§ 2.46 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the food situation in this country, it has any, and if so what, measures in mind to increase the production of food from our own soil; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I make no apology for introducing in your Lordships' House to-day the topic of our agricultural production and our food supplies. Indeed. I know of no place where such a subject can be more informatively discussed than in your Lordships' House. The number of names of noble Lords down to speak in this debate emboldens me to think that I have put down my Motion at an opportune time, especially 455 as the results of the recent Price Review were announced at the end of last week, so that your Lordships will be able to discuss this matter with that information at the back of your minds. I should first like to say that we welcome the fact that my noble friend Lord Carrington announced in your Lordships' House the result of the Price Review (I believe it is the first time that it has been announced here), and that gives me the opportunity of saying how much a number of us welcome the noble Lord in his present appointment. It is clear that with his great knowledge of agricultural problems, he is, if I may put it this way, a round peg in a round hole.
§ The importance of this topic needs no stressing in this House. Were we able, apart from the necessary tropical fruits, the tea and the coffee which we have to bring in, to grow all our foods in this country, how much better would be our economic position in the world! Last year, for instance, we imported £154,000,000 worth of wheat and wheat products; about £33,000,000 worth of barley, and about the same amount of maize; £90,000,000 worth of butter; £40,000,000 worth of cheese, and some £213,000,000 worth of meat and various meat products. A great part of this—most of the wheat, about two-thirds of the maize, and a considerable quantity of the meat—has to be purchased in currency other than sterling. It is, therefore. as vital now as it was in the days of the war that our agricultural industry should play its full part in providing from our own land all the food which can possibly be produced here. The difficulty is that it is not so easy to get that message through to the country in days of peace as it was in days of war. In days of war we could point out that if only farmers and farm workers could produce more here, there would be smaller losses of the officers and men of our Merchant Navy, who were so gallantly risking their lives in bringing the food supplies to our shores. It is more difficult to put it across to-day, and yet it is just as important now as it was then. Of course, owing to the help of our American and Canadian friends, and also, to some extent, of our Australian and New Zealand friends, finance was no great problem during the days of war. Nor was it a great problem immediately after the war, 456 when we were still made grants by Australia and New Zealand, when the American Loan had not been spent and when Marshall Aid was still in existence.
§ Now, once more, we have to stand completely on our own feet; and the most secure place on which to put your feet, if you have to stand on them, is on the soil of your own country. Whilst it is true to say that our export trade is our greatest foreign exchange earner, it is equally true to say that the produce of our own soil is our greatest foreign exchange saver. The main solution, of course, must rest in the hands of the farmers and the farm workers. It does not follow that because the farmers get increased prices for their product, or farm workers get increased wages for their work, of necessity more will be produced. Nevertheless, I think that the Government, and the Minister of Agriculture in particular, were right to agree to these new farm prices. After all, the greater part of the increase, if not the whole, has been caused by the increasing costs which for one reason or another the farmer has to bear.
§ The biggest rise is that for meat; and I think that that is right, because gone are the days when we could rely on vast quantities of imported meat which once so easily filled our larder. So we must give additional encouragement to those who produce meat for us here. But I hope that, in fixing future farm prices, one of the main objects which the Government will have in view is continuity. It may be easy for people at the Ministry of Food to put on pressure for an increased price for a particular commodity because it looks like falling into short supply; but it is wrong to put the accent on meat one year and on milk another, because in farming you cannot, if you are to get the best from the land, quickly turn over from one commodity to another.
§ It is my view that this Price Review can justify the description which the Minister gave to it: that is, a "just and constructive award." I hope that the Minister is right, too, in saying that it ought to help towards a significant improvement in the supply of home-produced food. I gather that the weekly rise of 1s. 6d. in the cost of living which was envisaged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he made his Budget speech took into account at any rate the 457 greater part of these increased prices which we shall have to pay to our own farmers. I certainly hope that that is so, for it is as important to keep the pound stable at home as it is to keep the pound stable overseas. If the steady increase of costs is not stopped we shall soon find ourselves in the position that we cannot sell the greater part of our goods overseas. Then the crash will really occur, and people will be forced to realise that we can no longer maintain some 50,000,000 people on the present standard of living in this small island of ours. I wish that this fact could be fully brought home genertilly to our people, because without harder work on the part of all we, as a nation, are bound to drift more and more into poverty. I hope, too, that all will realise that the greatest efforts must be made to get every acre of land producing the utmost of which it is capable. Here, in my view, the Government can give a better lead than their predecessors did or than they themselves have done so far; and I am going to suggest one or two ways in which they can do this
§ The first step, surely, is to see that no more agricultural land is taken for purposes other than food production. Dr. Dudley Stamp has estimated that if the present requirements for housing, mineral development and other purposes for which land is liable to be taken are added together, they will take from agricultural production something between another 500,000 and 2,500,000 acres. And houses are still going up on agricultural land where other land on which food crops cannot be grown could be used. Several of our new towns are cases in point. I am not sure whether it is now too late to shift some of these; but any other ventures of this sort ought surely to be put on sandy soil, which is quite good for housing and which is pretty hopeless for growing good crops.
§ Moreover, at this time of crisis we ought to put sentiment aside. I noticed that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, in answering a Question in this House today, said, in regard to one airfield, "It is on common land." Well, my Lords, I believe that the time has come when we should look closely at the use to which some of this common land is being put. We have between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 acres of common land in this country, and a great deal of it is never used by any- 458 one. The commoners nowadays do not use their ancient rights upon much of it. I am not talking about the central common around which an old village is built, where the common is used for the weekly football or cricket match. I am not referring to that kind of palace at all. That has a valuable function. But there are many common lands on which no building is allowed to take place and on which crops are allowed to be grown only until December, 1954, when the Minister's powers under the Defence Regulations run out. I should like that matter fully looked into. I think those lands ought to be rented from the commoners and put into full use either for housing sites or, if they can produce decent crops, for food production. If the rents were paid into the local village funds, the trustees—the local village council, or something of that sort—could with the money build a new village hall or provide some extra amenities in the village. I believe that in that way the country, the commoners and the villagers would be far better off.
§ Another way in which our agricultural land is being taken away, and in an increasing quantity every year, is for new schools and their playing fields. I believe that this is a matter which also has to be carefully watched. I have never seen the playing fields of one of these schools carrying sheep upon them. Sheep keep down grass far better than a mechanical mowing machine does. I happened to be sent to what some people think was quite a good school, and those who were there will remember that when we came back from Agar's Plough or South Meadow, where we had been playing football and where the sheep had been running, we came back a little soiled, but it did us no harm. There seems to me to be no reason to deny the privilege of "getting down to earth" to those who attend elementary or secondary schools. Otherwise we shall create a kind of class distinction between them and those who go to the public schools, over whose playing fields the sheep are allowed to browse.
§ There is one other point to which wish to draw your Lordships' attention in regard to the wasteful use of land, and suggest that it is something which should immediately be stopped. There is at least one company that calls itself a "turf and loam company," which is now buying up agricultural land and skimming off all 459 the good fertile soil. This particular company has just bought forty-six acres near Bletchingley. I am told that they have been taking off the soil to a depth of eighteen inches or two and a half feet—of course, making that ground completely derelict from the agricultural point of view. I do not know where they sell the soil—I suppose either to people for window boxes or perhaps for suburban gardens. But I do not think we can afford to lose agricultural ground in that kind of way. I am told that in another place at about this moment a Bill called the Agricultural Land (Restriction on Sale of Soil) Bill is being introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule. I do not know the terms of the Bill because, of course, it has not as yet been ordered to be printed by either House, but I hope that, if it is a good Bill, the Government will see their way to adopt it and give time for it, because this is a kind of abuse which we had better nip in the bud pretty quickly.
§ In the past, and for all I know they may be doing it to-day, the worst offenders in taking agricultural land were the Service Departments. In the flush of a rearmament campaign, they have a chance of getting away with more than they otherwise might. In my view, the Army has now sufficient land for its purposes. If it needs any more, it should form its new ranges or practice grounds on our heathland and moor country, and not on agricultural land. In regard to the Royal Air Force, although I realise that, by and large, the faster the machine, the longer the runway it needs to get off the around, I suggest that when we have machines of a speed that will take them to Rome in just over a couple of hours, the tactical situation of an airfield is not as important as it was for slower planes. Therefore, when extensions are being made to runways to take new planes, those airfields where the extension will cause least damage to agricultural interests can well be selected.
