HL Deb 10 December 1947 vol 153 cc112-53

2.43 p.m.

LORD TEVIOT had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether, in order to increase the production of agricultural machinery and spare parts, priority of raw materials and essential supplies, such as electrical equipment, roller-bearings, tyres, etcetera, will be put on the Prime Minister's List; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to say that, with the consent of your Lordships, I am quite agreeable that the Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, should be taken instead of that which I have on the Paper. I propose therefore, to speak on the noble Earl's Motion and not to move mine.

EARL DE LA WARR rose to call attention to His Majesty's Government's policy for the expansion of agricultural production in this country; to urge the vital necessity of all steps being taken to secure a parallel increase in the supply of houses for agricultural workers, of machinery and spare parts and of feeding stuffs; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, may I first of all thank my noble friend Lord Teviot for the courtesy he has shown in allowing me to move my Motion in place of his. As the food situation in this country is going from bad to worse, and as it is now four months since His Majesty's Government—I think it was in August—made their declaration of policy for bringing about increased home food production, it seemed to me that the House would desire, and that possibly the Government would also welcome, the opportunity for a progress report. During the debate, I shall venture to make certain suggestions to the Government, and certain appeals for priorities and assistance for agriculture. But I would like to make it quite clear at the beginning that at no point do I intend to make any plea on behalf of the farmer. The farmer has his difficulties. He doubtless has his quite legitimate grievances. But it is not my purpose, in putting this Motion, to make an opportunity for airing them. This debate is not intended to be an appeal on behalf of the farmer, but a warning to the consumer. It is a statement not of what the farmer wants for his own prosperity, but of what the farmer must have if he is going to be in a position to produce the food that we all know the nation so desperately needs from him to-day.

I think it would be a pity if we wasted time on looking backwards. To be quite frank with the House, though your Lordships are aware of it from what I have said before, personally I feel very critical of the Government for then past neglect, but I cannot think that to-day any of us are really interested in criticism. We feel the situation to be infinitely too serious, and provided we are prepared and the Government are prepared to learn from the mistakes of the past, I think the less we talk about the past and the more we think about the future the better. It is true that during the last two years this House has again and again warned the Government of the position that seemed to many of us perfectly clearly to be steadily arising with regard to the shortage of food. It is equally true that our warnings were pushed aside and disregarded., It is also true we have had many reassurances from the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, and we were delighted to receive them, but we only wished his intentions could have been translated into action through his Government colleagues.

In August of this year the Government made a definitely encouraging statement, which seemed to many of us to show that they realized the position and were determined to make a definite new development of policy. Mr. Herbert Morrison, speaking to a large representative body of agricultural leaders, pledged himself to them, particularly mentioning the fact that he was speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, to provide higher priorities for all requirements from all Departments, and went on to say that "instructions have been issued accordingly to the Departments responsible." Later on, he used such encouraging phrases as that agriculture was to receive "the aggressive support of the Government" and that there would be "combined operations" to overcome the shortages and bottlenecks. A little later it will be worth our while to see what in fact the Government have found it possible to do in order to carry out those pledges. But before we do so I think, if your Lordships will allow me, it would be acceptable to spend a moment or two in trying to clarify our minds as to what in fact is the true nature of the problem that is facing us to-day.

Speaking personally, I am definitely afraid of real hunger in this country in the near future. I hope I am wrong. I know that a great number of people, in possession of at least as many facts as myself, perhaps even more facts, take the view that this is an exaggerated fear; and I hope they are right. But surely we all agree that our food supplies are something about which no risk can be taken. I think that is all the more true in the light of the present situation. Here again, I think it would be generally admitted that if there were even a partial failure of the crop for one year in North America, the fear of hunger that is facing us to-day would be turned into a virtual certainty of starvation in Europe, including this country. Surely if our supplies are even only in doubt we must, if we are wise, assume the worst, I think that will be generally agreed; but what is not so generally appreciated is that it is very doubtful whether we are right, in talking about food difficulties, to continue to couple it so much as we do with the dollar crisis. I venture to contend that, even if we had all the dollars that we should like to have at the present moment, we should have the greatest difficulty in obtaining the food necessary for this country. I go further and say that we are wrong to use the word "crisis" about this situation. It is giving us a totally wrong view. So far as they affect food, our existing troubles are not a crisis at all. What really his happened is that we have at last come to the point in our own economic position in the development of the world food situation at which we can no longer evade the real long-term change that has been taking place for many years, which started even before the war.

Let us look at the position of the great food exporting countries. Canada and Australia have been steadily industrializing for the last generation or so. What does that mean? It means a greater pro- portion of the population of those countries living in the towns, and a smaller proportion living in the country. Therefore the greater proportion of their populations become mere consumers, and cease to be producers in terms of food. What struck me last year when I had the good fortune to go to South America, was that in that vast producing area I found only one country that remains a food exporting country. Every other country in South America has not only ceased to export food, but has become a food importing country in terms of grain and meat. We all know that the United States of America long before the war had become a food importing country.

If we turn to a different set of commodities, in a different part of the world, and look at India, we find that in the last fourteen years her population has increased by nearly 70,000000 and that the whole of that vast population is consuming more oil seed per head than it was ten years ago. We find the same thing in Malaya. I think it will be generally agreed that those countries can be pretty well wiped out of the oil seed picture for many years to come. We have hopes of Africa, but I think noble Lords will admit that the scheme there has still some way to go. Taking the long view, if we took one step alone, and really got going with the use of D.D.T. on the malarial mosquito, would not the same thing happen with the population in Africa as has happened elsewhere, and would not the nuts grown there be consumed by their own population? I do not want to deflect from this debate by spending too much time on this point, but it does seem to me vital to make the point in order to jusify my contention that unless and until we altogether drop the use of the word "crisis" in relation to our food supplies we are not going to adopt, not merely sufficiently drastic, but sufficiently long-term changes of policy to make it possible for us to solve the problem that lies ahead of us.

Let us leave the long-term picture for a moment and come to the specific and immediate points that face us to-day. I think we are all agreed that this country must grow more of its own food; and we are all agreed that we can do so. There is, however, disagreement about the quantity. Personally, I have never made a secret of the fact that I thought £100,000,000 worth of extra food, as pro- posed by the Government, was rather a moderate amount. I still think so. But, equally, we are agreed that without the tools to do the job not even that £100,000,000 worth of extra food is going to be realized. We are equally agreed as to the tools that are needed—labour, houses for the labour, machinery and spare parts for machinery, fertilizers, feeding stuffs and, from a long-term point of view, improvement in the building equipment of the industry, electricity, water, and so on.

I have been looking up the old debates, and I find the greatest difficulty in making a speech different from that which I made on December 4, 1945, so little has been done since. Even then I was saying that unless the Government could assure, and not only assure, but actually deliver, to the farmers the wherewithal to conduct their operations the nation would not receive from the agricultural industry the food that it needs. I would go further and say that not only are the townsmen of this country not going to receive the increased production for which they are hoping, but, if things continue as they are, they will be extremely fortunate if they receive the equivalent of last year's production from the agricultural industry. I hope the noble Earl will be able to reassure us on this point. I took the perhaps somewhat unprecedented step of sending the noble Earl a full copy of what I intended to say, because, having asked these questions before without always receiving definite replies, I thought this time I would give him full warning of what he had to meet.

Apart from the actual facilities that will be available, I do make this appeal to the noble Earl: above all, let us be told the truth about the situation. Let the farmers know what the resources are that are going to be put at their disposal, and let the consumer's know what food they are justified in expecting from the farmers. I can assure the noble Earl—though I do not think he needs the assurance—that, whatever the facilities the Government are able to offer to agriculture, be they good or bad, the farmers are going to make the best of them; but the best will be a very much better best if only they are told ahead what they are and what they are not going to have.

