§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Earl De La Warr, 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.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, it is very difficult, and indeed I think I shall find it impossible, on the second day of this debate, to avoid repeating quite a lot of the arguments that have already been put forward. But I shall do my utmost to avoid doing so as far as I can. There are a great many points which admittedly do not call for discussion. It is a matter of common knowledge that not only are we short of food at the present moment but we are likely to be shorter. Indeed, there is almost a threat of famine. It is, too, a matter of common knowledge that our excellent Minister of Agriculture and his able and courteous deputy in this House are doing their very best to ward off that threat, and they are being backed up by the Ministry of 188 Agriculture wholeheartedly and one hundred per cent. But it does seem to some of us, including myself, that the Ministry, while fighting with one hand against nature—and the farmer is always fighting against nature—are fighting with the other hand against almost every other Department of the Government.
In their task they are setting themselves a target. Of course they had to do so. Everybody set themselves targets nowadays in everything they do. This agricultural target is £100,000,000. I rather regret that the target is £100,000,000 because, after all, it carries a suggestion that the easiest way to get £100,000,000 worth of goods is to put up the price for the same goods so that they cost much more. I do not think that that is what the Government have in view, and I am not blaming His Majesty's Government because, I believe, the suggestion came from the noble Earl in front of me. I think that, perhaps, it was somewhat unfortunate. To-day, I take it, we are considering, in the first place, whether the target will be achieved, and, secondly, if not, why not. I am quite certain of one thing and that is that this target is well within the compass of the agricultural industry. I am also sure that it will be no fault of the farmers, the farm workers, or the owners if the target is not achieved. Nevertheless, there are some doubts in my mind as to whether it will be.
The first reason that causes me to doubt is the one that was introduced so eloquently and in such a fascinating manner by my noble friend Lord Hastings yesterday. That is the condition of the land over a very large part of our country and the financial condition of the men who farm it. The noble Lord told your Lordships that Norfolk was a great and noble county. He lives there. I will tell your Lordships that Suffolk is a great and noble county, too. I happen to live there. I would also say that the conditions that he told you, so graphically, obtained in Norfolk also obtain in Suffolk. He told you, also, very rightly—and you know it to be true—that farming had always been a chancy business. It has always been something of a gamble, a gamble with the weather, a gamble with the times. Good times in the industry, as he pointed out, have always been associated with times of war. I recall the 189 first occasion upon which this undoubted fact was brought to my notice. Some sixty years ago, my father took me to an audit dinner, and it was there with horror and surprise that I heard this toast greeted with resounding cheers: "Here's to a dry harvest and a bloody war." I do not think that toast would go down well now, because we have had some and we do not want any more.
Nevertheless, it was in those times and in times of good harvest that farmers laid in a reserve of cash on which they drew when times were bad. Had they not been able to do that they could not have gone on, as some families have done, for centuries, passing on their places from father to son. As the noble Lord pointed out yesterday, this is rendered almost impossible now by the fact of E.P.T. He might have added also that another factor is the change from Schedule B to Schedule D methods of Income Tax. Indeed, I think that that has been the worse change of the two, because it has two added disadvantages. In the first place it places a heavy tax upon the industry. It so happens that I farm about the same acreage as my noble friend—some 600 acres. The accounts show that through this I pay no less a sum than ten shillings an acre on the whole of my farm lands. That is a substantial sum, and I do not know how farmers are able to afford that added tax. These circumstances seem unfortunately to lead men who are normally honest to consider the great advantages of the pound note and turn their minds notably to the advantages of the Black Market. Further than that, I think P.A.Y.E. is also somewhat of an agricultural disaster as it so largely removes incentive from the agricultural worker.
The second doubt raised in my mind is on the question of labour. It is admitted on all sides that labour is short. It is, I think, admitted universally that the outstanding remedy is the provision of new dwelling-houses. The miserable trickle of cottages which the Minister of Health allows to come into the occupation of agricultural workers is a matter of common knowledge. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, took great comfort in a statement he made that in one rural area no fewer than four hundred houses out of eighteen hundred were to be made available for farm labour. It does not seem to me that the statement that two 190 cottages out of nine were to be devoted to the men who produce the food of the nation affords much comfort. I felt No Inclination to cheer that statement.
A third consideration is the question of machinery. When it was clear that labour was going to be short, as it has been for some time, the wise farmer decided he had to get the best output he could with the labour that was available. The wise way to do it was to introduce labour-saving devices of all kinds so that he would secure a larger output per man. Mo doubt many of your Lordships attend agricultural shows occasionally in your own counties and no doubt also the Royal Society's Show. There you have seen long rows of agricultural implements. It would not surprise 'me to learn that in the case of the Royal Show there was a mile of such very interesting exhibits, using petrol and oil and surrounded by hungry farmers. When I have been at these shows and seen an instrument I would like, perhaps a combine or a muck-spreader or a hay-baler, I have said to the nice young man in the stall, "I want one of those." "Yes." he says, and takes out his book. "When can I get delivery?" That is the snag. It might be in eighteen months or two years or three years. He may even say: "Well, my whole output is for export for as long as I know." I have been round with a bunch of farmers on the same quest and been astonished at their vocabulary. I thought my own was adequate for such an occasion, but I have indeed been astonished. If one hall the curses that I have heard were to come home to roost, a great many people would have little use for their coal ration in future.
Why is this the position? I believe it will be admitted on all hands that the real reason is shortage of steel. We heard yesterday of a great meeting held about four months ago and attended by leading lights in pig farming and agriculture, as well as many others such as myself, who came from all parts of the country, at great expense both in time and money. I asked myself: "Is your journey really necessary?" But I sat up and took notice when, at the meeting, there rose from his seat Mr. Herbert Morrison, with the words: "I have a message of good cheer for you. I am going to tell you now, with the authority of the Prime Minister, that agriculture is going to have 191 priorities on all counts." Then I thought my journey was worth while. Having heard that, I went away comforted. That was the only thing I heard to comfort me, but it was worth while.
Yet, four months later, the Minister in charge of the appropriate Department said: "This is the first I have ever heard of this priority nonsense. I never heard of it in my life." What did we hear yesterday in the statement by the noble Earl? I am bound to say I found it rather difficult to follow at the time, but I have given it careful thought since and this is what I conclude he said. He said that priority was all very well and a very nice thing to have unless everyone else had priority too, and then, on the reasoning that when everybody is somebody nobody is anybody, it is not much use. But His Majesty's Government had been thinking the matter over—and they have had a long while—the matter was in hand and there was reason to hope that in the not too far distant future priorities for agriculture would return within the meaning of the term which was originally intended. I hope we have not to say once again that the farmer "never is but always to be blest."
Finally, I am able to break new ground, rather to my surprise. It will be a matter of common knowledge that the fixed equipment of this country, which has hardly been touched for several years, has been gradually getting worse and worse, and that in the course of restoring that fixed machinery, the cost of maintaining it has gone up out of all knowledge. May I give one small instance? I remember when there was a frightful row because the price of field gates went up from £1 to 25s. To-day a field gate costs £6 10s. and is in short supply.
The farm-owner wishes to rectify this state of affairs. He wishes very much to do so. Let us see what he has to do. Suppose a cowhouse has fallen down through decay or wind. It may even have been condemned by the sanitary officer. Every one knows there are enough cowhouses deserving of such condemnation. The farmer wishes to put up a new cowhouse. He does not do that for fun. He has to find the money. He will probably have to sacrifice capital. Too often he may have to sell some possession that has been 192 in the family for generations. But whatever he does, he raises the money. He gets an architect and then a builder. Next he gets plans and an estimate. Then he suffers visits from the representatives of various bodies—the advisory service, the rural district council, the planning authority, Uncle Tom Cobley and people of that sort. They all come, but they do not do much to help him. He has to be very polite to them, because most of them can do something to stop him. However, if he has graft and influence, and a pleasant personality, he probably gets that through all right, and his application then goes to the district committee of the agricultural executive committee. That committee are an important body, because those axe the people who really know their stuff. They know whether the cowhouse is wanted; they know whether the farmer's herd warrants it; they know the condition of the other farm buildings. They can and do give a reasoned and proper judgment in the matter; and they pass it. Incidentally, they sit once a month, which is important.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
Yes. In some places they sit less often, and in others more often, but in Suffolk it is once a month. The application then goes to the supplies committee who seldom turn it down. Incidentally, they also sit once a month. From there the matter goes to the agricultural executive committee. They hardly ever turn it down; and they also sit once a month. When he has done that, and they have all passed it, the farmer is over some of the fences; but then come the higher ones. He finds that he is not a quarter of the way round. He goes to the regional committee, and then to the Office of Works, which I think is the highest fence of the lot. From there he has to go to the Ministry of Supply and, amazing though it may sound, he may even have to go to the Ministry of Transport. I could tell a tale to your Lordships (perhaps I will some day) as to how the Ministry of Transport held up, and are still holding up, the reclamation of 500 acres of floodland, and stopped the saving of 800 acres more.
