HL Deb 16 September 1948 vol 158 cc75-132

2.35 p.m.

EARL DE LA WARR rose to move to resolve, That this House is of opinion that plentiful food imports are not likely to be available in the foreseeable future, and that it is desirable that the emphasis of our Empire and National economic policy and the allocation of capital resources and man-power should be adjusted to meet this change in our circumstances. The noble Earl said: My Lords, during the last two or three years your Lordships have discussed, under a great number of headings and from a great number of different aspects, the Motion on the Order Paper to-day. But in effect it all comes to the same vital question, the same setup of related problems; that is, the related problems of world food supply, of how much and to what extent we can increase production here at home and in the Empire and, arising out of those questions, the adequate feeding of the people of this country.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and myself, among others, have raised these questions. Certainly during the last six or twelve months it has been clear from their replies that both the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, and the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, have been in pretty full agreement with the general tenor of our remarks as to the extreme gravity of the situation. Hitherto, we have discussed this problem from the point of view of the immediate state of affairs, or at any rate with regard to the near future. The object of the Motion that I have ventured to put on the Paper to-day is to discuss it from a somewhat different aspect, and to assert what I believe is quite fundamental, not only to an understanding but to a treatment of the problem with which we are faced. It is a problem not of a temporary crisis but rather of a long-term—I hesitate to use the word "permanent" in any matter of human affairs—change in the world food supply position, in the state of affairs in regard to world food prices and certainly in the ability of this country to pay for its imports.

So long as economists continue to advise Governments that in their opinion, in the reasonably near future, to a greater or a lesser degree, there is still a possibility of our being able to return to what they would consider the good old days of dear exports in exchange for cheap imports of food and raw materials, just so long is it unlikely that any Government, of whatever complexion it may be, will be able to tackle the problem of making the most of our own soil and our own Empire. For a long, time now, the basis of our national prosperity—whether it be a good basis or a bad basis we are not discussing at the moment—has been this extremely favourable exchange of manufactured goods in return for cheap imports of raw materials and food. So I suppose it is only natural that we as a nation should find it extremely difficult to face the hard and grim fact that the terms of trade as between manufactured goods and food products are now different from what they were in the last century and, indeed, are no longer in our favour. It is an unpalatable pill for any of us to swallow and unpalatable most of all, I suppose, to those economists who persist in advising us, as a country, still to look forward once again to days of cheap and easy imports and, therefore, not to put our all into the produce that we can bring forth from our own land.

It is probably true to say that such people shelter behind two defences. The first is that, sooner or later, supplies will be better; that prices will therefore fall, and that the terms of trade will once again turn in our favour. The second defence is that these immense figures of increased population—given by Sir John Boyd-Orr and, indeed, by myself—which point to the future general shortage of food are all very well, but they are purely theoretical figures; that they represent a demand from parts of the world such as the Far East which have never been able to purchase the food, whose people have always been undernourished in the past and are always likely to be, and that therefore the food will come to this country.

I want to try to deal with those two points, because I think they are fundamental to an understanding of the issue. There are, of course, two sides to the problem and it is a little difficult to separate them. One is the extent and the availability of supplies of food, and the other is the ability of this country to pay for that food. I want to-day—other noble Lords may take a different line—to concentrate rather on the question of the availability of supplies in the long-term future, because it seems to me it is not much use discussing whether we can or cannot pay for what quite possibly may not be there. Your Lordships have discussed this question a great many times before, and I think you are fairly familiar with the present position. But it may be helpful if just for a moment I briefly recapitulate the present state of affairs with regard to existing supplies. I must ask your Lordships to forgive me if I introduce rather a large number of figures, but it is not much good discussing a question of this kind in general terms; we have to get down to hard details.

Take the grain position. The yields and acreages this year, both in the Western Hemisphere and in the whole of Europe, have been good—exceptionally so in North America. But having said that, I would remind your Lordships that even early this year when the International Emergency Food Council issued their Report they discounted that position; they informed us that they hoped, assuming good crops, that world production of grain supplies would be equivalent to our pre-war supplies. Then the Council went on to remind us that the world population had increased since the war by 10 per cent.; and though it is difficult to be accurate on these figures, I think we may take that as meaning somewhere between 150,000,000 and 200,000,000 people. If we remember the shortage of other commodities—such as rice, which is mainly for human consumption, and cake, for the feeding of stock—we shall see that an exceptional demand will be made on the grain market to take their place.

On the other hand, assuming peaceful conditions, there is a hope of some increase in grain supplies in Europe. The total figure of European grain production before the war was about 42,000,000 tons; to-day it is 25,000,000 tons, but no less than 15,000,000 tons of the total is now behind the Iron Curtain and, presumably, not easily available. If we look at the figure which really matters to this country, however, the total available supplies for export, we see that the estimate is 35,000,000 tons. In arriving at that figure, the Council assumed good harvests, but what disquieted me was that no less than 60 per cent. of the estimated supplies came from one hemisphere—the United States of America and Canada. What is more disquieting is that we have had a phenomenal run of good harvests in that hemisphere and that, in view of world weather conditions, we have to face the possibility—if not the certainty—of a bad harvest or harvests in the future, near or far.

Now I turn to fats and oils. There we find that before the war 6,000,000 tons were available for export. Last year the figure was 3,500,000. This year it is hoped to raise the figure to 4,000,000 tons that is to say, a 33⅓ per cent. decrease on the pre-war figure. Rice exports in 1948 are expected to be 40 per cent. above those of 1947, but, even so, they would be only 40 per cent. of the prewar figure. With regard to meat, the figures that were estimated by the International Emergency Food Council showed a reduction of between 10 and 15 per cent.—that is to say, from 4,600,000,000 lb. last year to 4,000,000,000 lb. this year. They also estimated a reduction in supplies of dairy products from Western Europe, though I think probably we shall not be worrying so much about milk supplies in this country, short though they have been. On the whole, our figures are tending to improve, rather than otherwise.

There, my Lords, is a very brief summary of the position as it appears to-day. But what we want to know is: What prospects are there for a change for the better? We return to the original question of whether this is a temporary crisis or whether we are dealing with a long-term problem. So far as the grain situation is concerned, we come back to the point that I have already made, that over 60 per cent. of our present supplies are dependent on the weather. It amounts to a gamble on the hope that North American weather is going to change and become virtually perfect. If not, over 60 per cent. of the world's total grain supplies for export will be in jeopardy, dependent upon any turn of the weather. There is a further point. More and more in that Continent, particularly, they are tending to adopt methods of farming that we have for generations operated here. In the old days, American farming was to a large extent a matter of mining the soil for wheat, as was the case with Canada. But now, more and more, they realise the importance of stock in the cultivation of their soil, and therefore more and more will they consume their own grain supplies in their lands.

As to the future of fats and oils, we find that the International Emergency Food Council say that there is no hope of recovery from our main sources of supply before the Second World War—namely, Manchuria and India. They use the words: No substantial recovery can be counted on in the foreseeable future. It is true that we are spending many millions of pounds upon developing some of our territories in Africa, in the hope of increasing the supply of oil-bearing crops. But I think noble Lords opposite will agree—and probably the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, will correct me if I am wrong—that, from what I have seen of the most optimistic figures for those schemes, we are not hoping to produce more than one-half of what we have lost from our pre-war supplies from India.

Turning now to another factor, I cannot help feeling that it would be extremely comforting if one could see a single important country in the world that is not steadily increasing its industrialisation at the expense of agriculture. We see it in Canada; we see it in Australia; we see it in South Africa. We see it particularly in South America, where it is true to say that to-day only one country in that great Continent remains a serious food-exporting country; that is, the Argentine. Even in the Argentine, since the Second World War, there has been practically no increase in food production, although there has been a 25 per cent. increase in their population. In the Argentine, too, we find that since the Second World War there has been an 11 per cent. reduction of labour employed in agriculture, and an 11 per cent, increase in labour employed in in dustry. This problem of population and greater consumption per head is vital. The figure frequently being given (it was confirmed at Brighton the other day by Sir Henry Tizard, the President of the British Association) is that world population is now increasing at the rate of 1 per cent. per annum—a very considerable increase, amounting to about 20,000,000 a year. Perhaps equally important is the fact that it is frequently in the food-producing countries that this increase is taking place; it is certainly taking place in the food-exporting countries.

I have already spoken of the 25 per cent. increase in the population of the Argentine. In addition to that fact, the Argentine are now eating more meat per head. In the United States of America they are consuming 23 per cent. more meat per annum than before the Second World War. The main reason for our losing pretty well the whole of our supplies of fats and oils from India is that during the last thirteen or fourteen years there has been an increase of 70,000,000 in their population. Every person in India is consuming more fat and oil. Therefore, the cheerful theory that has been put forward by the economists, that others may starve while we live in plenty, does not seem to me to be very near the mark, because it is in the food-exporting countries that industrialisation is taking place. They are increasing their population and consumption, and they are therefore tending to keep more food for themselves. Incidentally, by their industrialisation, they are also making it more difficult for us to send them our exports.

I have mentioned India in relation to the supplies of fats and oils. There seems to be now a good deal of hope that in the future we shall be able to feed ourselves from Africa. I should be sorry if a single word of what I said in any way suggested that I did not believe we should do everything in our power to develop our vast resources in Africa. We must. But, having said that, are we sure that Africa is not going to follow in the footsteps of India? Already, food consumption in Africa is increasing considerably per head. Under British rule, the attacks on disease and on infant mortality are having their effect, as also is the very right and proper gospel that we preach in this country against the exploitation of native races. There are three parts of Africa of which I have a knowledge—and that perhaps only slight—but I would here venture the definite statement that during the next few years South Africa will have a considerable problem in producing sufficient food for their own purposes, let alone any for export. They may export some luxury produce, and this year there may be a small export of maize; but I am sure that they will import more wheat than they will export maize. Going a little further north in Africa, to Southern Rhodesia, I will venture the statement that if in Southern Rhodesia they pursue a progressive, not to say an aggressive, policy of agricultural development, the country may be able to become self-supporting within the next ten years. With regard to East Africa, taken as a unit of territory, I think it most unlikely that, on a basis of net imports and exports, there will be any serious amount available for export.

Where, we may well ask ourselves, are the economists looking when they warn us against the danger of allocating too many of our resources to the development of our own soil? I confess that I find it impossible to see. What is staggering is the extraordinary gamble that usually quite responsible people are apparently prepared to take with the food supplies of this country. It may be true that if we could return to the old days of dear exports and cheap imports, we would as a nation be richer in terms of money. But consider the stakes. Food is the very source of life. The economists may say, "We admit that food is short but we have hopes that it is going to be more plentiful." It may be that they will admit that to-day it is extremely expensive to import into this country, and that in fact it costs more than we are prepared to pay our own farmers. But they hope that that will not always be the case. It is true that at present, in spite of all our export drives, and in spite of our cutting the home market, we are unable to export sufficient to pay for what we have to import. The economists hope that in some way or other in the future, near or far, we shall be able to fill the gap. But because of these hopes—supported, if I may say so, by not one single shred of evidence—they are prepared to take on themselves the responsibility of continuing to contend that we should be wrong if we put too many eggs into the basket of increasing food production at home. It seems to me that such a gamble with the problem of feeding the people of this country is not only a folly, it is a crime against our existence—certainly against our independent existence.

