§ 3.24 p.m.
§ LORD LOVAT rose to call attention to the contribution which could be made to home-grown meat supplies in this country by fuller development of marginal and hill farming areas in the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have listened with great interest, but not with growing confidence, to the remarks of the Lord Chancellor and to noble Lords on both sides of the House who have just been speaking. I speak without skill and with little recent practice, but, nevertheless, I stand before your Lordships, confident that I can make myself reasonably clear—that I am appealing to both sides of the House on a non-Party issue, and that what I say, I hope, is common sense. In fact, I trust that we are all pushing against the same door, which can be opened, as regards further development of our hill and marginal land farms. The Motion which stands in my name was originally confined to Scotland, but at the 1278 request of several members of your Lordships' House the opportunity has been taken to widen its scope so as to include the whole of the United Kingdom. I, for my part, must naturally confine my remarks to the country I know best, which is the Highlands of Scotland, with particular reference to the raising of cattle in that area. There are a great number of other speakers, far more able than myself, who are to follow me, and I hope they will deal with all other aspects of hill farming and will broaden the picture, which I can only elaborate to the best of my ability.
§ Before proceeding further, I would like to say that my right-hand supporter and fellow Scotsman, Lord Boyd Orr, who, your Lordships know well, was going to back me up in what I have to say, cannot be here to-day. Unfortunately for me, he has had to proceed to Oslo to receive the Nobel Prize. But British agriculture does not really present any complex problem. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, 1870 or thereabouts, the British farmer could supply the British public with the food the nation required. But from that time until the beginning of the Second World War—a period of some seventy years—the farmer became the poor relation in the family, and policy for which various Governments can be blamed turned to overseas meat supplies, refrigerator ships and the exporting of barbed wire from this country to the great cattle-raising plains of the New World and Australia. This changed the whole picture and we, as a nation, relied on foreign meat supplies, and turned at home to the limited production of grain and, recently, to a concentration on milk. Possibly I am treading on delicate ground when I suggest that this latter trend in farming, and it is notably a dairying trend, while justified until recently (and it may be justified still), is dangerous if it means that we have to turn to Governments overseas who can hold us to ransom, to buy a meat supply which is no longer available at home.
§ That is, broadly, the trend of my argument. Mr. Strachey, in another place, has admitted freely that our home-grown meat supplies have fallen since 1939 by no less a figure than 300,000 tons. I think the National Farmers' Union and officials of Smithfield Market will tell you without hesitation that Mr. Strachey's figure is 1279 probably an underestimate. The falling away in home-grown supplies is very likely a great deal higher, certainly a figure a great deal higher than he is prepared to admit. I do not wish to say a word against dairy farming, though I can quote chapter and verse to back up my arguments. What I want to call to the attention of your Lordships is the fact that here, in this small country with a population of somewhere around 48,000,000 people who would consume meat (though they do not often see it), there are still vast areas of land at home which have been undeveloped or on which an attempt has been made to develop without any great success, so that it has once again fallen back into an unproductive and sterile state.
§ The figures which I am going to give to support my case are not necessarily strictly accurate. I think, however, that, roughly speaking, although no survey is up to date at the present time, it is correct to say that there are approximately 10,000,000 acres of hill country in Scotland alone. In England and Wales there are approximately 5,000,000 acres of hill, down and mountain country. In the North of Ireland there are approximately 750,000 acres, and in Eire some 3,500,000 acres. If one wants to argue in a rather more brutal manner, one can bring into further calculation a number of power animals such as horses. Each horse can be reckoned to cat the equivalent of the produce of three acres of arable land, and the total number of horses in the United Kingdom at the present time is approximately one million. You can add a further 3,000,000 acres which are of no benefit as regards food production for the masses of the people. I hope that I shall never see the day when horses disappear from our farms, but it is a factor in considering the total acreage available for further production of food. The grand total of land in the United Kingdom and Eire approximates to 65,000,000 acres, from which, by simple arithmetic you have to deduct nearly 22,000,000 acres—that is, one third of the whole area available to us. I respectfully maintain that at the present time, in an economic crisis when, with funds running lower every day, we have to go cap in hand to borrow money abroad in order to buy food overseas, we are surely making a grave mis- 1280 take in not exploiting these areas in the best possible manner and to the greatest possible extent.
§ The impression I want to give to-day is one of optimism and not of defeatism, which seems to emanate from the other side of the House. I have attempted in a small private scheme to prove that again to-day, as in the Highland economy long ago, there are great possibilities in raising a hardy breed of cattle beast. The Secretary of State for Scotland has said in another place that such ideas, or hallucinations, are so much "romantic nonsense." I challenge him in that respect, because I do not think the Secretary of States knows much about the Highlands; and he knows still less about agriculture. Theories are always dangerous things, but I am doing nothing new in raising cattle on the hill. I have referred to the United Kingdom as a whole, but if your Lordships will allow me I should like to switch for a moment to Scotland, which is obviously the country I know best.
§ In the old days, when the clan system still prevailed in the Highlands, the economy was based on cattle and the clan. Every Chief could put into the field a number of broadswords, and every broadsword and every man who wielded it had his cattle running on the hill, in return for which he rendered loyalty to his clan and to his chieftain. In those days the Highlands of Scotland were thickly populated. To-day we know the story—empty spaces, deserted crofts and the whole district passing through one phase after another—all of them, I regret to say, retrograde. From the time of the 'Forty-five, when the Jacobite cause was finally broken in Scotland, we saw the beginning of the clearances which cleared the Highlands of their population. With the Highlanders went the cattle, and in return sheep were driven in from the South. In due course, the sheep themselves became uneconomic. The cheap products of the countries of the New World and Australia finally squeezed out the economy of the sheep in Scotland. As recently as 1942, a member of your Lordships' House, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, investigated the severe decline in the sheep stocks of the North. In the Highland crofter counties alone, they had declined by 750,000. That decline continues to-day.
§ When the sheep no longer proved profitable—and as your Lordships know, 1281 the ground can become sheep-sick, apart from the pounds, shillings and pence aspect of the business—and the ground became bare of sheep, we enter a third phase. The Highlands turned to sport to supplement the exchequer of local proprietors and inhabitants. Until the beginning of the war, great areas of Scotland, and of the Highlands in particular, were considered productive only of rich Americans and wealthy stockbrokers. That again has changed. The wheel has gone round in full circle, and I see no reason, with the increased knowledge which is available to us, why we should not repeat the performance of running cattle on the hill and increasing our sheep, as was done only one hundred years ago without such talent. With all our progress, our scientific research, our improved methods of agriculture and our advisers of various Departments—advisers so-called, at any rate—surely we can at least equal, or possibly do better than, what was achieved in the days when men lived literally from hand to mouth, when cattle lifting was no uncommon occurrence and when the people of the Highlands went barefoot and yet numbered hundreds in every glen.
§ I do not think that argument is difficult to follow, and I do not think it is unreasonable for me to suggest that it can be done again. One of the reasons that cattle raising, or even sheep production, is little understood in the United Kingdom today is the fact that, as a small island with an agreeable climate suitable for cattle breeding and sheep raising, we have concentrated far too much on pedigree livestock and have not thought it sufficiently important to raise the commercial animal. I believe that I am right in saying that, and that the average person—although I do not refer to your Lordships opposite—is of the opinion that the cattle-raising areas of the New World are so much more fertile, so fool-proof and such a gift to animals, that we in our cold, rainy and at times extremely unpleasant climate have no hope in competing with them. That is entirely wrong. It is my business to travel about the world, selling British bulls to overseas customers, and wherever I go in my peregrinations I am always forcibly struck by the tremendous risks, the difficulties and the tasks which the pioneer spirit overseas, whether it be in Latin America, Canada, the United States 1282 or Australia has had to face to produce the meat which we think can be produced so easily and sold here on the hook.
§ I do not know what the Secretary of State for Scotland meant when he said it was "romantic nonsense" to think of cattle in their thousands in the deer forests. The term "deer forests" is a misnomer. There is no such thing as a deer forest. The wild red deer is found wherever he can get about. There is an impression that these are vast barren areas, consisting of plateaux thousands of feet high, exposed to all the winds that blow, and permanently under snow. As your Lordships know full well, on the west coast of Scotland, where the Gulf Stream runs, close inshore we find deer at sea level and camellias and palm trees growing in certain districts in the far north. There are infinitely greater potentialities there than we would ever find on the prairies in Canada, or in the Panhandle, Texas, with temperatures of 20 degrees below zero. Here, we suffer from no droughts. What about the boundary rider in Australia, who in a hot summer has to cut down the very trees that grow on his station to feed the sheep on the leaves of the blue gumtree? What about the plains of Venezuela (where my brother happens to be at the present, trying to sell cattle to the Venezuelan Government), the vast areas of the Llanos of the Orinoco, which for six months of the year are flooded, and which for the remaining half of the year have a temperature of 100 degrees in the shade, heat fit to boil your brain, and still produce cattle in their millions? I suggest that it requires only a little vim and vigour to put life into these hills at home.
§ I have refrained from quoting chapter and verse, but as things of this kind are necessary, I will give one or two simple figures. I would like to go further and make certain proposals, none of which would cost much money and which I would like the noble Lords opposite to consider if they as members of the Government think fit. Before I pass to commercial cattle, may I turn once again to the problem of the breeders of pedigree beasts? I have recently been president of the Scottish Shorthorn Breeders' Association. We pride ourselves in Scotland that we can still breed cattle, as I think has been proved at 1283 Smithfield this week. The Shorthorn still remains, of all the cattle breeds, the golden animal. They are the cattle beast which are exported in the greatest numbers overseas, and they also command the highest prices. In the New World, at any rate, their merits are still appreciated. In the space of thirty years, if I take the figures between the end of the First World War and the termination of the Second, we have to record the sorry fact that the number of pure-bred pedigree beef Shorthorn cattle sold at public auction in the United Kingdom has dropped from 4,002 in 1921 to 920 in 1948. That is a serious thing. Do not let me give the wrong impression that Shorthorn breeders are not doing extremely well in their business. The cattle, from the very fact that they are hard to find and that the demand greatly exceeds the supply, continue to command enormous prices. But they are not being bought in this country, because we no longer seem to interest ourselves in beef.
§ There are two other major beef breeds of which I know something because I happen to breed them—namely, the Hereford and the Aberdeen Angus. These equally splendid representatives of our British beef breeds have really only been saved because the Government have adopted the policy—which I do not criticise—of colour marking their calves when these Hereford and Aberdeen Angus bulls are mated with dairy stock. That is a sign of the times, and I will not say more about it. I would like to quote one last figure, and in doing so I probably tell your Lordships a fact which you know already—namely, that the Highlands of Scotland were the best beef-producing area in the last century. Before the sheep came north there were great breeds of cattle in the Highlands. As recently as 1850 (as your Lordships will see if you care to study a book, which I would commend to you for dreary reading, known as Falkirk, Its Origin and Growth) no fewer than 155,000 store cattle were sold out of the Highland area at what was known as the Falkirk Tryst, which was the annual Autumn sale of surplus store cattle. Today hill farming in Scotland is regarded with no confidence and a certain amount of suspicion.1284
§ Before addressing your Lordships, I obtained, through the good offices of Mr. Woodburn, the Secretary of State, the following figures. In the whole of the Highland area there were only 42,000 hill cattle drawing the hill cattle subsidy; and in the whole of Scotland there were only 90,000 hill cows drawing the hill cows subsidy of £7 in 1948. I do not know what your reactions are to the fact that, in spite of our progress, our improvements, our so-called experts, the easier communications and everything that goes with the twentieth century at its best (or worst), we find in the Highlands only 42,000 cattle, when in 1850 155,000 animals were being sold annually from the same area. Your Lordships can add to that all the fat cattle which, without the Ministry of Food, the inhabitants salted away for their winter keep. In my view, those figures are very impressive.
§ However, if your Lordships require a final point, which I would like to "nail on the kennel door," it is that in Ireland, and particularly in Northern Ireland, they have taken over, with very good stock indeed—not to our credit, I feel—the supply of store cattle which used to come from Scotland. We in the United Kingdom to-day buy on an average no fewer than 300,000 cattle from Ireland every year. In respect of Northern Ireland alone, since the war, I can give your Lordships figures of a change in policy. In 1940 the amount of milk sold on the farms in Northern Ireland valued approximately £2,000,000; to-day they sell £11,500,000 worth of milk and dairy products from the same area. Some of these cattle are dual purpose, but I think it is obvious to your Lordships who are farmers that a dual-purpose beast, whatever its merits or demerits, is not going to do full justice to its calf if it is milked twice a day and the calf has to find its way around on what is left. We are simply buying a poorer type of store beast. But that is the situation as it stands. I have to go to Ireland to buy cattle for myself and for some of my clients, because they cannot be found in this country. That is not a great tribute to British agriculture, although it is a great compliment to the Irish. The conditions that appertain in Connemara are very similar to those that exist in Scotland. In Connemara you can find what it is impossible to find, 1285 I am sorry to record, in any market in the United Kingdom—cattle of sufficient numbers and of the right kind to stock a hill or a forest in adequate numbers and of the right kind.
