HL Deb 30 March 1949 vol 161 cc843-99

THE EARL OF RADNOR rose to ask His Majesty's Government what is their policy with regard to the land and water resources of the country, with special reference to the need for maximum food production; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the question of the proper use of the limited area of land that there is in this country is one which has been of great and growing importance in recent years, particularly in the light of our experience during and since the late war. One hopes, of course, that the lesson of two World Wars has taught the country the vital need of a prosperous, a strong and a productive agriculture—I use the word "hope" advisedly, because past experience makes one wonder whether one's hopes will be fulfilled even in the remote future. But even if that lesson has not been learnt to-day, we have what amounts to a world shortage of food. We have also a shortage of dollars, and the two together must have brought home the need for more food to every family in this country. Therefore, the use of our land for agricultural production becomes of vital interest to every man, woman and child. Evidence of that is to be found in the fact that increased agricultural production has been given a prominent part in the economic recovery programme, and one appreciates that, to that extent at least, His Majesty's Government do realise the value of agriculture.

I think it may be said that our farmers are doing their best, and it is not a bad best. On the other hand, they frequently become seriously discouraged when they see good, productive agricultural land taken out of agricultural production and used for various other purposes. It makes them wonder whether there is in truth great need for a tremendous effort by them when they see land which could be used in that effort taken away and, in many cases, taken away in needlessly large quantities for purposes other than agricultural production. And remember, when it is so taken away, it is usually lost to agriculture for ever; it never comes back. One must also remember that the area of the country is not expanding, and land so lost to agriculture means that permanently there will be a smaller area available for food production.

In considering this problem, I think one needs to remember one or two important factors which all the time affect the problem. The first of these is that, so far as I can find out, England and Wales are by far the most densely populated country in the whole world. I do not mention Scotland because Scottish figures are not included in the figures which I have seen and, although Scotland is not quite so densely populated, one must remember that the majority of the population and the bulk of the good land are concentrated in a comparatively small proportion of Scotland, in the South and the East. We ought also to remember that we have probably as high a standard of living as any other country in the world. I do not say that is necessarily so in regard to food at the present moment, but in other directions our standard is high, and we want to maintain and, if possible, improve that standard. Another factor which needs to be taken most seriously into consideration is that in recent years powers of compulsory acquisition for various purposes have increased to a very great extent. Therefore there is no opportunity for the land owners—or the "owners of land" as I would prefer to call them, because there are very few "land owners" in the sense in which the word was used, say, thirty years ago—to resist the demands which are made upon their land under these powers of compulsory acquisition at a price which is outside the control of the man upon whom the imposition is laid.

My Lords, taking that a little further I think that there are something like nine land-spending Departments in the Government of this country. I will run through them quickly, and some of your Lordships may be able to think of some which I have not mentioned. We have the Board of Trade who can take land for industry; the Ministry of Health for housing; the Ministry of Transport for road and communications generally; the Minister of Education for new schools. Then the Ministry of Fuel and Power have done some desperate things to mine open-cast coal; there are the three Services—nobody knows quite what they intend to do—and, last but not least, there are the Ministry of Town and Country Planning themselves, who take land for new towns in large slices. As I say, there may be others who have those powers, but I think that is enough to go on with. On the other side of the picture we have one land-using Department—namely, the Ministry of Agriculture. Nine to one is rather severe odds anywhere, and in this case sometimes seems a little too severe, and the unfortunate Minister of Agriculture succumbs to the efforts of the nine.

As I understand it, under the procedure adopted any one of these Departments desiring land for their own particular purpose select that land and submit the requisition to the Minister of Agriculture for his approval or otherwise. I will come back to that process in a moment, because before that stage is reached there is an earlier stage where a good deal of the difficulty occurs. Various standards are laid down for the many purposes for which land is required—one thinks more particularly of density of housing; the size of recreation grounds per head of the population or per one hundred of the population; the size of school playgrounds, and so on. Once those standards are approved and fixed, the area required for any particular purpose—I do not mean the area in position, but the area in acres—is settled, and I am inclined to think that, generally speaking, we have set our standards a good deal too high for the requirements of the situation as it is to-day. We are being rather idealistic as to what is required for the comfort of the population, for their housing and so on, and I feel that one ought to ask the question (it will not be the last time that I ask it in the course of my speech): Can we afford to pursue these ideals to the extent that we are pursuing them to-day?

I would like to take as a particular instance one of the new towns—namely, Harlow in Essex. My attention was drawn to this case some time ago, when a certain individual whom I know on the staff of the new town rang me up to ask whether I could give him any help about equipment for grass drying. He explained the reason for this request by saying, "We shall have within the confines of Harlow 2,000 acres of grassland which we shall have to cut, and we think that grass drying would be not a bad way of dealing with it." I have to some extent pursued that question, and I find that in 1944 there were certain standards generally accepted by the Government Departments of the day. Harlow is designed to be a town ultimately of 60,000 inhabitants. In 1944 a town of 60,000 inhabitants would, normally speaking, on the then standards, have occupied 1,900 acres, or at the outside 2,900 acres if the whole town was developed on what is known as "open development." Under the recommendations of the New Towns Committee, the standard size for a town of 60,000 people would be 5,000 acres—nearly double the maximum possible in 1944.

With regard to Harlow, the figure that was given me was 3,600 acres. Even that is well above the maximum figure of 1944. But I have had an opportunity of seeing the master plan for the new town of Harlow. It is interesting but not very helpful, because it does not give me figures in a form in which I could use them in your Lordships' House or, in fact, in a form which I can fully understand. But I have been able to ascertain the fact that, in addition to the 3,600 acres, there are within the confines of the town 550 acres of woodland and, over and above that, 2,100 acres of agricultural land. Where the master plan is extraordinarily helpful is that it has a lot of those pretty features on which the planners so much enjoy working: either they colour the plans or they hatch them and cross-hatch them, and put in dots of varying sizes. This happened to be a plan with dots. I have looked at it carefully but even at the first glance it is clear that rather less than half of the area which is to be the town will be covered with houses. Even that part will presumably have front gardens and possibly back gardens as well.

Over and above that there are 2,100 acres of agricultural land, which is denoted on the plan by wavy lines. There are very few wavy lines, but there are a number of areas covered with dots of different sizes. These dotted areas—I almost said dotty areas!—are marked as "park ways," "town park" or "recreation," according to the size of the dots. So this 2,100 acres of agricultural land is to be largely parkland, and it is a euphemism to call it "agricultural land." I am not at all certain that in those circumstances London might not mark down Hyde Park as agricultural land—I have seen sheep there. So the 3,600 acres for 60,000 people is probably a false figure. I should say that at least 6,000 acres will be occupied by the town, not to mention the 550 acres of woodland, which surely will not be very productive woodland if it is to have a lot of people continually walking over it.

Having looked at that plan, I am tempted to quote from a letter which appeared in The Times on the 19th of this month from Mr. Lionel Brett, in which he says that the planners, themselves, are often guilty of a kind of loose planning which looks pretty on paper with its swathes of green space and blobs of umbrageous trees, but which ignores our desperate land-shortage and the cost of maintaining non-productive acres. I must confess that those remarks seemed to me singularly appropriate when I looked at this plan of the new town of Harlow. I might also quote two extracts from the Report accompanying the master plan on Harlow, because I think they give a good idea of the curious world in which our planners live to-day. It so happens that both these passages deal with the question of the layout of the schools. The first quotation is this: The secondary schools, by their placing in the major wedges, can have great architectonic significance. I do not know whether any of your Lordships frequently uses the adjective "architectonic". I have never used it, and I did not know what it meant. I confess that I thought it was one of those horrible words invented by the planners. It was without much hope that I looked for it in the dictionary, and I was very much surprised to find it there. I am not going to bother your Lordships with the dictionary definition, but my first guess was not far short of the truth. That guess was that "architectonic" means a tonic for architects. And "architectonic significance." I think, must mean the planners' idea of Heaven!

The other phrase to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention is that: The primary schools are to be approached by landscaped ways. They are not to be ordinary roads, your Lordships will note, nor even streets, but "landscaped ways." What a "landscaped way" is I do not know, except that it gives me a vision that through the middle of the town there will be a wide road, with a lot of open ground on either side being wasted, so that children can play on the way to school and fail to get there in time. I think these two quotations give one some idea of the kind of visionary life which the planners live. Their feet are not on the earth. I almost said they are hardly human! However, I do not wish to stress the case of Harlow too much, because I do not wish to put too great emphasis on the new towns. Much has been said in the past about the new towns, but they are not the only direction in which land is being used for purposes other than agriculture. The process is going on all over the country in a larger or smaller way. Round the circumference of existing and expanding towns the Ministry of Transport are proposing to construct great new trunk roads, of incredible width, which will be ready at just about the time when no one will ever be able to afford to buy a motor car again.

We do not know what the Services' demands are, and I do not believe that any noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite can tell me. They have never been disclosed, and I do not think noble Lords opposite are themselves aware of them. Then, again, in almost every little village a few cottages are going up. The process is going on all over the country but, so far as one can see, it is going on piecemeal without any genuine control. I know there is every intention that there should be control, but there seems to me to be no genuine control over either area or position of new developments. I think the figures are in themselves almost sufficient for your Lordships. The Scott Report, which was published in 1942, drew attention to the fact that in the twelve years up to 1938 the loss of land to agriculture was about 60,000 acres a year. Dr. Dudley Stamp, in an extremely interesting letter published in The Times not long ago, estimated that the loss in the nine years ending June, 1947, was roughly 50,000 acres a year, making all allowance for land which has been returned by the Services and also for 500,000 acres reclaimed—mainly marginal land, a poor exchange for good farmland.

I think that in putting that figure on paper, Dr. Dudley Stamp was perhaps unwittingly leading people a little astray, because of the nine years he is quoting six were war years, when the kind of difficulties that we have now were not present. Moreover, in quoting that figure he has made due allowance for what the Services have taken and for the land brought into agriculture which was not agricultural land before. However, he says that the details are confidential and therefore one cannot criticise. Why these details should be confidential is something which I think the ordinary man might find difficult to understand, and I would specifically ask whether we cannot have an annual return of the land taken for purposes other than agriculture.

So far I have dealt almost entirely with the question of the area of land; but the quality of the land taken is equally important. I think it is not untrue to say that most of the development which has taken place has been on good agricultural land—that is, land which is well drained, is fairly level, has decent communications and all those factors which tempt planners to come along and say, "That will be a good piece for development. We can let ourselves go and have the plan we like. There is no need to conform to contours or any nonsense of that sort. This is just what we are after." That is what is happening all along. The greater the area which is taken, the more important it is that the poorer land, rather than the better, should be taken. Of course, the quality of land is a difficult thing with which to deal when it comes to the extension of existing towns. Generally speaking, land on the outskirts of towns is the most highly developed agricultural land in the country. On the other hand, there was a clear recommendation in the Scott Report that there should be a survey round the periphery of any expanding community, so that expansion should be confined so far as possible to land of lesser agricultural value. It was also a recommendation of the Scott Committee that good agricultural land should not normally be taken for any new development.