§ Finally, I come to perhaps a slightly more controversial point on this topic. I begin by saying this. We all know that coal is vital to our prosperity, but I ask the question: Is not agriculture just as vital? If so, why are men bona fide engaged in agriculture called up for National Service when nobody would think of calling up the coal miners in a similar fashion? I know that some may 460 say that there ought to be equality of sacrifice; but let us see what we are doing when we call up for National Service the men who work on our farms. First, we are showing them a side of life which, when their military service is over, may attract them to the towns and make them reluctant to return to the more humdrum rural life with which previously they were content. Secondly, we are spending considerable sums of money training men for military service, the greater number of whom no one would think of calling away from the land in time of war. Whether or not the men had been trained as Service personnel we could not afford to denude our countryside at such a time and thereby have to import more food and supplies, and lose our ships, and officers and men of the Merchant Navy in doing so. I hope Her Majesty's Government will give some consideration to these matters, because I believe that if they were dealt with there would be a psychological effect. Until these matters are tackled, people are inclined to think that all this talk of needing more food production is not, after all, so vital.
§ My Lords, it is vital to increase our own supplies, not only on economic grounds, but also on supply grounds, because a number of our former food suppliers are now using for themselves considerably more of the food they produce, and so have less to send to these shores. Australia is a case in point—I am setting aside the severe drought which, unfortunately, that country is suffering at the present moment. I think we all sympathise with the people of Australia, and particularly the farmers, who are losing so much of their stock owing to drought conditions. But apart from that, the food produce coming to us from that country is paid for at a price agreed between our Government and theirs. Naturally, the Ministry of Food, backed up by the Treasury try to get the prices fixed at as low a level as is reasonably possible. What is happening is that that food will sell for more in Australia itself than under the prices fixed here. Indeed, it will sell for more if exported elsewhere in the world. The obvious result is that we are getting less and less, and the only way of dealing with that situation is so far as we can to make ourselves independent, and to produce more and more ourselves. There are probably some 461 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 acres of marginal land in this country which can still be brought into some kind of agricultural use, and I hope the Government are directing a great deal of their efforts to this end. I myself very much welcome the reintroduction of the fertiliser sub-sidy. I am certain that it is a move in the right direction; it is that kind of subsidy which helps in regard to this marginal land. So is the ploughing-up sub-sidy. I am a little more doubtful about the feeding-stuffs subsidy, although there may be good reasons for retaining this as well.
§ One of the things I should like to see looked into and tried again is some kind of exemption to farmers from the incidence of tax on the petrol they use for agricultural purposes. I know that this has been tried before, and was abandoned for administrative reasons. But it is done in a number of other countries, and if it can be done there why cannot it he done here? It is done, wholly or in part, in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Eire, France, Canada, the United States of America, New Zealand, and even by our own Colonial Office and its Government in Tanganyika; and it has been done here for years in regard to the vessels which fish around our coasts.
§ What is the effect of the tax? Apart from the additional cost which it lays on farmers (and presumably that is reflected in the Price Review), it also has the result that the sensible man buys a new tractor which is driven not on petrol but on diesel oil, or other oils heavier than petrol, and on which he pays no tax. The result is that you cannot get as much interchangeability in manufacture between engine parts as you would have if the manufacturers could still go on supplying petrol engines for agricultural machinery. If we were to come to war, where would the shortage in the field of oil supply be? It would be in the oils vitally necessary for propelling jet aircraft, which are just the oils that are now being used by the sensible man for his agricultural production. Therefore, my Lords, I suggest that this matter ought to be looked into anew by Her Majesty's Government.
§ The Minister of Agriculture has already said that his long-term plan will be announced in due course, and I am certain that when it comes it will show 462 that the Government are not only determined to put a stop, except in rare instances, to the taking away for other purposes of good agricultural land but also propose to do something to encourage the bringing into cultivation of more of our marginal land. Further, I hope that they will do something to see that really bad farmers can be got rid of. In days gone by, the good landlord took steps to get rid of a bad farmer. He can no longer do that. At the present moment, so far as I can see, nobody is doing it. There are a great many keen young men, who have gone through our extremely good agricultural colleges, who are ready and willing to take over a farm, and they should be given a chance to take over the farms which are not being farmed properly by some of the men at present in occupation.
§ I know that my noble friend Lord Woolton, whom I succeeded as Minister of Food, is as well aware as I am, or any other of your Lordships, of the utmost importance, whether in war or in peace, of getting the most produced from the land of this country. I welcome the fact that he is to take part in our debate today and I am confident that in his present position he will show the same energy on the food front now as he did when, for three and a half years during the war, he served the country so well as Minister of Food. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I am sure the House will agree that we have listened to a full and accurate survey of the food situation, and to a number of practical suggestions about increasing food production which deserve the most careful consideration of the Government. If I may say so, I think the noble Lord's speech was all the more acceptable because his eyes strayed for hardly a moment from the real target in a Party direction.
There was one matter to which the noble Lord did not refer but which I regard as of some importance. We are at a slight disadvantage in this debate in not having before us the information which the White Paper promised by the Minister of Agriculture would give. I realise that it is impossible to get out all the figures immediately after an agreement with the farmers is reached, 463 but I am sure it would be better for the Government, for Parliament and for the public, if the information in the White Paper could be released as near as possible to the time of the announcement. I should like to ask the Government to consider whether it might not be possible in future years to postpone the announcement until the White Paper is ready. I know, of course, that this could not have been done this year. I do not in the least blame the Government for their procedure and I make no complaint now, except to say that the absence of the White Paper does impose certain limitations on the debate this afternoon. The lack of the necessary information—which we shall soon have—makes it impossible for us to form more than a tentative opinion about the Price Review or the developments in agricultural policy which it foreshadows. I do not think that any Party or person can form a final judgment about these matters until the White Paper is available. What I shall try to do to-day is to ask the Government for whatever further information they may be in a position to give, to make some suggestions about policy and some comments on the Price Review. I hope that the Government may perhaps be willing to take these suggestions into consideration before they decide about their long-term policy for agriculture, and I venture to hope, also, that we may have another agricultural debate in this House after the White Paper has been published and as soon as the Government are more prepared with their own plans for the future of agriculture.
There is one quite different matter, which I think can be discussed more satisfactorily this afternoon—I refer to the new machinery which has been set up by the present Government for co-ordinating food and agriculture. This machinery has been tried out for six months, and I think we should now be able to review the position and to ask ourselves how it has worked. May I say, before I express an opinion on this subject, that any criticism that I may express will be directed towards the post of Ministerial Co-ordinator and will not be in the least concerned with its present occupant. I have a very high regard—as high a regard, I hope, as has any of your Lordships—for the ability and public spirit of 464 the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. I had the privilege of being a junior colleague of his during the war-time Coalition, and at that time I was able to see from the inside some of the very fine work which he did for the Ministry of Food and afterwards for the Ministry of Reconstruction.
While I think that everyone would agree that the two Departments of Food and Agriculture, which stand for the somewhat divergent claims of the food producers and the consumers, should work together in the public interest, we still await any positive evidence that they have been co-operating more closely in the last six months than they did during other Administrations since the war. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, may be able to produce some evidence to show that in fact this has happened. We found during our period of office that the system of Cabinet Committees—which is, of course, usually employed for settling differences between Departments and bringing them into line with Government policy—was entirely satisfactory in solving the problems of the two Departments with which we are dealing this afternoon. If the Government still believe that another Minister with his own separate staff is indispensable for the purpose of co-ordinating food and agriculture, I think it should be possible for them to show Parliament and the public what advantages, not obtainable by the more usual and more economical methods of Cabinet Committees, have accrued in the past six months and what further advantages may be expected in time to come.
It may be said that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, without a busy Department to look after, is in a better position than a departmental Minister to think ahead and to work out long-term policies. It is, of course, essential, especially for the future of agriculture, that Ministers should give their minds to this problem of a long-term policy, but I feel that it is not practicable to formulate a sound policy without the assistance of departmental advisers and agricultural experts. Otherwise, it is not possible to foresee the many and complex administrative implications, and the implications for farming practice, which changes of policy are likely to bring about. To my mind the Minister of Agriculture is the only Minister in a position to work out a sound policy for the future of the agricultural 465 industry. I believe that he should have the advantage of a position in the Cabinet to enable him to put his own case to his Cabinet colleagues. After all, no one is better able than the responsible Minister to put the case for the policy which he wants his Department to carry out.