When the farmer has gone through all the stages I have mentioned he may get a licence and, if he is a man of great 193 graft, as I have said, and of intense perseverance and push, he may get that in nine months. When the builder has collected his materials—and that takes some time—he may see the first brick laid upon his new cowhouse. If that were not tragic, I think it would be comic. I would ask—indeed, I would implore—the noble Viscount who leads the House, whose heart and head we all know are in the right place where agriculture is concerned, whether he cannot do something to speed up this procedure and stop what amounts, in my view, to a deplorable scandal.
§ 4.24 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has so effectively made points that have occurred to all your Lordships with practical experience in these matters, that they need no reiteration. My own experience, for what it is worth, is precisely the same. The average length of time taken to get a permit to do even the smallest job is something of the order of six months. Sometimes it is a little less, and frequently it is about a year. That, and other points which were made in the course of yesterday's debate, seem to prove to noble Lords on this side of the House—if proof were necessary—how little sense of urgency there is in dealing with the agricultural situation. I regret that I was not able to hear the speech made by the noble Ear, l, Lord Huntingdon, yesterday, but I have studied it with considerable care. I trust that your Lordships on hearing it were more reassured than I was on reading it.
Passage after passage in that speech confirms the feeling that I have—the ineradicable feeling—that there is no sense of urgency about the agricultural situation in this country. Towards the latter half of his speech, the noble Earl—having, I submit from the reading of his speech, told your Lordships virtually nothing that was not already known—said:I think your Lordships will agree that the account which I have given is one of firm and speedy action.The "speedy action" can be summarized in some of the remarks made earlier in yesterday's debate, when the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, pointed out that it had taken about four months to get some sort of action by the Government on supplies of steel for agriculture— 194 four months after the statement made by Mr. Morrison that this was a matter of urgent priority.
We have been told time and time again that priority would be given to the housing, and the improvement of the housing, of agricultural workers. In my own case, I have waited over a year to have a few telegraph poles to put electric light into cottages—on a contract signed in November of last year. No doubt every one of your Lordships has had cases of the same sort. Applications for steel pipes for agricultural water supplies—not only to cowhouses, but also to dwelling-houses, in the particular cases I have in mind—have been turned down because they were not on the Prime Minister's priority list, a priority list brought out after the statement by Mr. Morrison about the priority to which agriculture was to be entitled. Is that speedy and firm action in the matter of agriculture? Remarks like that made by the noble Earl leave one absolutely speechless. It is impossible to know what is meant by the statement that speedy action is being taken, when it requires five months for action to be taken to supply steel for the agricultural industry.
However, I do not want to follow up those particular points, except to say that in other quarters there appears to be a lack of any sense of urgency about the food situation of this country, which is the point to which I want to revert. That is the theme on which the noble Earl who opened this debate started, and I hope it is the theme on which the debate will conclude. The details are of immense interest to all those interested in land, but what is of interest to everybody in the country is how much we are going to get inside our stomachs next year. There seems to be every prospect of there not being enough to go round. On December 5 the Daily Telegraph quoted remarks made at a Press conference by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Food. That is a reputable newspaper—at least I believe it is considered by noble Lords on the other side of the House to be a reputable paper—and I shall be surprised if the rest of the remarks made at the same time have passed unnoticed. Certainly I trust that they will find a place in the debate on the economic situation of this country. Be that as it may, it was reported that in the course of the Press 195 conference held by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Strachey, Mr. Strachey described the dollar factor as a new one governing our supply situation. That somewhat surprising remark led on to his saying:I think it may not have been completely realized that the character of our food problem has not entirely but has, to a very considerable extent, changed.He went on to say that the change which has taken place is that we are now—that is, on December 5—short of dollars with which to buy food; whereas if we were not short of dollars, presumably there would be plenty of food to go round.
It is precisely that sort of remark which makes one wonder whether those in responsible positions in the Government really realize what the world food situation is to-day. For two years Sir John Boyd Orr has been preaching into the wind so far as the Government are concerned, about the urgency and difficulty of the supply of food to the world in general and to us in particular. It is only by the grace of God that we have had seven, or perhaps eight, good wheat harvests in North America, and merely by the law of chances we ought to have a bad one next year. If we do have a bad harvest, after the comparative failure of the coarse grain crop in North America, this country and countries on the eastern side of the Atlantic will be facing famine. No one in the Government has brought out that fact. It is not a question of tinkering with £100,000,000 more production in England; it is a question of absolute priority to grow whatever food can be grown in this country in order to keep people alive.
That situation is known to all your Lordships if you only will face it. We have been told the position about our fats, and the same remarks apply equally to grain; there is not enough to go round. Yet, knowing that that is the situation, we are told that the main thing preventing us getting food in this country is lack of dollars. The position really is that unless we grow it ourselves there is not going to be any food, whether we have dollars or not. That is the situation in the face of which it takes four months to get an allocation of steel to the agricultural industry on the basis that the noble Earl stated yesterday. It 196 is in that situation that the noble Earl commended the action taken as "firm and speedy action." I leave comment to your Lordships' imagination, because words fail me to describe it myself.
§ 4.33 p.m.
My Lords, in rising to speak at this late stage in the debate I find myself in some difficulty. The remarks which have just been addressed to the House by the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, embody far better than I can do the outcome of the debate, as it appears to me, up to the present. There is no question about it, of course. The whole intention of this debate is not to bolster up agriculture. It is to deal with these very grave problems upon which the noble Lord has just addressed the House. For my own part I feel that very strongly indeed, and I do not think, so far as this House is concerned, that there is any necessity to emphasize further the points that have been made. I am sure that noble Lords on this side of the House are all most anxious to hear the speech which my noble friend the Leader of the House will make at the conclusion of this debate, and I earnestly trust that it will be more encouraging and more satisfactory than the pronouncement hitherto made from the Government Bench. It is useless for me at this moment in the debate to try to emphasize what has already been said so well, but there are one or two points to which I trust His Majesty's Government will pay particular attention. They are small points in themselves, but all have a bearing on successfully coping with the situation with which the community of this great country is faced at the present time. As my noble friends have said, what we want is that the truth and the facts of the case should be put far more clearly than they have been put hitherto by those responsible for the administration of the country. Tell the country the truth. Let the farmers know more emphatically and more clearly than hitherto what help they may expect towards doing what we feel quite confident they are willing and anxious to do to meet the country's requirements in this time of grave emergency.
I would allude in passing only to the question of rural housing. That point has been made over and over again. It was made by the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, on the other side of the House, 197 and noble Lords on this side of the House have given actual cases of the way in which the development of the agricultural labourer's buildings, which are necessary to give him a satisfactory home, are being held up at the present time. I am sure we all welcome what has been said with regard to the Hobhouse Report, a matter to which I have alluded before in this House. I am sure that it was a source of great satisfaction to many of us to know that the Government approve that Report in principle. I would beg them, however, to speed up the necessary legislation to implement it, as my noble friend Lord Gainsborough said yesterday.
I would also like to support wholeheartedly one particular plea made to the Government by my noble friend Earl De La Warr, now that we know so clearly what is necessary so far as the building of houses is concerned. It is that landowners and farmers alike should be placed on a par with local authorities. They could then do far more in dealing with the reconditioning of houses than they have hitherto been able to do, owing to the attitude which has been adopted by the Government on this question. I would also emphasize the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, to appoint a standing committee of agricultural machinery manufacturers. There again is a practical suggestion. Indeed, as one of the older members of this House, I venture to say that I have never listened to a debate of this importance in which less Party feeling has been imported, and in which so many sensible and practical suggestions have been put forward with a view to helping the administration of the present time.
I have been impressed by the constructive nature of the speeches that have been made, and I will conclude this very inadequate speech by begging the Government to take a lead, to come out more into the open and to let the country and the farmers realize what is possible. I do not believe that the steps which His Majesty's Government have taken up to the present have made any impression upon the people of this country in regard to the seriousness of the position at the present time. I would, therefore, as a humble member of this House, beg that His Majesty's Government should take every opportunity of placing before those who can cope with this matter the re- 198 quirements of the time and the dangers in which we all stand.
§ 4.28 p.m.
The Marquess TOWNSHEND
My Lords, after listening to the debate in your Lordships' House yesterday and to-day, I feel that I need add very little. I would say only that in my own mind I feel that it should be pointed out to the Government that they are, in effect, responsible for the position in which we find ourselves at the present moment. We should have started this long-term policy of more livestock two years ago, as was suggested by another Government. I do not want to say much about that, but if we had done so we should not be in the very serious position that we are in to-day. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, have emphasized that we do not want this to be a wail for the farmers but a warning to the consumers. The farmers of this country will do their best. They have promised that through their leaders, and the landlords will also help them. What must be realized is that the weather has had a serious effect upon our production, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, told us yesterday. I was going to say a little about the weather, but I think he said all that was necessary.