Once again I repeat the question I asked just, now: Can we afford to let this good land go? If we go on long enough, we shall very materially reduce the volume of agricultural production in this country. Once again I shall quote Dr. Dudley Stamp, and I make no excuse for quoting from his letter, because Dr. Stamp knows more about the land use of this country than any other man I know. He has made a great study of it. Dr. Stamp points out that 1,000 acres represents the share which 1,790 persons have in farm land in this country. He also says that at the present time we obtain about one half of our food from home production, so that for every 1,000 acres which are taken away from agricultural production, we are taking away the rations of something like 900 people. If we go on building new towns and adding to our existing towns, we shall be building new towns for people to starve in. That is about what it comes to.

In my Motion I mention the question of the proper use of our water resources. I mention that solely because of the importance of water to good agricultural land. I give your Lordships a few figures because they have great bearing on this point. At the present time, the average consumption of water per day in London and other large cities is 52 gallons per head of the population. In the United Kingdom, including the rural areas, the average is 35 gallons per head. So far as the new towns are concerned, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning estimate that when they are fully developed consumption will be at the rate of 60 gallons per head. I very much doubt whether it will stop at that. I do not want it to stop at that. I am inclined to think that the consumption of water is one of the indications that tell us whether standards in the home are improving. Not long ago, we had in this House a debate upon the Enborne Valley, which it was proposed to flood. I am not certain of the acreage involved, though I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Teviot will be able to tell the House if he wishes. Since then I have heard of two more cases, both in Essex. One is the reservoir at Hanningfield, to cover 1,500 acres, to supply East Essex and Southend, and the other is the reservoir which is to supply water for Chelmsford, involving 1,300 acres. These two proposals, therefore, affect 2,500 acres in the County of Essex, which is a highly farmed county.

Water is an intractable material. It cannot be stored on top of a hill, as it has a habit of running down. In this country the best land is generally at the bottom of the hill, and here it is proposed to put under water land which is presumably at the bottom, or not very far from the bottom, of the hill, and to deprive agriculture permanently of 2,500 acres of good land. It may provide cheaper water for the area concerned; but is it cheaper from the country's point of view? Once again I ask: Can we afford to let good land go in order to cover it with water? Would it not be cheaper, possibly, to go as far away as the Welsh Hills or Dartmoor to get water, to areas where reservoirs can be constructed without destruction of valuable farm land? I am also attracted by a suggestion which my noble friend Lord Perth made to me in conversation the other day. He asked why water could not be pumped up from the mouth of rivers. That water would only run away to sea, unused.

It is only for this purpose that I bring the question of water into this debate. I think water is a subject which deserves an entirely separate debate, because the problem of water supplies is becoming acute. From my researches I have been unable to discover figures to show whether or not we are near the position where we are either using or allowing to run away more water than falls on us from heaven. I see the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack is shaking his head vigorously. However, I start from the point that on the average twenty inches of rain is evaporated from our soil every year. That is a considerable amount, and in my part of the world it represents two-thirds of the rainfall.

That is the general picture that I want to present to your Lordships. Before sitting down, I should like to put forward one or two suggestions, to which I hope I may have a reply from His Majesty's Government. I think they must agree that land is being taken away from agriculture at an alarming rate. I feel fairly certain—I do not know—that so far as the Ministry of Agriculture are concerned I am pushing at an open door. I know they agree that the rate is rather alarming, and I hope that other members of His Majesty's Government will agree. They, of course, reply that there is a public demand for a standard of living which involves taking land at this high rate. I think there is. The people have been educated up to it, and in different circumstances one would be only too glad to see that standard maintained and improved. If anything is to be done to lower that standard, I feel it should be done by agreement between all Parties in the State. I am fairly certain—although I have not consulted my noble friends—that there would be little opposition from noble Lords on this side of the House to anything which ensured, within reason, anyhow, that good land was kept in agriculture.

That leads me to suggest that there should be a reconsideration of the standards applying to all the various activities which require land. We should not aim at an idealistic, or even an optimum, standard, which takes the most land, but should so lower the standard as to keep the demands for land at least within bounds. That is the first step which will have to be taken, because, as I said just now, that fixes the total area that must be taken. In that same connection, of course, there ought to be a serious review of the whole water policy, not with a view to lowering the amount of water consumed but to ensure that we can obtain all the water we require without sinking good agricultural land. Another thing which I feel ought to be an absolute rule is this. It ought to be laid down definitely that land which is in the general category of good agricultural land should not be considered for any form of development unless a first-class case can be made out for it. The first thing that a Department requiring land in any particular area should do is to study what category the land is in, and all land which is classed as good agricultural land should be avoided. And, according to the Land Utilisation Survey, about 48 per cent. of the land of this country is in that category. The Minister of Agriculture must have many battles to fight, and if he knew that his opponents were not on very sure ground in trying to take good agricultural land he might find his task a little easier.

The other thing for which I would press is that we should have an annual return of the land taken from agriculture for other purposes and, if possible, some indication of where it is taken, and the quality of the land. I can see no reason why that should be kept confidential, as is suggested in Dr. Dudley Stamp's letter. Indeed, the land of this country is, so to speak, the estate of the nation, and the nation have the right to know what is happening to their estate. There is one other thing I would like to say. The Minister of Agriculture is deservedly a popular and good Minister of Agriculture. Whether it be true or not, there is a growing feeling amongst agriculturists that he suffers from the faults of his virtues and is not fighting his nine opponents as hard as he might. We would like to see some justification or otherwise of that statement. We would like to see the Minister of Agriculture stand up to his colleagues and win a battle or two. Those battles which come out into the open always seem to be lost battles. We would like to see him win occasionally, if only once in nine times. I do not think I need say more. This subject is one which is of great importance to the nation. I have endeavoured to paint the picture in fairly broad outline. I hope, and I have little doubt, that noble Lords who are to speak after me will fill in the details from their own much wider experience. I hope, too, that we may have a positive and valuable reply from His Majesty's Government. I beg to move for Papers.

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we all, wherever we sit in this House, feel deeply grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, for raising this debate. It is concerned with a great and permanent national problem, and one that I believe is giving concern to everyone who really knows and understands the facts of the situation. There may be a certain amount of disagreement as to the reasons why this country is short of food. Some will say that it is because of the general world shortage; others will say that it is because of our own dollar position. But there is certainly complete agreement that we are short of food.

So far as I can see, where other countries are concerned, it seems to be very much a matter of "Heads they win, and tails we lose." If there is a bumper crop of grain in the Western Hemisphere, apparently we are still unable to purchase it. If we look at the meat position to-day—well, that speaks for itself. Yet at the present moment we have to admit that during the last twenty years we have lost from agriculture no less than 50,000 acres per year, a total of 1,000,000 acres. As the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, pointed out, if it had not been for 500,000 acres which were reclaimed during the war, that figure would have been very much larger than it is. It would, in fact, have been 1,500,000 acres. To take one single instance, when we look at the consumption of meat, we realise that in 1937 we were eating an average of 141 lb. of meat per year per head, and to-day the annual ration is only 26 lb. And yet we are allowing that loss to continue and, if anything, very slightly to increase.

The noble Earl referred to figures which have been given by Dr. Dudley Stamp in The Times. We are all of us very indebted to Dr. Stamp for those figures, because there is undoubtedly no other authority in this country who can speak with comparable force or knowledge of this subject. The noble Earl made certain calculations of the annual rations that are being lost at the present moment. I think he said that for every 1,000 acres which we were losing the rations of 9,000 people in this country, obtained from home grown food—


I said 900 rations for every 1,000 acres.


I am afraid I quoted the noble Earl wrongly. I have made some rather different calculations of my own, also taken from figures given by Dr. Stamp. Of course, we all know that land is never devoted solely to the production of one crop or one commodity, but it does sometimes help us to obtain a picture of the size of the problem with which we are faced if we can have definite illustrations. Taking Dr. Stamp's figures that fifteen cows can be kept on fifty acres—and I do not think that any of us would dispute that figure—it means that on 50,000 acres (which is our annual loss) we are yearly destroying a productive capacity for 900,000 people's milk rations year by year; or, taking that land as being used solely for beef, meat rations for no fewer than 1,000,000 people. I do not want to overstate the case, because we all know that life does not work on such a strictly mathematical basis as that, and it may well be that in practice there may be certain modifications. But there are the figures.

As the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, said, we have to ask ourselves: Can we really afford at the present moment losses of this kind? We all know that many of the uses to which this land that is being taken away is being put are most estimable. We have to have our new towns, and we certainly welcome the fact that more space is allotted to them than on the old basis of planning; but when it is a question of food or space for new towns, can we really say that, whereas in the old days a town of, I think, 60,000 inhabitants would have been allotted 1,900 acres, we can afford to allot up to 5,000 acres to-day? We all of us want to see more recreation grounds and more playgrounds in the country. We want to see larger playgrounds attached to schools. So far as I can remember, when I was connected with the Board of Education I was myself responsible for enlarging the size of playgrounds which were to be attached to all new schools. I am quite sure that as a departmental Minister I was right, but that does not mean to say that there should not be a super-Governmental authority who should survey the needs of each one of the Departments and say whether, as a whole, the nation can afford these demands on it.

We have not finished with the picture when we talk about the quantity of land which has been taken. I am not thinking particularly of the point which has been so admirably made—and, therefore, need not be repeated—by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, when he pointed out that undoubtedly in these developments the temptation is always to take the better land. That point has been made, and I do not desire to repeat it. But what is not always realised, particularly by those who do not live in the country, is that frequently by taking a small block of land it is possible virtually to immobilise the rest of the farm. It is quite easy, by taking fifty acres out of a 200-acre farm, to make that farm cease to be an economic or workable unit. I have received a letter during the past few days from a pedigree breeder who has a 100-acre farm. It is an attested farm, and so good are his cattle that although they are a small type of cattle they average just on 1,000 gallons a year. The local authority now desire to put a sewage farm of ten acres in the middle of his farm, just near his cowshed. You may say, "That is only ten acres," but nevertheless it will drive him out of a 100-acre farm. That is what is happening again and again. Therefore, the loss of 50,000 acres a year is a minimum, rather than a maximum, figure of the loss to agriculture.

I should like also to stress the point already made by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, about the discouragement which these repeated inroads give to the whole agricultural community. Land owners, farmers and workers have been appealed to again and again by the Government to put their best foot forward, and to give of their best to help to feed their fellow countrymen. But how can the agricultural community believe that this is important when Government Departments themselves, one by one, descend on the farming land and take it away for other purposes? We must remember that, after all, these inroads into our farming land to-day are not made because of the greed of the rapacious land owner; the days when the private land owner could make free use of his land belong to those times which we now speak of as the "bad old days of Tory misrule." To-day it is the Government Departments (they were listed by the noble Earl) who are taking the land—and in every case with the full consent and approval of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. This is not "chaotic free enterprise"; it is the "blessings of Socialism." We therefore look more than ever for protection to the Ministers responsible.