§ I would like to say a word or two more, in case the sporting members of your Lordships' House feel that I am a blackleg. Nobody loves stalking or the pursuit of the red deer more than I do, but in an area where I have introduced cattle since the war, which originally carried 40 Galloway cows, they have been stepped up to 700 or 800 head of hill cattle. The forest, before the introduction of this cattle, was good for 75 stags. Last season we killed 135. The reason is fairly simple. The cattle beast crops the ground; it sweetens it and acts like a lawn-mower. You will find in many Highland counties areas which are choked with bracken and long heather, riddled with ticks and every known pest, which cannot carry the stock for the reason that they have been so long neglected. That is a fact which nobody faces up to, but it can be put right. If it is of any value to your Lordships, I would be highly privileged to conduct any one of you round to have a look if you believe I am talking entirely in theory. That is not so. I can prove it in fact. Let me also say that in this same area my sheep losses on an annual lambing season were somewhere around 30 per cent. before the change-over. On the same ground cattle have thrived and multiplied, and I find that the cattle losses have not so far exceeded 5 per cent. Those are also significant figures. If I dare draw a comparison between milk and beef, the hill cow of the hardy kind suitable for the hills will go on breeding provided you give them time and let them reach maturity before they first go to the bull. It is nothing uncommon to get fourteen or fifteen calves from one cow. I think that is important when you consider that the average lactations on a dairy farm, or of dairy herds, rarely exceed four or five.
§ There are so many more important speakers than myself that I do not propose to say much more, other than to make certain proposals which may be of interest to your Lordships. I have several resolutions here, and if your Lordships will allow me to read them to you I will then elaborate the argument. 1286 Although I have skated over the subject rather rapidly, I will now come down to chapter and verse. The first resolution is that hill cattle breeders should enjoy the same 50 per cent. grants for improvements as hill sheep farmers, who at present derive sole benefit under the Hill Farming Act, 1946. I have already mentioned the Balfour of Burleigh Report. A recommendation of that Report was that hill sheep farming, which was dwindling fast, should be bolstered up by a grant which allowed for improvements such as draining the hills, planting shelter belts, building up flanks and fences, if necessary putting bridges across flooding streams, and putting water, light and amenities into shepherds' houses. The reason was obvious: the sheep decline had alarmed the Government.
§ At that time we could still afford to buy beef abroad, and mutton was given the only consideration. I submit to your Lordships that it is clearly wrong, if we want to step up our food production, to favour one animal rather than another living in the same conditions. I have always been well treated by the local officials from the Department of Agriculture, who have aways backed my case, but strictly speaking, unless you have sheep predominating no cattle breeder has any right to put cattle on the hill, except at his owl expense. Quite obviously, the outlay is considerable and the risk, while not grave, is certainly enough to discourage the average person. But we are not going to get cattle in the numbers I envisage unless every form of encouragement and support is made available.
§ My next point is that the £7 grant for breeding cows of hill stock, at present due to expire in 1952, should be continued for a further period of not less than five years. The reason why I put this forward is again simple and straightforward. The grant was given only for a five-year period, and people who would have gone into the scheme hesitated because the stock was not available on capital easy to find. As I mentioned not long ago, you cannot hope to get a thriving hill stock together quickly for breeding the heifers, until at least three years have elapsed. You have to have full-mouthed cattle to thrive on the hill. You cannot treat them as one would a pedigree beef or dairy herd on arable 1287 ground. I never put a bull amongst heifers until they are rising three years old, and one does not get calves until the cattle are rising four years old. Then they go on breeding. It is no good commencing a costly project with a subsidy if there is only one year left before the scheme peters out, leaving stock owners stranded without assistance. I would say in passing if it is any encouragement, that I make quite enough money out of hill cattle to carry on without the grant.
§ My third point is that the weaned calf subsidy should be confined to animals of the beef breed, and that this subsidy should be paid to the breeder and not to the feeder—I have the support of the National Farmers' Union on this point. In the North of Scotland the market is glutted in the back end of October because all the weaned calves from the whole area come into the market simultaneously. Most of these calves are born in February at the earliest, and the majority in March and April. They are sold in October before they are eligible for the subsidy. They do not carry the subsidy on their backs. That was the argument whereby the subsidy was originally defended, but we have agreed, as producers, that with so many calves coming into the market—there being almost too many available over a period of some six weeks, during the October and early November sales—they are practically given away to the feeders who take them down to the fatter lands and raise them and derive all the advantages of the manuring of the dung, and also of the subsidy. Beef breeding, either commercially or on pedigree lines, is not sufficiently economic at present to give any excuse or let slip any opportunity for the beef man to draw that subsidy. I feel it worth mentioning in passing that a great many calves of a non-beef type are at present drawing that subsidy for which I suggest it was never in fact intended. I would like to ask the Government just how many Ayrshire heifer calves are in fact drawing the subsidy which was originally intended for the beef breeds. I have a shrewd suspicion that it is a very considerable proportion of the entire total.
§ I hope that I am not wearying your Lordships with this long harangue. My 1288 next point is that the supply of homegrown mutton should be increased in hill districts, with particular reference to deer forests, by carrying over a two-year-old wedder stock, assisted by a suitable subsidy. I am not a sheep man and there are many noble Lords who are coming after me who will tell more of the story. The wedder two and three years old was acceptable at one time, when we had stronger appetites and harder teeth, but there is far too much lamb consumed at half its final weight. A tremendous amount of feeding is wasted by cropping aftermath on hay crop foggage by lambs in the months of September and October all over the North of Scotland. With a humid climate and rainfall after the hay crop is cut, it is the habit amongst Scottish farmers all over Scotland to put their weaned lambs, whether wedders or ewe lambs, on to the aftermath which grows up behind the hay crop. Often in a warm year, such as the present season has been, the aftermath grows a great deal higher than the hay. That is solid clover; it is far too strong a mixture for lambs to do well on and the first frost blackens it. If too many lambs are placed on it they waste at least three-quarters by treading it down. I suggest that as an economy, apart from keeping the sheep off that ground, if that grass crop were stored in silage pits it could provide enough winter feed to carry over hill cattle in greater numbers. That is a practice which I have followed. I put several hundred tons of clover silage into silage pits—ten or twelve of them—every year; the crop comes at a useful time. If it is taken in on wet or dewy mornings—because you cannot work on the harvest in August and September—I find that with no loss to myself that silage provides enough winter feeding for three or four hundred hill cows in the critical months of February and March. I have deliberately not suggested what form of subsidy should go with these wedder lambs. The losses are going to be considerable—one has to face up to that. The male sheep, for some unknown reason, is considerably more delicate than his sister, and wedders will have losses on high ground. But if they are no higher than 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. I feel that with some form of insurance policy to carry that risk one could produce a great deal of mature mutton a great deal heavier than the little rabbits that are being eaten to-day.1289
§ My fifth point is that the ploughing-up grant of £4 per acre should be renewed in the case of marginal and hill farms, re-commencing on January 1, 1951, and extending over a period of not less than five years. I think the Government have made a gave mistake—speaking from the Scottish angle—in dropping the ploughing-up grant. That applies particularly to the hill farm, which has to plough up to expand. The Government have made it impossible for the hill farmer to plough in the winter those grasslands to carry over his sheep stock during the critical period. All that has been lost to the man who wants to improve his farm, and while obviously one cannot reintroduce the ploughing-up grant at short notice, because other plans have been made and it would be unfair to ask the Government to change their policy, I can see no reason why it should not be reintroduced after a lapse of one year in time.
§ My sixth point is one which is going to embarrass some people, but one has to face up to facts. It is that an immediate investigation should be made into the number of personnel employed in the Department of Agriculture in Edinburgh; and that their credentials and their experience, if any, of practical farming, should be examined. Also a report should be made on the results achieved in food production on the 450,000 acres at present farmed by the aforesaid Department. Far be it from me to tread on any civil servant's toes. I have always had great assistance from the local executive. But I feel that some of the senior officials—and I have no doubt this applies equally to Whitehall—have got a very long way from the operations for which they were at first intended. I am not doing to mention any names, but I tremble to think of what some of these people know about agriculture. One that I know personally would be incapable of running a chicken farm. Surely it is entirely wrong that a Department of any kind should be the main proprietor in Scotland to-day. A total of 450,000 acres is fairly hefty; and these farms and subdivisions of property are run in many cases by junior officials or by bondsmen of some kind or other. Those of us who farm know well, I think, that a home farm seldom makes as much money as a farm which is run by a hardheaded Aberdonian. It is quite obvious—I know, because I see some of these 1290 farms—that the best results are not in fact being obtained.
§ If I may draw a parallel, though perhaps a rather unpleasant one, it seems to me that there is a resemblance between what is happening in the Department and what happened in the War Office at the beginning of the last war, when some of our senior Generals leant back and said, "The Germans can never win; they have got no senior commanders—they were all knocked off, and the young fellows know nothing about it." That went on until we were chased out of Norway and were floated home from Dunkirk; and, by the same token, there was an unpleasant phase in the war when every trench-dodger who was incapable of doing his job was kicked upstairs into another appointment. I have known of people who could not work a farm being given a job as an official. It is clearly wrong for Mr. Woodburn, who is a person of reasonable, certainly not subnormal, intelligence, to be informed by his advisers in the Department that farming and cattle raising in the Highlands is "romantic nonsense." Is the gentleman who advises him one of those who turn up about once a year at a social function or smoke a cigar at the Highland Show?
§ My last point is again, I think, an important one. It is a plea that the Government should pay closer attention to and exercise stricter control over the acquisition of land by various bodies when such land is capable of food production. I am quite sure that that applies just as much to England and Wales as to Scotland. There has been some rather ruthless exploitation in the post-war years. Where the farmer and the private owner have been left to the tender mercies of the Forestry Commission and the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board they have received very scanty thrift. There is room in Scotland for all three, and representatives could very well work out schemes for the betterment of the north, in which I am most deeply concerned At the moment there is a feeling that the farmer is the low-priority member of that group; and at gatherings of the bureaucrats in Edinburgh agricultural representatives stand very little chance. That was very much the theme of the protest meeting which was held only a fortnight ago in Inverness by the farming community and the landed proprietors. As one old farmer 1291 said, "You cannot expect one hawk to pick out another hawk's eyes"—and I think that about sums up the situation.
§ We are all very keen on timber-growing, within reason. We also want to see electric light—and that, in fact, is an essential part of any development in Scotland in the future. But we are wholly opposed in the Highlands to the flooding of vast areas which can produce food, and we are wholly opposed also to the driving out of the inhabitants by too many trees. Your Lordships will be aware that at the present time the Highlands have many problems. It is hardly economic, for instance, to sell our pit wood when the Board of Trade seem glad to buy it from overseas at higher prices. This need for electric light is particularly great. Local schemes are greatly beneficial if they can be applied. Let the authorities concerned return to their projects of harnessing the waters in the Pentland Firth or the Menai Strait, or the Bore in the River Severn, all of which will generate far greater power than the shallow rivers with no fall and not enough head of water. The Battersea Power Station, I understand, provides three-quarters of the amount of power available in all Highland rivers. In Switzerland, which approximates in size to the Scottish Highlands, there are 4,000,000 people all enjoying electric light—yet it is a punishable offence against the State to drown land. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 4.7 p.m.
My Lords. I suppose that we have all at some time imagined ourselves in the position of someone else. It struck me this afternoon that I must be in the shoes of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, in coming to the support of the noble Lord who has made such an extraordinarily fine speech this afternoon. I have one quarrel with him, and that is that he has set such a high standard that those of us who follow him must have great difficulty. I should like to confine myself to the question of England and Wales, rather than of Scotland—which the noble Lord has so amply and adequately covered. The question of marginal land is of equal importance in the south; and if the noble Lord will accept the support of those of us who come from inferior latitudes, I should like in every way I can to support his Motion.
1292 This year in England and Wales there have been three separate bodies of survey or inquiry: the Agricultural Research Council, the Ministry of Agriculture itself, and the National Farmers' Union. I shall not weary your Lordships with a detailed comparison of the directions given to each of them, other than to say that the Agricultural Research Council had before them the more limited task of finding in these specified areas the extent of farmland not producing the animal in its final state ready for the slaughterhouse. An interim report has been submitted. The Ministry of Agricultuure itself put out, as recently as August last, a questionnaire as to how many marginal acres in each county would respond beneficially to an outlay of £30. Your Lordships may be surprised to learn that the answers to this August questionnaire appear already to have been returned from all counties. It is not surprising, again, that the replies vary greatly. Some counties say they may have 2,000 or 3,000 acres, and other counties of a comparable area claim that there is a very much bigger area of marginal land that deserves this sort of support. A third survey was that of the National Farmers' Union and, while they have also been asked to put in an interim report and have done so, they are tackling the matter in a rather more slow and, if I may say so, a rather more thorough way than the other two did.