We have also lost a great deal of fertility. We have used for seven years all the stored-up fertility that we had before the war, and that is not. being returned to the land. In the war years we used up our fertility and this Government did not see to it that we put the fertility back into the land by increasing our livestock after the war. We ought to have followed that policy of increasing our livestock, and we ought to be following it now, not putting it off for another two or three years so that we may find ourselves in a muddle again. Do it now, whatever happens. In addition to increasing the fertility of the land, livestock would provide a great increase in our fats. I think the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, would bear cut that hoof and horn and dried blood are very useful fertilizers which we might use as a byproduct from livestock. Last and not least is humus; we should get this production up.
All considerations must give way to this point. We must have our houses and also grants to help us recondition old 199 houses. I do not say, "Please let us have the grants." I say, "We must have them if we are to keep up our food production in the country." I earnestly appeal to the Government to forget their political ideas on this subject and allow us to get on with looking after our people in the country. Do the Government want us to grow wheat and potatoes or not? If they do they must not take away the grant, or how can we do it? In my part of the country, particularly, we must have a certain amount of assistance, either by grant or by an increased price. We cannot grow wheat for a great deal less than the price of barley; it is not economically possible. But we must have the wheat and we must have the potatoes. If the Government want us to grow them we must have our subsidies back. Surely we cannot have too much of these commodities—and if we did we could export, which would be a very good thing; but I do not think that that is likely to happen.
In the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, yesterday, he said—I quote from Column 142:… 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.Now, to fill that gap we have 30,000 Poles, 10,000 German ex-prisoners of war and, shall we say, 10,000 land girls to help in the drive. That makes 50,000. We are going to lose 25,000 Germans by 1948 which leaves us with a deficit of 25,000, before we start talking about 75,000 extra to the number in June, 1947. I should be glad if the noble Earl could please explain that point at the end of the debate.
§ 4.43 p.m.
The Duke of MONTROSE
My Lords, as one who farms on a fairly large scale in Scotland I should like to say a few words on this subject. I entirely agree with the noble Lord who spoke yesterday and emphasized that one of the main troubles in farming is the housing problem: lack of houses and also lack of implements. As regards the housing problem I know of a large number of houses, in my own village, which are half finished. There are eight two-storey cottages with the roofs off. Some of them 200 have the floorings in, but there are no windows, and so the rain and storms come in and will be doing so for probably a year and in some cases, two years. If housing is an important thing we should concentrate all the available building labour we can, and finish those houses. That is the first thing.
As regards labour, I would like to see far more use made of school children. We talk about foreigners, Poles and German ex-prisoners and so on; but in the experience of some of us, far and away the best labour we can get is the labour of school children who volunteer for the work. The Government have spoken in an almost apologetic way about using children, so much so that many education authorities are opposed to it. I think the Government should come out strongly and emphasize that the employment of school children over twelve has their approval and support. Their influence would probably lead to the education authorities being more favourably inclined.
Then we say, "Let us have more implements and more tractors, and let us have the position with regard to tractors clarified." When we have a tractor working solely on the farm we pay a 5s. licence for it and we pay 1d. for the fuel oil; but if the tractor goes off the farm we have to pay a much higher licence— £12—and 9d. for the fuel oil. A farmer near my house used his tractor to draw firewood. There are often days when we cannot use the tractor on the land because the ground is so hard with frost or softened by ran and mud and we cannot afford to leave the tractors idle, since they represent capital and we must employ them. Moreover, tractor drivers are paid £6 a week. The firewood was to be taken to the cottage of the tractor driver and other farm labourers. He was brought before the sheriff's court and heavily fined because he was using an agricultural tractor with a low licence to do this work.
I know another farmer who used his farm tractor to draw fencing poles. He also has been fined because he used the tractor with its low licence for this work. We want to know where we do stand with these tractors. I sometimes feel inclined to shut up my tractor and say: "If the Government want fencing poles or pit props, let them import them." This would cost the Government far more than 201 it would to allow these agricultural tractors not merely to do work on the farm but also to convey these poles and pit props. Therefore I ask the Government to clarify the position with regard to agricultural tractors. Let us have the same low rate for tractors working off the land as for those working on the land.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ LORD ASHBURTON
My Lords, as a member of a family which has always kept one foot in business and one on the land, there is one point to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention in connexion with feeding stuffs. We are dependent to a great extent at present on West African groundnuts. I should like to explain the position that has arisen there. In November, the moment arrives when the old crop has been, or should have been, shipped and the new crop starts coining down to the coast. What has happened, I believe for the first time in history, is that this November the new crop has started to come down but, of the old crop of some 300,000 tons, an amount of no less than 96,000 tons (that is approximately one-third of the whole crop) has had to be left behind. I do not want to bother your Lordships with figures, and I would only say that 96,000 tons, after processing, represent no less than some 53,000 tons of animal feeding cake, to say nothing, of course, of well over 40,000 tons of edible oil.
These groundnuts which have been left behind are not concealed in villages; they have not to be sought for and pulled out. They are lying in dumps at railheads. What is more, I believe it is extremely doubtful whether they are adequately protected against the weather. This has happened simply because the railway concerned is in such a state of disrepair and, particularly, so short of rolling stock and serviceable locomotives that it is just unable to move the necessary volume. I am unable to give your Lordships exact figures in what I am about to say but I believe—and this knowledge comes from perfectly simple, straightforward trade circles; anybody who is occupied in commerce can obtain it—that shipments of locomotives and rolling stock are being made at this moment, but not to West Africa; they are being made to East Africa, presumably in connexion with the Government sponsored groundnuts 202 scheme there. I am sure that we should all agree that this scheme is probably an exceedingly good and far-sighted one, but I think I am right in saying that no appreciable amounts of cattle food can arise from it for something like two years, whereas, these 96,000 tons of groundnuts, could they be moved, would produce edible oil and cattle food within a matter of months. It does, therefore, seem to make very poor sense to grant what is apparently a priority to the East African product, thereby discarding a bird in the hand for one which is very much in the bush so far! It may be that shipments of railway material are contemplated to West Africa, but I believe I am right in saying that none has gone as yet. The only material that has gone has been sent to East Africa. I hope that the Government will bear this point in mind because it seems insane not to take advantage of this enormous quantity of groundnuts which is lying there and which will never be moved until that railway is put in order.
I would like to add just a few words. I listened in your Lordships' House to the First Reading of the. Agricultural Bill and to the very great welcome that was accorded it. Perhaps it is the fact of having, as I say, one foot in business that makes one a little cynical about some things. I wondered at the time what real performance was going to lie behind this Bill. We are all finding out now, and finding out with a vengeance. The only performance that I have seen as yet is that the Government have induced a most extraordinary sense of confidence among all the other elements of the population, however uncomfortable their stomachs may be feeling, that thanks to what the Government have done for agriculture, agriculture will in turn pull them out of the fire as time goes on.
I am just wondering who is going; to explain the failure and how he is going to do it. I move about a good bit and I talk to a great many workers of various kinds, mostly agricultural, admittedly, but some industrial and a good many transport workers. I have yet to meet the worker in any of those industries who considers that he is properly fed to-day. I venture to say that I do not believe that this Government, who are certainly indulging in a great deal of publicity, or any other Government, would be able to bam- 203 boozle these workers very much by talking about calories all the time. The worker is becoming less interested in calories and more interested in a slice of roast beef. What is more, his wife is a great deal more interested. They have all been led to believe that what the Government have done for agriculture is going to save their bacon for them literally. Someone will have to explain why this is not happening and why, so far from that happening, we seem to be going from bad to worse.
As so many noble Lords have pointed out in this debate, we shall be lucky if we get through the next twelve months without real hunger. What can the Government say? Can they say that it is entirely due to the meanness of the landlords? I do not think so, and I do not think they would for one moment say that. Can they say that it is due to the obstinacy of the farmers? No. Or can they say that the agricultural worker does not work hard enough? I am quite sure they cannot. The agricultural worker works as hard as, or even harder than, other workers. He has the same dignity in his work as any other worker in this country to-day. Perhaps the Government might take another equally difficult line and say: "Well, we have failed. In the Agriculture Act, we promised the landlord a fair return on his land. We encouraged him to expect every help from us. We have not been able to give him any help. We have not even tried; we have not even put on a subsidy which would enable him to renew his old cottages. We promised the farmer fixed prices for his cereals, but we were unable to give him ploughshares or other implements in order to increase those cereals. We asked him to produce more milk and more beef, but we, for our part, have not been able to produce for him more feeding stuffs, although he has made a gallant effort himself. That can hardly offset the fact that we have not been able to produce any more and, so far from doing so, we have left a pile of 53,000 tons of potential animal feeding stuffs out in Nigeria."