The noble Earl mentioned the Minister of Agriculture. Most of us who know the Minister of Agriculture are pretty sure that he has been doing his best. Of course, in conformity with the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility, every Minister must take full responsibility for what his Government as a whole do; but if I were looking for someone who is more than anyone else to blame, I think I should light on the Minister of Food. After all, this is not primarily a problem of agriculture; it is primarily a problem of the consumer. If Government Departments like to come on to farmers, deprive them of their land and pay adequate compensation—well, it is just too bad, but that is that; the farmer can take it. But the person who is going to lose most, the person who is losing to-day and who is paying in shortage of rations for every acre of this land that is being taken away at the present moment is the British housewife. The Minister of Food is pouring out millions of pounds on various schemes in Africa, but I should like to ask him what he is doing at the present moment to try to save these thousands of acres of land, already highly developed, from being taken away from its main purpose of the production of food. I would say to him that if he is unable, for good or bad reasons, to purchase food, especially meat front abroad, then at least let him join the Minister of Agriculture in seeing that his colleagues no longer hinder, or indeed actively destroy, our own productive capacity in this country.

No one in his senses would say for a moment, even to-day, that no land must be taken from food production for any social or industrial purpose. We all know perfectly well that certain developments are vital, and must be carried on. But the prodigal waste envisaged is appalling. Perhaps I may be allowed to give one instance; and there is probably no noble Lord here who could not think of some instance. I refer to the new town at Bracknell, and I take it as an example because we all know that no fewer than six alternative sites, of less value for food production, have been submitted to the authorities by the agricultural community. We are told that this is bad land, but I can tell your Lordships what is happening on four of those farms. In one instance (I will not mention names) the man is keeping a pedigree attested herd of Ayrshires with high records; he won first prize at the Royal Show last year, and a great number of other reserve championships. Another breeder of pedigree stock won three first prizes and the special prize for the best animal of her breed at the Dairy Show. Another is engaged heavily in the export trade in pedigree cattle with very high milk averages; whilst yet another was a successful market gardener. Already, a few years ago he had been turned out of Middlesex because land was wanted there—I think for the purposes of a reservoir. In 1947 he won, for the fourth year, the cup for the best holding, awarded by the Middlesex County Council Small Holdings Committee.

A survey has been made of this land and 36 farms are to be taken over. So far, the survey has covered only 22 farms—about two-thirds. On that land there was produced last year 1,000,000 pints of milk, 100,000 eggs, 1,000 poultry, 1,500 pigs, 3,200 lb. of meat, 1,000,000 lb. of potatoes, 3,000,000 lb. of vegetables and 1,500 tons of cattle food. That is the food that has been produced for the last twelve months. Moreover, many hundreds of thousands of pounds of capital invested in farm houses, buildings and cottages will of necessity be diverted from their purpose of food production. And yet there are six alternative sites that have been submitted. I realise that not one of them is necessarily ideal, but surely, with the country in its present position as regards food and supplies of dollars, these alternative sites ought to receive more favourable consideration.

What is the remedy for this situation? It seems to me that one stands out above all others, and that is the education of Government Departments in the reality of the food and dollar position in this country. Secondly, if we are to have planning—and we all agree that in the use of land particularly there must be a plan, and indeed this whole debate is really a plea initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, for planning the use of land—let us have real planning. Let us know what we can afford to allocate to new developments. Let us look again at the demands made by all of the land-spending Departments. Let us ask ourselves whether the new towns need be quite so large, whether they need always be built on the best and easiest and cheapest land for building and whether our new roads need have such immense verges and centre pieces. Let us, as the noble Earl said, before we embark on water developments, have a real national water survey and see what is really needed. As a matter of fact, this is a battle which the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has fought in the past as well as anyone.

I say, therefore, let us see to it that, if we have planning, we have real planning. Finally I make a small suggestion, but I think not an unimportant one. I suggest that when there are disputes as to whether land should be taken over and there is a public inquiry, the adjudicator who takes that inquiry should be independent of the Department which is in fact taking over the land. Not only is there a case for this on its merits, but it would immensely increase confidence in those inquiries. Those are just a few suggestions that I make. But I come back to the point that the real problem is to educate both public opinion and Government Departments. Once again, therefore, I would venture to thank the noble Lord for putting down this Motion and making this discussion possible, for a debate of this character in your Lordships' House is likely to prove a real contribution to this end.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we have all listened with great pleasure to the two speeches that have just been made. Some of you are aware that I have spoken before in your Lordships' House, not only on the subject of land but also on the subject of water. I hope to-day I shall not unduly repeat what I have said then, although, so far as I remember them, the arguments that I put forward should still be maintained. Without referring too much to what has been said by my two noble friends who preceded me, I want to face up to the realities of the world food and agricultural position. There is one question upon which neither noble Lord touched in his references to the food production here which is going to suffer, and that is the horticultural side of agriculture, if I may so call it. As we know, there is a tendency towards a considerable development of market gardening and horticultural production. If the land is to be taken as it has been taken in the last few years, then those sources of the production of valuable vegetables will suffer equally with agriculture. Apart from the various suggestions that I hope to give your Lordships presently for dealing with the situation, is not this tendency I have mentioned the best reason we could have for preparing to face up to the time when Marshall Aid will cease? In addition to the destruction of agricultural and horticultural land many other things are incidentally destroyed—for instance, houses, shops, garages, churches, cemeteries, roads, telegraphs, telephones and the electrical "grid" system, and there is the displacement of thousands of people in all walks of life, which brings about great tragedies in many families. Considerable financial loss is involved for all of them.

I want now to say a word in regard to compensation. There are all sorts of ideas as to how people who are displaced should be compensated. Suggestions are made that compensation should be paid on the 1939 values, but is it not dishonest arbitrarily to fix a sum? Surely the question should be approached in this way: What is the fair value to the occupant of the property that is going to be destroyed? Surely that is the right way to get at it. Consideration of the original purchase price is not much good, because in nearly every case modernisation and improvements have been made since ownership began. What of the future? We have heard what has been taking place in the last twenty years, and what is going on all the time. I feel that we have to consider this problem as one of the most important before us, because if we do not we shall be faced with three choices: to get rid of 20,000,000 people from this country; to do what I am going in a moment to suggest, I hope constructively—namely, grow and produce a great deal more food in this country. Otherwise, in the end, we shall come very near to starvation.

As I understand it—and I have obtained my figures from very good sources; your Lordships will readily understand that they may not be accurate to the acre, but they are very nearly so—roughly speaking, we have in this country 31,000,000 acres of crops and grass land. We have also, roughly speaking, 17,000,000 acres of rough grazing. I would term as "rough grazing," land which is not by any means fully used. This marginal land in a great many cases has nothing on it at all. I have taken pains to see what we could do with that marginal land. I am sure that on 1,000,000 acres 250,000 head of store cattle, of roughly six to seven hundredweight live weight, could be carried. Those figures come from an eminent statistician on this question. As your Lordships will readily appreciate, in a great many parts of this country the land of which I am speaking has in the past been used a great deal. There is evidence of it in derelict buildings, signs of old fencing and broken-down walls.

When one looks back a little, say to 1870, one sees that the sheep population of this country was then 29,500,000. In 1946, however, it was only 5,250,000. How has this happened? I am going to be a little controversial perhaps. So far as I can see, it has happened for this reason. Death duties were the cause of landlords, and incidentally farmers, withdrawing from the poor or marginal land to the richer lands and the lower areas which were referred to by my noble friend Lord Radnor. That is just my idea about it. The money that has accrued from these duties or taxes has had the effect of purchasing the fertility of millions of acres in the North American Continent, and in other places in the world, at such low prices that our marginal lands and the projects become uneconomic. That is evident, as I will show your Lordships later, when I give some interesting figures of what has happened and is happening in the world.

We are now seeing that, because of erosion and the modern idea of bulk buying (which in my view affects this very considerably), the supplies we used to obtain from these countries are not available. For instance, we know that in the Argentine bulk buying has produced bulk selling, with the result that the Argentine Government gave the farmers a very poor price for their products, which they sold to us—though in the last case they have not been delivered to us—at a very much higher price; and now the Argentine Government want still more. I maintain that if the old system had been in existence that situation would never have arisen. What can we do about this? Surely, if we had used the money that has been sunk in the ground-nuts scheme in Africa to develop our marginal lands we should have had meat, fats and hides. Why should we not spend this money in building up what we have here, instead of spending it on marginal land in a country, where it is a pure "toss-up" as to whether or not it will be a success?

My Lords, here are some quite alarming figures which I have obtained from a reliable source. There are 282,000,000 acres in the world which have already gone, eroded one might say, and there are some 775,000,000 acres in North America and elsewhere where erosion is now taking place. We must do everything we can to see that the world turns to self-sustained yielding of crops and not to the continual robbing of the soil. Eminent men who have travelled in the world and studied this question have given us serious warning in regard to what is going on. The facts are that many of our past sources of supply are no longer there, and they will be even further reduced if the present system of erosion and alterations in local conditions continue. Some of these countries that used to be entirely agricultural have now, owing to the war, become partially industrialised, and they demand a higher standard of living. The result is that the food is wanted in their own countries and they are not prepared to export it as they did in the past.

As I think my noble friend Lord Radnor said, this is not a political question. This is something which is very serious for us all, and I am sure that the Government must be extremely worried over the situation that is facing us. I hope the noble Earl who is to reply will give us some indication as to what should be done. I feel that there should be thoroughly well-thought-out schemes, administered by the best brains—though certainly not by the Brains Trust. What can we do to avoid the continuous struggle that we are having in order to find enough food for our people? I say that we can do it to a great extent by using our own land, by bringing back into production land that is now more or less derelict. We have 56,500,000 acres in this country, less about 10,000,000 acres occupied by towns, villages, works and so on.

There are of course, areas that are quite unsuitable to produce anything. As my noble friend Lord De La Warr said, why not build on them? He has instanced Bracknell, about which the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, made such an admirable speech the other day. Why not build there? There are entirely non-productive areas where we could build these vast reservoirs which are necessary, and which will be still more necessary for supplying water to our people. In this respect, I entirely agree with the two noble Lords who have spoken, that we cannot to-day afford to lose a single acre of food-producing land in this country. I thought Lord De La Warr was perfectly right when he said that this was really a consumers' question more than anything else. I think consumers all over the country are extremely worried. Those who think and read of what is going on, both in this country and elsewhere in the world, are very distressed at the outlook. On the question of building, let me deal for a moment with Bracknell. In parts of the country, particularly in my country in the North, they do not build houses of one storey or two storeys; they build up, and have tenements and flats. Surely that could be done at Bracknell. It is something which I think we should try to do, in order to conserve land.

I come to the question which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Radnor in regard to the Enborne Valley, in which, unfortunately, I live. I noticed the other day that in the programme which the Socialist Party have put down, and presumably agreed to, if they are returned to power after the next Election one of the things they propose to nationalise is water. I for one entirely agree with that idea. I believe that it will be necessary. That is not so much this Government's "cup of tea" as that of every Government I have known over a period of years; all Governments have stressed the fact that they would do everything they could to give an adequate water supply to every household or building in the country where people live. But if we are to have a nation-wide, comprehensive water supply scheme, it cannot be achieved without having the whole question of water supply and its sources co-ordinated all over the country.