I should like to stress at this point that I understand that all three bodies have received the utmost help from each other, a fact which has been tremendously beneficial. I do not think that there is any stigma on the Government in not trying to assist these other bodies who are working out this plan in general terms. That is a good democratic dogma, and it is certainly not true here that "any stigma is good enough to beat a dogma." In the results so far attained, we find that the Ministry of Agriculture assess the total acreage to be classified as "marginal" at 1,500,000 acres, whereas the National Farmers' Union survey has found no reason to depart from the figure of the Land Utilisation survey in 1944, of 12,000,000 acres of marginal land, of which they claimed that 6,500,000 acres could be brought to show immediate results. I am not speaking 1293 now of marginal land in the sense that the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, was: he seemed to include most of the hill land and fell land where a subsidy is granted to the sheep farmers but not to the cattle people. I think that is right. Your Lordships have had several definitions of "marginal land." May I add my definition of it as "land enjoying neither the benefits of nature, as in the lower-lying land, nor the benefits of His Majesty's Government's subsidies in respect of fell and hill farming land?"
Due to the agricultural doldrums of 1870 to 1940, these marginal farms have lost caste, have lost prospects and have lost almost all that the sturdy English farmer, like the sturdy English seaman, expected to find as a hard core and a basis upon which to build confidently and with enterprise. I am told that the further North one goes, the less one finds of hope abandoned and initiative lost. But on a general survey the marginal farmer and his family are living a hand-to-mouth existence, earning less than the average farm labourer and, by force of circumstance, turning to a short-term policy in order to pay the day-to-day and week-to-week bills rather than utilising their farm lands on a long-sighted basis. In May, 1949, the Government produced a scheme called the Marginal Production Scheme, by which marginal farmers were allotted for certain purposes a fund of £300,000; £300,000 spread over 6,500,000 acres (or, if you like, 12,000,000 acres, as originally reported) represents 6d. an acre. I leave it to your Lordships to imagine what can be done with an acre of land receiving 6d. a year. One might even compare that with one acre of ground-nuts that receives £230 a year! What we need is to lower the altitude margin of this hill-farming subsidy in order to bring in these poorer marginal farms which have such immense potentialities. It may be necessary to increase the subsidies in part, but let us bring them down the hill a bit, and include the marginal people. If we could extend these facilities to the marginal farmer and re-equip him with such capital outlay as fences and drainage, and the rebuilding of the fine old farm buildings gone into decay, then I believe that within one year, with new grass sowings and with a new spirit, we could probably increase our livestock fourfold on 1294 marginal land—that is to say, four times more livestock than we have at present on one acre within cue year. This, I suggest, would increase the meat ration by 4d. to 5d. per head—and all this within a year.
This is no special pleading for an obsolescent and dying industry. Marginal farm land totals one-third of all the agricultural land in England and Wales, one-third of all land that is cultivated and farmed. This is not merely a matter of interest for the Minster of Food or the Minister of Agriculture. Here is a reasonable means of stepping up enormously our home-grown food, of reducing imports and of re-organising and helping at a most critical time the small farmer whose products we so badly need. I beg to support this Motion.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, so far as I can see this is probably the most important debate we have had in regard to future food production in this country. The noble Lord who opened the debate has shown us what great knowledge he has of this subject, a knowledge gained from personal experience and tried out on his own. As the noble Lord who has just sat down has said, our food supply is of the utmost importance; also, it is a great dollar saver. That is what I gather from his remarks. There is no doubt that, apart from the marginal land and rough grazing referred to by Lord Lovat, by a more intensive cultivation of the grasslands which are not regarded as being in that category, at least 50 per cent. more cattle could be produced. It seems to me that we are concentrating too much on the cereal side, and forgetting that it is just as important to go in for intensive treatment of really good grassland.
It will be within your Lordships' recollection that a short time ago, on a Motion by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, we had an exhaustive debate which to a great extent brought up this question. I only wish that the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, had been here on that day. Admirable speeches were made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce of Melbourne, and by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. So far as meat is concerned, the situation at the moment is fantastic—I do not know whether your lordships are aware of it. There appears now to be so much meat in this country that not only are all the 1295 stores on land full, but the refrigerating people are even hiring liners to store the meat that is in this country within our harbours. Does it not occur to anyone in the Government that it would be rather a good thing to eat some of that meat? That seems to me an obvious thing to do. After all, I believe I am right in saying that in 1937 there was consumed in this country 141 lb. of meat per head of population; to-day the annual consumption per head is only 26 lb., plus the twopence worth that we have been allocated in the last few weeks. I asked a housewife the other day about the meat position. I said: "Could you show me on a plate what twopence worth of meat looks like?" She said: "You would find it very difficult; you would have to put on your spectacles." It is ridiculous that we should be where we find ourselves "choc-a-bloc" with meat, yet nobody has thought of letting us eat some of it and so reduce the enormous cost of hiring these liners in which to store it. The only reason that I can conceive for this extraordinary situation is the fear that we shall not get any more Meat for a very long time. That may be so. My noble friend touched on the sources of supply which we used to have abroad, and which will not be available to any great extent in the future because of various alterations in world conditions, into which I need not go now.
I believe I am right in saying that on 1,000,000 acres of rough grazing and marginal land you could accommodate 250,000 head of cattle, and I believe you could stock that amount of cattle if properly managed. It is evident from what the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has said that his scheme can be extended not only over Scotland, particularly in the part of Scotland that I come from, the Lowlands, but that there is a tremendous amount of development available in the Cheviots, and that around Edinburgh, and also in the South, on the high downlands, there is plenty of opportunity for extending the ranching idea. There is another thing that I believe we must do. I do not know whether I shall be very popular about this—the noble Lord did touch on it. In my view we are over-doing this milk business. We must encourage people to go in for dual-purpose cattle far more than is done now. It is all very well to have Channel Island cattle and the Ayrshire—which after all is Scotch, so I am 1296 back in my own race—but I think we must concentrate, as the noble Lord has said, far more on the Shorthorn and the Poll Angus, the Red Poll and the Hereford. There you have good milk producers and, also, if you get a bull calf it turns into a first-class bullock.
With regard to the fertility of these hill lands, a matter referred to by the noble Lord who introduced this Motion, there is no doubt that, certainly in the south of Scotland, which I know pretty well, the hills will not carry the number of sheep they used to. It is the old story—namely, that you cannot go on taking the goodness from the land, and as a result of the lost fertility taking away the sheep that graze over it. You must put something back. I would like an exhaustive report as to what should be done with these hill lands to help put back into the land what is all the time being taken out of it. As we all know, in farming you have got to replace what you take out, and I think that many of the hill lands have been robbed of their fertility, with nothing being put back into them. There are certain fertilisers which could be extensively used and which would help the land to carry more sheep and, incidentally, more cattle. But the fact of there being more cattle, together with sheep, instead of just sheep alone, has a very beneficial effect.
Now, my Lords, other than just supporting my noble friend in his magnificent speech and in the suggestions he has made, I have little more to say, because I made a long speech on practically this subject in the debate that Lord Radnor raised in, I think, March of this year. I do ask the Government seriously to consider this question of encouraging, so far as they can, dual-purpose cattle. I believe that it will be found in the course of a very short time that there is more milk than can be consumed. There is no doubt that everybody is encouraged to go in for milk far more than is justified, and by converting to, and increasing the numbers of, dual-purpose cattle the Government will find that they will still get enough milk to go round, but at the same time will be getting more meat. I hope most sincerely that we shall be able to reduce that terrible margin between having in 1937 eaten 141 lb. of meat compared with only 26 lb., plus twopence worth now. If you think 1297 of it, it is only one-fifth. We are by nature, a meat-eating nation, and I am sure that the whole country would enormously benefit by a larger diet of meat on their tables. I heartily and strongly support my noble friend Lord Loyal.
§ 4.27 p.m.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, there is one thing I am very pleased to hear in this debate, and that is the breadth and looseness of the definitions which have so far been made of "marginal land." I quite understand why the various counties have sent in such vague, differing accounts of the amount of marginal land existing in their areas. Of course, it is because marginal land becomes marginal for an extraordinarily varied number of reasons. In my part of the world, in Pembrokeshire, it becomes marginal to a very large extent by the poverty or even the bankruptcy of the farmers who farm it. My place is at the edge of the Welsh in Pembrokeshire. There are a great many farms of the hill variety, or bordering on the hills, which are very much larger now than they used to be, for the simple reason that a series of small farmers have each in turn gone bankrupt and sold their land to some slightly richer farmer who is their neighbour. That farmer, in his turn, has gone downhill financially, and the result is a large farm in which the farmer is scratching about frantically in the central and more easily available area, while the whole outlying area lies derelict, with the buildings not only in ruins but sometimes covered over with turf—in fact, in some cases, completely gone out of existence. That is what happens in my area. There are other parts of the country, as I well know, where other things occur.
One of the ways in which I amuse myself when travelling by train to Wales or about the countryside, is in looking to see what has happened to the land. There are an enormous number of things which seem capable of making land marginal. One often sees isolated patches of land, isolated fields, which have passed out of good farming practice because of the extending of a town or of a town's services, or through the railways or other things which have cut off the natural drainage or the natural administration of the land and have perhaps completely wiped out the farm to which the land was originally 1298 attached. There are other places, I understand, where even more extraordinary things have occurred. There have been instances where the removal of coal from under land has destroyed the natural drainage and has turned the fields into a marsh. I have seen whole lists of other reasons, but I will not weary your Lordships with them now.
It seems to me clear that although the Ministry's methods of dealing with marginal land are quite adequate where a farmer has a small area of badly farmed land, a piece of land which can be dealt with on its own, it is a fact that where marginal land is in very large areas—as in my native Pembrokeshire—the methods of the Ministry are almost certainly doomed to failure. The reason why these areas are badly farmed is obvious: it is simply that the occupants have not the cash capital necessary to put things into a proper state. It is no use offering a man even 50 per cent. of the money to do the job if his capital is already completely locked up in his land and he has not the other 50 per cent. to put up. Farmers in a countryside like that just cannot develop their land, and the present methods of the Ministry, praiseworthy though they are, are simply not the methods which will do the job at all. What is more, it is no good thinking of kicking out these farmers as inefficient. If that is tried anywhere in West Wales, I think the Ministry will find themselves with about half the county on their hands. The only thing the Ministry could do in those circumstances would be to initiate a sort of local form of nationalisation and try to capitalise the area. This, to say the least, would be enormously expensive.
I believe we must have some entirely different approach to the problem. What that approach should be I do not know but, clearly, it must involve greater capital being pumped into agriculture. The real trouble in these days is the shortage of capital. It is not that the land is not good. It is land which, as everyone knows, was good at one time. If you can find a farmer in the area who is old enough to remember the state of affairs which previously existed and can get him to go round with you, he will probably say to you, "Here stood a farmhouse and its buildings, and here on this marshland were fields which pro- 1299 duced crops, and sometimes very good ones." The land was fit land and it could be fit again. What it really needs is the spending of capital upon it.
With the expenditure of more capital would naturally be required provision for what I may term the solid facilities—allocations of steel, allocations of fertilisers and all the rest of it. The question of the supply of barbed wire is rather a sore point just now. I know it is an unpopular thing to recommend to the Ministry of Agriculture, and doubtless to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that vast sums should be poured into our land, but I am convinced that it would be the finest investment we could possibly make. I have been a naval officer, and I believe most strongly in the defence of this country. I feel that one of the finest ways of defending this country is to grow the maximum possible amount of food here. I consider that the £1,000,000 which is often spent on quite a small warship nowadays would almost be better spent on encouraging agriculture. At least, the spending of money in that way could not be said to mean threatening anyone. There could be no kick from any political Party on that score.
How it is to be done within the existing framework of subsidies, I do not know. I believe that in the worst areas the Ministry will find it expedient to use the powers which they assumed under the 1947 Act of taking over large areas of land and themselves improving them. Otherwise, I do not see how things can be straightened out—unless, of course, they are prepared to pay such prices for agricultural products as will enable farmers to build up capital very quickly. However, I believe that would be unjustifiable, as it would involve putting up food prices to a point with which no one in this country could possibly agree. In any case, I do not believe it would be equitable for any Government in this country deliberately to enrich a section of the community unless it had an absolute guarantee that the money which was being put into the farmers' pockets would, in fact, go into the land which was to be improved. We all know what could happen in such circumstances. There are farmers—fortunately they constitute, I believe, a very small section of the farming community—who enjoy fixed prices 1300 and subsidies and all the rest of it, and who make use of their increased revenue simply to raise their standard of living. In the cases of such people the money goes into the farmers' pockets and not necessarily into the farms. If we are going to proceed by any methods which involve enriching the farmer, let us make certain that, while he has a proper incentive to do a greater amount of work, the money which is being handed over for the purpose goes into the land where it is really needed.