Lastly, will the Government say to the workers: "We promised you houses but, so far from producing any houses, we have produced the very minimum for the agriculture worker and we have taken jolly good care, by various regulations, to prevent anyone else producing any for you at all"? One could go on a long time 204 like this, but I really do want to offer helpful suggestions. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, will look into this question of the groundnuts because I think it is a very real opportunity. So far I do feel, and I know many noble Lords also feel, that the performance has been a dismal one. I can only hope that the debate which has taken place in your Lordships' House during the last two days will not only act as an encouragement to the Government, but may also do something towards enlightening the general public as to what is the real position, which I am quite sure they do not yet understand.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, I think it will be generally agreed in all parts of the House that the two days' debate on agriculture which is now drawing to a close has been one of the most impressive that we have had for many a long day. Not only have speakers in all parts of the House maintained a very high level but, on the whole, as I think the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, said just now, there has been an obvious desire not to make purely Party controversial points.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
I think it was. I believe that it was animated by a desire to concentrate on helping the country through its difficulties. There has been no mere making of rather petty points in order to score off the Government. That has not been the intention. So far as there have been criticisms—and there must be criticisms—they have been serious ones. Indeed, I am quite certain that my noble friend Earl De La Warr would agree that his purpose in tabling this Motion was not to "chivvy" the Government but to express the very real preoccupations which are felt in all informed quarters as to the dangers to our food supplies which are facing the country at the present time. It is quite right that those anxieties should be expressed. It was a cynic who once described an optimist as a man who does not mind what happens, so long as it does not happen to him. I do not say, for one moment, that that describes the British people, who have, on the whole, a very 205 highly developed sense of social conscience. At the same time, it is true that we are, practically all of us, rather too apt to assume that things of that kind cannot happen here; that they are the sort of things which happen to foreigners, but do not happen in this country.
We had a bad shock—and I am not saying this in any controversial sense—over the breakdown in the supply of coal earlier this year, and none of us wants to see the same thing happen with regard to food. Quite clearly the best way of avoiding that is to forestall it. That is the responsibility not only of the Government, but of Parliament as a whole, and I am sure that noble Lords opposite would agree that it is right and proper that we should take early and frequent opportunities of pooling our wisdom on this, as on other subjects. We are particularly fortunate in that we have among us a number of men who are not merely theoretical experts but who have practical experience of the subject on which they speak. I thought that the speeches in particular of Lord Hastings, of the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, and of Lord Cranworth this afternoon, were notable examples of that. They, and indeed all the other speakers were full of practical and constructive suggestions, of which I hope the Government will take note, as I am sure they will. But the main purpose of this debate, as Lord O'Hagan said, is not to put in a plea for the farmer, or for the landowner, or for the agricultural labourer. It is to give a serious warning, both to the Government and to consumers throughout the country, of the imminent dangers which lie ahead. That is the purpose for which this Motion was put down, and it is the underlying spirit of every speech that has been delivered.
As I listened to the debate—and I have been present during practically the whole two days—it seemed to me that, though the immediate outlook is certainly not cheering and is, in some respects, very formidable, there is one encouraging feature. That is the general agreement in all pans of the House that British agriculture must be made as prosperous and as productive as possible. That is important. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, in his opening words yesterday afternoon, took all the credit to the Government for this, and I think he made most of us gasp by saying, in the blandest 206 manner, that the Government had infected the Opposition with the urgency of the position. I really cannot allow that remark to go without further comment. I believe it was; the great Duke of Wellington who, when a man came up to him and said, "Mr. Smith, I believe," replied, "Sir, if you can believe that, you can believe anything." In fact, as we all know, in a continuous series of debates over the last two years, ever since the Government came into power, the Opposition have consistently badgered them and tried to make them wake up to realities and face unpleasant facts. And on every occasion up to now we have been put off by pleasant, slightly complacent and, I am afraid, rather woolly speeches, such as I felt the noble Earl made to us yesterday.
On one occasion, if I may jog the noble Earl's memory (it was I think on June 27,1946), he went so far as to indicate that the Government were nervous of an overproduction of cereals. That we thought, even at that time, was a memorable comment on the situation. It was a comment which we remember, although he himself appears rather conveniently to have forgotten it. And on December 11 of the same year he went even further. I will quote his exact words. He said:The truth, however, is that there is no possibility of a further large expansion unless we extend agriculture on to unsuitable land, or make calls on materials and labour which are very scarce, and on fertilizers and machinery which would be out of all proportion to the expected benefits we should hope to achieve thereby.My Lords, that is an absolute policy of despair, and I do no: believe even the noble Earl would subscribe to it new. But, at any rate, whatever may have been said from the Government Benches in the past, I think it is true to say that, now, every section of the House, including even the Government Front Bench, it I may say so, is aware of the necessity for the highest attainable production in this country; and that is satisfactory.
It was not always so in the past. I do not want to make an attack merely upon this Government. Up to the early part of the nineteenth century this country was mainly agricultural, and agricultural interests exercised a predominant, and perhaps even a too predominant, influence in our affairs. But, with the coming of the industrial revolution and of new 207 methods of transportation, and the opening up of great areas of production in the new world, the pendulum swung right over. Political power was immediately transferred with that industrial revolution to the urban electorate. The urban electors demanded cheap food, and at any rate at that time most of the cheapest food could be brought from abroad. The end of that period I myself remember, though not the beginning, but throughout that period the claims of home agriculture came to be more and more neglected. To-day, however, at any rate a more balanced view is taken in all Parties. The lesson of the last two World Wars has been learnt and we all recognize that unless we can produce from home sources a considerable proportion of the food we need to consume we are liable at any moment to be starved out.
And this lesson is being very unpleasantly driven home upon us at the present time by our experience in the post-war world. Of course to-day, thank Heaven, the actual fighting is over and our daily imports of food are no longer menaced by the submarine and the aeroplane. But our capacity to obtain those imports has not revived as many people hoped it would. Imports have to be paid for and in our present impoverished condition we can no longer afford to compete as before in the markets of the world. Therefore, home production of foodstuffs which can be grown here has clearly become a primary necessity for every one of us. On this I believe there is no difference of opinion in any Party, and this broad unanimity of view and the disappearance of the apparent conflict of interests which used to exist between the town and the country, are matters on which we can all fairly congratulate ourselves.
But, having said this, I am bound to add that the Government do not seem to me, even now, fully to realize the implications of this new situation. They do not appear, even at what we in this House call "this late hour" to recognize that an improvement and consolidation of the agricultural industry are as permanently vital to us as an improvement in, say, the coal industry. There is far too great a tendency, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said yesterday, to regard our present food situation as a 208 temporary crisis, to be tackled by hand-to-mouth methods—far too great a tendency. One would have expected that it would have been the primary aim of the Government's policy throughout the last two years to increase agricultural production above the 1945 level. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, yesterday, by his satisfaction, seemed indeed to imagine that there had been a steady advance since that time. But in fact, the contrary, as we know, is true. There has been a steady decline since 1945. This year in Great Britain—and I am quoting Official Digest figures—there were 30,000 fewer cattle, 2,000,000 fewer sheep and lambs, and 210,000 fewer pigs 'than last year. So far as sheep are concerned, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will no doubt point out, when he replies to the debate, that that decrease was largely due to the bad winter. I expect that that is true. But the other figures are equally significant. The total tillage area in Great Britain is down by 424,000 acres, and the labour force is down by 5,000 men and 4,000 women. Those are figures which I obtained from official sources. The noble Viscount can contradict them if he wishes.
That is a deplorable position, especially at a time like this, when foreign imports are ever more difficult to obtain. The Government are daily congratulating themselves on the increased production of coal. We are all glad to hear of that. We all want to see more coal won. We all know that, at the present time, every device is being employed to stimulate the miners to get more coal and we want to see them get it. But there is not the same urgency with regard to agriculture. Yet the two should run hand in hand. One increases our capacity, by means of export, to buy more imports and the other reduces the volume of imports that we need to buy. Both are essential if the gap between exports and imports is to be bridged. It is only fair to the Government to say that there are certain things which they have done. They have accepted, under the Agriculture Act, the principle of guaranteed prices which they inherited from Mr. Hudson. That, no doubt, represents a genuine advance.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
You may have been campaigning for it, but he was the Minister of Agriculture who first brought it forward, and in a Coalition Government, too. The noble Viscount can take great credit for the fact that many of his present colleagues were members of the National Government, though they frequently dissociate themselves from that Government when they find it convenient to do so. But the fact remains that the policy of guaranteed prices was passed on from the late to the present Minister of Agriculture. They have also announced—it has been mentioned constantly in this debate—that they propose to work for increased production of homegrown food to the extent of £100,000,000 worth in 1950. That is admirable, if it is not to be interpreted in the way that Lord Cranworth feared; and the Government may be certain that they will receive the fullest co-operation in this effort from the whole of the great agricultural community, whether landlords, farmers or labourers. However heavily people are taxed—and Lord Cranworth has drawn attention to the burden of taxation under which the agricultural community is staggering at the present time—they will do their best to help the country in this emergency. But the Government too must play their part.
