§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.108
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON)
My Lords, I feel that it is a great privilege for me to be here to-day to introduce this important measure to your Lordships' House. Many people—some of them among noble Lords in this House—have contributed to the principles which underlie this Bill. Particularly should I like to call to mind the contribution of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, Lord Addison, who through the years when agriculture was not very much in the picture, sowed seeds which are now reaping a rich harvest. Great credit is also due to various noble Lords and members of the Opposition Party and to members of the Liberal Party who have also brought ideas and expounded principles which have been acted on. But I must say that finally it has fallen to the Labour Party and to my right honourable friend, the Minister of Agriculture, to select the best of these ideas, to put them together, to bring this measure into being, and to present it to Parliament.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has said—and here I think I can express the feelings of all your Lordships when I say we welcome him back very warmly from his tour to the Antipodes, where he has done so much good in his contacts—this is the Great Charter for British agriculture. It has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, that we have a plethora of charters; but I suggest to your Lordships that this is a very great one; in fact, if one might use an agricultural term, this is a grade A charter. What I think has given us the greatest satisfaction is the way in which this Bill has been welcomed by all sections of the community, by all sections of the industry, and by all political Parties. The major provisions and principles which underlie this Bill have been welcomed by the Central Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union, the agricultural workers' unions, and in fact, by everyone who participates in the industry.
It is, too, a remarkable thing that the election manifestos of the three different Parties are almost unanimous in what they advocate for agriculture; and if your Lordships will forgive me for a moment whilst reading a paragraph or two—because I do not wish to misrepresent any of the Parties, particularly when they 109 agree with us—I would like to say what are the main features. All Parties stressed the necessity of planning for stable conditions in the industry, which would allow the farmer to look ahead to the future with confidence, and get on with his job of providing agricultural products needed by the nation, instead of living from hand to mouth, as he did in the years between the two world wars, always wondering how it would be possible to overcome the next difficulty. They emphasized, too, the need for the greatest possible efficiency in the industry. The various manifestos also acclaimed the remarkable success of the war-time experiment of agricultural executive committees. They agreed that any policy should take advantage of the experience that had been gained and make these committees a permanent feature of the agricultural industry.
There are two other things to which I should like to call to your Lordships' attention. The first is a remarkable document issued by the Royal Agricultural Society for England in 1941, as to which, I think, Lord Courthope played an important part, in which farmers, agricultural workers, landowners and professional organizations unanimously stressed these same fundamental purposes. Especially, and finally, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a memorandum issued in 1943 by a group of Peers under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. This document carried the signatures of Peers of all Parties, including the Leader of the House. In it, if I may again quote by reading the: beginning, they say:If we want a prosperous countryside, we must be prepared not only to accept, but actively to bring about the changes it entails. Happy-go-lucky farming, chaotic distribution, and the landowner who is a mere rent receiver; these are not the things which we can enjoy or endure, and at the same time have a prosperous countryside. We must choose one or the other. Our choice is definitely for the prosperous countryside.The Government's choice is also for a prosperous countryside, and we believe that this Bill provides the necessary machinery to enable that goal to be achieved.
Inevitably the Bill cannot cover all the matters dealt with in that report. There are such things as the marketing of produce. Obviously the distribution of food is vital to the agricultural industry, but it cannot be dealt with in this Bill. It is 110 at present more within the province of the Minister of Food; but it is a matter which will have to be dealt with at another time. But still talking of this Report, with regard to points dealing with the best use of land, with ownership, management and husbandry, I think your Lordships will find that the principles incorporated in this Bill are very much the same as the Report. For example, the Report suggested that minimum standards of good estate management and good husbandry should be laid down, and that landowners and farmers who were unwilling or unable to comply with those minimum standards should make way for others who could do so. The Report also envisaged the setting up of a Land Commission to manage land acquired by the State in one way or another. The Report stressed the necessity of modernizing the law relating to landlord and tenant and bringing it into conformity with modern conditions. I would again remind your Lordships that all these matters dealt with by this group of Peers as long ago as 1943, have been adopted and incorporated into this Bill. I should also like to say that we have examined them and had very full consultation with the industry. From the first moment when we set out to draw up this Bill, we consulted the various sections of the industry, and threshed out the questions which arose. There was also very thorough examination in another place, and as a result of this discussion and examination many constructive suggestions were made. Many of them have been adopted, either as they were or modified, and have been incorporated into the Bill. And one can indeed say that the Bill has had a surprisingly good welcome from all concerned.
Now, if I may, I should like to give our ideas behind the Bill—what we look to agriculture to do and what we are trying to do for agriculture. In the opinion of His Majesty's Government agriculture is not a self-contained industry that can be considered as an isolated unit; it is part of a complex pattern which is formed by the economy of the country; just as this country, cannot be looked at as a separate unit, but as part of the very complex pattern of the nations of this world—and that pattern, my Lords, is painted in rather sombre colours. In fact we think that, if we are going to get the good standard of life which we want for the people of this 111 country, we must re-model our economy very drastically; and the crying need, in regard to which I do not think there can be any disagreement, is that agriculture must become as efficient as possible. In fact, you will find on examination of the Bill that efficiency is the keynote of the whole measure. It is the criterion on which every clause has been judged; it is the touchstone upon which all our ideas have been tested. Second to the efficient use of the land we have been considering the prosperity of those engaged in the industry. When I say "second" it is only because we believe that the two are closely interlinked—that you cannot have prosperity without efficiency, and that efficiency will lead to prosperity.
There is a third point, which is not so obvious, but one to which we attach considerable importance, and that is the outlook or state of mind of those engaged in the industry. We think that such things as decent houses, water supply, electricity, transport, shopping facilities, are all extremely important. But as well as those we want to try to introduce into the industry friendliness, a harmony of outlook, so that we can get the different sections of the industry working together happily and realizing that the prosperity of each individual section is bound up in the prosperity of the whole industry. In this respect, I think the experiment in war time of the almost self-governing functions of the agricultural executive committees has pointed the direction which we should follow.
Having perhaps created a little diversion by dealing with the philosophy behind the Bill, I would like now to try to show how the Bill itself is going to bring our ideas into practice. In Part I, we have started out to remove the dread which hangs over every farmer, and has hung over every farmer in the past—the dread that, although he may contend successfully against the many perils of agriculture, those of weather, of disease, and so on, he may, even if he manages to overcome all these, find when he harvests his grain and the results come in, that through a fall in prices in outside markets, all his efforts have been rendered useless. In order to give a sense of security and confidence to the industry, we have provided in Part I an assured market and guaranteed prices for the most 112 important products of the agricultural industry. For this purpose, we are continuing as a permanent feature the annual agricultural price reviews which have been held every February. As most of your Lordships know, when these reviews are conducted, prices are fixed after the industry is consulted.
Crop prices are actually fixed in the year previous to that in which they are to be harvested, while the actual prices of fat stock, milk and eggs are fixed for a year ahead with minimum prices laid down from two to four years ahead. The object is to enable a farmer when he sows his grain to know the price he will get for the crops when he collects his harvest, and to enable him when he rears his cattle to know well ahead the minimum prices which they will produce. He will know that the market will not collapse, and that he will not be under the threat of loss through fluctuation of prices. Thus, I do claim that here we can be almost boastful. We can, I think, say that no Government could give greater assistance to the agricultural industry than will be given by an assured market and these Government guaranteed prices. The guarantee is being given in respect of the most important products, something like 75 per cent. of the total output in agriculture. I should like to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that the Minister has power to add to the list of these products which appear in the First Schedule to the Bill. But he has not the power to take products away from the Schedule; so the farmer has secured that, short of another Act of Parliament, these products which are actually listed will remain on the Schedule and under the guarantee.
I am sure that some of your Lordships will have noticed—I know that Lord Bledisloe has done so, for he has kindly called attention to it—that there is one very serious omission from the Bill. That of course is horticulture. I would say very strongly that horticulture is very much in the minds of His Majesty's Government at the present time, and the fact that it has been left out of this Bill is merely because of the difficulty of devising some scheme which will provide the right form of security to that part of the industry. Owing to the difficulty of producing an appropriate measure, the seasonal nature of the trade and the 113 perishability of the produce, it is extremely difficult to guarantee fixed prices for horticultural produce as you can in the cases of, say, wheat or barley. But we are examining the position and conversations are now proceeding. We hope that eventually it will be possible to take steps to give the industry economic security, enabling it to develop on sound and and stable lines. I should like also to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that in the past the only security that could be provided was through tariffs. Conversations are of course going on at Geneva on this very subject. These conversations are not concluded, so one cannot say very much about the matter at the present moment. But clearly the result must be very important to the horticultural industry. Apart from that, however, we fully recognize the need for security in the future.
One other question which I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice also comes under Part I. As I have said, we are giving this guarantee, and in another place certain objections were raised and prolonged discussions took place with regard to the phrase "quantitative limitation." It was suggested that quantitative limitation was too much of a handicap. I should like to try to explain to your Lordships what we have in mind in this connexion. I think it is clear to everybody that in the immediate future we need all the food that we can possibly produce in this country. There is no question at all about that. The reason why we have put in this limitation is that this is not a short-term measure. It is, in fact, a long-term measure. The Treasury, on behalf of the British taxpayer, are undertaking a very big responsibility in the matter of the guarantee which it is proposed to give to ensure prosperity to the industry. His Majesty's Government feel that there must be some power to limit this guarantee in possible unforeseen circumstances in the future. This is not an immediate thing. But it is providing a reserve against possibilities, a limitation with respect to the distant future. But in order to give confidence to the agricultural industry, we have gone as far as we can.
My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, in the Third Reading debate in another place, said that His Majesty's Government were prepared to accept an unrestricted liability of assur- 114 ing a market for the whole output of the guaranteed price commodities, for as far ahead as can reasonably be foreseen, subject only to two reservations—sugar beet and oats. The reason for the reservations was this. Obviously it would be useless to encourage the production of sugar beet to a greater extent than the factories can absorb. That is to say, the limiting factor is the processing capacity of the existing sugar beet factories. In the case of oats there is a special difficulty in that it is on the whole much more a fodder than a cash crop. With these two exceptions we do go as far as we can. Further we can add other products if it is deemed fitting to do so, and it might be that were new products added it would be advisable to limit the amounts produced.
Now I wish to pass from Part I to Part II of the Bill. As I have said, we are giving considerable security to the industry, but we expect something in return. As your Lordships know, there is a very limited amount of land in this country, and that, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, ought to be used in the best possible way and cultivated with the maximum of efficiency. Therefore we have insisted as a return for these guarantees that farmers and land owners must maintain reasonable standards of good husbandry and efficient estate management. That is the key to the second Part of the Bill—to ensure that our land shall be properly farmed; that the farmer shall have a chance to manage his land efficiently, the estate management and equipment being appropriate to enable him to do this.
I do not want your Lordships to look on this as a sort of threatening gesture or anything of that kind. It is indeed a helpful gesture. In this connexion I would like to mention the institution of the National Agricultural Advisory Service and the Agricultural Land Service. I think very few people realize what a great benefit those services will be and how far reaching their activities may become. By means of the advisory service we can advise any farmer on his problems. If the questions prove to be difficult—some queer disease may appear—the district officer can refer it back to the Regional Officer, who may refer it to the research laboratory; and in this way, immediately a problem arises on the field, it can be referred to the best scientific experts and 115 an answer brought back to the farmer. It will be a two-way traffic. The research workers will get immediate information as to the problems and dangers affecting the farm. In the same way the Agricultural Land Service will advise on estate management, farm buildings and so on.
We hope when the services are finally under way that they will be fully appreciated and used. If the efficient assistance given freely to the farmers is not used, there is, ultimately, power in this part of the Bill to put a farmer under supervision. Again this is not necessarily an unfriendly, threatening gesture; it is a helpful one. The farmer will be given every possible assistance when under supervision and if it were thought his husbandry was extremely bad he could be directed as to what he should grow and how he should plan his production. It is only after this supervision has been continued for at least twelve months that it would be possible for the Committee to recommend his dispossession. He has of course the right to take his case to the Minister or the Minister's agent and finally if dispossession were decided on he would have the right to appeal to an independent tribunal. The important point of this is that the final decision of this appeal tribunal is binding on the Minister as much as on the farmer or landlord as the case may be. The decision of the appeal tribunal is absolutely final. There is nothing in this part of the Bill for the good owner or good farmer to fear and even the bad owner and bad farmer has every opportunity to improve his farming.
Part III of the Bill deals with agricultural holdings and it is the most complicated part of the Bill. I do not propose to go through it in detail as it will probably be discussed in Committee, but I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 31, on security of tenure. This has had a certain amount of discussion in another place. Under the 1923 Act a landlord was liable to pay compensation if he turned out his tenant, and it was envisaged at the time that this would be a deterrent and that in practice a certain amount of security in tenure would be provided. In the opinion of His Majesty's Government, and of the National Farmers' Union, this deterrent is not sufficient, and in fact in the case of 116 very wealthy landowners it would obviously not mean very much. We have therefore devised other means which would provide security of tenure to the farmer. As I have said, the efficient use of land has been our criterion and if we are going to have the land farmed efficiently we must provide some reasonable security of tenure to good farmers so that they can look ahead and plan production effectively.
We decided that the best means of achieving the purpose was that, should a landlord give notice to quit to a tenant and a tenant should object, it would not become valid until the Minister gave his consent. That is the fundamental principle of our plan. Furthermore, in order to produce a uniformity in the administration of this, it was thought best to provide some formula which would guide the committees and tribunal so that the whole country will work this rather difficult provision uniformly. Therefore under subsection (3) of the clause we lay down certain cases where the Minister is able to grant notice to quit. I would like to mention that this clause was originally drawn much tighter than it is now, but after discussion in another place my right honourable friend thought it more reasonable to widen the provisions of the clause and Amendments were introduced accordingly. The Minister can grant notice to quit in three cases. Firstly, if in his opinion it is necessary to provide more efficient farming. This is farming generally and not farming in any particular holding. It has a very wide interpretation. Secondly, if the land is wanted for agricultural research or education or for some other important agricultural need. And thirdly, if an owner when he created the tenancy had some other intention which he wished to carry out in the future: an obvious example is that of an owner who bought a farm for his son in the Forces, intending it for the use of his son when he came back. In those circumstances the Minister may give his consent to a notice to quit if the hardship would be greater in withholding consent rather than giving it. I think, if it is agreed that it is desirable to give security of tenure to the good farmer, that this is probably far the best, if not the only, way in which it can be done.
I go on to Part IV. This embodies the smallholdings policy of the Govern- 117 ment. I think the important and interesting point in this part is the fact that for the first time smallholdings have become part of agricultural policy. Before, they have been used as a social policy, either to reward Service men or to meet unemployment; but now we look on smallholdings as part of the agricultural industry. We wish to use smallholdings as a ladder for the agricultural worker. In the past there has been almost no means whereby an agricultural worker who has saved up a little capital can get his own land or holding, and we hope in this Bill to help the agricultural worker, with generous grants from the Government, to get his smallholding so that if he is efficient he will be able to make a success of it and rise in the industry to have a big farm. This part of the Bill will be administered by the county councils subject to supervision by the Minister. One thing we particularly want to encourage is the spirit of co-operation. The future of smallholdings would be enormously benefited by the enlargement of the co-operative system. We want to use the very valuable experience of the Welsh Land Settlement Society and of the Land Settlement Association and to encourage further ventures of this kind. Quite a lot has been done in horticulture, and in some cases very successfully.
Part V, the final Part of the Bill, contains the provisions for carrying out this policy. The most important part is perhaps that the war agricultural executive committees are to be made permanent. They are going to be the linchpin of our whole policy. I would like to say here that I think it is impossible to overrate the importance we attach to the work of those committees. During the war they did a magnificent job and we are going to use them in the role of agents of the Minister for carrying out our present policy. We have two principles in mind in regard to this. In the first place we want to get every section of the industry represented on the committees; we want every voice to be heard and every viewpoint to be expressed; but once the members have been chosen they become the agents of the Minister and they are not representing their own interests as such any longer. They will, we hope, try to promote the general efficiency of agriculture and carry out the 118 policy which has been laid down. We can ensure, under the system of panels from which members are chosen, that every section of the industry will be represented, but once they are elected they become one body playing a very important part in the promotion of efficiency in agriculture.
The second thing is the Agricultural Land Tribunals which are the final courts of appeal whose decisions will be binding upon the Minister as well as upon the owner or farmer. They will be composed of a legal chairman appointed by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, a landowner and farmer, and if necessary two assessors. This part of the Bill also sets up the Agricultural Land Commission which I would remind your Lordships was envisaged in the report of the Committee under the Chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. This Commission is for the purpose of managing land acquired by the State or in the hands and control of the State. Your Lordships may wonder what this land would consist of. In the first place there would be land from dispossessed owners under Part II of the Bill. There may also be land not wanted by the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission might acquire quite a large tract of country part of which they wish to plant with trees, and part of which they would wish to devote to sheep farms, or to be used in some way for agriculture. Then there would be land sold or given to the State; there would be land that might be taken over in lieu of Death Duties or Estate Duties; and particularly there would be land bought under Clauses 82 to 94 of the Bill.
I would just like to say a few words about that last category. The point is that there may be cases—concerning, perhaps, large Fen areas—where land is being farmed reasonably efficiently, but which could, with the expenditure of a lot of capital and with a lot of trouble and labour, be turned into much more valuable land. Indeed it might need draining on an enormous scale; it might also be necessary to construct roads and buildings, even villages. Obviously it would be very unfair to ask the private owner of this land to put down thousands of pounds which he could not possibly afford. Incidentally, I may point out that in such a case it would not be possible to dispossess the landlord under Part II 119 of the Bill, because he is only required to maintain a reasonably adequate standard of management. He might be keeping a reasonably adequate standard of management, yet at the same time this potentially very productive land may be used to relatively small advantage In such a case we consider it wise to give the Minister power to purchase the land compulsorily. There are various provisions to be complied with before this is done, but eventually the Minister would take over the land. Land in the various categories which I have mentioned could possibly be let out to other tenants and some could be farmed by committees, but generally we consider it wise to allow the Land Commission to be responsible for land acquired by the State.
There are of course various other matters in the Bill. There are clauses to prevent the undesirable splitting up of farm units, particularly by speculative builders; there are clauses to allow experimental adjustment of farm boundaries; and other clauses deal with such things as statistical information which we must have if we are going to hold price reviews. It is absolutely necessary, if these reviews are to be agreed by everybody, that we should have power to get the necessary figures and facts in connexion with the industry. There are also the various powers given to the Minister to make grants for field drainage and water supply and lime, and powers to control pests and weeds. The Minister is also empowered to continue the Agricultural Goods and Services schemes.
I have kept your Lordships a long time, but finally I would like to say that this Bill is only the beginning; it is the foundation stone and a very solid one, and I hope it will be truly laid this afternoon. I should again like to remind your Lordships that this Bill has been welcomed in principle from all sides of the industry. It is a good, sound, solid measure and we believe it will create the conditions under which the industry can achieve that prosperity which we all want to see. I therefore move that your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Huntingdon.)
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I am quite sure that I am speaking for every 120 one of your Lordships in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, on the manner in which he has laid this Bill before us. It is a long and complicated Bill, and the noble Earl has given your Lordships, in a not very long speech, a very clear picture. Although the Bill is long and complicated, I can say that it is certainly a good deal less controversial than some of the Bills we have been considering during the last few days. It is less controversial, but I do not think many of us would be prepared to allow it to be said that it is in any way less important. As the noble Earl has just said, this Bill does attempt to lay the foundations for the future working, possibly for many years, of the industry to which this country owes more than half its present food supplies, and to which many of us think, if sufficient encouragement were given, the country might owe a good deal more than that. Our task, therefore, to-day and during the succeeding discussions which we shall have during the Committee and Report stages, is to make sure that the foundations that are being laid are sound enough to enable us to get on with the really important matter to-day—namely, the production of every single ounce of food from our soil.
The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has already referred to the very considerable amount of agreement which exists within the industry and between the different political Parties. He has reminded us of the conference called by the Royal Agricultural Society under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Courthope, when an agreed policy was put out. He has also referred to this small pamphlet, Post-War Agricultural Policy for Great Britain, to which a number of your Lordships were signatories, in company with the now Leader of the House, Viscount Addison, and myself. When the noble Earl referred to the agreement and the things which were written in this Report, I was not absolutely sure how far he was referring to them as a tribute and how far as a warning, lest any of us might venture to express any disagreement later on with what he said.
There was just one reference in his introduction which I am a little sorry he made. He said that the Government were anxious to introduce a spirit of friendliness into the countryside. Now we are prepared to admit that we owe a 121 great deal to the beneficence of His Majesty's Government, but do let the noble Earl take it from me that we do not need either this Government or any other Government to help us introduce a spirit of friendliness into our countryside. It is something that has been handed down to us over the centuries. It was something that was most amply and admirably expressed in the conference to which both he and I have referred, and upon which not only the landowners and farmers, but also the agricultural workers were represented. You have only to walk into any farmyard in the country in order to see the relationship between master and man. I challenge a member of any other industry in this country to say that there is in fact such a spirit of friendliness in his industry as there is in the countryside to-day and has been for years.
As I think the noble Earl suggested, this Bill is really a series of balances. On the one hand there is the attempt to give security to the industry—security of market and security of price. On the other hand, there is the setting up of machinery—or in some cases the continuance of the existing machinery—for ensuring efficiency. On the One hand again, we see that at any rate for the moment the principle of nationalization of land is laid aside. On the other hand, we see strong controls imposed upon the landowner and the farmer, coupled with the ultimate power to dispossess and take over a property or a farm. In subsequent stages of the Bill we shall perhaps be able to discuss whether in all cases the balance which has been achieved is completely fair, but I do think we should all of us admit for the purposes of Second Reading discussion that this Bill is a genuine attempt at a fair compromise. The noble Earl did pay a handsome tribute to others who in the past have expressed the ideas which are now represented in this Bill. I am only sorry that it is sometimes claimed in your Lordships' House and in the country—perhaps with an excess of enthusiasm which sometimes comes to the best of us in making week-end speeches—that this comes not as a result of years of discussion and agreement between the Parties, but as a triumph of Party policy. We are very anxious in agriculture to keep right away from having the industry thrown into the Party mêlée. In a Bill 122 like this, which does represent so much agreement, it is a pity that it should be claimed in any quarters as a triumph for Party policy.