What sums will be needed for this purpose I do not know. It is anyone's guess. I have seen mention of astronomical sums as being necessary for putting our agriculture on its feet, especially on this marginal land. How such sums should be obtained nowadays I have not the slightest idea; indeed I doubt whether we shall ever be able to spend the sums of money the pundits say are needed. But I believe we could do a great deal more than we are doing at the present time, and it would be to the great benefit of the country, not only from the immediate point of view of an increase in our rations, but also from the general point of view that we could greatly increase our security in peace time against being held to ransom by some of the producers who sell us our food. I believe almost all the producers of that type are not within our own Commonwealth and Empire. Apart from that, the difference that such a policy would make in war time would be enormous. We should look on these proposals and on the whole subject of marginal land as being to some extent an alternative to the ships and convoys we should have to use in war. If the Minister wants to get some more cash out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I suggest that he belabours that point when he finds himself in competition with the Foreign Secretary and the Service Ministers. I do not wish to speak at great length, because I know there is a long list of speakers and that most of your Lordships are agriculturists of far greater experience and longer standing, than myself, but this is a subject on which this House is thoroughly fitted to advise the Government. I entirely support everything that has been said from the other side of the House on the subject of pushing the Minister along the lines of helping our hill and marginal land.
§ 4.42 p.m.
My Lords, I rise to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House, and I hope that your Lordships will excuse the many inadequacies in what I have to say, and the repetition of viewpoints that have already been put far better than I can put them. I would like to raise the issue of the production of marginal and hill land in Britain as part of a much wider Commonwealth meat production problem. I spent just under a year before the war on a sheep farm in New Zealand, and in a sense I took part in a process which was undermining the British farmer. I admired the way in which it has been explained that we have reached the present state of affairs in this country through having led the Industrial Revolution. It seems clear that changes are brewing in the relations of agriculture and industry among the Commonwealth nations. In New Zealand I witnessed a tremendous desire on the part of many people for a far greater development of manufacturing, arising from the insecurity of overseas markets and even from the fear that British agriculture might go off on a new tack, and for a larger secure market at home. I think that is an aspiration with which we can have sympathy, in so far as agriculture, even in a highly industrialised country, remains the most vital industry of all.
In New Zealand where I worked, the land had originally been extremely sour, but had become some of the finest pasture in New Zealand. I deliberately went to the South Island because of its climatic similarity to our own country, and I think I may say categorically that they have not simply "cashed in" on the gift of God of their marvellous grassland. It has been a result of terrifically hard work and of the use of the resources of this country in grass seed and technique of agricultural production, which they have carried out with great efficiency. The part of the South Island that I know was very short of lime; it required a large amount of drainage and the application of phosphates, and it needed a large area of temporary grass. If I may emphasise this from my own sudden awareness of it, I did not realise that grass was a crop—and possibly the most important crop there is growing on British Commonwealth land. The whole issue 1302 of the development of marginal and hill land in this country is essentially one of grassland. The estimate of 12,000,000 acres of marginal lard in Britain is an estimate of land which has become almost the "rural slum" aspect of British farming. I do not think we can in any sense blame the British farmer for the course which has been taken with this land since the great depression of the 1870's. It seems to me essential in any wider scheme for the development of this land that it should be a scheme literally for ever, with no chance of any producer feeling that in thirty years' time all this expenditure may be undermined when we again discover large export markets for our industrial production.
I realise how inadequately I can put this issue between rural and city life, which seems to be the fundamental one in our land. I think it is a factor in our problem that the average person in the cities realises what is going on in the country, far less than do the town dwellers in New Zealand, Australia and Canada, who are far more capable of forming a real angle on this problem. I speak myself almost as a city dweller, as I live in outer suburbia and have no land of my own; but I feel intensely on this issue. I feel intensely for the need of city people to know more of their Island and, if possible, to partake it the tremendous pioneering production that could now be brought about. I do not want to go backwards, but perhaps your Lordships will excuse me if I quote a remark made in another place by a Prime Minister in the 'twenties to illustrate this attitude of separation from country issues, which arises because we are predominantly an urban nation. Whatever Government are in power, we have this preponderance of urban votes, and therefore it is doubly vital that the people in towns should realise what this pioneering involves and how important it is to cur whole security. The statement was on agricultural policy. I need not mention the year in which it was said, because it might well have been said, though perhaps not so clearly, by any Prime Minister. This was that statement:So far as we are concerned, we shall not touch tariffs or bounties. Both tariffs and bounties are wrong. They only help to encourage inefficiency. They induce the towns to regard agriculture as something that preys upon them.… The Government feel perfectly convinced that all extraneous aids to 1303 agriculture are only likely to result in a further deterioration of the agricultural mind, and an increasing tendency and process on the part of the farmers to trust to the power of the State, and their influence in Parliament… to get doles from the public purse, instead of solving their own problems by applying their own energy.I would like to ask a question. If at the present moment our industrial products export markets were found to be on the same scale as after the First World War—if, in fact, the Dominions had not problems of their own as regards soil erosion, for instance, increasing population and smaller export surpluses—would we again be prepared to let down British agriculture? I feel that our attitude is unchanged. In the light of that fact, one can understand the sense of insecurity that must exist in the farming community over the full development of marginal land, which, after all, is the main land where long-term notions have to be considered. I gather that one of the reasons why there has been so much activity in milk production is because of the monthly cheque. I feel that the Government should fully support the great new development of marginal and hill land. In that event, it would no longer be marginal, and there would be no need for the use of that word. It has not all been marginal land in the past; it has been made marginal only because of the sacrifice of the British to the overseas primary producer, a sacrifice which we made for so long until the last war.
The farmer for whom I worked came back to this country this summer, and I saw him many times. It was intriguing for me to see somebody in London whom I had seen on his own wide paddocks on the other side of the earth. He was very keen to prove to me that England would always need meat from New Zealand, Australia and other sources; that she would never in any sense be able to catch up; that she was too keen on her parks, trees and hedges. He conceived that it was his job, and that of his fellow farmers, to till this gap, while we continued with our industry and the neglect of the wide spaces of our country, except for their amenity value. But I noticed a doubt behind his mind as to whether in fact this would be the case. From what he saw of this country—he toured it fairly extensively; and he saw 1304 that a lot of the land was sour, in need of lime, and so on—he realised that we could do roughly what was done in Southland, on that almost swamp ground, as a lot of it was. That swamp land would not have responded in isolation to lime, drainage, superphosphates or to reseeding, but it did respond to all those things carried out together. Their security was an assured market in London, Manchester and Birmingham, and that is why they got together and did such a marvellous job for us in the past. They can still have their outlet here on account of the altered position in regard to Argentina. I think we can learn a lot from this Province, from New Zealand and from the Dominions as a whole.
I would like to conclude by emphasising that in my view this is a Commonwealth issue, and it should always be regarded as such. If we are expanding fat lamb production here, we should consider our attitude to such production in other parts of the Commonwealth, so that we can dovetail our efforts and do away with the cut-throat competition that existed in the past. We should, among other things, decide what balance we are going to have between urban and rural pursuits in each of our countries, and be watchful for changing signs. I think the signs are that in the long run—and I agree that it is in the long run—the Dominions will have increasing populations and larger home markets, and that will give us an opportunity of saving our own agriculture from the fate it suffered until recent years. I trust that we shall all increasingly realise that agriculture is far more than an industry, like the boot and shoe industry, or any other that can be mentioned. It is primarily a heritage, which is the one thing which links us with our own past, and it must be so in any country.
§ 4.57 p.m.
My Lords, my first duty is a very pleasant one. I know your Lordships would wish me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, on his maiden speech. I feel sure that his distinguished father, whom many of us knew in another place, would have been proud that his son made such a good contribution on the first occasion when he addressed your Lordships. His speech was made up of some shrewd, personal observations on the farming 1305 question, both in this country and in New Zealand, and it was delivered with such obvious sincerity that it must have impressed the House. I hope the noble Lord will often be heard on future occasions.
Your Lordships will agree that this debate began with a good breath of real Highland air: one could almost see the clan marching again and the cattle on the bare hills. Indeed, as your Lordships are aware, Lord Lovat's great enterprise has infused new life into stock raising in the Highlands. It has been attended with some controversy, but what progress has ever been unattended with controversy? It is refreshing to hear of one who finds more satisfaction in raising commercial beef cattle than in striving after astronomical returns in the high-price pedigree bull market. Not that Lord Lovat cannot breed pedigree stock, too; but he has chosen to advocate and to practise the line of commercial breeding, and to urge it on others. Every Scotsman is familiar with the history of the clearance of the Highlands, and of how the old supremacy of the cattle gave way to sheep and deer. I shall not attempt to express my view, or to join in a controversy as to whether cattle can now oust sheep. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has shown that the sheep has a powerful competitor; but he has shown also that the two may be a complementary enterprise, and I hope more will be said this afternoon about sheep in Scotland by those noble Lords who are to follow me.
The paramount need for more meat in this country makes this question of the greatest importance to-day, and as a less important issue I can endorse one point from my remembrance of other days when I had charge of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland—namely, that the increase of cattle would tend to rid us of the pest of bracken which has increased consistently since the cattle began to go down, not only in the Highlands but also in the Lowlands. That aspect is more important than might at first sight be thought, for bracken is a very real and troublesome and most persistent pest. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, cast a watchful and protective eye on electric power generation in the Highlands. Electricity is of as much importance to the farmer as to anyone else. On the one hand, it is imperative 1306 that Scotland should develop her natural resources and generate electricity; on the other hand, there is a danger of economic loss by covering productive areas or areas which are perhaps not now considered to be highly productive but which could be made to flourish again. Therefore it is important—and I am sure it is being done—that our engineers should study how they can get the head of water by covering the least amount of land. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, instanced the case of Switzerland. They have the height in Switzerland and can readily get the high fall of water. That must be kept in mind by our engineers—that they must try and get the natural height as far as possible and from the least amount of land.
In 1941 I was a member of a body which was known by the ambitious name of the Council of State for Scotland. It was a Committee formed by the former Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, and consisted of all the living ex-Secretaries of State. He brought them together during the war to discuss questions which could be dealt with immediately after the war. Be showed great vision in studying problems which had to be faced as soon as the war was over. This body, presided over by Mr. Tom Johnston, studied a number of problems, among them the sheep farming industry. As a result, the Committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, was set up. The Hill Farming Act, about which much has been said to-day, followed the investigations of that Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, said he would like to see more done for cattle, but he does admit that the Act has done useful work for hill farming in general, and indeed there is no inconsiderable work going on in Scotland under that Act at the present time. I understand that over 700 hill farming improvement schemes have been submitted, and of those about half have been approved totaling an expenditure of over £1,750,000. I do not say that it is sufficient, but much his flowed from the Act.
In the course of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, mentioned the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, who is to reply, will feel able to step across the Border in defence 1307 of that Department or not, or whether as a former Minister in charge it is my duty to stand in. I am rather out of touch, because it is some years since I held the office, and it may be that changes of policy have changed the membership of the Department, but I would only say that I recollect that that Department had its fair share of hard-headed Aberdonians, and I hope they are still there. Humanity is frail, and so are Departments, but I feel bound to pay that tribute to my old Department.
The noble Lord's Motion is couched in wide terms and brings in the whole question of the treatment of marginal land in the United Kingdom. He was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, who dealt with it from the aspect of England and Wales. There are special reasons why your Lordships should pay the closest attention to this problem to-day. Much of our financial strength was drained away in the war years, and it is imperative that our native resources should be used to the fullest possible advantage. Moreover, the world's population is increasing rapidly, and the present and future adequacy of world food supplies gives great cause for anxiety. Your Lordships have no doubt read the warnings of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr. Those who have, must have been impressed with the gravity of the world food situation. Are we making our full contribution to the solution of that problem? I think the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has shown us to-day the way in which we can enlarge our effort. There is another aspect. We must recognise that the contribution which agricultural production in this country can make as a dollar saver is also vitally important.
Your Lordships may have noticed that the Economist on November 19, said that the satisfactory expansion of British agriculture can be built up only on a thriving livestock industry. Stress was laid on the livestock industry, and that view is endorsed by the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales. They feel that the marginal land could help the expansion of our livestock industry. It is the natural breeding and rearing ground for livestock, for farmers of such lands have in the past raised the raw material required by farmers in the Lowlands. There is a complementary enterprise between the hill and the plain. The 1308 National Farmers' Union, while paying tribute to the 1946 Act, feel that they would like to see it go further, and certain recommendations in that regard have been made to-day by my noble friend. As your Lordships may know, the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales set up certain groups to study this marginal land in question. In the summer of 1949 they went into areas in the South West, the Peak District, North and South Wales, and also Durham. These groups were impressed with the increasing productivity resulting from even small capital expenditure on marginal land, but they were also impressed, and rather depressed, by the low economic status of a great number of the farmers they found in those areas. The noble Earl who replies will be aware of a number of recommendations which have been made, and I hope he will take careful count of them and consider what further may be done.