I have pointed out that at present so far from agricultural production going up it is going down. This tendency can only be reversed if the Government will give to the agricultural community conditions which will make increased production possible. As has been stressed often enough in this debate, the main pre-conditions are three: first, labour (with which must be included housing); second, agricultural machinery; and, third, feeding stuffs. Until the Government deal adequately with those three questions no declarations, however genuinely sympathetic to agriculture, will have the slightest value. No community, however patriotic, can make bricks without straw. It is these three prerequisites to expanded agricultural production which, as your Lordships know, have been the subject of nearly all the speeches in the last two 210 days, and I would like, if I may, to re-emphasize them once more.
Let us first take labour. At present the amount of labour on farms is, unhappily, steadily going down. Up to now, as the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, himself has said, the farmers have had at least one source on which they could depend—prisoners of war. But these are returning to their own country, so that this source of labour is rapidly drying up. In fact, the loss of labour from that source will amount to at least 75,000 workers, I understand. Moreover, I am afraid it is true to say that the danger is not yet over; that the drift from the countryside to the towns will again begin. The quiet life of the countryside, however attractive it may be to many of us, no longer has the same charms, or makes the same natural appeal to the ordinary working man as it used to do. There may be many reasons for this, but it is a fact of which we must take account. How is this tendency to reduction of farm labour to be counteracted? As I listened to the temporary measures envisaged by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, the introduction of, 30,000 Poles, the use of 10,000 Germans as civilians, the incorporation of more young ladies in the Women's Land Army, and devices of that kind, I could not help feeling that such devices as that will not do the trick—they will not do it permanently.
This is not a controversial point. I am sure we shall all agree about this. What we need is to build up, if we can, a permanent increase in our agricultural population. How is this to be achieved? It is not, as I see it, merely a question of wages. With a minimum wage of £4 10s. and agricultural rents now at a maximum of 6s. for most of the agricultural cottages of the country, the agricultural labourer is probably better off in the matter of real income than most of his counterparts in the town. What is needed is improvement and amelioration of conditions, and in particular the building of new cottages and the modernization of those that already exist; and to my mind the second is just as important as the first. So far as new cottages are concerned, the announcement which we had in the housing debate last week, that the Government are giving priority to housing agricultural workers, is satisfactory, though I think many of your Lordships will agree with the noble Earl, Lord 211 De La Warr, that the circular hardly gives the sense of urgency which the situation requires. But what is even most necessary is that the local authorities should genuinely be given a chance to implement that circular. I do not want to misrepresent the noble Earl, but I thought he gave the impression that it was the local authorities who were holding back.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
Of course I accept that, but I do not think that such a view would be fair to them. My information is that, at any rate in rural districts, they are most anxious to help. I should like to give an example, Which I do not think is untypical, indicating where this increase in housing is really being held up. I have been informed within the last two days—it was an unsolicited gift, because I did not ask for the information—that the rural district council in an area which I happen to know very well recently drew up a scheme for the first quarter of 1948, comprising forty-two houses, of which twenty-eight were for agricultural workers. The Ministry of Health fixed their maximum at twenty-four houses, including all categories. In addition, the agricultural executive committee have presented figures giving a total of 200 houses which are needed for additional agricultural workers in this particular district, and the council themselves estimate that they could build 140 of these in 1948. But the Ministry of Health figures limit the Council to ninety-six houses.
I should add that in September the Ministry of Health approvals, as your Lordships know, were limited to houses for agricultural workers, which seemed an extremely satisfactory development. But last week this particular council were informed by the representative of their own regional office that the same restrictions no longer applied and that houses would continue to be built in neighbouring towns where the need in their view was not so urgent. In the light of that information, it is difficult to believe that it is the local authorities who are the bottleneck, and one is driven to the conclusion that promises made in perfect good faith by the Minister of Agriculture to the agricultural industry are being 212 circumvented or nullified by the Ministry of Health. I would be most gratified if the Leader of the House could look into that aspect. It is so important that these houses should be built that any lack of co-ordination between two Departments, even though utterly unintentional, would be a public disaster.
Nor is the position with regard to the reconditioning and modernizing of existing houses any better, and this is equally or even more vital, because on it depends not only the recruiting of new workers but the retention of existing workers on the land. Here unhappily the attitude of the Government as I see it at the moment is even less forthcoming than on new houses. Though this does not apply to the Leader of the House, it seems that there are some who think there is no virtue in preserving or modernizing the older houses. And yet, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York said yesterday, these old houses are often more comfortable than the new, are roomier, give more sense of home, and are moreover valuable in preserving the character of the countryside. But most of all, and this is surely very important indeed, until the new ones can be built, they fill an absolutely essential need. If we cannot get new houses, surely it is better to modernize the old. Reconditioning should not be regarded as an alternative to new houses, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, tended to regard it in the debate last week. Both should form part of a properly co-ordinated plan, and I certainly cannot see why they do not.
I cannot help thinking that any assistance in the matter of re-conditioning older houses is disliked by some members of the Government because the great mass of rural houses are in possession of private owners. They are afraid of putting money into the pockets of the landlords. I ask the Government to realize that landlords who continue to rent agricultural houses at a maximum of 6s. a week, cannot be regarded as battening on the community. From my own experience—and I am sure that other noble Lords would support me—cottage property is liable to cost far more than it brings in, and it is likely to continue to do so. Moreover, the Government should not only fix their eyes on the wicked landlord; they should also consider the interests of the tenants themselves. It is 213 they who are mainly going to benefit from modernization. They will be more content and more likely to stay on the land. I beg the Government to reconsider this question and not to regard reconditioning as an alternative to new building but as a material contribution to the solution of the agricultural problem. Even if they cannot give financial assistance for reconditioning, they can at any rate facilitate permits to allow owners themselves to modernize.
If I am not keeping the House too long, I should like to say a word about agricultural machinery. In view of the shortage of agricultural labour, surely this acquires a very special importance. On this I feel that the attitude of the Government is still obscure, even after listening to the very full explanation which the noble Earl gave yesterday afternoon. The Lord President of the Council said on October 21:The Government have decided that this programme of agricultural expansion must be carried out and therefore that agriculture must be given the tools to do it. Instructions have been issued accordingly to the Departments responsible.That was a very good statement and we all applaud it, but less than a month later, on November 11, as I pointed out yesterday, Mr. Marquand in the House of Commons, in answer to a question whether in the Government's view agricultural machinery should have top priority, said:At present, agricultural machinery is not on the Prime Minister's list.What is the position? Has agricultural machinery a top priority or has it not? We should like to have an answer about this.
We were told yesterday there is an entirely new system of what is called "selective priorities." Like the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, I have been somewhat puzzled over this phrase. I mast say that all these adjectives are very confusing. Political economy is not the same thing as economy. I sometimes think social justice is not quite the same thing as justice. And "selective priority'' is evidently not at all the same thing as "priority." After careful thought, I have come to the conclusion that what is meant by this phrase—I hope the Leader of the House will correct me if I am wrong—is that a special supply of steel will be made available 214 but that this will come into operation only in special cases when a hold-up has already occurred in the supply of steel for a particular type of agricultural machine. That is the only way I could read the noble Earl's statement yesterday. And I would say this to the Government—surely there should be sane general priority for the provision of steel for the manufacture of agricultural machinery. I would ask: Is the Prime Minister's list still in existence at all for any forms of production and is agricultural machinery on it? That is what the country really wants to know. I hope the Government can tell us.
Then, what is all this muddle about spare parts, which was raised in the debate yesterday? The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, said it was impossible to provide enough; hundreds of thousands, he said, would be needed. But we all of us remember very well that during the war—I knew it as a member of the Government—exactly the same problems arose about spare parts for tanks and other mechanized vehicles which were needed at that time. What happened then? I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will remember. It was the regular practice that when we produced a type of tank we produced pan passu a proportionate number of spare parts so that they would be available in case of need. Otherwise there would have been constant danger that at a critical moment in a battle our tanks would be immobilized. Why should not the same practice be adopted now? Why should we not produce the spare parts at the same time as the agricultural vehicles? Not to do that seems to me but to be riding for a fall; it is bound to lead to disaster. I do hope the noble Leader of the House will say when he replies that he will put the possibility of adopting the war-time practice to his relevant colleagues, the heads of the Departments who deal with the manufacture of these vehicles. I believe it is very necessary because, if the times were critical then, they are, in fact, as he well knows, equally critical now. The Government must remember that every ton of agricultural produce that is grown in this country represents an invisible export. It is, surely, foolish in these circumstances to deprive the farmers of the machinery which hey at present so desperately need.