If, however, the Government remain convinced that a separate Minister is required to carry out this co-ordinating function, we are at least entitled to ask whether he should sit in this House or in another place. Apart from the accepted constitutional conventions about the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer sitting in another place, and the Lord Chancellor in this House, and, of course, the statutory limit to the number of Secretaries of State who can sit in another place, a Prime Minister is still free to use his own discretion in choosing the particular House of Parliament in which his Ministerial colleagues shall answer for their stewardship. But the use of this discretion in recent years has been guided by a principle common to all Parties and to successive Governments. This principle may not have been explicitly stated, but its influence in the make-up of Governments has been considerable.
Perhaps I may put it in this way: that if the policy for which a Minister is responsible is of paramount importance to the nation, and is also likely to cause acute controversy and criticism in another place, that Minister should reply to his critics and defend his policy from the Front Bench of another place. Your Lordships will remember that the Ministers responsible for the principal measures of nationalisation in the 1945 Government—coal, transport, iron and steel—and also for the establishment of the National Health Service, were all Members of another place. Of course, when a policy of the highest national importance is based on broad agreement between the Parties—such as for example, a policy in relation to the Commonwealth or to defence—there has never been the slightest objection to the responsible Minister sitting in this House. There may be an occasional clash, such as that which we had recently over the Bamangwato chieftainship, but the common ground loon reappears, and there is no demand in another place for the presence of the responsible Minister.
466 But the cost of living, which is closely tied up with the price of food, and the effect upon it of reducing the food subsidies and raising food prices, is the most widely discussed and hotly disputed issue of domestic politics at the present time; and it is an issue which will continue to cause intense controversy. This problem overshadows even housing and unemployment in the degree to which it engages public concern. Those policies which increase the present cost of living must be a constant focus of public interest and, of course, a subject of the keenest Party controversy in another place. I cannot help feeling that the fact that the spokesmen for many of these policies occupy positions in the Cabinet and sit in this House is an infringement of what has at least been a tacit understanding which, until now, has been observed by both sides in politics. This difficulty could, of course, be overcome by allowing Ministers to speak in either House, Peers to speak in the House of Commons and M.P.s in your Lordships' House. As Ministers are responsible to Parliament as a whole, and not to one House of Parliament only, there is a strong theoretical argument in favour of such a course. Everyone recognises, however, that Ministers are seriously overworked. We could not add to their Parliamentary duties without undermining the efficiency of our whole system of government. The practical argument against this solution is overwhelming, and we are driven back to the acceptance of the present practice whereby a Minister can speak only where he sits.
In case any of your Lordships considers that the principle to which I have referred is either recent or a matter of Party, I should like to mention an example of its application by a Conservative Prime Minister before the war. I remember this incident particularly clearly because I was a member of your Lordships' House when it happened. I have little doubt that other noble Lords, with Parliamentary experience much longer than mine, could cite other examples of the transfer of a key ministerial post from this House to another place. Noble Lords will recollect that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was appointed. Secretary of State for Air in 1935. With the growing menace of aggression on the Continent of Europe, public opinion generally, and a powerful 467 element in another place, became increasingly restive and anxious about the state of our preparedness in the air. Everyone acknowledged that the noble Viscount had done a very good job. Nevertheless, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, informed him in 1938 that he must have the Secretary of State for Air in the Commons; and, of course, the noble Viscount accordingly resigned.
Perhaps I may quote a short passage from the noble Viscount's autobiography, in which he describes in his own words exactly what happened:This plan, however"—the plan had been for a senior Minister to speak for the Air Ministry in the House of Commons—did not produce the results the Prime Minister had hoped, and after a rather stormy debate in the House of Commons in the following May the Prime Minister told me that he felt the Secretary of State must be in the Commons. He said that he was more than satisfied with everything that I had done …but, as he put it, he felt that he must have a Secretary of State in the House of Commons who could pacify the House.As the present Prime Minister was one of the leading critics who obliged the Government of that day to answer in the House of Commons for their air defence policy, one hopes that he will respect the views of critics of his domestic policy at the present time, who are in much the same position now as he was then. I see that noble Lords opposite do not agree with my parallel.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD WOOLTON)
Yes; I was merely wondering what was the consequence of it.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I leave that to the Government to decide: it is a matter for which noble Lords on this side need not assume responsibility.
Another argument in favour of the general line which I have suggested is this. One cannot help feeling that the presence in this House of Ministers whose policies are the subject of intense controversy between Parties tends to alter the tone of our debates, I cannot remember harsher asperities of speech than some which we have recently heard in this House, or a more frequent resort to Party arguments. I know that your Lordships will all agree that this House is at its best when it resembles a Council 468 of State, in which noble Lords with long experience of affairs can express their honest convictions without having to conform too closely to Party programmes. The collective wisdom of the House will influence public opinion and the shaping of Government policy only so long as the House maintains its reputation for a detached and independent attitude towards matters of public policy, and stands aside, as it always has done as a non-elected body, from the real struggle for political power. Party warfare is certain to be imported into this House if Ministers whose policy is challenged in the House of Commons can answer for their decisions only here. I think I should apologise for doing something which the example of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, should have taught me not to do, but I raise this matter because I feel strongly that it is one which deserves the most careful consideration by the Government, and that this is an appropriate opportunity to raise a question of this kind as the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will be replying in a moment.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl one question? Assuming that we are going to have a co-ordinator for food and agriculture, would the noble Earl have the co-ordinator in another place and the Minister of Agriculture here?
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My noble and learned friend the Leader of the Opposition has just said in an undertone something with which I entirely agree: that this job of co-ordination should be done in the Cabinet. I had hoped that the conclusion that might legitimately be drawn from my initial remarks was that we do not want a separate co-ordinator at all. I did not put it as bluntly as that, but I had hoped that noble Lords listening to me would draw that conclusion.
May I pass on to make some comments on the Price Review? We do not yet know how much of their increased costs in the past year farmers will have to carry. That is an extremely important matter. What we do know—and this is, of course, very satisfactory—is that there is no element of bonus or profit in the award. I am informed on pretty reliable authority that there will still be a gap between higher expenditure last year and future recoupment. The gap will not be so wide as it was last year, or in the two 469 preceding years, but recoupment will be by no means complete. Can the Government tell us how much of this loss the farmers have agreed to shoulder? If it is the case, as has been suggested, that at the present time, when profits from farming are no longer rising and output is tending to fall, farmers are still paying a substantial part of the higher costs out of their own pockets, they deserve to get the credit for it. In any event, from the terms of the Price Review as we know them it seems to me that there is no sign of "feather-bedding" in the award. The people who believe that farmers in general are making substantial profits out of public money are abysmally ignorant of what is going on in British agriculture.
It is true that a few large farmers on the best land are still doing extremely well, but the vast majority of the farmers in this country are small or medium men, whose profit margin is narrow and uncertain. It is sometimes forgotten that three-quarters of our farms are less than 100 acres in extent and that the great majority of tenant farmers and owner-occupiers are farming units of this size. It is these people who are the backbone of British agriculture. But because their margin of profit is so narrow, they tend to cut expenditure by reducing output immediately their costs begin to rise. Hence the extreme importance of making adjustments in costs or prices sufficient to maintain and increase production on this type of farm. I am very doubtful whether a less substantial award this year would have succeeded in arresting the present dangerous decline in crops and cattle or in stimulating increased production of the foodstuffs that the country so urgently needs. It is a pity that, pending the publication of the White Paper, we do not know how the £39,000,000 in the award will be divided between new or extended subsidies to farmers' costs, and higher prices for farm produce. I do not know whether the noble Lord can give us the figures: I think they would be very helpful as an example.
We should like a little more light on the subsidy on animal feeding-stuffs. This is spoken of as controlled price relaxation, but it is, in fact, as I am sure noble Lords opposite will agree, a form of subsidy. Farmers will be buying feeding-stuffs—coarse grains and so on—from the Ministry of Food at a lower price than the Ministry of Food is paying to the 470 foreign exporters of animal feeding-stuffs. Presumably the loss will have to be carried by the public. May I ask—because I think this is exceedingly important—whether the Government are assuming that world prices of feeding-stuffs will fall during the current year? If this assumption is not made, the total figure for the award may be as much as £50,000,000. But if this assumption can be made—and only the Government are in a position to judge—then, of course, the Ministry of Food will no longer be, making a loss in the purchase of feeding-stuffs and the farmers will not have to be sub-sidised in this way. This is important, because it affects the cost of living and because this sub-sidy on feeding-stuffs will presumably have to be covered, by the extra 1s. 6d. a week on food to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred. I should like to know whether the assumption is that the Ministry of Food will pay less as the year goes on for imported feeding-stuffs, or whether this loss will continue at a fairly high rate.