Sometimes good comes out of evil, and out of our necessity as a result of the war our interest in marginal land has been restored. It has to be restored: it is a matter of vital importance to us. If, out of our need, there comes a better balance for agriculture resulting from the increased productivity of the hills and marginal areas, it will be better for our land as a whole. I have only these few general observations to make to associate the point of view of those of us who sit on these Benches with what has been said. I would end on this note. The speech we have heard comes from one who does not content himself with speaking, but who has applied brain, brawn and dynamic leadership to his own part of the world. If it is possible to get that combination into our attack on the marginal land, not only in Strathfarrer but in all other parts of the country, we shall make a great advance.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, I am sure we are deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, for his perseverance in bringing this Motion before your Lordships. Your Lordships will recollect that it has been on the Order Paper for a matter of months. It appears to have played a sort of game of leap-frog with our successive financial crises, but I am sure we all agree that it has been well worth waiting for this occasion. We 1309 regret the delay, but it is perhaps a happy chance that it comes before us at the time of the Smithfield Fat Stock Show because your Lordships, and I hope many others, can go along any evening this week and see their meat on the hoof and on the hook instead of having, as the noble Lord, Lord Teviot said, to get out their spectacles to see it. I should like to congratulate my noble kinsman, Lord Noel-Buxton, on a remarkable maiden contribution. I think it was particularly fortunate that we had somebody to remind us that this issue is not merely one for ourselves alone, but that it has wider implications concerning the Empire. Many of us, I feel, have tended to regard it as a purely local issue.
I speak with some diffidence after noble Lords who have had greater experience of this matter. However, I do feel that a few words can be said on the subject of the economies of marginal farming and also to point out that there is great scope for increased beef and mutton production—not only in the Highlands but in many other parts of this country, and in particular in the hills of Southern Scotland, from the Cheviots and the Lammermoors in the East to the Merrick and the hills of Galloway in the West. In fact in some ways I think there is even greater scope for increased meat production on account of the less rigorous climate, better soil and pasture and greater accessibility from the point of view of transport to markets and from the sources of supplies. The cattle population has undoubtedly fallen in this area. Many years ago—between three and four hundred, to be more exact—there were a far greater number of cattle on these hills, and I am reliably informed that at about that time my ancestors spent a great deal of time in exchanging beef with their neighbours immediately across the Border—not necessarily by methods which would entirely appeal to the Ministry of to-day. What we certainly have to attain in that part of the world is a right balance between sheep and cattle. Sheep have had a good innings, and we must now push hard to bring up the number of cattle in that region.
A good deal has been and is being done in that part of the world. I think a good man} landowners are taking advantage of the provisions of the Hill Farming Act 1310 but it is bound to take time before results show themselves and for the improvements to be complete. I must say the Department have in my case shown the greatest consideration and help but it must take a considerable time before the scheme is finally passed and approved. They cannot help it— they are doing their best—but there is some delay. Nevertheless I think it is a fact that the cattle population has increased considerably on the Border, and I believe there will be a greater increase in the very near future.
This is not only a Scottish problem, however. It affects the whole of the country. Some of your Lordships may have seen a recent letter in The Times in which the correspondent pointed out that the problem of marginal land was as old as Moses who, when he was reconnoitring the marginal lands of Canaan, told the people toGo out and bring the fruit of the land, whether it be fat or lean.That problem has certainy not been solved in the interval. To-day there are many farms which are not an economic proposition to the farmer—and by "economic proposition" I mean a farm which brings in to the farmer a return equivalent to the wage of a working farm labourer, plus a reasonable return on his capital. I suggest that that is the very minimum which a farmer should be asked to expect from his farm. There are many factors which are responsible for this: poor soil, steep, awkward fields which make cultivation costly; a climate which makes hay and harvest times a race, often a losing race, with the elements. I think it is true also that there are some "marginal farmers" but it would be surprising if there were not some degree of inefficiency in an industry consisting of so many small units, and I am glad to see that the National Farmers' Union are entirely in support of the proposition that those who do not farm up to a certain standard of efficiency should have pressure brought to bear upon them.
There is an opinion in some parts of the country that farmers have done pretty well out of the years during and following the war. I do not think however, that the average townsman realises how serious is the financial position of some of these marginal farmers. Statistics about farming are often extremely hard 1311 to get, but the National Farmers' Union of Scotland recently gave the following figures. They point out that between 1943–44, which was the peak year of our war-time agricultural effort, and the year 1947–48, which was the last year for which statistics are available, the average profit for a number of hill sheep farms in Scotland fell by £129 per farm and for a number of stock-raising farms it fell by £239. From another source, the East of Scotland College of Agriculture, come these figures. In 1947–48 (again the most recent year for which we can have figures) over a sample of twenty-eight hill sheep farms the average net profit was £346, and over a sample of twenty stock-raising farms the average profit was £311. I think your Lordships will agree that those who are farming these farms are not exactly getting rich, especially when you remember that the cost of expansion and increasing stock is considerably higher than it was. If we look at the profit and loss accounts that were published with this survey we notice that there is very little scope for reducing the outgoings on these farms. The item of rent is now relatively much less important than it was—and it used to be very important—because rents have remained more or less stationary over the last few years. I do not think, therefore, that there is any possibility that that item can be reduced—in fact I would say that in many cases it is inadequate to enable the owner to keep the farm in the proper state that it should be.
Again, figures are hard to get, but let me take some from a survey carried out in 1945–46. Over a sample of agricultural estates in Scotland the amount spent on maintenance and improvement of farms averaged 69 per cent. on the rents. In other words, between two-thirds and three-quarters of rent received was spent on the farm. Wages are now far the largest single items on the outgoings. On these farms they approximate one-third. I do not think anyone would suggest that that item should be reduced. In fact, at the present time many of these marginal farms are understaffed, and what is needed is not a reduction but an increase in the labour force. So let us look on the other side of the account. It strikes one straight 1312 away that the income from sales from the farms is far too low and I think this is where we can find one hint of the solution of the problem. I do not deny that subsidies and grants have played their part; they have helped the farmer to make ends meet. But we must remember that, after all, they are part of the apparatus of keeping food prices down to an artificially low level, and they are weighted in this case to give greater advantage to the farmer who is having the more difficult time. I am sure that the solution is that we must increase the output and turnover of those farms and therefore increase the income.
This is where we come to the snag, which is that an increase in output requires additional capital, not only for improving the land and improving the buildings but for building up the breeding stocks. In the present state the owners and occupiers of these farms cannot find that capital. They have not sufficient profits or sufficient reserves. We have to break this vicious circle—or perhaps a better metaphor would be that we have to give the necessary boost to start this cycle of events. As I said, we realise that it is not a case of nothing being done. A great deal has been done by the subsidies. Without these subsidies a great many farmers would have been "in the red," or in the bankruptcy court; and, what is more, a great many of us would have enjoyed an even smaller ration of meat than we have. No—what we want is a wider, more general and more far-sighted scheme for giving that boost and injecting that capital into marginal farming. Some of your Lordships will be aware that recently the National Farmers' Union for Scotland submitted a memorandum to the Secretary of State giving their views as to how this problem might be tackled. I believe I am correct in saying that their principles accord very largely with the views of the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales. I think that the proposals, broadly, are sound, and we should give them our support. I am sure they are in many ways equally applicable to England. I do not want to go through the proposals in detail: broadly speaking, they are divided into a set of short-term measures and long-term measures.
The short-term ones are an extension of the present marginal aid scheme which 1313 was in operation, by which assistance is given for the purchase of certain commodities. They recommend the extension to rather a wider range, to include grass seeds, whether for sowing direct—direct re-seeding—or for sowing down after rotation. The cost of grass seeds is very high and assistance is undoubtedly needed. They include a wider range of fertilisers than at present, and in some cases a heavier subsidy than the present 50 per cent. given for the supply of lime. Some of your Lordships may have noticed, if you look for the farmland where there is most lime being put on to the land, that it is within a few miles of the quarries where the lime is dug. The reason for that is that a great deal of the cost of lime, which is absolutely essential for this land, is the cost of the transport. I suggest in this connection that any grant towards the cost of lime might be related partly to the cost of transport which is so uneven as between different parts of the country.
Then there are the long-term plans, the principal one of which, as other noble Lords have suggested this afternoon, is that the principles of the Hill Farming Act, giving aid for capital improvement, should be extended to include marginal land. Obviously, a line has to be drawn somewhere, but I think it is the case today that if you get one farm which has a large area of hill land and also some enclosed marginal land, it is probably eligible for assistance under the Hill Farming Act for the whole of its area. But if you have two farms, one of which is simply hill land and the other of which is entirely in the marginal category and not a hill farm, the one is eligible for assistance and the other is not. We must face the necessity for extending it. Very often, the marginal non-hill farm requires far greater equipment than does the hill farm in the way of buildings, fences and so on. The cost of putting these in order is considerably greater.
The next of their proposals, I think, was one advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, that the hill cattle subsidy should be extended to cover all breeding cattle kept on marginal land, and should be extended for a period into the future to give breeders a greater sense of security. Various other suggestions are made. One rather notable one at the end is that in certain cases, where units are too small to he economic, rural development 1314 schemes must be put into operation to give the occupants and workers on those farms a chance of augmenting their incomes by working at other occupations, such as forestry, fisheries and so on. From my own experience, I can quote one instance of this. The planting of trees is an operation that normally takes place from the month of November on through the winter months, whereas the busiest time for the farmer is between May and the end of the harvest in October. These two operations can well be combined by the same people.
If I may put forward one or two more suggestions, at the risk of keeping your Lordships rather longer, one is that any form of aid which is granted must be continued until the farmer can feel the profitability resulting from it. It is no good enabling him to work his land and, as soon as he has improved it, withdraw all the grants and subsidies in respect of the stock grazing that land. The aid must not be stopped abruptly, but should be tapered off. I would also instance the reseeding of hill land. If this land is not given adequate dressings of fertilisers, after the first year or two it will quickly go back. That is why I suggest that aid should be available for such work.
There is still the problem left of where the owner-occupier is to find the remainder of the capita which, after all, will be a considerable amount—that is, the part not supplied from the grants. In that connection, it is essential that he should be able to got this capital on reasonable terms. Your Lordships may recollect that recently the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, which makes loans for these purposes, was allowed to raise its rate of interest, and that at much the same time the Public Works Loans i3oard, a Government body, which I understand makes loans to local authorities for house-building, was expressly allowed to keep its interest rates down, in spite of the general trend towards rising interest rates. That does appear to some of us to be a rather unfair discrimination against rural improvement. I think that something should be done about this. I only hope that the fact does not reflect the relative influence of the Ministers of the Departments concerned with their colleagues.
May I finally make another suggestion: that we must do everything in our power 1315 to maintain the man-power on these farms? It is becoming increasingly difficult to find the men who will tend sheep and cattle, in particular in remote districts. Without them, we might as well not think about this at all. There is an old Galloway saying thatAny shauchle can write a book, but it takes a man to herd the Merrick.It does take a man to do these jobs and if we are going to get such men we must give them all the amenities in our power. There is a grave danger that the present economies will fall much more hardly on the agricultural and country population than on the town dweller. It will be a tragedy if the water and electricity supply schemes are held up at this juncture and if rural schools are closed and the children taken away to get their schooling in the towns. With your Lordships' indulgence, I should like to read a report from the Scotsman:It was reported at a meeting of the South-East Scotland Electricity Consultative Council in Edinburgh yesterday that the Electricity Board were to provide supplies to Yarrowford (Selkirkshire) and Wiltondean (Roxburghshire), but that no guarantee could be given as to when the supplies would be laid on. The proposed cuts in capital investment would affect the position so far as Yarrowford was concerned, and would inevitably lead to delay in completing the scheme.There is one instance straight away.
Finally, all these proposals will cost money, and undoubtedly there will be complaints in many quarters—"Why should we pay for these farmers? Why should we pay to keep them in business?" The answer is that if we want more meat, we must pay for it. I should like to refer to some words spoken recently by Sir James Turner, President of the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales. He stated, broadly speaking, that before the last war, between 1914 and 1934, retail prices of items in the family budget such as clothing, and so on, rose by some 70 per cent., while food prices in that period rose only by 22 per cent., and that we enjoyed the cheap food of the 'thirties because the countries overseas where we had our investments were forced to send it in payment of interest on those investments. Nowadays what we are doing is reversing that policy. We have to pay for our food. We no longer have those 1316 investments. If I may quote some more words of Sir James Turner, he said:The remedy"—that is, for this marginal land problem—does not involve any doctrinaire question of public expenditure for private betterment, but rather a public expenditure to harness valuable resources so that they can be subsequently maintained within their own productive economy.I think those last words are immensely important, because the community cannot be expected indefinitely to support the marginal farmer, and the last thing we want is that he should have to be maintained on a dole. I ask the Government to have faith in the farmer and land owner and to cast aside all prejudice about the expenditure of public money to aid private enterprise. I maintain that if we give the marginal farmer the help and encouragement to which he is entitled, he will ensure that once again we become a nation of meat-eaters. I beg to support my noble friend.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, before I move to the general subject of the debate, perhaps I may be allowed to say how pleased I was to hear the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, make his maiden speech. I often heard his father, who was an eminent Minister of Agriculture, and I feel sure that he would have been very proud that his son should be following so well in his footsteps. With regard to the Motion before us, I am glad to say that agriculture has now become a non-Party and non-faction subject. Lord Lovat, who is the chieftain of a well known Highland clan, has brought forward this subject. I thought his mention of broad swords in the middle of his speech was a little threatening towards the Department of Agriculture, which he mentioned a little later in his speech; and perhaps if he does not get satisfaction the Department will see the noble Lord arriving with his clansmen and their broad swords to clear out some of the non-Aberdonians in the Department. I am afraid I cannot claim any Highland ancestry at all, but the subject of clearances was of interest to me, because my family were cleared out of their ancient lands in Ulster by the Scots who were landed there at the beginning of the seventeenth century, so I have reason to feel a good deal on the subject of clearances.
