HL Deb 27 February 1951 vol 170 cc594-615

2.39 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill which I hope will give the House considerable satisfaction. Its purpose is to give effect to the Government's long-term proposals for increasing our home-produced meat supplies by better use of marginal land. The House will remember that these proposals were announced by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture in another place last July. To put them briefly, they were, first, to provide a further £5,000,000 for the continuation of grants for hill farming improvement schemes under the Hill Farming Act, 1946; secondly to provide £10,000,000 for the extension of these schemes to upland areas; and, thirdly and finally, to continue for five more years the subsidies for hill sheep and hill cattle paid under that Act.

As your Lordships know, the possibilities of obtaining more meat from marginal land has for the past year been occupying the attention of farmers, land owners, scientists and, not least, the Government. In addition to investigations undertaken by the National Farmers' Unions, the land owners' associations and prominent agricultural scientists, the problem has been the subject of extremely useful debate, both in this House and in another place. For the past year, too, in particular, the Government have been making a very thorough investigation into the possibilities of improving the stockcarrying capacity of this land, with particular attention to the cost of improvement in relation to the likely increase in output. I should like to acknowledge now that, in this investigation, they have been assisted to a considerable extent by a Working Party of experts and officials of the Agricultural Departments.

The term "marginal land" has been used in many different senses, but I think it will be agreed that when we refer to this kind of land we are referring primarily to land mainly in the hill areas of the country, lying between the true hill farming land, used for rearing hardy kinds of sheep, and the lowland areas, producing fat stock, milk and crops. This land is pre-eminently suited to the rearing of store cattle and sheep, and for this reason we refer to it in this Bill as "livestock rearing land" rather than as marginal land. There is no doubt that at the present time we are not getting anywhere near the production possible from this type of land. This is easily explained by the economic difficulties of these mar-ginal producers over a long period of time. Before the last war, the hill and upland areas suffered from severe depression. Since the war, farmers have profited considerably from our post-war agricultural policy, but the position of hill and upland farmers has not improved as much as the rest of agriculture. Of course, the guaranteed prices paid for fat cattle and sheep are to some extent, though not wholly, reflected in the prices which hill farmers receive for their store cattle and sheep; but the fact is, as your Lordships who are acquainted with this type of farming are fully aware, that they do not receive the full direct benefits. One ought also to remember that this type of land produces very few cash crops.

The first big attempt to deal with the problem of upland areas was the Hill Farming Act of 1946. As your Lord-ships will recollect, members of this House took no small part in formulating the provisions of that Act. Noble Lords will remember that it was largely based on the recommendations of the Committees on Hill Sheep Farming for England and Wales and for Scotland, which were under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, respectively. I need hardly remind you that the main purpose of this Act was to rehabilitate the country's hill sheep farms. Provision was made for grants, at the rate of half the cost to the farmer, to carry out sufficiently comprehensive improvements to restore the farms and make them sound economic units. Our hill farmers have taken full advantage of this assistance, and although there is still a year to go before the first five-year period is ended, schemes already approved or under consideration at the moment are estimated to cost some £9,000,000. This more than accounts for the £4,000,000 already provided for the grants. The subsidies for hill sheep and cattle have also been of great benefit to that type of farming. Whilst the Hill Farming Act of 1946 has been of great value in the long-term rehabilitation of our hill farms, however, it has enabled us only to start tackling the main problem. Although it dealt with the larger part of the upland areas, it did not, as your Lordships will remember, cover the lower slopes adjoining the hill farms, and the potentialities of meat production on this type of land, which is often of better quality and more favourably situated than hill farming land proper, are of course much greater. From the careful investigations we have made, we believe that there are between 3,500,000 and 4,000,000 acres of livestock rearing land in this country—that, of course, means Scotland, as well as England and Wales— apart from the land included under the Hill Farming Act. This land could produce a great deal more, with the help of similar improvements to those for which assistance is available under that Act. We therefore propose in this Bill to make available on similar terms grants to those who will undertake comprehensive improvement schemes.