Noble Lords in this House will know that there are places—I know one or two near where I live—where small water schemes have been drawn up in villages, perhaps miles away from another place, and suddenly some unfortunate person finds that his water supply has gone. This means that someone has tapped it miles away. To my mind, that indicates that we must get together and have a very serious investigation concerning the sources and the supply of water in this country. I cannot see that that can be done unless a nation-wide scheme is drawn up—a nation-wide scheme which would involve nationalisation. I am dead against nationalisation of industries, but, in my view, this is not an industry at all.

I make this strong appeal to the noble Earl who is to reply on behalf of the Government. It is now almost a year that we in the Enborne Valley have been in suspense. We hear all sorts of different statements from men working on the scheme. One says: "We are into quicksands." Everyone says: "That is splendid." Then another man says "Oh, no—there is no quicksand at all." First it was planned to have one reservoir, but I heard only last week that now three different reservoirs are proposed. I do not wish to repeat what I said in the last debate, but this subject involves a number of questions, to which the noble Earl referred, with regard to the nine Ministries which are concerned in these matters. I begged that they should all be consulted first, before there was any question of utilising this area which comprises nine square miles and the best part of 6,000 acres of good agricultural land. According to census figures which arc, no doubt, fairly accurate, nearly 6,000 people will be displaced. I hope that the noble Earl will press on the Metropolitan Water Board the urgency of deciding whether they are going to carry out this project or are going to ask for something to be done in a direction which I believe has been indicated. I think it is unwise to believe that this is going to be a successful scheme, for it must be dependent on the weather. It is entirely a question of the weather as to whether you will get a reservoir filled, and whether, it having been emptied, it will be filled again in time to meet the needs of the section of the population whom it is designed to serve. I hope that the noble Earl will endeavour to do something to hurry on this decision, and I trust that the decision will be given one way or the other as soon as possible.

I understand that we are consuming in this country to-day about 2,030,000 tons of beef, pork, mutton and hams. In pre-war days the consumption was 2,800,000 tons. Just think what it would mean if we could get 700,000 tons more of beef, mutton and hams to-day! If the marginal lands of which I have spoken this afternoon were put into production it would be quite easy to do that—and even to do more than that. Ten million acres of rough grazing would produce 500,000 tons of beef and mutton. That figure comes from one of the highest authorities on this subject in the land. I have nearly finished my remarks but I wish to say a few words in regard to questions raised in the Report of the Departmental Committee on Greater London Water Supplies. The Report was made to the Ministry of Health in 1948, so it is quite up to date. This is what is said in that Report: The Metropolitan Water Board's storage capacity in reservoirs in the Lee Valley is 4,607,000,000 gallons A further reservoir of 3,400,000,000 gallons capacity is under construction at Chingford. That makes altogether approximately 8,000,000,000 gallons storage. The Report continues: It should be noted that on more than one occasion the flow has not been sufficient during a winter following a dry summer to enable the existing reservoirs to be replenished. If with a scheme for 8,000,000,000 gallons a situation like that can arise, I ask your Lordships what earthly chance there is of making the Enborne Valley scheme—which aims at 55,000,000,000 gallons—a real success and something which can be relied upon.

The scheme in Wales is quite different and outside weather influences altogether. The rainfall in the area from which the water there can be drawn is 68 inches per annum, whereas in most other places round about my home, and I suppose in the Thames Valley generally, it is about 30 to 40 inches. I will again read from the Report. This is how it continues: Against the potential water resources of the area it is necessary to weigh the estimated demand. This is a matter of some difficulty because the essential factors are uncertain:

  1. (a) It is not known by how much the demands of industry and agriculture in the area may increase.
  2. (b) It is not known precisely what changes in the distribution of population and industry in the area will be effected by the planning proposals for Greater London.
  3. (c) It is not known what increases there will be in the consumption as represented in gallons per head per day."
Surely, before we begin to embark on the expenditure of these enormous sums—and, as I have said, it is problematical whether there will be a successful outcome to that expenditure, in view of the dependence on the weather—these three factors to which the Report refers in the passage which I have just read should be definitely ascertained. Next, I come to the question of boundaries and this again is most amusing. Once more I quote: It remains now for us to recommend what should be the boundaries of the area of the new authority. It would be impossible to adhere simply to the hydro-geological limits of the London basin, for this would take us too far afield—to Didcot, Marlborough and Basingstoke in the West, almost to Dover in the South, and would embrace most of Essex; and these areas are obviously not part of Greater London. To that last sentence I would add—nor is Enborne.

There is just one more Report—this time it is that of a Royal Commission—to which I would like to draw your Lordships' attention. This goes back much further than the Report from which I have just been reading. That was issued last year, but this Royal Commission was appointed in 1899. It was appointed to examine the scheme submitted by the engineer of the London County Council and a report thereon by Sir Benjamin Baker and Mr. Deacon. This scheme envisaged a series of reservoirs in the upper waters of the Usk and Wye capable of supplying 597,000,000 gallons per day to London. Water was to be conveyed by an aqueduct for 117 miles and by pipes for 45 miles, the distance right into London. Of course it would be materially less if the water were run into the Thames in its higher reaches when wanted, as suggested by the Enborne scheme. The estimated cost of the scheme at that time was somewhere between £10,000,000 and £20,000,000. To-day, the cost would be £50,000,000, or even more; but I maintain that it would be a cheaper scheme, for these reasons. We would have a certainty of having water; we would displace no one; we would have to buy out very few people; we would eliminate pumping, because the water would come down from about 800 feet; and there would be the possibility of developing a hydro-electric scheme which would utilise water and save coal in the production of power. I should like to call attention to paragraph 123 of the Commission's Report which says: After 1941 the sources of the Thames will be most severely tried. Does that not convey to us that we must look away from the Thames Valley to find the new water required for Greater London? We cannot get away from the fact that the Enborne Valley scheme will draw water from the sources of the Thames. In their wisdom, and on the advice of all the eminent engineers of the day, the Royal Commission voiced that serious warning.

I believe that this matter which the noble Earl has raised to-day should be looked upon as the most important subject before the country. It is not a political question. If we do not pay attention to it, and to the evidence that we have in regard to the production in other parts of the world of food that used to be available to us, but is not available now and is not likely to be available to the same extent in the future, then we deserve to suffer and to have to tighten our belts a great deal more than we are doing. I beg the noble Earl who is to reply to set up immediately a new Royal Commission, composed of the most eminent men on the subjects of agricultural land, water supply and the use of marginal land. Let us have their Report as soon as possible, so that we may see what we can do to lift the clouds hanging over this very difficult subject.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, this is not a land owners' debate and it is not a farmers' debate. It concerns every man, woman and child in this country. It concerns our children's children. As such it is a subject very fit to be debated in your Lordships' House, for your Lordships' House, as I sometimes maintain on the public platform, is the final guardian of the long-term interests of the people. I am surprised to find to-day that there are no speakers from the Back Benches opposite. Why? I am surprised also to find no speakers from my right. Why? The Liberal Party destroyed British agriculture in the past. Have they no deathbed repentance?—I apologise. I understand that their speakers have been laid low by influenza.

I do not propose to speculate whether the world is marching to a hungry doom, but there are at least two factors which vitally affect this situation, and which are not always appreciated by the people of this country. We have passed through the era of free trade, never to return. We have passed through the era of less free trade, possibly never to return. We are now in the era of import licensing. Under that system the manufacturing interests in foreign countries can make it impossible for us to exchange our goods for the agricultural products of that country. That applies no matter how cheap and how good our manufactured goods are. Today the world wants capital goods. Tomorrow it may not, and the springs of capital may dry up in the overseas countries. Will the demand for capital goods continue? Will manufacturing interests in those countries so abate their import licensing system that the goods which compete with their own uneconomic industries will be allowed to enter? That is unknown. Another factor is the new trend of trade relations. When Mrs. John Bull visits her overseas butcher, grocer and baker to-day, if she wants to indulge in the luxury of a slanging match, would it not be advisable to see that her back garden is in good trim, lest those long-suffering tradesmen may decide that her tantrums are not worth her custom.

Before the war there was no price discentive for the development of agricultural land. Owners of agricultural land received for it not the existing use price but the potential use price. That potential use price was much the same whether the land was good or bad. Today, in practice, virtually the same principle applies, although the owner receives the existing use value, and therefore there is a difference between good and bad agricultural land. Yet the difference between the good and the bad is not a sufficient incentive to foster the development of the bad rather than the good. To-day the only safeguard we have for agricultural land is the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who is charged with this duty. I always believe the Minister came into existence largely because of the keen interest shown in this subject by my noble friend, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and I wonder sometimes whether the Minister is living up to the hopes my noble friend obviously had of him. The trouble really is, as my noble friend, Lord Radnor pointed out, that for all purposes the same type of land is best—flat, level and well drained land. The difference between hilly, scrubby land and flat, level land makes a very considerable difference to the final cost of a building scheme.

That means that if the Minister is going to save agricultural land he must take decisions which will involve people in expense. For that reason he is bound to be unpopular. Developers will always be able to put up an excellent case for using the easiest land to develop, because it will be the cheapest and will save somebody a good deal of money in the long, run. But so many of the developers are other Government Departments. Everybody knows that the status of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning in practice is not equal to that of some of the older Departments. It is quite Utopian to think that the Minister of Town and Country Planning can stand up, for instance, to the Service Ministries and get his own way; he has not got a hope. When it comes to developing in which his own Ministry has the final say—that is, the new towns—I think he is showing that even if he could stand up to his Service colleagues the inclination would not be there, because when the decision lies in his own hands he seems equally remiss. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, has mentioned Harlow; Bracknell has been mentioned, and precisely the same things have been happening at Crawley.

It seems to me that, unless we can endow the Ministry of Town and Country Planning with a status which will take it many years to attain in Whitehall, or put in charge of that Ministry a superman whom none of his colleagues dare cross, we shall have to introduce some other measure to reinforce that Ministry. The only way I can see is to try to bring in the money mechanism to reinforce this planning authority. I introduce this subject now because I am told that to introduce a thing in England takes twenty years. I put it to the noble Earl opposite that he may spend the first day of the twenty years, at any rate, in passing it on to his colleague for examination by the experts.

We have not very much really good land in this country; we have more medium land, and a lot of had land; but, by a lot of sweat, toil and money, bad land can be turned into much better land. It always seems to me justice and common sense that if a man wishes to filch some of our agricultural land for another purpose, he should be required, in effect, to replace it in our national heritage. That could be done if it were possible to levy on the use of agricultural land a sum sufficient to bring an equal area of our worse land up to the level of the land that has been taken. If it were possible to do that, it would mean, in effect, a levy en the development of agricultural land which was the greater for the better and the lesser for the worse—the ideal carrot and stick, in fact. I do not want to go into details, such as into how many grades the land would have to be graded; whether it could be done under the Town and Country Planning Act, or whether special legislation would be necessary; whether the development charge under the Town and Country Planning Act would have to be lowered in some way all round to prevent the cost of development being prohibitive, or who or what agency should have charge of the spending of this levy on the development of agricultural land in order to reclaim the worst land.