Let us take it point by point. First, let us take labour. Here I think we ought to be quite clear what we are discussing, We all of us know that there are certain areas in this country where, for the present level of production, there is not a very serious shortage of agricultural labour. But that is not what we are discussing. We are discussing the capacity of the agricultural industry to meet the increased demands that are being made on it. It must be borne in mind that by the end of next year pretty well the whole of the German labour at our disposal is going to be removed. What exactly that figure is now I am not quite sure, because it is being removed progressively. It is to my mind about 70,000 or 80,000—it may be slightly less by now. We all agree that it is not much good discussing labour supplies unless we bring in at the same time the question of houses. That is, of course, unless we are going to resign ourselves permanently to working with gang labour housed in permanent camps. We would all of us agree, I think, that that is not a desirable development to make to a greater extent than is necessary, either from the point of view of efficiency or from the point of view of the social development of the countryside. But for the time being it may have to be utilized, and I am sure that the Government will do their best to put as much labour of that character at the disposal of the industry as they can.

If we have the houses, personally I am quite confident to-day that we can get the labour. There may be some difficulty about getting the right type of labour. We all of us know that there is a greater willingness to sit upon a tractor than to work in a cow-house, and yet if the country wants its supplies of milk maintained it is the man in the cow-house who is really needed. Speaking generally, I think if we have the houses we can get the labour, but without the houses there is not the slightest chance of our doing so. I do not want to traverse again the ground that was covered in the most interesting debate on housing initiated last week by my noble friend Lord Llewellin, but I would say, talking by and large—and this is only an estimate; one may be a bit either side—that my estimate of the need for the agricultural industry in the way of houses is something between 80,000 and 90,000. If the noble Earl has other views he could assist the House by giving us his official estimate. What hope is there of our obtaining a number such as that? I hope the noble Earl will give us the programme which the Government visualize.

Looking back on the past two years, we find that according to the Government's statement there have been 30,000 houses built in rural areas. But as houses built in rural areas are not let to farm workers, and are not more used to increase food production than if they were built at the Elephant and Castle, I think we can forget that figure and concentrate on the 3,075, which I gather was the last official figure given to us of houses which have been built in rural areas and put at the disposal of agriculture. I hope that the noble Earl is going to tell us in some detail how he hopes to swell that figure of 3,075 which have been built in two years for agricultural workers, to the 80,000 or 90,000 that are needed if the country is to receive the food that he and we on this side know it; will need.

I would venture here to make a suggestion with regard to the allocation of houses. Your Lordships will notice from those figures that barely 10 per cent. of the houses so far built in rural areas have gone to agricultural workers. I do not want to traverse again the ground that was covered on Wednesday last when we discussed the terms of the Ministry of Health's circular to local authorities. We on this side thought that it was anæ mic, and I do not think there was any convinced endeavour from the other side to prove that it was not. I suggest to the noble Earl that he should persuade his colleague, the Minister of Health, to withdraw that circular and to send out one which tells the housing authorities the gravity of the situation. Tell them that if we are able to get the labour for agriculture this country is likely to be hungry, and if we are not able it is likely to be very much worse. I believe that if the right appeal were made to housing authorities and the position was really stated to them, 90 per cent. of them would respond. I hope that the circular would also make it clear, for the benefit of the remaining to per cent., that the Government were not prepared to allow anything to stand in the way of ensuring the proper feeding of our people.

I make another suggestion to the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and it is that the time has really come when the. Government should drop—I hope I will not be considered too impolite—some of the political quackeries on this subject to which we have been subjected lately.

Viscount ADDISON

Such as?


As a matter of fact, the noble Viscount knows what I am going to say. If the landowner or the farmer—we know this is true all over the country—is prepared to build houses and build them, moreover, not in large groups in large villages but on the farms where they are really needed and will most contribute to increased food production, then let them be treated in every way on exactly the same basis as the local authority. Let them receive the permits as easily and let them be allowed exactly the same provisions as to the cost of the house. At the present moment I think it is still true that the landowner is expected to build a cottage for £1,300 whereas it is recognized that the local authority cannot build them under £1,600. It may be that there has been a slight variation in the figures, but that is roughly the position. Let them also have the same subsidies. These subsidies are subsidies to keep down the rent, and it is just as necessary if the house belongs to a private landowner as it is if it belongs to the local authority.

I would make another suggestion. Cannot we now drop all. this rubbish about reconditioning? At the present moment not only has the subsidy been withdrawn but in some areas—I admit it is not so in mine, because I have been treated very well—I understand it is virtually impossible to get a licence to recondition a house. I would ask the noble Earl to look into this matter. These really are the acid tests, to my mind, of whether the Government at last realize the gravity of the position, or whether they still feel it possible to allow Mr. Bevan and his friends to continue to play at politics.

Finally, I would ask the noble Earl what the Government propose to do about the rents of these new council houses. If they are going to be allocated to agricultural workers they have to be let at rents which the agricultural worker is prepared to pay. I know that I have never been able to persuade a man of mine to go into a council house. Lately four council houses have been built in my own village, and not one has been let to a farm worker. The rent is 25s. per week. I understand that some more are going to be built and when I asked what the rent would be, I was told round about 20s. It can only be on paper that these houses are going to be allocated to farm workers if the rent is going to be as much as that. No farm worker in any agricultural area that I know of can pay that. There is another point I would like to ask the noble Earl to look into. Is he confident that the builders in these areas are going to be able to obtain materials, if necessary, for a large construction programme of the size we must envisage if we are to increase farm workers' houses by between 80,000 and 90,000?

To turn from labour to the question of machinery and spare parts—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say steel and other raw materials for the manufacture of machinery—I think we should like to hear from the noble Earl what real steps have been taken to ensure priority and what form of priority, because we all know that during the last six months or so the allocations of steel for agricultural machinery have been more than generous. They have been most satisfactory. But unfortunately agricultural machinery is made of steel and not of allocations. If the noble Earl could tell us what steps have been taken to ensure that the allocations are really to be honoured and that there is to be real priority, he would give great comfort to your Lordships' House and to the industry. I referred at the beginning of my remarks to the pledge given by Mr. Herbert Morrison, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister on August 21, that Departments had been instructed to, give priority to agricultural needs; and the country and the industry were very disturbed to hear the statement made in another place on November 20—four months later—by Mr. Marquand, that those instructions had not actually been given and that he was. in process of working out a system of priorities. This is a matter that really must be cleared up if any reliance is to be placed on Ministerial assertions and if the industry is to be convinced of the real urgency of the situation.

I am going to deal very briefly with fertilizers—not because I have joined the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, in detracting from the use of what he calls "artificials" but because I gather that the situation is likely to be satisfactory. I would be grateful if the noble Earl would just give a moment in his speech to the question of the supply of fertilizers and tell us in some detail, with regard to the three or four special fertilizers, what is likely to be the position.

Now we come to feeding stuffs. I do not suppose anybody on either side of the House will disagree with me in saying that it is on feeding stuffs that depends the success or failure of the Government's scheme to increase our agricultural production to the extent of £100,000,000 per year. This is true partly because it is the animal product that is the really heavy dollar saver; it is also true, I think, because the greatest shortage in the ration to-day is in animal fats and proteins. It is all very well for the professors to talk about calories, but exactly how the calories are made up is of some importance. So far we have had no definite statement or information at all about the supply of feeding stuffs. Until we do know, the farmer is unable to move a single foot to increase his live stock; it would indeed be bad national policy for him to do so because to use live stock to breed and rear stock that cannot be taken for food production is a waste of good food. Incidentally, one has got to warn the farmer. My own view is that by next year the farmer may be the best hated man in this country. The public will have been given the impression that a large amount of extra food is going to be produced. Because of these shortages the farmer is not going to be in a position to supply it; and millions of thoroughly disappointed people will be saying that the farmer has not delivered the goods. Fortunately, the farmers are very ably led to-day. At the same time I hope that these leaders are bearing this danger in mind.

Where does all this really lead? Surely to the need for a stronger and more definite lead from His Majesty's Government, a stronger lead based on a very much greater sense of urgency. It takes us also to the need for greater knowledge. I do again implore the Government not to be afraid to tell the country the truth. Tell the farmers the truth about the food position, tell the public the truth also. Tell the farmers of the labour, houses, machinery, and feeding stuffs they are really going to have. Nobody can plan without such knowledge. You cannot increase your livestock without knowing what your feeding stuff supplies will be. Only last August we had a new plan for agricultural production which I think I am right in saying envisaged a smaller potatoing. To-day we are faced with desperate appeals for more potatoes. That sort of thing just makes hay of any farmer's cropping plans.