This is not an agricultural debate. We have had a great number of such debates and I think we have all, on both sides of the House, had full opportunity for saying what we ourselves think should and could be done in order to speed up food production. It seems to me that what has held us up in the past, and what we have to tackle now, is not the problem of what we can do (which I think is fairly clear) but whether we are convinced that it is necessary for it to be done. We can continue, of course, on the present basis of a very reasonable increase and development in home food production on quite sound lines (I have frequently said things about it in the past which I am not going to repeat) or we can say that unless we intensify our efforts, both in terms of urgency and of scope, we are endangering the very life of this country. But, my Lords, if we say that, I do not think we should be under any illusion as to what it really entails. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, put this clearly to us in the last debate. It will mean a tremendous diversion of national effort; it will mean a diversion of capital, of man-power and machinery that is frequently needed by other important industries. It will mean the supply of houses, steel, timber, cement, fertilisers, electricity, water supplies, and possibly in some cases, higher prices for agricultural produce. It will mean, in fact, the re-focusing of our national economic objectives. It seems to me quite clear that that will be agreed to by Parliament, by the Government and indeed by the nation, only if they are convinced that the contention contained in this Motion before your Lordships today has, in fact, been justified. That is the point to which I hope we will be able to address our comments to-day.

From what I have said, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, will feel that there is no need to spend any time defending the agricultural record of the Government. No attack has been made, and no defence is needed. I am simply trying to put forward a national problem and the possibility of a national approach to that problem. We are concerned today not with the past but with what is needed for the future. I am only too well aware that we, and particularly the Government, are pressed on all sides with a multitude of problems; and that sometimes it is hard to know where to turn one's mind, and on what problem it is most necessary to concentrate. But I would venture to say that there is no problem more grave than the problem of food production. I know that there is no great political interest in it, because there is no great controversy attaching to it. In some ways one almost wishes that there were, because it might then be easier to arouse a national feeling about it. But it is fundamental to our existence; it is fundamental not only to the problem of paying our way as an independent and self-respecting country, but to our very life. I will close by hoping that the Government will feel able to accept the terms of this Motion, and that it will go out as agreed on all sides and from all sections of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House is of opinion that plentiful food imports are not likely to be available in the foreseeable future, and that it is desirable that the emphasis of our Empire and National economic policy and the allocation of capital resources and man-power should be adjusted to meet this change in our circumstances.—(Earl De La Warr.)

3.9 p.m.


had given Notice of his intention to ask His Majesty's Government, whether in the light of the Report of the Second Session of the World Food Council, recently issued, they propose to modify their programme of home food production, announced last August, either in regard to the categories of essential foodstuffs for man and beast, or in regard to the official machinery for directing or stimulating the optimum activities, in the national interest, of food producers throughout Great Britain, or in regard to both; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, two months ago I put on the Order Paper a Motion which I hoped might be reached before the House rose for the Recess; but as the Motion was couched in terms which were intended to take into account the results of the corn harvests in the Northern Hemisphere, and particularly in this country, I am glad that it has not come to be dealt with until to-day.

I want to say frankly that I am by no means a critic of the Ministry of Agriculture, or of its energetic and sympathetic Minister, and although it might be imagined from certain correspondence that appeared in The Times that I intended to be a critic when last I addressed your Lordships on this subject, that certainly was not in the least my intention. When I first put down this Motion, under the heading of "No day named," I had in mind the very policy which, about that time, was adopted by the Ministry of Agriculture—namely, whether, in view of the serious world position in regard to food supplies, and of the possibility of the gravity of the situation increasing during the next few years, something might not be found necessary in the way of stimulating (as I express it) the production of essential foodstuffs in this country. Action has been taken in that directions and I wish to thank the noble Earl for the line which his Department have followed in applying some measure of pressure upon the county agricultural executive committees. As we all know, those committees vary considerably in their capacity and activity, and also, to some extent, if I may say so, in their knowledge of the potentialities of different classes of land within their administrative areas. That action has been taken, and already it is becoming evident that the stimulant is having beneficial results.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, pointed out in our debate in June, the world's population is increasing by no fewer than 20,000,000 a year; and, of course, as he also pointed out, there is no corresponding increase in food production, although a higher standard of living than that which obtained before the war is expected in all civilised countries. We are all earnestly hoping for—and, indeed, professing to do all in our power to achieve a material improvement in the standards of nutrition of something like 50 per cent. of the world's inhabitants who in the past have suffered from malnutrition and, through malnutrition, from a reduced capacity to do a full day's work and so take an effective part in the economic development of their countries. What was forcibly pointed out in the Report of the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which was published in April last, was that a solution can come only by each country doing its utmost to increase its own agricultural output. That is where, to my mind, there falls upon us a very heavy responsibility. Are we, or are we not, pointing the way, as indeed we ought, to the other countries of the world having a potential capacity for greater output? Are we pointing the way in the matter of obtaining at least from the soil of this country its optimum possible output?

There is one factor arising out of this Report which the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, emphasised upon which, perhaps, we have not yet laid sufficient stress—that is, the serious losses due to diseases of food crops and livestock and the depredations of insect and fungoid pests. The Food and Agriculture Organisation have taken counsel, I understand, with the chief scientific experts available in different parts of the world in regard to this problem, and we were told at the meetings of the British Association, from which I have recently returned, that every year, between harvest and consumption, there is destroyed by mites, pests and rodents grain equivalent to all the food passing into international trade—approximately 65,000,000 tons of grain per annum. That is an appalling loss, and the question arises, of course, of how that loss can be prevented. Science, we are told, knows how to control these losses by the application not of new knowledge but of clearly proved remedial measures which are, in fact, being carried out in many enlightened countries to-day. I suggest that the F.A.O. should be asked to concentrate upon this problem, providing, through their Organisation, expert advisers who can carry guidance into all the countries where these losses are most seriously experienced. And to do this I would venture to ask that we, at any rate, should help to provide sufficient financial assistance to enable this salutary work to be effectually carried out.

But if the losses of crops from these diseases and pests are considerable, the losses of our farm animals, particularly of our bovine population, from avoidable and curable diseases are indeed very serious also. And in my judgment this is a matter which ought to be more strenuously taken in hand than it has been hitherto. We all know, or ought to know, that in the matter of milk alone—and, after all, milk is the A.1. priority food of the nation—every scientist admits to-day that if we were to take steps to eliminate preventable bovine diseases we should have at least 40 per cent. more milk output from our present bovine population than we are now getting. This is an old subject; it has been discussed in this House before. As is well known, the most serious of these diseases is mastitis. It is rather a sad reflection that, with the exception of one country—which, if I remember aright, is France—we in this country, of all civilised countries, have the lowest average output per cow. I think I am right in saying that the average yield per female bovine in this country is approximately 500 gallons—though I am not sure that it is as much as that. Every expert on this subject knows that if only we could prevent these avoidable bovine diseases, if we were more careful in the selection of our bulls, and if our cattle were kept under more sanitary conditions, the average milk yield ought to be nearer 800 than 500 gallons a year.

Another matter to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, referred, and which this Report of the Second Session of the Council of the F.A.O. emphasised, was the little attention paid to grass. In this connection perhaps your Lordships will permit me to read a short extract from the address given last Wednesday before the British Association by the President of the Agricultural Section. Professor Scott Robertson is one of our ablest agricultural scientists and probably, with the exception of Sir George Stapledon, our greatest authority on the potentialities of grass and herbage plants generally as food for cattle. He said: Grass is the greatest crop of all, and in the Western Hemisphere, probably covers an area greater than all other crops put together. Is it not astonishing how little attention has been paid until recent times by our scientists to the supreme importance of this crop? Does anyone seriously contend that the world's grass lands and pastures are producing more than a fraction of what they could produce? We know that grass as grazed by the animal is the best feeding known for dairy cows or fattening cattle. No mixture of cereals and oil seed cakes can give us as good milk yield or live-weight gain with fattening cattle as first-class grazing. Put crudely, for these purposes, all the science of nutrition cannot replace grass. What contribution does grass, the most indigenous of all crops and the best balanced feed for cattle, make to the feeding of our livestock during the winter? As I notice that a good many farmers are agitating for a much larger availability of concentrated feeding cakes and feeding stuffs imported from abroad in order to feed their dairy cattle during the winter, I would venture to express the hope that we do all that we can to encourage farmers to produce silage, which is a concentrated food, unlike hay, and look to grass, both fresh and conserved, to provide to a much larger extent than in the past the concentrated requirements for our dairy cattle.

Professor Scott Robertson goes on: We cannot stock our farms to consume all the grass at its time of maximum production, and what is conserved for winter use is mainly in the form of hay which has lost much of its feeding value. Surely we can solve the problem of conserving grass so that it may play its proper part in milk and meat production during the winter and thus minimise the competition with the human population for cereals. … The problem is an urgent one, especially from a European view point. The social and political changes which in Roumania, Poland, Hungary, etc., are bringing about the substitution of the big farms by small peasant holdings mean inevitably the production of less grain. The advanced European countries will not for long be able to draw to the same extent as in the past on the more Eastern European countries for cereal foods for their livestock production. The utilisation of grass for winter livestock and resultant products is, therefore, a matter of some urgency and of great importance in minimising the competition of the animal world with the human population for cereals. That is so important a statement, made so recently by one of our leading agricultural scientists, that I hope your Lordships will forgive my reading so large an extract.

I have already indicated to the noble Earl who is going to reply presently to the first part of the debate certain questions which I should like to put to him. May I say that I put them in no critical spirit, but mainly to obtain some information? My first question is whether during the past two months anything has happened, including the corn harvest in Great Britain, to justify or render desirable an increase in the target of home food production set by the Government and accepted by the farming community a year ago. Your Lordships will remember that that target was £100,000,000 in value of additional food output during the next three years as compared with 1938. The second question I should like to ask the noble Earl is whether in planning for the home production of cereals, and especially wheat, it might not be good policy to allocate production to the various counties of Great Britain in proportion to what, under normal pre-war conditions, was their relative output, taking into account the suitability of the soil and climate and the age-long experience of our farming population.

Twenty-seven years ago I gave an address before the British Association which summarised the then output per county and for groups of counties of cereals on the one hand and potatoes on the other, and, if your Lordships will allow me, I will read a short extract from my own twenty-seven-year-old speech. Of the eighty-four geographical counties of Great Britain, a few only in normal circumstances (nearly all of them on or near the East Coast) provide the greater part of the total British wheat crop. Of the fifty-two counties of England and Wales, six only produce 40 per cent. of the country's wheat out-put."— Six only! These are Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. I added: In the case of potatoes twelve counties (including three in Scotland) produce about half, and three counties (Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire) about one-third, of the total crop of Great Britain. It is, however, worthy of note that these twelve counties are scattered over various parts of the Kingdom, indicating that the potato, unlike wheat, is not markedly dependent upon climatic influences. The reason why I quote that is that we have had some rather distressing results, in the West of England in particular, by attempting to grow wheat successively upon farm land where in the old days the bulk of the land was under grass. In a season like this last one not only have we suffered from a particular disease known to farmers as "take-all," due, of course, to the over-cropping of land continually with wheat, but, owing to the very fickle weather conditions, we have had a relatively poor harvest from what should have been an abundant crop. I mention that only because I cannot help thinking that the time has arrived when we should try and adapt our food output in different parts of the country more in accordance with the experience of our forefathers and of pre-war farmers in the matter of their capacity for producing cereals, on the one hand, or, through the medium of their pastures, livestock on the other. I do not know whether I have made the position clear to the noble Earl, but I would ask him if he thinks it worth while to consult his experts as to whether, in guiding our county agricultural executive committees as to their optimum contribution to the national food supply, they would take into account what has been proved by long experience to be the best form of farming to produce the largest possible output of food in any particular part of the country.