It looks fairly clear from the award that a larger proportion of the £39,000,000 will be paid in subsidies as compared with the proportions in previous years: more will be paid in subsidies and less in prices for the end crops. This is a significant new development in policy. The advantage of spending money on lowering farmers' costs instead of raising farm prices is that more of the money so spent goes into increased production by the small farmer, and less into higher profits for the large farmer who is probably already producing as much as he can. These subsidies to lower costs, provided that the right thing is subsidised—I am sure that in the case of fertilisers and ploughing up the subsidies are right—are preferable to a larger upward adjustment of prices. The increase in farm prices must be sufficient to keep the marginal farmer in production. This means adding to the profit of farmers with better land, whose costs are lower than the marginal farmer. It has never been administratively possible to discriminate between the prosperous and the marginal farmer; but subsidies to reduce costs meet this particular difficulty.
Another satisfactory feature of the price settlement this year is the emphasis it has placed on more meat arid more crops. The continuation of a subsidised price for 471 animal feeding-stuffs, the further fertiliser subsidy and the new calf subsidies, together with the better price for fat cattle and fat sheep, will undoubtedly encourage the livestock farmer to keep more animals and the small dairy farmer to switch to livestock or dual purpose farming. I am glad to note that the calf subsidy will be paid for heifer as well as for steer calves, as I believe it is the case that about half the animals slaughtered for beef are heifers. I cannot help wondering whether the subsidy, which amounts to only £4,500,000, will be large enough to cover heifers from dual-purpose herds. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who will be replying to the debate tomorrow, will be good enough to look into this matter and let me know whether that is the intention of the Government. I hope that the emphasis on meat, which is the food most urgently needed by the public, will be no less marked in the long-term policy of the Government.
The incentives offered to farmers as an inducement to increase the tillage acreage are just as necessary as the stimulus to livestock. The reversion from arable to grass since the war, instead of subsidising, has continued to increase at an alarming rate, and altogether about 1,000,000 acres have gone back since 1946. There can be little doubt that when farmers have wanted to cut their expenditure they have often taken the easy line of switching over from crops to grass. This accounts for the enormous arable acreage we have lost in the last two years. The better price that will be obtainable under the Review for corn crops, sugar beet and potatoes after the 1953 harvest will help to bring more land under the plough and to stop the drift back to grass. But even more useful for this purpose will be the continuation of the ploughing-up subsidy introduced with such excellent effect this spring. It seems essential that this subsidy should be continued until we have achieved a better balance between crops and grass throughout the country; and I hope noble Lords will bear that in mind in the years to come.
The broad conclusion one hopes that farmers will draw from the first Annual Price Review by a Conservative Government since the war is that agricultural policy will not become a plaything of Party politics. Farmers need the security of a Government policy not liable to 472 sudden changes resulting from the outcome of General Elections. What has taken place since the last Election should convince them that the policy of the 1947 Act has now been accepted by both sides in politics, and that they can plan their future production with complete confidence that they will continue to have a guaranteed market for at least four-fifths of their produce. This, I think, was the main feature of continuity in policy to which the noble Lord. Lord Llewellin, rightly attached so much importance. The fear that what happened after the First World War under Conservative rule might happen again after the last war has been shown by the policy of both the main Parties in the State to be quite groundless.
We are glad to know that the Government are working out a long-term agricultural policy, and that they will lose no time—because time is important—in discussing this policy with those concerned. The five-year plan which we drew up under the 1947 Act for the expansion of agriculture will expire this year, and farmers should be told as soon as possible what the Government wish them to produce to meet our food requirements in the next few years. I trust that the new long-term policy will be formulated with the least possible delay. We have already been told by the Minister that the Government are aiming at an increase of 60 per cent. over the pre-war production level in the next four years—that is, by 1956. Perhaps the Government could tell us the exact amount of the present increase over 1938, as that would indicate the increase in output expected by farmers between now and 1956. It was our policy to aim at a 50 per cent. increase over 1938 by the end of the current year. To raise the target to 60 per cent. within four years seems to me not to set the farmers an impossible task—although it will be a very difficult one—and to stress the country's need for the largest practicable increase in food production.
But this target would be much more helpful to the farmers and more informative to Parliament and the public if it could be split up to show the amount of the increase in output desired in the different types of farm produce. We realise that we are already producing enough milk and eggs but we want more corn crops, especially coarse grains, and 473 very many more sheep and cattle. What is the exact amount of the increase the Government would like in the output of corn, livestock and livestock products, in the next four years? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, to-day, or the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will be good enough to give us the break-down figures. Splitting up this global figure would show the farmers—and they very much want this information—what the public interest requires. All those who know them realise that they respond quickly and to the best of their ability to an appeal of this kind. I am sure that the Government do not regard this 60 per cent. increase as the maximum which agricultural production in this country cannot exceed. We shall certainly not have reached in four years the utmost limit of our capacity to grow food, and when the time comes I hope we shall hear from the Government what further increase they consider practicable over another period of years. In this way we shall be able to advance by successive and continuous stages towards the best and fullest use of our soil, which I am sure is the prime consideration of everyone in your Lordships' House.
The only other points I should like to mention quite briefly are these. I feel that the fairness of the present award, from the point of view of the farmers, puts them under an even greater obligation to make the best possible use of their land. I have no doubt that the great majority will respond handsomely to the fair treatment which they have received. But there are some farmers, a small minority, whose methods fall far short of a reasonable standard of good husbandry. I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe—and his support in a matter of this kind is most valuable—has frequently urged the importance of increasing the efficiency of the poor or bad farmer. I believe that in the past county agricultural executives have shown an understandable desire to give these men a real chance to improve their farming with the help of the expert advice and guidance of the advisory service. But I believe the time has now come when these sub-standard farmers must be asked to choose between doing their job efficiently or making way for those who will do it efficiently for them. I am sure that the second part of the 1947 Act should be used more rigorously than it has been used up to 474 now in order to maintain and improve the efficiency of the industry. It is hard to see how any farmer who has been under supervision for at least a year can reasonably complain if his failure to make good in that time results in dispossession. As your Lordships who have practical experience of farming are well aware, there are plenty of young men with university qualifications who cannot find employment as farmers on account of the shortage of vacant farms. Unless more older men retire from the industry in the next few years, these young farmers will continue to be unable to get on to the land, arid food production will suffer in consequence. Their skill is an asset which, I am sure, this country cannot afford to waste.
There is one other point which I do not think has been mentioned in the debate so far, although it is a general point of the utmost importance. I am certain that it will be possible for the present downward trends in production to be reversed and for expansion to be resumed only if agriculture continues to get an equal priority with the defence and exporting industries in obtaining scarce equipment and machinery and, of course, in securing an adequate labour force. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, referred in his speech to the importance of maintaining sufficient labour on the land. If the Government go on treating agriculture as a defence industry I do not see any reason to fear that it will not get its fair share of new capital investment and the allocation of man-power essential to a higher level of production. But this is a Government responsibility, and no amount of good will on the side of the farming community can make up for the lack of a sufficient number of farm workers or the equipment required for modern and up-to-date farming. I am certain that if the Government are able to give a real lead to the farming community, the farming community will respond and give the country the extra food it so urgently requires.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, if your Lordships will forgive me for what I recognise as a digression from the subject of Lord Llewellin's Motion, I should like to deal for a moment with the earlier remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I have had the privilege of working with 475 him in the past. I can assure him that when he was making observations on the subject of one of my responsibilities, not for one moment did I suspect that he was doing it in any personal sense. It was a very proper Parliamentary point to raise. I was not quite sure what he was going to do with me in the end if his views were carried out, but even on that issue I am sure that he would be kindly. The first point to which I must draw the noble Earl's attention is the rather interesting contradiction into which he landed himself when he stopped talking about Parliamentary responsibilities and started talking about agriculture, on both of which subjects, indeed, he has every right to speak. Almost his last sentence was that agriculture is not the plaything of Party politics. We very much agree. Therefore, there is no reason why the person who has responsibility for co-ordinating agriculture with something else should be in any way the plaything of Party politics. Do not let us assume that there is in fact controversy here, because, indeed, none of us wants controversy on this particular subject. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, looks surprised, and, if he wishes, when he addresses your Lordships later on he may tell me why.