May we now turn to Part I of the Bill itself, "Guaranteed prices and assured markets." Guaranteed prices and assured markets are things for which the industry has been crying for years. In Clause 3 and Clause 4, your Lordships will see, the Minister has very wisely taken upon himself the power to attempt to accord these guarantees in a number of different ways. I think we would all agree with him that he is very wise to have the machinery as flexible as possible. In Clause 2 and Clause 5 we see the machinery laid down whereby prices for crops which are mentioned in the First Schedule are accorded a price guarantee for one year, and livestock and livestock products are negotiated for two years and sometimes for four years—at any rate, negotiated as to the minimum price.
But there is one point which is, I think, worrying us very considerably. The noble Earl himself did not really refer to it, but when we look at the heading of Part I, we are all naturally very pleased with what we see. Then we read further down, and I should have liked the noble Earl to tell us just why he thinks that the words in Clause 1 in fact really give the industry either a guaranteed price or assured markets. Let him look at it from the point of view of an investor willing to put his money into a company. The prospectus of that company claims that it has assured markets for its products, and he examines their right to make such a claim. He finds that they have a guarantee for such part of their product "as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom." Now I do ask the noble Earl if he would invest his money in that company, accepting their claim that they had a promise of assured markets.
It is quite true that on the Third Reading in another place—and the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, referred to it—the Minister made a statement which, at any rate for the next few years, was thoroughly reassuring. The noble Earl has given the words, and I will not repeat them to your Lordships. There are no fears in any of our minds about the next few years. We all of us know perfectly well that there is a shortage of food in 123 this country and a shortage of food in the world which is likely to continue at any rate for another four years. Some of us may take the view that it is likely to be a longer problem than others believe, but at any rate I think there would be general agreement on the period of four to five years, and, therefore, a guarantee from a Minister saying: "We will take all your produce during the next four or five years when we are going to be short," is not really tackling the problem at all. What we want to know is, if and when world prices fall, is it going to be considered desirable in the national interest to produce less in the United Kingdom? This guarantee contained in Part I, Clause 1, of the Bill really does not begin to touch that fear that is in all our minds. We do get a year or so's warning of the price that we are going to be given but we get no guarantee that that price will be adequate; we get no real guarantee of everything being taken.
I do not think it is sufficiently realized that at the present moment, when we talk about guaranteed prices, a system of guaranteed prices is operating in a very large mass of cases in such a manner as to keep prices down. They are actually operating to-day, even in times of shortage, against the farmer. Would any of us like to contend that the farmer could not go out, if there were an open market, and sell his eggs for more than 3s. 7d. a dozen? We guarantee to the farmer the price of his wheat; we are guaranteeing it at 80 per cent. less than Canada is selling her wheat under the world's market at present. We are guaranteeing the British farmer a price about 30 per cent. less than we are paying to the United States and 40 to 50 per cent. less than we are paying to the Argentine when we can get it. We are guaranteeing the British farmer £45 a ton for linseed but we are paying £53 a ton to India. I am not complaining of this; I think it is probably wise, taking the long view, to have a moderate price based on fair cost of production, and it is quite right and natural in times of shortage to have a system of limiting prices. But do let us be quite clear what we are doing; do not let us operate on a basis of complete illusion. It simply comes to this, that what I have said does not in any way affect the principle of the Bill, 124 but it does make me feel that we are really completely free to examine this Bill in its details with the utmost care without being weighed down by any un-due or exaggerated sense of the benefits that we are receiving.
Perhaps I might be allowed to turn for a moment to Part II of the Bill. There, as the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has said—and in this I think he was speaking for all of us—I do not think any of us, certainly very few of us, would wish to disagree with the general thesis of Part II, which lays down the principle to which certainly personally I am committed and many other noble Lords in this House are committed, that, if a landowner is either unable or unwilling to take proper care of his land, then he has no just complaint if it is handed over to somebody who will take care of it. Indeed, the idea that the ownership of land is in fact a trust is an old-fashioned idea rather than a new idea.
There are a number of points I would like to raise here. I hope that landowners are not going to be penalized, particularly at the present day, by being unable to get the labour and material for carrying out essential work that they are only too anxious to do. After all, if your Lordships turn to subsection (7) of Clause 16, your Lordships will see that there only a period of twelve months is given to the landowner before a supervision order comes to an end. It may be that that twelve months is only a minimum, but nevertheless hanging over his head is this sword of Damocles. If the noble Lord wants to add to what his colleagues said in another place and add an assurance in respect of this provision of twelve months, then I think it is an assurance we would very much like to have and to see actually inserted in the Bill. Twelve months is just plain nonsense; no one can begin to prepare an estate in twelve months. In many areas it takes more than twelve months to get all the necessary permits and licences.
Then the question of appeal is one that must be looked at very carefully. At the present moment there is no appeal to the Tribunal against being put out under supervision. I hope that this is a point that the noble Lord will be prepared to discuss in Committee. I know that he feels, because he said so himself during his speech, that it was a helpful step to 125 take to put a man under supervision. Believe me, the landowner or the farmer who is put under supervision will not entirety feel as does the noble Lord. He will be held up to the countryside for his inefficiency and for his unwillingness or his inability to carry out his duties. It may well affect the whole credit of the estate, and I suggest that it is rather more serious than perhaps the noble Lord thinks to put an estate and farmer under supervision. Therefore, we ought to consider the question of granting an appeal back to the Land Tribunal at that stage.
There are one or two other points also that I would like to mention, among many that we can discuss in Committee. At the present moment there is no reference whatsoever in the Bill to the possibility of an estate that has been put under supervision, and then is about to be taken over by the Minister, being handed over to the Commission. I think this was discussed at a certain length in another place but I am going to ask the noble Earl to think again on this point.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Where? Perhaps the noble Earl will deal with it later. I confess I have not seen it. I have taken a certain amount of legal advice and I do not think my legal adviser has been able to find it. If it is there, it is tucked away rather skilfully; perhaps we could make it a little more obvious. I can think—I have it in my mind—of a personal case of an estate before the war where the landowner was getting very old and losing grip. He had a son, whose one desire it was to put that estate right. The son went to a college and took a three years' course, and spent two years on farms and in estate offices, training himself. Would it really be fair, in a case like that, for that young man to be disinherited without even being given a chance? We have accepted the principle of this Bill and we hope that no alteration in this Bill will be in any way used for the purpose of undermining the principle and intent of the Bill. But I think that is covered by Clause 13, and that the Minister, therefore, is not at any moment likely to lose grip of the situation.
One other point, about which I feel rather strongly, is that if an estate is taken over as a result of a landowner not carrying out directions that are placed upon 126 him by the Minister or his representatives, then it should be for the body—that is, the Land Commission—that take over the estate to carry out those same directions themselves. Otherwise it might well be that a landowner had to give up his estate because he had had exaggerated directions placed upon him, and then, when he was out of the estate and it had been handed over to the Land Commission, they found themselves in agreement with the landowner that in fact he had been given an exaggerated kind of direction. I would like the noble Lord to consider some Amendment on these lines. I am not going to refer at any great length to Clause 31[...] there are other noble Lords who want to speak about it, and I should prefer to leave it to them. But I would say this: that there will be nobody in this House who would disagree for a moment with the simple statement that it is vital that a man who is farming his land should have security, not only of market and of price, but also of tenure. Let us beware, in attempting to find a balance—and I give the Government full credit for trying very hard to find a fair balance, though I do not think they have succeeded—of bringing too much stability into the situation so that you are never going to get a farm vacant on which to start a young man or anyone else coming into the industry. Let us beware lest we completely destroy the interest of the landowner in his estate. The noble Earl read a sentence or so from a little document that some of us signed in which we spoke of the landowner as a mere rent receiver. I hope that the Government are not going to turn the landowner into a mere rent receiver by making it impossible for him ever to get hold of his own bit of land, to farm it, or to put his son into it. Some of us feel that perhaps the Government have tipped the balance a little far one way, and we should like to discuss the matter in greater detail when we come to the Committee stage.
Finally, there is the question of rents. There can be no question that if these immensely increased burdens and obligations are placed upon the landowners' shoulders, rents will have to go up. That is something which we have got to face. The National Farmers' Union have boldly faced this issue and have come out with a statement saying they recognize that rents will have to be raised. I should like to have heard a corresponding statement 127 from His Majesty's Government. If the land were nationalized, and all the millions—sometimes we are told that it is £500,000,000, sometimes £1,000,000,000; anyway it is guess work—that we are told are needed to be spent on the land were spent by the State, the State would have to choose between making a free capital grant to the industry, and raising rents; and it is quite obvious which they would choose. They would have to raise rents. Just a little encouragement by a statement from the Government on this point would, I think do an immense amount of good. It is true to say that rents to-day are certainly not more than in 1870. I think they are slightly lower. Can any of us think of any other section of the community that is asking an 1870 price for its commodity? I should like to have a statement from the noble Earl speaking for the Government as to what they really mean by the words "an adequate return on capital invested". If they would say that they include rents in the definition of those words, and that they will take into consideration the possible raising of rents in their price reviews, I believe they would go a long way towards meeting some of the anxieties of the landowners who are having such immense new increased obligations put upon them.
I am very sorry indeed that the Minister in another place felt it necessary during the course of the Bill to take to himself power to make cropping directions. They were needed during the war, and my personal view is that the food position in the country to-day is such that they are needed now. But the power already exists under emergency regulations—and that is where the power belongs. I admit that in Clause 95, the Minister tried to safeguard the position. I think he tried hard, by making it necessary to have an affirmative order every year that this power is continued. I agree that this is a concession; but still I cannot believe that in this essentially long-term Bill it is right to insert this provision for emergency powers. By all means say to the landowner or the farmer that he has got to manage his estate or farm his land well, but do leave to him in normal times the right to choose his own crops, and his own stock. If we do not, I fear that we might be in danger of destroying some- 128 thing very precious and quite irreplaceable. The farmer, by the circumstances of where and how he lives, has to come to his own decision on how to fight the weather, how to make the best of his soil, how to crop it, and how to stock it. He needs courage and self-reliance and a spirit of independence that I do not believe this country can lightly afford to destroy in any quarter at the moment. As businesses, whether they are publicly conducted or privately conducted, become ever larger and larger, and greater and greater, a section of our people become dependent on wages and salaries for their living, having to make no decisions and take no risks, so it seems to me that it becomes more and more important to preserve the self-dependence, the self-reliance of the countryside.
We all agree that there has got to be a certain amount of control in this country, as the noble Lord said, where our resources of land are extremely limited; but cannot we also agree on this: Let it be the minimum control needed rather than the maximum? Let us examine every clause of this Bill from that point of view, and let us see to it that, when there have got to be these controls, then also in every case wherever possible there is an appeal against that control, and that that appeal is as easy as possible to make in order to be freely available, not only to the large landowner who may get all the advice, legal and otherwise, that he wants, but also to the smallest smallholder. I ask His Majesty's Government to accept my assurance that in the few remarks that I have made on behalf of myself and of certain colleagues who sit on this side of the House, we do approach this Bill in a spirit of friendliness. There are a number of suggestions that we desire to make on the Committee stage, but if the noble Earl opposite will consider them in the spirit in which I have tried to speak, then I believe that together we can co-operate in making this Bill a really useful piece of machinery for the future of the agricultural industry.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT WIMBORNE
My Lords, the importance of this Bill to which your Lordships are being asked to give a Second Reading to-day cannot be overestimated. To my mind, it is a good deal more important than the Transport 129 Bill, which this House has been so laboriously but diligently trying to improve during the past few weeks. After all, as far as the ordinary citizen is concerned, I do not think it matters very much to him whether the engine of the train which takes him daily to work bears the initials "L.M.S." or, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, "N.U.T.S." But I know that it does, and will, make a great difference to him if the food supply of this country should be interrupted by discontent or disorganization within the agricultural industry.
So far as we can see, it will be a long time before we shall be able to import as much food as we should like from abroad. There is, as we all know, a world shortage of many staple commodities, and, even if there were not, this country does not at the present moment dispose of enough foreign exchange to import as we did before the war. Therefore, as far as I can see it, for many years we shall have to extract from our own soil as much as we can, and, bearing those facts in mind, I take the view, as do many noble Lords on these Benches, that this agricultural charter, as it has been called, or something very like it, ought to be put on the Statute Book with the least possible delay. The Bill is, I think, a praiseworthy attempt to lay down the principles under which agriculture shall be conducted in the future, and as such is eminently worthy of being given a Second Reading. Unlike some of the measures which the Government present to Parliament, it is not based upon an idealistic and usually unworkable doctrinaire theory. It is the fruit of the earnest co-operation of the various interests that make up the industry, and I think one may say that those various interests, through their representative bodies, have shown considerable statesmanship in not pressing their sometimes opposing points of view too far. And the Bill also embodies a great deal of the vast wealth of experience which has been gained in intensive farming during the war.
I do not intend to detain your Lordships long in going into the details of this Bill, and I shall say very little about Part I and Part II. Part I is, of course, of great importance to the industry, but I think it is to some extent temporary 130 and provisional, and time will be required to see how it works out. Part II at first glance does give the Minister quite enormous powers, leading eventually to dispossession. But I think—and here I agree with the noble Lord opposite—that the safeguards are such that no reasonably efficient owner or reasonably efficient occupier should have anything to fear from that particular Part of the Bill.
I think it is when one comes to Part III that one comes to the difficult part of the Bill. To begin with, it is extremely difficult to understand but, as I understand Part III of the Bill, it practically rewrites the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1923. A glance at the Seventh Schedule will prove that straightaway. The 1923 Act is the Statute under which landlords and tenants have lived and worked for the past quarter of a century, and it is of extreme importance that this new provision, under which no doubt we shall work for the next quarter of a century, should be workable and clear. While on the question of clearness, I do hope that the Minister will be able to introduce his consolidating measure as soon as possible. I know he has promised to do so but, in the present state of congestion in legislation, it may be some time before he can implement that promise. I therefore have a suggestion to make to the noble Earl opposite. Could not his Department produce a simple clear pamphlet setting cut what the relationship between landlord and tenant will be when this Bill becomes an Act, something on the lines of the White Paper? I am perfectly certain it would be of the greatest value to all engaged in agriculture, and of even greater value to anybody contemplating doing so. I have seen the Bill referred to as "the Farmer's Bible." If a pocket-edition could be produced in the language of the Authorized Version, I am quite sure that every farmer would read his Bible.
One must leave the detailed consideration of this Bill and especially Part III until a later stage, but I do think that at first glance the landlord has been unduly harshly treated under Part III. The noble Lord, Lord De La Warr, talked about the balance. I think the balance has been tilted a little bit too much the wrong way. The tenant farmer has been given a great measure of security. This was referred to in another place as "super-security." But one must not 131 forget that it is the landlord who puts up the capital and as a rule is content with a very low rate of interest. I think these provisions will work very well as between the perfect landlord and the perfect tenant, but suppose a landlord has a dispute, for some reason quite unconnected with farming, with his tenant. Today the landlord can pocket his pride and, by paying compensation resume possession of his land; but, as far as I understand it, under this Bill he will not be able to do so. He will have to prove that his tenant is a bad farmer, which is not an easy thing to do. I think that you may get, under the Bill as it stands now, situations which might be intolerable.
Another point. If I have read the Bill aright—the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong—I think the position is that if a landlord wishes to farm his own land the Bill gives him no assistance in regaining possession. He, too, has to prove to the Minister that he can, by taking it over, farm it better than it has been farmed. That is something which will be equally difficult to prove. Again if he wants to put his children in is there any provision which will help him? I do not think there is. The result of this, I believe, will be that you will keep new capital and new blood out of the industry. All sorts of people, one knows, will buy farms, leaving a sitting tenant in, and hope when they retire, later on, to be able to farm the place themselves. But under this Bill that is going to be extremely difficult. It seems to me that the only time you are going to get any change is when the tenant dies. I think that Part III should be examined very closely in Committee, and it maybe that the Government may then be inclined to make some concessions on the lines which I have suggested.
I do not intend to say anything about smallholdings. That is not because I do not think they are important, but because I do not know much about them. But certainly this part of the Bill is almost worthy of a Bill to itself, seeing that it changes the whole of the policy of land settlement in this country. A point which has not yet, I believe, been raised in connexion with this Bill in your Lordships' House but was referred to at some length in another place, is the matter 132 of the new county agricultural committees. I thoroughly agree with all that has been said about the work done by the county war agricultural executive committees. They certainly did yeoman service during the war, and if we can get the personnel to enable them to go on giving that service they will continue to be extremely valuable, I am sure. But I wonder if they will be able to cope with the amount of work that will be thrust upon them? The twelve good men and true who make up each of these committees will, I think, be cruelly overworked. I do not quite see how the farmer members—there are only three on each committee—will be able to carry out all their duties with the committees, and, at the same time, manage to escape penalties which may be incurred under Part II of the Bill. You cannot farm land efficiently and, at the same time, carry out the duty of sitting regularly, perhaps for considerable periods, on a committee which meets in the county town which may be a considerable distance away from your farm. I feel that there is a good case for the enlargement of the composition of these committees especially on the side of the farmers and workers. This enlargement might be made so that a farmer might, when he is busy on his land, miss a meeting of the committee without feeling that he has let the county down.
One clause, I think it is Clause 78, deals with power to obtain agricultural statistics. No doubt this is admirable in theory. The Minister has explained clearly why the Ministry need these statistics. But does not this clause mean in practice that there will be another deluge of forms for the unfortunate farmer to fill up? As those of your Lordships who farm well know, quite enough of one's time is already taken up by the filling in of forms. So while recognizing the value of this clause I do hope that the Minister will use restraint in availing himself of the powers which he takes under it.
I have touched on one or two points which seem to me of importance, but I have kept my remarks brief because I know that many of your Lordships wish to take part in the discussion. There is, however, one further point upon which I would like to say a few words. It is a matter upon which I feel very strongly —namely, that of labour. This Bill has 133 quite rightly been described elsewhere as not an Agriculture Bill but an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. No Bill that is introduced, if it does not get down to the cardinal problem, which is one of manpower, can be called an Agriculture Bill. Yet the only reference to labour that I can find on reading the Bill appears in Clause 1. I take the words out of their context. They are to the effect that you must produce food consistently with proper remuneration and living conditions for workers in agriculture. The operative words are "living conditions." What do "living conditions" mean? They mean housing. As I have said before in your Lordships' House, unless the Minister of Agriculture can induce his colleague the Minister of Health to take a more lenient view on the question of giving licences to private people to build new agricultural cottages and reconstruct old ones, this problem will not be solved. Your labour problem may even get worse.
I have always maintained, and I shall always maintain, that building agricultural cottages is not a job for the local authority. It does not fit in with their schemes. No local authority is going to take two cottages out of a little terrace or a little crescent in order to build cottages for someone away up on a hill. I think it is extremely important, if we are going to keep our labour force on the land—and it is small enough now—to go straight away to see if we cannot get the housing situation improved. As things are at present, as soon as the agricultural labourer finds himself in a position to leave the land, as soon as he can find a house to go to, he will go. And who would not? After all if you can live in a comfortable house near shops and cinemas, and do half the work for probably double the wage, the temptation is very great. The competition for labour from other industries is so acute that I am sure the inducements that will have to be held out to farm workers in the future will be very great indeed. And you must not run away with the idea that the farm worker is not a skilled man. He is a very highly skilled specialist, and he is extremely adaptable. I know farm workers who are first-class mechanics, and as a body they are most certainly not afraid of hard work. If you house your labour well and make your people happy, not only will you keep them but you will get recruits 134 into what after all is a fascinating occupation. I cannot stress that too strongly. I think that some action should be taken in this matter, and taken quickly, otherwise this Bill which noble Lords on these Benches warmly welcome and to which they intend to give every assistance they can in order to pass into law, will not be worth the paper it is printed upon.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, in his introduction of this Measure gave us a very fair and adequate explanation of the intentions, or perhaps one should say the aspirations, of His Majesty's Government as set out in the Bill. But, of course, the stage having been reached of those intentions being translated into print, it is inevitable and proper that we should now pay less attention to intentions than we should to the actual phraseology of the Bill. It will be agreed, I think, that Part I is really a vital part of this Bill. It is a most important part of the Bill because it purports to contain guarantees which are to provide the stability without which agriculture cannot hope to prosper in the years to come. Of course, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has made clear, these guarantees are not at the present moment actually required by agriculture at all, nor are they likely to be required for quite a long term of years.
Agricultural production, at the present time, is very strictly controlled, and the importance of Part I, in my view, is in that portion of it which is to put on to the Statute Book the obligation on the part of the Government to fix prices after consultation with producers. That is really important. It is not now the value of guarantees to agriculture which matters so much but that the control of prices should be fixed in direct relation to the cost of production. This Part of the Bill places an immense responsibility on the representatives of the National Farmers' Union in preparing their statistics so that the Government shall have adequate information on the points which are specified. And there is great value in that method of consultation. But I have doubts whether those of us who belong at any rate to the older generation are going to see any great need for guaranteed prices. A relaxation of control is the thing which we are more likely to ask for as the years go by than a guarantee of prices, but that is as may be.
135 To look at the matter from the landowner's standpoint for a moment, it will be agreed that the whole trend of agricultural legislation over a long term of years has been gradually to diminish and finally abolish whatever political and social privileges may once have attached to the ownership of land. But we have now reached the further stage in which land owning is, I am not saying reduced, but confined, once and for all to a business proposition. That is the intention of this Bill, and we ought to approach it from that standpoint, and see if in the Bill there is adequate opportunity given to the landowner to treat it as a business proposition as it is clearly the intention he should. I find these encouraging words in the very first clause of the Bill —"and an adequate return on capital invested." Those are interesting words, and I have looked at the Bill from cover to cover and read it with care; but I was unable to find a single paragraph in which this pious intention is implemented. There is nothing whatever in the Bill which purports to give capital any return whatsoever on its investment. But I value those words very much, quite apart from the fact that they are not followed up in the Bill, because they do offer a very large protection to a landowner who finds himself in difficulties in the matter of maintenance.