215 Finally, I would like to say a word on the all-important question of feeding stuffs. This has been the subject of innumerable debates and questions in the last two years. Here, too, it appears that there is still imperfect co-ordination between the Government Departments. Both the Prime Minister and the Lord President, when they saw representatives of the agricultural community last August, gave the most satisfactory assurances of the highest priority for feeding stuffs. But on October 6 the Minister of Agriculture at the Farmers' Club sounded a far more doubtful note. He advised the farmers, as many noble Lords will remember, that if they wanted to be certain of getting feeding stuffs they must grow them themselves. That warning was repeated, I think, by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, yesterday afternoon. The noble Earl said, indeed, that pig and poultry breeders already know what they will get up to next April; and he added that he hoped to be able to make a statement, I think in some part of January—
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
— as to what they would get after that date. He seemed entirely happy about that, as if he had done the pig and poultry breeders proud. But I can assure the noble Earl that his statement will not be viewed with the same satisfaction by the breeders themselves. It does seem extraordinary that the Government should not realize the need for assurances to breeders for longer periods than that. It seems deplorable that men who have to indulge in capital expenditure and build up their stock should not have an assurance for longer than two or three months.
Noble Lords opposite are always twitting us on this side of the House about how satisfactory the situation is to-day, under a planned economy, compared with the anarchic days before the war. But what is the true comparison? In the first nine months of this year we imported 709,000 tons of feeding stuffs, as compared with 3,627,000 tons in 1938. As a result, to give one example, I believe I am right in saying that we can only slaughter to-day 19,000 pigs a week com- 216 pared with 100,000 before the war. Does that give ground for any complacency at all? It seems to me ironical that in such circumstances the Chancellor of the Exchequer made available to the Danes 50,000,000 dollars to enable them to produce bacon and butter which, as a result of the Anglo-Danish negotiations, we were, in fact, unable to obtain. Surely, it would have been wiser to have spent those dollars, which, after all, are in very short supply, in building up British rather than Danish agriculture. All this, I submit with great deference, indicates a lack of co-ordination between Government Departments. It seems to me that the Ministry of Food is far too apt to buy abroad quantities of finished agricultural products which might just as easily have been produced here, and in far greater quantities, if the same money had been spent at an earlier date on the purchase of feeding stuffs for our own farmers.
The present practice of the Government is what most of us are bound to describe as a hand-to-mouth policy. That is the very antithesis of good planning, the essence of which is that it should be far-sighted. I do not pretend—none of us pretend—that the Government have an easy problem to face. We all know, especially in times like these, how difficult it is to balance conflicting considerations. What is essential], however, is that not only the Minister of Agriculture—who has the respect of us all—but all his colleagues should realize how grave is the problem with which we are faced. It is not a mere temporary emergency which will soon pass; it is a permanent change in agriculture in this country. We have got to build up this industry, by some means or other, to play a much larger part in the supply of food for the people of this country than it has ever done before. That is very much a long-term policy. Agriculture, after all, is not like one of those secondary industries, or even some of the primary industries, in which by working longer hours, or by working with greater intensity, production can be increased from one week to another. In agriculture, as I think the noble Marquess, Lord Townshend, wisely said this afternoon, herds have to be built up, the land has to be improved by feeding and fertilization, and made more fruitful, and that is the task of years. During the whole of that period the farming community 217 must be assured of the good will and support of the Government, to whatever Party that Government may belong.
This, indeed, as I think we all recognize in this House, is not a Party question at all. It is a national question, in the very fullest sense of the word. The need is urgent. It is doubtful—as has been pointed out both by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and by the noble Lord, Lord Rennell—if we shall get through the coming year without some malnutrition of our population. We cannot begin too soon in the great task of growing more home food. Even if we have a bad time to go through and we cannot avoid it, let it be as short as possible. If the Government are willing to tackle this problem with energy and efficiency, they can—and I am certain they know it—be assured of the support of all of us, to whatever Party we may belong. If they neglect this problem, they will, I am afraid, incur odium which may endure for generations. I do beg them, therefore, to set aside their urban prejudices, if they have any, and not to be too proud to learn from those who know from centuries of experience. We have in this country the very best farmers in any part of the globe. I beg the Minister to co-operate with them, and they will make our agriculture what it should be, a pattern and an ensample to the whole world.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Viscount ADDISON
My Lords, I should like heartily to join with the noble Marquess who has just spoken in saying how much we appreciate the value of this debate. I think it can do nothing but good to show that the interest of Parliament is constantly centred upon this the most urgent problem of our time. But when I say that, I feel bound to add that I feel completely unrepentant when I listen to some of the animadversions addressed to us by noble Lords opposite. I was impressed by the repetition of assurances that they were non-partisan, but, I confess, I had to exercise a lively imagination to discover that particular quality.
§ The Marquess OF SALISBURY
If I may say so, when I was representing the Government during the war I had just the same criticisms from my own Party. They were objective criticisms.
§ Viscount ADDISON
I fully expect that the noble Marquess has experienced the same thing himself. We are bath fairly old Parliamentarians. I make no complaint, and all I am saying is that I do not recognize it as non-partisan. However, we will pass from that. I will endeavour quite faithfully to speak in that spirit, but I must make one exception. I do so, I am afraid, to some extent for personal reasons. I myself campaigned for more than twenty years urging that we must have a system of guaranteed prices for agriculture, and for the greater part of that time I experienced the derision and opposition of the noble Marquess's friends. I remember going to a meeting in Bristol with this very purpose in view. I was entertained to dinner by a very charming chairman of the National Farmers' Union before the meeting at which we were to appear. My purpose was to speak of the necessity for a scheme of guaranteed prices and suchlike. After dinner the chairman said to me, just as a sort of fillip before I went into the meeting: "Well. Doctor, there is a large meeting of farmers in the Com Exchange—I believe there are about 2,000 of them—but it is only fair to tell you that I don't think you have a single friend in the meeting." That was the position in 1931. Therefore the noble Marquess really must excuse a little exhibition of partisanship when, forced by the irresistible logic of our case and the necessities of war, his colleague was compelled to adopt the system of price security for which I had been campaigning for so many years.
Having relieved my mind by saying that, I will get a little closer to the subject of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, who is usually exceedingly moderate in his statements, really did let himself go. I assure him that the Government are fully acquainted with the seriousness of the position. The noble Lord seemed to think that we are quite calm about it and that we are not worried about it all. I wish that it had been possible for him during these months to have sat with me almost daily in anxious consultation as to what could be done about it. The noble Lord, as a City business man, must know as well as anybody in the House that you do not contribute to the solution of a problem merely by shouting about it, and you certainly do not contribute to a diminution of soaring prices if 219 you are always talking about your own grim necessities. I assure him that we are fully and painfully acquainted with them all.
The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, made, if I may say so, an exceedingly valuable contribution to the debate. He let himself go rather unnecessarily when he said that the Government had dropped an iron curtain over the facts. Well, I do not know whether you call the Monthly Digest a Russian iron curtain or not, but I have never seen a franker revelation of the facts by any Government. There is not much iron curtain about the painful revelation of national anxieties. However, that was only a figure of speech, and I will pass that over. I am sure that this debate is useful in so far as it calls public attention to the urgency of the situation. If it were possible—as it is not in the world to-day—to know of a certainty what you will be able to buy twelve months hence, then, of course, it would be possible to speak with more decision as to the future than is possible to anybody at the present time. I will refer to that subject again when I deal with the remarks of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, about feeding stuffs. In the circumstances of to-day one cannot have that confidence in forward purchases which we should all like to have. But that fact does emphasize—and here I welcome this debate—the urgent need for increased home production. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, because he was a colleague of mine, knows that this was the constant subject of conversation between us seventeen years ago. It is no new discovery. This country should be able to produce a lot more food than it is doing. It can do so, and I am quite sure that it is up to all of us to try to see that it does.
The £100,000,000 increase which the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, and others have referred to is, it is true, just a figure. It is true that if you dishonestly use inflated prices in your calculation it will be an easy matter to reach that figure, but, as he knows perfectly well, that is not what any of us are aiming at. I will come to the figures in a moment. Relating the target to reasonable prices, I am convinced that it is a moderate target, and I hope sincerely—indeed I expect—that 220 it will be exceeded by 1951-52, provided, of course, that we have a little more help from Providence in the matter of weather than we have had in the last two years.