I want to put two further questions to the noble Earl, one of more importance than the other. The first is: To what extent are the tools of husbandry (including in that term labour-saving machines and fertilisers) that are now manufactured in the United Kingdom and which might be utilised by our own primary producers, going to other countries; and whether, in the case of their export to the U.S.A., the Government are satisfied that on balance the expediture of dollars on equivalent food imports is fully justified? What I am asking is whether, if it is the fact that the various implements required for our own national husbandry are going to the United States, it is true economy to send those implements in such large quantities to save dollars, when possibly we have to expend a greater amount of dollars in obtaining from that part of the world food which we might well grow ourselves.

The last question I desire to ask is whether, per contra, there is any prospect of reviving the importation into Britain of the American machine known as the "one-man pick-up baler." There is no greater labour saving machine in this country, except possibly the combined harvester. Whereas up to about a year ago a limited quantity of one-man pickup balers. (I think they are manufactured by the International Harvester Company) were coming along, and were allocated in various proportions to the different counties, the supply has unfortunately now been stopped. Considering our labour shortage, and the great value of these machines in economising labour, would it not be true economy to revive the importation of some of them? The Royal Agricultural society, who have realised the great importance of this type of implement, have this year offered a very handsome prize to British agricultural implement makers to provide something like an equivalent of this machine from our own factories; but it will take some time before a similar British machine is available. Coming from the West of England, I appeal most earnestly to the Government to see what they can do to revive the importation of this particular labour-saving machine.

There are several other matters which I should like to mention, but I will not take up any more time except to refer shortly to ground-nuts. For my part, I am an entire convert to the Government's policy of raising the largest possible quantity of ground-nuts in South-Central Africa. My only doubt is as to whether they are not concentrating this enterprise too largely in one area of Africa. They will be subject, of course, to the vagaries of climate and to difficult questions it regard to native labour if something like 3,000,000 acres are to be put down for the groundnut crop in that one part of Africa. But I am certain that, if we are to obtain a largely increased supp1y of fats for our own requirements and for those of the world generally, we must look to tropical and sub-tropical countries to supply it. In that connection I think one should realise that there are large areas—for instance in Queensland, in the Union of South Africa, in Southern Rhodesia and elsewhere—which to-day, particularly with the help of irrigation, could provide one hundred times more food than they are providing; and the most valuable form in which they can provide that food is in the form of seeds and nuts which will secure to the world a larger amount of fats and oil. I venture to suggest that the residue, which would naturally come through in the form of oil-cake of a highly nitrogenous character, might usefully be employed in feeding pigs. Why we do not feed more pigs in: our sub-tropical areas, I cannot imagine. The main difficulty, apparently, is that we do not produce in loco suitable pig food. Soya beans and potatoes can quite well be grown in many parts of South-Central Africa and Queensland, if only there were more scientific direction for both the European and the native farmers.

While speaking on this subject, I have one final word in regard to fencing. Everyone knows that to-day there are large areas of ranch land upon which one bovine animal per 250 or 500 acres is being raised, as compared with our "three acres and a cow" in this country. There is no earthly reason why a great deal of that land (which produces quite good grasses, although many of them, owing to droughty conditions and understocking, have been allowed to go to seed and have thereby lost their nutritional value) with the help of fencing—a good deal of which might well be provided from this country—should not be far more intensively farmed, and a far larger amount of animal food raised upon it.

I must apologise for having taken up so much of your Lordships' time, but, as some of your Lordships know, I have been recently on two overseas good-will missions to farmers and research stations in other parts of the British Commonwealth, and the more I travel about the world the more convinced I am that, if only we apply science and mechanisation to our husbandry, and also point the way to other countries to do the same, we shall have materially solved the problem which the Food and Agriculture Organisation and my noble friend Lord Bruce have forced upon our attention in recent months.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to take this opportunity of raising a serious current problem. It concerns next year's wheat crop. Some months ago the executive committees feared that they would be unable to reach their wheat quotas. Since then the weather has been shocking, and the outlook for seeding this autumn is very poor indeed. Much of the wheat is sown after potatoes and sugar beet, and the outlook for getting that wheat is now rather remote. I do not know how important these quotas are, but it seems obvious that they will not be reached. Perhaps a mild threat to the farming community, to the effect that if they do not reach their wheat quota, they will not have the allocation of one-fifth of their production to feed to their stock, might be some stimulant, but in actual fact that would merely redound on the livestock policy. The increase in pigs and poultry is largely dependent upon the farmers' being able to use this one-fifth of their wheat and barley. How necessary then it is that these quotas should be reached! I feel that without directional orders they will not be reached. No one wishes to add to the restrictions nowadays, and I myself, in another capacity, would have the invidious job of trying to help administer them. But would these directional orders on wheat be so unpopular? In fact, I am not sure that they would. Many fair-minded farmers agree that, if they have guaranteed prices, then it is only reasonable that they shall be told what to grow. Further, they are very sceptical of the future, and I believe that a directional order on wheat would give them confidence. They would see that the order was needed, and that it was a serious matter, whereas with a quota they will say: "It will never be realised," and it will not give them confidence.

The great difficulty in obtaining the wheat quota is, of course, the wheat entry, but I would first like to add, with regard to directional orders, that the knowledge that each individual had a target would help him to reach his quota. At present, under these very adverse weather conditions, the normal attitude of any human being is: "Well, if I am not able to get in my wheat in the autumn, then I will put in barley in the spring." He has not the sense of urgency which an order would give him. His great difficulty is the wheat entry, what crops to grow to obtain his wheat; and an obvious one is sugar beet. For the short-term policy, an increase of sugar beet means an increase of corn entry, which means an increase of wheat. It also means an increase of yield because of the good cultivations to the crop. But the factory capacity is quite inadequate to deal with an increase, even the present crop. In 1946, the campaign went on into March, and it almost certainly will this year. Without an increase in capacity at the factories, obviously the crop cannot be grown on a bigger acreage.

It may be controversial whether in fact, if farmers were able to increase their acreage, they would do so. Many believe that they would. The difficulty is labour, but the Government are encouraging and urging the mechanisation of sugar beet growing. It is in its infancy and in a few years' time, like other mechanisations it will succeed. Once it succeeds, then the crop can be grown over a much wider area. Its concentration can be reduced (which is very desirable) in the main sugar beet district of the Fens, where increased disease is always a danger, and from the farming point of view over the whole country it would be a valuable asset to fertility. I would suggest that it would give greater confidence to the farming community in the good faith of all Parties if the capacity of the sugar beet factories were increased and steps were taken in the near future.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl and the noble Viscount who tabled these two Motions to-day have given us eloquent speeches. But I submit that there is nothing very new in them. In fact, we have debated this subject frequently in your Lordships' House, and have heard views from all sides on this problem which, after all, must affect all of us. I should like to say that, generally speaking, we agree with and accept the noble Earl's Motion, though we cannot accept all that the noble Earl said in commending it to your Lordships.

There is no doubt whatsoever as to the dancer of the situation in the world to-day as regards food. There is a tremendous shortage, particularly of oils and fats, which is probably the most serious shortage of all. There is also the other aspect which has often been stressed—namely, the growth of population. It is growing year by year, and, so far as we can see, it is unlikely to stop at the present rate of increase. There is no doubt that we have to face those facts. At the same time, I would urge upon your Lordships that we must keep a balanced view. We must not be carried away by this vision of teeming populations and of soil being eroded, and be turned from a balanced and sensible policy. We must recognise the danger, but we do not want to rush into extremes. We must remember the extent of the war destruction and the tremendous devastation which has been widespread throughout all European countries. We must all agree, I think, that eventually there will be a substantial recovery, and I hope that it will continue.

Some figures will illustrate what I mean. For instance, the pre-war world production of wheat and rye was approximately 206,000,000 long tons. In 1946–47 this had fallen to 181,000,000 long tons, but in 1947–48 it had recovered to 191,000,000 long tons. The forecast that we have been given for 1948–49 is up to 207,000,000 long tons—that is to say, just above the pre-war average. I think the noble Earl admitted that the position for cereals was probably more favourable than for a good many other products, and one must admit that in regard to oils and fats the figures are much less encouraging. Even so, they show a marked increase compared with 1946–1947. However, apart from the question of how much and how fast this world recovery may go on, there is a more urgent and immediate problem; and that is, how we are to pay for our food. Of the two problems, I would put the problem of payment before the other, though naturally the two are interrelated.

The noble Earl admitted that we are certainly not likely to produce anything like all the food we need in these islands; and the problem naturally arises, How are we to pay for the food we require? Since the war we have lost most of our capital assets abroad—a very serious loss indeed. Worse than this: the terms of trade have gone very much against us. During the 'thirties the terms of trade were in our favour, which was largely due to the pressure on primary producers to sell. No doubt, this pressure was partly the result of large payments of interest due to the United Kingdom, and partly because the importing market was a shrinking one. Now, of course, after the war's destruction and dislocation, we have the opposite features working; we get primary production prices pushed up to almost unbelievable levels. But this need not necessarily be a permanent state of affairs. I think the final truth is that if we are going to have something to smoke and a reasonable cut from the Sunday joint we can get them only by our own efforts and ingenuity. I can see no good reason why this nation should not produce an abundance of the services and other things we need to pay for such commodities: banking, insurance, carrying of goods and so on, in much greater amount. Already we have made a praiseworthy start in our efforts to increase production; what I think is a much more difficult question is whether other countries can pay for those goods that we produce and can give us enough payment to allow us to buy in return the raw materials which we need.

The noble Earl who opened this debate painted a fairly gloomy picture. At the same time he raised some very pertinent problems. Nevertheless, in spite of the remarks I have made, I want to make it clear that I agree with him. I think this is a problem that has to be faced; and I hope that out of this debate we shall get many constructive ideas which will help us in our considerations. I have tried merely to bring the picture a little more into balance and to show that there are certain aspects—which we are apt to forget—that can give us some encouragement. For instance, as we produce more fertilisers and more machinery, and as we disseminate our knowledge into wider fields, production of food and feeding stuffs should increase. While the population is undoubtedly increasing, the scope for the improvement of agricultural production has increased to an enormous extent. To illustrate this, it is interesting to see that before the war the yield of rice was nearly twice as high in the United States of America and China as in India and Burma. In Europe the yield of wheat varied from thirteen bushels per acre in Roumania to over forty in the Netherlands. That is an example of the gigantic scope for increase in production; but we must give the machinery, the fertilizers, and the knowledge to those who need them.