I would make this further appeal to the Government. If they set out to plan let them not always plan on the assumption that they are going to have good weather. Everybody else has known, not for the last hundred but for the last thousand years, that that is doubtful. If you are setting out to farm you are setting out to fight the weather, and it is not good enough when something has gone wrong to say: "We have had a bad season." In planning your food supplies as in planning an individual farm it is essential to realize that the weather is likely to be difficult and that one must always assume the worst.

Trust us, trust the farmers, trust the people. Do not be afraid to be drastic. Do not be afraid, if necessary, to give local authorities orders about the allocation of agricultural labour. Do not be afraid of the farmers or of being drastic with them. Those of us who worked with them during the war know that they are men who are quite prepared to have very definite instructions given to them when they are convinced that it is for the good of the country. I am speaking now for myself, but, if the Minister of Agriculture were to come before Parliament and say that, in his view, in order to save this country from the perils which face it, he feels that it is necessary once again to adopt compulsory cropping orders, I would support him in it. I believe that many other noble Lords who dislike cropping orders would do the same—on certain conditions, the first of which is that the farmer has the tools for the job.

If the Minister of Agriculture were to come to us who are interested in agriculture and work at agriculture in our districts, and if he were to ask us to join with him in impressing on our friends and neighbours the urgency of the situation, I believe that he could rely on every single one of us to join him. We would not ask the farmer to plough without ploughshares, or to rear stock without feeding stuffs, or to sow crops if he would not have the labour to harvest. But if the noble Earl, speaking on behalf of the Minister, can satisfy this House, the country and the industry that the Government in fact from now onwards intend to see that we do really have the tools for the job, if he is prepared to raise what I might call the "iron curtain" that has been dropped on the two difficulties of the situation, then, however bare we might find the cupboard when that iron curtain was raised, I think every member of this House and every citizen of the country would be prepared to rally round him in rousing the countryside to a sense of the colossal effort that the needs of the country demand from us to-day.

Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the expansion of agricultural production in this country; and to the steps being taken to secure a parallel increase in the supply of houses for agricultural workers.—(EARL DE LA WARR).

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Motion of my noble friend Lord De La Warr. He has said enough, I think, to show the great importance, in fact the vital importance, of this question. I would say that the results of this debate are going to be momentous in the agricultural world, and that they are going to be of the utmost importance to a great many of our people who are already suffering from want of proper nourishment. I can tell noble Lords that I have instances from various parts of the country, particularly in the industrial areas, where men are going to their work without the midday meal in order that their children shall be properly fed at home. That is a situation that we cannot view without very grave concern.

It will be remembered that in February of this year a Motion of mine asked that we should have £100,000,000 worth more food produced in this country per annum. The Government accepted the Motion but altered the £100,000,000 to £80,000,000 and then, subsequently, they said that their target would be £100,000,000. I can see no evidence anywhere that anything has been done to implement this effort. As my noble friend has said, if the Government want more food grown here they must give the farmers the facilities. And what are they? They are perfectly simple and, I believe, quite capable of being supplied. In the first place, all agricultural machinery, with spare parts, necessary not only for the growing of crops but (just as important) for the harvesting of green crops and cereals. What is the next step? Stop exports of such machinery until this country is fully equipped with it. I live not very far from the agricultural area of Andover where, at this moment, there are fifty-nine combine harvesters on order and no chance at all of getting them.

The next point is animal feeding stuffs, particularly for pigs and poultry. I will come to that subject a little later. Then there is the question of labour. We know perfectly well that the question of getting houses is out of the picture; we shall not get them. But I have a suggestion to make here. We know that children are taken to school and fetched home again. Near where I live, there is a derelict aerodrome with very fine substantial buildings, completely empty. There is a hospital there that could be converted into a hostel. I believe that if, when we go out to get the labour—and I hope we are not going to be scrupulous about that; let us get the Poles, let us get displaced persons in Europe and bring them here—we could make available buildings satisfactory for human beings to live in, which would not cost a great deal, we should have areas where a great deal of labour could be put, and the labour could be transported as the children are taken to and from school. Three could be dropped off at this farm and four at that in the morning and they could be collected in the evening, in exactly the same way as the prisoners of war who were here were being serviced. But I want these hostels to be comfortable and to be decent places for these people to live in. There is no reason why they should not be. The buildings are all right, there is a water supply and it would be quite easy to make all the other arrangements necessary to convert them into suitable accommodation.

We all know that our climate is a difficult one and that we are tremendously dependent upon the weather, and I do press upon the Government the fact that farming is quite different from any other industry in that it really is a gamble. A farmer never knows until he has actually collected his harvest and brought it into the barns whether he will succeed in doing so or not. Then, of course, you have the dangers of disease and pests, and I do want that side of it to be realized. Because of these things every consideration should be given to farmers to enable them to carry out, from an economic point of view, what is really for them a dangerous business undertaking.

I do not want any more paper targets; they are no good. I want, as the noble Lord has said, a definite allocation of raw materials right into the factories of those who are making farming machinery. I am going to read one sentence from a letter from one of the most important and go-ahead linns in Sheffield. This is what is said: As I told you at our meeting, the position is extremely serious, and the various factories in our group in Sheffield manufacturing all the many steel cutting and wearing parts for agricultural machines are definitely working well below capacity due to shortage of steel and shortage of fuel and power. I would again emphasize that there is most definitely no priority whatever for obtaining steel for agricultural products, a, nd, in fact, in a large and important industrial area like this, with many high priority industries, agricultural steel just does not. count at all, and we come down right at the bottom of the list of many other important industries also short of steel. Here is a very important firm, and I will quote to you the sort of things that everybody is short of, such as hay knives, harrows, loading hooks, ploughs, Kelvinators, spirals and many other things. That is the sort of thing that every farmer is short of to-day. What we want now is a definite allocation of the material right into the works. I do not want to be told: ''The target is so much; you are on the P'rime Minister's list." I understand that the Prime Minister's list is classified A, B, C, D and E, and I was told the other day that agriculture is down at E. What a hope we have of getting anything done in those circumstances!

Now, my Lords, I have stressed this matter before. I have been called gloomy for giving warnings on this subject. I hope that there will be no more nonsense of that sort to-day. We have Sir John Boyd Orr, who does know his subject in regard to the world's food supplies. We know definitely that there is a great danger of the food-producing countries of the world not producing what they did in the past, and we also know, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has said, that there is an increased population all the time. I have never understood why farmers are not paid the proper prices for what they grow. It is all very well, but the foreigner is getting a great deal more for his wheat than the producer of wheat grown here. I can see no reason for that.

In some of those places where wheat is grown the exigencies of the climate are nothing to what they are here, and I say that if you want the farmers to carry on—and I know at the moment, as no doubt noble Lords opposite know, that at the present time there is unemployment in the farming industry because the farmers cannot afford to pay the wages—you must pay them more for their products. Then they will be able to carry on in various ways—with draining, and so on: It is not only a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; I would like to see the Ministry of Supply brought actively into this question of allocation. If the farmers could get spares for their tractors that would be of great help in the supply of power on the farms. That is another reason why I stress, as did my noble friend, this question of the allocation of material. I would also like the noble Earl in his reply—although perhaps not to-day—to give me the percentage of exports of agricultural machinery; that is to say, what percentage of agricultural machinery produced here is exported, and also the value of it, preferably in dollars.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day that more food is available, but that we had not the dollars to pay for it. Let us consider this question of subsidies. It is quite obvious that in regard to subsidies there must be a conflict between the Treasury and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries or the Ministry of Food, because it is evident that the more food that is produced and supplied to the consumer the higher the subsidies. I would like to have that matter very seriously investigated.

The noble Earl referred to the question of calories. I do not know whether noble Lords noticed in a Sunday paper last week-end an article entitled "How short are we of calories?" by Dr. Charles Hill. This is what Sir Jack Drummond, who is well known to all of us, and Dr. Charles Hill said. I will read only one or two sentences: It is sometimes urged that the food avail able is more evenly distributed to-day than it was before the war. That is so. But it remains true that to-day the over-all supply of food is insufficient, whatever the mode of distribution. Those are serious words by men who are not politicians, and who study this question all the time. Then again, the article goes on: Already there are signs here and there of under-production, of an incapacity to go 'all out.' Is the calorie shortage responsible? My Lords, remarks of that sort, coming from that kind of source, do show the great gravity of the situation. We all know of the cuts there are; we all suffer from them. I will not go into that matter any more.