If we look at Part II of the Bill for a moment, we find that Clauses 9 and 15, dealing with rent and obligations, produce really a rather curious state of affairs. An owner who has neglected the proper maintenance of his farm buildings has usually done so from lack of financial resources. That is a commonplace. That, of course, is going to be no reason why he should not be arraigned before the Minister that is, the county agricultural executive committee, and later the agricultural land tribunal. But what sort of thing would he say? If he were I, he would say to the land tribunal: "The first clause of this Act lays it down that capital should receive fair remuneration. What would you think a fair remuneration would be?" The agricultural tribunal would say: "What is the rate of interest on Government securities? 2½per cent. or 3—call it 2¾. Obviously that is a reasonable return on capital invested in land." I and thousands of other landowners 136 would have not the smallest difficulty in showing that for many years no one received more than 1½ per cent. What would the tribunal say then? It would throw a white sheet over the man who had been arraigned and tell him, "Go home, there is nothing we have to say." That would be quite all right from the standpoint of the defaulting landowner, but it is no use for what we want to see done, the buildings and farm premises properly maintained.
It is not the object in any way to find loopholes in the Bill to let off the defaulting landowner, but to enable the landowner for the greater interest of the land to maintain the fixed equipment in a manner in which it should be maintained. That is a position we must all aim at. That brings us back to the point the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, raised. What are we to do? It is a very serious matter and we have to bear in mind that the agricultural landowner to-day is not merely an individual. There are many different kinds of landowners—individual owner, the corporation, the local authority and the State itself—all of whom are equally affected by this principle. There is nothing in the Bill to enable this question of rent to be dealt with in a comprehensive or national manner, as it should be. We know the establishment of rent courts is a very controversial subject, but I wish the Government had had the courage to put the machinery for establishing rent courts into this Bill so that we might have had the advantage of the favourable or adverse opinions which would undoubtedly have been expressed if the matter had been ventilated in this place. It is extremely regretful that that has not been done.
We are bound to face this problem. We know that in certain parts of England the land is adequately rented but over the greater part the land is grossly under-rented, because the owner of the land is unable out of that rent to do what he is intended to do by this Bill and would do of his own conviction, to maintained the buildings of his farms in proper order. In Part I of the Bill, Clause 2 (3) says:…the Ministers shall consult with such bodies of persons as appear to them to represent the interests of producers in the agricultural industry.137 I am thankful that producers are always to be consulted, but the word "producer" limits consultation to farmers. It eliminates any consideration of this rental problem. I feel that this very large problem of rents is excluded from vital consideration when these prices are fixed, and that ought to be taken into consideration, as they are not now, because they will have and should have an affect on the fixing of those prices. If you leave rent out of account when discussing the fixing of prices for agricultural produce you are making it impossible for certain other vital parts of this Bill to be implemented. If you took rent into proper account when prices were fixed, there would then be some reasonable chance of the county agricultural committees and the Minister being able really to put into operation Clauses 9 and 15.
I hope the Government will think over this matter very seriously. There is nothing antagonistic to the Bill in what I am saying. We are all confronted with an almost, insoluble problem. Landowners, whether individual, corporation, local authority or the State, really do not know what to do about it. We are at the moment in grave difficulties over materials and labour, but presumably that phase will pass. High costs will not. We are faced, possibly for all time, with an increased expense in maintaining these buildings out of a relatively smaller rent, and if we want our buildings properly maintained—I am not speaking of the defaulting landowner, who is in a very small minority—we must put our heads together to see what we can do to provide adequate rent out of which these buildings can be properly maintained. Out of a gross rent of £1 you can presumably be able to find 15 or 16 per cent. for maintenance of buildings. If the rent is £2 you do not merely double the amount available for maintenance; you will receive more than that because other overheads do not increase with the increased rent, and consequently you have a very much larger amount of money available for this vital purpose. I would go even further. There are very few landowners who would object, once an adequate rent was fixed for them, to a certain percentage of that gross rent being spent compulsorily on their buildings. I should not object to it at all. I 138 have imposed some form of compulsion on myself for many years. You cannot do anything with the rents that prevail in the large arable parts of England, and this Bill is going to fall to the ground in a vital particular.
I will pass from that point, and come to the matter of dispossession in Clause 16. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, referred to this, but I must refer to it again. Dispossession is a very serious thing. Dispossession of a tenant farmer is in itself a serious matter; but dispossession of a landowner is vastly more serious, because if you dispossess the tenant farmer, you are interfering with that tenant farmer's mode of life, but if you dispossess a landowner, you will probably be interfering with an inherited property, which may have descended to the defaulting landowner over generations, and to which his posterity is looking forward for perhaps as long a term of generations. You talk about visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children—that was laid down as being the proper thing to do—but I think this is carrying it a little too far. The defaulting landowner—there are some—is arraigned before the agricultural land tribunal. He goes to the agricultural land tribunal and says: "I am a bad man. I stand here before you in a white sheet. I have a first class heir. Dispossess me, and hand it over to my heir." What do the agricultural land tribunal say? They say: "That is outside our jurisdiction."
§ LORD HASTINGS
They do. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, said there was something in the Bill which took account of the heir. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has been unable to find it, I have been unable to find it, and nobody else is able to find it. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, will be speaking in due course, and if he can relieve our anxieties nobody will be more grateful to him than I myself, unless perhaps it is the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. But it is not in the Bill. I can read just as well as the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and I cannot find it. Let me come back to my illustration. The agricultural land tribunal will say: "We will have nothing to do with that. You have been brought before us as a bad man. You are an 139 acknowledged bad man by your own confession. We know you are a bad man, and we give to the Minister of Agriculture the right to dispossess you. We know nothing about the heir." Of course, the thing is intolerable. Why should the Minister be permited to dispossess an admitted defaulter, when he has a successor who will be able and is most anxious, to rehabilitate that family property and deal with it as it ought to be dealt with? We must have something in the Bill which will provide for that.
I come, lastly, to the much disputed Clause 31. I think everyone in all Parties admits that no man can farm efficiently without a proper degree of security of tenure. That is not really an arguable proposition. We know it is so. In the vast majority of cases a reputable farmer has enjoyed security of tenure for generations. There are always exceptions to every rule, but that is the general rule. But when we admit what I have already admitted, and with which everybody will concur, we have to be very careful that we do not go too far. I imagine this Government would not wish, any more than I would, to establish a closed shop in agriculture. There is a very grave risk of doing that if you give security and make it too absolute. We must avoid that somehow, and it will be contrary to the major interests of agriculture if we do not.
There is no industry in this country which is, and always has been, more urgently in need of fresh capital than agriculture. You do not want to keep it out; you want to bring it in, if you are to ensure that less and less land comes into the market, whether for sale or for hire, than has been customary in the past. Under this clause you will make the man who has capital at his disposal, and is anxious to invest it in land, say: "The case is hopeless. I cannot find an opening, and my money goes into something else." Agriculture is very much the loser on that account. It is not only a question of the money; there is also the case of the individual. Take the case of the young man who has an ambition to go into agriculture, who has taken the trouble to teach himself the elements of the profession, and whose uncle, or some kind friend, has found him enough capital to launch out. He looks for an opening, but he does not 140 find one. What does he do? He joins the Advisory Service; he adopts the principle of "Safety first," and takes the taxpayers' money instead of contributing to the taxes. We want to avoid that, and we must try somehow or other to strike a happier balance than has been struck in this Bill. I admit that it is not easy.
There is one other point only in this connexion, to which, if I remember rightly, the noble Earl, Lord De la Warr, referred, and which I should like to re-emphasize. The right of an owner to occupy his own land is a fundamental right, as will be held by ninety-nine people out of a hundred, to whatever political Party they belong, and it is not a right which ought to be interfered with on grounds of expediency. This Bill makes all kinds of provisions for making certain that the owner-occupier occupies his land as it ought to be occupied. If he makes a failure of his occupation, he will be turned out. But you cannot condemn him before he has got there; you cannot say he is going to be inefficient before he is tried; and you cannot say he will make an inadequate contribution to agriculture unless you give him the chance of undertaking it Why should there be such great difficulty, as is prescribed in this Bill, over an owner entering into occupation of his own land? I would agree that where a tenant is removed in order to make room for the owner, he ought to have adequate compensation, by all manner of means. Let the security be given in most cases, but let there be an exception to be made of the owner who wishes to occupy his own land, which I regard as a fundamental right of man. You can then impose, if you like, special terms of compensation which, so that he may enjoy that reasonable privilege, he would be required to pay in order to remove the tenant. That is a way out.
I will not speak for more than a few moments longer, but I would like to emphasize what the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said in regard to Clause 95. I have had many years' experience of advisory service work in agriculture, and I know that there is only one sure foundation upon which to build an advisory service, and that is a foundation of good will. If you float off your Advisory Service with compulsory powers, you will handicap that service in a most unwise way. When a farmer knows that he is subject to compulsory 141 cropping off, and that the Advisory Service, acting not as advisers but as snoopers, can come on to his farm and observe what he is not doing, and how much remaining land he ought to put into this, that, and the other, which he is not putting, and are empowered to override that man's judgment as to what he shall grow and what he shall not grow, then you condemn your Advisory Service to futility from the start. Let that Advisory Service be confined to its proper job of advising the farmer how to make the best of the crop which he himself has selected to grow, and then you will be getting the best out of the land. If you do it in the reverse way, you will not get very far. I hope that this particular clause which, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has said, is not really necessary now, may be taken out of what is a long term measure, because it is a short term emergency only which calls for such provisions.
I apologize to your Lordships for having spoken as long as I have, and at the present moment there is nothing more I wish to add, although, of course, there are many more points of this Bill which are Committee points and not matters of principle which will require to be gone into with the greatest possible care. At the moment I think I have, in so far as my own judgment has enabled me, touched upon those matters of high principle, and I can only thank your Lordships for having listened to me for this length of time.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I should like to join with my noble friend Lord De La Warr in congratulating the noble Earl opposite upon his most comprehensive survey of a long and complicated Bill, his clear exposition of it and, if I may say so, his convincing eloquence. During the last forty years I have inflicted upon the two Houses of Parliament more speeches upon agricultural problems than have any of my compatriots. I am conscious that I ought now to stand down in favour of the many younger men in your Lordships' House who have, I am delighted to notice, exceptional ability in dealing with agricultural problems and a remarkable degree of experience unknown to many of their forefathers. But as one who has devoted his life almost wholly to agricultural interests, I cannot resist, as 142 I approach my 80th birthday—even if it be my swan song—extending the most cordial and whole-hearted welcome to the principle of this epoch-making Bill, embodying as it does for the first time in our history a charter of stability for the nation's most vital industry. Begotten by the threat of starvation coupled recently with the shortage of dollars, conceived by a Coalition Government and brought to birth by the present Labour Government, this measure, in my judgment, at long last rescues British agriculture from the cockpit of the Party politicians. If this measure be justly administrated solely in the national interest, not only will our British husbandry cease to be the shuttlecock of political partisans, but it will result, I am confident, in a vast increase of primary products which, after all, are the only real and fundamental wealth of a nation.
How my dear old ex-colleagues of another place, Harry Chaplin, whom we affectionately called "The Squire," and Jesse Collings, the sturdy old farm worker who invented the wise phrase "Three acres and a cow," would have rejoiced if they had lived long enough to see the prospective rural renaissance that is adumbrated by this measure. I would fain believe that their shades are here in sympathy with us today. For at least two generations—except, of course, in war-time—farming has been a risky and an unprofitable industry; therefore, as the noble Lord who has just sat down so strongly emphasized, there has been little or no incentive to farm worker, farmer or landowner to pull his full weight in the matter of maximum food production. The industry has been wholly unable, out of its own resources, to treat its participants with justice or with a reasonable prospect of reward. The agricultural worker has consequently been ill-paid and ill-housed, and has lacked a ladder for economic advancement. Many of the most efficient farm workers have left the land—some of them many years ago—to enter more lucrative urban employment.
The same, of course, has happened to the farmer class. Thousands of the old farming families, whose methods I was taught as an agricultural student over half a century ago to admire and to emulate, have taken their capital and experience into other more promising 143 fields of industrial adventure. The Bill marks the virtual extinction—except as a factor in actual food production—of the class of country squires to which I and many generations of my forbears have been proud to belong, but I recognize reluctantly that vital national needs must take precedence over the claims of any section of the body politic, however deserving. The successful operation of this Bill must be viewed—as indeed the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, have indicated—in the light of the factors which have in the past impoverished our British countryside and materially lowered the average standard of British husbandry.
As regards the farmers, we have to-day a relatively low average standard of farm practice, but, like our farm stock, we still have some of the best in the whole world, although nowadays we also have some of the worst. I would venture to suggest that the Government courageously resist the temptation under this Bill to afford any fixity of tenure to people in the latter category. The old type of landowner has had to give place to those who have built up fortunes in other, far more prosperous industries, who do not depend upon their land for a livelihood and who, while receiving uneconomic rents, are able out of other resources to provide up-to-date buildings and equipment. All praise to them. But I, for my part, venture to express the opinion that an industry which cannot maintain itself efficiently out of its own resources is indeed in a rotten and corrupt state.
Two major influences have dominated and, in my opinion, vitiated agricultural policy in the past, one being the dear food bogy, the fact, of course, being that we agrarians have provided or have attempted to provide our urban compatriots with food at less than its true value, both in nutrition and in monetary cost. The other restrictive influence is the fear that any statutory benefit to the farmer would percolate through to the landowner in increased rents. Theoretically, possibly that is correct, but in practice it is wholly fallacious. In fact, as Lord Hastings himself has indicated—and I would emphasize this—agricultural land in Great Britain, for its quality and its accessibility to markets, has been for the last fifty years the lowest rented farm land in the whole world, yielding on its capital 144 value and equipment now, as Lord Hastings suggested, about 1¾ per cent. As the result of a very careful and equitable survey which was conducted by the Central Landowners' Association about twenty years ago, I am prepared to put the figure as high as 2¼ per cent., but I think noble Lords will all agree that a return of less than 2½ per cent. from capital property and capital investments is wholly inadequate to maintain and improve the equipment of a great industry.
This Bill appears to overcome most of these past frustrations. If I offer some criticisms—and they will be very few—I hope they will be deemed constructive and helpful. My noble friend Viscount Wimborne expressed the hope that ere long there would be something in the nature of codification or consolidation in regard to agricultural legislation. In no industry is it more needed, and unless it is provided, and possibly helped by such a simplified pamphlet as Viscount Wimborne has suggested, this legislation will add to the embarrassment of those engaged in food production, although it may add materially to the incomes of lawyers. Another point about this Bill—it is really the same point put in another way—is this: so much of this Bill is legislation by reference, particularly reference to the Act of 1923. The time has come when we, in this House, as a reforming Chamber should continue to make a strong protest against legislation hastily drafted and largely framed by reference to previous Acts of Parliament.
The noble Earl who represents the Ministry of Agriculture here referred to the fact that I, in a communication to him, had regretted the omission of the produce of horticulture from the provisions of the First Schedule to this Bill. I should have thought that there were at any rate some non-perishable horticultural products that are of vital importance to the health of the nation, which, at least by regulation, could be included in the list of commodities for which market prices are assured. I have in mind, for instance, dessert apples, the bulk of which to-day come from overseas. I have also in my mind such an important crop as black-currants which are the main source to-day of Vitamin C for our young people, and in the interests of the health of the nation they deserve every premium to be put on their production. I regret the 145 omission of wool, and I regret it all the more having recently been on an agricultural good will mission to farmers in Australia, which, after all, provides over 80 per cent. of the whole of the wool required for the clothing of the world, and which is undoubtedly to-day suffering from a lack of confidence regarding the future of wool and the perpetuation of the pure bred merino sheep from which the finest wool is obtained. The very fact that several million of our sheep have been wiped out by the severe weather of last winter is surely also an indication that some sort of guarantee might well be given to those who are prepared, by raising sheep, to provide both mutton and wool.
I regret also the inclusion in Part II of the Second Schedule of buildings and other structures which, apparently without reference to the landlord, may be erected on farm premises and which, in fact, may alter the whole character of the holding; and yet eventually the owner will be subjected to compensation for their provision. I see in the Bill that the Minister is to have some say in regard to the provision of buildings and other permanent structures. I venture to hope that his discretion will be used, at any rate in regard to those buildings that are of such a description as to alter, in the hands of future tenants, the whole character of the farm and the method of farming. Having been, in the past, chairman of our leading agricultural research station as well as another important national research station, I regret very much that no scientists are included amongst those who are eligible for appointment to the Agricultural Land Commission which will manage land vested in the Minister, or, indeed, among the assessors on the Agricultural Land Tribunal who, under the Ninth Schedule, are to be chosen from a panel which is to be nominated by the President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I cannot help thinking that a good many of these problems, particularly in regard to management of land, will nowadays be affected by scientific considerations which merit the appearance upon the Commission, if not upon the Tribunal, of a person of recognized scientific qualifications.
I very warmly welcome another part of the Bill which my noble friend Lord Wimborne has suggested (and I am not 146 sure that I do not agree with him) might well have been placed in a separate Bill altogether—namely, Part IV, comprising Clauses 47 to 67 in reference to smallholdings. Smallholdings are now, I am glad to notice, definitely accepted as part of the national agricultural structure, based on economics and the definite provision of a ladder for the efficient and industrious worker to rise to a prominent position in the industry, as he is able to do in most other competing civilized countries. This will be especially welcomed in our oversea Dominions, where the experienced British agricultural immigrant is badly needed at the present time. Many of these men who pass from our towns on to the land in our oversea Dominions have to go through some two or three years of extremely difficult experience, trying to learn something about agricultural practice, which by means of this ladder of smallholdings as now interpreted might well be obtained here at home before they migrate.
I am glad to see statutory recognition given to land settlement associations, honourably associated with the names of two members of your Lorships' House—namely, the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, and the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore. What I should like to be made known is to what extent the efficiency and the continuity of the smallholding depends on co-operative methods. I should like very much to see, if it were possible, either in the Bill or by regulation, financial help from the Government made conditional upon the adoption of co-operative methods by intending smallholders. One word about the definition of a smallholder. In both Houses for many years past I have always deprecated basing the definition of a smallholding upon acreage. Acreage is not necessarily to my mind a justifiable basis for a smallholding. You may have a very large holding, or a considerable holding of several hundred acres on the Wiltshire chalk downs, or on the Cotswold Hills, which were equivalent in reproductive value to no more than fifteen or twenty acres of really rich land in the Evesham Vale or elsewhere in our more fertile districts. On fertile land you may have a fifty-acre fruit or tomato farm, with an annual turnover of £10,000 and a net profit of £3,000. Surely those are not the people whom you contemplate benefiting by this 147 tax-supported or loan-supported system of smallholdings.
The Bill wisely contemplates greater and more intimate co-operation between the State and its officers, the home food producers, and the research stations, and other sources of scientific knowledge, such as exist now in most civilized countries. That is markedly so in parts of Australia, from which I have lately returned. We in this old country hold no monopoly of knowledge or experience. There is much that we can now learn from our grown-up daughters overseas if we will only have the wisdom and foresight to do so. In conclusion, may I say not only "May God speed the plough", as we used to say in days gone by, but also the great purpose in many directions which this Bill seeks to achieve. As perhaps the veteran agriculturist in this House, on behalf of the whole agricultural community of England and Wales, I make bold to say to your Lordships' House, to this Government, and to this nation: If you will give us the tools and your full confidence we will not let you down.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ LORD QUIBELL
My Lords, this Bill has received such almost universal commendation that there seems little more that one can say. But the noble Viscount who has just resumed his seat mentioned that he thought sufficient provision was not made in the Bill for the employment of scientists. My own view with respect to agriculture has always been that the best man to know what to grow on a farm is the farmer himself; and the only advice he needs from the scientist or from modern methods is how to deal with weeds and pests, and how to use "artificials". With regard to the scientist advising the farmer what he should do with his farm I should like to point out that there are often four or five different kinds of land on a single farm, and it is only by experience that the farmer, his sons, his bailiff, or his labourers can tell what crop is the most suitable to grow.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
May I interrupt the noble Lord? What I asked was that there should be a scientist, not to advise the farmers, but to advise the Minister, who would be taking over other people's land.
§ LORD QUIBELL
It ultimately filters down to the man who is actually dealing 148 with the land. In speeches in another place many years ago I used to point out that there is only one thing that will put agriculture on its feet, and that is giving economic stabilized prices for the different commodities that the farmer grows. That is the foundation of all agricultural prosperity. Years ago a large number of noble Lords on the other side of the House were preaching Tariff Reform; others were preaching Free Trade. So far as agriculture is concerned, it is true that only in the last few years have we seen the effect of our propaganda work done in the early days. The policy urged has been acclaimed by every section of the community as the only policy that will save British agriculture. I am convinced that that is so, and I am delighted that the Bill has received such universal support in this House.
The Agriculture Bill has been called a Charter, and I believe it verily is a Charter. It is not by any means a perfect Bill, and I suppose that most of us could level some criticism at it. But I remember another Charter that was once written, although not in a Parliament; it was a Charter written by a very famous lawyer called Feargus O'Connell. He wrote the Charter for the famous Chartist Movement, and in handing over the Charter to Lovett, who was the secretary, he said: "Here is your Charter, but remember that he who is to be a success in life is he who first knows his case, then states his case, then proves his case, and then sits down. The man who aims at nothing is sure to hit it." I think in regard to the Charter, in regard to this Bill, that it is like every other Bill: It is in its wise administration that its greatest value lies.
Now I come to the smallholder, about whom the noble Earl has spoken. I was greatly in favour of the smallholder, and I have not changed much except in this regard: I have seen many instances of a smallholder, starting early in the morning and finishing late at night, never knowing what kind of crop to grow, and when he has grown a particular crop, finding that he has no market for it—all this being the reward for slaving for 365 days in the year. You can take it from me that many of these little smallholders were soon disillusioned about what they could get out of a smallholding; and I warn 149 you, so far as my experience is concerned, not to expect too much, unless this price level fixed for commodities filters down to some of the crops and commodities which the smallholder is likely to grow. So far as I can see, no provision is made in this Bill for that.
