HL Deb 19 February 1947 vol 145 cc781-831

3.20 p.m.

LORD TEVIOT had given notice that he would move to resolve, That in view of the rapid exhaustion of our dollar credits and the large gap, present and prospective, in our balance of payments, it is urgently necessary to initiate steps to assist farmers to increase food production at home, and especially to change over our agricultural programme to producing the greatest possible quantity of livestock and other high priced food stuffs with the aim of saving a minimum of £100,000,000 of foreign exchange for the purchase of the raw materials needed to keep our factories working. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I find myself to-day in a very responsible position, and I propose, in view of the great gravity of the situation with which we are all faced, to deal with it in a completely non-controversial way. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that we have now reached a state when we have all to pull together. We do not want to listen to excuses about this and that; we want to get down to tin-tacks, so to speak, with regard to the whole question which is the subject of my Motion.

It will be within the recollection of some of your Lordships that last year in February, and again in May, I ventured to put before your Lordships' House certain anxieties which I had with regard to the future of our country. At that time the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack took me to task for being rather gloomy. It is very regrettable that the gloominess of which I was said to have given the impression, in my statement of what I saw was the trend of things, has now come upon us all. We are, as we all know, in a very dangerous and desperate position.

Why did I bring these matters before your Lordships? I brought them before you because, like a great many others in your Lordships' House, I have contact with men of great eminence in commerce, in economics, and in financial matters. These are not the men who have the gift of oratory, or who are fine, skilled debaters, but they are men prominent throughout the country, who have great responsibilities to many thousands of their fellow citizens. I.: would be a sad day if the anxieties of such people should be as dust in comparison with—shall I say—the plans and the programmes and, perhaps, the Party necessities. We want to get rid of all that, and we must get rid of it before we can do any good in the present circumstances.

This Motion represents my third attempt within less than a year and a half to bring these matters before you. This Motion has been down on the Paper in various forms for a long time, and for various reasons has been postponed. Between January 30, the day on which this Motion in its final wording was put down, and to-day, your Lordships are painfully aware that an economic tornado has hit our country. We cannot get away from it, and we are all very worried about it. I took the view in 1946, in February and in May, that the economic situation was distressing. Now it is definitely tragic. There is a story about a midshipman at the time of Dunkirk. He was on leave at a seaside resort on the southern coast when the epic of Dunkirk began. He rushed down to the little harbour, got into a fishing smack, and, with the willingness of the little crew, set sail across the Channel to see what he could do to help. After it was all over, he was asked: "How did you know in which direction to steer?"; and his answer was, "I steered for the guns." That is what we have to do now—steer for the guns.

If your Lordships will permit me, I will ask you to consider for a moment what are the guns and where are the guns. They are painfully apparent—we all know about them—but for the purpose of this debate I want to re-emphasize what they are. We are not paying our way. It appears now that the export targets can not possibly be reached. The United States loan is far too rapidly dwindling, and of what is being spent the proportion spent on consumer goods is far too high. This must be stopped at as early a date as possible. The sellers' market is one that will not go on indefinitely, and I see evidence from speeches made from authoritative sources that it is also showing signs of being a little less absorbent. Manpower and man output are not sufficient. Our foreign investments, we all know, are very greatly depleted, thereby reducing our invisible exports. What are we to do about it? And here I have no doubt the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will say "At last he is going to be a little constructive."

This, among other things, is what I am going to suggest: first that we use all available labour, collected from anywhere, to deal with this situation. May I say—and this, I am sure, will not be looked upon as controversial—that it is no use saying to-day that all this is the fault of the wicked Tories and the wicked Liberals of the past. That is no good and will not get us anywhere. Indeed, it is not true, as everybody knows quite well. If we all do what that midshipman did, we shall undoubtedly win through. I believe it to be a proper function of members of your Lordship's House who may have a brain wave, or think they have, to give a lead and put forward their ideas at times as serious as the present. A splendid lead was given last week—unfortunately I could not be present to hear it, but I read all about it—with regard to the coal question.

In great humility I would submit to this noble House, in which there are so many authorities, that the two courses which we must steer are those towards an increase in production and better distribution of coal—a matter which was dealt with last week—and an increase in home food production. If we go all out to achieve these two aims I believe we can achieve them, because not one of us in this House, or indeed in any part of the country, knows the meaning of the word "impossible." Both these questions, if they can be dealt with satisfactorily, mean the conservation of the all-important dollars, a ready and inexhaustible market in this country for coal for our industries, including agriculture, and, abroad, the building up of foreign exchange by export which requires no imports at all.

Let me deal with the question of home-grown food. Home-grown food, again, means conservation of dollars and a reduction of imports. Your Lordships may have noticed that within the last week or ten days I put down a question for written answer, to elucidate a position which I think we must bear in mind. I asked this question: If we were to put the volume of exports in 1913–14 at 100, what would they be in 1945–46? I was staggered at the reply, which was that if they were 100 in 1913 they are now only 26 in volume. That is a terrible thought. It means that during and since these two Great Wars, in one generation, we have lost three-quarters of our overseas markets. These are the facts. That is the official answer given to me, and I may say that the well-known and very substantial paper, the Economist, gave the same figure—26, Our country, quite obviously, is very dangerously wounded. A great many of us perhaps feel that at the moment we are not in the hands of the right doctors, and that they are not administering the right treatment. The main work of winning through is bound to fall on our manufacturing industries. How can we help them? It seems to me that, if only they are allowed to do in peace what they did in war, and I believe that they can the same in peace. The road to victory is always a hard one and tremendous efforts are required from us all.

I want to carry your Lordships a stage further on this idea. As the heaviest strain, owing to competition, must fall on our manufacturing industries, it must be a principal aim of economic statesmanship to relieve to the greatest possible extent the strain on those industries. That is obvious. I believe that this can be done in two ways: first by finding a large and enduring market overseas for something else besides our manufactures and secondly, by producing at home to the greatest possible extent those vitally essential imports for which our exports are required to pay. Nor is it hard, so far as I can see, to find two vastly important products, one in each category, which exactly fit into this scheme that I am suggesting. As has been already demonstrated, we have only to export coal on the pre-war scale and to grow our own food on the wartime scale and the problem is solved, hard as it may appear at the moment. In regard to food production, I believe it can be shown that even the increase which we managed to bring about during the war can be further developed now, in peace. That should be so. After all, we have got rid of all the disabilities of war—" blackouts" and so on. The noble Lord continues to laugh, but this is a very, very serious matter. It is no laughing matter. Believe me, there are hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions worried about this question.

I personally reserve my views on the question as to how this should be done until the Agriculture Bill comes before your Lordships' House in the form in which it will be when it leaves another place. All I need do now is to record my view that whatever we achieved in food production during the war we ought to be able to achieve in peace. And I believe that we can considerably better those figures, provided, of course, that proper conditions are given to the farming community. The object of a national policy for agriculture and food production must surely be to devise a rural economy which or peace will mean a secure and profitable market for the products of our urban economy. I do not think that that is ever considered quite enough. If we look up history, we shall find that when the farming community has been very well off industry within the country has profited a good deal and done good business. Agriculture can only become this if its own foundations are as secure in times of peace as they are secure in the times of compulsions of war.

In conclusion, in regard to the latter part of the Motion, I would say that details and statistics must be worked out. They are well known, and I do not propose to weary your Lordships with them. The parts of the Motion with which I do not specifically deal may well be discussed by other of your Lordships who are going to speak on the Motion. Preparations must be made at once; we cannot delay this matter at all. I hope that the Government will be able to accept this Motion. There is nothing political in it as all; it is a sincere attempt to help the country and to relieve the enormous suffering that hundreds of thousands, indeed, millions, of our people are going through to-day. I hope, therefore, that the Government will take serious note of this Motion, and I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in view of the rapid exhaustion of our dollar credits and the large gap, present and prospective, in our balance of payments, it is urgently necessary to initiate steps to assist farmers to increase food production at home, and especially to change over our agricultural programme to producing the greatest possible quantity of livestock and other high priced food stuffs with the aim of saving a minimum of £100,000,000 of foreign exchange for the purchase of the raw materials needed to keep our factories working.—(Lord Teviot.)

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, I think that noble Lords on both sides of the House are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for the Motion that he has laid before us, and also for the speech which he has just made. It is not necessary for me to attempt to outline the gloomy picture of the present situation. After all, Ministers of His Majesty's Government have lately made speeches just as gloomy in drawing the attention of the nation to the position in which the country now finds itself. Surely, there are two ways in which we can approach a subject such as this: one is with heavy and gloomy hearts, convinced that the great days of this country have come to an end, and simply bewailing our fate; the other is with a sense of determination to do the things which can be done and must be done—a sense of determination to fight and work our way through these hard and difficult times, It is quite clear, I think, that the attitude of your Lordships' House and the attitude of the country is going to be the second.

We have had our warning. During the last two weeks the fuel situation has been just about as bad as it could be. What I want to say now I hope I can say without implying a sense of controversy: I want to say it in all friendliness and helpfulness to the noble Lords opposite. I am deeply convinced that if the present policy and the present attitude of His Majesty's Government in regard to food are continued, then we shall be faced with at least as serious a position with regard to food as we have lately had to face with regard to fuel. This country has not yet had to realize actual hunger. We have had our discomforts and our shortages, but not real hunger. But do not let us deceive ourselves. That is a danger which lies ahead of us at the present time. "Hunger" is too grim and ugly a word to use lightly, and I use it to-day quite deliberately, and with a full sense of the gravity of what I am saying, because I believe that the only hope of avoiding it, or at least of minimizing it, is to face the danger, fairly and squarely, now.

The last straw that would break the camel's back would be another meeting of the Cabinet on Friday morning, followed by a Ministerial statement that same afternoon that our food rations on Monday were to be cut to the same extent that fuel and power were cut only a few days ago. Therefore, let us be quite clear in our minds what we are discussing during the present debate. We are discussing possible hunger in this country, or, at best, being in a position where we have to choose between being unable to buy either all the food we want or all the raw materials we need to keep our factories going. We are discussing also, I hope, the possibility of avoiding that danger by taking positive action in time. I stress those two words, "action" and "time." We do not want warnings and exhortations. We want a quite definite, concrete policy, especially in dealing with agriculture. We must look well ahead, and we should be planning to-day for the harvest of 1948, if we are to get the maximum. I regret that this does not appear to be the basis on which our present agricultural policy is being conducted. So far from actually increasing, production at the moment is tending to decline. If your Lordships will look at the figures, you will see that our tillage acreage between June, 1944, and June. 1946, has declined by no less a figure than 1,250,000.