These schemes may cover as many as twenty-three different kinds of improvement. They include the erection or repair of farmhouses, cottages and farm buildings, construction of roads and bridges, the provision of water and electricity supplies, the improvement of grazing, drainage and fencing and the planting of shelter belts, all things which. I think your Lordships will agree, may need to be done in order to make hill farming operations successful. I have emphasised that these schemes must be sufficiently comprehensive to ensure the rehabilitaiion of the land for hill fanning purposes. This principle will also apply to the new schemes for improving livestock rearing land, and your Lordships may therefore wish me to give some explanation of the Government's reasons for sticking to this principle. While it is true that limited works of improvement might increase the productive capacity of the land, whatever the improvements were, a scheme might not be an economic proposition if certain essential improvements were left undone. Clearly, it would be unreasonable for the Government, as the trustee of public funds, to agree to a scheme consisting of a random choice of improvements that happened to appeal to the promoters but that could not be justified as being sufficiently well planned to provide an economic return on the capital invested in the farm. It is therefore reasonable that any scheme should be comprehensive if it is to attract public money on such a wide range of improvements and at the comparatively high rate of grant proposed.

It may, of course, be said that this condition deters some farmers from undertaking schemes. I do not think that that is, in fact, the case, or that it has been the experience in times past. The Departments do not require that the scheme should include improvements which are merely desirable; they insist only on those that are really essential. I have already pointed out the fact that the estimated cost of schemes approved or under consideration at the moment in the United Kingdom is some £9,000,000, the grant on which would be considerably more than the £4,000,000 at present available. That hardly bears out the contention that owners and occupiers have been frustrated by this condition.

Your Lordships will note that in Clause 3 of the Bill we propose to increase the maximum Exchequer contribution from the limit of £4,000,000 under the Hill Farming Act, 1946, to £20,000,000. Whilst we do not propose that there should be any precise allocation of grants between the different kinds of livestock rearing land, we think it will probably work out in this way: that this sum of £20,000,000—which, your Lordships will agree, is a very large sum for capital investment under presentday conditions-will be split equally between hill farming land and the other livestock rearing land farther down the hill That means that the £5,000,000 which was originally to be provided under the Hill Farming Act, plus this additional £5,000,000, will be spent on hill farming land and the remaining £10,000,000 upon stock rearing land. This £10,000,000 will not, of course, be sufficient to rehabilitate all the 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 acres to which I have just referred. If the average expenditure on improvements were about £20 an acre, it would be sufficient to provide only for 50 per cent. grant towards the improvement of 1,000,000 acres—about a quarter of the total area of land. We must therefore see that the available funds will the used to the best possible advantage; and in this connection we intend to rely, as we have done in so many other respects, on the judgment of the agricultural executive committees, the members of which have a thorough knowledge of local conditions which makes their guidance in these matters of the greatest value.

Before turning to the detailed provisions of the Bill—I will not go deeply into them; your Lordships have read the Bill and are aware of what it contains—I should like to say one or two words about the subsidy schemes for hill sheep and cattle. Under Clause: 6, we propose that the subsidies which, under the provisions of the Hill Farming Act, are due to expire next year, should be continued for an additional five years. Let me say at once, in case there is any possible misunderstanding, that it is not proposed to extend this subsidy to sheep or cattle grazed in areas outside the scope of the Hill Farming Act. We propose only that the subsidy should be payable under the same conditions as before; that is to say, on hardy ewe flocks kept on mountain and hill land suitable only for hardy breeds of sheep, while the hill cattle subsidy will be payable on cattle grazed on similar land or rough upland grazing. The rates of the hill sheep subsidy under the Hill Farming Act vary from year to year, according to the economic circumstances of the farmers. In 1948, after the disasters of the winter of 1946–47, it was 16s. per ewe, while last year it was only 5s. Numbers of sheep have increased steadily from that time, but the subsidy is still needed to keep this essential industry in being. So far as we can see, however, looking into the future, and subject, of course, to there being no further disasters due to climatic or other conditions, this subsidy may be no longer needed at the end of the five-year period envisaged in the Bill. Its withdrawal within the near future would be a serious blow to our hill farmers, as I am sure your Lordships will agree.

So far as the hill cattle subsidy in England and Wales and Northern Ireland is concerned, it is paid at two rates —the higher rate on breeding cows and heifers, and the lower on other stock summered on hill land. In Scotland, the subsidy is paid only on breeding cows and heifers, the object being to encourage the establishment of breeding herds of hardy cattle on hill and upland farms. The objects of the subsidy in England and Wales are different from those of the subsidy in Scotland. They are, first, to in-crease the number of cattle on the hills; secondly, to encourage the summering of cattle in the hills, and thereby make room for more cattle in the lowlands; and, thirdly, to improve hill grazing. In England and Wales, the county agricultural executive committees, who act as the Minister's agents in administering the subsidy, have discretion to require that up to 60 per cent. of the subsidy is spent on improvements to hill land. Your Lordships may like to know that, since the subsidy was started, over £1,000,000 must have been spent in such improvements to hill land, so I hope that your Lordships will agree to the extension of these subsidies for another five years.