I would like to ask the noble Earl another question. Can he tell us what percentage of the food and clothing which it is possible for the ordinary individual to buy goes to the black market? It is rather important to know that. The free market has gone completely black only since it has been driven underground. We know perfectly well what is our position with regard to our gold. That is our last reserve and it is being rapidly spent; and the position is quite alarming. How are we to save dollars? What is the best way to save dollars? It is quite evident from what the noble Earl has said that the best way to do that is to become self-supporting, so far as we can. Let me put this idea into your Lordships' minds. To me, the finest export, though an indirect one, is the growing of more food here. No dollars are required for this. The import of raw materials which are converted into exports is allowed so that we can buy the necessaries of life. But, if we grow the food here, we do not require dollars to do it, and we obviate the necessity of importing raw materials to convert into exports to pay for the things we can grow here. It seems to me that that is a perfectly logical conclusion.

I want to come now to this rather contentious question of fertilizers. From my own experience, and the experience of other people in whom I believe, the best fertilizers we can get are feedingstuffs for animals. What I hear in this respect—I do not know whether it is true, but perhaps the noble Earl will tell us—is that we have bought a large quantity of maize, somewhere in the world, but that the difficulty is in getting it here. If we can get maize and linseed, that will mean more animals on the land, preferably pigs and poultry, I would say. They are prolific and they are the best fertilizers we can get. Artificial fertilizers feed nothing, and they take up just as much shipping space as feeding stuffs for animals.

Now I come to the important question of shipping. I am informed—and the noble Earl will no doubt confirm this quite easily from the Departments—that there are considerable numbers of American ships laid up at the present time. I do not know whether these ships could be chartered, but shipping friends of mine tell me that they are in splendid condition to carry goods across the seas. Would it not be a good thing for us to charter these ships to collect maize and other feeding-stuffs that we may buy in different parts of the world? I understand that in Sweden they have maize which they are feeding to their animals. Why should we not have some of it here? It seems to me that it is all a question of making the requisite arrangements. I believe that if we embark on this sort of enterprise the rest of the world will say: "Britain is waking up. The people are trying to do something for themselves, instead of sitting back and asking for foodstuffs to be poured into their country."

We can undoubtedly produce a great deal more food for ourselves. Let us do so. Let us give up such tinkering nonsense as the buying of nuts and making £1,250,000 profit. I understand that there has also been some dealing with regard to refined sugar. Just imagine private enterprise doing anything of that sort at a time like this! Let us get on with something such as I have suggested, something concrete that would produce results worthy of this country. We know that the Government are in a devil of a mess (I ask your Lordships to excuse the expression) and we are all extremely sorry for them. As the noble Earl has said, we will all do anything that we can to help them, provided that we are shown a concrete plan which we are satisfied will work, and that we are given the necessary facilities.

We know that there are two things that can save us. One is the production of more coal and the other is growing more food here. The feeding of our people must be improved. We cannot get the production that we require unless it is. For goodness sake, look to the future! Look ahead and give up this hand-to-mouth sort of idea by which we have been living for so long. If we do not succeed in this great endeavour there is only one other thing that we can do to save ourselves from an appalling disaster. I said this in a speech at the London University last week, and curiously enough Mr. Churchill touched upon it shortly afterwards—though not, of course, in my words. We shall have to export population. I say to the Government: Be courageous. Give the tools to the farmers, and I am sure they will get on with the job and succeed. My last word is this: For God's sake do something: and do it now.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am intervening for a very few minutes only in this debate, but I am anxious to support the very strong plea made by the noble Earl who opened the discussion that drastic action should be taken in connexion with rural housing. I believe that all the schemes for larger targets will fail completely unless more houses are provided in the countryside. Not long ago I heard from a farmer of great experience, who wrote to me in these words: Housing is really a bottleneck. Unless we have more houses we cannot have the sufficiency of labour which we. require. I have sufficient evidence to show how serious is this position. Quite recently I have been holding an episcopal visitation in my diocese. I need not go into details. Ordinarily it starts with inhibiting the Archdeacons from doing any work. Next I issue a series of questions to which incumbents have to reply. My own custom is to go round to the parishes. The questions deal mainly with ecclesiastical matters, but one of the questions this time was: ''What are housing conditions in your parish?" I have had replies concerning some 500 parishes. Some incumbents clearly gave me very inadequate replies, but most of them were fully acquainted with the conditions in their parishes, and the replies are certainly disconcerting. There are a few who say that housing conditions are good. Rather more say that a good deal was done between the two wars to remedy matters, and that there are already a number of plans in their localities for the building of new houses. The majority of replies, however, stress again and again overcrowding, the existence of insanitary houses and houses which although not in- sanitary are without any of the ordinary amenities that one expects in a modern house.

Let me quote to your Lordships one or two statements taken almost haphazard from these replies. Of one parish this is said: The great majority of the farm houses and cottages are very old and damp. Another incumbent writes: Slum conditions prevail with regard to houses. A further letter contains this passage: Only one modern house in the village. All cottages very poorly constructed. Many are condemned. No electricity or gas. No main drainage. In yet another letter I find this: We need houses very badly. Young people cannot be married bacause of great lack of houses. One result is that nearly all people here are aged. In the majority of houses there are no children, In one letter an incumbent has propounded what is rather a counsel of perfection. He writes: The. old cottages are often inconvenient but warm; the new council houses convenient but cold and somewhat small. The latter were apparently planned by a townsman, who has condemned those who live in them to be without the poor man's pig; there is no sty. This is felt to be a serious lack by every right thinking man. The result of those conditions is not' only that you fail to attract more people to these rural districts, but a number of men who have lived there and worked there for years find themselves impelled, through lack of houses to move away when they are married. Yesterday afternoon in the ordinary course of visitation, I was in a small country parish where I found no fewer than eleven young married couples living with their parents. Only a few weeks ago there had been twelve couples but one couple had moved away—I believe to a town. Others want to get away. That is happening everywhere and it will continue to happen unless more houses are built. The Government, I believe, have put rural houses in the forefront of their housing programme but great efforts will be needed if they are to succeed in reaching their target. I am afraid I am one of those who do not know what that target is, and I hope we may have some information as to the number of houses at which they are aiming. As has been already pointed out, in many instances the 30,000 houses which have been built in rural districts do not appeal to the majority of the agricultural labourers. They refuse to move to them for a twofold reason—partly because very often the rent is too high and partly because very often these houses are situated so far from the farms at which they work.

This brings me to a point which I know raises a very controversial issue—namely, that if the Government are to get these houses built within a reasonable time they will have to enlist much more largely than they have in the past the enterprise of private individuals—farmers and landowners. I know the objection to the tied house and I think some thirty and forty years ago the tied house system was gravely abused—I can think of cases myself—but practically all that has gone now. No farmer is likely to get rid of a labourer in these days unless he has some very good reason for it. He will put up with a man rather than lose him. We must remember that public opinion to-day is so strong that it is very difficult indeed for a farmer or landowner to act unjustly in a matter of this kind. Have any safeguards you like, but some tied houses are necessary. I think of the large number of farms in Yorkshire which are much more isolated than most farms in the South, very often high up in the wolds or somewhere in the moors, miles away from a village, and unless a farmer has his herdsmen or cattlemen living close by next to the farm he may be out of action for weeks in winter when the farms are cut off, as they were this last winter, by snow.

I should like to urge the Government to reconsider their policy about the reconditioning of houses. I was Chairman of a Ministry of Health Committee which was dealing with this subject a good many years ago and we then had overwhelming evidence of the work done through reconditioning. There are quite a large number of houses which, at a cost much less than that of the building of a new house, could be put into order and this would at the same time often preserve an extremely attractive building. There is one other line of approach which I think ought to be considered. Although it is true there is great overcrowding in a number of villages, sometimes in the same villages you may find a number of people who are overhoused. I will explain what I mean.

In one small village, I am told, the over-housing is due to about twenty houses being each occupied by one elderly person. In another village nineteen houses were each occupied by one person and thirty houses by two persons each. These people have lived there for a long time. They have had their families, who are grown up and have gone out into the world, and one or possibly both parents still survive.