Can you give the dates again?


June, 1944, and June, 1946. The noble Viscount will find them on page 69 of the Monthly Digest. What has happened since June, 1946, we cannot say, but the general impression in the agricultural world is that the figure will be lower for June, 1947. What is perhaps worse is that that decline in tillage is not balanced by any increase in our animal population. There are many people in this country who would say that a decline in tillage area did not matter if we were increasing our livestock production. But actually we find that the numbers of cattle and sheep are not seriously different, and the figures for poultry and pigs, especially pigs, are seriously down. Here again we have not got the latest figures, which are likely to be worse. The big cuts in feeding stuffs took place in May, 1946, and the latest figures we have are for June, 1946.

We have even reached the point where, as I gather from the Press—and I think it was mentioned in another place the other day—we are proposing to import potatoes from the United States. Potatoes are the one crop in which we have been self-supporting for many years. I would like to ask the noble Earl whether it is true that we are proposing to import potatoes from the United States, and I would also like, incidentally, to ask him what he can tell us about the possibility of potato rationing. At one time the Minister of Food was fairly hopeful that we should be able to avoid that. I think he was fairly definite in his assurances in the discussions in another place on bread rationing, although I have not before me the actual passages from his speech. Could the noble Earl tell us something about that position?

It is not as though there is nothing that can be done and that we have to sit back and say: "This decline in production is taking place. It is true that we ought to increase production, but it is just impossible." May I say at this point that I disagree very strongly with a remark made by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, in our last debate on this subject on December 11, 1946? The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, took a rather more optimistic view of the possibility of increased production, but the words of the noble Earl were: There is no possibility of a further large expansion unless we extend agriculture on to unsuitable land or make calls on material and labour … and on fertilizers and machinery which would be out of all proportion to the expected benefits … That just is not true. I challenge the noble Earl to produce any agricultural expert of any standing whatsoever who would agree with that statement. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the estimate given by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, is a moderate estimate of the potential increase. Our actual production from the land now is approxmately £600,000,000, and what the noble Lord has suggested is an increase of approximately 15 per cent. I think he is wise, in a matter of this gravity, to under-estimate rather than to oveestimate, but I think we should put it on record that it is certainly not an overestimate if we are prepared to approach this problem in the spirit which the gravity of the situation demands.

This is not primarily an agricultural debate, and it would be a pity to blur over the main issue by going into agricultural technicalities of how in fact we could increase production. But having made the assertion that 15 per cent, is in fact a moderate estimate, I think your Lordships are entitled to a few words from me in justification of that assertion. The mere act of ceasing to purchase poultry and pig products, such as bacon and lard, and of purchasing instead the feeding stuffs with which to produce them in this country would, according to various estimates that have been made, save bet ween £30,000,000 and £140,000,000. If we take eggs alone—they are the easiest figures to get at—we find that the total imports of dried eggs last year were £33,000,000, or about $120,000,000.

It was, always reckoned before the war that our policy was based on the principle of importing three pence to produce a shilling. Feeding stuffs were worth about a quarter of the value of the finished product. I think that we should agree that to-day the margin has narrowed, because the cost of feeding stuffs is high, but it would not be unfair to say that we could produce—fresh—this £33,000,000 worth of dried eggs for an importation of feeding stuffs to the value of something between £10,000,000 and £13,000,000. That in itself would be an immense saving. But we do not need to buy all these feeding stuffs; we can grow a great proportion of them here. I am not sure that I would be prepared to advocate going back to the war-time peak of over 14,000,000 acres of tillage, but why should we not go at any rate half way back, and plan for ploughing another 500,000 to 600,000 acres, which we could use virtually entirely for the growing of feeding stuffs for our livestock?

One would like to say, "Let us get if as much as we can this spring," but with the hang-over from last harvest and autumn, and with the weather as it is to-day, I am afraid that farmers will have their hands full if they are to complete the cultivation and the sowing which they have already planned for this spring. However, I still think we ought to have a drive to get in as much extra as we can this spring. If we could cultivate only another 100,000 acres it would yield a considerable quantity of feeding stuffs. I estimate that the value of the feeding stuffs that could be grown on 500,000 to 600,000 acres of extra plough land would be between £15,000,000 to £20,000,000, according to the crops we were able to get in. Then we have 12,000,000 acres of grassland that were not ploughed during the war. A great deal of it is quite unsuitable for ploughing, but it is still capable of vast improvement in other ways. There are 17,000,000 acres of rough grazing and hill-lands. I know something of these hill-lands, and I know that they too are capable of immense improvement—and improvement in a direction in which we want to see them improved—namely, for the keeping, breeding and rearing of more livestock.

Taking it all in all, we have barely started on this problem of grassland improvement. We have done even less with regard to turning that crop, which this country is most suited to grow, into concentrated feeding stuffs, such as silage or dried grass. I want to say a word about dried grass. At the present moment, so far as I can ascertain—I do not claim that my figures are necessarily completely correct, and the noble Earl can perhaps correct them if they are wrong—the manufacturers are getting enough steel and material to produce only about fifty plants this year. It may be a little more; it may be sixty or seventy; but I work it out at about fifty. I ask the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, to go into this question very seriously, because I believe that this development of the Milk Marketing Board in starting a new centralized dried grass station is something which should be increased and spread all over the country. We should be thinking at this moment in terms of hundreds of plants rather than in terms of tens.

There is an immense hidden reserve in sheer better farming. At the present moment, with financial troubles and financial uncertainties, the difficulties of getting labourers to do a job—a job which must be done—the difficulties of getting repairs done, the difficulties of buying spare parts and the difficulties of getting new machinery (I have just had a tractor delivered to me after ten months and I am told I am lucky) are leading to a terrible depression throughout the farming world. If only the noble Earl and his Minister could do something to remove these difficulties, there is an immense reserve of potential increased production in simply the good heart and encouragement which would sweep through the farming world. It is on that sort of ground that I base my case for saying that £100,000,000 increased production, if we tackle this on a war-time basis, in the spirit of a wartime operation—and that is the spirit in which we have to tackle it—is not an impossibility, but is in fact a moderate estimate.

I hope that noble Lords on the other side of the House, including the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, will agree that I have not uttered any criticisms. That is not because I do not feel them, but because I think things have reached a pass where we have to think only of things that are going to produce food, and criticism is not going to produce food. I would like to close my remarks by putting forward five concrete proposals that I gave to the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, before the debate, because I thought it would help him to give me an answer. First of all, I suggest that he should get his Department at once to lay down plans for a minimum of 500,000 to 600,000 acres ploughed up, at least for the harvest of 1948 and, if possible, a certain amount for the harvest of 1947.


Do you mean grass ploughed up?


I mean extra land. I stress here that this should be done at once. May I just give your Lordships an example of the sort of delay which is going on now? Does the noble Viscount realize that the ploughing grant of £2 an acre runs out on March 31, and we do not know whether or not it is to continue? How on earth does anybody think we are going to plan an industry on that basis? Here we are, well into February, and we do not yet know what is to happen to the ploughing grant of £2 an acre which ends on March 31. It is a small matter, and I am merely giving it as an example of the lack of planning from which we are suffering now. Secondly, I would urge that His Majesty's Government buy feeding stuffs in sufficiently substantial quantities, and not just the small quantity that has been mentioned in the last few days, which is quite literally mere "chicken feed." Sufficiently large quantities should be bought to enable us at once to start producing a large proportion of our eggs and pig products. After all, we have an advantage there, because poultry and pigs breed very quickly, and we can get going very quickly. Thirdly, I suggest that a statement should be made at once guaranteeing to the industry a minimum increase of 100,000 men in its labour force. If at the moment that cannot be supplied from the British labour market—and we know that it probably cannot—let the labour be Germans, Poles or displaced persons. But if this country is to be fed, I say that we need a minimum extra in the industry of 100,000 workers. Forget the figure of 33,000 mentioned in the White Paper, because that figure was not based on the gravity of the food situation we are discussing to-day.

There must be a greater priority for rural housing. It may be said that townsmen would object to it. Very well, let the townsman be told that he has to choose between that or going short of his food. If he wants his food, there must be more houses to get the labour on the farms. I would suggest to His Majesty's Government that along with the local authorities, they should not rely on financial inducements but should offer the houses they are building to agricultural workers. I suggest that we should approach this matter in the spirit of a war-time operation, and that local authorities should be instructed forthwith that all houses built in rural areas should not be allocated to those not connected with the agricultural industry until they have first been offered to farm workers. I see noble Lords are smiling—well, I am talking in terms of a war-time spirit in order to get something done. Finally, let the export of agricultural machinery at the expense of production in this country be stopped. By all means let us build up the export market in agricultural machinery if and when we have a surplus, but we are not in a position to-day to have our farmers waiting six, eight, ten or twelve months for a tractor. We can make very much better use of a tractor here in this immediate crisis.

I close by asking the Parliamentary Secretary to take back this message to his Minister. Let us have something of the leadership, drive and sense of support from the Ministry that we had during the war. We then had a Minister who sometimes harried us, was always driving us on, but who got us to do things. He harried and drove his colleagues, too. When we were short of labour he got us the labour; when we were short of machinery he fought for that machinery; and the same applies to fertilizers. If I may say so to the noble Earl the Parliamentary Secretary, we want something of that spirit now. It does not matter what he asks of us. Tell us the position, give us the targets, see that we get the tools, and the country will be just as surprised as it was during the war at the contribution which the land, and the people living on and by the land, can make to our present problems. I am not going to suggest that we in agriculture can solve all the terrible problems that are upon us at the present moment and the worse problems which are approaching, but what we do ask is that we should be given an opportunity to give of our best. There is only one qualification, and that is that we cannot do anything at the last moment. Therefore I ask the noble Earl to get going now, because it is quite late enough already, if this country is not to suffer at least as much from the shortage of food as it is now suffering from the shortage of fuel.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we have all listened very carefully to the noble Earl who has just sat down, and his words certainly have projected this problem very seriously into the forefront of things to-day. We look as if we are getting out of one serious difficulty, and perhaps if the spirit and determination which has been shown by the workers in producing more coal and getting it carried far distances could be shown in the getting of more food, we might be able to avoid further difficulty. The noble Earl has practically covered the whole field of suggestions that could be made, and I can only say that I agree with almost everything he has said. But we cannot possibly have more ploughed land unless we have more machinery—a lot more machinery. At the moment we have not enough machinery to plough and cultivate the soil we have under cultivation, so we really must have three, four or six months production of agricultural machinery devoted to the home market. None must go for export at all. Then we might plough more land, but really I cannot see any prospect of that at the moment. Like the noble Earl I have waited eight months for a tractor, the only one I have, and I had the highest priority given me from the local agriculture executive committee.