1317 Now so many general statements, all extremely good, have been made this afternoon, that perhaps your Lordships will bear with me for a short time to hear a little of my own experiences in farming on the West coast. It is a fact that noble Lords taking part in debate in your Lordships' House always seem to have experience of all pants of the world. As an example, there was a debate on Abyssinia many years ago, and I remember Lord Cranworth saying that he had spent quite a long time in that country. It always happens that way in your Lordships' House, and that is why debates here are so very useful. I have had the best part of twenty years' experience of farming on the West coast of Scotland, and I have had my ups and downs. I remember selling lambs at 2s. 6d. each in 1932—that is the same price which is now received for a rabbit. Things are a good deal better now, but farming (in the West coast of Scotland is very difficult. We have a very high rainfall, an average of eighty-five inches a year. We also find that we cannot winter our lambs at home during their first winter; we have to send them away for wintering. That is extremely important, because in the old days it cost perhaps 10s. to winter a lamb away from home but it now costs anything from 20s. to 25s.
The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, is lucky with his properties, because he has his summering property for his cattle up Glen Strathfarrar and he has his wintering parks at Beaufort Castle. His cattle can walk, I presume, from one to the other. My cattle at Knoydart have to go by sea to start with, and then by train, to get to the place at which I intend to winter them —a good many of them on the Black Isle. The same thing applies with sheep. That raises the subject of transport, which has not been mentioned very much this afternoon. It is extremely important that something should be done to assist in regard to the costs of transport, both for cattle and, as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, said, for such fertilizers as lime. The cost of transport in the Western Highlands is really the reason why the profits are not higher, or rather the reason why the losses are even greater than they would be otherwise. It is a very difficult problem, and I hope that the Department of Agriculture for Scotland will devote a good deal of time to the subject.
1318 The core of the business of farming in the Highlands is really wintering. As we have heard, there are millions of acres which can summer tens of thousands of cattle, but the difficulty is in wintering them. On my own property, which is of about 60,000 acres, I can summer immense numbers of cattle, but in the winter I have either to bring hay to the west coast from elsewhere at a very considerable price or I have to take a good many of my cattle, apart from the breeding stock, away, and winter them elsewhere. As I said, the same thing applies to sheep, and the amount of stock which can be kept in the Highlands really depends on the wintering facilities.
I hope your Lordships will excuse me if I quote one or two figures. On the estate at Knoydart we have at present between 8,000 and 9,000 sheep and about 200 cattle. I cannot yet compete in numbers of cattle with Lord Lovat, because I do not now buy Irish cattle, but, being Irish, it is not without interest to me that I should. I did buy some once, but I did not find they did so well as my own home bred cattle. Since 1941 I have been crossing Hereford bulls with Highland cows, and I have now a breed which some people call the "Hereland." I find it very successful, because, with all due respect to Lord Lovat and his Shorthorns, which are very welt known, I find that the Hereford winter; on less than the Shorthorn, and the cross bred Hereford, or "Hereland," Can get through the winter on very little. That, of course, is my own experience. As I am in unison with Lord Lovat or everything else, I hope he does not think that we are going to have an argument about breeds of cattle here this afternoon! On my estate we have now got to the third generation of Hereford-Highland crosses, and these are, of course, rather like the Hereford; they all have white faces (as indeed did the first and second generations) but with a longer coat. This breed matures quicker than a Highlander, and I hope it will be a cross which will be helpful to the Highlands of Scotland. As a matter of fact, some of our crofters who use my Hereford bulls are very satisfied with them.
To return to the subject of wintering cattle and sheep, I may say that when the snow comes on the hills they both 1319 have to winter towards the bottoms of the glens. When they are driven by the snow from the tops they have to go to the bottoms, and that, of course, is where the Hydro-Electric Board comes in. Under the Hydro-Electric Development (Scotland) Act, 1943, the Hydro-Electric Board have tremendous powers; they can do almost anything. They can submerge almost any land if they wish to do so. It strikes me that the Board has got the bit between its teeth and is going ahead so quickly that in due course there will hardly be any glens left in Scotland to submerge. That is exceedingly serious from the point of view of wintering cattle and sheep. It is impossible to winter cattle or sheep in a district where the low land or bottom land has been taken. To quote my own experience again, last Autumn I purchased 2,000 sheep from an estate called Benula, which is within the Glen Affric Hydro-Electric Board scheme. Those sheep had to be taken off Benula because the bottom of the glen is in due course to be submerged. I checked my areas by a telephone call to Inverness this morning, and I find that the area of the Benula estate is 30.,00 acres, and the amount to be submerged is probably between 1,000 and 2,000 acres. So your Lordships will see that the submerging of that comparatively small area of bottom land puts out of action some 30,000 acres of high land. I think your Lordships will agree that from the point of view of agriculture that is a very serious matter indeed. And Benula is only one instance from many all over the Highlands.
What will happen to the grazing industry in the Highlands if the Hydro-Electric Board is going to continue in this way? It is a question which gives rise in my mind to considerable fear. I am not an electrical expert but I acquire knowledge from people who are. In 1943, when the Hydro-Electric Development (Scotland) Act was first brought in, the Central Electricity Board, who were going to take and no doubt do take a great deal of electricity from the Hydro-Electric Board, were allowed to buy electricity from the Hydro-Electric Board at the same price as would be charged for electricity produced by steam power in the centre of Scotland, calculated on the then ruling price of coal. 1320 I am told that the Central Electricity Board liked that agreement because they thought the cost of producing electricity under many of the Hydro-Electric Board schemes would be higher than the cost of producing it in the ordinary way by steam power. That they were right was proved in 1947 when a section was added to the Electricity Act, which stated that the Central Electricity Board would then have to take their electricity at a different and higher price instead of this price which might well be lower. In other words, instead of taking electricity at the price of current produced by coal, the Board would have to take it at a higher price. Not being a technically-minded person, I do not want to go into that matter, but I think that the fact that this section was added to the Act in May, 1947, shows that there are many schemes under which the cost of producing electricity from hydro-power is higher than the cost of producing it otherwise. If that is so, I think your Lordships will agree—and I do not want to be dogmatic about this matter—that it is sheer madness to flood the low lands in the glens in order to produce electricity at a higher price than that at which it could be produced from coal, instead of producing electricity more cheaply and leaving the low lands in the glens for agriculture.
That is a matter of fact one way or the other, and I would like to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to go into the whole question again. Whereas there are certainly some hydro-electric schemes operating on a big fall which can probably produce electricity more cheaply than it can be produced by any other method, the case is different with many of these schemes which are operated by only a small fall and necessitate the submerging of a large area of land in a glen. Other schemes involve the building of tunnels through some of the hills, from one glen to the next, and this must be exceedingly expensive. I think the Secretary of State for Scotland ought to go very seriously into the question again. I would like to see figures given of the costs of these schemes. I am not suggesting that they would be quite so embarrassing as the figures of the Ground-nuts Scheme in East Africa, but I think that if the figures were published they might well come as a 1321 great shock to the public. If it is shown that the price of producing a unit of electricity in some instances by a hydroelectric scheme is higher than producing it in the ordinary way at a generating station, I think a stop should be put to some of those uneconomic schemes, and agriculture and grazing should be allowed to take precedence.
I do not want to speak for very long, but I am afraid there are one or two more points which I would like to put forward. Lord Lovat mentioned the subject of wethers. I am interested in this matter because I hope next year to be able to sell off about 1,000 wethers. I am not sure that I am really in favour of any more subsidies; we have already so many of them—the ewe subsidy, the calf subsidy and every other sort of subsidy. I would far rather see the actual prices at a more economic level. There is no doubt that sheep farming for many years has not been a profitable occupation. If it had not been for the subsidies which I have drawn, sometimes amounting to over £2,000 a year, my losses would have been even greater. I do not think I have ever made a profit. I have in my possession the farming accounts of the Knoydart Estate for over fifty years, and I should say that the number of years in which a profit was made could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Sheep farming has had a very bad time, and even now it is not having such a good time that the farmers will be enabled to create reserves in order to extend their activities in sheep or cattle. On that point, let me say that sheep and cattle are definitely complementary and not antagonistic. Sheep do better if the bottoms of the glens are eaten down by cattle.
Deer, which at the present time are an unpopular animal politically, help quite a lot. I was interested to hear Lord Lovat say that more stags had been shot on his property this year than were shot before he had cattle. I am going to say that equally as many stags are shot annually on my property now as there were before we had 8,000 sheep and 200 cattle. On Knoydart last year 85 stags and a number of hinds were shot and this produced some £700 to £800 worth of venison. That is "not to be sneezed at" in these days of rationing. Also it is useful in a business sense. As a matter of fact, most of the people who eat venison to-day 1322 think it is something else. Some of mine finds its way to a restaurant in London, and I think it is called "Steak Diane." There is no doubt that it is very good meat. Before the war there was a great prejudice against it. Now it is very difficult to get, but when you do get it it is much nicer than some of the meat now served, which often the product of an old cow which has been sent to the slaughter house. That, I consider very unpleasant. People are now more keen on venison.
There is another point which I do not think has yet been brought up. Unhappily, as I think, some years ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer put almost all farms—certainly some of the smallest were included—on Schedule D for income tax purposes. In the old days all farming came under Schedule B. In other words, you paid a certain amount of tax on three times the annual value of land, and if you made more profits you could put them back to reserves. During the war, not only were big farms placed on Schedule D, but E.P.T. was imposed, which also prevented farmers from laying by reserves. E.P.T. is very bad for farming in general, and Schedule D income tax is also very bad, especially in the case of little farmers who have to spend half their time keeping their accounts, when they ought to be raising more sheep and cattle. In these days of high taxation this may be knocking at a door which is definitely closed, but I should like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider whether small farmers might not go back to Schedule B.
For a few minutes I should like to talk about the Hill Farming Act. Like the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, I always found the Department of Agriculture very helpful on the Hill Farming Act, and even if I were a Scottish chieftain instead of an Irishman, I would not take my supporters with their broadswords down to the Department of Agriculture. I remember that my grandfather used to tell my father that you can catch more flies with treacle than with vinegar. Personally, I have found the Department very helpful if one is nice to them, and I hope they will continue to be so. Our relationship is good, and at the moment we are agreeing a scheme to spend it considerable sum, spread over five years, for improvements under the Act. Arising out of that, I think that if we are to get people to go 1323 to out-of-the-way places, it is necessary to provide good housing. I am holing to improve my housing and also to build some cottages for shepherds, because it is almost impossible to get shepherds to go to out-of-the-way places unless you can give them good houses.
Under the Act, a proprietor can get a 50 per cent. grant towards building new houses or reconditioning and improving old ones. I am hoping to build a pier, for which I can also get a 50 per cent. grant, and new roads. I think one of the most important points is the improvement of grass in the glens. If I could only winter my lambs at home, instead of sending them away at such a large price, it would be helpful, and it would also leave that amount of land elsewhere free to produce more meat and mutton. There is one other point about the Hill Farming Act, which I regard as a very good Act. Many people cannot afford to find their 50 per cent. I hate to come to your Lordships and act as a suppliant, but I know that many small proprietors and farmers who own their own farms cannot find the 50 per cent. required and I think it may be worth while for the Department to consider not only whether loans at a satisfactory rate of interest could be granted, as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has suggested, but whether the 50 per cent. could not be increased to 66⅔ or 75 per cent. [...] do not like asking for money, but I know that many small people are holder back from applying for help under the Act because the 50 per cent. grant is not enough.
Another question in the improvement of pasture is that farming on the West coast is very different from farming on the East coast. Sometimes experts come along and say, "Re-seed this land" or "Do this or that," and after a few years of ploughing, manuring and seeding the land, it reverts to its previous form of grass. I do not think the problem of keeping land re-seeded indefinitely has been properly worked out for wet areas on the West coast, and I should like some more investigation into that question.
I am afraid that I have taken rather a long time, but there is one other point which I should like to mention. Earlier in my remarks I said that the Hydro- 1324 Electric Board wish to have the low land. Strangely enough, the Forestry Commission also wish to have the lower lands, and the lower slopes of the hills. I am extremely interested in forestry, and sit on the United Kingdom Forestry Committee, which negotiates with the Forestry Commission. I think the Forestry Commission ought to plant first of all the land which was de-forested during the 1914–18 war and the last war. They are inclined, like the Hydro-Electric Board, to have grandiose schemes for acquiring land here and there and putting that land out of agricultural production before it need be. I believe that applies to England as well as to Scotland. I hope they will not acquire any more land than they need for their immediate use, and that they will replant the land from which trees have been taken before they start to plant land which is being used for agriculture.