May I now say a word about these committees which are to be set up under this Bill? The war agricultural committees have been complimented on their work during the war, and undoubtedly they did some fine work. But, like every other committee—because all committees are human—they made some bad mistakes. Their job was the big farm. I know one such farm where the farmer had five or six thousand acres, and he was one of the most important members of an agricultural executive committee. He could not do the job, or at least could not do it properly. I have known directions to be given for the ploughing-up of a clay field that ought never to have been ploughed up. However, as a result of this wrong direction, it was ploughed up and it never grew a crop that was worth sixpence, so to speak, because the opinion of the man on the spot was never taken into consideration. The man who had been on the farm for thirty or forty years, and knew the particular field and what it was likely to grow, said it was no use except to be put down to grass, which he had done for many years; but he had to plough it up, and in order to make a contribution to the war effort he tried to grow a crop on this soggy and completely unsuitable clay.
These committees—and there is one within my own knowledge—have made not only that mistake but many others. As I say, they would not be human if they did not make some mistakes, but it is essential that the committees should be able to devote themselves entirely to their work. I should think the best thing would be for the work to be a full-time job. They would then come into direct contact with the particular area over which they have the responsibility for giving directions. I know one man who was a gentleman farmer. I have heard gentlemen farmers described in Lincolnshire—I do not know whether you have heard them so described—as persons who are neither gentlemen nor farmers. I do not know whether that is true or not, but that is a Lincolnshire description of 150 them. With that gentleman it was really a casual job, but this is far too important a job to be casual. If a farmer is to be directed he should be directed or instructed by a man who is competent, and who takes into consideration the local circumstances of the case.
I am also pleased that, so far as the farmer is concerned, he is to have the right of appeal. So far as the landowner is concerned, my feeling is rather mixed, despite the eloquent speech that was delivered from the other side. I have had some experience of dilapidations. I have been trying to put some right quite recently on a farm. I might say that the case was that of a farmer owner, and he got away with it. So one might suggest that if you farm your own farm you might receive a sympathetic hearing when you go to the Income Tax authorities. Now the dilapidations to which I refer were on a large estate on which there were 47 farms and the dilapidations were worse than any I have ever seen. It was in Wales. I went to farm after farm, and I said to the agent who came to see me one day: "This is all due to the fact that this has not been painted. Attention has not been paid to this farm; it has been neglected". His reply was: "The other agent who was here before me would not do anything at all. All he wanted to do was to produce to his master a good balance sheet." So he said to the farmer who was with him: "How long is it since you had this place painted?" He replied: "I have been here 47 years, and I have never had anything done yet." We are talking about 2 per cent. I know what his rent was. No repairs whatever had been done on that particular farm, and his rent was nearly £300 a year. Nothing had been done, and he had been there for 47 years.
You could multiply that sort of thing in regard to many of the other farms that I went to, and quite a similar story could be told all over that estate. For that reason, so far as sympathy towards a landlord goes, and particularly the landlord of the kind I have described, my feeling is rather mixed. But the farmer also was a bad farmer. When I saw the owner—who was at that time a member of this particular House—and he was talking about dilapidations and so on, and about the amount of money that had been spent on repairs, he said to me: "What 151 would you do? I wanted to be rid of this man, but he was protected by a certain Act of Parliament. He is a filthy farmer and is producing milk to be sent into Liverpool and to be sold there to the people for them to drink." He said: "If I get rid of him I have to compensate him, even though he is a bad farmer." What happened to the man I do not know, but I think it is a pity that the Lord did not breathe upon him and take him to his heavenly home. I think that such a man ought to be shot for the filthy conditions in which he was producing milk and sending it into a great town like Liverpool, where infant mortality was very great at that time.
So far as the ordinary farmer is concerned I think he should be given certain securities. I agree that, so far as the landlord and farmer are concerned, the land is really held in trust for the nation. I also agree that if the farmer is not farming the land to its maximum capacity—without the qualification that there is in this measure—is not producing from it everything that can possibly be produced, then the Ministry should be pretty severe in dealing with him in view of the circumstances in which we are now living. Food is short, and is likely to be short. In my view, our first consideration should be not, as in the past, to import cheap food and to starve the agricultural industry and everyone engaged in it, but to produce the utmost possible amount of food that we can in this country, and to give stabilized prices to those who produce it, in order that they may pay a fair wage to the agricultural labourer and secure, as the Bill states, a fair return for themselves. In answer to something that was said by the noble Lord who preceded me, I would say that if a landlord is called upon to put his farms and buildings in a proper state of repair, then, like every other citizen in the country in similar conditions, when he does so he ought to be able to ask for a return on the money which he expends in bringing those buildings up to the required standards.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, in common with other noble Lords who have spoken, I welcome this Bill as a genuine attempt to do something for agriculture. I do not think that it is by any means perfect, but I do think that it should pro- 152 vide a solid foundation upon which a prosperous agriculture can be built. There are, however, one or two points about which I am not altogether happy. The first one has already been touched upon by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. In Clause 1 it is set out that the Bill seeks to promote an industry "capable of producing such part of the nation's food and other agricultural produce as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom." I do not like those words at all. It seems to me that they would enable the Government to get away with anything short of murdering the farmers. For instance, for a few years past, the Government have been encouraging farmers to grow pedigree grass seed. Many have done so, and have had to wait a considerable time for a return on their money. In Buckinghamshire alone we have over 4,000 acres in use in this way. Now the Government has started importing cocksfoot from Denmark and elsewhere of very inferior quality, and, as a result, the growers have been unable to find a reasonable market for their seed. That does not seem to me to be fair. Under this clause, the Government can do this sort of thing at any time they like in the future with regard to other products. I should like to see some different words in the Bill, which would allay the anxiety of those of us who wish to see a fully productive agriculture.
Secondly, I am a little nervous that the Bill is going, to a certain extent, to upset the relationship between landlord and tenant, by introducing the State as a third party. For many years past the landlord and tenant system has, in the main, worked very well, and I think that that has been acknowledged by the Government. I hope that the result of this Bill will not be that the landlord will become a mere cypher with little to say in the management of his estate, or as to the choice of his tenants. It is quite right that if an obligation is placed upon the tenant farmer to farm his land according to the rules of good husbandry a similar obligation should be placed on the landlord to manage his estate well. But I think it would be disastrous if controls and regulations should prevent that personal relationship between landowner and tenant which is essential on all well-managed estates. Therefore it is to be hoped that the county committees will use 153 their very wide powers over landlords and tenants sparingly.
On almost every occasion on which the word "Minister" is mentioned in this Bill, the actual work will fall on the county agricultural executive committees. Therefore, they will become very much more important than they are at the present moment, and they will be very much harder worked. With those committees will rest all the decisions in such matters as termination of tenancies, splitting up of holdings, the issue of certificates of bad husbandry, and countless other things. It follows that these committees and their officials and the N.A.A.S. should consist of the very best people available. I wonder whether if, as a result of this extra work, the Minister will not find it difficult to obtain the best people to sit on the executive and district committees. The number of people who can find time for voluntary work of this kind in addition to their own activities is very limited, and I think it very important also that the officials should not be left with too much to do. In this instance I would beg to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, when he said that he thought that working on the executive committees should be regarded as a full-time occupation. I think that the very essence of this Bill is that work on such bodies should be voluntary, and should be contributed by all three parties in the industry.
It is important also that the officials of the National Agricultural Advisory Service should be recruited not only from among men who have passed through agricultural colleges and who have many degrees and letters after their names, but also from the ranks of practical farmers—men who have had similar experience and who can talk the same language as other farmers. I hope that the Minister will see that this is ensured, for it is particularly important in the case of the N.A.A.S. One of the new jobs which the committees will have to do is that of ensuring that estates are properly managed, and that fixed equipment is maintained. I do not think that at the moment the committees are altogether suited for this duty. In most cases the procedure for the dispossession of a landlord will start in the district committees. Very few of these committees have any representative of the land owners among them, and it 154 is only just that before drastic directions are served on a landlord he should have his case investigated by an expert sub-committee composed of people who have knowledge of estate management. I would like, therefore, to see some provision in the Bill that every county should have a management sub-committee appointed to deal with cases of that kind.
In spite of these relatively minor criticisms I do feel that with the co-operation and good will of all three parties in the industry, and with efficient district and executive committees, this Bill will be a great step forward to an efficient and prosperous agriculture in the future.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, in company with everyone who has spoken so far, I welcome this Bill and shall of course vote for Second Reading. Indeed I could not do otherwise, as I am one of the parties who had some share in the programme that was drawn up under the auspices of the R.A.S. and submitted to the late Government and which I was always given to understand was accepted by them in principle. The Party of the noble Lords opposite has brought the Bill in, and they are therefore entitled to all praise for its success and also all blame for any parts of it that might fail. Although I welcome the Bill, I am not shut out thereby from criticizing certain parts of it or hoping to make some improvements in it.
The first criticism is the title of this Bill; because it is not an Agriculture Bill. I have been a member of your Lordships' House for forty-five years or more, and I wonder how many hundreds of times I have heard from the Front Benches on both sides that agriculture is a partnership of three interests inter-dependent on each other—the agricultural worker, the farmer, and the landowner. I have heard it hundreds of times here and outside and I have never heard it gainsaid. I look on it as an accepted fact. But what do we find in this Bill labelled agriculture? The agricultural worker, who has usually been regarded as the most important factor seeing he is the most numerous, does not enter into the Bill at all. He is hardly mentioned. The farmer is well catered for in every direction. The landowner is very frequently mentioned, but so far as I am able to judge practically all mentions are penal ones. 155 This Bill has been called, and I think I have called it myself, the Bill of strawberry jam and Gregory Powder. The farmer gets plenty of jam and plenty of powder; the agricultural worker gets no jam and no powder; the owner gets no jam but a double dose of powder.
This Bill would have been an Agriculture Bill if it had provided for what has already been mentioned. There should be periodic surveys and, in consultation with the industry; consideration, first of all of the just claims of the agricultural worker to remuneration, then consideration with appropriate bodies of the right rent which will not form a burden on the industry, and then a fixing of the prices that will meet these two cases and give a reasonable profit to the farmer. May I say in passing how extremely pleased I was when my noble friend on my left said a word in favour of rent courts? For twenty years I have been trying to get some support for rent courts in my own Association, C.L.A., of which the noble Lord has been so long a prominent member, and this is the first time I have ever had a word of support from anyone. What interested me is that whoever started this Bill set out with a clear intention of having an Agriculture Bill, because in the very first subsection they use the words:with proper remuneration and living conditions for farmers and workers in agriculture and an adequate return on capital invested.Why they fell away from that I cannot say, but clearly they have.
One word on the capital invested, because we have heard a lot about it and I wonder if everyone appreciates what the capital concerned is. Shall we take what I think would be a very adequate farm in my part of the world—200 acres arable and 50 acres grazing, with four pairs of good cottages and a good set of buildings. We would call that a very good farm. The value of that land might be £5,000 without anything on it. To whom that would belong I could not say. I would presume the State; it has long ceased to have anything to do with the landowner. Equipment, live and dead stock, might amount to £5,000, possibly £6,000. The rest of the capital is the replacement of four pairs of cottages, which is £10,000, and the replacement value of the farmhouse and buildings, which would be at least £12,000, and you 156 have to add to that such things as roads, electric light, water and gates. The landowner has in fact put up a capital of something like £25,000. So it is easy to see the question of capital is of some importance to him and he has attached considerable importance to that opening subsection of the Bill, which he looks on as something pretty good, until he reads the Bill through, of course.
A word on one or two other things, and I shall try to avoid repetition of what has been said already. Part I is most important to farmers in a Bill like this, which I describe as a Farmers' Bill. We in the National Farmers' Union look to the N.F.U. to see they make a good bargain, and I trust them to do it. There is one thing in this part of the Bill that worries me, because I am bound to say we never thought of it when we had our preliminary discussions with the R.A.S. and others. What happens when you have two disastrous years in the farming industry? We had in my part of the world a pretty bad year last year, and this year I have never seen anything like the state of the crops. They are simply fantastic. We are going to have an appalling time and it seems to me that guaranteed prices are not going to do them much good. I would have thought it not outside the purview of the high intellectuals who are at the disposal of the Government to have devised some scheme like a dividend equalization reserve which would enable farmers to carry through. We did not think of that when we produced our proposal. It never struck us as likely that two years after the war was over we should find taxation at the level it is now. We could hardly be blamed for not expecting such a thing as that to happen.
Part II starts by defining estate management and good husbandry. Naturally, it must be somewhat vague, and possibly open to amendment; it could hardly be otherwise. But I must call the attention of the noble Earl, and of your Lordships, to one thing that strikes me as rather remarkable. Under good husbandry there is no mention of drainage. Those of your Lordships who, like myself, have served throughout the war on a war agricultural committee will agree with me that there was no single factor which was such a cause of lack of production as the defective drainage with which we started the war. We must have spent millions of 157 pounds in putting it right, and it is a matter of regret to me that it is even to-day beginning to go back seriously throughout the country. This omission is the more remarkable owing to a sentence in the explanatory memorandum. I look on this memorandum as somewhat in the nature of the Apocrypha to the Bible. It is not quite so holy as the main work, but still it is very holy. It definitely states there that hedges and ditches are fixed equipment and the business of the land owner. If that really were so, the land owners might just as well shut up shop, because it would be quite impossible for them or their tenants to go round the farms and keep all the hedges and ditches in order. I refuse to believe that that is the intention of the Bill.
I think I ought to say just a word about the penalties attaching to this matter, because they are severe indeed. The penalties may include such a thing as driving a man to bankruptcy; they certainly include his losing his property, and his home; and they certainly include his losing his living. If you consider the treatment meted out to someone who commits a criminal assault, or some beastly crime, which would render him liable to a year in prison, you will find that under British law every effort is made to see that he has a fair trial—there are the twelve good men and true, a Judge in robes, and all the rest of it, and he can appeal to an Appeal Court. We are rather proud of the justice of our country. But these men are really going to suffer a far greater penalty. What are they to be convicted for? During the seven years I have been on a war agricultural committee I have known quite a lot of people who have been penalized in this way. I think, without exception, they have committed one of four offences: (1) they were very old; (2) they might be suffering from an illness; (3) they were suffering from lack of money; and (4) they were the victims of supreme stupidity. I admit that they are serious offences. I really do think we want to look with considerable care at these clauses, and more especially at the composition of the agricultural appeal tribunal.
Do your Lordships really think this appeal tribunal is adequate? There will be one man with a small legal experience, one landlord selected from a panel, one farmer selected from a panel, and possibly two assessors. I do not know 158 whether the assessors are to have a vote or not; we are not told that. I think they are probably in the nature of expert witnesses. Is that really a tribunal that should have the right to inflict these penalties? I find myself very doubtful about that. It does seem to me that you are substituting for the legal processes of this country, which have been admired throughout the world, a process of rough justice, and I would commend to your Lordships the words that were used by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, last night, that when justice becomes that rough, it ceases to be justice. I think those words are well worth remembering in connexion with this matter.
Part III has been alluded to and I would again call attention to the Apocrypha in reference to line 39 on page 10—Clause 13. If I read it aright, it is an invitation to your Lordships to have a good go at this clause. What does it say? It says in effect, that this clause was compiled in a very great hurry, and is in fact half baked. If the Apocrypha says that, it can hardly cause surprise if this House takes advantage of what I presume to be the advice given there. Really the main thing which has been spoken about is this question of termination of tenancy, which imposes a relatively new form of ownership, and quite a new form of process for what was, after all, the ordinary bargain between man and man. I think your Lordships ought to consider what in fact is likely to be the result of this very important change. A tenant can be dismissed only under an extraordinarily difficult process. It is quite true that he was not often dismissed before, because I understand the average length of a tenancy was twenty-two years, which seems to be a reasonable time. But it must be remembered that a few words in the nature of "We do not think your farm is looking quite as good as it was, and we think it had better have a change," have been very beneficial in the case of many farms. But now it is only under an elaborate system that a change of tenancy can be made.
What I fear is that you will get a farmer just above the borderline of being dispossessed, getting older year after year, who will remain there until he is eighty, while around his bed hang a certain number of septuagenarians waiting for his decease; they will know that no land is likely to be left to anyone less than 159 seventy, because you will never be able to get him out. That is the position with which we are faced, and I hope the noble Earl will give it a little consideration. Part IV, of course, receives general commendation, and I would only say that Part V will have a little to do with the effect of Part IV, because how are you going to have smallholdings if you cannot get people out of the farms? I presume that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and tenants of farms who cannot be removed will hang on until death do us part.
There are one or two things I would like to suggest to your Lordships for consideration. The Land Commission and county executives are to be established. The Land Commission are to render a yearly report, and I would suggest they should also render yearly accounts. I think that would be a sound thing. After all, they are to some extent the judges of farming practice, and it seems to me that it is up to them to show how it is to be done, and done without great loss. Might I suggest also that the time has come when county agricultural executive committees should present accounts? I have been seven years a member of one of them and I have not the faintest idea—nor has anybody else—what my war agriculture committee has cost the county, and I think it ought to be known. This expenditure of millions of public money ought to be made known. I am told that the Ministry themselves do not know what it has cost. You have done away with some Committees, and I do not know that they are frightfully mourned, but, at the same time, they had a certain advantage. One advantage was that you knew what they were spending to the last penny, and the other advantage was that if you did not like them you could get rid of them. That seems to me to be an advantage, and I rather regret the passing of the Council of Agriculture. I know I shall not have very many fellow mourners, but at the same time I think your Lordships should remember that it was the only body which, on a national scale, got together the three parties we have mentioned, and endeavoured, occasionally with success, to get them to reach a mutual point of view. There is much to be said for the Council of Agriculture, but I would like to see some other body take its place.
160 I really finish with a question which I want to put to the noble Earl, and I would refer to page 3 of the Apocrypha which says in paragraph 2:For such reasons the Government attach the greatest importance to the maintenance of a stable and efficient agricultural industry, and it is their hope that this legislation will provide the foundation upon which the industry can safely build for many years to come.I would like to ask whether that is the considered opinion of the Government and not only the Apocrypha. I feel quite certain it is the considered opinion of our present Minister of Agriculture—and we have seldom indeed had a better one. It is, I believe, the considered opinion of the noble Earl, who has so clearly and efficiently presented this Bill to us, as I believe it is probably the opinion of the noble Viscount who leads your Lordships' House. But what I want to know—and I trust I may receive an answer—is this: Is that the opinion of the Government, or do His Majesty's Government regard this as a stepping stone on the way to nationalization?
The other day in another place the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for some obscure reason, appeared to be in charge of the Bill. In that position he was asked whether this was a stepping stone to nationalization, and he made perfectly clear what his opinion and wish was, which was that it was a stepping stone to nationalization. So pleased was he that he burst into song—indeed, a hymn. It may well be the song that has been in his heart. He said, "Yes, a stepping stone. Part of the host are across the stream and some are crossing now." That was heartily cheered, and perhaps it is a little unfortunate that the stream mentioned in the hymn is the stream of death. Nevertheless, he heartily welcomed the crossing of the industry over that stream. As I said, I entirely acquit the noble Earl of any part in that. The only symptom in his speech which I view with any alarm was the words, "This is only a beginning," and I trust he is not going to tell us that this is a beginning to the crossing of the stream.
This Bill has all the elements of being of the greatest assistance to industry, but it depends upon the way in which it is administered—there is no doubt about that at all. If it is administered in the interests of the nation and not for any one section, it can do an infinity of good, 161 but if it is administered in the spirit of hatred and malice and all uncharitable-ness, or even with the urge to totalitarian government, it may do an infinity of harm.
§ 5.46 p.m.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
My Lords, the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of this Bill said that he felt privileged to do so. He has every right to be proud of moving the Second Reading, and I think your Lordships will agree with me when I say that he did it in a very clear and lucid manner. I, too, feel privileged to take part in this debate, because whatever the future may hold this Bill is undoubtedly a great promise for that future. Your Lordships may not agree with all its provisions, but it is quite fair to say that it is generally welcomed.
Because I am sure we are all very anxious to hear the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, I propose to speak for not more than ten minutes. I would just like to say that Part I is undoubtedly very warmly welcomed. Although the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, thought that a man might not want to put money into a business with the guarantees which are here set out, I still think they are very good guarantees. Whether a man would invest money or not I do not know, but they are undoubtedly good guarantees. I think Part II can be regarded as the price we must pay for Part I, and it may be a very heavy price. The noble Lord, Lord Quibell, painted a picture of a very bad landlord. I do not deny that there are and have been bad landlords, but I do not think it is right to say that the picture he painted is a very general one. I think that go per cent. of the landlords have done their best to see that their property has been maintained in good order, but I know from my own experience that Death Duties have made a tremendous difference in that respect.
I would also say that as we now have this Bill the whole idea of landlord and tenant is going to be changed, because we are now going to have a really strict business partnership. Up to the present farmers have not painted their gates, they have not kept their ditches very clear, and the landlords at any rate have not always bothered to keep the roofs and walls in repair. But it has been a kind of partnership in which neither partner 162 has done his part, and neither one has bothered very much about it. I do not think that is good enough, and I am sure it will not be good enough. Therefore, we have these very stringent provisions. Time will tell how they are going to work. We must do our best to see that they do work. As regards supervision orders, I feel, like other noble Lords, that twelve months is a ridiculously short period. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who speaks with great experience, has put it more eloquently than I possibly could; but I would like to add my small voice to his. It does seem quite fantastic that that should be envisaged at all. Perhaps we can hear something about that later. I would also like to know if I may ask—I do not expect to have an answer now, but possibly later—what is the position about a landlord or an owner wishing to gain occupation of his land in order that he may farm it himself or in order that his son may farm it? I think that is very important, and I am sure many noble Lords would like to hear some clarification of that point.
As regards Part III of the Bill, which has been referred to by my noble friend Viscount Wimborne, he has rightly said that it is a good thing to see the position of agricultural holdings improve because in one county near me the custom is entirely different from that of my own county. A farmer takes over a farm in my county (Rutland) and he says: "Oh! we do not do it this way in Lincolnshire; it is quite different. I am not going to agree to do that." It is high time this was changed, and I very much welcome the change.