Personally I feel very much afraid for the harvest of 1948. I think we might be able to gather in this year's harvest—we have a lot of prisoners left. But if all the prisoners are repatriated by the end of this year, what are we going to do in 1948? I would suggest that some of these prisoners might be asked if they would like to stay on and work as civilian employees, receiving a proper wage and proper inducements to work. Perhaps a few, possibly a lot, would like to stay. I would also like to stress that as soon as possible the Polish Resettlement Corps should be got on the ob. It is several months now since the Corps was begun, and yet I do not see any Poles working on the land in Lincolnshire or in my part of the country. There are plenty of camps full of them, but they do not seem to be doing anything at the moment.

The only other point I would make is that water supplies in the country should get greater priority than they have, because that water is needed to improve the grass lands. As rightly suggested by the noble Earl, we must have more water. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, would say whether he could recommend to the Ministry of Health—I think they deal with water supplies—that every priority should be given to rural water supplies. I was very pleased also to hear dry grass mentioned by the noble Earl. That is going to help us considerably amd it ought to be given what priority it can be given. I do not know how priorities work, but certainly that should be borne in mind, because it is one of the ways of helping to feed livestock. Another small point, in conclusion, is that of soil fertility, which, to put it in the vernacular, has taken rather a beating in the last five or six years. If we could get more livestock on the farms it would undoubtedly help fertility. But at all costs we must feel the country as best we can, and I am sure everyone connected with the industry will do his very best.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for his courtesy in giving me notice of the different points he intended to mention this afternoon—it is always a great help to know some time in advance—and the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who also gave notice of some questions which would be raised in this debate. I should like to say generally about the Motion that, in principle, His Majesty's Government agree. Nothing that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said about the urgency of producing food could be more strongly appreciated. We all know, to our cost, of the great shortage of dollars and the tremendous demand there is for those things which dollars can buy. The situation could not be more urgent in that respect. Also, as has been pointed out this afternoon, when the loan comes to an end the situation will be even more serious. It follows, therefore, that all that we can produce in this country is of vital importance to us now, and particularly everything we can produce that will save dollars. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, was quite right when he stressed that commodities such as livestock products, bacon, eggs, cheese, beef and mutton, and to a certain extent fruit, come largely from hard currency countries. Was are now spending something like £125,000,000 on food from the hard currency countries. It is an enormous amount, and therefore every ounce of food that we can produce in this country is a national asset.

Where we differ with the noble Lord about this Motion is in regard to the figure of £100,000,000 which is a very big figure indeed. Naturally the Government would be only too happy if we could save that figure or anything like it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would go home for a happy week-end if such a thing could be done or even contemplated, but I do not think it is a realistic or realizable figure in the present circumstances. To achieve it, it would seem at first sight to need about a 15 per cent. increase in our production. The noble Lord I think gave a figure of £600,000,000, and this extra £100,000,000 would apparently need only a 15 per cent. increase;!but in practice it would really need an increase of something like 25 per cent. which anyone familiar with agriculture and its problems in this country will agree would be an enormous task. The reason for that is clear. We must remember that every pound's worth of extra foodstuffs produced in this country does not necessarily mean a pound's worth of foodstuffs saved in terms of dollar currency. I wish it did. But to begin with, the increase of some foods, such as potatoes and other vegetables, would save dollars only to the extent that people would eat less bread or other imported foods. It would be extremely difficult to say to the people of this country that we are going to increase, or that we had increased, our food by such a large margin as 15 or 20 per cent., whichever it might be, but that their diet must remain what it is today; that they must have rationing still and that austerity must continue. If we did not do that, if we had this great increase and consumed a large part of it, obviously that would not save dollars. We are in this dilemma that either we must keep to austerity and must have rations, as we know them now, and save dollars, or increase the diet of the people and not have a dollar saving. Therefore, I am afraid that to teach the figure specified it would need more like 25 per cent. than a 15 per cent. increase in our production.

Another factor that concerns this question is that if we did expand our livestock considerably—and I hope we shall—it would be necessary, for a time at least, to buy a greatly increased amount of feeding stuffs. That again would mean a loss in foreign currency. I am giving these examples only in order to point out that a pound's worth of increase in food production would not necessarily save a pound's worth of dollars. I think, therefore, that the figure of £100,000,000 given by the noble Lord is one which it would be impracticable to attain, at any rate for some considerable time to come. I hope of course that nothing I have said might lead people to think that we do not want an expansion of production. Of course we do. It is of vital importance and I hope the whole country will realize just how much we need to expand our general production and particularly the production of those animal products which will save dollars.


If the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him, may I say that I do not see how his argument applies to the case of dried eggs? If we spend 120,000,000 dollars in dried eggs, and we can get enough maize for 40,000,000 dollars to produce an equivalent number of fresh eggs here, then surely we shall save 80,000,000 dollars?


And save the chickens as well.


And save the chickens. Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be, the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, has put his finger on what is perhaps the greatest difficulty with which we are faced. That is simply that we cannot get the feeding stuffs. I should be very grateful to the noble Earl or to any noble Lord who can give me an example of other countries that have obtained these enormous supplies of feeding stuffs.


Italy has obtained, I think, 85,000 tons of maize, as against, I believe, 17,000 or zo,000 tons obtained for this country.


Surely that was obtained for human consumption and not for animal consumption. There is the difficulty that we are up against. Several of the countries that are producing coarse grains of the kind that we badly need are feeding those coarse grains to their own animals; but it is one thing to say: "We must have those grains for human consumption" (on those grounds great sacrifices will have been made and a certain amount has been shipped), and quite another to tell the farmers concerned that they must not feed those coarse grains to their animals because we need them to feed our own animals.


Do I take it that the noble Earl is saying that on the Continent of Europe they are growing coarse grains and feeding them to their animals and then going to international control organizations with a long and sad story about being short of human feeding stuffs and getting exports, and that because we are not doing that we are having to go short?


I was referring to the American countries and not to Europe in this respect. We cannot buy coarse grain from Europe. I wish we could.


Cannot we persuade the Americans to supply us with a proportion of these coarse grains which are now going to Europe to enable us to build up our poultry stocks, and so on?


I do not think it would be possible or practicable. I will bear it in mind. However, to advance the argument, the great difficulty which we are up against is, first, the fact of the tremendous cereal shortage which has occurred throughout the world, and second, the difficulty of getting coarse grams for feeding stuffs. I would like to add here, as the noble Earl has particularly asked me the question, that I am very glad to confirm the fact that potatoes will not be rationed. That assurance from the Minister Food still stands. There is, however, the difficulty at the moment that the potato clamps are frozen so hard that it is very difficult to get stocks. Potatoes cannot be taken from ice-bound clamps. But sufficient stocks are available for the time being, and when the weather eases the supply position will become much better.

As I was saying, the cereal crisis has, up to the present, forced us to aim at a very high acreage of crops for direct human consumption, and of course this has cut down very largely the acreage which we could have used for growing crops, including leys, for the support of livestock. The emphasis has been on wheat, barley, potatoes, sugar beet, and so on. The world shortage of grain, of course, has been equally serious in its effect on supplies of imported feeding stuffs, and I think your Lordships must agree that while the world is short of grain the needs of the human population must come first, and after that, the needs of our animal population. I do not think that any one could possibly demand that our animals should rank before starving human beings. Unfortunately there is also a great shortage of high-protein foods, particularly oil cakes, which is a further great obstacle to the achievement of maximum yields of milk, meat and eggs. So far as can be foreseen at present, I am afraid that this shortage of high-protein foods will continue for a good deal longer than the shortage of grain. However, I am glad to say that the situation in general is a little better.

We have been able to buy a certain small quantity of feeding stuffs, and your Lordships will have noticed the announcement made about it in another place. The noble Earl has described it as "merely chicken feed," but it is food which is, badly needed for our chicks. As the position gets better, more feeding stuffs will be imported, and in fact the Government have already arranged for the purchasing of additional supplies. Taking a broad perspective, there is reason to hope that soon there will be a considerable increase in our supplies of animal feeding stuffs from abroad. Hope is on the horizon.


Can the noble Earl give some date.


I am afraid that I cannot, but I hope that as soon as supplies are available the farmers of this country will go ahead in expanding the production of milk, meat and eggs. The milk output has been very good indeed. I think this country can congratulate itself and the farmers in particular, on the magnificent increase in milk production. Unfortunately this has been at the sacrifice of store beef cattle, and also to a certain extent at the sacrifice of bacon and eggs. The production of eggs and bacon have lagged very far behind.


The noble Earl claims that we have had a very big increase in the milk production but, according to the figures, we had only 3 per cent. more cows and heifers in milk last June than before the war. There is no question but that we are getting only 4 or 5 per cent. more.


I was speaking of liquid milk, the consumption of which has gone up enormously.


The consumption has gone up because you have switched about 15 per cent. from the cheese and butter, which is also good food. But the production has not gone up very much.


There is a certain truth in that statement, in that production has not gone up enormously, but considering the shortages of feeding stuffs I think it is highly creditable to the farmers that they have maintained—and even increased—the liquid milk production. I still congratulate them on what I think is a very difficult job carried out under very difficult conditions. As soon as it is practicable to do so, larger rations will be allowed for pigs and poultry to provide bacon and eggs, both of which, as the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said, come from the hard currency countries. There is the difficulty, however, which we must face: that in order to make the fullest use of these additional rations which we hope will come we must breed up the young livestock to take advantage of it.