I want to be quite plain about this. I would oppose most strongly any attempt to remove these old people compulsorily away from their homes and away from their villages. It would be a form of that social surgery which we so detest when we. hear of it on the Continent. But so far as possible small houses should be built in the village so that these old people may be able to move into them; and I think that with a little pressure they might be persuaded to move into smaller and more convenient accommodation. There has been no exaggeration in what has been said by the two speakers who have addressed the House about the danger of real hunger in the future. We have to do everything we can towards making our own country self-supporting. We owe these better houses to the farming community for all they have done during the war, but we require them also for the security and safety of the nation.



My Lords, the noble Lords, EARL DE LA WARR and Lord Teviot, have done a very good service by returning to the charge to-day. When I saw their Motions on the Order Paper I felt I must come to London for this. I do not often come to London now; I stay on my farm, where I am learning a great deal. But this is a vital subject. One has only to see what happened this year, which was a bad year for farming because of the weather, to realize that if we have another year like it, we may have a virtual breakdown in the food supply. We saw a breakdown in the supply of milk in August because of the drought, which made me feel that if we had another bad year we might have a complete breakdown. Everything ought to be done to ensure against bad weather, as the noble Earl has said. We must budget for bad weather to the best of our ability.

Although housing has been mentioned by every speaker to-day and by many speakers in last week's debate, and noble Lords opposite may be getting tired of hearing about it, I do not think I need apologize for mentioning the Hobhouse Report. I was delighted to read in the report of last week's debate that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, "Of course we accept the recommendations of the Hobhouse Report." That at least is something. We have had a definite statement from a responsible person that the Government accept the recommendations of the Hobhouse Report. I would like to ask the noble Earl if he could persuade the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Health to soften his heart towards the wicked landowners who wish to recondition their cottages. I do not think he likes landowners very much, but as the question is so urgent and vital perhaps he could find time. Some time during the last Session of Parliament, in answer to a question, he said that he would make a statement on legislation implementing the Hobhouse Report before the next Session, that is the present Session of Parliament. So far as I know, no statement has been made as yet. But it is encouraging at any rate to read that the noble Earl said the Government accepted the recommendations of the Report. I will leave that subject because I see we are going to have a contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, who is a strong supporter of reconditioning, and I always listen to his views very carefully, as I am sure all your Lordships do. I only wish to add my small voice to the appeal of everyone on this matter because it is so very vital.

I should like to say a word on the question of certain types of machinery. Farmers are now being asked to grow crops which before the war were not grown to any large extent in some parts of England—sugar beet and potatoes. They have been given a target to reach next year for acreages of potato and sugar beet, and I am a little concerned about the lack of casual labour to harvest these crops. When prisoners of war are returned to their own country, we may find there is not sufficient casual labour to deal with these very large acreages. I would ask whether it is possible, by means of demonstration or publicity, to encourage a greater use of such machines as potato planters and sugar beet harvesters, if these machines are available. A certain farmer told me the other day, "I have never grown potatoes in my life. I do not know how to grow them." He has been a farmer for many years, but has grown mostly barley and never potatoes. The committee have served notice on him to plough up grassland—I think it is quite right—and grow potatoes. He would probably buy a machine to plant potatoes, but many farmers have not seen these machines work. There are not many in this country, but I think there is a future for this type of machine if they are available in any quantity. I do not know whether the noble Earl can tell us anything about these machines, or their availability.

I do not want to enter into the controversy about fertilizers—I might be "told off" by some noble Lords—but I do think that basic slag is not in sufficient supply. It is a difficult thing to obtain, and it is very good for improving grassland. Much of our grassland badly needs improving if we are to carry the extra stock which we require so urgently to carry. I do not expect the noble Earl to refer to this in his speech, but perhaps he will make a note of it. It is difficult to get what you want of any commodity, but basic slag is really a vital need.

I do not want to detain your Lordships much longer, because there are other noble Lords who wish to speak. I would point out, however, as we are talking about priorities, that it seems to me that sufficient priority is not always given to water supply schemes. I have been trying to get a water supply scheme approved for some land for nearly two years now. Although there is no particular objection to it from the Ministry—they would like it—it has been decided that ironstone must have the priority. In other words, the water supply scheme—my scheme and also a county scheme—has had to be put aside because it is thought by the responsible Ministry that ironstone is more important to the country than a water supply which is going to serve a very large rural area. I am not qualified to say whether that is so or not, but it seems to me a great pity that this sort of thing is going on. It does not look is if we are going to have an adequate water supply scheme in Rutland for years to come, and that is a very serious matter.

I have no desire to end my speech with a platitude, though it would be easy to do so. It is very easy to say: "Give us the tools, and we will do the job"; it has been said many times before, and, of course, it is very true. I feel, however, that if the Government will take note of the eloquent appeals of the noble Lords who have spoken on the Motion now before the House, and if the farmers are told what they are to do, they will certainly do their best to do it. I am quite sure of that. I know many farmers. I am a member of the Farmers' Union and I see farmers every day of the week; they are practically the only people I do see now that there is no basic petrol. Those farmers are very keen to reach the target set up, provided they are given the help which they so richly deserve.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, this afternoon we have heard two powerful speeches in opening this debate, and very valuable contributions by the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, and by the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough. One thing that is exceedingly gratifying to me is the fact—which I gathered from the two opening speeches—that His Majesty's Government have managed to infect the Opposition with a sense of the urgency of the position.

Several Noble Lords: Oh!


Not only has that infection spread among the Opposition, but it is spreading throughout the country among farmers, farm workers, and others who are concerned in the industry. I can assure your Lordships that the account I have to present will reinforce what has been said many times from these Benches, that the Government are fully seized of the position and of the job which is facing us. I hope that what I have to say will reassure the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. One thing I should like to make clear is that from the earliest days of the tenure of office of this Government, we have realized that the future of this country and its whole prosperity depend on the production of adequate food supplies. That has always been a basic feature of the Government's programme. Accordingly, one of the earliest acts of administration on which we concentrated was the Agriculture Act, 1947, which we regard as a great Act in the history of the industry, perhaps in the history of the country, It has, we believe, laid a sure and sound foundation for the industry and for future production of the food which we need.

I have started with this reference to the Agriculture Act, 1947, to show, if I can, that our programme for an increased supply of food, contained in our announcement of last August when we set our target of £100,000,000 a year increase by 1951, was not a new departure; that was an immediate spurt. Our plans are consistent and we have invited the agricultural industry to make a real spurt to meet the present very big need with which we are faced. It is therefore only natural that noble Lords on both sides of the House should wish that I should give a resume of what has been done since last August when we encouraged this forward movement in our programme.

As your Lordships all know, a review of the country's investment programme was published recently in a White Paper. I will devote my remarks more to the agricultural side of it than to the general economic position, which falls rather outside the scope of this debate. I must say that in view of the situation, it is quite evident that paper plans are no good. What we need are deeds, and not words. One question which has been raised—and I think it is very pertinent to this debate—is that of priorities afforded to the farmers and to the agricultural manufacturing industry. His Majesty's Government decided that the agricultural industry must be given a very big priority indeed for their machinery and for the materials with which that machinery is made. Your Lordships will remember that the result of the review, outlined in the recent White Paper, was that the general investment of the nation must be reduced; we cannot help that, since it is something which we must face. But even in the reduced total as stated in the White Paper, room has been found for an increase in the amount of investment in agriculture, and that investment has been put on a very high scale.


When was this?


The White Paper indicated this high priority to agriculture and the amount of the investment for which allowance is made is broadly what the agricultural Departments—who really know the needs of the industry—were able to advise was necessary for the achievement of the first stage of the agricultural expansion programme. Concurrently with this decision, provision was made immediately for anything else that could be done to assist production by the allocation of important supplies, such as steel, to the manufacturers of agricultural machinery. There was also an immediate review of the price schedules, in order to assure farmers of the finance necessary for the expansion. When the full story is told I think people will realize that a great deal has been done, and that more will be done.


May I just ask the noble Earl whether anything has been done yet? Has any raw material actually gone to any factory?