I must explain what I conceive to be the clear issue of responsibility, and it is this. Ministers of the Crown are responsible to Parliament for the Departments to which they are charged. The Minister of Agriculture is responsible to Parliaments for what he does. In this House, when your Lordships raise issues, then either his Parliamentary Secretary or I reply for him. The Minister of Food is responsible in the House of Commons. Of course, there is no Parliamentary Secretary here, and I reply for him just as I reply for the Minister of Health in this House. My own Parliamentary responsibilities as Lord President of the Council are quite clearly defined. I am responsible for the work of the Privy Council and I am responsible for civil science in this country. In my view, the work of the co-ordinators is not a responsibility to Parliament; it is a responsibility to the Cabinet. It is true that in Mr. Churchill's present Government we have not, as we had in his previous Government and as I gather noble Lords opposite had in the 476 last Government, a Committee for food and agriculture. Instead, Ministers are good enough to confer with me, bringing their departmental staff with them. The noble Earl need not be frightened that this co-ordinator is adding very considerably to the cost of conducting the affairs of the country, because I have not any staff for this purpose. There has been no increase, as a result of this office, in the very small staff which the Lord President of the Council has.
There must from time to time be some divergence of view between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food: it is the normal divergence which you get between the supplier of a commodity and the consumer of a commodity. If I may Dive credit—because there is none for me to take—I may say that your Lordships have not heard of any divergencies in views because between the three of us it has been very easy to settle them. It would have been a much more exciting thing for Parliament if there had been a crisis. We could have had a lot about it in the newspapers, and I might have told your Lordships the wonderful things I had done to settle the crisis. That is not the way in which we are running the business of co-ordinating. There has been no crisis. We have two excellent Ministers. The thing is working very well, and, if I may venture to say so, your Lordships need not be disturbed about it. We are all doing our jobs. My job is indeed a very minor one. I do not think my right honourable friends would mind if I said that it is perhaps the job of the person who has had, unfortunately, a rather longer experience in life, occasionally coming along and giving a little advice as to the way things should go.
There has been a great deal in the newspapers about the co-ordinator. I read in one that the co-ordinator to-day was going to defend himself. My Lords, I have nothing for which to defend myself. I have merely to say that I am glad to inform your Lordships that these two Departments of State are working in complete harmony in the public interest. I am much obliged to the noble Earl for giving me this opportunity of making this statement, and of satisfying any people outside your Lordships' House who are concerned as to either the expense of the co-ordinator or the problem of what he does. I apologise for having taken time 477 on this issue, but perhaps my having done so will save time later.
I am now going to do what is part of the job of the co-ordinator of these two Departments: I am going to try—if your Lordships can bear with me for so long—to give some general idea of the line of policy and practice that we are pursuing. I am most grateful to my noble friend, Lord Llewellin, for having raised the subject and for the admirable speech that he made—of which, with his customary courtesy, he was good enough to forewarn me. His Motion deals with that aspect of the problem that arises from the cultivation of our own land; and from the experience that I have had in this House for the last twelve years, I am clear that there is no other place where such a subject could be raised with so much profit to the members of Her Majesty's Government. The fact that the debate is to go on for two days shows the extent of the information which will be available to us, and this we welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who speaks not only with the authority of his Department, but also with much personal experience of this form of production, will wind up the debate.
At the outset, I want to give your Lordships the firm assurance that Her Majesty's Government are anxious to give the farmers encouragement and confidence—I think confidence is the important thing—to develop both intensively and extensively the production of food in this country. In the recent Annual Review not only has this idea been in the forefront of our discussions but the settlement at which we arrived was designed to give the farming industry the fullest assurance on this subject. In the course of the debate I am sure that some of your Lordships will inquire what is the long-term policy of the Government regarding food. Well, my Lords, both the Government and the Farmers' Unions, as I think the noble Lord indicated (at any rate some of your Lordships know it) propose, now that we have settled the immediately pressing problem of prices, to sit down together arid work out a policy the object of which will be to give the farmers confidence to embark on a policy of long-term food production. Farming is a long-term affair. We cannot alter the policy either from year to year or, I think, wisely at any rate, from Government to Government. Obviously, this applies par- 478 ticularly to the rearing of cattle. The long-term policy of Her Majesty's Government regarding food must be to enable the people of this country to obtain the best diet that it is within their power to earn. The experience of the last ten years makes it clear that the basis of our food policy should be to increase to the uttermost the amount that we can get from our own land.
This brings me to the more pressing question of our short-term policy. Here, I am afraid, we cannot see the immediate prospect of getting that freedom which, as a Government, we desire. We are compelled to conduct our affairs in a mariner that will prevent the financial collapse that threatened this country taking place. I think no problem at present facing the general public is more difficult for them to understand than that of what is meant by the "balance of payments." It is very difficult for them to understand and recognise the simple economic truth that our supplies from abroad are governed by the extent to which we can produce and sell to other countries the things that those other countries will take and in return for which, directly or indirectly, we can get the wheat and the meat and the other things that we want. It is simple enough to say these things in this House, but it is difficult to get the mass of the people of this country to understand that simple but profound economic truth. It cannot be too clearly stated that our standard of living depends in the long run, not on the work of the Government but on the efforts of individual people. The only way we can get more and better food is from the work of individual people's hands and brains. The greater the effort, the better the diet: to eat well, we must work well.
I will give your Lordships an example. We have had to reduce the import of hams, which, although highly priced, were very welcome, and of many other foods from the Continent of Europe, because we had arrived at a stage when we had to pay for them very largely in gold. It is this factor of the balance of payments which restricts our much-needed supplies of sugar for the housewife for making jam, and of cheese from Canada. If the drain on our gold and dollar reserves had continued throughout the year at the rate at which it was proceeding at the end of 1951, we should by row have been in 479 the same unhappy state as the last Government were when they were compelled to devalue the pound; and our reserves would have been exhausted by September. It is on that account that we have had to reduce imports by £600,000,000 including £200,000,000 of foodstuffs which we should very much have welcomed for our own diet. Were it not for this need to balance our overseas payments, we should by now certainly have taken sugar and sweets off the ration (the sugar was there), improved our fat ration (the oils and fats were there), and made further purchases of meat in the non-sterling areas. Those are the unpalatable facts that we all have to face.
We are striving at least to maintain our present rations in spite of these financial restrictions. If our financial position does not get worse—and we are bending all our efforts to make it better—I can see no reason for any general worsening of our food supplies. Before the war, even in the period of the 1930s, when we were badly hit by world depression, Britain was the best market in the world for the exporter of foods from other countries. In spite of our present restrictions I believe that that is still true to-day. I believe that there are many food-producing firms in foreign lands who know the value of keeping commercial friendships in repair, and who would welcome a return to trade, or to a fuller trade, with the 50,000,000 people living in this country. We would welcome them; and maybe a renewed confidence in Britain's commercial future, which the growing strength of the exchange value of sterling indicates, will induce some of these firms to seek the means of developing trade with us. I will just add this. The present Government will encourage production and trade within our own Empire—for that we regard as of primary importance. The natural resources of those vast spaces and enterprising peoples give us hope for large and mutually advantageous agricultural development. I thought it right to say these things to your Lordships before developing further Her Majesty's Government's policy regarding home production.
I am told that I could render the best service in this matter by making it abundantly plain to the farmers of this country just where we stand. I hope I am doing so. Our views of British agriculture are broad-based. I believe in 480 this, if I may say so—and I am sure I am speaking for the whole of this House and not only for one side of it. We want to give confidence to the farmers. For reasons of defence, we know that we must grow the maximum amount of food at home. To preserve and stabilise our currency, we must grow the maximum amount of food at home. Britain's agriculture is Britain's biggest dollar saver. Because it is a good means of livelihood for the people, we must preserve and expand this industry and provide those who work in it not only with adequate financial rewards but with housing accommodation and other social amenities. During these last ten years, and especially during those years when we were at war, necessity has driven us to an improved standard of farming. I have no doubt, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has indicated, that we can go a long way further along that road. To do so we will encourage and reward good effort. But the farmers must not mind my using straight language and saying to them that this country cannot afford bad farming.