I should like to turn to some of the main conditions of the Bill, but I will be as brief as possible, because at this stage, I do not think your Lordships would wish to go into great detail. Clause 1 is extremely important. It ex-tends the classes of land for the benefit of which hill farming improvement schemes may be approved, as compared with the 1946 Act, substituting the expression "livestock rearing land" for the term "hill farming land" in that Act. We intend that any land will be eligible for grant, so long as it lies within an area consisting predominantly of mountain or heath and provided—and this requirement is important, because it is the second condition for receiving the grant—that the land is suitable for little else than the breeding or rearing of cattle or sheep. The purpose of the proposed grants is to encourage the production of store sheep and store cattle in land in the upland areas which is best suited for this and so to help increase the amount of homeproduced meat. We hope that the provisions of the Bill will encourage those farmers on marginal and hill land who went into milk production on rather unsuitable farms during the war to return now to stock-rearing activities, for which their farms are better suited. I do not mean that a farm which is rearing sheep or cattle will be disqualified because it produces some milk or milk products for sale, provided that this activity does not form the major part of the farming enterprise.

Such areas as the downs and heath lands of Southern and Eastern England are excluded from the provisions of the Bill, but little of this land can be said to be suitable only for stock rearing. Also, much of this land requires a different agricultural system from the true stock breeding land in the upland areas. Nor is it proposed to bring within the scope of the Bill these areas of land in lowland districts which can be described as marginal land. These constitute only a small proportion of the total amount of marginal land in the country, and consist of pockets of land, in different counties, of varying size, character and situation. The problems relating to these stretches of land are often quite different from those of the stock rearing land covered by the Bill. Most of them are, or with improvement could be made, suitable for activities other than stock rearing, and assistance for their improvement for these purposes is already available under the Marginal Production Scheme.

Clause 2, which is important, extends for another live years the period granted under the Hill Farming Act. Clause 3 is also important. It provides for the maximum sum of £4,000,000 available for grants under the Hill Farming Act to be increased to £20,000,000 and, in addition, provides for the maximum amount of grant to be increased, by Order, by £2,000,000. Clause 6 gives the hill sheep and hill cattle subsidies a further lease of life for five years. Clause 4, which I think is worth your Lordships' attention, provides that improvement grants may be paid upon a contribution made by a person under an agreement under Section 10 of the Highways (Provision of Cattle Grids) Act. 1950. to the cost incurred by the highway authority of installing a grid on a public road, if the grid is required in connection with an improvements scheme. I mention this point because the provision was made as a result of an assurance given in this House during the passage of the Highways (Provision of Cattle Grids) Bill last year. If the contribution is repaid by the Highway Authority, the grant will have to be returned to the Exchequer.

Clause 7 is of interest and importance to certain farmers in certain parts of the country. It deals with the control of rams and at this stage of the Bill I will not go into details about this clause—I hope that I am not breaking the hearts of certain noble Lords who may be gravely afflicted by the depredations of scrub rams, bur I think such noble Lords will be in a minority. Clauses 9 and 10 are important because they deal with the delegation of Minister's functions to Agriculture Executive Committees. Your Lordships will agree that as much authority as possible should be delegated from the centre to the local representatives of the Minister of Agriculture.

I have done my best to make the main provisions of the Bill as clear as I can. It is a short Bill, but this is a subject which I know your Lordships will agree is of vital importance, both to the consumer and to the agricultural producer. By means of this Bill we hope to become, as time goes on, less dependent on overseas supplies of meat than we are now, and at the same time to make a worth-while contribution to the improvement of social conditions in the upland areas of this country. The success of our efforts will depend largely on the co-operation that we receive from the farmers and land owners concerned. I am sure this co-operation will be forthcoming in full measure, as it has already been in the case of the Hill Farming Act. In partner-ship with them we should like to help the people in these remote rural areas to achieve the better living conditions which prosperity will bring, and at the same time to enable them to make their contribution, which I know they all wish to make, towards a larger and more dependable supply of meat. I beg to move that the Bill be read a Second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Earl of Listowel)

