HL Deb 29 April 1947 vol 147 cc139-42

LORD RUSHCLIFFE rose to move, That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill may be referred that they regard the interests of food production, both now and over a lengthy period of years, as being of primary importance. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I need hardly say that I do not propose to refer at all to the merits of this Bill, still less to its details. Those are matters which, obviously, will be gone into by the Committee to which the Bill is referred. What I desire is that this House should place on record once again an expression of the great importance which it attaches to food production in this country.

Quite recently we had a debate in this House in which my noble friend Earl De La Warr, amongst others, pointed out to your Lordships the position in which we stand with regard to food production, and next week Lord Woolton has a Motion on the Order Paper to call attention to the growing danger of a serious shortage of food in this country. It can never be said that your Lordships' House is either ignorant of or indifferent to the very serious position in which we stand with respect to food production. It is probably the most serious position of the kind with which this country has ever been faced. The noble Lords whom I have mentioned (to instance only two), who speak with infinite authority on these matters, have called our attention to the seriousness of the position.

The Bill itself deals with an area of about 450 acres. A long time ago—in the 15th century—this area of land was a deer park. In the 16th century the deer were destroyed, and the land then became vested in the lord of the manor subject to the right of those who lived in the neighbourhood and in the neighbouring village of Nazeing to pasture their cattle in the waste of the manor. In the 17th century, an arrangement was come to between the lord of the manor and these freeholders under which a portion of the land—about one-fifth—became vested in fee simple, free from encumbrances, in the lord of the manor, and the other four-fifths in the freeholders, who, presumably, could have done what they liked with it. The position remained as I have indicated, and in 1778 an Act was passed in this House which defined the rights of the freeholders to pasturage over the four-fifths of the land to which I have referred. Under that Act, each of the freeholders had the right to pasture twenty sheep and four horses, and the Act provided that a gentleman called a "pindar" should be appointed as a sort of keeper to look after the whole area. Gates were made and fences were set up to secure that the cattle did not stray.

That state of affairs continued until the beginning of the last war, when the land was requisitioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and, through the agency of the Essex War Agricultural Executive Committee, was ploughed up. And the Ministry of Agriculture appear to have made and to be making a very good job of it. The usual rotational crops have been cultivated. Wheat, oats, barley, potatoes and sugar beet have been grown and very good crops have been produced. The requisition comes to an end in three years' time—that is, in 1950—and the freeholders are most anxious that they should be permitted to continue the good work which has been carried on by the Ministry of Agriculture. They are desirous that they should be allowed to cultivate land in this area after 1950, but of course they cannot do that until this Act of 1778 has been repealed, and that is one of the objects of the Bill which is now before the House. The instruction asks that the Committee to whom this Bill is referred shall, in considering it, have regard to the primary importance in the future of the cultivation and production of food on this land. As I have said, as the freeholders have this right of pasturage, unless the Act of 1778 is repealed the land, presumably, will return to the rough grazing which it was before and be lost to cultivation. With the object of obtaining once again an expression of the view of your Lordships' House that food production should be regarded as of primary importance, I beg to move this instruction.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill may be referred that they regard the interests of food production, both now and over a lengthy period of years, as being of primary importance.—(Lord Rushcliffe.)

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I would like to say how much the Government are in sympathy with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe. It would be difficult to emphasize just how important, how vital, food is to us now, and will be for many years to come. Therefore we are in agreement with the principle of this Motion, which stresses the point we have been trying to make, to encourage people to understand that we must concentrate upon the production of food during the coming years. We do not quite agree with the noble Lord, however, on the wording of his Motion. Although we fully recognize the importance of food production, there are other things which may in the future be equally important. For instance, at the present time we are faced with the rival importance of, say, coal production—fuel—and food. It would be hard to differentiate and say positively which is more important to our national life. Therefore I should like to suggest to the noble Lord who moved the Motion that he should alter one word of the proposed instruction to the Select Committee. That word is "primary." That word emphasizes the point that food production is the only possible consideration and that it should override every other possible national need. I do not think that would be wise, and if the noble Lord would agree to alter that word so that the instruction reads "as being of outstanding importance," the Government would gladly accept his Motion.

2.44 P.m.


My Lords, I venture to think that the noble Earl's point is not really of great substance. I do not live in the area dealt with by this measure and I have no interest in the Bill, but I have some knowledge of the dis- trict, and I can assure the noble Earl that, as a matter of geology, it is known that there is very little coal under Essex. Therefore I do not think that either coal or oil is going to compete with food production. The point I should like to make is that surely the word "primary" does not mean that it should exclude every other consideration; it simply means that it is of the first importance. I think the noble Earl would agree with that—he would be a very bad agricultural Minister if he did not, and he certainly is not that. I hope that the words "primary importance" will remain, because it seems to me that they mean no more than they say. I venture to think that in these times, with this terrible crisis facing us, we must be resolute in seeing that considerations of food production are borne in mind at every turn. It is always easy, when any specific case conies along, for somebody to say that there are other considerations; but let us bear in mind the primary importance of food production at the present moment. However I am not suggesting that there is a great difference between the words "primary importance" and "outstanding importance," and therefore whichever way my noble friend who moved this Motion decides, I will follow him.


My Lords, I would like to point out to the noble Earl opposite that without food we shall not get the coal, because miners will not be able to work unless they are properly fed. Therefore, I put food as being of primary importance. We have to feed our people properly if we are to get other products from our country, and I hope that fact will be borne in mind. I think that this Motion is correctly worded, because, without any question, we must produce the food if we are to get adequate labour and men able to work under the strenuous conditions of mining.


My Lords, I do not think there is very much disagreement between the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and myself. There is not very much difference between the words "primary" and "outstanding." If the noble Earl is prepared to accept the Motion with the word "outstanding" substituted for "primary," I am prepared to agree.

On Question, Motion, as amended, agreed to.

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