My noble friend Lord Llewellin has drawn attention to the fact that there have been many incursions into good agricultural land for roads, new towns, airfields and the like. He asks me: what are we going to do about it? I can assure him that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture—and in this I venture to co-ordinate with him—never misses an opportunity of drawing the attention of the Service Departments to the fact that land means food; that if they take away land, they must do it only when it is absolutely necessary. But there is a great deal of other land that is not being fully used. My scientific advisers in the Department of Agricultural Research put this figure as high as 1,500,000 acres. With that figure I understand that Sir Thomas Dugdale's Department are in substantial agreement. The Minister of Agriculture has called on farmers to tackle this problem and to bring 500,000 more acres into the growing of feeding-stuffs this year.
§ EARL JOWITT
Does that figure of 1,500,000 acres include peat land, or is that land other than peat land?
§ LORD WOOLTON
The noble and learned Earl has more knowledge of agriculture than I have. But I can say this with certainty, that it is land that can be used for agricultural purposes.
§ LORD WOOLTON
It is general agricultural land.
Feeding-stuffs are really one of our major problems. A ton of bacon, grown on home-produced feeding-stuffs, saves the country £200 in overseas expenditure. Already the Minister of Agriculture has offered financial inducements to plough up old pastures, and I am glad to say that his offer has met with a very gratifying response. We hope that farmers will rely upon better grass management, and better conservation and use of our ample output of fine grass, to make dairy herds less dependent upon imported coarse grains. The Hannah Dairy Research Institute in Scotland, one of the sections of the Lord President's scientific responsibilities, is running a dairy farm solely on the feeding-stuffs grown on the farm. How important this is can be judged from the fact that only about one-half of the food that our cows at present eat is grass. The rest has either to be grown specially for them in this country or to be bought abroad and imported at a heavy cost in foreign exchange. We go to all this trouble and expense in spite of the fact that we are told that, without losing any milk or beef, the greater part of the other feeding-stuffs that cattle eat could perfectly well be replaced by grass. I hope your Lordships will forgive this trespass into the technicalities of feeding-stuffs, but its relation to our dollar exchange is the reason why I have raised it. I hope that is a sufficient excuse.
Now let me turn to the Annual Review which we have just concluded. I say quite frankly that we have faced up to the problem of trying to give encouragement to the small farmer. Your Lordships are well aware of the extent to which this industry is in the hands of people cultivating small acreages and people of small means. I do not know whether the urban population of this country recognises how small are the resources of so very many of these farmers in the amount of land that they are cultivating. No fewer than 90 per cent. of 482 our farms in the United Kingdom are under 150 acres in extent and—a figure that surprised me when I first heard it—67 per cent. are under fifty acres. We have tried to give farmers confidence and particularly, through the fixing of prices, confidence to produce more meat—if your Lordships will forgive me for saying so, both pink meat and red meat, meat from pigs and sheep, as well as meat from cattle. Whilst we need to produce all the cereals that we can; to maintain our production of milk, eggs and sugar beet and to satisfy the demand for potatoes—which next year may be an important issue—there is no doubt at all that what we want, as I ventured in perhaps a loose moment to say some time ago, is more meat.
§ LORD WOOLTON
Red meat—but we have become just a little less particular about the colour as time has gone on! The natural processes for the production of meat take time, and consequently farmers need encouragement, especially as they have to stand out rather a long time for their money when they are producing meat, as compared with when they are producing milk.
I turn now to deal with one or two questions raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, of which he courteously gave me notice. He asked: What is the cost of the latest award to farmers? The answer to that question I must divide into three parts, starting with the schedule of prices and, subsidies fixed after the Annual Review in 1951 by the preceding Government. The Special Review last November added £16,000,000 in respect of labour in a full year to the price schedules. This addition is being continued. In the price schedules fixed by the preceding Government in 1951, additions were made to livestock prices as the means of giving to farmers recoupment for increased costs arising in 1950, which it had been decided to give them at the Special Review held in March, 1951. These additions were to be made for one year only, and accordingly they have been struck off the price schedules. The total amount so struck off is £2,500,000. The award made by the present Government acids to the price and subsidies schedules of a year ago, as adjusted in these two ways, a total sum 483 of £39,000,000. Substantially more than one-third of this £39,000,000 is to be paid by way of subsidy, and the rest by increases in farmers' prices. I think the proportion to be paid by subsidy is 38 per cent., but I do not want to be bound by that figure. If I leave it as "substantially over one-third," I hope that that will satisfy the noble Earl.
§ THE EARL of LISTOWEL
Before the noble Lord leaves that point, may I ask whether he can say anything at all about the prices of animal feeding-stuffs? Is that going to increase the £39,000,000, or does he expect prices to fall and, therefore, no difference to be made?
§ LORD WOOLTON
I simply dare not prophesy. The noble Earl is asking what is going to happen to world prices. I do not know. I could not answer that question. Nor do I think anybody else knows.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am sure the noble Lord appreciates that this is an exceedingly important point. If world prices do not change, there may be another £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 added to the £39,000,000.
§ LORD WOOLTON
Very well. I regret, with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that the White Paper has not yet been published; it would have been a great convenience for your Lordships to have it. But as my right honourable friend indicated in another place, publication is being pressed forward, and it will be issued at the earliest possible moment.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked me also about the effect of the Price Review on the prices of food in the shops. In his Budget calculations my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer estimated that in 1952–53, if there were to be no further increase in the retail prices of subsidised foods, the subsidy total would rise to something like £460,000,000. This figure allowed for the estimated effect of the Annual Review. Now that the Review is out of the way, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is satisfied, looking at the broad figure of prices, that 484 the figure will be very little, if anything, more than that for which he allowed. The Chancellor also said in his Budget speech that the price increases necessary to bring the subsidy total down to £250,000,000 would cost about 1s. 6d. per head per week. This figure—which still stands—was obtained by estimating the increase in the weekly expenditure on the ration book, but with milk and bread, subsidised articles of food not on the ration, being counted on.
Lastly, the noble Earl asked for information about present production trends and what it is hoped to achieve by 1956. The Minister of Agriculture said in another place that he saw no reason why, by 1956, net output should not have been raised by at least 60 per cent. above pre-war levels. Obviously, it is not possible yet to be precise about the level of net output in the current farming year which runs to May 31 next. I am advised that we cannot put that figure higher than 144 per cent. of pre-war level. To raise this figure to 160 per cent. means an increase of 12 per cent. on present production, if my arithmetic is right. But this is not a target. The Minister's words were,… raised by at least 60 per cent. above pre-war.I should not like the ideas of the farming world to be limited by a figure of 12 per cent. We are not attempting to farm from Whitehall or to set precise targets for each commodity for each county.
The following figures show the downward trends which have caused us much concern, and which afford every reason for seeking to give confidence to the farmers. The September returns of 1951 show that the number of cattle under one year old had declined during the year from 2,138,000 to 1,938,000. According to the June returns, the tillage acreage fell from 12,825,000 in 1950 to 12,215,000 in 1951. There is general agreement that over four years the food for animals derived from our grass can be increased by 15 per cent., and that at the same time the yields of other crops can be increased by at least 5 per cent. On this basis there is scope for rearing, for instance, between 300,000 and 400,000 more calves annually for beef production, continuing the increase in our sheep population, and at the same 485 time releasing more grassland—another 1,000,000 acres after June next—for tillage. This might well build up an increase in the production of meat by some 250,000 tons (mainly pig meat) by the fourth year, with further increases in beef and mutton to follow.
My Lords, I have taken up a great deal of your Lordships' time this afternoon, for which I pray your indulgence. I have been trying to cover a very wide range and to give your Lordships all the information at my disposal. I hope that at any rate I have done one thing—namely, that through your Lordships' House I have convinced the farming population of this country that we want their efforts, that we demand their patriotic efforts—because it will indeed be the highest patriotism—to give this country the increased food which the soil of the country can produce.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I too feel deeply grateful to the noble Lord who has moved this Motion, since it gives me an opportunity of intervening in this important debate to-day, and, having been a member of your Lordships' House for something over fifty years, I feel that it is not likely that I shall have many more opportunities of speaking.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
The question that I asked myself when I saw this Motion on the Order Paper is one which no doubt a good many people must have asked—namely, is there any new development that has caused us to make any radical change in our agricultural policy? Our policy, as every noble Lord knows, is now based on the Agriculture Act of 1947. But perhaps it is not quite so generally recognised that that Act is based on the conclusions reached by a conference called by the Royal Agricultural Society of England and presided over by Sir George Courthope—now member of your Lordships' House. It was a conference of all the important agricultural bodies of England. They sat for some considerable time, and reached a substantial number of conclusions. And the remarkable thing about the work of the conference is that every conclusion was agreed upon unanimously. Those of your Lordships who have had experience of agricultural conferences will recognise 486 that that was a rather remarkable achievement, and greatly to the credit of Lord Courthope. The conference represented all classes of people engaged in agriculture and, I think, twelve agricultural bodies. Some little addition was made to the conclusions, and one conclusion was abstracted when the Act was passed. I have sometimes thought that it might have been rather better if the whole of the conclusions had been adopted without alteration. Nevertheless, I think all your Lordships will agree that the Act has worked and is working well, and unless some new developments have occurred there would appear to be need only for minor alterations in the Act.