We must, to a certain extent, anticipate future events and encourage the farming world now to look forward and to start breeding up their flocks and herds. Some additional rations for chick-rearing have already been granted for this spring. The allowance for farrowing sows has been restored to the earlier figure of six cwt. per sow, and my right honourable friend the Minister announced on Monday last a further increase in chick-rearing rations and also—and this, I think, is important—that as from the 1948 harvest there will be a relaxation in the provisions for the compulsory sale by farmers of homegrown wheat and barley. That means to say that farmers will be allowed to keep a considerable portion of their grain for the feeding of their livestock.

Although there is an element of risk in encouraging this expansionist policy at the present time the Government hope that pig and poultry keepers will, on the basis of this announcement, plan for the increased breeding of stock this spring, and the keeping of larger numbers of laying flocks and herds of fattening pigs as soon as the young stock is reared. Increased numbers of beef cattle and sheep would require a smaller increase in imported feeding stuff but more acres put to grass. Up to now we have not been able to allow any large reduction in our tillage area, but when the grain position gets better, more land will undoubtedly be put down to temporary grass. I must say that I was very glad to hear of the interest which noble Lords have shown in grass drying. I think there is a great future in this, and I hope it will make a great difference. Experiments are being carried on—


We do niot want experiments. Are you going to give us an assurance about extra material for the manufacturers?


I think it would be very difficult at the present moment of the coal crisis to give an assurance of increase of material to any factory. We are up against a difficult economic situation. But I can assure the noble Earl that agriculture and agricultural machinery will not be overlooked. It will be one of the biggest priorities we now have. Unless farmers do look ahead and prepare now to build up their stocks, I think that a lot will be lost to this country. In a few years time-there is likely to be an extremely valuable market for livestock, and that livestock will be a valuable asset to this country in saving dollars and in feeding its people. Another point which will help towards this breeding of livestock is the Hill Farming Act, which was recently passed through your Lordships' House. This will allow the rehabilitation of the sheep farms for the breeding of stocks for the lowland farms. Even so, there is some danger that our stores will not prove adequate for requirements, especially as the numbers of cattle from Eire have tended to dwindle. This is rather a serious thing and we hope that farmers will take a forward view.

Then we must consider the fertility of the soil. This has been used up at an extravagant rate during the war, and obviously if we can increase our livestock this will put back a great deal of the fertility which we so vitally need if we are to expand our growing in the way we wish. There are other factors in addition to this question of feeding stuffs, important as it is. If we are to expand the breeding, we must have greater efficiency, and it is for that reason that we have set up the Agricultural Advisory Service, a step which has never been taken before and which is giving, or will give, technical advice of every kind to farmers all over the country. I think that ultimately that will have an enormous effect in increasing the whole efficiency of the farming industry. Taking the long view, the greatest of the other problems which have been touched upon by the noble Lords is, of course, labour, and to a certain extent that is very largely connected with housing.

There are several questions which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, asked at the end of his speech. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House will deal with these questions when he winds up, and will, I hope, satisfy the noble Earl. The land of this country is a great heritage which in the past has often been abused, but which now, I am glad to say, is being appreciated not only by farmers but by the people who live in cities. As the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said, the urban population is dependent upon agriculture, and the agricultural industry provides a market for the urban population. That secret is now being understood, and the knowledge and the realization of it is spreading everywhere. This will make it very much easier for the Government to start their general policy embodied in the Agriculture Bill. We hope to bring this before your Lordships' House at a reasonably early date. I hope that all Parties will join in realizing that that 13 the corner-stone of agriculture and will help to put that Bill on the Statute Book so that our agriculture may be revived again into a flourishing industry.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, I will not take more than a very few minutes, but I hardly think that sufficient attention was paid by the noble Earl to what I consider the primary factor, really the main factor, in the whole of this question—namely, manpower. What is happening to-day? Farmers are crying out for labour and they cannot obtain it. I happen to be the chairman of a catchment board, and we have been able originally by the assistance of Italian prisoners of war and now of German prisoners of war, to ameliorate a great area of agricultural land. We could not, however, find any British labour to continue that work or to maintain what has been done. The other day, in an answer given in your Lordships' House, we were told that German prisoners were being repatriated at the rate of 15,000 a month and that that was to continue. If that is so, it is quite clear that there will not be a single German prisoner left in this country at the end of next year.

What are we going to do to replace them? We must look around, and utilize first of all the Polish reservoir and then the displaced persons. So far as the coal mines are concerned, it is quite clear that one requires to have trained and skilled men. But that does not hold good as regards agriculture. I have seen a girl go on the land and in a couple of months be very well able to do a first-class job. I am quite certain that a great many of these displaced persons have had some experience of agriculture. I would make only this other short plea. The noble Earl who spoke before the Parliamentary Secretary suggested that we should allow such German prisoners as wanted to remain to stay in this country and help in agriculture. The farmers, too, want them. Of course, these men ought to be here under proper conditions. As I have said before, they ought to have the opportunity, if they wish it, of bringing their womenfolk with them. I repeat that plea, and I repeat it all the more urgently because when it was put forward in another place, I fear, it was deliberately turned down. I would ask the Government to reconsider the decision and to see whether it cannot be reversed.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, after the debate which we had in December, it is pleasing to see the noble Earl, the Parliamentary Secretary, temper his pessimism by just a little hope. May I take him up immediately on one particular point on this matter—that is the advantages which we are hoping to derive from the National Agricultural Advisory Service? I am sure that all your Lordships would wish that Service well in the future, but, unfortunately, those of us who know the difficulties with which it is confronted at the start can have very little hope that it is going to be of really adequate value for some years, until it becomes properly organized. And indeed—alas!—a great many of the best men of the Advisory Service will be so busy training subordinates that they will not be able to give sufficient time at the moment to the necessary field work.

Now I come to the argument produced by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, when he moved this Motion, and which was also mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, about the gravity of this crisis. It has become perfectly clear that fuel is a symptom or manifestation of the disease, and not the root cause of the disease itself. The root cause is the inattention given to primary production and the primary producer of all sorts of commodities. I am sometimes a little surprised and puzzled by the cry which goes up that this country has not enough labour. The noble Lord who moved this Motion explained to us that by volume our exports were last year reduced to about a quarter of what they were in 1913–14. If you take any rough analysis—I am entirely open to correction because I have not immediate access to the inner figures—if you take the 1938 figure for unemployment and compare the number of people doing no work, through no fault of their own, with the size of the Forces, you still get a very good balance of more people being out of work than the Forces have to-day taken up, so there is no shortage caused by men being in the Forces.

Sir Stafford Cripps mentioned in another place that we are losing the equivalent in labour of something like 800,000 people, whose products came over to this country in payment for dividends on overseas investments. That is true, but there is still a large balance of labour left over from the unemployment figures of the 'thirties which would probably cover it. Then, again, there is an increase in productivity by machinery. There is an increase in womenfolk available for work to-day; there is an increase in the working population. We already have a great many displaced persons, and we had them in 1939 and 1940. I think it is idle to pretend that there is a potential lack of labour in this country. There is grave disorganization and maldistribution of that labour. That is really the crux of the problem to which I feel we should devote our attention. If people think that by getting an enormous new force of displaced persons over here the problem would be solved, I would say that a the end I do not think it is any solution at all, although it may be absolutely necessary in order to do vital jobs now.

Quite clearly, too, we have to provide jobs in some way or another for the Poles who are with us to-day. Except as a very temporary expedient, I think it is a sign of decadence to go abroad for foreign labour. I think that the instinctively solid attitude of the trades unions in recognizing that fact is a very sound thing to have in this country. Because, after all, what are you going to do? You have to provide more houses, more bricks, more fuel and more food for these displaced persons and their families, and you will have to import more people to produce these necessities. It is we ourselves who in the long run have to do this job. For every person employed in the administrative side of bureaucracy, for good or ill, I think it is roughly fair to say that the work of another person outside is taken up in providing for his wants. As a farmer, if you employ ten men on your farm, you probably employ ten men in ancillary activities. I know that if this or that Ministry demand a return for this or that, or if I have to carry out "Pay As You Earn," I have to keep one, two or three more clerks. To—day, in my very humble and small office, I have doubled the force of clerks which I had ten years ago and quadrupled what I had in 1913–14. That is where our labour is going. It is to keep somebody looking after somebody else and doing non-productive work.

Therefore, it is time we did two things: first, that we give the primary producer—whether he is a miner, brickrnaker or farm worker—a proper reward for his work, that we balance our rewards fairly and squarely; and secondly, at the same time in all our propaganda, in all our set values and esteem, we give the primary producer the dignity to which he is entitled. I come to the other Production arguments which we have heard—in the main from the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr—on this question of importing bulk foods rather than quality foods; that is, high quality in the sense of having to pay for them at a higher price. I think it is recognized on all sides of the House that it is an ideal we should set ourselves—not only an ideal but an immediate aim. When arguments about doing that crop up, I confess that sometimes I find myself extremely impatient. For instance where does Denmark get the cereal foods with which to fatten her pigs, with which to make her cheese, and with which to send us her eggs? Could we not do that ourselves? Again to-day, by the last figures, we are importing monthly tens of thousands of tons of flour from the U.S.A., and we lose both extra human nutrition and extra feeding stuffs for our own animals, by importing white flour which is equally high in price as the crude grain—if not higher. Those are all points which, added up one after the other, make a very considerable difference in our feeding position.