I have no more to say except that I hope that this debate will be successful in calling the attention of the public to the necessity for food production in this country and of utilising all available hill areas. There is no doubt that much can be done with foresight and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, put it, with vim and vigour; but as Lord Polwarth said, it wants capital. A farm, be it small or large, cannot be stocked without capital, and I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will regard land owners and farmers as allies in the food production drive and will encourage them, either by remissions of taxation or amendments of taxation, to put forward their greatest strength and power to achieve the object which we all desire. In ending, I would like once more to say that I regard this as far transcending all Party barriers and class barriers. With the recent devaluation we are in a difficult position, and anything we can produce in the way of food will be helping towards meeting our dollar deficit.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD GLENTANAR
My Lords, it is both a pleasure and a privilege to be able to support the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, in his Motion, and to emphasise one or two of his many and important points, as well as those of other speakers, who have covered nearly all the important points affecting hill farming and hill cattle. There can be no doubt that the population of cattle in the Highlands, 1325 in what is now classified as rough grazings, mountain and heath, was much greater 150 years ago. My figure of area is a little in excess of that given by the noble Lord, Lord Lovat. I put it at about 11,000,000 acres, including that portion of the so-called deer forests which have been classified as grazings. The old Statistical Account of 1790–99 provides us with interesting figures. I added together, more or less at random, some thirty-six parishes and found that at that time the number of cattle in them was more than twice the number in 1944. On the other hand, the figures for sheep have increased very much since then.
The story of the past is much too long to tell, especially at this hour of the evening, but it is important to remember that there must have been a great deal of rough forest land in the Highlands. We have records of this; there are records of fellings, and of pine, birch and oak found in peat. There has been some criticism of the Forestry Commission this afternoon, but I feel sure that by proper cooperation between the Department of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission, the important work of providing proper shelter belts can help not only to shelter our hill cattle but also to maintain the fertility of the land and the humus content of the soil. With the decrease of cattle and the increase of sheep has come to some extent, as has already been mentioned by noble Lords, the disappearance of grass and the tragic increase of bracken. There is no doubt that we must try to find the proper relationship between the cattle and sheep population on our hills. I have been told on good authority that where the ratio is less than ten sheep to one cattle beast crofting is still vigorous. But when the proportion rises to forty to one, and upwards—and I believe in some parts of the North of Scotland it rises to the extraordinary ratio of seventy to one—there is a definite decline, not only in the soil but in the standards of husbandry, of herbage and also in the social complex of the locality.
The situation regarding the number of beast cattle has steadily improved since 1941, when the cattle subsidy was begun. The number of cows was then some 14,000-odd; and the figure which the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, quoted of about 90,000 will, I believe, be increased in 1949: the figures are not yet available, 1326 but I am told that they may be in the neighbourhood of 110,000. The figure of the ewe subsidy gives us an indication of the number of ewes. That is likely to be in the neighbourhood of 2,400,000. That gives us, over this Highland area of 11,000,000 acres, a stock of twenty-two ewes to one cow. If I may quote from my own experience, over the last ten years I have been building up a Shorthorn Highland herd, and also establishing a small herd of pure Highland to provide the female stock. The figure I find in my own land works oLt at two cattle and seven and a half sheep per 100 acres. It is my considered opinion, from my experience, that that number of cattle can be increased without great difficulty, provided that winter keep is obtained at art economic price, to eve three or four per 100 acres. The effect of such an increase —that is to say, trebling or quadrupling the number of cows in the 11,000,000 acres—is rather startling. I have worked it out that if the number were trebled, everybody in Scotland would obtain 16 lb. more meat per year over and above the present ration; and if it were quadrupled they would receive an additional 24 lb. of meat per year. This question of winter keep, which has been so ably referred to by my noble friend Lord Brocket, is most important. As all noble Lords who have hill cattle know, they must have rations during the worst part of the year, and especially at calving time.
As has also been said, one of the important matters in that respect is the question of the cost of transport. In the crofting districts of the West the amount of in-bye land—that is to say, land on which winter crops can be grown—compared to the rough grazing land, is very small. If fencing materials could be obtained, with easier facilities for draining, a larger proportion of the winter keep could certainly be produced. But if the increase is to be obtained with the rapidity which we need, some method of getting straw or hay from arable areas of Scotland must be devised. That can be done only if the cost of transport is reduced. The cost of transport by sea and by land is at present heavy. Now that practically all the transport facilities of the country are run by His Majesty's Government, it should surely be possible to have some part of ally subsidy devoted to facilitating cheaper transport. If I may 1327 give your Lordships an instance of sending, say, a ton of baled hay from some place in the centre of Scotland, around the neighbourhood of Stirling for instance, to somewhere in the middle of the Island of Mull, I have worked it out that, assuming the cost of the bale of hay was £8, the cost of getting it to that farm somewhere in the middle of Mull would be something in the neighbourhood of an additional £4 10s. 0d.—more than half the cost of the actual hay itself.
With regard to this knotty problem of hydro-electric schemes, I have obtained some information from Norway, where practically all the power is obtained from hydro-electric plants. It is reported to me that there most of the dams are from 500 to 1,000 metres above sea level. But they have been made on lower valleys, such as were referred to by my noble friend Lord Brocket. I have details here of one dam of 1,059,000,000 cubic metres, where the concessionaire has had to clear and cultivate areas in compensation for the dam areas. In the case of regulated lakes in lower areas, 150 to 300 metres over sea level, the damming is not usually effected to a higher level than the ordinary high water level prior to regulation. With regard to re-seeding the hills, my experience has taught me that if this is to be carried out on a big scale it cannot be economic. But as a method of providing, shall I say, small oases of good feeding on the upper stretches of the hills in order to encourage the stock to move about, it can have a very definite value, and can be established without too great expense.
With regard to policy, I feel that if this expansion is to be done quickly and satisfactorily, the question of acclimatisation of stock is all-important, and we must breed cross-bred bullocks in Scotland on the hills where they are going to live The can be done only if there are a sufficient number of pure-bred herds to supply the calves. The Shorthorn Highland cross has proved itself to be a good breed, and at present I feel that the amount of pure-bred Highland cows in Scotland is lamentably small to allow a speedy expansion. The Scottish Department of Agriculture are helping the situation by owning some hundreds of Highland cows, but whether it be by the undertakings of the State or by the en- 1328 couragement of private owners, pedigree herds must be developed.
May I make just one or two small points? Many of us feel that the decision of the Government that all grasslands must be ploughed by December 31 in each year is very unwise. Of course, unless they are so ploughed the subsidy is not available, but to-day we see acres of good pasture being turned in by the plough which would not normally be turned in until the new year, and which would provide cattle and sheep with good nourishment until then. As regards the Hill Farming Act, the number of live schemes going on now, as one of your Lordships mentioned, is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 700. But when we consider that there are some 15,000 hill farmers in Scotland this is not very rapid progress, and not sufficiently rapid for dealing with the problem. I feel always that that scheme—although I am glad to hear from my noble friend Lord Brocket that he is getting on with his scheme satisfactorily—is too complicated for many hill farmers, and that it requires a great deal of surveying and other calculations. I do not think there are sufficient competent surveyors in Scotland to deal with the scheme with the speed with which it needs to be dealt. It has been said that this stretches further than just the Highlands and rough grazings of Scotland, England and Wales. Each successive Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, so ably said in his excellent maiden speech, must so teach our people to live on the land, to regard farming not only as an industry but as an essential way of life, that the whole population of these islands will be able to understand the needs of the day, sympathetic with the view of the farmer and ready to see that he is provided and helped in the way he should be. I have very great pleasure in supporting my noble friend.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON)
My Lords, I should like first to perform the very pleasant task of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, on his most interesting maiden speech. Particularly was I in agreement with him when he drew attention to the necessity for the sympathy and understanding of towns for the 1329 countryside for country problems and for agricultural life. I hope that we shall often hear him speak in this House.
His Majesty's Government welcome this Motion and agree with it. There is nothing in it with which one could disagree, and we hope that it will be an inspiration to many people in the farming community. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, both in introducing the Motion and by his practice on hill farms, has set a great example which I hope will be followed by many other land owners and farmers in Scotland, in England and in Wales. At the same time this Motion raises rather big problems because this is a very complex and difficult question indeed. I must confess to your Lordships at once that I have no great knowledge of Scotland or the Highlands, but I certainly do not agree with the famous remark of the great Doctor Johnson. I wish I knew them more. However, I would like to say how much the Government agree with the necessity for increasing our meat supply to-day. Obviously we are all in agreement there. But the problem begins to become difficult when we come to the question of improving marginal land. In the first place, as has been pointed out, marginal land is a very difficult kind of land to define. I personally define it this way. We have two categories of land—good farming land, which Call produce crops of different kinds, and land which is obviously fit only for grazing. Any land that is neither one nor the other could, I think, be legitimately called marginal land. The economists, of course, have their own definition. Either way the question is very difficult, because marginal land changes from time to time. What might be marginal now might not be marginal in ten years' time; it varies according to the economic conditions and prices, and what has been done with the land. It is also very difficult to make a survey of the exact amount of marginal land.
The big problem is the question of how much money it is worth sinking into what is relatively poor land in order to increase the production and get the food we need. I remember years ago—a good many personal experiences have been related to-day—being in the Aran islands, off the coast of Ireland, and being impressed by the way in which the natives there made a small field out of the barren 1330 rock with seaweed, sand and odds and ends. They made their own soil and grew their little patches of potatoes for their sustenance. In that particular case it was worth while doing, but there comes a moment when one says: "Is it economically worth while sinking money into such land to produce such results?" By and large, I believe that we can definitely improve our marginal land a great deal. But this is not a problem we can rush into; it is one which needs very careful consideration to see what are the best ways of tackling the job.
The noble Lord, Lord Brocket gave us an interesting picture of experiments on his own land. I understood that he emphasised that the real, the basic problem of the Highlands is the wintering of cattle, that the numbers you can put out on the hills is conditioned by how you can winter them; if you can find any way of getting hay or other feed to these cattle in the winter you can increase the number to a large extent. I have some figures here which show that the minimum which would be needed in the Highlands to keep cattle alive through the worst winter months would be about 10 cwt. of hay per head. I do not know whether that is an exact figure, but in any case, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentanar, has said, the real problem is to get the winter feed for these animals. Where the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, is perhaps lucky is in having his lowland farms which he can use as arable areas. In many parts of the Highlands there are large areas of hill land without the lowland farms, or if there are lowland farms they are already stocked out and there is not the extra margin for feeding the cattle on the hills. That is the great difficulty.
Now there are certain other points which Lord Lovat made and with which I should like to try to deal. At the end of his speech he made certain suggestions and asked whether something could be done about them. Most of them would certainly have to be considered, and I am sure the noble Lord will not expect me to answer them to-night. But there are a few comments which I should like to make in connection with his points. One of the great questions concerns the proportion of sheep to cattle. Why is it that the hill sheep farmer gets benefit under the Hill Sheep Farming 1331 Act, and the man who keeps cattle alone does not benefit under that Act? The answer is a purely historical one: at the time when the Act came into force, the really bad condition of the hill sheep industry was considered to be the basic problem that had to be tackled. What we still have to do in my Department, and I think this applies to Scotland also, is to find the balance between the two. We have to find what the proportion of sheep should be to cattle, and of cattle in proportion to sheep. What the exact balance may be I should not like, at this stage, to say. But I think it would be a great mistake as a policy to encourage cattle without sheep, because we would lose the use of a certain amount of grass which the sheep eat but which the cattle will not, and—
§ LORD LOVAT
I maintain that they are complementary, but if you have more cattle than sheep you are not eligible for the subsidy.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I hesitate to be dogmatic on Scottish affairs, but I understand that the difficulty is usually whether or not it is an economic proposition. There must obviously be sheep if one goes in for hill sheep farming, but if it is an economic proposition then the subsidy would be paid. But I will not, as I say, be dogmatic about Scotland, as that is rather outside my usual terms of reference. I should like to say one other word to the noble Lord in joining issue with him, I am afraid, on this question of the Departments. I know that my own Department contains extremely efficient civil servants, who have a profound knowledge of agriculture. Whenever one goes to them for information of any kind one is always given the fruits of a very considerable experience and knowledge. I cannot speak so intimately for the Scottish Department, but whenever I have had contact with them I have again always found the most extraordinary wisdom, experience and understanding in their officials. I must confess that I think Lord Lovat's views on this subject are highly prejudiced, and I would strongly support the Departments in this matter.
