HL Deb 29 July 1948 vol 157 cc1325-8

2.39 p.m.


My Lords, this Order is largely self-explanatory. It allows my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to issue directions as to the maximum area of grass that may be maintained by farmers. I feel that in your Lordships' House I do not need to argue the necessity for increasing our food production. We have had a number of debates on this question, and speakers on all sides of the House have emphasised that we must produce from our land every ounce of food that we can. We have had considerable pressure from all sides to maintain and increase our tillage acreage. So important do we regard this necessity for grain, potatoes and other tillage crops, that in the agricultural expansion programme introduced last August we planned for a very large expansion of the tillage area.

I imagine that the only doubt which may arise in your Lordships' minds concerns the expediency of this particular means of obtaining the end upon which, I am sure, we are all agreed. I think the whole question boils down to this. As your Lordships know, we no longer issue directions to farmers to grow individual crops, as we did during the war, and there has been a falling off in the amount of the tillage area. We have relied on appeals to farmers to fulfill the targets. I should like to say that the agricultural industry as a whole has done a magnificent job of work; in general, farmers have responded to our appeals and are working to the national programmes. But unfortunately a small minority of farmers are not co-operative. They are allowing their land to go back to grass and, in spite of the persuasion of the county agricultural executive committees, are persisting in that course. This Order is intended to deal with that minority, and to strengthen the hands of the agricultural executive committees in the case of farmers who are not fulfilling their target and producing a sufficient amount of tillage crops.

I should like to emphasise that my right honourable friend has no intention of using on a large scale the powers under this Order, or that directions should be widespread. It is only in fairness to those farmers who are pulling their weight that the man who is not doing his best should be made to comply. We are afraid that if this is not done, the bad example might spread, and our whole expansion programme would be in danger. That is why we need this Order. The only alternative which has been suggested is that of supervision, but I submit to your Lordships that that is an unwieldy and clumsy instrument, extremely prejudicial to the farmers and causing long delay. Moreover, there is some doubt whether a failure to have the required amount of tillage could be regarded as bad husbandry. We do not think that supervision is a satisfactory alternative. I hope your Lordships will appreciate the intention behind this Order and will give it your approval. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Special Order, as reported from the Special Orders Committee on Tuesday last, be approved.—(The Earl of Huntingdon.)


My Lords, I was anxious not to make this a subject of debate, but I should like to put one question to the noble Earl. I should like to ask how the proposed system of agricultural advisory officers fits in with the individual control, subject to this direction, of farming in a county by the county agricultural executive committee. I do not know whether I have made myself clear. There has been some suggestion that the new National Agricultural Advisory Service may, to some extent, overlap the operations of the county agricultural executive committees. I feel that it would be a matter of some relief to those county agricultural executive committees which are pulling their weight—and I think the noble Earl will admit that many are pulling their weight—to feel that there was no independent authority cutting in and giving directions contrary to theirs, or which might be interpreted as militating against their own directions.


My Lords, I take it that this is an Order by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and does not apply to Scotland. Can the noble Earl say whether the Secretary of State for Scotland has in mind any similar Order? If so, I would like to emphasise what has already been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that the machinery of the county executive committees, which have been very highly developed in Scotland, should be used so far as possible.


My Lords, I would like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, whether I am correct in understanding that these directions can be applied only in England, and that this Order does not apply to Scotland. I would also ask whether it is a fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland has intimated that he does not intend to give these directions.


My Lords, in answer to the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, I can assure him that this will be entirely the function of the agricultural executive committees, and not that of the National Agricultural Advisory Service, or any other body. With regard to Scotland, I am afraid I cannot tell noble Lords what the Secretary of State for Scotland has in mind. However, I will certainly approach him and find out if he has any future plans for Scotland, and I will let your Lordships know the result of my inquiry.


My Lords, may I ask one question on that last remark? Do not the Agricultural Departments of Scotland and England work closely enough in contact these days to know what the other is doing? It may be that in the old days the Ministry of Food were partly the liaison between the two, but surely, even now, the Departments ought to know whether the Order is to be applicable over the whole of Great Britain.


My Lords, I should hesitate to speak for the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I will certainly draw his attention to the remarks of noble Lords.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.