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends on this side of the House may I briefly welcome this Bill? If it had come a little earlier and gone a little further perhaps our welcome would have been even warmer than it is. Your Lordships can feel that we have contributed a good deal to the production of this legislation. In many agricultural debates, both of a general character and on the subject of hill farms, noble Lords on all sides have urged on the Government the possibility of increasing our meat supply by the development of the resources of our marginal land. However, I should be sorry if, through our giving praise to this Bill, it were concluded that we were entirely happy about its extent. The noble Earl who placed the Bill so clearly before your Lordships himself made the point that it could at most deal with only a quarter of the land in question. It would be a pity if it went out from this House that we were satisfied with that effort, or that we should not like to see the financial provisions extended at an early date. Certainly, if noble Lords hope that through this Bill we shall become less dependent on unreliable overseas sources for our meat supplies, then the sooner it is extended the better.

For my part, too. I wish that there were rather fewer restrictions in the Bill. It is true that the Government have come down the hill a little: we started with hill farms, and now we have come down to the uplands. But I believe that there is a great deal of marginal land, land which is neither hill land nor upland, that could properly be reclaimed for the benefit of food production in this country. There are also in the Bill a number of administrative limitations. The noble Earl mentioned the words, "the demands of comprehensive schemes." It is true that in the Report connected with the name of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, there is reference to what are called "comprehensive schemes"; but in the Report of the Committee of which I was Chairman we spoke of the need for "co-ordinated schemes"—we felt that the word "comprehensive" went rather far. Even without the experience that we have had over recent years I should still feel it desirable to have co-ordinated schemes. But we have seen the Hill Farming Act working, and I do not think there can be much doubt, in spite of what the noble Earl has said, that it has acted somewhat as a deterrent, particularly on the smaller man, where that effect is least desired.

Perhaps when we issued these Reports we tended to assume that these lands were in great estates, with their agents, offices, and so on, where it would be simple for people to prepare comprehensive and co-ordinated schemes. But, looking back, I should be prepared to go back on the words which I urged on my colleagues in making that Report, and to be rather less determined in the demand for co-ordinated schemes, particularly from small farmers. I am not proposing to move an Amendment on this point, because I believe the best way of dealing with the problem now is for His Majesty's Government to take note of what has been said, both in another place and in your Lordships' House, and to endeavour to deal with the matter by administrative circulars asking agricultural executive committees not to take too strict a view of the meaning of those words. That is all I wish to say about the Bill. It is unnecessary for me to go into detail, because the Bill has been fully discussed in another place, and has been placed before your Lordships fully and carefully by the noble Earl. I should simply like to bless the Bill on behalf of my colleagues who sit with me on this side of the House.

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to declare an interest in this matter, in that I have a stock rearing farm in the Chilterns, although I do not think I shall be eligible for a grant under this scheme. I, in common with my noble friend Lord De La Warr, welcome this Bill—indeed, any of your Lordships would welcome a measure which is designed to increase production from our marginal land. In these days, when the weekly carcase meat ration is only six-pennyworth a head, a measure which will help to increase our livestock is one of considerable importance. One thing, however, is quite clear—namely, that this Bill will have no substantial result unless it is well administered. Delays in answering applications and making grants will do much to damage the object of the Bill. Possibly a particular case over which there may have been some delay may not be one of great difficulty, either in the area of land involved, or in the amount of grant asked, but the matter will have a much wider repercussion. Other possible applicants may see the difficulties which their neighbours have encountered in getting their grants quicky; they will see the endless time and trouble involved in making these applications, and, as a result, they may not apply—and in a good many cases they may be just the people who are in need of such a scheme as this.

Recently, I have had brought to my notice two examples of administrative delay in similar schemes. In the first case a landowner applied for a reconditioning grant under the Housing Act, 1949. Exactly one year after he put in his original application, and after an enormous amount of correspondence, telephone calls, and endless waste of time, he finally got his grant. In the second case a farmer applied for a grant under the marginal land scheme to clear a certain piece of land on his farm. The land was inspected by the local district agricultural committee, who pronounced it—although they were not entitled so to do—a reasonable scheme. Then there was silence. The farmer did not want to see the land remain derelict for yet another harvest, and after some months —incidentally, remembering the exhortations of the Minister of Agriculture to produce more food—he decided to clear the land himself. He did so, and planted a crop and harvested it. Some time after that he was notified by the Ministry of Agriculture that his application for a grant had been refused, because he had started the scheme before he had official approval. That is the sort of delay which prevents these Acts operating effectively. I hope the noble Earl, when he winds up the debate, will give a firm assurance that this measure will be administered quickly and efficiently.