The F.A.O. Council itself quotes with approval an estimate that yields of grain in India could be increased by 30 per cent. in ten years. If only we can work on those lines, and obtain improvements of that sort, we may be well on the way towards solving the problem. Even the fact which has been quoted by the noble Earl, that many of the primary producing countries are becoming more and more industrialised, may not be so disastrous as at first sight appears. There is another side to the picture: with better machinery, transport, roads and railways, and technique, food production too may well increase. Unfortunately, this is not a simple problem; it is an ex tremely complicated one. It is not merely a question of saying "Let us produce more food." It is a question of delicate balancing and planning—planning what we are going to produce, where and how. For instance, producers will not produce unless they can be sure of selling their produce; they can sell their produce only if we have exchange to buy it, and we can get that exchange only if we can produce and sell our own goods.

One of the most powerful encouragements to agricultural production is long-term stability of prices, and that is a thing to which His Majesty's Government have given a great deal of attention. During the last few years we have entered into long-term contracts with primary producers. These contracts provide to overseas agriculturists the same sort of assurances as are available to our own producers under Part I of the Agriculture Act of 1947. To importing countries such as ourselves they offer assurance of supplies in adequate volume and at fair prices. Among the commodities which the United Kingdom is importing under these long-term contracts with the Commonwealth countries are wheat and flour, dairy products, meat and bacon, eggs, vegetable oils, sugar, dried fruits and coffee. Contracts which have been recently, entered into include those with Australia and New Zealand for dairy products for a period of seven years up to 1955, and a new agreement with New Zealand for meat covering a similar period. Negotiations with Australia for a long-term contract in respect of meat are now proceeding and there is every reason to believe that a satisfactory conclusion will be reached in the near future. Long-term contracts have now been entered into between the United Kingdom and certain European countries, including Denmark, Eire and Holland, and they represent a development which is likely to be encouraged as a part of collaboration under the European Recovery Programme.

We must look at the whole picture and hold the balance between these varying claims on our machinery and resources and man-power. Food, of course, is the main and first essential, and His Majesty's Government have from the start devoted much of their energies to encouraging increasing production of food, in this country, in the Common- wealth, the Colonies and elsewhere overseas. The noble Earl who opened this debate said, I think, that this is not, or should not be, an agricultural debate. I cannot see how we can keep agriculture out of it. Certainly the two speakers who followed the noble Earl enlarged very fully upon the agricultural side. I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, said.


The noble Earl is really misrepresenting me. I did not say that this should not be an agricultural debate. I said that I did not intend to deal with that aspect, as I thought it was more important to settle what we wanted rather than discuss ways and means.


I completely accept that statement, and I apologise if I have misrepresented the noble Earl's words. In any case, certainly the speakers following him have enlarged considerably upon the agricultural aspect. I was going to use that, I must confess, as an excuse for referring for a moment to agriculture myself, because as I see it, the real question underlying this Motion is whether we have used our resources, our man-power, our ability and our direction as much as we can to produce food in sufficient quantities both in this country and in the Commonwealth and Colonies.

As soon as His Majesty's Government came into power, they directed their attentions most strongly towards this question of building up our home agriculture. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I outline for a moment or two what we have done. The first thing, of course, was to give security to the industry, which we provided in the Agriculture Act of 1947. This Act gave guaranteed prices and greater security of tenure. Further, I suggest that a very important step was the setting up of the National Agricultural Advisory Service to give advice and help to all producers. We then announced a £100,000,000 expansion programme and appealed to the whole industry—to the landlords, to the farmers and to the workers—to produce the maximum they could from the land. We told them how desperate was the economic position of this country, and how much food was needed to-day—almost as much, indeed, as it was during the war years. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture gave this lead, and on the whole we have had a magnificent response. Especially should I like to pay a tribute to the farmers and farm workers for their untiring efforts to get in this harvest in sometimes exceedingly difficult conditions. They have worked late hours and as a result, although we cannot yet give any figures, we think the final returns will not be at all unsatisfactory.

But the real question behind this Motion is: Have we set high enough targets and have we done enough in this respect? Secondly, are those targets being fulfilled? Is the programme just a paper programme, which is satisfactory to look at, or are the crops actually coming up, and are the livestock multiplying in numbers? Personally, I think it was a true statement when last August we announced—if I may quote what was said then— The new programme involves immense effort greatly surpassing the highest known output of the agricultural industry hitherto. We went on to say: Even so, it is hoped that these figures will be exceeded. I notice, too, that the Opposition's Agricultural Charter also follows our lead in aiming at a goal of 50 per cent. above prewar. We are flattered and delighted to find that they have followed us in this way.

However (to return to the targets themselves for a moment) by 1952–53 there should be 2,750,000 acres of wheat. I dare say that some of your Lordships may have arrows in your quiver to shoot at us here, and to point out that in the peak point of the Second World War we reached a target of 3,500,000 acres. That is perfectly true, but I suggest that that was a spurt and that this is a long race upon which we are entering. I think that most farmers will agree that such an extensive target would eventually impoverish our soil, and that it would be difficult to hit it all the time. It is also true that during that peak year some of the returns per acre were disappointingly low. I suggest that it is more important to have regard to the conservation of our soil, and that we should aim to build a steady, prosperous industry rather than aim at one isolated record. Our sugar beet target is one-third above pre-war. Potatoes are a little below this year but ultimately they should be 29 per cent. above pre-war. This target again had to be eased to prevent deterioration of potato land due to the eel-worm which was spreading at an alarming rate. It is also true that there is room for improvement in areas where potatoes are not usually grown, and where perhaps the growers do not understand the problems as they should. Here, the National Agricultural Advisory Service is working to instruct and assist in every possible way. We hope that good results will follow.

The target for milk is 25 per cent. more in 1951–52 than in pre-war years, and there has been strong encouragement of the trend towards autumn calving. Actually, in 1947–48 production was 1,706,000,000 gallons, as against 1,667,000,000 gallons in 1946–47—an increase of 39,000,000 gallons, despite the setback of the thoroughly bad weather we had last year. The average yield per cow in 1947–48 has risen by 8 per cent. above the three year period 1942–45. Beef output is expected to exceed pre-war by 19 per cent., and agricultural returns for June of this year show that the United Kingdom numbers of cattle one year old increased by 280,000 in one year. Pigs and poultry must, of course, depend largely on imported feeding stuffs but with good harvests and with the downward trend in cereal prices, we may see a great increase here.

I submit to your Lordships that, taking all considerations into account, we have set ourselves a reasonably high target. We have concentrated what we can on securing a reasonable production from the soil. If that target is by any means exceeded, I can assure your Lordships that no one will be more pleased than my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture. However, we think that, if it were much greater, there would be a danger, in the first place of not enough flexibility and, secondly, that it might injure long-term prospects in order to favour short-term advantages. Moreover, this is no paper target. The farmers are responding to our lead. The Minister of Agriculture announced the programme in August, 1947, when preparations for autumn sowing of wheat were well advanced, but in the short time at their disposal the farmers succeeded in sowing no less than 280,000 acres of this additional target. The response to the appeal for potatoes was beyond all expectations. A record planting of nearly 1,550,000 acres was carried out, compared with the previous record of 1,423,000 acres.

Tillage, though not quite so good, has increased by 350,000 acres over 1947, including barley, oats and mixed corn. Cows and heifers in milk, together with cows in calf, increased by 40,000, and heifers in calf by 63,000. The most striking development is the increase of 277,000 calves under one year—representing an increase of 16 per cent. I think that is a sign that the drive for a higher beef target is well under way. Sheep, of which your Lordships will remember we suffered extremely heavy losses, have increased by 1,460,000 (9 per cent.). As for pigs, breeding sows on agricultural holdings have increased by 118,000 (60 per cent.). and total pigs by 520,000 (32 per cent.). Poultry are increasing rapidly, fowls by some 14,000,000 (22 per cent.); and total poultry, including ducks, geese and turkeys, by 15,000,000 (21 per cent.). That, my Lords, I think is a most encouraging picture.

The next question which arises on this Motion is that of the allocation of capital resources and man-power—in other words, have we done the best we can to provide the tools for the job? In a recent debate, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe suggested that we could make a greater increase above the target, something like 20 or 25 per cent.—provided that we could supply the necessary tools for the job.


Provided that we had the tools for the job.


I said "provided that we have the tools for the job." I should like to deal with the questions which the noble Viscount has raised, of which he kindly gave me notice. The first was as to whether anything—


May I intervene again to say that it might be rather interesting to the House and to the noble Earl, to know that the figure I gave, without any inspiration from me, was used both by the President of the British Association in his great address last Wednesday and also by the President of the Agricultural Section of the Association?


I am sure the House will be interested to hear that, and I hope the prophecy will be fulfilled. But, to return to the question that the noble Viscount asked—namely, whether in the last two months anything had happened to justify or render desirable an increase in the target for home food production—we do not at this moment think that the position has altered. We have not received the final appreciation of the harvest and the various movements in prices from abroad Lave not yet been considered, so we are not making any alteration in our plans. The second question was whether, in regard to our targets, in planning future home cereal production, we might stress and take more into consideration the soil and the climate. I should like to say to the noble Viscount that these conditions are always taken into account and it would be difficult to lay a bigger burden on the counties which before the war were producing wheat and which are already producing large areas of it in excess of our targets. But naturally we always take into consideration the circumstances of the county, and the soil and climatic conditions.


The point I made was that the percentage increase required in former wheat-growing areas might be made larger than a percentage increase of wheat growing in those areas which in the past have been found to be less suited for wheat.


I note what the noble Viscount says and will look into it. The next question he put was about one-man pick-up balers, and as to whether there is any question of our not being willing to get these machines. We are trying to get them from America, but even there they seem to be in extremely short supply. It is not a question of our refusing the dollars; it is simply a question of not being able to get the machines. The noble Viscount's other question was with regard to pests, and whether we are tackling this problem. I agree whole-heartedly with the noble Viscount that this is one of the great problems with which we have to deal. As he has probably seen, the Food and Agriculture Organisation are already dealing with the matter, and naturally we ourselves are supporting the Organisation as much as we can. It is interesting to note that recently we concluded an agreement in respect of the Colorado Beetle and ale working with several other countries, including Holland, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, and parts of Germany, to clear a whole strip on the Continent to try and keep the beetle within bounds. I think those were the main questions of the noble Viscount.

To return to the question of the tools for the job, we have suffered a good deal of criticism in the past about the shortage of supplies and, particularly, about shortages of spare parts. Actually, there are a few machines which have been in short supply, and we are starting to manufacture them in this country. One of the reasons why spare parts have been difficult to obtain is that in many cases farmers, worried about the danger of not having a spare part should a machine break down, have bought two or three spares and kept them against such an emergency. By simple mathematics you may see that reserves of spare parts are thus considerably eaten into. However, the situation is being dealt with, and we are hoping that increased confidence on the part of farmers will stop what is rather a difficult and unfortunate practice. Actually, taking the picture as a whole, production of agricultural machinery has expanded enormously. The allocation for steel for agricultural machinery in the last quarter of 1947 was nearly double that of the previous quarter, and the whole system of allocation has been reorganised to match promises with actual deliveries.