I also think, in company with other noble Lords, that the sooner we hear something about the Government's policy for reconditioning cottages, the better, because it is said that a landlord must see that his land is farmed efficiently, but that is a thing we cannot be too worried about. We must be able to recondition our cottages and at the moment there is not much prospect of doing that. I hope that we are not going to be encumbered by other legislation—it would not be in order to refer to the other legislation—and I do hope that that will be borne in mind. I will not say any more now except that the Bill is undoubtedly a very welcome one, and I feel privileged to have taken part in this debate.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT ADDISON)
My Lords, I feel it a great privilege, after the lack of unity that sometimes characterized our debates on the Transport Bill, to be able to speak to-day in this debate which is characterized by a very different disposition, but may I, before I comment on some of the substantial criticisms, or rather, comments, on the Bill, reply to the question which was put specifically to His Majesty's Government by my noble friend, Lord Cranworth, who has been good enough with Lord Hastings to explain to me that they are compelled for other reasons not to be with us any longer. His question was, whether the "Apocrypha" represented the policy of His Majesty's Government, and he distinguished His Majesty's Government from the Minister of Agriculture, which I confess I do not. Referring to the statement in the Explanatory Memorandum:For such reasons the Government attach the greatest importance to the maintenance of a stable and efficient agricultural industry, and it is their hope that this legislation will provide the foundation upon which the industry can safely build for many years to come",the noble Lord asked me if that was the considered opinion of His Majesty's Government. My reply is: "It is." I may make some reference before I finish to many of his other very entertaining criticisms, but I would like to assure the noble Lord that we have no intention of administering the Bill in a spirit of hatred and uncharitableness. I think the spirit in which my right honourable friend, the Minister, has conducted with many interested parties the negotiations which led to the framing of this Bill, is sufficient evidence that that is not our disposition at all.
I should like to join with the noble Earl who opened the debate in saying how glad I am at long last to be participating in a debate on a Bill affecting agriculture which receives support from men of all Parties. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, for many years I have been striving and hoping for this, and I am quite sure that every noble Lord, irrespective of Party, is animated sincerely with the desire to use this instrument for putting this great industry at long last on a secure basis and one which will encourage enterprise, initiative 164 and improvement. In that respect I might perhaps say with what great interest I have been able to read from the Dominions the records of the journeys of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and his wonderful missionary enterprises on behalf of agriculture, particularly on behalf of the Old Country.
Now let me come to some of the comments which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, made, all of which were, I think, entirely well-founded, and must receive careful attention. I gathered that the impression he formed from the fashion of this Bill was that there was no length of time assured for either assured prices or for guaranteed markets—or words to that effect. He and I worked together in the formulation of the document to which reference was previously made, and I do not think it is physically possible, in an industry of this kind, which produces a great and an increasing variety of products, to do more than take general powers establishing the machinery, to exercise them and to state the periods for which they are provided. For example, as the noble Earl knows very well, the machinery contemplates, so far as prices are concerned, that there will be periodic fixations of prices, which periods will be longer in the case of livestock which take longer to grow than in the case of a corn crop, which takes a shorter time to grow. But even in the case of a corn crop it will be long enough for the farmer to be able to plan the next year; and that, of course, is a vital ingredient in proper agricultural planning.
That is why these different periods are attached to any price arrangements and I think they are indispensable; I do not think you could manage things practically on any other basis. It will be a continuing practice, and in that way we shall assure, whatever Government is in power, the continuance of this system. The noble Earl raised the point—and he stated it truly—that in fact at the present moment many agricultural products are sold in this country at a lower price than would be realizable if the whole matter were left free in this time of world scarcity. That is perfectly true. But I think that is the test of the system. I like it much better than letting the thing go wild, because it is the reverse side of the picture that had the disastrous effect upon agriculture for two generations; it 165 was because there was no control, and because prices went down and down with the slumps in the world market, that the industry was largely ruined. You cannot have it both ways. It seems to me you have to assure stability over a long enough period, and it may well happen, as it is happening now, that in some cases prices are less than would be realizable in this time of scarcity in a free market.
Let us look at our Canadian wheat market. The price this year is $1.60, but across the border wheat (or even their own free wheat) can be sold for a great deal more in what is called a free market. That is true. The Canadian farmers are well aware of it, and there has been a certain amount of feeling—in an entirely friendly way—between the Canadian authorities and ourselves. But why is it that the scheme is supported? Many people suspect, and it may well be true, that there may before long be a slump in these prices. But during the next four years, under the system of contract, they have security of prices; and even if that is less than the prevailing world price, a fictitious temporary high price, it is security that matters. That is what we are aiming at, and that would be the form of my reply to that kind of criticism. But we are perfectly willing to consider any suggestions that will make the Bill more effective, useful and easy to work.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I was not complaining. I only said we wanted to have the matter quite clear and not to have any illusions about what might happen.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I hope I have been able to dispel the illusions. Another point which was made, and which was dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, also, was the duty of the good landlord. I do not take the dismal view the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, seemed to take about the future of the good landlord. I think he has a place in this, just as satisfactory as that of the good tenant. I am really a little disappointed that there have been no tributes to the Labour Party for treating the landlord as he is treated in this Bill. When I remember some of the dreadful prognostications as to what would happen to landlords if ever there was a Socialist Government in power, and compare them with the proposals in this Bill, I think 166 it must be a great source of comfort to many. I was hoping we might have had a tribute in that respect; but as we have not had it, I will pay it myself.
I quite agree that at the present time and with the existing scarcity of labour and materials it would be quite unreasonable to give orders that could not possibly be executed. I cannot imagine any sensible committee doing such a thing. I should like to express complete agreement with the substance of the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, that of course you cannot expect agricultural buildings to be maintained in a proper state of repair unless there are adequate means provided by the rents to pay for their being so maintained. Of course you cannot; that is an obvious piece of arithmetic. I was exceedingly interested to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, was so enthusiastic for rent courts. I was not previously aware of it. His Majesty's Government have been too timid to include a provision for rent courts in the Bill. I think there is some sort of misunderstanding as to the position. There is nothing to prevent a landlord if, in his opinion, a higher rent is necessary for the purpose of carrying out building, and so on, from giving notice of an intention to increase the rent. The provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923, are not in this respect altered by the present Bill. If the tenant likes to object he can object, and the case will be dealt with under the provisions of the Bill. Arbitration is already provided for, and that is not in the least altered by anything in this Bill.
But, for all that, I confess that I view the future with some apprehension in this respect. We have discussed Amendments in this House referring to the cost that would be incurred in the re-equipment of agricultural holdings, capital expenditure up and down the country and so on. Whatever the figure is, it is a prodigious one, and I should not wonder—I am speaking entirely for myself and not on behalf of His Majesty's Government—if before long some comprehensive provisions had to be made for securing that increased and improved equipment is really provided. I think that is absolutely essential. But the cost, as I say, will be prodigious, and there can, of course, be only one way of providing it, and that is by the profits of the land. That is obvious. The noble Earl, Lord De La 167 Warr, deplored the necessity for continuing to give cropping directions.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
No; I said I thought they were still necessary—as emergency measures. But I was sorry they were to go into a long-term Bill.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I do not share the noble Earl's view. We must aim, through the operations of these committees and through the improvement of knowledge, to raise the standard of cultivation, which is very much required, as we all agree; and there must be in the hands of a responsible body, the committees in this instance, power to give directions if necessary. I think it is inescapable. There are some members of the farming community who do not respond very readily to any other method of exhortation. It is essential that the standard of cultivation should be improved, and for that reason I think that the retention of the kind of power to which the noble Earl called attention is required in the Bill.
There was one other matter to which I should refer and which I think has given rise to some misapprehension. I must not be taken as giving a legal interpretation of the Bill, but Lord Hastings asked what was to be done in the case of an owner whose estate was in a bad way and the subject of an order under the Bill, where that owner wanted his son to be appointed to carry on the business instead of himself, rather than that it should pass out of the family. He thought there was no provision for that emergency in this Bill. In that respect he is, I am glad to say, misinformed. If you look at page II, you will find that there is special provision for that particular emergency. There you will find directions to secure good estate management under subsection (1) (a). That should be coupled with subsection (2) (a) which states that:a direction given under paragraph (a) thereof may impose requirements, restrictions or prohibitions as to the carrying out of work and may require that the management to which the direction relates shall be entrusted to a person appointed by the owner.…So that the owner, if he likes, can appoint his son. That was deliberately inserted in order to safeguard eventualities of that kind. In that respect, therefore, I think there was some misunderstanding.
One other point relating to the same state of affairs was with regard to dis- 168 possession orders. I gathered that the noble Lord was under the impression that in these cases there was no appeal; that the decision or order was final. That is not correct. Where a committee decides, and it is subsequently approved, that a place shall be under supervision, no appeal arises. That is decided by the committee and approved by the Minister, and so on; but in a case of dispossession it is not so. If you look at page 16, you will see that it is specifically provided in Clause 16 (5) thatAny person to whom notice of a proposal is given under the last foregoing subsection, may require that the proposal shall be referred to the Agricultural Land Tribunal.In that case, therefore, there is necessarily an appeal at the option of the person on whom the notice is served.
That brings me to another small point which was raised by Lord Cranworth, and I have come to the conclusion that he had not read the Bill as carefully as he had read the "Apocrypha," because I gathered that the noble Lord thought that there was to be only one tribunal, and he said that this tribunal would be so grossly overworked that it could not possibly deal with the work that would fall to it. He is under a misapprehension, and I would, therefore, recommend him to turn from the "Apocrypha" to the Bill, and he will see on page 62, Clause 73:For the purposes of this section the Minister shall by order constitute such number of areas, together comprising the whole of England and Wales, as he may consider expedient"—that is to say, the country will be divided into districts—and for each area so constituted there shall be established an Agricultural Land Tribunal.So there will be a tribunal in each area and not one for the whole country.
I think, if I have followed my notes adequately, I have dealt, in the main, with all the points that have been raised in the course of the discussion, except a number of rather minor Committee points. I myself regard this occasion as a great occasion in the interests of British agriculture. Here we have proposals which, at long last, embody in legislative form the determination of the nation to give that security to this industry which is absolutely a first essential of its progress and improvement, and it is for that reason that I should like to join with many other 169 noble Lords in welcoming the Bill, and to assure them that we shall gladly receive their co-operation so far as they have any suggestions to make for improving it in Committee.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, in company with every other member of your Lordships' House who has spoken, I welcome this Bill. I think it is a good Bill, and I am glad to see it put forward very largely from a non-Party point of view. I congratulate the noble Earl, the Parliamentary Secretary, for the way in which he introduced it. Not only was his speech extremely clear, but it was also very frank and straightforward. The criticisms that I am going to make of the Bill will, I hope, be understood as not being in any sense put forward from a Party point of view. Of course, I accept the pledges which have been made by not only the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, but perhaps still more, because of his position, the Minister of Agriculture himself. But Ministers change and Governments change, and therefore one likes to see in an Act of Parliament these matters laid down so clearly that, whatever the Government, they are bound by the terms of the Act, and therefore cannot get outside it. For that reason I am afraid I do not look at this Bill so much as a charter for farmers as many people do.
There are so many qualifying phrases in Part I. There is the qualifying phrase that I think was referred to by my noble friend Lord De La Warr, in Clause 1, subsection (1), where there is the well-known phrase: "such part of the nation's food and other agricultural produce as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom." That is a qualification of size. There is a still worse one in Clause 4, subsection (1) (b) (i), in the phrase "for securing that subject to any specified limits of quantity, a producer…shall…be enabled to sell…at the specified price." I hope I shall be forgiven if I mention what is perhaps a tender point at this moment with the Government—potatoes. Potatoes, as my noble friend knows, is a crop which varies very considerably from year to year. Sometimes you get a bumper crop and the whole market is flooded, and sometimes you get disease and then there is a 170 shortage. The Treasury, I know, look with great suspicion at any guarantee of the price of potatoes for that reason. Although no doubt we shall be bound by the pledges of Ministers now, I am looking forward to this Bill as a long-term measure, and I therefore think that this phrase weakens the whole of Part I very seriously indeed. I know that many farmers think so too. I agree that a Government which is going to pledge itself to give a price must watch its step, if I may put it in that way, but I think it would be only fair—and I think all members of all Parties would agree that it is fair—that where a direction is given to farmers, under Clause 95, I think it is, or in relation to a farmer who is under supervision, that then that farmer should receive the full price for the acreage which he is ordered to sow with that particular crop. Obviously questions of quality must be taken into consideration. Anyhow if he is ordered to grow a much larger acreage of wheat or potatoes, he should receive the full guaranteed price for the whole of that, whatever the policy of the Government may be for the rest. That seems to me to be only fail.
I now turn to Part II about which I fear I have to be a good deal more critical. It is entitled: "Good Estate Management and Good Husbandry." I am afraid that I think it ought to have a sub-title: "Nationalization Little by Little." When the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, asks if nationalization is intended, I say that it is here. It is a curious fact that, throughout the whole Bill, the Minister is given many powers for acquiring land, compulsorily by purchase or by agreement, but there is only one clause, and that hedged round with a good deal of qualification, under which the Minister is entitled to sell it. Nor is there anything in the Bill to say that where an owner is to be dispossessed he has the right to sell the land to some other private individual who will manage his estate better than he did.
May I draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 16 (2) on page 15? There is there a curious provision to the effect that:Where the Minister proposes to purchase any land under the last foregoing subsection and is satisfied that it is necessary for the purpose of securing the proper management thereof that he should acquire any other land which is being managed by the Same person…171 the Minister may buy it. In other words, if a landowner manages one farm badly, under this provision, as I see it, the Minister is entitled to buy the whole of his estate. It is quite easy to argue that to secure proper management you cannot manage one isolated farm, say, in the Wolds of Yorkshire or the Highlands of Scotland, or in the West Country, alone and by itself. It is uneconomic. Everyone knows that to manage isolated farms situated long distances from other areas means that it is more than likely that such farms will not be properly looked after. Certainly it will be very uneconomic and very expensive. Under this clause, as I read it, the Minister could buy the whole of a very large estate.
Then take the next subsection, subsection (3). This begins by stating that where "any person having an interest in land" says he thinks it necessary that the land should be taken over by the Minister, the Minister can buy it. What do you mean by "any person having an interest in land"? Are we not all interested in land? Good heavens! We had many letters to the Press from all quarters not long ago when the question was raised of setting up an electric power station opposite to St. Paul's Cathedral. That was a question of land. Anybody can say that he is interested in land, and anybody, therefore, can say to the Minister that he thinks it necessary that the Minister should take certain land, and the Minister is entitled to do so.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I wish to point out to the noble Earl that there are several limitations on that later on in the same subsection.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I am aware that there are, but those limitations are so extraordinarily indefinite that I think that if my noble friend attempts to interpret them, he may find himself in great difficulty. However, I hope that when we get to the Committee stage my noble friend will be ready to deal with this point.
Next I desire to come to the question of dispossession of landowners and farmers. By the terms of the Bill landowners and farmers in various events have the right to appeal to the agricultural land tribunal. In many cases, I think, that will be good enough. It will 172 be a question of rough justice and no very great harm will be done in many instances if mistakes are made. But where it comes to a question of dispossession that is a very different matter indeed. Let us see how it is done. First of all, the land is inspected, and I think that my noble friend Lord Carrington made an extraordinarily good point when he said that the amount of extra work that is going to be thrown on the shoulders of the county agricultural executive committees is going to be tremendous. They are not only going to have to deal with matters connected with good farming, but also, for a period, they are going to have to deal with cropping arrangements—things which they have been doing in the past—and in addition they are now going to be brought in between the landlord and tenant. And there may be a very large number of cases for them to deal with.
In war-time all sorts of people took on all sorts of war jobs as part of their contribution to the effort of winning the war. But the war is over now, and most of us have to earn our livings. The kind of people who can afford to give up a vast amount of time to the work of these agricultural committees and subcommittees are getting fewer and fewer and the work which is going to be put on them is getting greater and greater. What will happen? As Lord Carrington pointed out, a great deal of this work is going to be done by officials—officials of the Ministry. Now if there is one quality civil servants have above anything else it is that of extreme loyalty—loyalty to their Ministers and loyalty to each other. When one official makes a mistake, as my noble friend knows, he gets support right up to the highest level. I have known a case in point, with regard to land which was being dealt with by a Government Department. I was told that the owner of the land in question had not got a leg to stand on, that the claim that he was putting up was entirely wrong. I said: "This owner is prepared to submit the question to arbitration; therefore why not let it go to arbitration? If he has not got a leg to stand on so much the better." But no, the officials did not think that that ought to be allowed. This was the view of various officials who had inspected the particular area. But the matter went to arbitration. I took steps to see that it 173 did. And the result was that the Department lost the case and had to pay costs. That only shows that mistakes are made even though, right up at the top of a particular Department, you get a statement that the case is absolutely water tight.
Now what happens when standards are suspect, an owner is said to be managing land badly, or a farmer is said to be farming badly? The land of the man in question is put under supervision. His properly is later inspected by still more officials to see whether he is making satisfactory progress. The same officials, probably, report that the progress made is not sufficiently good. Then a dispossession order is made. The landowner or the farmer appeals to have his case taken to the land tribunal. At this point I must say that I think my noble friend weakened his case in this regard. As he stated, there are to be a number of land tribunals. And what is to be their composition? They are to consist of one member of legal experience appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and two members appointed by the Minister. I am aware that one will represent the farmer and one the landowner, but both are appointed by the Minister, and are responsible to him. Similarly, as I understand it, the agricultural executive committees have to take orders from the Minister and carry out his directions, as laid down in the Bill.
What is the procedure under which the tribunals are to work? If you turn to Clause 74, which is on page 63, you will see that this is laid down in the Bill.On any such reference the Tribunal shall determine—What conditions does that mean? It means that the various steps that the Minister is compelled to take have been carried into effect, that the land has been inspected, the man warned, notice given, the supervision order made, and so on. That is merely procedure. What next?—
- (a) whether the conditions as to which the Minister must be satisfied before taking action are fulfilled…."whether, having regard to their determination under the foregoing paragraph and to all the circumstances of the case, the Minister should or should not take the action proposed.What do you mean by "circumstances of the case"? Do you mean that the man who is accused can have those who bring 174 the charge against him brought up to give evidence on oath or does it mean merely they can say they have reported to the Minister that this man is inefficient and therefore he must be dispossessed? I have never heard of such a procedure. It is not a court of law. And although they might give perfectly fair decisions, they come under very grave suspicion.
There has been throughout the country a good deal of suspicion of these orders of dispossession. So far they have affected only farmers. I am told there have been 12,000 cases—I have not the faintest idea whether that is right or not. At any rate it is a pretty large number. If courts are set up like these with no rules of procedure, they will not deal similarly with similar cases, and wrong decisions will be given, and the orders of these courts are final. It is essential that there should be some appeal from these rent tribunals to a properly constituted court of law presided over by a Judge of the Supreme Court. You not only want to do justice but to seem to do justice. If you had a court of that kind, you would strengthen procedure all the way through. No one in your Lordships House wants to stand up and protect the bad landlord or the bad farmer, but we want to see justice done.
What does dispossession mean? For the farmer it may mean that he loses his means of livelihood. Who is going to give him another farm if he has been dispossessed? Under the Bill every new tenant has to be approved by the Minister; and will the Minister agree to a farmer who has been dispossessed going into another farm? Of course not. He will have to go and find another job, and perhaps he is a middle-aged man with no money behind him. Think of the owner-occupier, more often than not the little man, who owns a farm and lives on it and has put perhaps the whole of his war gratuity into it. He is turned out of his home and loses his means of livelihood. And the whole of that may be by the decision of a tribunal which is not a legal tribunal, consisting of one man appointed by the Lord Chancellor and two by the Minister and with no means of procedure according to the ordinary courts of law. I pray the Government to think it over and give it a great deal of further consideration. My right honourable friend has not the kind of countenance for setting up any sort of 175 Star Chamber. He is far too benign for that kind of thing and I hope he will look into it again.
Part III deals with the relations of landlord and tenant. I think the Minister is being extraordinarily unwise. He is coming in between the landlord and tenant. There are some bad landlords who turn out good tenants but they are exceptional, and I have always understood that exceptional cases make bad law. The ordinary landlord does not turn out a good farmer. Under the law as it stands he has to give him compensation, probably up to two years rent. I am told there are rich landlords who can afford to disregard that, but not many of these are left. Dilapidations never cover the cost of putting things right and there is always an additional charge. Practically every new tenant wants something new done when he comes in. Every change of tenancy means a good deal of cost to the landowner and a landowner dislikes spending money unnecessarily in these days unless he feels he must. You will get a number of tenants about the water line, just good enough not to be turned out. I could give a case of my own where I saw a tenant farmed very badly and I got one of the biggest experts to look at the ground. He said I was right in dispossessing the tenant—the land would have become almost derelict if I had left it—but if I thought I was going to get the certificate of bad husbandry I was wrong.
I admit that things have improved during the war but they will not be kept up now the war is over. Farmers do not like to turn out their neighbours and they will turn a blind eye on farms indifferent and bad. When the landlord wants to turn a man out, he applies to the Minister and the Minister says, "No, my officials do not report that man as sufficiently bad to turn him out." Of course the Minister is going to support his officials, but the landlord has probably a higher standard in his mind as to what that land could produce. Is that to the detriment of the country? We are all trying to get every acre of this country to produce every scrap of food it can, and therefore to put the Minister as a third party in this business and make the tenant practically dual owner is going to make it still more difficult to get tenants 176 out of holdings where they are not doing their work properly. What happens is that you get a young fellow who takes a farm and makes a bit of money and wants to get a bigger farm. Perhaps a landowner would like him as a tenant because he would be better than the man who is the tenant, but he cannot get the farm and so the young farmer cannot rise in skill in farming. One of my present tenants, a man who has now got a fairly large farm of 400 acres, at any rate for my small property, is my best tenant and doing extraordinarily well. I admit he did not succeed a man who was turned out for bad farming but one who gave up for health reasons, but he is the kind of man you want to encourage. To make it more difficult for a man of that kind to find a farm is exactly the kind of thing the Minister should avoid at all costs. I hope the Government will think again about interfering between landlord and tenant.