There is one question that I should like to ask the noble Earl—and I apologise for not giving him prior notice of it. During the Second Reading in another place the Minister said (Column 828, of Hansard, December 11): However, I ought to say that the production of milk and milk products, such as butter, cheese or cream, on a farm devoted mainly to stock rearing, or which could properly be so used, will not disqualify it for assistance if the suggested improvements are for stock-rearing purposes. That statement is fairly clear. But is the reverse true? If there is a proposal to rear livestock on a farm which is devoted to milk production, will that farm then qualify for the grant? From the way in which the Minister framed his words in the speech to which I have just referred, it would appear that that is not so. If that view is correct, I think it is a great pity. After all, what the country wants at present is meat; and if the farm happens to be in a mountain, hill or heath area, and qualifies under the words of the Act, then L feel that it should qualify for assistance, regardless of whether or not it produces milk. It is possible that a large proportion of the farm may be undeveloped, and that some of the land will be of a poorer quality than that from which milk is produced.

I was also rather disturbed to see, a little further down in the same column, that the Minister said: … although land may be situated in an area consisting predominantly of mountain, hill, or heath, it will not be eligible unless it consists of land which, even after improvement, is suitable for little more than the raising of store cattle and sheep. Areas like the Chilterns, the Cotswolds, the Downs, the heaths in the south and south-west of England would, in general, all be ruled out on that score. I can assure the noble Earl that a good deal of the land which the Minister has included in that survey is fit for nothing else but rearing store cattle and sheep. I can also assure him that if, after the next Election, when he is again a private citizen and wants to take up farming, he attempts to fatten cattle on my bit of the Chilterns, the only thing he will finish is himself.

There is one final point which I should like to mention. When the Minister introduced this Bill in another place he gave this reason for his assumption: We must look to increased production in the hill areas to help make good the steady loss of good agricultural land for housing, schools, new towns, playing fields and similar non-agricultural developments. Every year we fritter away about 50,000 acres of good agricultural land for development purposes, and in order to make good that loss of food production we are prepared to spend £28,000,000 on growing food on land which is nothing like so suitable and, nothing like so productive. We often hear that good agricultural land is built upon because it is much more expensive to build on land of poorer type. That may well be true, but I believe that if you are interested in food production the way to get your food is to spend £28,000,000 on the poor land and save the good agricultural land for producing food. The noble Earl did not use the argument advanced by the Minister in another place as a reason for introducing the Bill. If I thought that the Bill was introduced to offset the loss of food production caused by the reckless extravagance and waste of Government Departments and local authorities, then I could not possibly support it. The right way to stop that loss is by stopping the waste and extravagance, and not by introducing a Bill of this kind. However, I believe that this Bill has been introduced in a genuine attempt to help the hill farmer and the marginal farmer, and as such I welcome it.

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I have always advocated spending more money on increasing the productivity of land in this country, and I was glad to welcome the Hill Farming Act which started the good work on the hill tops. I believe that in this matter of meat production we should start upon the job of rehabilitating the land of this country, because it is obvious, that when you are increasing your meat production you must commence with your store cattle and, therefore, you must start on the worst land. If your policy is to be successful, within a limited time you must carry the policy further down the hillside and out into the plains. But the important point in these matters is to put first things first and start where the beast is reared, and then later on carry out the improvements in the lower parts of the countryside where the cattle will have to go to get fattened.

The main thing we must do in this matter is to make certain that the Treasury is generous enough in providing the money for the schemes. Like the noble Earl, I have always felt that something could be done in this respect, and that the importance of improving the land of this country has not been fully realised. As the years go by it is becoming clearer and clearer that the reasons for improving the land of this country are becoming of greater and greater force. Let us take a few examples. In the matter of defence, I know that if one were to ask any Admiral —either British or American—what he thought would be the best protection for this country in time of war, he would say that it would be by this country not having to keep vast food convoys perpetually crossing the oceans, bringing the necessities of life to keep our people alive. It ought to be possible to calculate exactly how many escort vessels and how much effort would be saved by an increase in the food production of this country, and careful account should be taken of that in pressing the demands that the Ministry of Agriculture must make upon the Treasury.