However, to proceed from that controversial question, I should like to refer to another point which was mentioned 1332 several times by Lord Lovat. That was the phrase which the Secretary of State used in another place—"romantic nonsense." We have had mention of this phrase several times to-day, so perhaps I may be allowed to draw your Lordships' attention to the actual context in which the remark was made. Obviously, the Secretary of State did not mean that putting cattle on the hills was "romantic nonsense." What he was referring to was the view which had been put forward that you could put thousands and thousands of extra cattle on the hills during summer and winter. If your Lordships will allow me to quote, here is the extract taken from the House of Commons Hansard of June 30, 1949, Column 1541:… and believe me, this picture of thousands and thousands of cattle feeding on the deer forests, especially in the winter time, is just romantic nonsense.Perhaps that was a strong phrase, but it was aimed at the idea that you could put thousands of cattle on the hills all the time.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I do not answer every individual question which has been raised. If I did, we should sit far into the night. But I will try to canalise the main lines of criticism and suggestions, and say particularly that all the suggestions will be considered by His Majesty's Government, especially those concerning marginal land. One question concerned certain hydro-electric schemes which some of your Lordships seemed rather to deprecate. I agree that the whole solution of this problem of marginal land and more production must be married with the other schemes of forestry and hydro-electricity.
We cannot take just one alone. There are counter-balancing advantages, even to agriculture itself, to be derived from these schemes. For instance, in the case of the hydro-electric schemes, they will, in many districts, actually help land which is now being flooded and is useless. They will bring to agriculture electricity for equipment and machinery, and will be a great boon to farm workers and their wives. It is very desirable that we should get electricity into the isolated districts. It is claimed that the Electricity Board will be providing for some 750,000 people. That is an immense benefit. Incidentally, this will affect Lord Lovat; I think I am correct in saying that of his 1333 1,400 acres of arable land, 350 acres are often flooded and useless. This will be cured by the Affric scheme. That is one example of the benefits that these schemes will bring. In the rehabilitation and development of the Highlands the hydroelectric schemes must play a very important part.
Now I should like to return for the moment from hydro-electricity to the cultivation of marginal land. The importance of development has long been realised. We have done much towards solving this problem and helping out the farmers. It is not merely a question of the direct subsidy that the farmer is allowed, though that is important. It is also a question of what is being done generally for agriculture. I think the marginal and hill land farmer is helped by the Agriculture Act with its provisions for guaranteed markets with assured prices. In addition, there are all the different subsidies—water supplies, lime, drainage, hill sheep and cattle and for calf-rearing. Those are all things that should help directly or indirectly to encourage development on our marginal lands and hill farming areas. The actual figures are encouraging. I am not familiar with what happened 200 years ago in the Highlands and the Glens, but taking the Northern counties of Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, the Orkneys and the Shetlands, the present position is that in 1949 the increase in breeding cattle is 83 per cent. over 1939. That shows an encouraging trend. Taking Scotland generally, for cows and heifers of a beef type, you get, in 1943, 98,916; in 1949 the figure goes up to 144,959. Again, that is a very good improvement. Actually, in the main hill counties of Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Sutherland, with Zetland, we get, for beef cows, an 81 per cent. increase between 1943 and 1949.
I have here figures of various cattle increases, but not for a moment are we satisfied that they are enough. The trend seems to be steadily improving. I should like, for one moment, to dwell on the crux of the situation—that is, the Hill Sheep Farming Act. This is, of course, the chief Act which influences and helps the production of mutton on hill farms—and, incidentally, of cattle too, because as a rule the man who keeps sheep normally keeps some cattle as well. I submit to 1334 your Lordships that that Act is already having a great effect. I agree that some of the schemes have taken a long time to be approved. Apparently there has been some delay, but by the Act these schemes have to be comprehensive, and it takes some time to examine them and get them into working order. However, at last we are getting to the stage where they are beginning to be turned out in reasonable numbers. Up to 50 per cent. grant is paid on schemes for a wide range of improvements including louses and other buildings. I have these interesting figures. As your Lordships know, the figure allowed by Parliament to be spent under this Act is £4,000,000, which may, however, be increased by £1,000,000 if Parliament so permits. The Act has now run three-fifths of its course, and the estimated cost of works formally or provisionally approved or under consideration is already £5,500,000. This is equally divided between England and Wales on the one hand, and Scotland on the other, with a comparatively small amount for Northern Ireland. So it looks as though we shall soon have to come to Parliament to obtain the extra £1,000,000. That is most encouraging.
I should like now to attempt to answer some of the points raised in this connection by the noble Lord, Lord Lovat. The first point was whether the hill cattle breeders could benefit to the same extent as the hill sheep farmers under the 1947 Act. I have answered that point by saying that we want to encourage sheep and cattle. After all, cattle are dealt with by grants and other means. Whether the grant could be continued is obviously a question which one would have to consider. The noble Lord's second point concerned the calf subsidy. He made the point—which I think is a fair and good one—that that subsidy ought to go to the breeder, rather than to the rearer. The difficulty is that this subsidy can be paid only after the calf has reached a certain age, by which time it is usually out of the hands of the breeder. We could not pay the subsidy earlier because it would not be known then whether or not the calf was going to be reared. Therefore, we thought, chiefly for administrative purposes, that it must actually go to the man who has the calf at the end of the period. That should to a certain extent reflect back and give the breeder a better price.
1335 The noble Lord's third point was the subsidy for wedder sheep. The difficulty there is this. As noble Lords are aware, we are extremely short of meat, and if we gave an extra subsidy for wedder sheep it might well take off the market a certain amount of mutton which we badly need to-day. That is one of the problems. A second answer is that we are reluctant to extend further any subsidies at this particular moment. As one noble Lord said, asking, for an increase in a subsidy is rather like knocking at a closed door. Then there is the question of extending the ploughing-up grant. I do not think we can consider that. The noble Lord's last point concerned the Forestry Commission and the hydroelectric scheme, and with these I will deal in a few moments. There was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, about the fertility of hill land. I am glad to be able to tell him that the hill farm research stations are investigating that very point, and we hope soon to have a report from them.
I should now like to pass to two other matters. One is the marginal production scheme. That again is designed to help farmers whom we know to be in need of assistance. It has been pointed out—fairly I think —that £300,000 a year is not very much when one considers the area of land and the number of farmers who need to be helped. It is a relatively small amount, but it is not meant to be the end in our tackling of the problem of marginal land. In this case again the benefits cover a wide range, and have helped considerably on some of the poorer farms. On the question of wool, as your Lordships probably know, a marketing scheme has been submitted to the Ministry, and if the scheme proves acceptable, we hope to put wool into the First Schedule of the Agriculture Act, 1947. That also will help the hill sheep farmer considerably.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, forestry must be married to agriculture and sheep farming. I can never understand why there should not he harmonious planning and working in timber growing and sheep farming, though I know that it is not always found. I should like to remind your Lordships that we need timber very badly indeed. We need it as a reserve in case of war, to save ourselves dollars, but also to help the fertility of 1336 the soil. It is therefore an essential part of our farming economy that we should have this timber production. If we do not use the hill land for growing trees, where on earth can we grow them? I suggest that it is most important that we should press on with our timber production and timber planning; but, at the same time, there is no reason why we should do that in such a way as to prejudice sheep farming or any other agricultural activity.
I hope I have not, or am not, giving any impression that we are not interested or actively concerned about this problem, because in fact we have known for a long time that it must be tackled in a big way. I think it was Lord Rea, and perhaps one or two other noble Lords, who mentioned ground-nuts and suggested that money might more profitably be put into our marginal lands. I do not want to talk about ground-nuts, or to anticipate what is going to be, I think, a very interesting debate on Wednesday next. I would not trespass on Lord Swinton's ground. But I would point out that if there is one lesson to be learned from that scheme, it is the importance of getting reliable estimates and not being carried away by optimistic ideas, which may be put forward in all sincerity and with the best possible knowledge. You do need to be firm on your ground before you proceed with what must be expenditure on a very big scale. However, much is being done, and recent inquiries through the county agricultural executive committees—these were referred to by Lord Rea, and I am at the moment speaking only of England and Wales—have indicated that improvements can be made at the rate of about £20 to £25 per acre, or even less, on a large part of marginal land, and give a good return for the capital. That is a preliminary point about which we are getting information from the county committees. It shows that this matter is not only being considered, but is going forward.
There is one very important point of which we must not lose sight. If we are going to put money into this land, if we are going to improve it, as it must be improved, we must also, in all justice to the taxpayer, be quite certain that the land goes on being properly managed and farmed when it is improved. That has not always been the case. We do not 1337 want to see a vast amount of money, labour and materials going into land to bring it up to a certain standard and then find over a period of years that it runs right back again. That would be disastrous. That is one of the reasons why we are taking a certain amount of time to consider this problem. Then there is the very tricky question of common land. Much of that land has been ploughed up during the war and has been serving a very useful purpose. Can we afford to let all that land go back again? I do not want to dilate on that matter this afternoon. It is one of the problems which will have to be very seriously considered. I do not want to keep your Lordships much longer, because the hour is late. I wish only to say again that this problem certainly will not be ignored. We not only welcome this debate but we heartily accept the motion of the noble Lord, and I can assure your Lordships to-night that this matter is, in the classic phrase, being actively examined. I hope that the suggestions that your Lordships have made and our examinations will have happy and successful results.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, most sincerely for his charming and, I might almost say, his most disarming reply. As a "backwoods" Peer I fear that I have been rather rough, although I think my points have been amplified by more polished speakers on both sides of the House. I accept with pleasure what the noble Earl has assured me will happen, but I do ask with great sincerity that the Government should push ahead with the points I have made. It is no good standing at the crossroads of indecision. The farmers in Scotland have perhaps held the floor too long. We have not discussed the vast areas in England where sheep used to be raised in the Downlands, and we have not, I think, sufficiently discussed sheep even in Scotland; I have perhaps concentrated too much on cattle. The only point in my remarks which I am prepared to withdraw is that in regard to the subsidy on wedders. I thought it was the least strong point in my seven proposals. The reason why I made it I think escaped some of your Lordships' notice. It was in order to save winter keep. When you quote the figure of 10 cwt. of hay, it may 1338 interest your Lordships to know that I do not feed my hill cattle on hay—I cannot afford to do so. I simply give them silage, and that silage is made by the aftermath which, in the ordinary way, lambs would eat or tread down. That is the point.
I feel very strongly about the 50 per cent. grant for improvements. I draw it, but only because I have a few sheep there. It does not make sense; it is a quibble as it stands at the moment. I feel the grant is important if only for fencing, because there is nothing to stop cattle in their semi-feral state walking away upwind. Lord Brocket has mentioned the point of time and space as affecting the Highlands. That is an all-important fact. It may interest your Lordships to know that when the wind blows west my cattle are stopped only by the Atlantic; they have gone sixty miles off their ground, and I have to go and fetch them back. That is the position as it stands just now. I think breeders feel very strongly about the calf subsidy and I hope that matter will be looked after. In this respect you can reduce the age of the calf and it can be punched on the sale day; I do not think that is unreasonable. As regards transport and haulage, I feel that is al insurmountable problem, but with a bolder and a more ambitious programme I see no reason why we should not revert even to taking the straw behind the combine in the Lothians, where at present it is burnt or left on the stubble field. It could be taken back to the hill areas to provide some roughage. In Padegonia the sheep farmers drive their animals for forty days before they reach the frigorifico. I wonder perhaps whether we have not become soft in the British Isles by not troubling to move our stock on hoof also. Why consider distance an insuperable problem? I do not know whether I have been unduly hard on tae Department of Agriculture for Scotland. I have no intention of offending where offence is not deserved: I say merely that we have nobody in that Department who has any experience of cattle raising under ranching conditions. Neither have we anybody in the Department that I know of who has any experience of standing up to either the Forestry Commission or the Hydro-Electric Board: they are outvoted by two to one. Finally, we have nobody that I know of in the Department 1339 who is of the calibre of a man like Stapleton, who could advise us on hill grasses or the improvement of our grasses.
I would like to pass for one moment to the Hydro-Electric Board of which I think Lord Brocket has spoken since I first addressed the House. There is a second hydro-electric scheme known as the Invergarry-Glen Morris scheme. In the old days there were no fewer than 46,000 sheep in that area which is shortly to be inundated. That is a pretty high figure. Forty-six thousand sheet) are missing to-day because there is a lack of confidence. The feeding and the wintering is to go and this area is to be submerged. Houses will go with it. The Forestry Commission have acquired 50,000 acres during, the present year. I am a great believer in forestry but I agree with the noble Earl that these things have to be satisfactorily married up. With a little help on all sides now is the time for that to be done.
The last point I wish to dwell upon is, that if our forebears could produce 155,000 store cattle in the same area, one hundred years ago, I see no reason why, with the help of some of our officials in the Department, that number should not be brought back and improved upon. I 1340 suggest that 200,000 cattle is the sort of mark to be aimed at. As Lord Glentanar rightly said, if we reach that figure the result might well be the addition of from twelve to fifteen pounds of fresh meat to the present ration—and, be it remembered, we are now getting only forty-five pounds of fresh meat each in the whole year. Surely, what we are all after is to get back good beef for Merrie England and for Scotland also.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ 6.55 p.m.