The other day, just at the height of the fuel crisis, I watched my sheep busily trying to scrape through some icy snow to get a few bites of frozen grass beneath. At the same time I saw men going out with blow pipes to deal with bursts caused by the lack of fuel. On coming in from viewing this rather sad sight, I took up the Daily Express and found there a nice little paragraph saying that live tons of mimosa and daffodils had that day been landed by Halifax in this country. A very pleasant and cheering thing for the few of us—




It was silly—but not the Scilly Isles! The flowers were from France. I said: "Well, let us all be gay, and so forth, but isn't this a little bit unnecessary?" Then someone said: "Probably France owes us some money, and that is one means of getting it back." I call to mind that there is a great deal of phosphate in North Africa under French control. It does seem to me to be a waste of time and money all round to continue to import into this country (citrus fruits excepted), exotic things like mimosa and daffodils, grape fruit from Texas, and so forth, when we should be using our shipping and our exchange to get foodstuffs. The phosphate side brings me to one of my last arguments. Your Lordships will not accuse me of any undue enthusiasm for artificial fertilizers in the past, or even at the present time, but our system of farming as it stands to-day is based on the production of fertilizers, and we will starve unless we can make arrangements to get them very soon. The great fertilizing plants are to-day suffering cuts, I believe, of a very large percentage of their fuel. I know of a potato grower in my own county who is proposing to grow perhaps 200 acres of potatoes, and practically the whole of his compound fertilizer is being cut because of the lack of fuel. I suggest not only that priority should be given for fuel for the agricultural implement industry, but that it is vital at this moment, as crops have to be sown in the spring, to see that fuel reaches the big fertilizer firms to make the fertilizers for this year's crop.

Housing—as has been said and as we all realize—is one of the great needs of the labour position and the agricultural position in general. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, was extremely forceful, eloquent and, in my view, wise, on that subject. Even if at this moment we cannot, as in a military action, give orders to district councils to build in rural areas only for agricultural labour for the next year or two, I do suggest that the arguments which were advanced in the debate last December about labour and private building still hold good, and that there are things that are being overlooked—not the very expensive houses, the name of which I have forgotten—




Yes, Airey, which the urban authorities cannot be persuaded to take. There are other types of much cheaper semi-permanent prefabricated buildings which can be used in rural areas, and which can be put up with the minimum labour and using the minimum of materials like steel and timber in their construction. Until we have really gone all out on this housing problem we cannot have any solution, either temporary or permanent, for the labour position in agriculture; and that is the most important thing in feeding ourselves today. We want to see the good works done, but we cannot have the good works until we have the faith and will to put the primary producer in the right place in this country.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I have made a great many speeches—in fact, far too many—during a long Parliamentary career, but this is the first time that I have ever ventured to speak in an agricultural debate, and I hope that I may crave the indulgence of your Lordships, particularly of the cultivators and expert husbandmen who adorn your Lordships' House. I agree, if I may say so, also for the first time in my life, with every word which I heard fall from the noble Lord, Lord Teviot; and even more did I agree with everything that was said by the noble Earl opposite. I have the greatest sympathy for the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough. I have also the greatest sympathy for my noble friend the Earl of Huntingdon, who reminded me of the man in the Western saloon with the notice over his head: "Don't shoot the man at the piano; he is doing his best." Although I do not know a lot about farming, I have lately travelled about a good deal, and kept my eyes open. I agree that this country has entered into what I may call a revolutionary situation. By that, I do not mean violence and barricades, or anything of that sort, but that a complete revolution is needed in our economic set-up, and I venture to say that we need also a complete revolution in farming practice in this country.

I have visited the country districts in recent months in three European countries, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and France, and the standard of cultivation in all those countries, especially the first two, is far higher than it is here. More land is utilized, less land is laid to waste, more hill country is cultivated, and there is more labour on the land, despite a labour problem in all those countries. In addition, they are not so highly mechanized as we are. I believe I am right in saying that we are to-day the most highly mechanized country in the world, and yet one can see more intensive cultivation in those countries than one sees here. Let me take Czechoslovakia. I was there last Easter and the country was half-starved. There was an acute food situation, and a vast number of the people were undernourished. My friends recently back from Czechoslovakia tell me that the food situation is far better, and Czechoslovakia is making over large quantities of foodstuffs to the relief organization which has taken the place of U.N.R.R.A. I saw for myself how greatly the country was cultivated, and the people are working from daylight to dark—


All the time as well.


Yes, and all the time. People start out from Paris at night to get into the country, and as the sun rises you see the men already ploughing and the teams at work in the French fields. As I say, the intensive cultivation is far more than it is here. It is quite obvious—we have heard it from the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, who has just addressed us, and from other noble Lords—that what we want is more labour on the land. We have plenty of machinery; we have splendid land; and (despite what everyone says, and notwithstanding this present cold spell) our climate is not too bad. But we want more labour on the land, more fertilizers, and so on. Where is the labour to come from? I would not find myself criticizing the Government if they decided to postpone the raising of the school leaving age for a year or two, thus saving building and extra teachers and providing direct labour. I could not find it in my heart to criticize them for that; indeed I find it very difficult to criticize those on the Front Bench here at any time.

I suggest that the recently-issued White Paper on Defence has become out of date in the last fortnight or so, since we have had these events leading to our running short of coal. I do not think we can go on affording 1,500,000 men in the Armed Forces and engaged in making munitions. If that number is required by our present foreign policy then I am very sorry, but I am afraid that we shall have to suggest to His Majesty's Government that that foreign policy must be altered. I hope I shall not lacerate too severely the feelings of my noble friend the Earl of Huntingdon when I say that in my opinion the Agriculture Bill which he commended to us just now and which is now before a Grand Committee in another place—I am not a professional cultivator, but I am supported here by much expert evidence—is also out of date. A far more:evolutionary policy is required—a policy of utilizing every acre in this country that is capable of being tilled or grazed. There are hundreds of thousands of acres in this country now—no one can deny it—which are not used because it does not pay farmers to use them or because the farmers have not the necessary capital.

If capital is required on the land, as well as labour, fertilizers and machinery, why are we not finding it? I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, exaggerated the position at all. If we have not turned the corner with our exports when the loan runs out, how are we going to pay for the necessary imports of food? People may be cold, but if they are hungry we may well have, in the literal sense, a revolutionary situation in this country, and that will not do at all. The shortage of capital on the land is notorious. I remember vividly a most interesting debate in your Lordships' House during the war, in which a number of admitted experts agreed that there was required in this country an expenditure of something of the order of £2,000,000,000 on farm buildings, cottages, drainage, roads and so on. Has that been found? If not, where can it be found? It cannot come from the farmer and it cannot come from the banks. What will a bank lend to-day to the ordinary farmer who is short of capital except a certain amount—at a high rate of interest—on the value of his farm?

I suggest that we have to take the farmer into partnership and provide the extra capital required to make it possible for him to cultivate land which is at present commercially unattractive, so that we can use every available acre of our land to grow food. We must lose no time about it. We need a revolutionary policy. Although I have the greatest affection and love for my right honourable friend the Minister of Health, and although my noble friend the Earl of Huntingdon knows my feelings towards him, they neither of them look to the like revolutionaries. They do not talk like revolutionaries, and they apparently do not think like revolutionaries; but it is people with a revolutionary mind whom we want in agriculture to-day to bring about the revolution—I am not talking of violence at all; I am talking of the mental attitude—which is required.

There is another estate which we have and which we can utilize at the present time. I refer to the great estate overseas, particularly in our African Empire. I 'believe I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, is speaking later, and I hope he will back me up. I think he has the necessary knowledge to support me. I was tremendously interested and heartened when I heard the details of the great scheme for growing ground nuts in Africa, a scheme by which, for a not unreasonable expenditure, we shall be able to produce from land at present waste or Sterile something of the order of £10,000,000 worth of food fats in a year. That is a splendid policy, and not enough credit has been given for it yet because other events have occurred. That experiment—experiment is perhaps the wrong word; that programme—could be multiplied many, many times in Africa.

I believe that I shall be supported by those who know the African continent when I say there are today many hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Africa which need irrigation, which require to be cleared of insect pests—that can be done, as the Americans showed us in the Panama Canal zone; you can work wonders if you use modern science to clear away insect pests—and which need fertilizers but not labour, because the labour is on the spot. There are great numbers of trained soldiers of the East and West African Imperial native armies who are accustomed to using mechanized equipment, who can drive tractors and so on. That ground nuts plan to produce £10,000,000 worth of food fats could be multiplied several times in East and West Africa, given the drive, the vision and the determination. That is another estate which we can cultivate, and it is within the sterling area. To do so would be to bring great benefit to the African peoples; money would be brought into those areas and we should be able to provide a re-insurance against some of the evils and dangers of which the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and other noble Lords have warned us. I am glad to see that my noble friend the Leader of the House has come in. I have been congratulating the Government on the African ground nuts production plan. I want that to be increased and multiplied many times over in Africa, not only for ground nuts but for many other food products which we need as a re-insurance.

The situation, of course, is as serious as noble Lords have painted it. To-day, all shipments of cattle from Ireland cease owing to lack of coal; that is, £12,000,000 worth of cattle from Ireland, which is in the sterling area. That is a very serious loss. We have just sold one of the great assets that remained to us in South America—namely, the Argentine Railways. I believe that we got a good price and that we struck a good bargain, and I think the Argentine Government have been fair and just. But now that that asset has gone we shall in future have to pay (I am leaving out of account the few investments we have left) for everything we get from the Argentine by goods which we send from here and which the Argentine people want. With our other needs for export markets, we may not always be able to provide those goods. The situation certainly can be serious in eighteen months' time and we have not a day to lose, for, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has reminded us, all agricultural processes are slow and no man has yet discovered how to produce cattle more quickly than nature allows.