With regard to smallholdings, I hope the Government will change their policy in regard to food supply. Smallholders above all live on small produce, poultry and pigs. I know of one case of a very hard working tenant. His wife used to drive many miles into market every week and the agent responsible for that property asked her why she spent a whole day in market. She said: "I know you won't take advantage but I have a very bad market if I do not clear £2 every time I go there and that pays our rent." She sold poultry and eggs and plucked her fowls and sold them trussed and got a very good price. They cannot get the food to feed their fowls now and until you alter that policy the benefit of setting up smallholdings does not exist. I submit that that requires further consideration. I have talked about pigs and poultry, and I apologize for having been rather inconsequent in my remarks in this respect.
There is an obligation put upon land owners which does not seem to me to be fair, in that a landowner can be ordered by the Minister to supply additional buildings on a farm. But an agreement for tenancy is a contract between a land owner and a farmer, and that farm is let for a certain purpose under that contract. Take, for instance, a general farm where the tenant makes up his mind that he wants to keep pigs. He then applies to have a number of pig houses put up where 177 he can keep pigs. If the Minister agrees, he can put them up and charge the land owner; or the landowner has to do it. Not everybody can breed pigs satisfactorily, and this man may fail, and he may leave the farm with one year's notice. What happens then? The next tenant does not want to keep pigs; he has seen pig breeding to be a failure, and he goes back to general farming. But that landowner has been compelled to put up vast buildings for an entirely different object from that for which the farm was originally let.
Take another case which I know—that of a farmer who became interested in milk. He thought he saw a big profit in producing milk, and he thought of the cheque coming in regularly once a month, and all the rest of it, which looks so attractive. He did not realize that you may buy a very good bull, and you may have one or two very good cows, but it does not follow that you will have milk-producing cattle when eventually they are old enough to be milked. As my noble friend knows, breeding cattle is an extraordinarily risky business; and very often it does not pay. There is the case of a man who finds it is no good, and he gives up keeping cows. Those of us who have had to produce modern milking sheds, where farmers insist on having the cows in all night—as mine do—and adequate cowsheds for a good number of animals, know that it is almost as expensive as producing a school, with perhaps almost more cost per place per cow than it costs per child at the school. Such is the way in which these matters work. To compel an owner to do something quite different from the terms of the contract he has made with the tenant of the farm seems to me to be a matter which requires further supervision.
I have one last point, and I apologize for keeping your Lordships longer than I had intended. I do implore the Government to think twice before they get a very large acreage of land scattered throughout the whole of Great Britain. To get scattered farms taken over in that way because they have been poorly managed or poorly farmed, and then to have agents running all over the place looking after them on behalf of the Government, will cost a great deal of money. It will also entail a vastly increased Civil Service, and noble Lords who sit on the Government Front Bench know that they are under pretty severe criticism for the num- 178 ber of civil servants they employ. What is to be the number brought into being by this Bill when it becomes an Act? It will be a large number. I do hope the Government will strengthen that provision by which the Minister can sell land, and that where it is uneconomic to have a farm here, a farm there, and a farm somewhere else, perhaps 50, 60 or 80 miles apart, they will then sell that land to a suitable owner, or an occupying owner, and get rid of managing it themselves, If they can forget the idea that everything should belong to the State, I think they will not only be saving the taxpayer a great deal of money, but saving themselves a great deal of worry as well.
I close by saying that I think this Bill has in it a vast amount of good. I think there are points, as I have ventured to try and state, which require improvement. I hope this House, as it always does, will look upon this Bill with an open mind and with no Party predisposition whatever, and that when the Bill leaves this House it will be generally agreed by owners, by farmers, and by the men they employ, that it is a better Bill than it was when it came here.
§ [The sitting was suspended at a quarter before seven o'clock, and resumed at a quarter past eight.]
§ THE DUKE OF RUTLAND
My Lords, I have no great confidence in this Bill. I feel that farmers and land owners are going to sacrifice a great deal of freedom, and suffer a great deal of additional official interference, in return for the few benefits that are incorporated in the Bill. The chief advantage incorporated in the Bill is that of guaranteed prices and guaranteed markets; I must admit that that is a very big thing, and probably the most important feature of the Bill. But I believe that on the whole the guaranteeing of the prices and markets may be a lot more difficult than is at the moment supposed; I think the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, made that point earlier this afternoon. There may be international complications; there may be disagreements between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food and, as has been said already, this Bill is undoubtedly a long-term Bill. In a few years, when the food shortage has passed, the Government may find themselves embarrassed in guaranteeing the prices and markets.
179 I am convinced also that on the whole the Bill will do a lot towards destroying the confidence which has existed for a great number of years between landlord and tenant. I think the destruction of that confidence will take place owing to the fact that a third party is entering into the agreement between the tenant and the landlord. You are reaching a state in which the agricultural committees are taking a big part in the general affairs of the land. This will undoubtedly destroy a great deal of confidence which has existed for a great many years between landlord and tenant.
My criticisms of this Bill are mainly from the point of view of a landlord, because I feel that the landowner is definitely getting a rather raw deal from this Bill. We know, of course, that that is to be expected from legislation passed by a Socialist Government. Part II of the Bill may fall very hard on land owners—especially Clause 14, which will require the landlord to undertake compulsorily large repairs on an individual farm. I am convinced that the low standards of farm buildings in many parts of the country to-day are mainly owing to the very great effect of death duties on agricultural properties. I do not believe that that point has been made sufficiently strongly this afternoon. I know of quite a number of properties where the land owner has been only too prepared to spend all the money he could on keeping his farm buildings and farm cottages in a decent state of repair, but, owing to the effect of death duties, it has been physically impossible, because he has not had the money.
An excellent illustration of this, I believe, came into the national Press the other day. A noble Lord who is a member of this House (the noble Marquess, Lord Bath) who had, I understand, a very large scheme for modernizing farm buildings and farm cottages, was about to carry out this scheme when suddenly his father died. He succeeded to the estate, and death duties to the extent of 70 per cent., or whatever it was, were levied on the estate; naturally it was not then possible for him to carry out that scheme, because he could not afford it. If we had not had these appalling death duties on agricultural properties in the last twenty years, there would have been tens 180 of thousands of farms and cottages in a good deal better repair than they are to-day. I know that in talking about death duties I am probably out of order, as we are discussing the Agriculture Bill, but I feel that if something could be done perhaps to reduce death duties on agricultural properties there would be no necessity for the complicated provisions in this Bill for compelling unforunate land owners to spend large sums of money which they do not possess on repairing their farms.
Under Clause 35 of the Bill, there is provision—and I think quite fairly—for either the landlord or the tenant to go to arbitration as regards the question of rents. A great deal has been said this afternoon about rents and I am afraid a lot of what I intended to say has already been said, but I would like to add my comments. I know that the National Farmers' Union have agreed to this Bill, but I wonder whether they realize that the Bill undoubtedly means a general raising of rents all over the country. Undoubtedly in the Bill the landowner will have to undertake greater expenditure than he did before. In order to meet that extra expenditure he will have to raise the rents of his farms. That will undoubtedly be very unpopular in the country. This Bill is supposed to be to help the agricultural community generally, but if you start introducing provisions which will mean raising the rent, and come between landlord and tenant and cause unpleasantness between them, the Bill will not achieve its object.
If the fairly large landowner has any rents which are, so to speak, surplus from his farms, in nine cases out of ten he has to spend that money on repairing farm cottages, and in some cases the weekly rental of a farm cottage to-day is ridiculous. It is equivalent to the price of a packet of Player's cigarettes. Very often you find a perfectly good farm cottage let at a rent of about 3s. 6d. a week, and next door you find one, not much better, belonging to the local council, the rent of which is 15s. a week. I believe that is grossly unfair. In most large properties—and I speak from personal experience—it is not a question of getting 2½per cent. on capital invested; it is a question of getting no percentage at all.
I would like to say one word about Clause 16, which refers to the right of 181 appeal to the land tribunal. I feel most strongly about this. In a question of dispossession, there should be a right of appeal to something above the land tribunal. I believe something has been said to-day about the land tribunal. I have spoken to a number of farmers in my district and they all have no confidence in this land tribunal. I cannot see how you can call an appeal to the land tribunal independent when, after all, the Minister sets up the land tribunal, and he is, so to speak, almighty. What he says goes. The land tribunal consists of only three people, with a possibility of having two more assessors, and the chairman is a legal chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor. I do not consider that that is a proper court of appeal. I think we ought to go to the only truly indedependent court in the country—the court of law. I feel there will be no confidence in these tribunals. Incidentally, are they to be provided with mansions, like the officials of the National Coal Board? What are their terms of reference? What are they to be paid? There is a great deal of room for improvement in the composition of these tribunals.
Clauses 84 and 86, to my mind, leave the door open for the piecemeal nationalization of land. I think it is most unsatisfactory that the Government or the Ministry of Agriculture should be allowed to hold land and farm it, and I hope that Amendments will be moved in the Committee stage which will prevent this. I can see taking place a gradual snowball of land ownership by the Ministry of Agriculture. Over a period of years more and more land will be owned and farmed by the Ministry of Agriculture or the agricultural executive committees. We know also of a fair number of cases where farms farmed by the executive committees are farmed very badly. I myself could name two or three, and I think it is a bad precedent that they should be allowed to increase their powers and chances of farming. Those clauses should be modified to prevent land being nationalized, which is what it boils down to.
I believe that the present system of landowner and tenant farmer is both popular and satisfactory, and I would like to ask His Majesty's Government whether in the next Election, whenever 182 it may be—it may be next year or it may be three years later—they are to include in their programme for that Election the nationalization of land. I think they should make that perfectly clear now. We know that there is still a strong cry from the Back Bench Members on the Government side in another place for the nationalization of land, and I think that we are entitled, when discussing this Bill, to ask for a definite assurance that in their next Election programme the nationalization of land will definitely not be included. There has been a great deal of pernicious propaganda by Socialist speakers in the countryside about the landowner, and I think the Government should call a halt to that if they are to carry this Bill through to the Statute Book. In my district, I know, the agricultural workers' unions carry out the most mendacious and unpleasant propaganda against the landowner. There is no foundation whatsoever for it, and if the Government are going to pass this Bill they should call a halt to that nonsense.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ LORD SAVILE
My Lords, so much of this Bill has been covered in debate, both in your Lordships' House and in another place, that it would indeed be foolish if I, with my limited knowledge and lack of experience, were to attempt to throw a new light upon its interpretation. There are many more noble Lords after me who will bring a deeper experience to bear on this matter. However, I want to make a few general remarks about the Bill. I will deal entirely with Part I of the Bill. First of all I think all farmers—and when I say "farmers" I mean landowner, tenant and labourer—will welcome this Bill and will desire to congratulate the Government upon introducing such a measure, especially as it has the outward appearance, to all intents and purposes, of being in every way an economic plan and not merely a political manifesto.
It is important that this Bill should not be a political manifesto, for certain obvious reasons. Everyone knows that it is not the slightest use talking the politics of agriculture to the farmer. He does not trust politics; he does not like politicians. At home at the moment, 183 my own tenants are becoming increasingly suspicious of me because of my prolonged absence in Westminster dealing with two Bills. Several months ago, when I was going round some of my farms, I told tenants that the reason for my absenteeism as a landlord was the fact that I was at Westminster on Committees dealing with two of the Bills which most concerned them. Their reply was, "Oh, I suppose we shall have to read these Bills every night for the rest of our lives." This Bill has been variously described as the Farmers' Bible, the Magna Carta for farmers, and the Farmers' Manual, and, in your Lordships' House, as the Apocrypha. But is it really that? Our duty between now and the time when this Bill reaches the Statute Book is to go on improving it, with one objective in view—to persuade the landlord, tenant and labourer that they can have confidence—or should I say can regain confidence—in the industry. Anything in the way of ruthless political direction should be resisted where not absolutely essential.
Now why must this Bill be a sound economic plan? I think it is for two reasons: first, because we must somehow satisfy the nation's food demands, and secondly, because of the effect on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget. I believe that a healthy kind of agriculture which will satisfy both those things can be founded on a dominant dairy farming and livestock rearing industry. I told your Lordships the same thing last December. I believed then, as now, that this is the only way of stabilizing the industry, and that arable farming should come in as a means of supplying the necessary feeding stuffs for our herds and flocks. Of course we have had to back-pedal this policy, and we shall have to do so for years to come—certainly for much longer than I thought six months ago. This Bill, if not a Bill for all times, will, we hope, be for a great deal longer than the immediate emergency will last. I realize that there are large tracts of England—for instance in Norfolk and Suffolk—where arable farming must always be predominant in agriculture. But the fertility of our soils, our lovely grass lands, and our climate make a great part of our country ideal for animal husbandry.
184 Stability and security run hand in hand. Without one you cannot have the other. I think that there is an old American proverb which runs: "When wheat is a dollar a bushel all is well on earth." Where would our farmers be if that was so there, or anywhere? To-day the great majority of the arable farmers are hoping to cash in on their farms while the going is good, or else are hanging on a little longer hoping that something will happen to give them a living. We shall sooner or later be moving from the Utopia of a sellers' market towards competition by our Dominions as well as by countries to whom we shall wish to sell our exports, and we shall necessarily have to supply them, in turn, with compensating markets in this country. Unfortunately, the principal imports into this country will be agricultural products, and how can we expect the arable farmer to put everything he has into his farm with the knowledge that overnight his savings may disappear in the face of world competition?
As an example of what must be in the farmer's mind as well as in mine, take the illustration of a granary. Suppose he has filled that granary with last year's harvest, without hope of being able to sell at the price which that produce has cost him. Suppose that he has again been ordered to grow enough grain to fill another granary in the following year, and again to incur loss. Can you expect that farmer to carry on with the same spirit and with the same efficiency that he has formerly shown? Efficiency in farming is one of the great things which is stressed in this Bill, but very careful forethought and planning will be needed if the standards which we all want to see attained are in fact to be reached. The main factor in creating efficiency and stability is marketing. In this country we have a market second to none; that needs no advertising at all. Everyone knows the nutritional value of milk, butter and cheese, as well as of meat, poultry and vegetables, but our present difficulty is to supply our wants in that direction. We are importing these essentials from our Dominions and from various other countries, including Holland and Denmark, whereas if British agriculture could concentrate a little more on stock-raising and dairy farming we should be better able to look after ourselves in that respect.
There is one thing which backs up such a structure, and that is the Milk Market- 185 ing Board. That may not be of assistance to the farmer who lives near a town but it is most decidedly to the farmer who lives away from a town. He knows that whatever he produces he can sell, without wondering about the possibilities of finding a market, or having the dread and fear that there will be no market at all. Surely that is an incentive to enthusiasm and efficiency to raise the standard of production to the maximum. Several of my tenants have recently expressed the desire to go in for a T.T. herd of cattle. The will for such a policy is there, but in my part of England, at any rate, the will is directed by the pocket. As in everything else, there are two sides to every problem, good and bad, and I think the significant point in such a structure is lack of manpower to back it up, due to a lack of a vigorous rural housing policy. My noble friend, Earl Gainsborough, hit the nail on the head when he again reminded the Government that we would like to know something about the reconditioning of cottages and rural housing, and I share with other noble Lords the regret that not very much, if anything, appears about housing in the Bill.
Then there is a lack of capital. The subsidies and grants for food are to-day a terrible burden on the resources and finances of the people. The subsidies cannot go on for ever. I rather doubt if they can go on much longer, having regard to the way the Government is spending its money. I urge the Government to realize that if only they could give the dairy industry a capital grant, the dividends from such a grant would be phenomenal; so much so, I am firmly convinced, that there would no longer be any need to subsidise it once it was firmly established and on its feet.
§ 8.43 p.m.
My Lords, in venturing to address your Lordships for the first time, I ask for that indulgence which you are always kind enough to give to beginners. I will not keep you very long, as many of your Lordships have dealt in great detail with the principles of the Bill and, being such a newcomer, I feel that my contribution will not be of much value.
The first point I should like to make is that in the First Schedule, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has pointed out, there is no mention of wool. In Norfolk, 186 where I come from, we have been brought up in the tradition of fat cattle and sheep. It has in fact become an institution in Norfolk until recent years, and it has been the basis of our economy. In looking after the land, nothing helps so much as sheep and fat cattle which return to it the muck we need. The treading of sheep has been a very important point in maintaining the land and providing us with the quality in our barley for which I think East Anglia is rightly famous. The reason why we have no sheep at the moment is that there have been no prices comparable with the cost of keeping a ewe flock on the farm. Many years ago every one of our farms at home had on it a ewe flock. Nowadays I have only one. It is a very sad sight. The reason why I ask whether wool prices could be mentioned is that the price of wool surely has a great effect on the quantity of sheep kept.
In regard to fat cattle, it appears to me that there is no firm enunciation of policy in the Bill to encourage us to return to our empty yards the fat cattle we need to put muck on the land. Farms definitely need this return to the land of muck which we do not have nowadays; and, so far as I can gather, the country needs beef of the first quality, which we can and should produce. I am afraid the price is the main point which holds us back from doing this. We already have all the equipment necessary.
As has been said already, there has been a great swing to milk production—chasing the cheque, I am sorry to say—and I am not sure that that is altogether a good thing in our country. I think the previous speaker said that we are primarily a grain and fat beef producing country. We now have numerous demands by our tenants to provide them with new dairies, which may or may not last. If we have dairies provided now, we shall have to alter our existing buildings or build new ones at considerable expense. This we can do, and will do, if we are sure that this is the firm policy of the Government. But we do not want to find ourselves in the position of being asked to produce the beef later on, and have to reconvert our buildings to beef production. We do not want to let our yards decay for the lack of direction from the Minister. We must produce more beef in this country. We can do it now, I think, on a fairly equitable price cost basis with other countries; 187 in future I do not think we shall always be able to buy our beef abroad as cheaply as we have done in the past. I recently had a letter from a friend of mine who went to the Argentine, in which he says that conditions there are very difficult. Apparently the cost of living has gone up threefold, and in time I think they will have a similar standard of living to our own, which will mean that our beef will cost us much more.
We are told that the twin pillars of this Bill are stability and efficiency. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, I think, said that stability will come from efficiency; but to my mind efficiency will follow stability. As I say, there can be no stability without a definite policy, and I had hoped to see it in this Bill. Other noble Lords have referred to numerous points of the Bill, and I do not want to detain your Lordships any longer than is necessary. I would, however, like to mention a small point in Clause 106, which may be helpful. Clause 106 deals with provisions as to entry and inspection. Under this clause, as I understand it, the Minister has power to authorize someone to go on to anybody's farm for the purposes of inspection. Except under Clause 3 (b), there will be no notice given to the occupier of that land; and I feel, to say the least of it, that that is unwise. It is also rather rude to walk on people's property without telling them you are coming. I think there are cases where that might be justified, as, for instance, where a farmer has applied for a grant for potatoes on acreage payment, or something like that, where it is normal for the local agricultural officer to go and see whether the acreage is what the farmer has said it is, and how the crop is doing. But when it comes to, perhaps, a formal inspection, with the possibility of placing a man under supervision, then I think it would be hard not to have him on the scene. He can quite obviously explain a number of points for which it would be rather difficult to discover reasons without his being there.
There is very little more I can say, except to welcome the Bill, in company with other noble Lords who have welcomed the Bill to-day, and to say that I hope it will be a success. I think it should be, provided that in their administration the committees try to emulate the spirit of friendly co-operation between the landlord and tenant which 188 has existed, and not, as has been pointed out several times to-day, to come between the landlord and tenant.
§ 8.51 p.m.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, amongst the tasks which fall occasionally to members of your Lordships' House is the very pleasant one of expressing the views of the House and welcoming a new voice among our numbers. We have just listened to my noble friend the Marquess Townshend, and it gives me especial pleasure to welcome him. After all, the name of "Turnip" Townshend is well-known to anybody who has anything to do with agriculture, and in making his debut here in an agricultural debate of this importance the noble Marquess is carrying on a well-known and old tradition. It is perhaps too much to hope that he will produce anything so revolutionary as the turnip in this country, but we hope that on many more occasions we shall hear his voice raised on agriculture and other subjects.
I rise with a certain amount of diffidence on this occasion because, owing to circumstances over which I had very little control, I have not been able to listen to the greater part of the debate. The circumstances over which I had very little control consist in my interest in Bills other than the one before your Lordships' House with which I have had to deal in other places. I have, however, one or two points which I would like to put to the House. They are largely in emphasis of what I have already heard in debate, and your Lordships will excuse me if I repeat arguments already made. The first point I wish to make is with regard to the non-Party nature of this measure. And it is right to tell the House that, to a great extent, the agreement which has been reached upon this measure is due to the wisdom of the Minister of Agriculture himself. From the very early stages he took into his confidence all the bodies who were actively interested in this Bill, and as a result a large measure of agreement has been reached. It is, perhaps, owing to that fact that this Bill has not suffered under that rather destructive instrument in another place, the guillotine. The result is that your Lordships can act in your proper capacity as a revisionary body instead of as an initiating body.
Having said that, I am going to criticize. The first criticism I have is that 189 there is too much Minister in this Bill. When I say that, I mean that there is too much about county committees, because the burden will fall upon them and it is upon the work of the county committees that the success of this Bill depends. If you put too much work upon the county committees you will find that the right men, who are the busy men, will not be able to serve, and you will not have the right county committees. Therefore, I do beg of the noble Earl opposite, who is very much concerned in this, to see that so far as possible the burden will be removed from the county committees. In that connexion, may I draw attention to the fact that Clause 95 was put into the Bill at rather a late stage in another place, and it puts upon the county committees the kind of burden which they need to shed—that is, orders to grow special crops. I believe I am right when I say that they went into it fully at rather a late stage in another place in almost panic legislation.
That leads me to my next point. There is a complete structure for price regulation in the Bill. It is a good structure; it has worked quite well so far, except in one respect: His Majesty's Government have driven rather a hard bargain against the farmer. They have not used that instrument to encourage production in the directions they want, and I think that explains the necessity for placing Clause 95 in the Bill. They have not obtained what they wanted because they have not offered sufficient money. I do not blame the Ministry of Agriculture—there is the Gorgon of the Treasury standing in the background—but the fact remains that, if you are to make proper use of that price fixation scheme in the Bill, you must use it generously in order to achieve that production which is required in this country. I hope that that lesson may be learned from our present difficulties and the terrible trend of agricultural production in this country, as shown by the returns which have been published.