I am aware of very considerable difficulties, but I know of no difficulty that is insuperable. With such a system I am convinced that developers nowadays, with earth-moving equipment, would soon find their direction turning towards the land which they could acquire cheapest—at the lowest levy, shall I say?—and we should find the hilly, scrubby sites taken up. After all, why should these towns all be built on level ground? We go to Lancashire and Yorkshire and find half the mill towns are built on the side of hills; some of the most beautiful towns in England have very steep streets. It is only because the flat land is the cheapest that towns are now gravitating all to the flat.

We cannot see a complete stoppage of the development of agricultural land—it would be quite impossible. But under the system I have outlined the developer would have the natural incentive to turn to development which would do the least harm to the heritage of this country. My method provides the incentive to use land of the least possible agricultural value, and provides a fund from which to improve land to replace that agricultural land which inevitably has to be developed.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, this Motion is directed towards the land and water resources of this country, and to their full utilisation. I do not propose to deal with the question of what these resources in fact are, or the manner in which they could be developed. I want to direct your Lordships' attention to the absolute necessity of making the maximum use of the resources which we have, and particularly in the connection which is specifically referred to in the Motion—namely, with regard to our food supplies. We have always derived our food supplies partly from our own home production and partly from imports from overseas. If those imports from overseas are to be diminished, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, then we shall be in a very precarious situation, and we shall have to look increasingly to our own powers of production in this country.

I do not propose on this occasion to deal with the general food situation in the world, save to say that I think we must all recognise, taking the world as a whole, that there is unquestionably a serious food shortage—a food shortage which goes to the point that there are millions of people in the world who cannot get enough food to maintain a reasonable state of health and efficiency. I desire to look at the matter from the much more limited view—the view which I think a lot of people are inclined to take of this problem—namely, the position of the countries which in pre-war days had reasonable supplies of food. Even if the standard of all their people was not satisfactory, they did, broadly speaking, obtain enough food. There is rather a tendency to-day for many people to say: "Well, the position is now all right; things are much better than they were, and there are abundant food supplies." What I think such people are completely overlooking is this: that while last year's harvest was of quite outstanding merit and greatly eased the situation, and while we all hope that this year's harvest will be the same, and that the position will remain satisfactory, at present the rather more comfortable food situation is absolutely dependent upon the weather.

If, for example, there were a really bad season in the North American Continent —and, after all, they have enjoyed an almost unlimited run of good seasons, and in the ordinary course it is to be expected that they will have a bad season—the position with regard to wheat would immediately become worse, probably, than it was even during the war. The situation is completely precarious, and entirely dependent upon the weather. We can only hope that the weather will continue to bless us as it has during recent years. That is all I want to say about the general food situation. I want merely to underline the fact that, even with regard to what may be described as the more specialised, the more developed and the more advanced countries, the food situation is precarious beyond words.

With regard to the world as a whole, there is an unquestioned deplorable shortage of food. Efforts are to be made over the years to improve that situation. Those efforts will mean that as standards are improved, unless there is a tremendous increase in production the task of Britain in maintaining her supplies from abroad will be increasingly difficult.

That is all I want to say on the broad question. I want, however, to take a specific instance of the dangers facing us with regard to food, which shows the need to take some action to ensure that our requirements will be met. At the moment the position is present in our minds because of the recent cut in the meat ration. I think anxiety has been further increased by the fact that the representatives of the Government have not felt able to guarantee that even the present meagre ration will be maintained. The present position has unquestionably arisen from the fact that the Argentine were 100,000 tons short in deliveries in 1948 under the Andes Agreement. On that subject, I want to say one or two words. The Government, I understand, are at the present time negotiating with the Argentine. I would beseech the Government—and let me say, in preface, that I recognise that all the statements which the Government have made have been in this direction—not to let the Argentine hold us to ransom. I am perfectly certain that the people of this country would rather go on a vegetarian diet for six months than pay this iniquitous price which, because of the position in which we find ourselves, the Argentine are proposing to charge. But it is a little difficult for the public generally fully to understand this question.

I have been asked: "What is this price which the Argentine are asking? Is it such an outrage? "Unhappily, nobody quite knows what the position is. So far as I can make out—and since the Government are not going to disclose the price, I do not suppose the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong—under the Andes Agreement the price for sides was about 6d. to 6½d. a lb. But involved with that interesting Agreement there was this payment of £10,000,000. Some part of that £10,000,000 has gone into satisfying the price for the meat, and again my information is that that probably raises it to about 8½d. a lb. Compared with Australia's price, which is about 5d., that figure is, from the point of view of the Argentine, a pretty satisfactory one. But now, I understand, the Argentine are asking for a 100 per cent. increase on that figure. If that is the position, it is one of the most iniquitous suggestions made by any country, on a par with the toll that the Argentine have taken of the wretched world for a number of other products where she could hold the world to ransom. I would beseech the Government not to allow this country to be held to ransom; and I am perfectly certain that if we stand firm the Argentine will soon come to her senses.

It is upon the subject of meat that I want to weary your Lordships for a few moments, because the position in that regard seems to me very serious. I am afraid that I must inflict upon your Lordships a good number of facts. The actual position is that, in 1938. Britain consumed 2,794,000 tons of meat. That meat was supplied as to 1,250,000 tons from home production and as to 1,544,000 tons from imports. I hope the noble Earl will try to remember these figures because, in view of the importance of the subject. I wish to ask leave of the House to insert a table giving the whole of these figures, which will make it perfectly simple for anyone interested in the subject to understand the significance of the figures and the present trends, both with regard to production and the sources from which we obtain our supplies. In 1947 the consumption was 2,183,000 tons. This was a fall from 2,794,000 tons before the war, although the population had probably increased by something over 2,000,000 in the interval. The 1947 total was supplied as to 780,000 tons from home produetion—as against the 1,250,000 tons before the war—and 1,403,000 tons from imports. In 1948, the consumption was 1,877,000 tons, a further drop of about 300,000 tons. This was supplied as to 750,000 tons from home production and 1,127,000 tons from imports.

These figures show that our total consumption has fallen from 2,794,000 tons in 1938, to 1,877,000 tons in 1948. When we remember that the population has increased by 2,000,000, the significance of those figures with regard to the health of our people must be brought home to all of us. Those figures show also that, with regard to our sources of supply, home production has fallen from 1,250,000 tons in 1938 to 750,000 tons in 1948, while our imports have fallen from 1,544,000 tons in 1938 to 1,127,000 tons in 1948. As I say, with the permission of the House I will put in a table which gives all those figures, and I will also put in a summary of the figures dealing with the sources from which we have drawn our supplies.

The table and summary referred to are as follows:

(in tons).
1938 1947 1948
HOME PRODUCTION 1,250,000 780,000 750,000
Eire 40,440 16,770 17,890
Australia 240,430 211,750 190,940
New Zealand 274,440 348,710 365,170
Canada 80,340 125,780 121,890
Other British 7,030 5,090 10,610
642,680 708,100 706,500
Sweden 12,760 910 2,150
Iceland 1,760 410 660
Denmark 173,810 55,590 36,560
Poland 27,810 500 13,460
Netherlands 27,690 980 7,070
Hungary 9,440 5,100 7,040
Yugoslavia 2,820 180
256,090 63,670 66,940
United States of America 36,490 57,660 350
Chile 10,130 10,380 10,470
Brazil 36,200 9,320 3,240
Uruguay 56,130 32,850 21,740
Argentina 482,230 500,850 309,660
Paraguay 1,500 7,290 4,840
586,190 560,690 349,950
Other Foreign 22,710 13,010 3,640
TOTAL IMPORTS 1,544,160 1,403,130 1,127,380
TOTAL CONSUMPTION 2,794,160 2,183,130 1,877,380

Do the noble Viscount's figures refer to all meats, or are they figures for beef?


It is all meat; everything you can think of, except fowls—pig meat, beef, mutton, lamb, canned meat; everything except fowls. These tables show a somewhat alarming decrease in our imports, and when you come to look at them you will see that the only source from which we derived more meat than in 1939 was from the countries of the Commonwealth. Imports from all the other Continents have been reduced. In 1938 we imported 586,000 tons from South America; in 1947, 560,000 tons; and in 1948, 349,000. But, with regard to the drop to 349,000 tons, we must take into account the shortfall of 100,000 tons in respect of the Andes Agreement. That shortfall of 100,000 tons in 1948 is a very significant figure, because it shows the increasing consumption in the Argentine itself, and is evidence that probably we must regard something like 400,000 tons as the maximum supply that will flow from South America. We must not gaily restore the estimate to the 560,000 tons of 1947, because I do not believe the facts will for one second support such a belief. Imports from Europe have fallen from 256,000 to 66,000 tons. Actually, in view of the fall in home production and imports, the consumption of meat in this country to-day is only 67 per cent. of what it was in 1938.

That situation the Government, from their published Statement, are clearly out to remedy. In a Memorandum of December, 1948, which was presented by His Majesty's Government to O.E.E.C., the anticipated annual consumption of meat in Britain in 1952–53—some years hence—is stated at 3,003,000 tons—an increase over 1948 of something like 1,100,000 tons. The expectation does not seem to finish there, for the Ministry of Food have raised that total to 3,200,000 tons; so that by 1952–53 we have got to find another 1,100,000 or 1,200,000 tons over our 1948 total. It is hoped that by 1953 home production will have been restored to its pre-war figure; at present it is 750,000 tons, and it should be up to 1,250,000 by 1953. That is a fairly large increase in the time. I am sure we all sincerely hope that it will be achieved, and I suggest that every effort must be made to ensure that it is. But, so far as I know, nobody as yet has visualised that we can go far beyond that point. Personally, I have grave doubts about our ability to go much further. But that is a matter about which many noble Lords are much better able to speak than I am. So far as the Government and the policy of the day are concerned, that is quite specifically the maximum target.

Sir Henry Turner has said: We do not expect in Britain to be able to do more than restore our own production. If that is so, on my figures of 1,100,000 or 1,200,000, there is a gap of 700,000 to 800,000 tons somehow to be filled. When we talk about a consumption of 3,200,000 we need to have some fairly clear idea where we are to obtain the supplies. I propose to take the different sources and see what the position appears to be. I think we may say quite definitely that supplies from Europe are likely to increase, but the question of how greatly they will increase is another matter. France undoubtedly will send us a certain amount of meat, but I personally cannot accept some of the fantastic figures I have heard, of hundreds of thousands of tons that are apparently going to flow from France. I do not believe for one second that it can be done. Bearing in mind the situation that exists to-day in Eastern Europe, I think that if we put the figure down as 100,000 tons over and above the pre-war figures from Europe we shall be very optimistic.