There is one more suggestion I want to make and I am very glad that my noble friend the Leader of the House has come in. If he accepts the situation as it has been outlined by noble Lords in this debate, and if he agrees that labour on the land is one of our greatest needs, is it not possible to exempt agricultural labourers from the military call-up? We have surely learned the lesson to be derived from the profligate recruiting of miners in 1940. We may rue it in eighteen months' time—as the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and other noble Lords have prophesied—if we take any agricultural workers from the land to-day to put them into khaki. I think there is a strong case there. I do beg my noble friend (who has, I know, been a very successful Minister of Agriculture himself and who has great knowledge of these matters) to bear that in mind. I do not, of course, expect a reply on the point now. We ought to be recruiting more people for the land, and in view of the threatening situation we ought to be embarking on a far more ambitious programme in all directions. I just said that I know nothing whatever about agriculture, and I never pretended to. I was a sailor, and one thing I was taught as a sailor was that when you put down your anchor you have got to put down your sheet anchor in case something happens to your cable. Agriculture is a sheet anchor, and I want to see it strong and efficient so that it may save this country from trouble.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, before I address myself to some of the more general topics raised in this debate, I owe it to the noble Lord who has just sat down to say something about the possibility of extending this African project for increasing our high-protein production within the sterling area. The difficulty one sees is that the only areas where this particular crop, the ground nut—which is the only short-term crop capable of giving this high-protein content, the oil palm being a very long business—will grow successfully depends on very special climatic conditions, very special soil conditions, and the application in concentrated form of mechanical methods; and above all you must avoid the disturbance of existing native communities. I know most of Africa, and it is very difficult to find places where all those conditions obtain. I think I know the bulk of British West Africa and a good bit of French West Africa. The ground nut belt there—perhaps the most important in the world apart from India—is extremely narrow, and you would soon get out of it. If you were to attempt to repeat that kind of experiment in land already under other crops and other cultivations, you could only do it by disturbing native owners and native tribes and upsetting the whole of their economy and tradition in starting something new. I think it will be wise to try this big experiment out before being too cocksure that you can repeat it elsewhere. Here you are going to take a very sparsely populated, low rain-fall, poor soil area which at present is covered with bush. Luckily, it is covered with bad bush which can be easily got up with the big bulldozers we have from the war. How long they will stand up to the work remains to be seen, but it requires high grade mechanical operations to get that land in a cultivatable state, and it will mean bringing in labour from very great distances.

The noble Lord spoke about science and the Panama as an example of how you can deal with disease. In Panama they have to deal with the mosquito. In this area you are not dealing with the mosquito but with the tsetse fly, and that is a very different pair of shoes. Remember that the mosquito can be attacked when it is an egg and when it is a larva in the water, before it hatches out. The tsetse fly is unique entomologically, in that the female tsetse does not lay eggs which become caterpillars, then chrysalises, and then the flies. It lays the hard chrysalis straight away and it is practically invulnerable to anything except extremely hot fire. You have a peculiar insect producing a peculiar disease, which bears no analogy to any other of these tropical diseases, although great research has been undertaken. I myself presided, in the Quai D'Orsay in Paris, over the International Research Conference on the subject of the tsetse fly many years ago. Periodically I read the papers dealing with this subject and, considering the number of brains that have been applied to it, I am staggered at the astonishingly small advances which have been made in fighting this most formidable enemy of man and all his good intentions, and which dominates all too much of the continent of Africa.

I did not rise to carry on that particular point of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, although I thought it necessary, in view of my wide knowledge of the Continent of Africa, to enter a word of caution, coupled, of course, with an expression of delight and hope that this big experiment in the hitherto derelict and practically unused area of Tanganyika Territory is possible, owing to the existence of trained native mechanics who will stand the climate, and the existence of large dumps of military engineering vehicles, bulldozers, and the like, and that we can blaze a new trail of great importance.


Would the noble Lord forgive my interrupting? I am very grateful to him for his remarks, but does not the tsetse fly attack only animals?


No, it attacks man.


But you can get over that by inoculation.


No, not a bit. No inoculation has been found against trichinosis. It is not a micro-organism, but a comparatively large thing which the tsetse implants into your blood. It breeds in the blood of man equally with animals, and causes one of the roost terrible epidemics. When we first went into Uganda hundreds of thousands of human beings died before we could segregate the population from contact with the tsetse fly. It is the most formidable business, and no inoculation is known against it. I want the noble Lord to be quite clear on his scientific facts before he holds out hope in that connexion. Nobody in the world has found a solution to that most formidable of tropical diseases.

Let me get back to the subject of the debate. What is our difficulty in this debate? It is that the noble Earl who replied for the Government spoke Departmentally. This is not a purely Ministry of Agriculture matter. Not merely one Department is concerned, and that is one of the troubles we are up against. It is the ever-increasing number of Ministries with their hierarchy departmental officials and servants. These co-ordinations are the things we have to fear to-day. As I see it, half the trouble of this crisis in which we are now over fuel and electricity is the absence of interdepartmental planning last year between the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Fuel and Power, not to mention the Board of Trade and those concerned with the export drive. I am not at all sure that we were wise in getting the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture to answer in this debate to-day. I am not at all sure that his place at the moment is not in the aeroplane with the Minister of Food, going over to Canada and America to make sure that things are not fixed up there over the table with the seed-producers of Canada and the United States to obtain their surpluses, which will not go to see development—and the proper and wise development—of British farming. That is the whole trouble. And what does it all come to? The Ministry of Agriculture can do nothing without the active co-operation of the Ministry of Food.

The noble Earl told us this afternoon about the various concessions recently announced, all concessions in regard to pigs and poultry—these little bits of increased foodstuffs which we have had before. Too many people were led up the garden path by these little encouragements. They even went farther, and told us to expand the livestock industry. A great pronouncement was made. Then the dollar position got tight; the source of overseas supply got tight and the whole thing had to be put in the melting pot again. It is not the fault of the Minister of Agriculture; it arises from the much wider view, and ultimately the long view, advanced by the people who have talked about housing and farm buildings, ploughing and agricultural machinery. If we are to have increased protein production and protein preservation in this country, we must have a lot of agricultural machinery and a lot of new material. It is utterly inconsistent with Sir Stafford Cripps' priority always for exports. The farmers cannot get even ploughs in some places in this country because of the priority for export.

Therefore it is not the Ministry of Agriculture we must address; it is the Leader of the House, the co-ordinator on behalf of the Government. We cannot deal with the agricultural problem in isolation: it is partly a manpower problem, partly a housing problem, partly a problem of Board of Trade and Ministry of Supply material. But, above all, at any moment it may be prejudiced by one or more of those conferences of the Ministry of Food, necessarily fighting for their lives, not for a long-term policy, but to keep the people of this country fed in the next few weeks. I do not say that I do not sympathize with the Minister of Food at the present time; he is up against it. But we are all up against it. We have forgotten how near the margin we are in maintaining our existing rations.

I come back to this: all you can do is to have co-ordinated planning for a long-term agricultural policy. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, asked for a definite statement, not to-day but as soon as possible, as to the Government's ploughing policy for next year. I agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down, and I am dreadfully afraid that the cultivation of land in this country is not going forward as it has since the war in Czechoslovakia and Belgium; it is going back, and we are going to lose acres under the plough. I come from the Welsh Border. My farm is about 700 feet above sea level, in a high rainfall area, and yet nobody is a more convinced believer in the plough than I am. I am a livestock farmer, but I believe in the plough for livestock even more than I believe in it for cereals. I am convinced that you cannot continue to increase productivity per acre, and get the land in heart, without modern scientific rotations and the far more concentrated production of feeding stuffs.

This year, on my own farm, I have again been compelled to grow wheat. If I am very lucky, and if we have a really lovely August—which we do not often get—it may be worth the seed that has been put in; but I tried it in the last war and in the previous one, and being 700 feet up and with forty inches of rainfall, the chances of a successful wheat crop are singularly remote. If those acres, which would have been ploughed in any case, had been put under more silage crops, arable silage crops, more kale and more roots, I should be doing more for the food production of this country than by attempting once again, after many failures, to grow wheat. I long to see more compulsory ploughing, but I do not want to see headquarter directions that it has to be so many acres of this crop or that. But do not leave it to me: leave it to the local agriculture committee which knows local conditions. Do not fix acreage from Whitehall. Let the arable areas in the Eastern counties and the Isle of Thanet grow barley year after year; let the East Riding of Yorkshire do it; but do not make us grow it in Wales. It is just silly. I am a great believer in the plough, and if there is an edict that we must plough up next year an additional 500,000 acres, I shall be glad of it.

A word about silage crops. A great deal more propaganda ought to be carried out through the National Farmers' Union, through young farmers' clubs and through the Ministry of Agriculture and its agents, to increase not so much cereal production for animal feeding as the various green crops, kale, roots and, above all, arable silages. At this moment, I am frost-bound, but I have a flock of ewes which are in lamb this week, next week and the week after, all on frost-bound ground. If I had not byres full of arable silage, chopped up fine and made with sugar before the harvest of last year, God help these wretched lambs in this weather! And the same with dairy cattle and the like.

We have to use new techniques. I want to see subsidies and assistance by the Government directed to the best modern practices in each area, rather than being granted under the old system of so much per acre. We have to be much more scientific to-day. As to the machinery, it is heart-breaking to see it bong sent abroad, when farms are held up for lack of these very machines from making advances in this country. Can we sustain this 100 per cent. drive to earn dollars, to import eventually more dried eggs, more bacon and more pig lard in future years, when the loan is run out, and neglect the proper mechanization of farms in this country? Can we put off mechanization sine die? It is tragic.

Now, as to housing. Rural district councils, according to the Minister of Health, are doing, if anything, better than cities, county boroughs and big boroughs in the provision of houses. What I want to know is how many of those houses are to be occupied by people who will have anything at all to do with agriculture? They are mostly to be occupied, I believe—certainly in many areas —by people who will work in the neighbouring towns, by the ever-growing clerical class, the ever-increasing hordes of secondary schoolboys, with school certificates, black coats and white collars. I know that this is a difficult problem. In the Eastern counties there is probably a long-standing traditional hatred of the tied cottage. We do not have that feeling in Wales. We live in homes which are much more scattered. The shepherd and the cowman, as a general rule, live on the farms and not in the villages. There is no feeling there about the tied cottage. Men's houses are on the farms where they work, or else they live in scattered hamlets.

I do suggest that this is a problem which has to be looked at from the points of view of all the different branches of the industry. Where you have, as in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, large tracts of arable land I see very little case for the tied cottage. But where the land is primarily devoted to animal-farming, to sheep and to dairy cattle, to have the people who look after those animals living miles away from them is—I will not say from the farmers' point of view, but from the point of view of the animals themselves—infernal cruelty. It is cruelty, too, to the man, when a cow calves in the middle of the night and he is pulled out of bed and has to cycle, it may be, three miles from a settlement which has been established by the rural district council, in order to help the poor old cow in her difficulties. That is not good enough. In places where animal husbandry is the chief concern, you must have your housing so placed that the workers live, so to speak, "on the job." That, I think, his not always been sufficiently realized.