Supplies for some months from home production to the United Kingdom farmers were at the annual rate of £40,000,000, ex-factory prices, which is double the rate of 1946. Sir Alan Gordon Smith, in his Report, came to the conclusion that, provided the industry could get the necessary steel, they could provide enough for home requirements and also a large amount for export. We are now doing our best to provide them with the necessary amount of steel. There has also been an increase in the allocation of steel for water supplies and drainage, and a scheme which we have initiated for standard components of farm buildings is going ahead rapidly. That seems to have achieved a great deal of success and has been greatly appreciated by farmers generally. Even in the most difficult field—and here I touch on the most difficult problem of all, that of housing—the reports are not altogether discouraging. Between June, 1947, and June, 1948, 25,877 houses were completed by local authorities in rural districts, and we hope that about 40,000 more in rural districts will have been completed by the middle of 1949.


Can the noble Earl tell us how many of these have been allocated to agricultural workers?


I cannot give the noble Earl the figures offhand. I understand that the monthly returns are improving, but of course much remains yet to be done.


May I tell the noble Earl that in that part of the country which I know, a very small percentage indeed have been allocated to agricultural workers?


As the percentage is well known to be so low, I must rather protest at the utter irrelevance of the statement made by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, as to the number of cottages in rural areas.


I must disagree with the noble Earl who has just spoken. Whether we are satisfied with the number of dwellings let to agricultural workers or not—and I certainly do not wish to be complacent about this—I think that to get such a steady increase as is indicated by the figures which I have given—25,877 houses completed by local authorities in rural districts, and 40,000 more expected to be completed by the middle of 1949—shows that progress is being made. It may not be all that we want—as I say, I should be the last to be complacent on such a subject—but we can say that we are making progress.

What is more, the drift from the land has not only been stopped; it has been reversed. Although we have not quite reached the target total of 1,110,000 labourers for the United Kingdom, the returns on June 4 showed a further increase of 23,000 in the number of adult male regular workers in England and Wales, and of 15,000 in male casual workers. Though we have lost the prisoners of war—whom I do not think anyone really wished to keep—we have built up the committee labour force to nearly 60,000. Altogether we find that we have 35,000 more adult male workers than before the war.

I will pass now to a subject raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and in regard to which I most strongly support the plea he made. This concerns the improvement of our grasslands. In this I think lies one of the biggest hopes for our agriculture. I believe that the improvement of our grasslands can be made to help the production of food in this country more than almost any other line which we could follow. There has been a great deal of research on this subject, and the Agricultural Departments, both in this country and in Scotland, have been carrying on intensive campaigns. Hundreds of lectures, meetings and demonstrations have been arranged all over the country, with a view to showing and teaching the people as much as we can upon this subject. We calculated about a year ago that by 1951–52 the improvement of grassland should amount to the equivalent of 1,000,000 tons of coarse grains; now, owing to the success of our grassland campaign, we put the figure at 1,500,000, or a 20 per cent. increase in the total productivity in the area of temporary and permanent grass in the United Kingdom. This, of course, is not the end. We have made a great advance, but it would be fatal if this led to complacency. We are only at the beginning of the road and many obstacles will have to be surmounted.

His Majesty's Government have not only been interested in home production. We have also been concerned with the encouragement and development of production, both in the Colonies and throughout our Commonwealth. And this is no contradiction, because we look upon it as supplementary to our own agriculture. The vast schemes for producing ground-nuts should not only produce oil for margarine but also feeding-stuffs for our cattle. The plans which are now being carried out differ from previous schemes which have been started in that they are designed to raise the standard of living of the natives, as well as to produce food and materials for the peoples of these islands and of the Commonwealth. We do not want to feed ourselves at the expense of the Africans. We want to raise their standards, give them a better life, and, at the same time, to obtain a surplus of production for this country. But I must warn your Lordships not to expect quick results. These are long-term schemes. For instance, it takes a palm tree something like seven to ten years before it bears fully. So you cannot expect to have big harvests next year or the year after. The immediate benefit will come from repairing the damage of the last few years—rebuilding roads, laying railways and so on. These are the things which will help to build up production. It is a great advantage that a start has been made. We have planted the seed of a long-term expansion programme which ultimately should grow and flourish.

The Colonial Development Corporation, with its £100,000,000 capital, and the Overseas Food Corporation, with a capital of £50,000,000, have been set up. The former, as your Lordships know, will undertake projects in the Colonies; the latter can operate anywhere outside the United Kingdom. Its first great task, of course, was the East African groundnuts scheme. It is also embarking on a pig production scheme in Queensland, based on the growing of sorghum, part of which will be shipped to England for stock-feeding here.

But this is only one side of it. Under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts, United Kingdom funds may be used for Colonial development over the ten years ending in 1956 up to the sum of £120,000,000. Clearly, first needs will be to build harbours, roads and railways, to rehabilitate transport and to produce consumer goods—one of the most essential factors if we are to secure good production. We have also set up machinery to see that the Colonies receive a fair share of steel and goods in short supply. There is a tremendous task before us here, and again we are faced with enormous difficulties. But, in the end, we hope to secure many of the commodities which are now so scarce, and which we need so badly, from sources outside hard currency areas—for example, rubber, tin, other raw materials, food and feeding stuffs. Within a few years' time we hope to produce about half as much sugar again as at present, and as much more rice. In the case of oils and oil seeds, by 1955 we should be producing the whole of the sterling area's requirements. This opens up enormous possibilities which should inspire even the least imaginative. A new world presents itself to conquer. I think we are setting out upon the right road.

Time has allowed me to touch only on what has been and is being done in these directions. It is a gigantic subject, but I hope that I. have been able to convince your Lordships that His Majesty's Government fully realise the gravity of these problems and are tackling them with energy. And, though I do not wish to flaunt our success, I think it may be said that we have made considerable advances. But these are not just advances by the Labour Government—they are advances by our agricultural industry, by our administrators, by our technicians, and by the whole of our people. Therefore I ask you all to join as much as you can in this great effort, and to help this production drive which alone can give us security and well-being.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think I need delay your Lordships very long, for there is little that I wish to add to what has already been said in this debate. The purpose of the Motion, as I understand it, is really to draw attention to the present position with regard to the world's food supplies. That position, according to our understanding of it, has been developing progressively over the last eighteen months. The Government's programme was laid down some considerable time ago, but there is no suggestion now that it should be altered. I think, however, that when that programme was laid down there was nothing like the same understanding of the seriousness of the world food situation as there is to-day. I attended meetings at which people were becoming worried about surpluses, and there was a division of opinion about whether we were heading rapidly towards a shortage. That atmosphere has gone to-day and it is appreciated that there is a real world food shortage. I was under the impression that this Motion drew attention to that situation and asked the Government to give careful consideration to the possibility of a world food shortage, and not to the question of how we are to get out of our economic difficulties by having a complete balance between our exports and imports, by maintaining the flow of exports and yet not going too far beyond the capabilities of our production in this country.

I imagine that the Motion was directed to the point that the time would come when we should have to consider whether, in view of the seriousness of the situation with which we were faced—not only from the point of view of whether we would be able to pay for further imports but also from the point of view of whether we could get further imports at all—we would not have to go a little beyond that balance in the use of our resources and man-power. Because of that, it seems to me that the noble Earl's reply, interesting though it was, was a little away from this Motion; it would have been more suitable in an agricultural debate. I am concerned only with the world food situation. I entirely support the first part of this Motion, that this House is of opinion that plentiful food imports are not likely to be available in the foreseeable future. In this House in June I drew attention to the world food situation as it was seen by the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organisation at their meeting in April. Their Report dealt with the world situation as a whole, and showed that we were up against a terrific shortage. It showed that by 1951, even if all the plans that were known succeeded, we could reach only the prewar level of food production, while the world's population would have increased by between 180,000,000 and 200,000,000 since 1939. These facts have begun to sink a little into the minds of people, but I venture to say that there are still a great many people who take the, to them, comfortable, even if slightly disreputable, view: "Well, it is true that the world population has increased, but the bulk of that population is in the Far East and these people never have had a decent standard of living. Let us be practical and realise that they cannot get it now, when there is this shortage, and that although there is a world shortage there will be a comfortable increase in the flow of food coming towards Europe."

Anybody who held that comforting doctrine must have received a rude shock when he saw the document produced in June last by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, entitled European Programmes of Agricultural Reconstruction and Development. That Report has taken all of the known plans in European countries, with the exception of Russia behind what is called the Iron Curtain; and it shows that even if every one of them succeeded, Europe would still require, as she did before the war, to import an enormous amount of food, taking her minimum requirements on quite a low standard. It points out with regard to production in Europe that there must be considerable doubt about it, because these plans are based on greater supplies of fertilisers, tractors and farm machinery, and there can be no guarantee that these will be obtained. It also brings out clearly the point made by the noble Earl who moved this Motion—the almost terrifying dependence of Europe to-day for her wheat supply on the United States of America. The figures are striking. I think they are something like this. Prior to the war the contribution which the United States made to the total amount of wheat that went into international trade was little more than 5 per cent. To-day, the United States contributes to the extent of 45 per cent.

All noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have given a prominent place to wheat as one of the most certain means of finding a solution to the problem. But the broad fact is that not only for the world but for Europe it is impossible to see where this food is coming from. The Report goes on to analyse, giving facts and figures, the question of whether it is possible to get these necessary imports; and it draws a gloomy picture. All that makes it fairly evident that the noble Earl is right when he says that there is little prospect of seeing the supplies we need in the foreseeable future. This puts the question on a somewhat different basis. Have we not reached the time when we must realise that greater steps must be taken to ensure an increased production in these islands?

I entirely agree with the second point of the Motion, that we ought to be orientating our minds towards the necessity for that increase, and, moreover, for an increase on an Empire basis. There, I believe, we have to go even further. I admit that we already have the Colonial Development Act. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, used the word "complacent." Do not let us be complacent about any aspect of this, because it is of the utmost seriousness. While we are carrying out all our present plans, we must act on a basis that is very carefully thought out. But we must have flexibility in our plans. I thought the other day that the word "permanent" was in this Motion, and that I could not have entirely supported.


It was in at one time.


I think it goes a little too far, because we have to remember that practically every country in the world has its plans for increased food production. We may achieve results considerably beyond anything that we can visualise at this moment. I believe, too, that more can be done in the saving of food, if we realise better than we do to-day what is the real food situation.

We were given by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, the somewhat startling figures showing that rats and other unpleasant creatures are destroying the equivalent of the food that goes into international trade. On the prevention of that, a considerable amount has been done. A conference of experts from practically all the countries of the world was held in London last autumn on this particular problem of infestation. That conference made recommendations which were circulated to all the Governments, with the strong recommendation from the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organisation that they should be adopted. Those recommendations do not involve any new machinery, or any vast expenditure. They involve only the application of techniques which are already known, and at very little cost. From both meetings of the Council which have been held we have sent out an urgent appeal to Governments to put into effect the recommendations of that conference. Therefore, I think we may get results. But one of the great troubles is that results are required from everybody who enters into the trade circle. It is not enough for the country sending the products to take every step in regard to its warehouses, and so forth, or for the country receiving them to take those steps, if the necessary measures have not also been taken in the ship that carries the products.