So far as the United States and Canada are concerned, the position is that Canada has very substantially increased her exports to this country over the period of the war years. I have considerable doubts whether Canada will be able to go much further than she has already gone in the supply of meat to this country. The United Slates before the war were very small suppliers, and supplies have now fallen to an almost negligible figure. The present extraordinarily low figures are largely due to the high standard of living in America, with its greatly increased consumption of meat, and I do not think we can look for any great supplies from there. In fact, I think we must assume that the position we have now achieved, in which Canada alone is sending to this country more than Canada and America between them did before the war, is as high as we are likely to go. We should be deluding ourselves if we hoped for more.

Then we come to New Zealand. New Zealand has made the most heroic efforts on behalf of this country, and has tremendously increased her exports to Great Britain, which in 1948 rose to 365,000 tons as against 274,000 tons in 1938. I think that that is an incredibly good performance. I believe that New Zealand will go further. But we have to remember that New Zealand is a relatively small place, with a relatively limited amount of land, and that it has not a vast population. I think that another 50,000 tons over the quantity she has sent hitherto is the most we can hope for.

With regard to South America, the position is that between 1938 and 1948 the imports from the South American countries have fallen from 586,000 tons to 566,900 tons in 1947 and 349,950 tons in 1948. Sir Henry Turner has said: Owing to industrial developments, there is little likelihood that South America will be able to supply anything like the quantities they used to supply before the war. They are eating locally a bigger proportion than they did. Those words of Sir Henry Turner appear to be substantally supported by what is going on in the Argentine to-day. In 1939 the population of Argentina was 13,132,000; in 1947 it was 16,108,000. With immigration at the rate of 100,000 a year, the population by 1960 should be about 20,000,000. But the 16,000,000 they have already are consuming beef to this extent: in 1938 the amount per head was 176 lb.; in 1947 it was 193 lb. per head; and by 1960, unless they strike a bad patch, it will unquestionably be 200 lb., because at the moment intense industrialisation is going on in the Argentine. Almost a new régime has come into existence. Whether you like its methods or not, it has unquestionably assured a greatly increased purchasing power for the low income group of people in that country.

There is ample evidence to show, as Sir Henry Turner said, that by 1960 it is doubtful whether, owing to this development we shall get anything like the same amount of meat by way of imports from South America as we received in 1938. But I am not going to that extreme point. I am quite prepared to leave it on the basis that we will continue to receive as much, without subscribing to the possibility of our getting any more. I would add that events in South America may certainly change the present trends there. They may have economic troubles inside their country. They may have serious political difficulties, which are not unknown in those countries, and the present great swing towards industrialisation may be reversed. I do not, however, believe that any one of those events will bring about that which is vital to us—namely, an increase in production in those countries and the assurance to us of not merely a fractional increase, but a substantial increase in the amount of beef, which is the main commodity they can ship to us.

Another matter I would like to stress is that we must bear in mind a point that emerges from the instances of the Argentine which I have given your Lordships. We can get imports into this country only as a result of people exporting from their countries the surplus over and above the consumption of their own people. I think the trend everywhere—and the trend is going to be worse the more prosperous the world becomes—is towards a greater internal consumption. In most countries policies on big levels are being initiated, with the object of bringing up the standard of the people. That is another way of saying that their purchasing power is increasing, which means that more and more production will be consumed in their own country. Consequently, it seems to me that there remains the problem of how we are to fill the gap, which is still a vast one. Let us start at 700,000 tons, which is the lower of the figures which have been suggested. Europe may send us 100,000 tons more, and New Zealand may send us 50,000 tons; but there seems no hope of any more from any other source. I shall deal with Australia separately in a moment. The result is that we have a gap of 550,000 tons. If we take an optimistic view and say that we shall get the odd 50,000 tons from somewhere, we are still left with a gap of 500,000 tons.

I suggest that what must be done is the bringing about of a great expansion scheme. There is beef production in Australia, and there will be incidental production, such as pig production. I hope people will not run away with the idea that the pig is a prolific animal which breeds very rapidly, and that we can solve all our problems merely by breeding pigs. It cannot be done like that. Pigs need food; there are problems of their feeding stuffs. One great scheme in the world of pig breeding is in Queensland where the fodder is provided for the animal and it is reared, and yet the maximum result anticipated from that vast scheme is 40,000 tons. Breeding of pigs is not quite so easy as it appears, but it will be necessary everywhere. It affords a tremendous contribution and a tremendous help. But we have to do more than that.

I apologise for talking at such length, but I attach the greatest importance to this question from the point of view of this country, because the meat ration is vital to us. I suggest that Australia is the place where we might do something. At the present time Australia's meat production is 1,000,000 tons. Of that amount, the people in Australia are consuming 750,000 tons, and 250,000 tons is being exported. Last year the exports were rather less—190,000 tons. The figure that we hope for as Australia's export is 250,000 tons, but Australia is increasing her population by migration and by natural means fairly rapidly. It is estimated that the present population of 7,500,000 will have risen by 1960 to 10,000,000. If that position came about, Australia would be consuming the whole of her present meat production.

There are people who say that that state of affairs is inevitable; that Australia will not expand greatly as a cattle country; that she will consume all her own meat and there will be nothing available for export. Personally, I do not take that view. I believe that the present export will probably be maintained as the population increases. I believe that there will be developments in the already opened up and recognised cattle areas of Australia that will take account of the increased population, and that Australia will be able to maintain exports at something like the present figure. But from Britain's point of view, that is not good enough. There must be an expansion of production, and more exports from Australia. There is a great undeveloped cattle country in Australia, probably as good as any in the world. What has to be done is to set about developing that country. It is a vast project which involves many difficulties, but it is a project about which we have information. Without being offensive, I would point out that it is unlike some schemes which have been launched where information has not been available. Here, information is available. There have been innumerable reports, and those reports show that, if we get down to the job, the beef cattle population in Northern Australia which to-day is about 6,500,000, can probably be increased to 16,000,000 in a relatively short period of years. That would mean that the production of beef in Northern Australia could be increased to 700,000 tons from the present figure of 250,000 tons, thus enabling greatly increased export to be brought about. That would go a considerable way towards filling the gap and, so far as I can see, it is the only real suggestion that has been made as to how this gap is to be filled.

The Australian Government are perfectly prepared to go ahead with that development. On January 22 of this year, Mr. Chifley, the Prime Minister of Australia, said that the Australian Government were prepared to undertake heavy capital expenditure in the development of the northern cattle industry. He mentioned a figure of £50,000,000, but the offer was conditioned. He is reported to have said: If Britain gives Australia a reasonable market for a reasonable period, we will get on with the job. Anything less than ten years will not do: I think it should be larger. We do not want to spend big sums developing the area to find that in a few years we are going to be cut out by Argentina and other countries. I desire to ask His Majesty's Government: What is the present position with regard to that scheme? I can see all the problems which face His Majesty's Government in making e long-term commitment of this character. I can also see the apprehension of Mr. Chifley when he visualises that they may spend all this money, they may get into production, and then they may be undersold by somebody. But I think both Governments are being a little too hesitant about this project.

So far as I can see, on the analysis I have given, the danger is that the British Government might commit themselves to acquire Australia's beef production at a reasonable price and then subsequently find another source that would supply the meat mare cheaply. I do not think it would be good tactics for the British Government to want to buy more cheaply from somebody else. The British Government could safeguard themselves as to price revision as the years go by, basing their prices on those obtaining in the world. I should have thought it possible for the British Government to take ample precaution against anything unsatisfactory happening from their point of view. At the same time they would see a source from which they might begin to meet the requirements of this country. Looking to the future, the whole picture seems to show that there is no source from which the Government could obtain supplies to satisfy their own estimate of what our consumption might be.

So far as Mr. Chifley is concerned, I think he need not be too apprehensive. I think he ought to be prepared to go into negotiations with a fairly open mind. I think this danger that he refers to, of Australia being cut out by somebody else when she gets into production, is a rather remote possibility; there will be no alternative source that could cut him out. When those are the facts of such a vitally important question to the United Kingdom Government, when the United Kingdom Government know that Australia is prepared to play, and that Australia will go to the tune of £50,000,000 (no inconsiderable sum), then I should have thought, if sensible men sat down together, that it would be possible to come to a satisfactory arrangement beneficial to both countries. I would urge upon His Majesty's Government that something must be done in this matter, but I would also stress the even more important point, that speed is the essence of the contract.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, when I saw this Motion on the Order Paper it seemed to me that one of its objects was to put the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture in the extremely embarrassing position of having to defend the loss of agricultural land—rather like a master of foxhounds being asked to defend a Bill against blood sports. However, on hearing the speeches of noble Lords I think a greater measure of agreement between the Government and noble Lords on all sides of the House is now apparent—much more than can be judged from the actual Motion.

I think we are all agreed on the very pressing problem of the shortage of land in this country. I agree that the density of population has grown. I will not join forces with Lord Radnor in saying that we are the most densely populated country in the world; I do not know how we compare with parts of China and India. But at the same time, the amount of land per person in this country is extremely small when we have to think of feeding ourselves. In fact, I think it works out approximately to something like one acre per head of the total area of Great Britain, or about half an acre per head of food-producing land. There is little margin if you try to feed a person out of half an acre of land. Actually, the population has increased by something like 2,000,000 since the beginning of the war, though in the near future there may be a trend downwards.

In regard to schemes such as mass immigration (which has been proposed by one speaker this afternoon), or of education in birth control to limit the population, I must say that it would be some time before any such schemes could have a lasting effect. In the meantime the position in regard to food would be critical indeed if we had to try to feed ourselves entirely from our own land and resources.

The other great fact that stands out is the amount of food we have to bring into the country from outside. Before the war, in terms of calories—again I quote approximate figures—we produced something like 31 per cent. of our own food. Now we are producing something like 37 per cent., and we hope that when the agricultural expansion programme has finally flowered into ultimate achievement, we shall produce something like 50 per cent. But even that leaves an enormous amount of food which we must try to secure from the foreign resources which Lord Bruce has so clearly pointed out to us. The other difficulty is of course that the terms of trade are against us, and the Economic Survey issued recently quoted the fact that our total exports and re-exports though standing last year at a record level paid for only 90 per cent. of our imports. Therefore, I think we can all agree that we need maximum production in this country. There is no doubt about that, and it is obvious that we must try to save all the best possible agricultural land for this purpose.

But the real question which arises is that of balancing needs. Any Government, of whatever complexion, must look at the various needs of our land. As has been pointed out by several speakers, there are other needs which are extremely important. The small area of land in relation to our population has to support not only food production but also houses, schools, amenities and factories—the factories which have to produce the materials to pay for the other 50 per cent. of our food. Therefore, I would suggest to your Lordships that the two really important questions which we should examine are, first, have we given up too much agricultural land to these other needs, and, secondly, in the cases where it was necessary to release land from agriculture, have we given good land where it was possible to give bad? The indictment would be against the Government if either of those propositions could be sustained.