If the noble Lord will allow me, I am going to refer in more detail to steel. It is rather a complicated question and will, I think, be of extreme importance in the future. Obviously, plans cannot be brought into effect over-night; you cannot turn steel into tractors over-night.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Earl, because it is disturbing; but we must get this clear. I quoted a statement of August 20 in which Mr. Herbert Morrison said that instructions had been given. May I ask the date of all this? I knew perfectly well that it was in the December White Paper on Capital Investment in 1948, but that is five months after August 30, when we were told all this had been done. I supplied the noble Earl with a copy of my speech and I do ask him to answer that point.


It is a difficult point and I would rather give the whole picture of the steel position, than deal with specific points.


It is a specific point.


First, I should like to refer to the priority of steel. What is asked for now is a real priority for steel in order to make equipment for agriculture.

The Marquess of SALISBURY

It is the noble Earl's Department which is under discussion. At what date was this decision taken? Mr. Morrison gave the impression in August that it had been taken and that the instructions had been issued. I have a statement here by Mr., Marquand made in another place on November 11 in which he said: All I can say is that at present agricultural machinery is not on the Prime Minister's list. … That was three months after August. Now the noble Earl says that it is on the Prime Minister's list. At what period was that decision taken?


If the noble Marquess will bear with me for a moment, that is the point I am trying to clear up. I cannot give the actual date of the decision, but it was found that to have a Prime Minister's list with a large number of priorities on it would not really he to the advantage either of agriculture or to the other industries—and for this reason. If you have overwhelming priority widely spread, and you say that whatever a particular industry asks for it should have, then soon you would have industry after industry competing within the priority. And in the end the priority would not achieve what was originally intended. Therefore, instead of adding agriculture to the Prime Minister's list, a new scheme has been evolved. Instead of having just this list, to which is added one thing after another, we will have quite a different set-up. In effect it is a first-aid scheme, and I should like to explain how it will work.

Briefly, the general principle of it is that gradually it will supersede this other list but will ensure the supply to agriculture of the amount of steel which is needed. The first thing is to look at the question of the allocation of steel. On this my honourable friend, the Paymaster General, made a particular point in his recent announcement in another place when he said: It is now necessary to assure supplies of steel, as far as is possible, for programmes which contribute to exports or (like agriculture) to the saving of imports.


That was November 20.


Exactly. The next thing is to ensure that allocations are matched as closely as possible with prospective supplies. As the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr said, it is no good having allocations if you do not get the steel to match them. The steel is the important thing; not the allocation. This involves a review of the steel distribution scheme, and this matter is now in hand.

Next, it was decided to introduce this new and different system of "selective priorities" and gradually to allow this to replace the bulk priority system which has hitherto been operated. As I have said, the new plan is to be on first-aid lines. The idea is that it will be possible to issue priority labels for a proportion of the steel needed for important programmes, in order to provide for those cases where the lack of small quantities of steel of particular kinds or sizes is holding up a run of production. Even this scheme will need to be applied with care, but the Government believe that it will be of great help as regards the various commodities that we must have, including agricultural machinery.

The Government are also actively engaged in examining the question of applying this new priority scheme—or something like it—to other raw materials, and to those components which are in short supply—for example, electrical equipment and roller bearings. I am sure, however, that everyone will realize that electrical equipment and components are of many different types, varieties and sizes, and for many different uses; and the application of a selective priority system may well raise far more intractable problems than in the case of steel. For that reason alone it would be unwise to say more at the moment than that the Government fully recognize the importance of the matter and that it is even now receiving the closest possible attention.


There is still no definite time-table.


It is impossible to give a time-table and to state that on such and such a day of the week so many tons of steel or components will be delivered. The important thing is that, instead of using this priority list, which was not, perhaps, the most adequate system, we have a new system by which each industry will be assessed on its greatest need; and on that assessment an allocation will be given. On that basis agriculture will rank very high; indeed, it will be one of the highest industries.

The Marquess of READING

The noble Earl said that the matter was in hand. Could he say in which hand, because the left hand does not always seem to know what the right hand is doing?


It is in both hands. Obviously food is our chief concern; no one will quarrel with that. But food production in quantity, as the noble Lord said, is dependent upon steel. We must remember that steel is dependent on coal; but coal is dependent on both food and steel, so the circle is complete. I would like to emphasize that these new arrangements have been made to match the supply of steel and the production of agricultural machinery. Even now the Government cannot accept the proposition that agricultural machinery has been pushed into the background. We claim, in fact, that the actual production of agricultural machinery has been extremely good. We are a very highly mechanized country, and since the beginning of the war, and after the war, the rise in the production of tractors and machinery has been most impressive. I think that as a nation we can take credit in that achievement.

One thing I should like to say. At present the Agricultural Departments are responsible for the production of agricultural tractors and agricultural machinery. It is the intention, however, that the Ministry of Supply, who are responsible for other engineering production, should, in due course, take over these production responsibilities. A start is to be made by the transfer of responsibility for the larger tractors as from January 1,1948. The Ministry of Agriculture will continue to be responsible for assessing home requirements for tractors, advising on home and export shares, keeping in touch with developments, controlling prices and distribution so far as necessary, but the Ministry of Supply will be responsible for the actual production of the tractors required and for coordination within the engineering industry. This arrangement will ensure coordination between tractor and vehicle production and undivided responsibility for production that may compete with other interests for resources in limited supply, such as engines, bearings, etcetera.

Responsibility for production of other agricultural machinery will remain for the time being with the Agricultural Departments;, and the whole matter will be co-ordinated between them and the Ministry of Supply. One must admit that a good deal remains to be done in the field of development and production of agricultural machinery of the newer types, in which the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, is obviously interested. A great step in this direction was taken when the Agricultural Machinery Development Board, in conjunction with both the Agricultural Engineers' Association and the National Farmers' Union, recently began examining afresh the constitution and functions of that Board and of the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering; and their Report is under examination by the Agricultural Ministers. In fact, the Government are very far from being complacent about the progress already made in this field, great as it has been. We look forward to an increase during 1948 of the annual level of farmers' expenditure on agricultural machinery to £40,000,000.

We are striving to achieve a balanced programme, from the raw material stage right through to the finished article, and we deeply appreciate the spirit of cooperation which has been shown by the manufacturing industry. Indeed, I would like to take this opportunity to pay a sincere tribute to the agricultural engineering manufacturers, who have done an extremely good job of work. The food situation depends on their success, and the Government have thought it right to obtain an independent and expert review of the possibilities and problems involved. I am very glad to be able to say that Sir Allan Gordon Smith has been good enough to undertake the inquiry, which I may say is welcomed by the industry. It will, I think, be of great assistance both to us and to the industry itself.

So far I have referred to the main items of equipment, but there is also the important question of spare parts. We have continually impressed upon manufacturers the importance of ensuring adequate supplies of these items, so that we can keep all machines working.


The noble Earl does not seem to realize that the manufacturers have not been given the raw material to make these spare parts which are needed to keep machines in operation. That is the trouble.


That is part of the trouble. The difficulty is the thousands of spare parts needed to keep all the machines in operation. Farmers use not only modern machinery; many of them have older machines that were bought long before the war, and spare parts are not so easy to obtain.


That is not a new situation.


The figures run into thousands. If I may, I will give an example which will indicate to the noble Lord the magnitude of this job. Something over 1,000 parts go into each tractor, and over 200,000 spare parts are handled by one importer alone. Over the whole range of imported machinery alone, something like 500,000 to 1,000,000 items are involved. It would be difficult at any time to keep that number running up to date. If a supply of only one part is missing, many machines may be out of action. It is not such an easy problem as some noble Lords sometimes seem to think.

Another big subject facing us is housing. Our task is to try to allocate the number of houses in proportion to the number of workers which the industry can absorb. We estimate that in order to carry through the first year stage in the £100,000,000 expansion programme in face of the withdrawal of German prisoners—and I think most of us agree they should be withdrawn—we should require in Great Britain by the harvest of 1948 some 75,000 additional regular workers as compared with June, 1947. Of these, some 60,000 would be wanted in England and Wales. These figures are in addition to the normal wastage in the industry. A great deal of this requirement of 60,000 in England and Wales will be met by bringing in 30,000 Poles and European voluntary workers, and by the retention as civilians of up to 10,000 German ex-prisoners. We also have in mind a big recruiting campaign for the Women's Land Army.