This question of prices was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, on the other side of the House and, as he rightly said, it has particular reference to the problem of the smallholder who starts early and finishes late. I must confess, when I heard him say that, that I began to think possibly the same words might 190 be applied to your Lordships, although I do not think many of us are smallholders! But it has a very particular reference to the smallholder who does lead a hard life—and not only the smallholder, but the small farmer also. The small farmer and the smallholder do need help, and unless the smallholder is helped, and the small farmer is helped, that ladder to higher things which is provided in the Bill will prove to be made of papier maché instead of sound wood.
The only other point I would mention is the question of security of tenure, referred to in Clauses 30 and 31, and to the control generally of tenant farmers through the Bill. It produces what is, in effect, dual ownership. Dual ownership, certainly when it comes to land, and generally in almost any other sphere, is fatal. You fall between two stools. May I say this: it was just that particular fact of dual ownership which led, in the first instance, to the real difficulties over the land in Ireland. In this Bill, unless we are careful, when we come to the Committee stage we shall have the beginnings of dual ownership—the Minister on one side and the owner of land on the other. And unless we are careful, we shall start down the road as they did in Ireland. It was very troublesome there, and it will be troublesome in this country. I will not enter into any other details. I hope that those two points, and particularly the last point, will be borne in mind by His Majesty's Government when we come to the Committee stage. And, if Amendments are moved in order to produce the right results, I hope they will be received sympathetically.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ LORD AMHERST OF HACKNEY
My Lords, like all noble Lords who have previously spoken, I welcome this Bill as a genuine attempt to lay the foundations of prosperity in the agricultural industry. My only wish is to draw attention to one or two points which have already been made on this Bill, with the object of trying to help to make the foundation more secure. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House referred to the necessity of directions under Clause 95, and he implied, as I understand it, that they were necessary to persuade the rather difficult farmer, who is not farming his land as he should, to grow certain crops, to keep up to date and to take advantage of all the 191 more modern forms of cropping. But surely this is not really the point of Clause 95: that is purely a general direction to the industry that we want more wheat and is an order to the whole industry to grow it, which is a very different thing.
I do not think anybody would quarrel with the idea of directions to the farmer who is under supervision; that surely is covered in Clause 12, which gives the county agricultural committees ample power to give directions to the farmer to achieve those things which the Leader of the House mentioned. But, except in times of emergency, I think that the powers under Clause 95 are, or should be, completely unnecessary. They may be necessary at the moment, and I believe that they have to be approved by Parliament. But they definitely do not meet the case of giving directions to the individual farmer, because you cannot have an Act of Parliament to do such a thing in a specific case.
Another point which the Leader of the House referred to was the right of an heir to take over from his father if his father was dispossessed. The noble Viscount said that was possible under Clause 14 of this Bill. I may be wrong, but on reading Clause 14 I understand that there is there the power to hand over to anybody else a property placed under supervision; but I do not think it covers the case when a man is actually dispossessed. During supervision he can hand over, but not if he is dispossessed. One other point is the question of security of tenure. As has been said before, it is extremely difficult in a Bill to strike a balance between the two sides. There is the necessity for giving security of tenure to the efficient tenant, on the one side; and on the other side there must be the legitimate right, if I may call it such, of the landlord to obtain possession of a farm, for the purpose of farming it or for various other reasons. I think that the balance has been weighted too heavily in favour of, or on the side of, the tenant. No one wants to see the efficient tenant turned out of his farm—that is a thing about which there would be complete agreement by every one of your Lordships. At the moment, too, with the grave shortage of farms to let, the fact that a tenant was turned out might easily mean the loss of his livelihood; he probably could not get another farm. But I am not sure that it may not 192 prove in the end to be rather a boomerang.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hastings said, the ownership of land at the moment is shorn of all the old-fashioned trappings; it is and must be considered as a business proposition. Can the noble Lord honestly say that under this Bill as it now stands, if he obtained possession of a farm, he would be keen and would re-let it without the slightest hesitation? If he lets it he will have practically no control over his tenant. He has almost unlimited liabilities for repairs and improvements. I know that he may appeal to the tribunal over the more serious liabilities, but even without going to the tribunal he can be ordered to carry out extensive maintenance and extensive improvements, with no right of appeal whatsoever. As I think was said by the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, the whole character of his farm may be altered, and he is more or less powerless to prevent it. The tenant may then give a year's notice at any time, and he may be left with a farm grossly over-capitalized for the type of farming which the new tenant wishes to carry on. It seems to me that if a farm becomes vacant there will be a great temptation for the landlord either to farm it himself, and to get some of the halfpennies as well as the kicks under the Bill, or to sell it when he can get vacant possession.
I think that is a point which he would have to consider seriously. If this happens—and I hope it will not, but I think it is a danger—then the tenant farmer, instead of having security of tenure, will be tied to his farm. If there is not a free market in farms and there are not farms to let, then the tenant will tend to become tied to the one particular farm unless he has the capital to buy a farm. He has then to be prepared to take large additional risks, risks over which he has no control. He may not have a lot of capital himself, which means that he probably has to borrow from the bank. He has then to invest this large sum in a farm, and he has little or no control over what happens to it. If farming is bad, his capital will be depreciated. I have bought farms at £9 an acre for which the previous owner had paid £30 an acre. Surely the risk which is obvious there, is not the sort of risk which one wants to increase. One does not want to hit the tenant farmer.
The other possibility is that it may lead to the payment of large premiums for 193 the assignment of leases over which, also, the landlord will have little control. It may so happen—I hope I am being unduly pessimistic and that it will not happen, but there is the possibility—that to rent a farm the farmer will have to pay a large premium to the present tenant. The landlord can do little about it, because if he objects, the present tenant stays put. I hope that my fears are unfounded, but I think that this is a point that should be considered particularly in relation to Clause 31. I do not in any way want to protect the bad land owner or the bad tenant, but I feel that possibly in trying to stop a few abuses the clause may cause hardship for the good owner and the good tenant. I will not detain your Lordships longer. I join with other noble Lords who have spoken in saying that we must make this Bill work well. Indeed, it will be fatal to the prosperity of the countryside and of the nation if it does not do so. Therefore, it must.
§ 9.14 p.m.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I would like to join with other noble Lords in all parts of the House in wishing this Bill well. I was particularly pleased, as I think were other noble Lords on this side of the House, to hear the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, Lord Addison, say that he was ready to receive, and he hoped that we would produce, suggestions on our side to make it a better Bill than it is at the moment. I only hope that that means that any Amendments which are put forward on this side in the Committee stage will receive consideration by the Government rather than just be dismissed in a cloak of rather polite but meaningless words, as has happened to Amendments to the Transport Bill.
There is one other general point before I come to a few small points which I have noticed and to which I think it would be useful to draw the attention of the House. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, made a rather bland remark to the effect that this Bill was to promote efficiency. What does efficiency mean? It means doing a job properly. And how do you do a job properly if you do not, in fact, belong to one of the four categories that Lord Cranworth mentioned? I believe that even Government Ministers want to be efficient, and you can only be efficient 194 if you have the tools with which to do your job. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl will tell us, when winding up this discussion, that there is some concrete scheme to help the farmer and the landowner to get materials and cottages—materials for farm buildings, and such like—so that both farmer and landowner can, with reason, be expected to carry out the obligations which are set out in this Bill. Broadly speaking, the Bill is fair, provided one is given material to carry out its obligations.
I would like to go on to the point that the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Earl Radnor, mentioned—namely, the work of the committees. The whole basis of this Bill and its efficient working will be the committees. It is useless to talk about the Minister doing this and that when it really means it is the committee who ultimately do the job. The people who work it and take the first kick are the committee. The committee are the only people who can make the Bill work or not work, and I think the committee's functions should be clearly stated by the Minister. At the moment they are trying to do three jobs—to advise farmers technically through the N.A.A.S., which is very short of personnel but which I hope will be increased; they are trying to farm themselves, and they are trying to act as contractors.
Their farming has cost a lot of money. Committee farming, with the best will in the world, is extraordinarily uneconomical. Some figures could be quoted—possibly the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has better access to them than I have. The Minister should say new whether, when this Bill becomes an Act, the committees should confine themselves more to administering this measure, to seeing that farmers, to put it plainly, get a move on and do their best, and to helping with their advisory service and contract work, instead of wasting a lot of time in this uneconomical farming. I do not know whether the food crisis is so near that it is still important to us to produce every sack of wheat, as my committee is doing somewhere in Putney. It is quite true; we have a little area of land in Putney where we are growing wheat at this moment.
I would like to ask a question on the security of tenure. I personally think that is a good thing, but I do not think it 195 matters very much, because, by and large, farmers have security of tenure. If you go about the country you will find landlords who have been there for generations and all of whose tenants have been there for generations. But somewhere the Bill does refer specifically to the question of altering the boundaries of farms to make them more economic propositions than they were before. We have had farms with these boundaries for centuries. How is the provision in regard to security of tenure going to affect the landowner who wishes to take three fields from farmer Jones and give them to farmer Smith, and three fields from elsewhere to give to farmer Jones, and one or other of the parties says, "No, I do not want to give up these fields"? It is a point worth looking into, and I would be grateful if the noble Earl could tell us something about that.
Lastly, the Minister in another place gave thirty-three assurances on various Amendments put forward by the Opposition that he would see that the spirit of the Amendments were carried out on the various occasions that may arise. I personally, and I am sure all noble Lords on this side of the House, have a high opinion of the present Minister, and I think that he is certain to stick by his promise. But I would remind your Lordships that his promise is binding only upon himself, and possibly upon his colleagues in the Cabinet. They may say they were not there, or that he made a mistake. But it is certainly binding on the Minister, and I am sure the present Minister would stick to any obligation he undertook, as also, no doubt, would his colleagues in the Cabinet. But it is only binding on him and on the Government. Noble Lords opposite know that Ministers come and go, and Governments come and go. You might even have a wicked Tory Government again; and we are always told by noble Lords opposite, and by their supporters in another place, that one never knows what those wicked Tories might do. They might completely reverse the assurances of the Minister. I would beg the Government, even for their own well-being, possibly in future elections, to see that these assurances are made part of the Bill. It is a bad thing just to say: "Yes, I promise I will do this," particularly as this is supposed to be a long-term Bill, when you know there is to be 196 somebody who will have to interpret your assurances later on who may not have the same view as yourself.
§ 9.22 p.m.
My Lords, I would not address your Lordships' House on the subject of this Bill, after so many noble Lords have spoken and covered so much ground, except for two reasons. One reason is that I want to ask a question of the noble Earl who introduced the Bill, which I hope and believe he will be able to answer. The second reason is that I would like to make the point that none of the members of your Lordships' House who has yet spoken comes from the north of England and is so familiar as I am with the conditions which we have there. I make that as a general point, and I would add that I do not propose to be so rebellious as their Lordships from Scotland have recently been on another Bill which we have been discussing. However, I think one cannot emphasize too much how different are the customs and habits, the needs and necessities, and also, thank goodness, the climates of the different parts of this country.
In a Bill of this nature it is important to recognize that. Right through this Bill we must always remember that we come up against differences, many of which are beyond our control, and, therefore, a Bill like this must be—and to some extent it is—adjusted to meet them. The Bill starts with the assumption that it is to create a stable and efficient industry. On first reading that I wondered to myself what is the meaning of this word "efficiency." "Efficiency" is a word which is used in many different senses for a number of different purposes. I remember recently seeing a longish correspondence in the Press discussing our agricultural problems. Some said that what leads to efficiency is the maximum output per man hour; others said it was the maximum output per acre per year; and there were many variations of those proposals. My interpretation of what this word means is that it is not the maximum output which we were forced to have throughout the war, but that it is probably the best way of getting as much output from the land as it will stand over a long period.
Something of that sort would seem to me to be the proper interpretation of the word 197 when used in this connexion. I think it is very important. It ties up, of course, with stability, in the sense of the demand for the total output from agriculture. Although many noble Lords have argued— and I think rightly—that it is not only the price but the long-term demand for the quantity which the agricultural industry needs, we must bear in mind that most important of all is the maintenance of the soil in fertility for a long period, and in such a state that it can continue to give that production. We are all familiar with that, but I do read that in connexion with this statement, and I would like to know from the noble Earl who has introduced the Bill how he himself would interpret it.
On the question of efficiency, we must remember that we may be looking at the production from agriculture in rather a distorted way just now. We are living in a period when shortage of food has upset all the normal systems of supply and demand. During the war we took advantage of the fertility stored in the land for a long period. In the north, at any rate, we were used to raising cattle, and a large percentage of our land was down to permanent grass—perhaps we left it down too long. At any rate, that suited the economics with which we were faced and we were very fortunate because we had those large reserves upon which to draw. That kind of fluctuation may be fortunate when it comes at the right moment, and when war calls for maximum production, but it is that kind of fluctuation we wish to avoid when we talk about stability. I think that rather emphasizes the point that behind the main object of the Bill we must keep in mind the necessity of keeping the land in the right condition for a long period of time.
Further on the point of efficiency, it is difficult to compare what is done with one kind of land, in one climate, with what is done with other land. There is the question of machinery, the size of the holding and the nature of the ground. In some conditions it pays to mechanize to a large extent, and in others it does not. You have to think of the amount of work which can be done with the machinery in relation to the capital you expend on acquiring it; and you have to consider that together with the plan of how you are to work the holding. That is not a simple calculation, nor is 198 it the same calculation for the different systems of farming which we must practice in different parts of the country.
Efficient use of the land depends, it is true, upon the proper maintenance of the buildings and the fixed equipment. A good deal has been said on that point, but I think it might be worth considering for a moment the method of land management which is being adopted in this country in relation to others. The landlord and tenant system was really the basis of modern British farming. Some of the landlords in the old days did a great deal of experimenting, and many of them vied with each other in improving the systems of farming, in educating their tenants and generally taking a lead in the industry. There is no doubt that this was the right way of bringing the industry up to date, and in fact, as your Lordships know, it really led the world at that time. But we have now rather a different situation. The economic forces have influenced people's minds and taken their activities off that kind of work. There has been a lot of talk as to whether it is better to increase the size of holdings and try to farm on a mechanized scale over very large areas, or whether it is better to go to smallholdings and try to farm intensively like some Northern European countries.
I myself believe that a revival of the landlord and tenant system is still what we require, and for this reason. In my experience, at any rate, most of the land varies enormously from farm to farm, and indeed within the boundaries of a farm. I think that our forefathers, by good fortune, generally succeeded in dividing the land into the kind of units that suit the nature of the land itself—some larger and some smaller. In some parts of the country the holdings are small, and in others they are much larger. I believe they did that by trial and error, finding the sort of areas which went together. We must admit that modern machinery does make a difference to it, but I do not think it overrides the fact that we have local variations to deal with. This Bill accepts the landlord and tenant system and seeks to make it more effective—I avoid the use of the word "efficient" because it has, to my mind, a rather different meaning.
199 The alternatives to the smallholding system are contained in this Bill. Up to now, subsidies have been paid to county councils, and that proves that the system, owing to the climate, is less economic in most parts of our country. We have had a lot of experience in this country of the smallholdings and we have found, at any rate in the North, that it is difficult to make them economic. We have had county council holdings over the whole of the country for some time, and before the war interesting experiments were made by the Land Settlement Association, some on the lines of market gardening and horticulture, although I am afraid that the war came too soon to show whether those experiments were to be successful or not.
I think it is wise to put into this Bill the general supposition that smallholders are to be further used in agriculture and trained in agriculture. You may have an opportunity to work up gradually to a larger holding and so on. I think that is wise, and that it will be generally welcomed. In fact that is being done in most countries so far; whether it should have been or not I do not know, but I know the experience of our county smallholdings committee is that men of that type have increased in numbers and they have gradually gone off by taking larger farms in some other place and starting up there. I am convinced that that is perfectly right; but we must recognize the fact that in doing that we are establishing holdings which are, in relation to their area, over-capitalized; and in that sense it follows that we need a subsidy, both from the rates and from the taxpayers' money, with which to do it.
Of course, in thinking of the different systems of land in use and occupation, there is a large body of owner-occupiers who come in somewhere between amongst the landlord and tenant system; it is difficult to compare the two. I suppose you could say that a number of farms together in one ownership would have larger resources, in the sense that the owner of the estate generally has or should have equipment for building and repairs, men permanently engaged on building roads, fences and so on; so that overheads can be sunk amongst a group of farms together. I would like to see provided the stability which is there, and I think we 200 should see an increase in the provision of mechanical and other equipment on estates of a certain size which can be used by the tenants of the estate between them. It used to be a general practice in the past and that was done at a time when the future was fairly certain, when agriculture knew where it was—a good many years ago now. It was done then and, if we can achieve what this Bill is aiming at, I think with the encouragement and easy provision of capital we may see that sort of thing, occurring again. I hope we shall.
Finally, on the point of efficiency, I think we must not forget that the real basis is the knowledge and experience of the man himself. It applies to farmers and it applies under this Bill to officials who will be working on behalf of the Minister, the county committees and Advisory Service. That is one of the really important matters that arise out of this Bill. It is one of the troubles that this Bill brings, because it affects the education and training of a large number of men. The county committees are rather short of qualified staff now. The Advisory Service is just beginning. A few men have been drafted into it, but it is common knowledge that there is need for a great number of really competent men to do this work. Think of the state of technical education to-day. We were rather behind in this country before the war. We are now extending the universities, but it takes a long time. We have had a lot of help from the Ministry of Agriculture in connexion with agricultural education, in the work we have to do and the people we want to train. We have been extremely appreciative; but we cannot get the buildings put up and we cannot get the professors and lecturers to teach the young men and put them through their courses of agriculture. It all takes time. This is not a criticism of the Bill, but a warning.
As regards the education of the farmers themselves, we have in the Education Act a very comprehensive system of further education. We are to have farm institutes and county colleges, and there is to be specialization for men who are undertaking agricultural careers. We want help from the Ministry of Education. In my county we have our development plans at work. What do we do now? The country is faced with many difficulties, and it is obvious that we can- 201 not get buildings put up. We shall not get young men any better educated than they are now until we have the things we need. That is a difficulty we must face. We must hurry as fast as we can, but there is room for anxiety in regard to the working of the new system until it can be adequately staffed, because, as many noble Lords have said, this scheme depends entirely on the agricultural committees; and unless they can get going we may have a good deal of difficulty in working it out.
This is a complicated Bill. Unfortunately everything we do in modern times leads to more complications and confusion. It seems almost impossible to get a simple and straightforward statute which says quite clearly what it means and seeks to do. This is not a criticism of the Ministry, but of the way in which we live and conduct our affairs. I would not attempt to offer any explanation as to why it should be so. There are a number of points mentioned in the Bill to which I should have liked to refer, but they have been well covered already. Clause 31 is a difficult and complicated affair. It contains two cross-currents. One is the difficulty of getting rid of an incompetent tenant. Experience during the latter half of the war and since shows that county committees are not so keen to dispossess a tenant, and I think that will continue to be so in the future. I have a strong idea that the tendency will be for the Minister's power to be exercised in the future. At the same time the power of the landlord to remove an unsatisfactory tenant is a little further diminished. I do not wish to argue this point as to whether the landlord or the Minister should remove an unsatisfactory tenant; but I am convinced that somebody ought to. I hope that we may find a way through this Bill to make it easier to do that.
There is another point which is raised on Clause 31, which is the need of the owner of the land, when it is not vacant or required immediately, to be able to occupy his land at some time in the future, be it for himself or his son, and various other arrangements of that sort. To my mind those are two quite different questions, and I think in discussion we should keep them clear of each other. I would like to refer to the clause in regard to supervision, and I would say, even were it not for the present difficulties, that it would still be rather a short period. 202 However, we shall be discussing that at a later stage in the Bill. There is another point that I think wants a little explanation, and that is Clause 84, which gives the Minister power to acquire land when he thinks it is not likely that it will be reasonably managed and looked after by its present owners. It is intended to operate in various specified districts—the Fens, and particular cases like that.
One can well appreciate the need for it in those special cases, and on that score I do not think one should criticize it; but even though it has what are described as, and what are, safeguards in it, I would suggest that it is drawn in such a way that it can, in the future, be applied to any ordinary agricultural plan. I quite appreciate that that is not intended in the Bill, but I rather think it is possible that it can be read in that way by some malicious person, if such a person ever got into the Ministry of Agriculture. I would suggest that the real intention might be made quite clear. Furthermore, for the sake of the sort of argument which arises on Clause 86—which contains the power, a very necessary power, for the Minister to be able to buy up land or farming units which have been wrongly broken up and to put them together again—the meaning should also be made clear. I think there it can be misunderstood; and the power, again, can be used by a malicious person in the Ministry of Agriculture either for preventing or for considerably delaying ordinary deals which are perfectly proper sales of land and sub-divisions and so on, which often arise in land management itself.
That brings me to the point which has been made more than once but which I think is very important. There is less opportunity than there was before for a landowner to re-arrange the boundaries of his farm. That is a thing which all owners of property are trying to do. A man gives up one farm; you add so much to another, and so on, and it raises the question of giving notice on a small part of a farm and simply paying compensation on that part. People can often do that, and the result is an advantage. I take it that now it would be a case of relying on the county committees to approve actions of that sort. As I understand the Bill, it can then be done. But it will not be any easier. There are enough difficulties in doing that as it is.
203 On the point of the committees, it has not been suggested, but I think it is important, that as they are to be responsible for supervision and management, as well as for the farm, they should have some form of land management committee to help them. They have I think, two members suggested or nominated by the landowners in the county who have to help them with farm matters. The district committees composed of the local farmers in their part of the county, I believe I am right in saying, have no advisory help under this Bill on the question of the management of the land. Not many farmers know a great deal about it. They know what they want with regard to their own buildings, and so on, but they have not the necessary general experience in connexion with the provision of buildings or the arrangements which have to be made in these matters, and although they may be ready with the best will in the world to play their part I think they may be a little at sea. Only people who have been trained as land agents or who have otherwise had experience in the management of estates can really do this work efficiently.