It has been suggested that in spite of planning under the various Planning Acts and planning administration, a large amount of good agricultural land has been lost unnecessarily. A letter has been quoted from Dr. Stamp, whom we acknowledge as an eminent authority on this subject, following that argument, and figures have been quoted from the Scott Report giving the area lost to agriculture before the wars—a total, from 1927 to 1939, of 572,000 acres. That covers building and other construction, and if we add on to that the amount lost for military requirements and other incidental uses the grand total goes up to 794,800 acres. That is, of course, a vast amount of land. It has been suggested on the basis of Dr. Stamp's letter that we are now losing an average of something like 50,000 acres a year. I think that was the amount mentioned as the average over the nine years, 1939 to 1947. But I would suggest, without casting any doubt on those figures, that the comparison is not altogether fair. The period from 1939 to 1947 was an extremely abnormal period. It included the period of the war when the military made huge demands on our land. I would suggest that a much fairer comparison would be one based on the three years, 1946 to 1948, when the yearly average was a loss of 30,000 acres. Even so, this last figure means, of course, that a vast amount of land is going which we do not like to lose from agriculture and which we do not want to lose if we can possibly help it.

I think the first question that arises in our minds is whether we have the procedure, the machinery, by which to guard against this land being taken. If the Government think it right and desirable to take steps to preserve agricultural land, have they adequate machinery for doing so? I suggest to your Lordships that under the Town and Country Planning Act, the Agriculture Act, 1947, and various other Acts, we have that machinery. Throughout the country there are planning authorities, county councils and county borough councils, which have drawn up and are still drawing up development schemes, and although it is true that any farmer or owner can sell his land, no one who buys it can develop it in any way without the consent of the planning authority. I suggest that that provides a very close check on the loss of agricultural land. Furthermore, there is the development charge. Anyone who buys land and gets permission to develop it has to pay the difference between the present use value of the land and the ultimate development value. That, I suggest, is a strong disincentive—if your Lordships will forgive my using such an unpleasant word—against people buying agricultural land as a speculation and using it for purposes other than agriculture.


May I interrupt the noble Earl for one moment? I do not believe that he is correct in his statement, because if a man buys agricultural land and then pays development charge on it, the two amounts together will be the same as the price and development charge for another piece of land at present more fully developed. Thus if the present value is low, the development charge will be high, and vice versa, so the result is the same in the end. The development charge, therefore, provides no disincentive.


I submit that a much more important safeguard is the fact that the land cannot be developed at all without the consent of the planning authority, so, whatever the intention of the purchaser may be, the planning authority can prevent any development.


I do not quite understand the contention of the noble Earl. He seems to be arguing that these 30,000 or 40,000 acres of land are being sold for private purposes, while the whole point behind this debate is that we know that over 90 per cent. of the land is in fact going to Government Departments, with the full consent of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. Therefore, what the noble Earl is now saying is totally irrelevant.


I am afraid I cannot agree with the noble Earl, and if he will follow my argument later I think he will see why. The important thing, I suggest, is that we have powers to preserve agricultural land.


It is no good having them if you do not use them.


I am coming to the question of their use shortly, and I shall also deal with the intentions of the Government. I would point out that if the Government had not the power to safeguard this land there would be no point in exploring the subject further. Having said that they hold the necessary powers, I now come to examine the question of how those powers have been used. That, I gather, is the matter which greatly concerns the noble Earl and his friends. I think that the best way in which I can draw my argument on this subject is to take the four main "rivals" of agriculture, if I may so call them, and examine to some extent what has been done with regard to them. I think that by far the most important of these "rivals" is housing. In housing I include the building of houses, schools, factories, and other buildings, new towns and so on.

I hope that I shall have the agreement of your Lordships when I say that there is indeed a great need for tremendous additions to our existing buildings. The housing position in this country before the war was deplorable. During the war all development was held up. Now we urgently need a comprehensive housing programme, and I think the Government have been very successful in carrying out such a programme up to the present time. By the end of February and since the end of the war we have put up over 600,000 new houses in England, Wales and Scotland. Of that total, 459,272 are permanent houses and 156,232 are temporary. That, I think, is a very creditable achievement. Now all these houses need land. Whether existing towns are extended to provide space for them, or whether they are put up in new areas, a considerable amount of land must be taken in order to erect them. I cannot give your Lordships the actual acreage, but admittedly in various parts of the country large areas of land have had to be taken for these houses. But I do not think anyone would argue against the necessity for that.

The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, gave us some figures about new towns, and he seemed to question the standards that are being laid down. In that connection, I think that the standards which are being laid down for the new towns are at least equivalent to the standard of his own town of Folkestone, which is extremely well planned and laid out. Our whole object—and the Government has worked on this for some time—is to try to raise housing and living conditions in order to provide better facilities generally for our people. If you are going to give better conditions you must have more amenities, more parks, more playing grounds and so on, all of which require land. That is the problem which we have been up against. On the whole, we are proud of what we have done to promote better conditions generally in our town planning. An important point—and I do not easily see how we can get over it—is that in any project for a new town the preliminary discussions must be confidential. They are carried on between the Departments and interests concerned. They cannot be held in public or paraded in the Press. Consequently, the public does not know of the victories won in the interests of agriculture, of the amount of land that we have saved from different projects. That has happened, as it were, behind a curtain.

I cannot unfortunately lift that curtain, but perhaps I may draw up just one corner of it in order to give your Lordships an idea of some of the savings which have been achieved. For instance, at White Waltham, in Berkshire, there was a project for a new town and we managed on agricultural grounds to get it completely withdrawn, thus saving 2,800 acres. At Meopham, in Kent, we saved 1,280 acres, and at Whixley, near Leeds, we saved nearly 4,000 acres by getting the project withdrawn. Even when the plans for new towns have been accepted, we have been able to whittle down the area of agricultural land taken over. For instance, at Crawley we saved 275 acres, at Hemel Hempstead 335, and at Harlow 119. Noble Lords may say that these are small areas, but they represent victories on behalf of agriculture and the preservation of arable land.


This is a very important principle. The noble Earl says that his Department have saved these acres. My impression was that the Minister of Town and Country Planning was to plan the better use of land. Has the Minister of Agriculture to go and save land from the man who is supposed to be planning the better use of it?


Obviously, each Department have to point out their own need for land. The Minister of Fuel and Power has to say whether land is needed to give facilities for coal mining, and the Minister of Agriculture has to point out the merits of agricultural land. In any new scheme submitted by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, it is the Minister of Agriculture's duty, when good arable land is involved, to point out the implications of the proposal and the effect that it will have upon food production. The whole case must be carefully balanced and the claims of agriculture weighed against the claims of other users. Let me proceed with the record of savings on behalf of agriculture. In spite of the recommendations of the Clement Davies Committee, approval was refused to further extensions at Aveley and Ockenden, in East Essex, and most of an extension at Grays and East Tilbury was curtailed, saving 1,650 acres. I submit that these figures show the activity of my own Department, and I think, answer the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, when he suggested that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture was not active enough on behalf of agricultural interests.


Before the noble Earl leaves that point, would be say whether the Enborne Valley is to be saved from the Metropolitan Water Board?


If the noble Lord will allow me, I would rather come to that under the heading of water.


I take it that when the noble Earl says "we" he is thinking of the very intimate relationship now enjoyed between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food. Does he receive great assistance from the Ministry of Food?


The Government always stand together. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, raised the question of White Waltham. That is a good example of what has been happening. Originally, a site was proposed at White Waltham. The Ministry made strong representations on agricultural grounds, and secured the rejection of this site. However, it seems that tit is necessary to have a town somewhere in this district to take the overflow from London, and a site at Bracknell was suggested. This, as we know, has provoked a good deal of opposition. Several other sites were suggested. As a result, there has been a public inquiry, and before any decision is made all the objections and the other suggested sites are to be considered by the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I think that gives a clear picture of the procedure and the way in which it works.

I should like to endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, about building upwards. It is true that by building upwards we can save an enormous amount of space, hut, unfortunately, there is a strong prejudice in this country against living in flats. I think some of the prejudice comes from the early apartment houses, many of which were badly planned, had inadequate space and poor insulation. The builders seemed to have the idea of making the maximum profit by giving people the minimum of comfort. This is a question which should be carefully examined. The French architect, Corbusier, once made a model of the city of Paris, in which he housed the whole of the existing population in the same area by building large blocks of flats, but did it in such a way that he gave them more living space and still left 90 per cent. of the area for parks and gardens. Perhaps that is an extreme example, but it is the case that by building upwards we can save the spreading of houses over valuable land.

I now come to the question of water, in which many noble Lords are interested. The trouble is that already, without any new developments, water is badly needed. When we think of the new towns being built, and the extension and development of old towns that is going on, including the expansion of industry, there can be no doubt that we have to add considerably to our water supplies. It has been estimated that in the large industrial areas, with industry working to full capacity and with the increase in education and standard of life, there is an increase in the consumption of water of about 20 per cent. above the prewar average. Yet in many areas the water supply is still deplorable. We find cases where ten people live in a house with only one bathroom and one water closet. We find others where all the water comes from a cold tap at the back of the house. We want to do away with all that. But a proper hot and cold water supply system will use three times as much water as the cold tap in the back porch. We are therefore faced with this large and increasing demand for water.

The Minister of Health has set up a working party of engineers to investigate what savings can be made in the use of water. Perhaps in industry water can be recirculated and used again. Perhaps impure water can be used for certain industries. Squads of men are sent to spot leakages and faulty mains to prevent water being wasted. But I think the greatest saving could be made if the ordinary consumer would see that his taps were in order, and that he used only the amount of water he needed. There is also a large demand for water on our farms. At the present time, agricultural water schemes are being approved at the rate of about 5,000 a year, and when we obtain more steel piping we hope that that figure will be considerably increased. Rural water undertakings are promoting schemes in rural areas, all of which are extremely necessary and all of which we support. We therefore come to the position that somewhere we have to find land for additional water supplies.

The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and other noble Lords, raised the question of the Enborne Valley. I am afraid that I cannot say very much about that. The present position is that the Metropolitan Water Board have been investigating the question, and are to make a report; but this report has not yet been received. Doubtless, however, there will be a public inquiry if the scheme goes on. Finally, the Minister of Health acting in a judicial capacity will have to examine the merits of the scheme. All opposition to it will be carefully considered, and the ultimate course, if it goes forward, will be either a Private Bill, which would come before Parliament, or procedure by an Order which would be subject to Parliamentary approval.


Could the noble Earl indicate some sort of timetable? If he cannot do that now, can be undertake to ascertain from the Metropolitan Water Board when they will reach a decision? This scheme is causing increasing anxiety to many people in the district.


I realise that. But the noble Earl will appreciate that a project of this magnitude, which affects so many people, possibly adversely, is one that has to be thoroughly examined. I imagine that the Metropolitan Water Board are taking a great deal of care in going into this matter before they put any project to the Minister. However, I will try to speed up the matter as much as possible, because I appreciate the great anxiety which is felt.