Let us take another matter. The population of the world is, as we know, steadily increasing—almost alarmingly. The ability of the citizens of the world to buy meat is also increasing. There is an enormous demand in the world—not merely a potential, but an actual, effective demand—for meat products, and the meat exporting countries are every year exporting less meat because more of their meat is being eaten at home. We in this country are the biggest meat importers in the world. Even as things stand at the moment, we are importing something like three times as much meat as any other country imports. In those circumstances, if the amount of meat exported by the exporting countries decreases by any perceptible amount, or if the countries who import meat increase their demands at all, we shall be in a very difficult position, as indeed we are now. Unless by some miracle some form of world price control of meat appears—and that does not appear very likely, to say the least of it —there will be a steady bidding up of meat prices all over the world; therefore the Ministry of Agriculture and the Treasury should not consider merely what it is profitable to produce in this country now; they should be considering what it may be profitable to produce in this country in the future. The whole levels of profitability are clearly altering, and we must take due account of them.

Apart from the economic argument—important as that argument is—the fact is that we should farm the land of this country better. It is good for a man to dig his garden, even if in point of fact he might be able to get better flowers by working overtime in a factory and going and buying them. And it is good for a country, for its morale, and for its men, to farm its own land; and the further we can push this policy in these marginal lands of ours the better. I am afraid 1 could not follow the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in the matter of the siting of towns. I personally think it would be a marked economic loss to this country—apart from what would be said about a dictatorial Government—if we had to build all our towns on the tops of hills or even a little further down.


There is a good deal of heath land, for instance in Surrey, on which we could build, since it is not good agricultural land.


I know there are disputes over this question and I know that there are areas of less good land which could be used for building. I am entirely aware of that point. I am not sure whether the noble Lord has ever sat on any of the committees concerned with this matter; if he has he will know that, usually, in the end, you find yourself building on the good land because there is no poor land in a suitable position. That is the tragedy of this matter. But, quite apart from that, this policy of improving our land by large Treasury grants is obviously the right one at the moment; and as we have started well on the hill tops, and have now pushed our activities a little further down the slopes, I hope that in welcoming this Bill to-day we shall also express our wish that there will be introduced at a later date a further Bill, taking us, so to speak, a little further down the valley.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I had hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, who speaks with such experience on a subject of this kind, would be in his place to-day. As he is not, and as the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, is also unable to be present, it falls to me, as a mere Lowlander, to try to say something on behalf of Scotland in regard to this Bill. In the first place, I welcome, as all noble Lords who have spoken have welcomed, this attempt to create more livestock in this country. But, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has already pointed out, there is a danger that the schemes adumbrated in this Bill may, through their comprehensiveness—and the noble Earl who introduced the Bill rather stressed their comprehensiveness—defeat to some extent the aim of the Bill. I was extremely interested in what Lord De La Warr said with regard to co-ordination rather than comprehensiveness; I feel that it is important to spread these benefits and opportunities as far as possible, rather than concentrate them upon one individual effort. In that way they may, perhaps, bring better financial results.

The noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of the Bill mentioned the fact that the Minister, in introducing the subject in July last, stressed the point about the economic result; and the same element is brought into this Bill. If these schemes are to be appraised only or mainly on their economic value, I think we shall fail to get the best results. I am sure your Lordships will admit that these upland farms which, perhaps, have poor buildings and meagre equipment, are just those farms which would give a return on expenditure of this kind. But, according to the Bill, those farms are likely to be excluded from consideration. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, spoke of the millions so far expended on this work as being an indication that already a great effect must have been produced upon these upland breeders. I think that that is not quite a sound argument. All it proves is that a large amount of money has been spent on This particular effort: but the whole of the money, or a large proportion of it. has been spent on one or two large schemes which provide opportunity for full comprehensive development and which will probably give a good return. But in the end it will be in distributing the benefit to the larger number of the smaller farms that we shall get the better return. I share Lord De La Warr's hope that in giving their instructions to those who will administer the Act the Government will impress upon them the importance of doing so with the widest possible sympathy.