I will now refer to feeding stuffs which several noble Lords have mentioned. A figure was given as to the assurance of rations up to next April. That was given because the Minister felt that he could confidently assure the industry of the maintenance of those supplies up to that date. But at that time he did not go further than that date, because he knew that a number of very complicated negotiations were in hand with different countries with respect to supplies. I am not going to give definite dates to-day, but I can tell the noble Earl that we have good reason for saying that we have every confidence that they will be able to be maintained beyond that date. I will not go any further than that. There is one important addition to the programme which nobody has mentioned. It is indeed an essential ingredient of the programme. Farmers will be able to keep 20 per cent. of their wheat and barley for their own farm purposes. Last year they could keep only what are called tailings. This is a very important contribution to the farm food supplies—an exceedingly valuable contribution. What it represents in terms of tonnage I am not quite sure, but I should think somewhere in the neighbourhood of 350,000 tons. At all events, it is a very large tonnage, and represents a fine addition to the feeding stuff supplies.
One noble Lord, in what I thought was rather a jocose manner, said something about the farmers being encouraged to grow more feeding stuffs themselves. But of course they are being encouraged. I should have thought that that was just elementary sense. I am glad to say that during the war vast numbers of farmers grew an immense quantity of feeding stuffs for their own stock. They are to be encouraged and helped still to do so in every possible way. As a matter of fact, in the improved grasslands of this country there is without a doubt a source of increased animal feed which it is difficult to calculate though it must be very large. A great deal of it was utilized during the war, so that actually we must do what we can to get supplies from abroad, as we are doing. At the same time it is not less necessary that farmers shall do everything they can to increase 221 their own home-produced supplies of feeding stuffs, as in fact they are doing.
Then I come to the question of machinery. Various statements have been made as to the Government's so-called "sleepiness" or something of the kind. These statements bear no relation whatever to the facts—and I am going to give a few facts in a minute. I was glad that the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, who himself is Chairman of the Machinery Development Board and knows a great deal about this subject, drew attention yesterday to the fact that the mechanization of the farms in this country was probably advanced to a much higher degree than it is in any other country. That is true and there is, as the noble Lord in his customary entertaining phrases reminded us, an immensely increased demand for implements. This surely does not denote poverty. Farmers are wanting to replace old worn-out implements and at the same time to buy modern implements in order to improve the standard of their equipment. The more they can do so the better it will be; and their desire and anxiety to purchase cannot be regarded as a manifestation of poverty, as was suggested in one or two speeches. I am glad it is not. The farmers ought to be able to pay for these things, and it is our business to see that their returns are such that they can do so.
A great deal has been said about priorities, and I should like, as one who in his time has been Minister of Munitions, to say a little about that subject. I had some painful experiences when working priority systems in the First World War. There cannot be a hard-and-fast rule about these things; that is not how they are worked. The demand of a manufacturing industry such as engineering, both for basic materials and for spare parts, is altering every week. With regard to the Prime Minister's list which was mentioned, it is a fact that demands to be put on that list accumulated so much and the list grew so large that it ceased to have much value. That happens sometimes when everybody is clamouring for higher priority. The result was that a system had to be devised, which is now working and gradually being introduced with regard to the machinery of the industry, to secure to agriculture its fair share of its require- 222 ments in the light of the priority which we intended to give.
I have the figures here of what has actually been delivered to agriculture under this system, and they are extraordinarily encouraging., We have a lot further to go, of course, but in the light of these figures it cannot be said that we have been sitting back and doing nothing. In 1946 the machinery produced, valued at fanners' prices, was in the region of from £25,000,000 to £27,000,000 worth. In 1947 the figure is between £35,000,000 and £40,000.000. Next year it is estimated that it will be about £50,000,000. That is a remarkable increase. I am well aware that prices are not everything, and now I come to numbers. What I am trying to prove to your Lordships is that-notwithstanding the verbal interchanges between us—the system is producing these results. Take tractors, as a very good example. A man does not buy a tractor for the sake of running it about; he buys it to pull something. The number of tractors produced last year was 28,796. For the first eleven months of this year the number was 50,319. Such figures do not seem to denote paralysis of the system, but rather to show a remarkable increase. There is a large increase already in the eleven months of the year over the total of last year—and it is going on.
Noble Lords may ask how many of these are for export, and that is quite a proper question. The number so far this year retained and supplied to farmers is 35,104. The total output for the whole of the previous year, including that for export, was, as I have said, 28,796. Really, my Lords, whatever may be said about the differences between various statements which have been made from time to time, the facts show that the system is producing those results—and they are exceedingly good results. I hope they will continue.
§ Viscount ADDISON
Noble Lords ought to have a look at the Monthly Digest of Statistics. They will find the figures on page 56. The book has not been printed behind an iron curtain.
Now I come to another topic. This relates to labour and housing. I agree with all my soul with the noble Lord 223 opposite that what we have to do is to increase the number of British labourers living in contentment on the land. There is no doubt about that. We shall never get agriculture right until we do. But in the years previous to the war year after year the numbers declined. Between the two wars the decline was very great indeed—about 250,000. Last year for the first time the tide turned. This was in large measure due, no doubt, to demobilization and the figure may be a little artificial. The total increase in the number of regular agricultural labourers last year was 30,000. I am not speaking of prisoners of war or anybody like that; I am talking about bona-fide British labourers working on the farms. I am puzzled as to where the noble Marquess obtained his figures but, from the June returns of this year, the number of labourers employed in agriculture, excluding all these other classes of labourers, such as prisoners of war and so on, has increased by 15,000. That is what has happened this year. Therefore, I really do not know where the noble Marquess obtained his figures.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
They were extracted from the Monthly Digest. I cannot put my finger on them for the moment.
§ Viscount ADDISON
That is the actual figure of the June return. It shows an increase of 15,000. The anticipation, anyhow according to present trends, is that there will be a further increase in 1948 of 20,000. At all events, the tide has turned. I will give your Lordships the total actual figures. So far as they can be estimated, on the enlarged programme, the total labour required will be 1,120,000 persons. The mid-June total is 1,045,000, so that there is a considerable gap—the gap to which the noble Lord was referring. Taking into account the figures which I have given, it is estimated that the labour gap next year will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60,000. That was the estimated figure previously of prisoner of war and other labour. We can say that it is anticipated 224 this year that in the place of prisoners of war and others there will be 30,000 Poles and European evacuated persons. There will be about 10,000 Germans, and, it is estimated, about 5,000 additional women. The prospective gap is reduced, as we can see it at present, to about 15,000, which is very much less than it has been for many years.
Noble Lords say, and quite rightly, that one of the most efficient ways of inducing labour to come back to the land is to build more houses. I accept that opinion and I shall pass on to my colleagues the various suggestions that have been made in this debate. So far as houses are concerned the net shortage next year will be in the neighbourhood of 15,000 to 20,000. A number of suggestions have already been made for remedying that. That figure, however—20,000—represents a need of a minimum of 10,000 houses for agricultural workers. Of course, we need a great many more. I think we need 250,000 houses, but I am speaking now of this particular labour shortage. At the end of October, there were in course of erection by the rural district councils 32,597 houses; that is the actual number. In addition to that, at least 8,000 Airey houses were to be erected in 1948, making a total of 40,597 houses. I myself would say that in the circumstances, considering the difficulties of our supplies of materials, that is a very large contribution.
Noble Lords speak impatiently—and I sympathize with them with all my heart—of the difficulties experienced with regard to priorities and similar matters. I do wish, however, that noble Lords would realize two governing facts. First, there is an acute shortage of many vital materials. That being so, they have to be distributed in the main to those industries which are the most vital. Second, our industries have never been so active in peace-time as they are now, which is not without its effect on the efforts of the Government. Our industries have never been so full of work; our shipyards have never been so full of building as they are to-day. Therefore, since everybody thinks that he ought to have the top priority, demands on materials are clamant and immense. It is unfortunate—and nobody regrets this more than the Government—that there is not enough of some kinds of 225 material to go round. It is very unfortunate., but it is a fact. All I can say is that I shall certainly draw the attention of my colleagues to what the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, said. I do not wonder that his patience is tried, though perhaps he was exaggerating the language of some of the farmers. Their language was due to the fact that never before have so many farmers wanted so much machinery. That is why they are impatient. They are all clamouring for it. Thank God they are. That is why the agricultural engineering industry has to keep a lot of them waiting. I am very sorry, but that is the reason; and it is a very good reason too.
I pass to one other small matter. I think the noble Earl who raised it was under a misapprehension. He said that the Minister had gone back on something he had said previously about the acreage of potatoes; that there had been a change in the Minister's policy.. I understood the noble Earl to say that. I want to assure the noble Earl that that is not the case. I am sure that he will take my word for it. The target for potatoes set in August was 1,423,000 acres, and that remains the target.