I, personally, am all for improvement. It is vital that the standards of rural housing should be improved but, frankly, I think that we could build something better than the all-electric "prefabs." which are going through a pretty thin time just now in the bombed-out areas of our towns and cities. We could build something very much better without going quite to the fantastic lengths of the standards now demanded in the rural areas in matters of cubic space and the like. I agree that it is desirable to have two water lavatories in a house, but it is not absolutely necessary. So long as you have one, that is the great thing. If we are going to get a move on, with materials short, labour short and local authorities wondering what rents they are going to get from the agricultural tenants, we have got to be realists in this matter now, and must endeavour to achieve higher standards as soon as we can.

Do realize that the expansion of food production of all kinds is one of the No. 1 priorities of the nation at this moment. Do not be too definite, but say that what is wanted is the expansion of total production. Every pig we can raise, every egg that can be laid, every extra gallon of milk that can be obtained, every male calf that can be reared and not slaughtered at birth—as thousands are slaughtered now—will be an asset to this country. The Government have realized what we have got into with regard to the shortage of coal, but do they realize what we are going to be up against when the American loan runs out? It is clear that in India there may be troubles of such a kind that enormous quantities of food will have to be sent there. The whole world is short of foodstuffs. Standards of living in China and other countries, to-day, are appallingly low, in consequence of the upset resulting from the War, the dislocation of trade and commerce, the taking from the land of some of the best material to fight in all the armies. Look at French agriculture to-day. It has been bled white of its manpower.

The stoppage of the supply of fertilizers is another very serious factor. The world outlook for food is grim. The outlook for Britain for food, not this winter but next winter and the winter after, is grim indeed. It is only by co-ordination and inter-Departmental planning, not merely by leaving it to the Ministry of Agriculture, that we can possibly pull through. I am, not making any Party point. I do hope that the Government—all Departments of it that touch this subject—will get together and make a co-ordinated drive. The Ministry of Health, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Fuel and Power (for electrification), should all get together to see what they can do to put into operation a long-term agricultural policy. The Government's Bill is all right, but it is just a Bill, It will not produce a single ounce more of food. It is merely a frame. Fill in the frame with real food, real cultivation and real drive. Put your backs into this effort, and help everybody who is interested in the old business of making two blades of grass grow where one grew before, in rearing two calves instead of one, in getting our animal population increased, and in seeing that the land is producing to the maximum extent that is possible.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to keep you long at this late hour. As you know, I am not one who as a rule detains the House by making lengthy speeches. I have not very much to say, because I have never before attended a debate in your Lordships' House in which I have found myself in so great agreement with every single speaker, starting with the noble Lord who moved the Motion—and with whom I once thought it very unlikely I would ever agree—and going on to all the other speakers. I feel, however, that there is one important point which needs to be made. The agriculture of this country has had a very thin time for a great many years, and it needs an enormous amount of re-equipping. It needs modernizing on a vast scale.

My right to speak in this debate arises from the fact that I have just become the latest recruit to the ranks of farmers, having bought a 400-acre farm. I have found that it is equipped with a most magnificent set of medieval farm buildings and a beautiful Elizabethan cow-house. However, antiquarians who wish to study such things need not go so far as my corner of West Wales because they will find that almost every other farm along the way is equipped in an exactly similar fashion. What is more, they will discover that if they point out defects to the farmers, the farmers will answer: "Yes, we know, but we have not got the money to put things right." They will also, perhaps, say to the farmers: "You do not seem to have many cattle," and the reply they will get from the farmers will not, generally, be to the effect that it is because they cannot get any cattle food. In point of fact, there is quite a sufficient acreage in this country if properly treated, to feed any number of cows, or, at any rate, a number well above what we now have. They will answer that they have not the money to buy the cattle, and that, if they had the money to buy the cattle which the land could carry, they have not the money to buy the grass-drying machinery and the silos. It is no good making silage unless you have the silo to put it in.

I am not going to ask our leaders on the Front Bench to divert large quantities of ploughs and other mechanical mobile equipment to our home agriculture, much as I would like to. I feel a very great temptation to do so, but you can get a certain amount of machinery with some considerable amount of trouble from the agriculture committees, and this will keep agriculture turning—perhaps not after the fashion we should like, but still turning. However, the agriculture committees will new lend you the silo, nor will they lend you the grass-drying plant. I would particularly like to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to this, and to the fact that we need a very much higher priority given to these items.

I believe the time has now come when we need a revolutionary outlook on this undoubtedly revolutionary situation, as my noble friend Lord Strabolgi said earlier in the debate, when he ventured ashore for a while. I believe the time has come when the Government of this country have got to go into financial partnership with the farmers. I believe the Government have got to make up to the farmers financially for the very great financial strain which they have had to suffer in the many years that have passed. I would like to recommend to His Majesty's Government that there should be an Agricultural Loan Fund to be administered on the recommendations of the Agricultural Committee, and that this should be made available to progressive farmers who are capable of using it, and to less rogressive but good sound technical farmers to stock their fields as they should be stocked, and to equip their lands with the silos and the other food-producing machinery which they need.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, it has done my heart good to listen to this discussion. Except for the figure which the noble Lord put in, and on which I shall have a few words to say, I can even fancy myself having moved this Motion lots of times.

Apart from the particular items relating to the dollar situation, it is a theme which I can honestly say I have been preaching for twenty-five years, so that it is most refreshing to hear it dealt with from all sides of the House as we have heard it this afternoon. I was particularly gratified, if I may say so, to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, said. He and I have discussed this subject before. I well remember that in 1929 and 1930 I introduced a Bill called the Agricultural Land (Utilization) Bill—and there was a noble Earl now sitting opposite me who was a very able and learned assistant all the time—and another Bill which was called the Agricultural Marketing Bill.

With regard to the first, I think I must remind the noble Lord of his past. If he looks at some of his speeches he made on my Bills, he will find that they do not accord very well with the one he made this afternoon. But I say this, as to the Marketing Bill—and I acknowledge this quite freely: When he really realized what it was, he dealt with it very helpfully; but at first he was extraordinarily critical. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord's speech—he has become a really good Socialist.


Never on your life!


No, but the difference is a matter of terms if one thinks of all the drastic things the noble Lord wants to do, with any one of which I do not think I disagree. They could be done only by drastic Government Orders, in one form or another. The agency which the noble Lord relies upon, and I agree with him completely, is the initiative and action of the county committees. I think he is right. This direction can only be given by people who are on the spot, and who know the land, know what it will do and what it will not do, and what it requires, and all that. Noble Lords opposite may not call it Socialism, but, at all events, it is far removed from individualism. It is a scheme of production on very sound lines which is, nevertheless, directed and organized by the organized forces of society. Your Lordships oppsite may not call it Socialism, and I, for my part, do not care a bit what you call it, so long as you get these jobs done. This scheme of things is miles removed from the kind of things which the noble Lord and myself had to listen to fifteen years ago. It is very refreshing that that has been left behind.

I agree with the noble Lord that it is not a Departmental problem. He is quite right when he says this is a matter which involves the policy of the whole Government. These things cannot be done in isolation, and I shall have a word or two to say about that before I finish. I think that he did a little less than justice to what some of the county borough councils or rural councils are doing with regard to new housing schemes. I have never heard of housing schemes where it is expected that "the men will live miles away from their animals," to quote the noble Lord's words. It seems to me supremely foolish for anybody to contemplate anything of that sort. It is true that there is a movement, and a very sound movement, to get the rural houses more or less near the villages. But at the same time we all know that the men who have to look after the livestock must be near their livestock. Of course they must; that is obvious. But, as to the rest of the farm workers, one of the big disabilities in times past has been the large number of cottages that are up lanes and across fields and all the rest of it—just a sea of mud in the winter time. Women naturally object to going there and to their children having to cross fields to get to school.

Therefore it is agreed that, so far as a large proportion of the cottages are concerned, they should be in or near the villages where they can have the amenities of village life—buses and all the rest of it. That is the sensible thing to do, and that is the policy which is now being pursued. I am glad to know that in many areas the rural district committees are making very good headway. The premium at present on the occupation of the cottage by the agricultural worker is that the subsidy is accordingly increased to those who get it. Whether it will be adequate or not I think remains to be seen. I can assure the noble Earl that we shall not hesitate to adopt other methods if it is not adequate. It is quite clear that provision must be made for an additional number of rural workers. That is quite evident, and nobody wishes to escape from it.

I am glad that the noble Lord, who has first-hand knowledge of the matter, dealt with the dangers or risks which may be inherent in the existence of the tsetse fly over this large area which it is proposed to clear. I understand that burning the bush is the most effective way of dealing with them. Whether that will prove completely effective or not remains to be seen. At all events, it is an experiment that all of us who have looked into the matter are satisfied is well worth making. If in the end we can, as we hope, enormously increase our fat supplies from ground nuts from our own Colonies, it will prove a very sensible undertaking, and we shall only regret not having done it before. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Strabolgi that we must open our eyes and see if we cannot make better use of many of these great Colonial territories. This is a beginning, and I think, on the whole, a very sensible beginning. It is being entrusted to men who know the job, and I sincerely hope they will make a success of it.

With regard to one question which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked me, I can tell him that no agricultural workers will be called up before the coming harvest. As for the rest, the matter is under very careful consideration. We are fully aware of the importance of the points he raises. Of course, we have to be very careful how we proceed to make exemptions, but I can give him that assurance. As to the general case put by the mover of the Motion and the noble Earl. Lord De La Warr, I cannot say that I differ from them very much. They made the kind of speech that I have often made myself. I am not proposing to object to the Motion, except that we must not be committed to the figure, because I do not consider the figure is correct. I will give the reason in a minute.

I think there is some little confusion, or there might be to those who do not understand the matter so well as the noble Earl, as to what he said about ploughing up. He knows as well as I do that a large acreage of the area that has been ploughed up is now put down to ley—some one, two or three years leys. There is no doubt that the they enormously increases the stock-carrying capacity of the land. I am sure that the noble Lord on his Welsh farm has proved that many times. I quite agree that we have not done anything like enough. We learned a lot in the war as to the value of ploughing up even, in many cases, what seemed to be fairly good grass. That is a line of development which the Ministry are determined to pursue. That is, to my mind, the first line of attack in increasing our feeding stuffs for animals, because I have myself seen the stock-carrying capacity of acreage increased four, five and six times, and even more, by a re-lay of good grass, or even by direct re-seeding with the right kind of seed. The noble Lord said that in time to come we might be facing a food crisis in the world.