There is one point that has not been touched on so far, and that is that there is apparently no altitude limit for the designation of what may be treated as livestock rearing ground—although it is laid down in the clause of definition that it must be "mainly mountainous,"or words to that effect. There are large areas, particularly in Scotland, which cannot be defined as either hill or lowland, which are marginal, and which may come within the limits of this Bill. I repeat that I hope that, in the administration of the Act, sympathy will be given to that aspect of the question. No one could have attended, as I did, the big sale about three weeks ago of Aberdeen Angus and Shorthorn beef cattle without being impressed by the strong desire of the farmers to acquire the best kind of bull for producing beef. The marked increase in the average price obtained at those sales came from the local buyers, not from buyers of animals for export. That, I think, is a good illustration of the intent of the farmer, if you give him the chance, to produce the goods. In giving a welcome to this Bill, I hope that the Government will not cease their good work but will continue it further.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this Bill. I personally cannot help sharing the feelings of other noble Lords as to the inadequacy of the sum involved, when compared with the great needs of the moment. In the situation as it was a year ago this Bill might have been considered an adequate contribution, but the situation is now completely altering. I hope that in the course of his reply the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will be able to give us some hint as to whether the Government have any "follow-ups," on a much larger scale to this measure. In my view a great many noble Lords, on both sides of this House, have the underlying feeling that the meat situation, and the general food situation, may be only a passing phase. I fully agree with the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, when he says that we should consider this position in the light of what, in the future, the comparative costs of overseas and home-produced meat and other produce may be.

Last week I had the privilege of talking with Mr. Gardiner, the Canadian Minister of Agriculture, before he went home; and, a short time before, I talked with Mr. Holland, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, whom I know. It is obvious that these countries will be asking more money, having much larger home markets, and they will not have so much to send to us, whatever price we pay. Apart from the purely economic consideration, it seems to me that for the health of this nation we need a much more Cobbett spirit as regards our own soil. One cannot, therefore, help being a little disappointed with this mere £20,000,000; and one hopes that this situation will be altered. The Bill represents a great start towards helping the store cattle areas. It is only very much of a beginning, however, and the Minister of Agriculture in another place has been sincere in calling it a modest Bill. We need more of the spirit of writers such as F. E. Green who wrote a book called The Awakening of England—some of your Lordships may know that work. I was pleased with one particular sentence which I read—and it relates to lowland as well as upland areas: The man who plants the Union Jack on a piece of land that was derelict in some home county, proud of having made it abundantly productive by his industry, would probably be regarded as a lunatic if he posed as an Empire-builder and yet this re-conquest of England's acres is surely as patriotic an act as the planting of a flag on some rocky waste at the other end of the world. Therefore, I would ask the Government, in the light of the present situation, whether they are really satisfied with a Bill of this scope.

It seems to me that the corollary of standing up to the Argentine, if it was Tight to do that in the way that the Government have done—and it may well be so—is the introduction of a vastly increased livestock rearing programme. There is no other corollary to an attitude of firmness—which may be right— towards our overseas suppliers than that we must have a far larger attack on our own ground. If we did have this much larger approach and attack, there would not be nearly so many arguments over the selection of schemes and over definitions. It is most noticeable that, with so little money available, and so many people wanting, if possible, to take part in this development of our own ground, a great amount of time has been wasted over this matter of definition and selection. There has already been a great deal of discussion in another place in this respect over the Bill. I cannot help thinking of Cobbett all the time—in the sort of situation in which our country finds itself. It seems to me that we shall get back to full life as a community only if we are prepared to balance up to the same extent agriculture and industry. The fact that the Dominions are eager for immigration, and larger home markets for their own food, is helping us with this opportunity.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to thank the House most warmly for the reception it has given this Bill; it will give useful encouragement to the people who have to work the Bill. It will help to make farmers and land owners in different parts of the country realise that it is their duty under the provisions of the Bill to try to produce meat and, for this purpose, to do their utmost to co-operate with their local agricultural executive committees and with us in the Ministry of Agriculture. This debate has shown that this is a matter which is quite neutral from the Party political point of view, and that all men of good will, to whatever Party they might belong, would be acting as good citizens if they tried to do their bit under the Bill.

May I briefly reply to some of the points that have been made? The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, whose absence at the moment I know we all regret—I understand that he is recovering from a bout of influenza—said that he was not satisfied about the financial provision proposed in the Bill, involving £10,000,000, for livestock rearing land. The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, who has just spoken from the Liberal Benches, shared his anxiety about the inadequacy of this measure of financial assistance. Briefly, the point is this. It is not entirely a question of money; it is a question of labour and materials. If we were to ask Parliament to vote a larger sum of money to help these upland farmers, we should be obliged, if they took advantage of this assistance, to divert labour and materials from other tasks, and from other tasks in agriculture, such as growing corn crops and other types of farming which are not less essential from the point of view of agricultural production. I need hardly remind noble Lords that our total volume of capital investment has to be allocated carefully for a number of purposes, including defence requirements, and that it is impossible for us to use a limited supply of labour and materials in all the ways that we should like. May I say next that I know how genuine is the interest of noble Lords opposite in agriculture, and I feel that the farmers themselves who are engaged in other types of farming would be the last people to wish us to devote more money and thereby to attract more labour and materials to upland farming?