The point I wish to make is that if we secure results in the saving of the food, if we obtain results in this attack on animal diseases and in the matter of plant, and if the programmes of Governments do succeed on a co-ordinated basis (I want to refer to that in a few moments) then we may find the situation very changed, and it may be necessary completely to re-orientate our minds. At the moment we are striving to get food production in face of a shortage which we see no method of meeting. But the problem may be met. We have now the acceptance of all the nations who are members of F.A.O. to an annual review of their programme. Each Government put in their programme, and those programmes are analysed by the Organisation. We then try to co-ordinate them. Therefore, we shall not have over-production in one direction and under-production in another. But that is on a world basis. The Report on Europe, to which I have referred, strongly stresses the point that not only should there be that world review at the annual conference of F.A.O., but that there should be an annual regional review for Europe. I would strongly urge the Government to give that proposal their fullest support.

Broadly, my views on this matter are that for the immediate future—and by that I mean a period of some years—we must act on the basis of the sheer necessity for food, quite apart from any questions of balance of payments, external payments, or anything else. On the ground of sheer necessity, we have to produce food as we did in the war, to meet the immediate situation. In the evolution of these programmes I think we shall find that Britain will have to achieve and remain on a much higher level of agricultural production than has been the case—although conceivably not up to the level to which we had to go to in the war. In all this activity it is essential that the United Kingdom should co-operate to the maximum in respect of these annual programme reviews by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, not only on a world basis but also on a regional basis, for Europe in particular. Then, I believe, we shall progressively achieve regional reviews for all the different parts of the world.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, in these unhappy days most of us find ourselves from time to time, or perhaps most of the time, having to make the best of a rather bad job; indeed, I would suggest that doing something to make the best of a bad job has become one of our major home industries. I believe that this debate falls within the scope of that industry. There is no doubt that the raw material of the industry (the bad job) has been provided by the Government in calling this Session at this time for their own special purpose. I will say nothing about the calling of the Session, except that I am sure that in time to come all who witnessed the ceremony of calling it will look back sadly upon it and upon the use of the pageantry of national unity for what is, at best, a necessary piece of Party tactics. One need say no more on that matter because, fortunately, the calling of the Session for that purpose does give to Parliament, when assembled, the opportunity of discussing questions of vital importance.

Personally, I welcome heartily the action that has been taken by the two noble Lords who have put down Motions on this very important subject. I believe that in discussing the world food situation, and its morals for the people of this country, we are doing something which may be even more directly and practically useful than discussing such a vital question as foreign affairs. After all, in regard to foreign affairs what we do does not rest in our hands. But how we react to the grave world food situation does rest largely in our hands; and how we react will also depend, to a considerable extent, on how the people of the country, and particularly some of the followers of His Majesty's Government, appreciate that situation and the morals to be drawn. This debate, I suggest, is not in any sense whatever an attack upon the agricultural policy, or, indeed, upon any other policy, of the Government. In the knowledge that what is said in this debate will pass far outside the confines of this Chamber, I regard it essentially as a means of helping the Government to get some of the facts of life home to the people of this country, and particularly to some of their own followers.

I am not going to say anything about agriculture; it is not one of my subjects, and it has been amply covered by previous speakers. I am afraid I shall say things which the noble Earl who spoke for the Government, when he comes to be told of them, will say are not new. But even if they are not new, some of them are worth re-emphasising. Let me just tell again she twice-told tale that the world food situation has a moral for all of us in Britain, and particularly for non-agriculturists. There is the question which we may have to consider, as the noble Viscount who has just spoken said, as to where the food which we need will come from. And, even if we get the food, what is clear is that the difficulties we shall experience in getting it will show how the long-term policy has altered, and I believe that there will be revealed a permanent change in the economic surroundings of Britain. The long-term trend, which throughout the nineteenth century made our position better and better through our exchanging industrial products for agricultural products, has been reversed, and I believe will remain reversed.

Anyone who visits, as I have been visiting, one of the newer countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, which were once almost wholly agricultural and are now becoming industrial, will see how immensely strong is the pull of the town over the country, even in those lands. He will see how that pull is increased by the social legislation—much of it desirable social legislation—which is introduced for the people who live in the towns and applied to those who live in the country. Take, for example, shortened hours. It is difficult to make for agricultural work a compulsory shortening of hours corresponding to that which is made for work in the towns. Even if that shortening of hours is made, by giving additional leisure you do not give to the person who lives in a remote village anything like the opportunities for the enjoyment and use of the leisure that the people have who live in the towns. Legislation for shorter hours—one sees it unquestionably in countries such as those I have mentioned— increases the pull of the town over the country and of industry over agriculture.

I have been profoundly impressed by the fact that, although social insurance is valuable for country dwellers as well as town dwellers, it has more of a natural attraction for the town dweller, partly because the town dweller more definitely needs a pension, and because the country dweller can and does go on at his work longer. All these things increase the attraction of the town over the country and so, of course, do the facilities of shops, cinemas and so on. I think this tendency has to be recognised as something that is present in the new countries as well as in the old. Moreover, I think this trend, the reverse of the traditional way in which Britain grew to its present industrial position, will continue rather than diminish.

I am not sure whether I should describe myself as an economist, in the terms of the noble Earl who opened this Motion. He spoke repeatedly about economists saying something which he regarded as absurd. According to his definition, an economist was a person who made prophecies as to what was going to happen. I do not want to make prophecies as to what is going to happen. I think it is fair to assume that this trend against the Nineteenth Century Britain is going to continue, but I am not certain. Perhaps I am a little more of an economist than the noble Earl would like when I suggest that one has to recognise the price of turning this country over more and more to agriculture from industry. After all, there is a shortage of man-power here, and if we have to grow a great deal of food ourselves we shall have fewer houses and less furniture and all sorts of other things we need. We must recognise that. For that reason, one must be most careful not to develop agriculture unless it means that we can get our food by home production more cheaply in terms of labour than we could get it by exchange from abroad. Agriculture in this country must prevail upon its own merits, because we need it, and not by protection. I may differ slightly from the noble Earl in the extent to which I am an economist or not. I agree with him, however, that the present food situation does contain the moral that we are bound to make our own agriculture both more productive per man and, I would add, more attractive of men in relation to industry than it is at present.

There is yet one more point I would like to stress, and it is the other moral, that all the people of this country should somehow be made to realise that the trend is against us and that our relatively easy prosperity has gone for ever. It is most important that that should be realised, so that we should all get rid of the idea that our troubles are due to the wrong distribution of the wealth of the country. I hope we shall also get rid of the idea that our troubles are due to our having the wrong Government in the country. The people would not remedy matters by electing a different Government, if they themselves went on just as at present. Somehow or other the man in the street, his leaders at Margate and everywhere else, must realise that our easy prosperity has gone for ever.

This debate to-day should make it possible for some of us to help the Government, as we want to help them, and I hope they will thank the noble Earl who initiated this debate, and not treat it as an attack but as a means of bringing home the facts of life. The grave food situation shows how the world round Britain has changed. That is the fundamental thing. The trend has been against our industrial specialisation and will continue to be so. We must have that in mind in framing our policy for the use of our man-power. The trend is against our easy prosperity. It anything at all can be done by this debate to help to get that fact through to the minds of the people of this country, the whole of this Session, whatever its other results, will have been worth while.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I want to support the Motion introduced this afternoon by the noble Earl, and that which appears on the Paper in the name of the noble Viscount. I want to deal with only one point of this vast question, and that is the conservation of the open spaces of the world, and their cultivation for production. It is a point in which I have been interested for many years. The situation with regard to fats and oils is grim, and I hope that everything will be done by the Government, by the Colonial Governments and by private enterprise to put money, material, labour and brains into the waste spaces of the world, especially that area in the British Commonwealth. I was glad to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, talk about the ground-nuts scheme. I think the Government were right when they energetically started that ambitious scheme for growing groundnuts in Tanganyika to improve the world's supply, but this could have been looked upon as a prototype for other schemes throughout those empty spaces. Money, energy and skill could have been put into them, perhaps five or six of them by now, in the two years since the Government started this one.

I hope the Government will not be deterred from going on with other similar schemes. The only other I know of at present is in Australia. I hope the Government will not be put off because of the criticism which is levelled at them—much of it unfair and most of it incorrect—and that they will not be afraid of starting and developing other similar schemes, even if they go only so far as providing the means of communications by building roads, by boring for water, by constructing railways and harbours, and so on. Private enterprise as well as the Corporations could go on with these schemes. I say to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that it is now that these schemes must be started. In years to come, when they should be coming into production, historians will say either that this was the time when the Government started the schemes, and therefore tackled the problem of the world's food, or that this was the time when they failed to start the schemes, and thus, by not increasing the food production in these wide open spaces, created a grim situation for the future.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, before the Government accept this Motion, I think it would be a good idea to try to clarify in some degree exactly what it means. As it is worded at the moment, I think that it is liable to cause some confusion of thought. There is a possibility of confusion with the pious resolutions which are passed by international bodies to the effect that there are not three square meals in the world for everyone, and that therefore the world is starving. As your Lordships are fully aware, long before the three square meals appeared those nations whose increases are kept in check only by the food supply level, would have bounced ahead and we should be where we started.

Then again it might be considered to be a Motion discussing whether the amount of food available in the world is sufficient to meet the demand that can effectively be made upon it. That again is a matter which, in spite of what has been said in this House to-day, is considered by many people to be debatable. There are many great authorities who consider that the tide of scarcity is turning. I will not mention all the factors of scarcity, but I should like to mention two (one of which has been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge) and that is the effect of the lure of the cities upon the land. Wherever there is inflation—and that, in many countries, is endemic for political reasons—wherever Governments pursue the aim of social services, and wherever nationalism shelters behind the impenetrable barrier of import licensing, there you will find the population drifting from the soil into the cities. This is particularly marked in South America. All the Governments are aware of the problem but they seem powerless to solve it; the only thing they do is to try to attract sufficient European immigrants to their soil. The only country in that vast sub-continent of South America which is not on balance an importer of food, the Argentine, has now fallen under a régime who are openly boasting that they intend to industrialise further at the expense of agriculture.

The other factor I wanted to mention, and which has not been mentioned this afternoon, is that unfortunately we have been at war for two-and-a-half years; and in every far-flung portion of our Empire, and in other countries in which we have financial interests, we are from day to day suffering grave loss which is greatly to the detriment of our food supplies. However, I take the Motion to mean that the food which we can attract to our shores by payment is likely to be insufficient to meet our needs; and I take it that we are referring to the long-term period, because in the short term period the bumper crops of North America and dollar aid may belie the noble Earl.