I would suggest that if there is not room for it as a provision in the Bill, there should be arrangements made in some part of the Bill to make it possible for these people to have the benefit of the advice of an advisory committee composed of people in professional practice in their counties—land agents or something of that sort. I am not suggesting that additional members should necessarily be appointed to these bodies, but that these bodies should have the benefit of the advice of professional people who understand the work. For indeed it is very intricate work. I hope that by methods of that sort we can get the flexibility which is required to work this Bill in the different parts of our country, with their varying needs. This can be and should be a very useful measure. Unlike the Bill we have been discussing lately, which seems to me to have been constructed from the top downwards and is therefore likely to fail, this measure appears to have been built on a foundation and to have been built upwards. Its construction seems to be sound because it uses the men in the industry itself to do the necessary work of helping it along. I think that is a very sound and wise 204 policy, and I join with other noble Lords in hoping that it can be evolved into a really useful machine.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, I had prepared a more carefully cooked dish of criticism of this Bill than I am now going to offer your Lordships, as in the last few hours I have been busy collecting crumbs of oratory and ripe wisdom from other mouths than my own. It is not easy at this late hour to go into particular details, and references to clauses of the Bill and schedules have largely disappeared from my revised notes. But I should like to start by acknowledging, as my noble friend the Earl of Radnor has already done, the fact that throughout the course of the construction of this Bill, before it was printed, the Minister and the Ministry have consulted in a very full degree—as I well know, having been one of those consulted—not only with landowners, of whom I was one, but with other parties concerned in the industry. On that, however, I would like to make one reservation. With regard to perhaps one of the most important clauses in the Bill there was not full consultation at the time.
I do not think that anybody, on any side of the House, has risen during the course of this debate without saying that we welcome the Bill and hope that it will work. Of course we do. Our whole hopes for the future of our farms lands, the future of the landowners, the farmers and the workers, depend upon whether this Bill works. And we hope that it will work for another reason. We all know that Mr. Tom Williams, the present Minister of Agriculture—I personally knew him long before he was Minister of Agriculture—has been a consistent follower of the fortunes of the farming world and has been a consistent friend to it. And when the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, gets up and says that this is a Grade A Bill, many of us agree, but those of us who know the very serious dangers which may occur if the Bill goes wrong in any large degree will know that, if your Lordships will forgive my making an atrocious pun, it will be a very "grim and grey" day for agriculture in which there will be no possibility of getting on with the job on the farm.
In so far as this Bill follows the collective wisdom shown in the recommenda- 205 tions of the Royal Agricultural Society of England's conference of 1941 we have no quarrel with it, and many will have no quarrel with it in so far as it follows the recommendations made by the committee of ten Peers of which my noble friend Earl De La Warr was chairman at a later date. But it is impossible, on reading the Bill, not to ask oneself how widely certain provisions have diverged from those earlier almost unanimous forecasts of what should be done. First it is necessary to take the very much wider principle of a secure agriculture as it affects this nation, and secondly, the balance which the quid pro quo gives in questions of land management and good will as it affects particular interests. I do not think there is any member of this House who would deliberately put the sectional above the wider national claim, but none the less it is necessary from time to time, keeping always the widest national claim in view, to consider how particular actions will affect sectional interests to the detriment or betterment of the national interest.
If I may make one digression, I would like to take up the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, on one remark which he made about the raised standard of cultivation in this country, in which he implied, I think (I am open to correction), that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said that there is a serious deficit to be made up in the national efficiency of agriculture. If both my friends on either side of the House meant that in relation to a self-imposed standard, I would most heartily agree, but if they meant it in relation to a general world standard I feel that our farmers have not so much to be ashamed about as those words imply; because though I fully agree that there are better practices in other countries in individual cases, and better conceptions in other countries, by and large our average of production and general efficiency in the face of difficulties, especially in the last seven years, has been such that it would be very hard to find a country in which it was surpassed.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
Perhaps the noble Earl will allow me to interrupt him. I was referring to the average standard of agricultural achievement in this country compared to what was operative half a century ago. I pointed out that, due to the extreme impoverishment of the whole of the industry, there was not as high an 206 average standard of husbandry in this country as we used to have in the old days.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I am glad the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has said that, because I always yield to him; and certainly in dealing with past history I would not question what he says. I was only questioning the statement in relation to the average standard of other countries abroad. To come back from that digression, I believe that on every side of this House, and in every serious thinking part of the nation which wishes the nation well, there can be no doubt that it is desired that this Bill in all its measures should be finally passed through this House and another place as an agreed non-Party measure. But however non-partisan we all may feel, if this House and this Government insist that certain measures within the Bill go unchallenged and unamended, it may be found that certain parts of the Bill will later be so unworkable that a revision will obviously be necessary to correct mistakes made in all good faith in the Bill. It would be a tragedy if it were necessary to make those corrections (because they may be numerous) as a Party measure and not as an agreed measure on all sides. I do beseech His Majesty's Government to consider anything that may be said in Committee and on Report stage with the object of limiting to the utmost extent the necessity later on, regardless of Party, to correct mistakes which it is impossible to foresee beforehand.
I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Cranworth, who started the fashion of Biblical allusions in this particular debate. In looking at Clause 1, and reading the assurances of what the noble Earl, Lord Cranworth, called the "Apocrypha," I am tempted to think that the voice is the peculiarly silky and downy voice of Jacob, but sometimes the hands are the very hairy hands of Esau and Government bureaucracy. If I may continue the Biblical allusion, so far as I can remember, the incident of the mess of potage preceded the incident of the presentation to blind Isaac. Have we in Part I a mess of potage for which we may all too carelessly have sold our birthright? My noble friend, the Earl of Huntingdon, in his clear, honest, and able speech, said that confidence was demanded by all; and, among other arguments, to show that confidence could be had by all, he 207 said that 75 per cent. of the products of British agriculture were listed in Schedule I of the Bill.
But is a negotiated guaranteed price the only form of security which is necessary for confidence in British agriculture? The noble Viscount, Lord Wimborne, speaking from the Front Bench of another Party—and I am sorry he is not here now and I am open to correction if I am wrong—seemed to imply that we turned to British agriculture as a pis aller, a last resort, because we could not import foodstuffs ad libitum. That is not the spirit in which to approach agricultural production in these Islands if we are to have confidence in future. But, there are other forms of security as well as the security of a negotiated price. Not so very many months ago, at the close of hostilities, we were told that pigs and chickens were necessary for our diet at home, and that we should proceed to breed more pigs and chickens. Many of us did so, but there was no security about the foodstuffs with which we were given to understand we might look forward to receiving to feed our animals. I am not going to explain the reasons—whether they were right or wrong—which led to as complete a volte-face in those days as we had in the Corn Production Acts twenty-five years ago. The fact remains that, whatever we might have expected for our bacon, that security was completely dashed by the lack of food with which to make the bacon.
Many speakers to-night have referred to the fact that horticulture has been left out of Schedule I. I think there are few people who know the conditions in agriculture who would say that the products of horticulture could be included in Schedule I. But we want a feeling of security, as well as the announcement which the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has made that the Minister of Food is considering marketing schemes, and so forth for agricultural products, however difficult their covering by guarantees may be. I know from a perfectly good authority that lettuce, however small in quantity they may be, are being imported to-day from the United States, the country where we are crying out for dollars. To go back to Biblical references: Let not thy left hand know what the Ministry of Food doeth. It may be that that is a small 208 item, but that anybody could even consider bringing in lettuce from the United States is a bad omen. I have had staying with me recently an Italian who has been busy organizing the import by air of luxury fruits into this country. They are not the citrus fruits which of course we need, but things like cherries and strawberries, which are taking the cream off our own home grown market.
We want something better than that in the way of guarantees. Apart from this, I do feel that there are serious dangers from the international standpoint so long as Part I of the Bill remains drawn as it is. I have not heard any noble Lords touch on this point to-night, and I do so with great diffidence but with a considerable cynicism born of past experience in watching international negotiations. Unless my friend the Minister of Agriculture is tied up as closely as humanly possible to a fully productive agriculture in this country; and unless ministerial assurances have been given by all parties in the Government, it is very difficult, when dealing with foreign negotiations, not to sell your own home agriculture across the seas. I give this as a very sombre warning. It is a most dangerous thing.
If we want foreign exchange or foreign loans from a country which has an agriculture which may compete with ours, can we be certain, unless we are tied to a real, steadfast system of maximum production of what we can reasonably well produce at home, that some Minister, not the Minister of Food but some other Minister, will not say at the last minute (because it will be very hard to resist saying): "Well yes; we will give this up in the national interests; we will not grow any more chickens in this country and we will not make any more cheese because this other country wants, in return for foreign exchange, to have that market for itself." Alternatively, if it is a question of dealing with awkward frontiers or bases for the security of some power whom we want perhaps to appease, or with whom we want, at any rate, to have a friendly attitude and a friendly approach, is it not going to be easy to say: "The British farmer is less important than international peace with that land"? Making that appeasement will not make the slightest difference to international peace or international commerce. Apart from that, I think it will be possible, with the opportunities we have to-day for dealing with 209 gluts in the shape of things like potato meal factories on the one hand or a deep freeze for vegetables and so forth on the other, to get far greater security for many commodities which to-day are very difficult to deal with. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has pointed out, we have also omitted the question of wool. It is not only a question of wool from the Dominions' standpoint. I am convinced, as a man who has tried, off and on, to keep sheep economically in this country, and who has talked to shepherds and hill farmers alike, that wool is one of the key commodities to guarantee, and guarantee if necessary at a high price, in order to make certain that we keep up the sheep population in this country. If we keep up the sheep population, we have the greatest safeguard against waste of grass and crops that we can possibly have. It is the most economical thing that we can do. I have personally worked out in the last few years that, under a wool quota system for instance, you could fix the value of wool to the home-growing farmer at five shilings a pound and not increase the price of a suit by more than one-and-sixpence.
If the policy side of the Bill fails, the machinery still remains. It is no good saying that it will not work, because it will work, but in a very ill-considered and bad way. I myself would therefore have liked to see, as a prelude to this Bill, a full and sufficient policy, a full and sufficient guarantee of production of the ordinary good things that we can produce in this country, preceding Parts II, III, IV and V of the Bill. The dangers in view, with all the good will in the world on the part of the Government and the Minister, cannot be minimized. We must therefore turn our attention to criticizing to some extent the machinery.
In general—because these things have been dealt with in particular by so many speakers—I would only say that the concept of many parts of the Bill is that British farming and British landowning will have virtue instilled into it by bureaucracy, by the Minister's knowledge, the Minister's wisdom and experience, and not by the people in the counties working together on their joint problems. However much may be hoped for from that conception, I am afraid that, so far as I can read experience, it will at best mean 210 only a negative absence of wrongdoing, or at worst, very clever circumvention. Of course, like all responsible noble Lords who have spoken—and I think every one of us can be classed as such—we are for the dispossession of the bad landlord and the bad farmer; there can be no question of that. So far as I am concerned, long before any provisions of this Bill were written I had written it in print.
But I am much more doubtful, having taken that just and right sanction against extreme cases, whether it is right to create that long Bailey bridge between original sin and final damnation, of bureaucracy intervening at every turn. I believe it could have been possible by other means to have created the conditions where responsibility can flourish. Irresponsibility could have been dealt with by relying on that ultimate sanction of dispossession, if you will, with more drastic measures even than are envisaged in this Bill.
If all were well, if it were possible to rely on the best of all possible committees functioning in the best of all possible ways on all occasions, there would be very little harm done by these provisions. Like so many other noble Lords who have spoken to-night. I myself have experience of between seven and eight years of work on these committees, having watched them in other counties than my own; and, though I have nothing in general but the very highest praise, not only for the committees themselves, but for their devoted staffs, I freely at this point confess that in 1939 I had not a very high opinion of the technical staffs of this country. In 1943 to 1947, however, I began to form the highest opinion, not only of their devotion to the cause, but of their practical common sense, after they had had the experience of field work. But, as has been pointed out by many noble Lords, the committees who function must be of the highest order, the cream of the agricultural community. The Minister himself has said the same thing.
The Earl of Huntingdon said it was impossible to overrate the importance of the committees. They are going to be given a task far more invidious in peace-time than it would have been in war—far more invidious in that there are many more opportunities for interference than there ever were before. At the same time, if they are the old members of the committees they will be tired and overworked, if they are young members of the commit- 211 tees they will be busy men who are trying to make their own farms function. As Earl Stanhope has pointed out, it is not going to be easy to get the right committee men. That information is nothing new to His Majesty's Government, because I have personally written screeds on this point in private to them. I think it is going to be increasingly difficult to get the men you want to represent agriculture, if there is to be this constant necessity by Statute to interfere between landlord and tenant.
That is only one side of the question. The other side is the technical staff. In the long run I share the hopes which the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has expressed on the working of the National Agricultural Advisory Service between the farmers and the scientists, but I think it is only fair to say this: that owing to the necessary Treasury regulations, the National Agricultural Advisory Service to-day is not as good as it would have been two years ago. Many of the best men who helped during the war have left for other reasons, and recruitment has been increasingly difficult.
In the United States I believe that forty-seven out of forty-eight States dissociate their advisory service from the police service completely at the present moment. Whatever may be the future, it is necessary to have the advisory service and the police service mixed up completely at the moment, and there is great danger unless you have men of the highest quality in the National Advisory Service, and they are sufficient in numbers to percolate every district. That, I think, is a grave danger which I think it is only right and fair to point out to the Government. Parts II, III and V constantly call for interference at the county scale, at the committee scale, between owner and tenant, and between the tenant and the carrying out of his ordinary job as a farmer. So it is not easy to see how this is going to be worked, in all good faith, with the present staff.
I think that the county agricultural committees, if I may perpetrate an Irishism, should be the first stage of the ultima ratio regis not prima ratio Regis as they are to-day, because throughout this Bill the curious premise seems to run that the landlord is almost ipso facto a rascal and the farmer is almost ipso facto a fool, and wisdom alone lies in the 212 Minister and his advisers. I know that that is a generalization, but, none the less, if you search through the Bill I do not think you will find that it is such a very unfair criticism. There were, I believe, thirty-four assurances given during the Committee stage in another place that the powers to be given under the Bill are to be used reasonably and wisely. More than one speaker has asked that those assurances, wherever possible, should be written into the Bill, and I join in that request. But is it not the case that assurances of this sort, though meant in good faith as they undoubtedly are, are a little like the assurances of officers in the Indian Army before the mutiny who said "My men would never do that." Or are they not like the assurances some of us have heard from a Master of Hounds who says: "My hounds never run riot, you could cover them with a sheet." As we know when we go out later, changed circumstances sometimes make those same hounds run other game than the fox they are after. You cannot be sure that something totally new, such as the control of the landlord, which, according to my understanding of county committees is very little understood, is going to lead always to the sweet reasonableness which seems to be expected.
If I may I will now come to one short point which was made by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, on Clause 16 (7). It deals with the handing over of land to an heir. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, said that there was the opportunity, under the Bill to hand over to an heir, and I think he said that there was that opportunity if the owner who is. being dispossessed agrees. But we all know that that will not fulfil the whole programme. Like many of your Lordships, I have had a lot to do with farmers. I know that many of them, when they get old, get very cranky and say that they are not going to be moved, and nothing will get them into agreeing to move until the moment is passed for doing it. That has been one of the tragedies to be encountered in going to see farmers in dispossession cases, and it may perhaps be one of the tragedies in connexion with ownership cases. For that reason we would like to see some form of Amendment introduced, either at the Committee stage or at the Report stage, which would make handing over to an heir possible even when an owner has been refractory 213 up to the last moment, with due safeguards, of course, to ensure that there shall be no evasion, and that the heir is the proper man to carry on.
I do not honestly think you will get happier relations by this constant statutory interference between landlord and tenant. The happiest times between landlord and tenant to which I can cast my mind back were the days in which there were practically no written agreements, and even if there were, nobody paid any attention to them. The days when people were prepared to hold land as a matter of charity and sentiment were not healthy, however fine such a sentiment might have been. But a better business arrangement need not necessarily imply adherence to a legal contract on which there is constant hostile appeal.
On Part IV I have very little to say except that in the last fifty years or more we have not, for various reasons, had anything approaching a peasantry in this country. Part IV, which we all welcome as a great effort to re-establish on a sound basis some form of peasantry in this country, is the small man's chance to rise. But we have so little experience of it—only the Land Settlement's magnificent work. Can we say that the Government alone is the only body capable of managing such an experiment and directing its lines? I believe that if the private landlords and farmers of good will were encouraged to set up suitable smallholdings and to make schemes, we should have the widest flexibility possible; but it is going to be very difficult to do that if (I know this is outside the purview of your Lordships' House) Government finance can only be given to Government sponsored schemes.
One word about that much discussed question of tribunals. I feel with my noble friends who have spoken that a tribunal is very necessary as a court of appeal from the regional tribunals, and that the Government should seriously consider establishing a tribunal of the standing of a High Court to which appears can be made from the regional courts. Clauses 84 to 87 of the Bill I cannot agree are entirely necessary. I would make only one plea: that what is necessary is not so much statutory interference—the less you can have of ith the better—but the recreation of conditions in which men who 214 love the land, be they farmers, farm-workers or owners, can serve it to the best of their ability.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I would first like to fulfil the very pleasant duty of congratulating the noble Marquess, Lord Townshend, on an extremely fine maiden speech. Not only did he impress us with his eloquence but he also showe that knowledge of a practical farmer which will be extremely valuable in our debates in this House. We hope to hear him often again. Next I should like to say how extremely pleased I am, on my own behalf and that of my right honourable friend the Minister, at the very friendly reception that this Bill has been given from all sections of the House. If I may use a Biblical allusion, I came into this House this afternoon feeling rather like Daniel in the Lions' Den, but fortunately the lions have been extremely kind and, although one feels that there may be some constructive criticism awaiting us on the Committee and Report stages, the general principles of the Bill are accepted and agreed. That is very gratifying because—and here I will agree with noble Lords who have already mentioned it—one does hope to keep this measure out of the field of Party controversy.
The hour is getting late, and I do not want to go into details on the Bill. There are, however, one or two points I should like to mention. First, I should like to say that all the points which have been made by noble Lords—some of them valuable points—will be considered seriously by His Majesty's Government, and we will see what can be done, if possible, to increase the efficiency of the Bill. There are various matters which seem to be in some doubt. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, I think I am right in saying, drew attention to the words in Clause 1 of the Bill, "and other agricultural produce as in the national interest it is desirable to produce." That seemed to worry the noble Earl a little. I should like to assure him that there is no sinister meaning in it.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
There is no sinister meaning, which I feel that some noble Lords fear. All we mean is 215 that some of our food—citrus fruit is a very good example—must inevitably be produced outside this country, as we have no way of growing citrus fruits on a big scale. This is merely the wording to express what is a very obvious fact. The noble Viscount, Lord Wimborne, in his speech made a very constructive suggestion about a pamphlet. That we will certainly consider. There are other questions which seemed to raise doubts in the minds of your Lordships. One was the question of rent, and I should like if possible to clear that up. There is nothing to stop a landlord from raising his tenant's rent, and should the tenant object to this, there is provision under Clause 35 of the Bill for arbitration. I should like here to point out that rent is one of the factors considered in the February price reviews.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
May I interrupt the noble Earl? Does that mean that rent is included in the definition of "adequate return on capital invested"?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I asked the noble Earl if he could tell us whether in the words of Clause 1, "adequate return on capital invested," he included the capital which resulted in a rent being paid.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Obviously the rent paid would be among the factors giving a return on the landlord's capital. I do not want to pursue this matter, but there are two other points which seemed to cause anxiety. One concerned the emergency powers in Clause 95. The reason for the insertion of this Clause in the Bill is not in case there is another war, because obviously in that event—which we all hope none will ever see—there would have to be all sorts of emergency regulations. But we hope to dispose of Defence Regulations—to do away with them completely. Therefore, we have left in the Bill under this clause powers to deal with an emergency such as exists to-day, where shortage of food is very serious indeed, and when this country has to play its full part. We need agriculture to produce certain foods which are essential. The only reason for this clause is to cover the possibility of such an emergency, so that we do not 216 have to bring in new legislation. There is nothing sinister or difficult in that.
Now the other question was the question of tribunals about which the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, seemed to be rather perturbed. I should like to point out that in the composition of these tribunals, to which all appeals will go, the Chairman of the tribunal will be appointed by the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, and the representative farmer and the landlord on the tribunal will be chosen from a panel by the Minister. But that does not mean that they will be under the orders of the Minister in any way. Once chosen they will form part of an independent tribunal which will try the cases. I think some noble Lords had in their minds that the tribunals would be like the committees, that they would be acting under the influence of the Minister, and if they did not carry out the Minister's instructions they would be liable to be given notice and discharged. Of course that is far from the case. The panel members will be absolutely independent just as the Chairman will be independent. We have done our best to try and provide independent judgment on these very vital questions of dispossession.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, made a very constructive speech, and I do not want to pursue him into the question of what is efficiency and what is not efficiency, although we all have our ideas on that subject. I should like to assure him that we will take into consideration his extremely fruitful suggestions. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, made one or two points about prices which are, of course, very important. I would like to reassure noble Lords once again that horticulture will be studied very closely—we hope to bring security to that very important section of the industry.
The hour is getting very late, and I do not want to go into other points which undoubtedly will be considered in Committee. It has been said that this Bill itself will not produce one bushel of wheat—of course we know that. That can only be produced by the industry, and I should like to assure noble Lords that we do not intend to farm from Whitehall. We want to give as much scope as is possible both to the committees and to the individual farmer. I think one is sometimes apt, in looking at a measure 217 like this, seeing all the responsibilities and the various activities of committees, to feel that all the time they will be watching the farmer, pouncing upon him, directing him, and so forth. Those powers are very largely in the background, and we hope that farmers themselves will take the initiative and choose their own particular crops to grow on their own particular land. We hope too that the industry itself will help to build up a prosperous and happy agriculture, producing in abundance the food which we vitally need to-day. I ask your Lordships again that you give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.