Another point raised by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, was that he thought the comprehensiveness of these schemes was restrictive. As I said in my opening remarks, I do not think that in practice that has proved to be the case, because so many farmers have come forward with their schemes, in spite of this condition of comprehensiveness. All that I should like to say on this point is that I believe that it is as much in the interests of the farmers as it is of the Government, as trustees of public money, that these schemes should be economic. It would surely be unwise for a farmer to spend a lot of money on improving the access road if he did not at the same time re-seed and put fertiliser upon poor grassland so as to be able to carry enough stock to make his farm an economic proposition. It is in his interests, as well as in the interests of the public, that these hill farms should be developed as economic units, and should be able to make a full return, both in money and in meat, for whatever investment is put into them. That is the reason why we insist on this condition. It is not because we want to hamper or restrict people in any way, but simply that we want them to make the best possible use of public money.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in what was I thought a very thoughtful and constructive speech, made two important points. In the first place, he complained about administrative delays in the approval of schemes submitted. I am a little surprised at these complaints. I cannot help feeling that they arise only from a small number of cases, in view of the very large number of schemes; which have in fact been approved. As; your Lordships know, some £9,000,000 has been spent or mortgaged on these hill farming schemes, and this has involved the approval of something like. 5,000 schemes. I can assure the noble Lord that, so far as is humanly possible, there will be no unnecessary delay in the approval of schemes under this Bill when it becomes an Act. 1 shall be grateful to the noble Lord if he will give me particulars of any specific schemes to which his attention has been drawn. I cannot help thinking that these delays, are an exception, rather than the general rule.


Perhaps I did not make myself clear. The particular examples which I gave of delay in administration had nothing to do with, the Hill Farming Act I do not live anywhere near any area where that Act: applies, and I have no knowledge of the circumstances. My real point was that delay in administration negatives the result of the purposes of the Act, and I should like an assurance that the noble Earl will do his best to see that there are no such delays in future.


I am obliged to the noble Lord. As I said, if he can give any information of unnecessary delay in respect of any schemes; for which the Government are responsible through the agricultural executive committees, naturally I shall be very much obliged.

The other point that was made by the noble Lord was in regard to livestock rearing on dairy farms. What he asked, I think, was whether a farmer engaged mainly in producing dairy products would yet be eligible for grant under this Bill for livestock rearing purposes. The answer is, yes, provided that the farmer fulfils the necessary conditions. A livestock rearing scheme put up by a farmer who is engaged mainly in dairy farming would be eligible for grant, provided that his scheme was limited to improvements which would be used for livestock rearing. He would not be eligible if the scheme-was a dual-purpose scheme. I admit that that situation might cause difficulties.

For instance, if the farmer proposed to put up a farm building, such as a shed, that shed could equally well be used for dairy cattle as for beef cattle. Secondly, supposing he was going to build a road, that road might equally be useful to him from the point of view of driving his dairy cattle as from the point of view of driving his beef cattle. Those are cases which would not attract grant, because the scheme would be a dual-purpose scheme. But if he can show that the improvements he wants are improvements which will be to the benefit of his live-stock, whether cattle or sheep, then the scheme will attract grant.

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, made a most interesting and constructive speech from the point of view of Scotland. Your Lordships will have observed that my noble friend Lord Morrison was present, in case any points about Scotland were raised on which I had not been briefed by my Department. I may say that I was careful to consult with repre-sentatives of the Scottish Office before I attended this debate. I think I have already replied to his first point, about the comprehensiveness of schemes, except that I should like to emphasise that the schemes which have attracted grant under the Hill Farming Act have not been limited, as I believe he thought, to large farms. In all, about 25 per cent. of the total number of hill farms are covered by schemes under this Act. Of course, this is a cross-section; there are some small and some large farms. There is no foundation for the view that these grants have been paid only in the cases of people farming in a very large way. My Lords, I think I have covered most of the points raised in the debate. I am most grateful to the House for the welcome it has given to this Bill, and I shall welcome any co-operation that noble Lords care to offer me during the later stages of its passage.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.