This brings me to the question of our position in the world. That is too well known for me to need to enlarge upon the fact of how it has changed in the last ten years. I am not sure how far it is realised that we need a large credit balance. We cannot possibly develop the Empire and pay our debts by a mere equilibrium; we require a credit balance; and in 1938 we certainly did not possess that. The export targets which we have set are tremendous in themselves, and I do not know whether they will be achieved. Even if they are, we still shall not have achieved this credit balance. I know that some hopes are placed on a favourable turn in the terms of trade. Some tend to point to 1938, but let us remember that the producers of the world do not consider that 1938 was good enough. Some of them have told me that 1928–29 was the last year in which they got a fair deal—and I am not sure that they are not right. I think your Lordships would be surprised if you were to cast your memories back forty years and remember what you could buy in Great Britain in return for a foreign bag of grain—and those were the days of seeming world prosperity. A man once said to me that history is the tale of the battle between the town and the country and that the town has always won. But when one looks at the terms of trade in the 1930's and events thereafter, one feels that that was rather a Pyrrhic victory.

With all these factors at work, how are we ever to pay our way again? We are making desperate efforts to export more. Are we making the same desperate efforts at the other end of the scale? We cannot do with less imports of raw materials—in fact we want more. Does it not seem only logic that we simply must grow more food in our own country? The Government have made some efforts in this matter and in the race for animal feeding stuffs. They have been handicapped by the old ideas that you should go abroad for your food if you can buy it cheaper there; but in our present situation I do not think that that applies—though I do not necessarily admit that you would get it cheaper there. The situation now is whether it is better to have one egg a week at threepence or as many eggs a week as you want at fourpence. That applies all along the line.

By growing more food at home, we are bringing into play in the battle of the foreign exchanges fresh reserves which otherwise could never be deployed. On that point I differ slightly from the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. I believe there is a large country population which can never play any part in our battle of foreign exchanges except through the production of more agricultural goods at home. All these factors are dawning on the man in the street. I submit that it is time for him to have a programme. I do not think he wants a programme from the Minister of Agriculture, certainly not one such as he has for £100,000,000 of increased production. It is meaningless. What does it mean in "bellyfuls"? It is nothing. What he wants is something from the Ministry of Food, and the Ministry of Agriculture will have to apply the technical measures in order to reach the target shown to the people by the Ministry of Food.

I am not an expert in these matters, and this programme might be entirely impracticable, but the type of thing that the man in the street will understand is this: that within a certain period we shall increase our home production of meat by the amount that we are now buying from the Argentine, thus leaving our bargaining position that much the better with the Argentine; that we shall add so much say, a quarter of a pound—to the bacon ration from home sources; that we shall cease to import eggs into this country during certain months of the year (say, during the first seven months of the year); that we shall in future import no fruit into this country except citrus fruit; and that we shall cease to import vegetables. That sort of programme, as I say, may not be practicable; it may not go far enough; but it is the sort of thing that people will understand, and the activity to produce will immediately be generated. With bumper grain crops in North America, His Majesty's Government should be able to get the animal feeding stuffs which, in some inexplicable way, they were unable to obtain with the American Loan.

Such a programme would show that we meant business. Many countries will not like it but, as we have fallen from being the biggest creditor to being the biggest debtor nation in the world, they must expect this change in our import policy. To deceive them into thinking that we can go on living in the same old way and pay our debts is most dishonest. Surely it is better to adopt an entirely new policy which will allow us to deploy fresh forces for the battle of the foreign exchanges, and which offers the only hope of improvement in our diet and much better security in the event of war.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords I shall detain your Lordships for only a moment, but I feel it necessary to make a protest against what the noble Earl has said in regard to rural housing. If I may criticise his otherwise most eloquent and able speech, I would say that to my mind it revealed a deplorable attitude of complacency upon that subject. The rural housing situation at the present moment is nothing short of a scandal. It represents one of the greatest failures of His Majesty's Government in assisting agricultural production. We hear a great deal about housing from Ministers and various figures are trumpeted forth, but the number of cottages that have been built and are being occupied by agricultural labourers is minute. I have personal knowledge only of the County of Hampshire, but I meet farmers from other parts of England and everywhere I hear the same story.

In the first place, only a very small number of cottages are being built in rural districts. The noble Earl quoted the figure of 24,000, which is really a drop in the ocean; but I venture to say that of that 24,000, not 10 per cent. are occupied by agricultural workers. The Ministry of Agriculture ought to be in a position to know how many of these cottages are going to agricultural workers, because otherwise we are just toying with the problem and the figures that are being produced are illusory. I have built several cottages myself but I have had the greatest difficulty in building them. I have been refused permits. It was easier to get houses built during the war than it was until quite recently. Until the housing question is dealt with more energetically and the houses which are built in the countryside are made available for agricultural workers, we cannot get that increased man-power which the Government themselves admit to be necessary. I know quite well that I could step up production on my farm considerably if I could get houses. I mention my own experience simply because that is something of which I have knowledge.

It is just the same in regard to machines. I agree that the position is easier than it was, but I have had a pickup baler on order for two years. Most other people that I have met who have been trying to get that machine are in the same position. You cannot get any machine that comes from America. Machines that can be obtained in England are more obtainable, but the waiting list for all American machines is still very long indeed. Then there is the question of permits. Endless permits are required for everything. I have had applications standing from March until August, but they receive no attention. They are for just a few yards of piping in order to lay water on to fields for dairy cows. When you make a sufficient row and create sufficient noise, then your application receives attention and you get a permit. Those are the frustrations that farmers are meeting in every part of the country. If the Minister of Agriculture would do something to ease this machinery, to simplify the number of controls and to get more houses built, then he would be doing some of the things that are required. We cannot produce more than we are producing at the present moment unless we can get more men into agriculture and can secure more machines.

Another thing I would like to say is that the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, did not say a word about fruit, although he said that it was the policy of the Government to give stability of prices to agriculture. Some time ago I wrote to the Ministry to find out whether fruit prices were to be controlled this year, and they were unable to tell me. When we are right in the middle of the fruit harvest, not to tell the fruit-growing industry whether or not prices are to be controlled is not my idea of giving the industry stability. Moreover, I understand that the question of controlling prices is entirely settled by the Ministry of Food, and that the Ministry of Agriculture are not even consulted in the matter. That appears to me to be entirely wrong. I do not know if the object of the Government is to encourage people who grow fruit, but the experience of plum growers this year was certainly not encouraging. A considerable part of the Worcestershire plum crop, I understand, has been spoiled because the Ministry of Food would not release last year's plum crop which was occupying all the jam jars and vats in the jam factories; and it was not until it was too late that the Government altered their policy.

My Lords, I do not think the noble Earl has a right to be complacent, and I can assure him that the feeling in the countryside is that farmers are not receiving help from the Government. There are shortages of machinery and of houses, and a plethora of regulations on which we are unable to secure the active assistance of the Ministry of Agriculture. I hope that in those respects His Majesty's Government will use their very considerable powers to assist agriculture in a more practical fashion.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I would like in the first place to pay tribute to the sincere and practical contribution which the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has just made. I should like before I sit down, to refer to one or two of the topics that he mentioned. I would like to say at once, however, that I am sure he knows as well as I do that in the prodigious enterprise in which we are engaged there are bound to be large numbers of difficulties. And whilst I will accept his complaints and will certainly pass them on to my colleagues without any dilution, he knows as well as I do that the progress so far made has been phenomenal. Whilst we have these difficulties—and we ought to deal with them—I am sure he will not wish to lose sight of the immense amount of progress of which he himself, as a practical and successful producer, must be aware. I agree with him that the provision of a very large number of cottages for agricultural labourers is absolutely vital to the success of this enterprise. I do not dispute that. But we are suffering in that respect from the immense handicap which we have inherited from some generations past. For all that, it does not make it any less incumbent upon us to do everything we can in that regard, and I will see that serious notice is taken of the noble Earl's statements. And so far as I can, as I have done on many occasions, I shall reinforce the importance of his plea.

I was interested in the speculations of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. He said that his proposal needed explaining to the man in the street, but at the same time he exhorted us to apprehend that it might not be a practical proposition. I confess that did not appeal very much to me.


I said that I did not know whether the exact form was practical; it was the example with which was dealing.


I made a few mental calculations as to the tonnage of some of the figures the noble Lord mentioned. All I can tell him is that if he will get somebody to calculate for him what it would mean in terms of tonnage in production, and how we could possibly produce that amount of stuff from the acreage of land in this country, I shall be exceedingly interested to learn the answer. But we will do our best.


The noble Viscount remembers that there are such animals as pigs?


Yes, I am well aware of it. During the past twelve months alone, we have increased the number of sows by 100,000, and we are doing our best to increase their numbers still further.

I was somewhat touched by the solicitude of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, in instructing our own followers, and I hope some of them will take advantage of his admonitions. Perhaps the result may be that he will increase the number of his own! However, I do not agree that we can look forward to the time when those in these large, developing countries will not insist upon establishing a certain number of minor industries. Let me take a case like that of Australia or New Zealand. If you get a settlement of people anywhere, in any new country, sooner or later there will be a sufficient number of them to want to find somebody who can make boots; and, sooner or later, that will mean the establishment of a boot factory. That kind of thing is inevitable. We shall never escape from it, and we should not seek to try, because it will certainly happen. I confess that I have not met the experts about whom the noble Lord told us and who, I gather from him, hoped that we should be returning to the days of abundant exports and cheap imports of food and, generally, reverting to the old system. For my part, I can say quite truly that our intention, and certainly my earnest hope, is that we shall continue more and more to make an intelligent use of our own land. I consider that that is absolutely vital, and it underlies the Motion that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has put before us.

Before I go to another part of its substance, may I say a word with regard to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard? I agree with him that if we are to increase food production, apart from what we can do at home, we must seek to develop the empty spaces that are suitable for the purpose. And I was glad to hear his words on what has been done with regard to the ground-nuts scheme. I can tell him with complete confidence that, having seen the programme of operations of the Overseas Development Corporation and the various schemes that are now being surveyed, we are not by any means confining our attention to that one project. As a matter of fact, I was greatly impressed when I had the opportunity of seeing their survey, by the exceedingly ambitious character of their speculations, but we have to be careful that we do not discredit our endeavours by more failures than can humanly be avoided. Undoubtedly, there will be difficulties and there will be failures. But, at all events, in this Colonial development scheme we are engaging in an enterprise of immense proportions. I quite agree with the noble Viscount that the provision of railways, docks, and other forms of transport and access are essential concomitants. For a long time, there will not be much to show. An important point is that we have to do much more than we have hitherto been able to do in the application of scientific research to the eradication of the pests and diseases that constitute such great obstacles to progress in those parts of the world.

I do not know how far the noble Viscount intended to go in what he said, but I do not contemplate that increases in production, in, say, Africa, will be entirely absorbed by the needs of the inhabitants. We want to do all we can to encourage them and to help them to have a higher and a better standard of living. Indeed, that is essential to the success of these enterprises. But, apart from that, we hope there will be such an increase of production in the course of time that there will be a great volume of foodstuffs from those areas which will be available for the use of ourselves and other nations. There is no doubt, I think, as to the case which has been made by the noble Viscount. The noble Earl has spoken of the position with regard to the food supplies of the world, and there are other problems connected with that as well as the problem of production—as I will show in a minute or two. I do not think anyone will doubt that we are doing the right thing in the first instance by producing as much as we can in our own country. That clearly is plain common sense. As a matter of fact, our people, like the people of many other nations, have not, at the present time, as much food as we should like them to have. And that is much more the case with many other great populations.