There is one other point that I should like to mention with regard to fertilizers. Nitrogenous fertilizers have been removed from control. Potash now has also been taken off control; but the remaining fertilizer, phosphates, remains on control. The actual tonnage used has gone up in the last two years. At the moment I would rather not give the figures for next year, but nitrogenous fertilizers have gone up from 165,000 tons to 173,000 tons; phosphates from 355,000 tons to 365,000 tons; and potash from 121,000 tons to 165,000 tons, which is a very significant increase, in view of the potato crop. I thought the House would be glad to have those figures.
Finally, may I say a word as to the programme? We all knew, for example, how the bad weather of last year diminished the potato acreage. The dry weather meant a very much smaller crop, but I will tell your Lordships the actual acreage in our programme. The pre-war average of wheat in the United* Kingdom was 1,857,000 acres. Our programme proposes to put that up to 2,750,000 acres. We propose that the barley acreage shall rise from 929,000 to 2,400,000—this is largely feeding stuffs 226 —and oats from 2,403,000 to 3,600,000. That is that end of the programme. Potatoes, which averaged before the war an acreage of 724,000, are to have this year 1,420,000 acres, or nearly double. Sugar beet remains about the same; there is a slight increase, from 335,00a to 400,000 acres. Those are the figures we are aiming at and working on every day. And, my Lords, whilst we are only too glad to be spurred on and to receive useful suggestions, I suggest that that does not indicate any indolence on the part of His Majesty's Government.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Earl DE LA WARR
My Lords, one of the most pleasant factors operating in agricultural debates in this House is that they always end up more happily than they begin; and for a very obvious reason. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, who is an elder statesman and a distinguished member of the Cabinet, is able to get up and speak with great freedom, mainly for himself, whilst the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has to start off the debate by loyally reading his departmental brief expressing true Government policy. We none of us begrudge the noble Viscount his desire to relieve his mind because we know Lord Addison—certainly no one better than I—as a true and loyal friend of the agricultural industry. I only wish (and I remember wishing it at the time I was working under him as his Under-Secretary) that it had been possible for him to get his policy over to his own Party. He would then have had the good fortune to be able himself to introduce the Wheat Quota Act. As it was, he knew that his colleagues in the Cabinet would not alow him to do so. and as the Under-Secretary to Sir John Gilmour in the National Government, I had to introduce it in your Lordships' House.
My Lords, I do not know whether I am speaking for the majority of your Lordships, but I cannot help feeling that the result of this debate is a deep disappointment. The statement that we had from the Government—and I assure the noble Viscount opposite that if I am saying something critical it is not from Party motives, because this matter is much too grave for that—disappointed me deeply, because I cannot feel that the Government yet realize the full urgency of the situation. I tried 227 to make it as easy as possible for the Government spokesmen to answer the questions that I was going to put to them. I sent to the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, on the morning of the day before the debate opened—and I think it was an almost unprecedented step to take—a word-for-word copy of my speech. I did that for two reasons. First, I wanted to make it quite clear that I did not want to take him by surprise in anything, or to score any debating point for which he was not prepared; and, secondly, because we have had so many of these debates in the past and have had questions left unanswered. It is vital, if food production is to be increased in this country, that those questions should be answered. I regret to say, however, that the majority of them remain unanswered.
I thank the noble Viscount for the figures that he gave with regard to fertilizer supplies. We had our answer there. It is difficult to judge figures by just receiving them verbally, but they certainly sounded a very considerable improvement on the situation. However, we still have No Idea of what in fact is the real housing programme for agricultural workers; yet we know that on what is done in housing agricultural workers at least half the scheme depends. I will reserve the other half for feeding stuffs., The noble Earl made no mention of the suggestion which he had two days to consider—namely, my proposal to send out a stronger and a more truthful circular to local authorities. He said nothing about the suggestion that private landowners and farmers* should be put on the same basis.
§ The Earl of HUNTINGDON
I did mention the circular. I said that I was afraid I could not agree with the noble Earl's suggestion, and that the circular would be adhered to.
§ Earl DE LA WARR
I apologize to the noble Earl. I certainly did not take note of that, but, even so, if they are going to adhere to the circular that only makes the reply worse. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, said something about a housing programme—I have a note of it here—that really does disturb me. He spoke about a programme for 10,000 houses.
§ Viscount ADDISON
If I may interrupt, I did not say that. I gave the actual 228 figure of houses now building, which was 40,000. What I said was that for 20,000 additional workers you would require 10,000 additional houses. That is not the programme. That would be the requirement of 20,000 workers.
§ Earl DE LA WARR
I was coming to that point, because what worried me particularly was that the figure of 10,000 was linked with this demand for 20,000 workers. If the programme is really for 20,000 extra workers, then I think we have reason to be very deeply disturbed. What is the position? We had the position stated very clearly by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, that we are likely to lose—I think he said—60,000 German prisoners.
§ Viscount ADDISON
No, I did not. I have not got the number of German prisoners. I said that after the German prisoners had gone there would be a gap of 60,000.
§ Earl DE LA WARR
Yes, that is right—that there would be a gap of 60,000, which it was proposed to fill with 30,000 Poles, 10,000 Germans and 5,000 women, leaving a total gap of 15,000. That assumed gap is on existing figures. Where is the allowance for extra labour if we are to produce £100,000,000 worth for food per year?
§ Viscount ADDISON
The figures make full allowance for the requirements of the enlarged programme. They show the full requirement of the enlarged programme, and reveal the 15,000 gap still to be filled.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
If I may interrupt, I think the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, said that 75,000 Germans were going. Therefore 75,000 are needed to replace the Germans who are going.
§ Viscount ADDISON
I am afraid that noble Lords have not paid very careful attention to my words. I said that the anticipated increased recruitment here was 20,000, and you have got to allow for it.
§ Earl DE LA WARR
My Lords, we all like anticipations, but the actual figures which I have read indicated that 75,000 Germans were likely to leave us. That is the figure I find in Hansard. But we are going to have 45,000, is it not, with which to replace them. So we have 229 this total of 75,000, or as the noble Viscount says, 60,000, and there is still left a gap of 15,000. To be added to that there are the very considerable number of old men who are now leaving every year. Thus, we have this 15,000 gap, and with this depleted force we have to meet an increased production programme of £100,000,000 a year. That figure has not been corrected in this debate. If the Minister feels that it should be corrected, and that I have made a mistake, there will be no one in the country more pleased than myself to learn that I have been wrong. But I studied very carefully what is recorded in Hansard in this connexion. As a matter of fact, I studied it in company with someone else, as we were both a little bit muddled about what the noble Earl said. I have tried to render accurately what I understood that he did say.
Now, as to feeding stuffs. I am not going to complain, at least for the moment, that the noble Earl cannot give us further information about feeding stuffs. If the position is as he says—well that is that. What I do complain about, and what I think the farming community are complaining about, is that a programme should be brought out the fulfilment of which is based on an adequate supply of feeding stuffs when, in fact, the Government have later to tell the farmers that they cannot guarantee that supply. It means that a very large proportion of the programme is a sham. I implore the Government to take note of this point. If we are not to be in the position—as many of us are convinced we shall not be—of delivering the goods to the public next year, then let them be told the truth now. Let the farming community be told the truth so that they can make their plans. As I ventured to say during my speech introducing the Motion, whatever the position is, however bad it may be with regard to supplies, the farmer and his men will do their best; but that best can be so much better if only they are made aware in advance what their position is to be.
If I may briefly sum up, the position with regard to housing is that so far as we can see we shall not obtain the houses needed for the agricultural workers. The 230 position with regard to labour is that we are to be left with a gap of 15,000, on present figures, with no allowance made for future increased production. That is a point which must be investigated. With regard to machinery, while I agree that we have been given some encouraging figures about future production, and about the present production of tractors, I would say this. Some tractors have greater horse-power than others; some are heavy tractors, some are light tractors. I venture to say two things about the tractors which are now being produced in such enormous numbers. First, I believe that the noble Viscount will find that very large numbers—running, probably, into thousands—are tractors which are not particularly suitable for heavy work on large farms. And he will find something else. He will find that these particular tractors are dependent upon implements especially made for them. He will also discover that implements for those tractors are almost unobtainable. I ask the noble Viscount, whilst I do not wish to detract in any way from the welcome which has been given to the figures in this connexion, to realize that tractors are not the only machines which we use on our farms.
As for feeding stiffs, we are to be told later what is the position. I would say only this. I do not think I need say it to the noble Lord—for he knows the industry—but let his colleagues, at any rate, entirely disabuse their minds of the idea that any farmer is going to increase his livestock on the basis of rations that are announced three or four months ahead and are then liable to be altered. He just cannot do it. If that is to be the situation, we shall achieve much better results by being honest with the farmer and with the public. Tell them plainly, if it be so, that there cannot in fact be any increased livestock policy. I do entreat the noble Viscount, if that be true, to ensure that the public are told the truth here and now. I have asked for Papers relating to this matter, but in fact I do not think there are any Papers relating to this matter. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.