tried very hard to answer most of the points. The fact that there were a number of points on which I am not altogether satisfied would not, I think, justify me in trying to repeat arguments. We had his admission at the end that really the whole trouble was a matter of miscalculation.
There is just one point on which I do feel extremely strongly, and rather resent. During my speech I tried to make it clear to your Lordships that I felt extremely strongly on this subject, and I was going to speak frankly. But really this Socialist Government must not get into a state of mind where anybody who feels strongly about a matter and criticizes them must of necessity be accused of partizanship. I resent what the noble Earl said, and indeed, I find it quite ludicrous. I cannot see the purpose of debating in this Chamber or in another place unless we are actually allowed to criticize the Government. I happen to feel that our rations in this country are going to be reduced to a greater extent than they need be because the farmers were not warned in October, and I feel entitled to say that. As a devoted friend of agriculture, I do most deeply resent being accused of introducing a Party spirit into the discussion.
Referring to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, which we all enjoyed, really I think the noble Lord must make up his mind for just how long the last Government is always to be considered responsible for everything. Actually, of course, the £2 reduction in the grant for wheat was made by the last Minister, but it could have been perfectly well put back by October. According to the Minister of Food in another place, Mr. Bevin was making a speech on the shortage of food in October. Then it must have been the case that the Government were aware of the position. They could perfectly well have replaced that £2. Lord Quibell com- 1146 plains of the price of barley compared with the price of wheat. He is quite right. I have always thought the price of barley was too high, and I think it was a mistake the last Government made, but that is no excuse for this Government not—
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Putting it right. One last point. I really do think that the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, and other noble Lords who sit on those Benches, might sometimes remind themselves that they were extremely well represented in the last Government and the last Government was not a wicked reactionary Government.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The present Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Torn Williams, was sitting in the Ministry of Agriculture when all those terrible mistakes which the noble Lord has mentioned were made.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Having dealt with those points, I would just like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, for his reply, and I am most grateful to him for saying that he will accept the Resolution.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House that the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificate from the Examiners that the Standing Orders have not been complied with in respect of the Petition for the following Bill:
§ Great Western Railway;
§ also the Certificate that no Standing Orders are applicable to the following Bill:
§ Ministry of Health Provisional Order (Mortlake Crematorium Board);
§ and also the Certificate that the further Standing Orders applicable to the following Bills have been complied with:
§ Bromborough Dock. [H.L.]
§ Rushden District Gas. [H.L.]
§ The same were ordered to lie on the Table.