Now let me touch, in other words, on one or two matters which have already been dealt with by my noble friend the Earl of Huntingdon. Before I deal with the wider aspect of this matter, I will give your Lordships some figures relating to the great effort which is now being made to increase our food supplies at home. For the purpose of comparison, I am taking the period before the war, from 1936 to 1939. The tonnage of bread grains produced, on the average, in this country during those years was about 1,700,000 tons. On the programme before us—and it is a programme which we think will be attainable according to present progress—the tonnage of bread grains is to be increased to 2,750,000 tons. That is an additional 1,000,000 tons, more or less, of bread grains. Now as to other grains produced between 1936 and 1939. I am giving the nearest whole figure, and the average was about 3,000,000 tons per annum. We propose to raise that to 5,500,000 tons. These figures indicate an immense reinforcement of our feeding stuffs and other food supplies. Now let me turn to potatoes. In the years of which I have spoken, the average production of potatoes was something less than 5,000,000 tons. We know the uncertainties which beset us with regard to this crop, and we remember the troubles we encountered last year. We have to try to plan with those factors in mind. The average potato yield we are aiming at is 7,250,000 tons instead of the present 5,000,000 tons. I am sure that we can confidently hope for a great deal more than that this year.


What are you going to do with the surplus?


That, again, is a question of which I would like notice. A. million tons, at any rate, will be required for seed. The question which the noble Earl has asked me touches upon a matter to which some of us are already addressing our minds. At any rate, it is better to have a surplus than a scarcity. It means that we shall have potatoes to devote to a number of purposes, and we will certainly try to make the best possible use of them. The average figure for sugar beet for the pre-war period which I have mentioned was 2,750,000 tons, and we are proposing to raise that to 3,500,000 tons. There will be corresponding increases in other crops. Incidentally, I am glad to be able to state that the acreage of linseed is rapidly increasing and I hope that it will continue to do so. The hope last year was that by 1952, or thereabouts, we should increase our food production by the then values of about £100,000,000. I think I can fairly say that the progress made so far is so encouraging that we now anticipate that that figure will be exceeded. I believe I can say that with some measure of confidence. And this is not the end.

Complaint has been made in the debate by the noble Earl about the difficulty of getting some of the machinery he wants. I sympathise with him, but he is not the first to encounter difficulties of that kind. I understand that these particular machines are in very short supply. They are even in short supply in the United States where they are produced. So the noble Earl's difficulties are shared by a good many others. But we are doing our best with regard to machinery. We are planning an expenditure on farm machinery of something like £50,000,000 a year for the next four years, and we have made provision for it. That is an immense undertaking for provision, for additional farm machinery. We are also providing £100,000,000 for the improvement of farm buildings or for new buildings which, as noble Lords are well aware, are absolutely essential—especially in some places where they are needed for storage purposes. I believe it is fair to say that during the next four years the total capital investments planned to be put into agriculture by way of machinery, the improvement of farm buildings, the provision of new ones and so forth, will amount in the aggregate to £450,000,000. That is the programme on which we are now working. It is a gigantic programme.


When the noble Viscount gives these figures, I take it he is not talking of State money. He is speaking, I presume, of capital invested by the farming community—not of taxpayers money?


The noble Earl knows very well that when we import or arrange for the importation of an implement, then of course the man who receives the implement pays for it.


When the noble Viscount speaks about £100,000,000 for improvement of farm buildings, may I ask whose farm buildings he means?


The farmers' buildings of course. This money is for improvement of buildings on farms.


Does the noble Viscount mean that there will be provision of permits to landlords to provide farm buildings, or does he mean that the State will provide?


Again I cannot give an answer with regard to the details of this matter. For the most part, no doubt, it will all be done by the owners. Where the State or the agricultural committee happen to be the owner of the land, they will do it. We are not interfering at all with the existing channels of trade. It will be done through the existing machinery by those responsible for providing improvements. And I can tell your Lordships that the applications are large and numerous. I do not believe that this figure will meet the requirements, or anything like it. Perhaps some of them will have the same disappointment as the noble Earl who is, I believe, a first-class landlord in these matters. At any rate, we are undertaking this immense advance. When we contemplate these factors, taken together—and I am glad to say that we are now emerging from the realm of speculation into reality; the Department are getting on with the job rapidly—I think it can be truly said that we are making a very important contribution to the increase of food production in our own country.

I now come to the wider problem that this Motion very properly raises. Having mentioned what is being done in our own country, I would also like to say something of what is being done through long-term contracts to encourage increased food production in the Dominions. It is obvious that we must be able to produce more and more in the sterling area, and long-term contracts, leading I hope to steady and increased production, have already been entered into with Dominion countries for wheat and flour, dairy products, meat and bacon, eggs, vegetable oils, sugar, dried fruits and coffee. In addition to these, we have recently concluded a seven-year contract with Australia and New Zealand for dairy products. A new agreement, covering a period of seven years, has been entered into with New Zealand with regard to meat exports. Negotiations are now going on with Australia with regard to a long-term contract for meat, and the question of obtaining other products, particularly from Queensland, is being considered. In other words, coincident with this increase in production of food in our own country, we are aiming and in fact taking steps, quite successfully so far, to increase the production of food both in the Colonies and in the Dominions.

But there are two other aspects of this subject which I do not think have received in the debate the attention which they ought. We accept all that was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce of Melbourne. It is true that there is a world scarcity, though there may be, here and there, for the time being a successful harvest. The fact is that the vast numbers of the increased millions of the world are underfed. Before the war there were millions of people in this country underfed, and now, badly off as we are, a good many are better fed in some respects than they were before, especially the children. We would like a lot more to be better fed. There are two aspects of this problem on which I have anxiously looked for light, but I have not received as much illumination as I could wish. There may be abundance somewhere, but we have to make it available to the people who need it. That is the first aspect. Secondly, we have to put them in a position so that they can pay for it. These are two substantial difficulties.

Your Lordships will remember that it is not long since locomotives in Argentina were being fed with maize. That did not alter the fact that there were millions of people and animals who would have been all the better for a bigger supply of maize, yet it could not be brought to them. And perhaps, even if it had been brought, they would not have been able to pay for it. Making available is an intrinsic part of this undertaking. We cannot do it by ourselves. I should be glad if those who are responsible for pointing out to us these dismal facts—and we are only too painfully aware of them—would turn their minds more and more, in common with us, to examining how commodities could be made available more readily to those in need of them.

For example, take the question of rice. There is not a housewife in England who would not be glad of a little rice, and I understand there is quite a lot of rice in Burma. But owing to the troubles in that country, the shortage of barges on the rivers, and many other questions which I will not detail, the rice is not being made available. I remember that two years ago we had to deal with the problem of a large volume of rice in the interior of one rice-producing country which the growers would not sell because they had no fancy for the paper which their own country gave them for it. The farmers did not want paper money. What they wanted was consumer goods, and it was not until we sent out a supply of linen and cotton goods and other articles that we could obtain the rice. This practical problem of making the supply available is an intrinsic part of the question.

Beyond that, there is the question of ability to pay, even if we can make goods available. That raises much wider issues. Here I would like to come back to the opinion of some economists which was quoted by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. We are confronted with the problem of ability to pay. That is why we are encouraging the production of so much more food in the sterling area. I do not accept the view that the production of more food from our land means that we are going to have fewer manufactures. The present programme sets out an immense increase in our manufactures. We are not turning the town into the country, or trying to turn the country into the town. What we have to do is to produce more from both. And we are now doing it. As noble Lords are well aware, the increase in our exports is very substantial.

On another occasion, I expect, your Lordships will probably have an opportunity of dealing with this in detail, but there is now going on a great increase in the production of machinery and other goods for export. On the whole, that is making very satisfactory progress, but it is dependent to a great extent on our ability to sell the manufactured goods and to buy the raw materials of which they are made. It is all part of the same problem. We must be able to make these goods for sale if we are going to buy the food when it is available. That is all a part of our plan of operations. But I must enter an energetic protest against the suggestion that the increase of production from our land means a diversion from our manufacturing efforts. It certainly does not. I am sure we could not afford to have that position, because we are so very much dependent upon supplies from overseas. So far as we are concerned, we have no objection to the noble Earl's Motion, and I am quite willing to accept it. I think we have all been working in consonance with the spirit of it. I accept the facts. We are making an unprecedented effort, both at home and abroad, to provide the deficiencies to which the Motion relates.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for giving the pleasure to the House that he has given by accepting the Motion. Perhaps I should make one or two comments on his speech. First, I am afraid that I must disagree with him on his last point, that it is nonsense to say that an increased production on the land may not mean a diversion of effort from other activities. Inevitably, if you are short of cement, and apply a great deal more cement to agriculture, there is going to be less applied in other directions. The same observation obtains in regard to other materials in short supply. I hope your Lordships will agree that this debate has been worth while. It has drawn from many of your Lordships very interesting contributions. I am sure that all of us who have been interested in food and agriculture for a long time will have welcomed particularly the very individual light thrown upon our problems by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, who does not always join in agricultural discussions.

I am not quite sure why the noble Viscount has accepted my Motion. Certainly the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, said that he did not agree with a single one of my arguments in favour of it, and he himself did not produce any arguments in favour of it. Therefore, I am a little puzzled. I cannot help but confess to a certain amount of disappointment in that, really, neither of the Government speakers have dealt with the particular points raised in my Motion, although they have given some interesting replies to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I actually sent the noble Earl a copy of my speech a week beforehand, so that he would know with what I was dealing. I have tried to raise the wider issues of world food supplies, not only now, but in the future. I have raised this question in order to get from the noble Earl, or from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, a reply to the question as to whether we are facing a crisis or a long-term change in our affairs. The reason why I have tried to concentrate the discussion on that point is that it seems to me absolutely fundamental to effective planning, in dealing with the problem we have to face, that we should first make up our minds as to what that problem is. Secondly, it seems to me that nothing more important could be said, to give greater confidence to the farmers and to the workers, of whom we are asking so much at this time of shortage, than an assurance from the Government that they are convinced that this is a long-term, if not a permanent, change in our affairs. I must say that I feel that in the speeches we have had from the Government spokesmen there was little or no glimpse of the immensity of the scope and the urgency of the problem. Having said that, I do not want to introduce discord into what has been not only an interesting but ultimately an agreed debate, and I again thank the noble Viscount for accepting the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say that what has afforded me the greatest relief in all that has fallen from the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and from the Leader of the House (personally I thank them profoundly for their speeches) is that they regard our food supply problem as one common to the Mother Country and to the Commonwealth overseas. With that in view I am fairly confident that the problem will, to a large extent, eventually be solved. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Selborne is not now present. He referred to a surplus of potatoes. I should have told him, had he remained, and I would like to tell it to the Government, that in Denmark, a country with which I am very familiar, for many years past, whenever there has been a surplus either of potatoes or of cereals, they have said:" Send them to the market on four legs"—in other words, "Feed them to the pigs." Considering the great shortage of protein food, both presently and prospectively, may I venture to suggest that the Government, and particularly the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food, take full account of that excellent maxim?

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