I fear, however (and other speakers have hinted at this), that developments, possibly of a sinister nature, have arisen. The first one has, of course, already been alluded to—I refer to our unfortunate financial position, which precludes us from buying all the food we could wish to buy, as well as all the raw materials which are necessary for our existence. That is a very serious state of affairs. But, after all, it can be remedied, and I think in time it will be remedied. There is only one remedy, and I think that probably we all know in our heart of hearts what it is. It is not increased wages; it is not increased prices; it is not strikes; it is not political action—it is more hard work. That is the only remedy. We must remember that when we built up our prosperity in a period from 100 to 150 years ago it was done by hard work. It is interesting to recall that during those fifty years more than one complaint was made to the Foreign Office by Continental countries, on the ground that everyone knew that our men could work harder and did work harder than the men of any other nation, and that it was not fair to allow them to go to the Continent to work with people who were unable to keep pace with them. I do not think we get many complaints of that kind now.
The other development—and it has hardly been touched upon so far in this debate—is that outlined in the statements of great experts, to the effect that the food productive capacity of the globe is getting, used up; that there is barely enough food to go round now, and that the quantity available is not likely to increase. These experts- have also stated that the population of the world is in- 487 creasing by 20,000,000 a year, and that those people who live in the main food exporting areas are demanding—and rightly—a higher standard of life, so that they are no longer so ready to export food to other countries. It is pointed out, also, that erosion, though stopped in some places, is going on in others, and that it is likely that there may be very little food coming into this country, whether we are able to pay for it or not. It makes one think, when one reads of meatless days in the Argentine. I was brought up to believe that the daily ration of meat in the Argentine was 6 lb. per head. If it is now necessary to have meatless days in the Argentine what must we expect here?
Probably all your Lordships have read some very convincing articles which have appeared in papers and periodicals. I would call particular attention to the remarks of two men—Lord Boyd-Orr, who I have been given to understand is perhaps the highest authority on food production in the world, and Sir James Turner, President of the National Farmers' Union, perhaps the greatest authority on food production in England. They have both expressed again and again these forebodings, and, so far as I know, they have not been contradicted. I have not seen either contradiction or admission of the truth of what they have stated, from the last Government or from this. Surely the statements of these gentlemen deserve attention, because even if but a small portion of them are true the position from the point of view of the people of this country is somewhat grim. Indeed, it looks to me as if it might be an even more dangerous position than that which we experienced during the war. We did at least think then—though not rightly as it has turned out—that if we won the war we should very soon get back to an era of prosperity, and that, at all events, our stomachs would be full once more. It now looks as though it might not be so. Quite clearly, if there is some element of truth in this, a revision of our agricultural policy is called for, and the demand must be for 100 per cent. food production in this country—and we are very far from having 100 per cent. production at the present day. Such a policy would, I presume, have three objectives. The first would be to provide incentives for food production; the second to provide sanctions for those to whom 488 incentives do not appeal; and the third to remove obstacles hampering food production, if any such obstacles exist.
We have already heard something about incentives. They are dealt with in the annual Price Review that is to say the outcome of the yearly wrangle, which has just finished, as to what prices are to be paid. I think that that wrangle is quite inevitable, because a more difficult subject upon which to get agreement it must be almost impossible to find, when we consider all the factors that go to the making up of prices. I do not know if many of your Lordships have studied your farm accounts and have compared them with your accounts of ten years ago. If you have done so you cannot have failed to be struck by the immense differences in the cost of the smaller things such as oil, fuel, power, threshing, thatching, sacks, fertilisers, binder twine, and so on. The cost of all such things has gone up enormously, and if we had the full effect of that it would come to an enormous sum. There is also this factor to be considered. If we provide prices high enough to enable small farmers on poor land to make a living, we provide for big farmers on good land a big sum, though it is true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes every endeavour to regain it—and probably succeeds. If he does succeed, that takes away from the good farmer the incentive that should be there to produce more, and makes a serious problem of the whole thing. Farming is a long-term policy. The essence of increased production is confidence, and that confidence can be achieved by the farmer only if he can see his price some way ahead. I was glad to hear that a conference is taking place to go into this subject, which to my mind must be an exceptionally difficult one.
I should like to say a word on sanctions. Of course, this is a most unpopular thing, and is largely non-existent, but it is one which I fear is necessary. We have still "C" farmers—notperhaps so many as there were, but still too many—and we also have farmers in the lower levels of "B" who are very lucky to be there. What are sanctions? A farmer has either to farm well or get out. But how seldom is that done! It is true that agricultural executive committees have power to turn out "C" farmers. An owner can apply to the committee for a certificate of bad farming, and if he gets 489 it the tenant can be, and should be, removed. But what happens, as most of your Lordships know, is that the farmer goes under supervision, and at the end of two years he is coaxed up to be just within the confines of "B." That is not very satisfactory. I do not think we ought to blame these farmers overmuch. Most of them are old and some of them have no capital.
What an immense premium there is in old-age in farming! Let me give your Lordships an example. If the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and I were farming two farms of equal size, side by side, and farming them equally well as "A" farms, as no doubt we should, my farm would be worth 50 per cent. more than his. Why? Because it would be forty years nearer vacant possession, and vacant possession is the thing that makes the value of a farm. A farm with vacant possession is worth twice as much as one that is occupied. My farm would be worth at least as much again as that of the noble Lord. I do not think that that is altogether a satisfactory condition of affairs. It has been said that the country teems with young and competent farmers largely disheartened because they do not see their way to put their talents to use. Many could increase the output of the farms by at least 100 per cent. There is much to be said for the security of tenure of a good farmer, because that gives him the confidence that is absolutely necessary; but too great security of tenure may be a bad and even a dangerous thing for a nation
I should like to touch on one or two of the obstacles which hamper production. The first is that the standing equipment of farms is deteriorating over the country, and this is a serious matter. It is true that many owners have spent large sums on improvements and maintenance. I believe that recently they have spent on improvements over £20,000,000. That is a fine, patriotic effort; but the money was taken out of capital and was spent chiefly by those people who have been helped by the Finance Act of 1945. For those who have not been helped, the tale is very different. I suggest that standing equipment is steadily going down, for this reason: that rents have not risen to a level comparable with the cost of maintenance. The average rent throughout the country is now roughly the same as it was in 1870, eighty years ago. It has 490 risen since the war by 24 per cent., but at the present moment it is only 6 per cent. of the farmer's outgoings. It is true that an owner can apply for arbitration of rent, but that is neither a quick nor a satisfactory procedure. Most of us who have been owners for a long time find it rather a distasteful one. I was brought up on the theory that if I let a farm to a good farmer, he had security of tenure at the same rent so long as he farmed it well. I find it very difficult to get away from that. I believe that the best way to deal with this question is to have rent courts sitting once every three years, to move rents up or down as circumstances demand; but I am bound to tell your Lordships that I do not get much support for that suggestion among my noble friends.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
But that is still my view. We have heard a great deal about the rape of good agricultural land. We know that now we are losing agricultural land at the rate of 50,000 acres a year, in spite of the efforts—the hard efforts—of the Ministry of Agriculture, who have reduced the loss from 60,000 acres a year to 50,000 acres. That is eighty square miles, and we know how it is going. I feel it is certain to continue to go, and all we can say is that we must replace it with other land. We have talked a great deal about marginal land, and no doubt some marginal land must make up part of the loss, but I wonder whether we could not do more to follow the example of our Dutch neighbours in reclaiming land from the sea, which apparently they do with a great deal of ease and economy. I know we are getting some land back, but I think we should get a good deal more. I consider that it is a scandal and almost a crime when we allow the sea to take large areas of good agricultural land from us. This has happened in my own county and there is an extreme danger of it happening again. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to one of the recommendations made by the Conference of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, which was passed unanimously—namely, that sea walls and sea defences should be a national charge. I wondered, when the last Government were in power (and I believe they had no rooted objection to nationalisation), why the one thing 491 every interested and knowledgeable party said should be nationalised, was not nationalised. I hope we, on our side, may do something towards that nationalisation and earn the praise of noble Lords who sit opposite.