Has the noble Earl's Ministry any information with regard to past investigations into this scheme? There ought to be an enormous amount of data which would assist any present investigation. Living in the Valley, as I do, it seems to me that there is a lot of unnecessary investigation going on. I would remind the noble Earl that no development of any sort is going on in the Valley, and farmers are now saying: "Ought I to sow winter wheat?" The situation gets worse there as it continues. I hope the noble Earl will endeavour to induce the Government to say to the Metropolitan Water Board: "Look here! You have had long enough on this. What do you want to do?"


I appreciate the noble Lord's plea. It must be very disturbing to anybody connected with the Valley. I will certainly try to hasten the decision of the Metropolitan Water Board. However, they are an independent body, and it is difficult to give an assurance on the point.

To leave the question of water, there are two other big rivals to agricultural use of land. One is the matter of Service requirements, which give the community no economic or amenity advantage. The only way, I suggest, in which we can look upon it is as an insurance from the security point of view. I would assure noble Lords, however, that there is very full consultation between the Service Ministries, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning in fact, no land is taken by Service Departments before it is thoroughly examined from the agricultural and other points of view.

Certain figures have come out which are perhaps not so discouraging as might have been thought. Out of the 700,000 acres which are the ultimate requirements of the Services, we find that only 14 per cent. is arable land; the total loss to agriculture would be 8 per cent., and of this 8 per cent. only one-quarter is really first-class land. In other words, of the total of 700,000 acres only 2 per cent. is really first-class tillage arable land. We are taking all other measures that we can on behalf of agriculture. Aerodromes, even in use, are being cultivated; surplus aerodrornes are being farmed as much as possible; large sections of land have been cleared and are being cleared and are being handed back to the farming community; financial aid is being given to owners, under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945, to help them to raise productivity to what it was before the land was taken over.

The last of the big rivals is mining—a matter which has been discussed fairly often, particularly in regard to the opencast coal and ironstone working. It is a sad picture, from an agriculturist's point of view, if one goes to any place where this work is carried out. It is a very controversial subject. But here again, we are faced with the situation that we have to balance our needs of coal for industry to make the goods which we can sell in order to buy the remaining quantity of food we need. I would like noble Lords for a moment to look at the economics of this. I can give only an approximate figure, because obviously land varies enormously, both in productivity, from the agricultural point of view, and in the minerals underneath it. But if we take the case of an acre of agricultural land which might produce £20 worth of grain, this same acre of land would produce something like £3,000 worth of coal—in other words, 150 times the annual value of the crops produced.


But, surely, it would produce that £3,000 only once, while the £20 would continue.


I take the noble Lord's point. But one also has to bear in mind that it would take that land 150 years of annual crops to produce the same sum which would be produced by mining in as many days. However, even though it is difficult to argue against those economic facts, one might still hesitate. But we do restore the land. The first efforts at restoration were not so successful as one might have hoped, but now we have made great progress with it. We try to put back first the subsoil and then the top soil. Usually the land is then farmed by the local agricultural executive committee until it is worked into better production, and finally it is handed back to the owner, with compensation for damage done. It is extremely regrettable that any land has to be taken from agriculture, but when one thinks of the enormous economic gain, in the situation in which this country is at present, I do not think one can argue very strongly against it.

There I leave the question of mining and, in fact, the general question of land being taken for other purposes. What is vitally important is that what land we have left should be used to the best possible advantage. I do not for one moment want to give the impression that His Majesty's Government are complacent about the situation, or that they view it with anything but the deepest anxiety. In fact the whole matter is now being carefully and specially considered, because we realise the danger. The danger is that each particular project, while excellent in itself, is yet whittling away more of our agricultural land. As I have said, the matter is being weighed very carefully at the moment, and I would like to assure noble Lords that all the suggestions put forward in this debate will be carefully considered by the different Departments.


The noble Earl has not mentioned my point about bringing into production the marginal land, of which there is a very large quantity. I do not know whether that matter has been discussed.


Certainly that is a very valuable suggestion, and it will be examined. We have already given grants for production on marginal land; but the matter will be examined further, because there is considerable marginal land which has not been exploited to the extent that it should be. I think we all agree that we must produce the maximum amount of food. The noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, gave some extremely interesting figures, and asked the Government particularly about buying more beef from Australia. He gave a good account of the potentialities of the areas in North Australia, and expressed his interest in how far the discussions had gone with the Australian Government on that point. Actually these proposals, which would mean a very large capital expenditure by the Government of Australia, were discussed in great detail with the officials of the United Kingdom when they recently went to Australia. They had discussions with the Commonwealth Government in Canberra, and with the officials of the Australian Meat Board. Subsequently, when Mr. Chifley came to England in July last, the Minister of Food impressed upon him the great importance to us of this project. Australian officers discussed the matter in greater detail with the officials in the United Kingdom, and they went back to Australia last November with a promise to arrange that definite proposals would be forwarded as soon as possible. These proposals have not yet come to hand.

The present position in Australia is that whereas before the war they used to send us 200,000 tons of meat, partly due to droughts and other difficulties the quantity has latterly dropped to 150,000 tons. We recognise that the possibility of increase is enormous, but a great deal of capital would have to be sunk in railways and port facilities and the Australian Government will require from us long-term assurances for unrestricted markets at fair prices before embarking on that expenditure. We certainly can give assurances on those points but the actual details are still under discussion, and, I hope, will soon come to a fruitful end.

We are all agreed that maximum production at home is essential, and, indeed, the whole policy of the Government has been devoted to this end. The Agriculture Act of 1947 was framed with this end in view. We can afford no waste, nor can we tolerate inefficiency. I would remind your Lordships that under the Act we have powers to eject the inefficient owner for bad estate management or the inefficient farmer for bad husbandry. On the other side we have created the National Agricultural Advisory Service, to try to help farmers and owners to increase production. Finally, the Minister has power to take over land, in the event of it being beyond private means to develop. At the present moment, the Agricultural Land Commission have in hand surveys of Romney Marsh, and Lakenheath Fen, in Suffolk, to see whether those particular areas ought not to come under the Commission rather than remain in private ownership. We are taking every step we can to promote and increase production.

Finally, I should like to pay a tribute to the agricultural industry in this country—to the farmworkers and all who are employed in agriculture—for the extremely successful efforts they have made to pursue the present expansion programme in order to raise the level of production generally and to provide the food which we badly need, both for ourselves and the coming generation.


My Lords, we have had a very interesting and valuable debate, and I am most grateful to noble Lords who have spoken. As is rather a habit in your Lordships' House, we have spread a little wider than the terms of the Motion, but I do not think that has in any way detracted from the value of what has been said. I rather regret that the noble Earl's reply does not reflect the alarm I expressed at the loss of good agricultural land, which alarm has been much increased by what I have heard said in this House to-day. Your Lordships would not expect me at this stage to say a great deal about what has been said. I think we all need to think a lot and to study the full report.

There are, however, one or two comments which I would like to make. I would like to thank the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, for pointing out that the agriculturist is not the person primarily concerned. It is the consumer who is primarily concerned. He is the person for whom on the one hand these very spacious amenities are being planned, while on the other hand the food which should fill his stomach is being taken away. The noble Earl referred to the sad sight of land left behind open cast mining. It is a sad sight for the agriculturist, and an even sadder sight for the housewife when she goes to her store-cupboard and finds very little there. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, made certain remarks about bringing marginal land back into production. I agree entirely with him but, of course, that point bears no relation at all to our main argument. In any country situated as we are any marginal land which can be brought into useful production ought to be brought into production, regardless of other circumstances. But that does not affect the loss which is going on through other activities, and in any case to substitute marginal land for good farm land is, as I have already said, a poor exchange.

The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, thought consumers were worried. The noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, on the other hand, thought they were not worried. I am inclined to believe the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, rather than my noble friend Lord Teviot. I know that the consumers are worried about what is not inside their store-cupboards and what is not coming out from their butchers' shops, but they are not unduly worried about the loss of land in this country, because they have not connected the cause and effect to the degree which the loss of agricultural land affects their rations to-day.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, gave us a most valuable speech covering a very wide scope. I know he will forgive me for not making much comment upon it. I am still reeling under the impact of the figures, and I should like to study them with some care at leisure when I see them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Everything the noble Viscount said underlines my argument with even greater emphasis than anything I could possibly have said. He has pointed out that the world is short of meat and is going to continue so, and meat is the commodity which is now in shortest supply. That means that in this country we must use every piece of land we can for food production and not waste it on pleasant but not necessary amenities. We shall all be grateful for the suggestion that Australia might fill the gap which he envisages in the meat supplies of this country. Even so, that does not mean that we must relax our efforts here. He himself said that we are dependent upon the weather. I do not know that the weather in Australia is any more reliable than anywhere else in the world.


Considerably less.


But you must plan, although the weather may upset your plans. I am afraid the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, must have felt rather like a confirmed fox-hunter facing a number of anti-blood sport enthusiasts and trying to defend his position, for he was interrupted somewhat. I will not comment at great length on what he said, but he made the point that it is a question of balancing the needs for land in this country. I agree with the noble Earl there; but the point I want to make is that the balance should be tipped more heavily in favour of agriculture. It is all very well to say that housing is important; of course it is important. No one on either side of your Lordships' House will deny that it is necessary that our people should be housed adequately—though that does not necessarily mean spaciously.

I am very glad indeed to hear the noble Earl say that he favours the idea of building upwards rather than sideways. I wish he could impress upon the Government Departments which are responsible for building that that is a desirable development in the interests of the agricultural production of this country. It is true, as many people have found even in London, that it is possible to house on the same area of land, with greater open space about it, three times the number of people—or perhaps even more—if you build upwards rather than outwards.

The noble Earl also said that it was not fair to take the figure of 50,000 acres a year as the loss up to 1947, as Dr. Dudley Stamp had done. The noble Earl gave us a figure of 30,000 acres a year; but he took the three years during which the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and other Ministries have been getting into their stride, and during which the Service Departments were returning land to agriculture as fast as they could. But I am not going to quarrel with the noble Earl's figures. All I would say is that if only we could have an annual return showing what has been taken, and where, there need be no quarrel about figures. We ought to know exactly where we stand and what is happening to the country's land. I hope the noble Earl will pass that view on to his colleagues in the land-spending Departments.

The noble Earl also told us of some of the battles that he had won. I am glad to hear that he has won some battles—but those battles ought never to have taken place, because the land-spending Departments ought never to have cast "sheep's eyes" at the land which the Minister of Agriculture wanted to keep. One of the arguments that I used was that the saving of land starts before the spending Departments get their fingers on it at all. Half these battles the Minister of Agriculture ought never to have to fight. There will be a number of cases in which development must be within a definitely limited area; but in the case of new towns, surely it could be made clear that good agricultural land must not in any circumstances be taken. I hope the noble Earl will impress on his colleagues the importance that we on this side of the House attach to the use of land in this country. I hope that this debate may possibly awaken people in the country as a whole to the need for considering this question in the light more particularly of the food situation, and still more particularly in the light of the figures which the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, has given us. I do not propose to press my Motion and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.