In this country.


I would not like to say that in time to come there may not be considerable justification for that warning. Let us look at the position. During the war, or as a result of the war, there has been a very great and profound change in this matter. The demand for food by people all over the world has increased enormously. There are hundreds of millions of people, particularly in the East, who have been underfed—terribly badly fed—almost from time immemorial. That is a fair statement. There is now—and it has been manifested very much in the demands put before the International Food Organization—an enormously increased demand all over the world for food, and an increased retention of food in many of the countries which grow it and which previously exported it. Therefore, I am quite sure that the noble Lord is right when he says that this country must put its back into it and produce as much food as it possibly can. I do not object in the least if he likes to prod the Government from time to time if he thinks we require prodding. I am sure that he will not hesitate. He is never backward in these matters.

All I have to say is that at the present moment we are as much alive to the necessities as he is; we are fully seized of the necessities. We are determined to do whatever we can to encourage this country to continue on the course on which it started in the war—because in my opinion it only started then—I mean the adequate and proper utilization of the land of our own country. We are just beginning to develop some of these possibilities in many districts. Anyhow, everybody recognizes—and nobody more so than His Majesty's Government—that we have to put every effort into increasing home production for the possibilities of increase are there. It is only a matter of time and of some difficulty in getting them realized.

I understand that the acreage for wheat this year is expected to be about two and a half millions. This is considerably more than the acreage there used to be of wheat, and it may well be that, in forcing up the acreage of wheat, as the noble Lord quite truly said, a good deal of arable land has been cultivated for wheat which would be better used for other purposes. I think that is true. Therefore, we must be very careful that we do not mislead ourselves by mere acreages. It depends what you are ploughing up. I myself—both in the war and now—have never been an enthusiast for ploughing up a lot of indifferent land. I know myself quite a number of cases where the harvest that was reaped barely paid the cost of what was put into it. So do not let us be misled by mere acreages.

What we have to do is to improve the methods of farming. There, I think, the noble Lord was right. He said, "We want better farming"—I think that was the expression he used. We have not had much better farming than we have had in time past. When I say that I am not disparaging the existing farmers, but we are aware that the best farmers know we can do a lot better still. As I happen to know, the noble Lord himself is an exceptionally good farmer. He knows, and he has told us how much more can be done. We hope that the county agriculture committees will diligently spread these lessons. The establishment of the Advisory Service which is now just beginning will, I hope, very soon spread the lessons which some of our farmers learned during the war and which others can still learn. We fully accept that what we have to do is to use our county committees to improve the standard of farming. I would, however, like to say this to noble Lords, and I have said it before lots of times. One of the big obstacles in many parts of the world—and my noble friend behind me referred to it—is the deplorable state of farm buildings and the entirely inadequate equipment. Before we can get that right in full country it will cost hundreds of millions of pounds, and that is no exaggeration. We have to face up to that, but it is a long job and will take up a great many years. If I may say so, we have to make up for the neglect of many generations of the past.

With regard to the figure mentioned by the noble Earl, let me say this. I believe he has close associations in the City, and I am always a little timid at crossing swords with him on a matter of figures. The figure he gave—£100,000,000—is a nice round figure, and I expect that is one of the reasons why it was chosen. But it has not necessarily any closer relation to the realities because it is a nice round figure. I have been studying a detailed calculation that was made during the war as to the possible increase of food in this country—this was made not by this Government, but it was made under a very active, and almost aggressive Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Hudson—and the maximum under certain conditions which I will mention in a moment was £80,000,000.


Was that prewar value money?


I am going to give all the figures in a minute. There were certain conditions attached to it. The first condition was that it would depend—that is, the possibility of this increased production—on there being sufficient pro vision of additional capital for both landlord and tenant. I am sure that is a very sound condition, but that means the provision of buildings, modern equipment, and all the rest of it, which is clearly a long-term business. The second condition was that high priority be given to farm buildings, including cottages without which the programme could not be achieved. I entirely agree with that, and the progress in rural districts, at all events, is a good indication of the importance we attach to it. The difficulty at the present time is that the country has not enough timber available, amongst other things. My noble friend behind me knows more about these things than I do, and he spoke about them the other day So far as we can, we shall certainly help to redeem these deficiencies, but there is an immense shortage of material for building, and there will be, it seems to me, a shortage for some time to come. Timber is a particular shortage, but there are others too. Then the third condition was that there should be no undue shortage of labour. To say that there is no shortage of labour to-day would indeed be to make a sanguine statement. We have to do everything we can to remedy the labour shortage, but if you imagine what the position would be to-day if there were no German prisoners—




I think it would be pretty bad in a good many districts so there is clearly now and in immediate prospect a shortage of labour, and one likely to be for some time. That means that we must place more emphasis upon the provision of machinery. The next condition was a substantial measure of control to be exercised for farming operations. There seems to be no difference of opinion about that, and I hope that the Bill which is coming to us in due course will deal satisfactorily with it. Then, farmers must have an assured market. Two of those conditions we can fairly well say that we can see our way to fulfilling, but the first three, no.

Then as to the £80,000,000, I understand the basis was on pre-war prices, with a certain allowance, so that it would not be far wrong to say that the £80,000,000 then expressed was estimated to be the maximum increased production at those prices. If all those conditions were fulfilled, plus another condition which I am going to mention—


I could not possibly ask the noble Viscount to give me an answer now, but would he be prepared to discuss with his colleagues the possible publication of this obviously important document? I think the noble Viscount would agree that if possible the House should have the benefit of this document.


I will gladly make inquiries into that. Naturally I am quoting from figures that are made available to me, and I am therefore quoting, so far as I know, from very authoritative calculations. I will gladly make the inquiry, but I cannot at the moment be held to make any promise. There was a further condition which I would like the House to think about. The condition was that that £80,000,000 would only be produced if the people continued to eat no more than they did pre-war, because it is evident that if people eat more, and drink more milk, and that kind of thing, that increase would absorb much of the £80,000,000. There is not one member of this House who would be satisfied with the position where the people did not drink more milk than they did in 1938. We all know they ought to drink more milk, and they are drinking more milk—and the noble Lord opposite has had a share in that. People are drinking more liquid milk, and I hope they will continue to do so.

We all know that there were millions of people in this country—and this is not an exaggeration—who did not previously get a sufficiency of the right kind of food. We hope that that will not recur. We must try and fight the dangers which the noble Earl quite properly warns us against, but I want the House to bear in mind that this £80,000,000, which it was calculated could be produced as a maximum, was contingent upon the people not eating more of their home-produced supplies than they did before the war. I am quite sure that is an expectation which not one noble Lord hopes will be realized. It will not be realized. I think the people will eat more, and I hope that they will. If they do, this additional amount will pro tanto not be available. Therefore, in my opinion, with the best will in the world, I am bound to say the noble Earl's round figure is not one that can be made good by any precise calculation with which I have been able to acquaint myself. I am sure that we can produce a lot more—and nobody would wish to deny it—by some of the methods that we have been talking about this afternoon. However, I do not think for a minute, allowing for the fact that the people will eat more than they did, and particularly that they will drink more milk, that it will be anything like the figure that the noble Earl postulates. I hope it will be, but I cannot possibly be held as accepting that. That is a very important qualification. Apart Production from that qualification I have not any objection to the noble Lord's Motion.


Before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask at what date was the £80,000,000 to which he referred? Was it not: pre-war?


No, January 17, 1945.


I think the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, is saying that it was £80,000,000 at pre-war values.


That is the point I was trying to make. Before the noble Viscount definitely says he does not accept the Motion, may I ask if he realizes —he will correct me if I am wrong—that £80,000,000 at pre-war values would be something like £140,000,000 now, or perhaps £150,000,000?


Yes, the noble Lord is quite right to put that question. I knew there was a qualification, but I wanted to confirm it by reference. The calculation of quantities was at pre—war price, but the total value I have quoted was made up at January, 1945, values.


We have had a very long and interesting debate and I am extremely grateful to all those noble Lords who have taken part in it. I am also very grateful for the replies given by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I was glad to see that the noble Earl fully agreed with the urgency of my request. It seems that both he and the Leader of the House agree with the Motion except for this figure of £l00,000,000. It seems that that is the obstacle in the way of the acceptance of this Motion. I know there are difficulties in achieving a saving of the figure I have mentioned, but the position is one of enormous gravity and one in which we have to try to do something which perhaps for the moment seems impossible.

Some noble Lords will remember that in the time of the late Government I asked time and time again that the farmers might be given a discretion to feed to their animals up to so per cent of what they grew, but that request was refused every time. As I understand it now, some discretion is going to be given to farmers — I am not quite sure what percentage—as to maintaining their animals on a certain percentage of their produce, or a discretion as to what they feel they should give to the animals on their farms. Am I right in that?


I think myself that the new agriculture committees will certainly give that discretion, but they will be in charge of the general working of the scheme.


I was also very glad to hear the concern which was expressed in regard to fertility. There is no doubt that fertility has been sadly depleted in the last few years, and it is, after all, only natural. I regret that the Government cannot accept this Motion.


We are accepting it with the exception of the figure of £100,000,000.


I did not realize that. I am extremely grateful that the Government accept the Motion with a verbal qualification as to the £100,000,000.


It is very important.


I hope that £100,000,000 will be the figure which the Government will try to attain. I believe that if they try as hard as we hope they will, their aim and our hope will be achieved. I again thank the noble Lords on the Government Front Bench for the kindly way in which they have received this Motion, and I am most grateful that they have accepted it with the verbal qualification about the £100,000,000. Accordingly, I will withdraw my original Motion and move it without the figures.

Moved to resolve, That in view of the rapid exhaustion of our dollar credits and the large gap, present and prospective, in our balance of payments, it is urgently necessary to initiate steps to assist farmers to increase food production at home, and especially to change over our agricultural programme to producing the greatest possible quantity of livestock and other high priced food stuffs with the aim of saving foreign exchange for the purchase of the raw materials needed to keep our factories working.—(Lord Teviot.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.