There will still be, as your Lordships will see, an estimated deficiency in England and Wales of between 25,000 and 30,000 workers, and this will have to be filled by the recruitment of regular British labour, which is the backbone of our agricultural industry. These are only estimated figures of what will be required. In practice, if we can get an additional British labour force of somewhere round about 20,000 in the year this should ensure that the industry can do its job. In this respect I would appeal to farmers all over the country to do their best to recruit their labour now. This drive must come from them, though the Government will do all they can to help. I know that just now, when we are entering winter, a farmer may think twice about taking on additional labour; in fact we have had reports of labour being turned off farms. But I do make a strong appeal to the farmer to take on more labour if he can, to ensure the future increase in production which is needed.


May I ask the noble Earl where these 20,000 new workers are going to be placed?


That must be a matter of new housing. That is not only one of our particular problems; it is one of the biggest problems that is facing the whole country. Obviously, however, we must have the houses to house the men. Last week housing was debated very fully in your Lordships' House, but I think I might add one or two remarks on this subject. Plans were made in October last, when the county agricultural executive committees were asked to report on the adequacy of the housing in their areas having regard to the increased number of workers required. My right honourable friend the Minister of Health very reasonably asked us to say where a special drive was most needed, so that the building resources of the country could be guided to the most urgent tasks.

Further to that, the Ministry of Health have undertaken to provide especially for the completion of houses as a matter of particular urgency in districts where this is most needed for the agricultural production campaign. I hope that this is beginning to persuade the noble Earl that the Ministry of Health are fully seized of the importance of agriculture in the country. It is, however, impossible to expect priority for individual houses all over the country. We hope that all houses at present under construction in rural districts will be completed in 1948, and we expect the number of houses allocated to agricultural workers to fit in with our estimated expansion in the available labour force. The question of a special drive arises where early completion is required in particular areas—where, for instance, new labour may be waiting only for the completion of the houses in order to step in and begin the job.

In attacking this problem of finding houses for agricultural workers, we have secured co-operation between the rural district councils and the county agricultural executive committees. Arrangements have been made for much closer and more effective co-operation between the provincial and regional staffs of the Ministry of Agriculture, and those of the other Departments concerned. For houses to let in 1948, we rely mainly on the completion of houses already under construction. The returns from the county committees—they are not yet complete I am afraid—will give us a picture of the requirements as estimated by the committees, and the Ministry of Health, as I have indicated, will undertake a special drive for the completion of houses in those districts where the houses are most urgently required. For this purpose, the procedure laid down in the circular to which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, rather slightingly referred will, we think, be a great help., I appeal to farmers to make full use of the arrangements which have been made. It should be remembered that actually the allocation of houses brings into being many complex human problems. I am satisfied that, in the interests of agriculture, it would be a pity to infringe the rights of the local authorities, for this idea of overruling produces a very difficult and delicate relationship all round. I think possibly some harm might be done if totalitarian or ruthless directions were issued here, there and everywhere. We always hope to get as much as we can by co-operation rather than by giving out dogmatic orders which may themselves lead to other difficulties.

An encouraging factor to which I might refer is that in October, out of some 1,800 houses completed, approximately 400 were let to agricultural workers.


The noble Earl is pleased with that?


It is at least encouraging. It shows progress, even before the arrangements brought in by our circular could become fully effective. But it is nothing like what we are finally aiming at. It shows, I think, some increase in the realization by local councils of the needs of agriculture. Undoubtedly there will be a greater balance between the increased production required from the agricultural industry and the availability of additional houses.

Another important feature in our programme is the question of hostels, mentioned, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot. We estimate that something like 100,000 additional hostel places will be required over the next year, to meet the needs of mining, agriculture and certain other key industries. It will not be altogether easy to achieve that target, owing to the great shortage of labour and materials. Nevertheless, this problem is being tackled with a great sense of urgency. I should say that about half of the 100,000 additional places will be required for agriculture. But, as noble Lords have said, housing and machinery are not the only things which come into this picture.

We must also have regard to fertilizers (as the noble Earl has told us), feeding staffs, water supplies and various other factors. All these make up the bigger picture and contribute to the efficiency of the industry. The Government fully recognize that farmers, and especially pig and poultry keepers, would like to have early information of the level of supplies of feeding stuffs from next summer onwards—they already know ration scales up to April next—so that they can plan their forthcoming breeding programmes. It is equally important, however, that expansion should keep an even pace with feeding stuff supplies, and until the future position is somewhat clearer it would be unwise at this moment exactly to settle ration scales from May onwards. We shall, however, make an announcement as soon as possible and I hope that we may be able to do so early in January.

In view of the world crises, it is all the more important that farmers should make every possible effort to produce more feeding stuffs on their own land. It is for this reason that we are urging them to increase their acreages of barley, oats, and other fodder crops for the next harvest. We hope, also, that they will strive for bigger yields from these crops so as to get a larger output of feed without using more land. Foods with a comparatively high protein feeding value are particularly important—for example, kale, linseed, beans and various arable crops suitable for ensilage, as well as grass, clover and lucerne. We hope that by next harvest the acreage of linseed will be multiplied at least five times, and that it will continue to increase rapidly in the following years. The most important crop of all for animal feeding is grass, especially during the months of April, May and June. The difficulty is, that although this valuable keep is available in quantity during those months, we have not as a country succeeded in conserving enough of it for winter use. That is a big problem. In the old days, when concentrates were freely available, hay, even made from fully matured grass, came in very useful. Now that we have to find a large part of our own protein, there is a different story to tell. We are therefore undertaking considerable research into the possibilities of grass-drying and raising grass in different ways. We are also starting a campaign to encourage farmers to make much more silage and, so far as the limited number of drying plants that it is possible to make for use in 1948 will allow to increase the production of dried grass. Farmers who can increase their own self-sufficiency in feeding stuffs will not only be helping themselves but will also be helping very much. in a national sense.

I have tried, as briefly as I can, to give a general review of the aspects of the expansion programme of the Government. In fact, the Government are glad to have this opportunity to show what is being done and to indicate new trends and new developments. I think your Lordships will agree that the account which I have given is one of firm and speedy action. I hope that farmers and farm workers will be encouraged by these facts to increase their output and to lend their whole energies to the production drive. I must say that all sections of the industry have played their part magnificently. They realize the responsibility which has fallen upon them and hey appreciate the benefit of this long-term policy of agriculture; it gives them a security they have never had before.

I personally feel that they should, and will, not only reach the £100,000,000 target (which, as Lord De La Warr has indicated, would be very estimable), but will even increase it. Nothing could help more than that. The workers have held meetings all over the country and have pledged themselves to a policy of increased output, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that their response as individuals and as an organized body has been very good. In fact, all sections of the industry, the landowners, farmers and workers, have responded well.

The noble Earl spoke, I think, about the possibility of directions. He said that if the Minister considered that direction was necessary he, himself, would welcome it and would be quite agreeable.


I did not say the word "welcome" at all.



I was attempting to make it clear to the Minister that if he felt it was necessary to take any measure, however desperate, to save this country from starvation, no one on this side of the House, and certainly not myself—and I can speak only for myself—would wish to make Party capital out of it; and indeed I offered it my support.


I was grateful to the noble Earl that he did use that word. I noted it especially, with a view to a future remark, that we want, if possible, to avoid direction. If we can, we want to avoid doing it, and if the response of the industry is as good as we hope it will be, the result will be very-gratifying. We intend to lead and encourage rather than order, because I think that in the long run the volunteer is always better than anyone else. If however the situation called for stronger steps I have no doubt we would have to take them. I should also like to pay a tribute to the county committees for the work they have done. They are the pivot of our agricultural policy, and I hope the new committees will go on working as did the old war-time committees. I am afraid that I have kept the House rather a long time, but in my view the importance of the subject justifies it. I only hope that the words that we have used on this Bench will bring home to the country, and to the agricultural industry, the great urgency and importance of food production, and that they will bring forth even greater effort.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I was amazed to hear my noble friend EARL DE LA WARR refer to the difficulty that he found in making a different speech from that which he made in December, 1945. Your Lordships may imagine the difficulty that I find in making a different speech from any of those I have made since 1904! Helped by the wealth of diversity of the English language, and aided by a certain prolixity of expression, I have, however, managed to make them. And although not unrecognizable as coming from the same mouth, the speeches have been at least slightly different. But in all these years it has been a matter of prophecy. And I, in common with others who have habitually acted with me, have been treated with the contumely—no doubt deserved—that falls to the lot of every prophet in his own country. There came a time, however, when the prophecy began to be fulfilled and we were able to point to the writing on the wall. When the writing on the wall appeared the critics became less rude, or, at any rate more silent. Now we have the noble Earl leaping to his feet to tell the agricultural agents on this Bench that he and his colleagues have at last succeeded in convincing us that something is not altogether right with agriculture in the British Isles!

My Lords, I suppose it was a joke. My sense of humour may be somewhat dull, but I am quite prepared to accept it as a joke if the noble Earl made it as such. However that may be, we have now reached the moment, a very sad moment, when all the things that we said were likely to happen have happened, are happening, and will go on happening. That is poor satisfaction to those who have said that they would happen, but the fact remains that we are now in a position to say "We told you so." The noble Earl did say, joke or no joke, that he and those who act with him were glad that he had at last been able to impress the urgency of the food situation of this country upon those who sit upon this side of the House. We who live in the country are completely convinced that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and, to a large extent, the Ministry of Food, too, have even now no conception of what they are up against. If the House will allow me, I am going to give certain detailed information as to what that problem really is.

As many noble Lords will know, I am from the remote but not inconsiderable County of Norfolk, and the noble Earl will be able to confirm what I tell the House, that the County of Norfolk, with its 1,000,000 acres of highly cultivated land, normally produces no less 'than one-tenth of the total home-produced foodstuffs upon which this country lives. And, therefore, whereas in the ordinary way it would be permissible, for anybody to say that the misfortunes of one county are that county's misfortunes, in this particular case it is a matter which is not only of county importance but 'of national importance—to the tune of one-tenth of the total. What has happened in the County of Norfolk in the last eighteen months? I trust the House will bear with me and not be bored, because it is of some importance.

In 1946 we had the finest crops that have ever been grown in my memory. It rained from June to October. My own crops all came down just as if a heavy roller had been passed over them, or a herd of elephants had trampled them down, and for the first time for a hundred years echelons of men were to be seen cutting the whole of the crop with scythes. On my own farm of 600 acres I cut every acre with the scythe, with men working in echelons; it took not weeks, but months. Half the harvest only was gathered, and the other half shelled out upon the ground. Then it rained from October to Christmas, and we were unable to get on with the ploughing which should have then been done. From Christmas till March it snowed and froze, and for eight weeks the greater part of the county was under six feet of snow, with the result that we reached the month of April with no work done. By the middle of April some land dried sufficiently to get upon it. The work to be accomplished was prodigious for the time available, and there were a large number of acres that were never reached in the spring at all. In consequence, broad stretches of land had to lie in bare fallow. Then from Easter till November it never rained.

It was a most surprising thing in our country, that we should have suffered a succession of such abnormal seasons. Let me toll your Lordships that from May 1 till the end of November, in Norfolk it rained four inches. The normal rainfall in that period was fifteen inches. Everyone knows that one inch of rainfall is equal to 100 tons to the acre, so when you are deficient to the extent of ten inches you are deficient of 1,000 tons to the acre. One day that 1,000 tons will fall. I hope that I shall be somewhere else. But the law of averages always applies, and when it does fall what are we going to do? The floods of last spring will be a mere bath compared to what they will be in a coming spring. As I say, these have been a succession of bad seasons, and what has happened? Crops went in so late that many of them had no ability to grow at all. Many of them never went in because it was impossible to get on to the land in time. And it has never rained since they went in.

We had a few words a, bout direction just now. I trust and pray that the Ministry will stick to its guns in this matter and not apply direction. This is not because I do not want direction applied to farmers, but because I know how the official mind works about this. The tendency of the official mind is to gauge agricultural production in terms of acres instead of in terms of weight. It has been done all through the war with disastrous results. I raise that point merely to tell your Lordships how variable is the production of an acre. In 1946, those whose crops did stand up were harvesting twelve sacks of barley to the acre. In 1947 the same acres yielded four sacks of barley to the acre. Wheat has mostly failed, and the oats are so light that the horses blow them out of the mangers instead of eating them. These things are true. I see my horses wasting before my eyes. Their strength is going like our own. That is the problem which you are up against.

This great county, which I do not claim to represent but from which I come, is failing this year to supply the one-tenth of the agricultural production which this country needs. A few days ago, a high authority in my county, who is well qualified to make the calculation, published in a paper his own estimation of the loss which this drought had caused to Norfolk agriculture. He worked it out in detail and it came in value to £7,000,000.

That is a great misfortune to farmers in the county of Norfolk, but what must be the position with regard to the country as a whole? These £7,000,000 are estimated in terms of producer prices. We all know what a big difference there is between producer prices and consumer prices. What do you suppose the value of that £7,000,000 is represented in terms of consumer prices— £12,000,000 or £15,000,000? And what does it represent in dollar prices? It is a very serious matter.

I lead from that to a subject which has already been raised by my noble friend and spoken to by several others of your Lordships—namely, that of machinery. Faced with prodigious difficulties caused by abnormal seasons, we should have been immensely helped if we had been able to turn to an adequate supply of machines. Now we know that the noble Earl is not Moses. We know that this Government did not actually promise at the last election to produce an adequate rainfall year by year, though the natural inference was that they would. But what the Government could have done was to have seen to it that the tools without which a farmer cannot deal with these misfortunes of the seasons were at his disposal, so that he might deal with them at least in part. What happened to me? I have a D2 tractor. Everyone who is a farmer knows that that is the veritable Rolls Royce of tractors but, unhappily, it is American made. I could not get any spare parts for it, so I was constrained to buy a somewhat different type of tractor known as the Fordson-Major, against which I have nothing to say, at a cost of £300, for no better reason than that I could not get the small spare parts I wanted to make my very good tractor go.

We found later in the season when we wished to plough that the land was in such cement-like condition that ploughs of any kind were useless. So I had hopes of doing something with a cultivator. This is a very heavy implement, which I happen to possess, and I hoped that it might perhaps scarify the surface of this case-hardened earth so that it would be possible to drill a little something behind that. But I had no points, and my cultivator is down to the stalks. Stalks are the things upon which the points fit. I was hoping to be able to do a little cultivation, but could I get those points? There was not a merchant in all England who had those points, and, so far as I am aware, there is not one who has got them yet. Therefore, the ploughs stand still because they are short of shares, the cultivators are idle in the sheds because they have no points, and the tractors will not go because it is not possible to get spare parts for them.

British agriculture stands still. But the noble Earl is full of good intentions. He has got most wonderful plans. The Ministry of Agriculture is going to do this and the Ministry of something else is going to do that. At some future period all will be well. But meantime the people of this country will drop dead from starvation. What are we going to do about that? If action had been taken two years ago we should be in a somewhat better position than that in which we now find ourselves. But action was not taken in adequate time, and that is why the Government are blameworthy. Clearly we cannot blame the Government for not producing rain or for producing too much snow. But they could have done something by way of getting for us machines and tools. However, we have not got them, and I do not see any prospect of our getting them.

I would ask those of your Lordships who are not practical agriculturists or who have not much familiarity with agriculture, if you have any idea what the life of a ploughshare might be. If you had you would soon realize how many ploughshares are wanted. Do you know that an ordinary ploughshare when it is in use us pulled through soil for a distance of twelve miles in a day. Is it surprising that at the end of the twelve miles the ploughshare is worn out and a new one is wanted. If you employ a four-furrow plough then four new ploughshares will be needed. I you are going to plough for three hundred days then three hundred times four ploughshares will be needed. That is twelve hundred ploughshares altogether. That is the scale upon which these things are required. In a country of the character of East Anglia, which is gritty and gravelly and almost stony in places, these ploughshares and cultivator points wear out even more quickly. We do not wallow in mud as do some others in England. We live on the top, and the top is very stony, and it pulls the steel to pieces. What is the good of giving priority to this, that or the other factory for steel when it is required for agriculture, when without agriculture you cannot eat and you will starve?—and I was almost going to say "serve you d—well right." That really is about the long and short of it.

There is to be a Royal Commission at five o'clock; so for the moment I must stop. I have more to say, however, and if anyone chooses to come back into the House after the Royal Commission has completed its work, I will ask your Lordships' permission to be allowed to finish my few remarks.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.