I wish to say a few words about marginal land, because I feel that it is from marginal land that the additional production must come. Marginal land, I take it, is land that is held to be uneconomic to produce food. Yet much can be done with this type of land. The most shining example at the present moment is the land that has been reclaimed by Lord Iveagh at Elveden. He has reclaimed 8,000 acres of land. I have known that land all my life, and it must be among the worst land in England. Some portion has bracken on it, but the bulk of it has nothing but moss, on which a few extremely emaciated rabbits used to hang out an existence. That 8,000 acres now produces crops: barley and oats, and even wheat, rye and sugar beet, all very nearly up to the national average; and, in addition, on the loose surface which forms the basis of this farm, large quantities of milk, beef and mutton are produced. If that can be done on that land, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of land, as good as that and better, on which it can be done. If it is said to be uneconomic to do it—and I am given to understand that this particular experiment breaks about even, though, of course, accounts are very difficult to make out—then I suggest that it should be done by Her Majesty's Government. After all, a praiseworthy effort of the last Government was to do this same sort of thing in Tanganyika Territory, with the idea originally of providing food and fats for the people of this country. If a fraction of the money that was spent in Tanganyika Territory had been spent on our marginal land, what a worthwhile contribution would have been made to the food supplies of this country!
In conclusion, I hope that the people of this country, and more especially the farming community, will be taken thoroughly into the confidence of the Government. They should be told how we stand. They should know how much truth there is in the fear expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, and Sir James Turner. If any of it be true, then 492 the people should be convinced of it, because it is a serious matter. The majority of the people of this land are adequately, if rather monotonously, fed, including, I am happy to say, all children and all those who have access to a canteen or a club. But there are certain sections of the population which even now are living nearly at starvation rate, and, most unfairly, they include some of the people engaged in agriculture, who should be the last to be short of food. If all sections of the farming community can be convinced of the crisis, or near crisis, I am sure that, as was the case in the last war and in the First World War, they will spare no effort to alleviate the position by greater production.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, while the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, was speaking he started a sentence which began in this way, if my recollection is right: "My Lords, we do not want controversy." He then noticed that there was some indication of disapproval on my face, and he added the words, "in this matter." The full proposition I accept; but the more limited proposition, that we do not want controversy, is a very odd proposition to come from the noble Lord.
§ EARL JOWITT
So I anticipate, because if anybody is going about the country now asking for controversy, it is the noble Lord. Let me assure him that on the proper occasion he will certainly get controversy. At the present time it seems to me that he is carrying out the old and useful adage, "If you have a bad case, abuse the other side's attorney." This particular matter is not one on which I feel we ought to have controversy. Indeed, the only reason why I—who do not pose as an agricultural expert—have asked to speak in this debate is because possibly I should emphasise, on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, that there is no controversy in this matter. The farming community may rest absolutely assured that, if it should happen that there was a change of Government, that would in no sense prejudice their position or their security.
What the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, said—in what I thought, if I may say so, a most interesting speech, and one with 493 which, rather to my surprise, I found myself almost entirely in agreement—is surely true; and I venture to say that it was standing out a mile, even before the Election. It is this. We have a population of over 50,000,000 people in these islands. Leaving out raw materials for the moment, I suppose that, so far as foodstuffs are concerned, we produce something of the order of rather more than half what we need. We have therefore, to get the other half from abroad. That pre-supposes two things: first, that we have the money with which to pay for it; and secondly, that the foodstuffs are there to buy, even if we have the money. It is quite obvious to anybody who looks around—the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, said this, and quoted Lord Boyd-Orr—that there is a grave danger that the food may not be available. I was out in Australia this year. I do not pose as a farming expert, and I am not going to prophesy, but I will hazard a guess that the exports of food that we receive from Australia in the coming years will be diminished—apart altogether from the drought. That fact stares us in the face. How then are we to feed our people?
From Australia I went on to New Zealand, and I came back through America. We have many very good friends in America who are watching our destinies with great anxiety, wondering whether we can possibly carry on. Can we carry on in these islands, with a population of 50,000,000 people, buying half our foodstuffs? I am not being gloomy or despondent—nor was the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth—but I think we ought to face the facts. They are very unpleasant facts, as I see them; but we have got to face them. The noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, has spoken on this subject many times, and so has the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr. Those are the facts. What we have to do, therefore, far transcends any issue of Party politics. At all costs, we must do everything we can, as a matter of the greatest urgency, to increase the food supplies of this country. 'Ibis farming business is no longer a game at which people can play. In these circumstances, a man who is not doing the best he can with his land is an enemy of society, and he must be treated as such. I am very relieved to hear that noble Lords from all quarters of the House are beginning to take this 494 view. It is certainly not for me to make any attack on the farmers of this country as a whole. They certainly know their job better than I do, and I am not such a fool as to give them advice.
I reached New Zealand at the beginning of September, and in the course of my travels I went to Napier, in North Island, the great sheep-growing area. I suppose that the beginning of September is approximately early spring out there. I have been engaged in farming for many years, and I saw there what I have never seen before. I saw fields completely unlike the fields at home, looking rather like a golf green at a very good golf course, with very short grass—so short, indeed, that you would think you had to cut it with a pair of scissors to get anything at all. I have no doubt that I saw the country at the most appropriate time of the year, but the fields were a bright emerald green, carrying a head of sheep the like of which I had never seen before, or even dreamt of. I saw aeroplanes flying over the land, dropping their fertilisers on the fields; and the whole thing was completely up to date and modernised with scientific outlook. It struck me, as it would have struck any of your Lordships, that they are doing something there the like of which we do not possess in this country.
I made a point of getting in touch with the farmers, and I asked them about it. They all have a profound admiration for this country, and they were most hesitant to criticise the farmers at home. They said that the farmers of this country were very good farmers indeed, and just as good as they are. I pressed them, and they said in a very modest way: "Well, perhaps on this subject of grass we are rather better than they are." From what I saw there is really no doubt about that. It may be—the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, will know, and he will be able to tell your Lordships—that I was there at an exceptional time of year, and in an exceptionally favourable area. I only tell your Lordships that I saw something the like of which I have never seen before. Could we not do something of that sort here? I would ask your Lordships to say that we should all join in letting the public know that we are faced with a very serious arid dangerous problem. You will not do it by promising that there are ample supplies of juicy red meat round the corner—there are not. It 495 is much better to face up to the facts, and your only chance, to my mind, of getting more good pink, red or any other meat, is to grow more in this country. Unless you substantially increase your output in this country you will not be able to do it. The first thing, therefore, is to get a sense of urgency, a sense of drive, which we have not yet achieved—the sense which makes us unwilling to tolerate had farming as being anti-social.
The next thing I wish to say is this. It always seems to me that in this matter, as in all others, we are not realising the impact and effect which taxation has. When income tax started it was very small, but it has gone up in little bits and we do not realise what has happened to-day. For instance, on the whole export problem you ask companies to increase their export trade. You ask them to go into new ventures and to try to develop some new line. If they succeed in doing so you promptly clamp down on them this new excess profits levy, and the rest of it. which makes the new venture hardly a feasible proposition. There was a Commission on this problem presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Radcliffe, whom I am glad to see here to-day. If only the Government could say to these companies: "Well, of course, if you can get anything extra by developing a new line, God bless you! You shall pay no taxes at all." That would be much more sensible than subjecting them to heavy taxation.
With regard to amortisation—and this applies to farming, too—I would far rather have a tax like a dividend tax, and give industry generally, and agriculture in particular, far better terms for amortisation, so that the people can put their money back into their business. I believe that that would be wise. Then there is this old and vexed problem, about which I have heard for so many years, of marginal land. Of course, you have to have one fixed price which is paid to everybody, but the net result of that is that you have to fix that price so high that it affords a return to the farmer of bad land. Of necessity, therefore, it must be too high for the farmer of good land. Can that be avoided? I do not know. That problem stares one in the face, and it is the sort of fact which has led to these suggestions (which I believe to be quite untrue) about "feather-bedding." 496 Suggestions of "feather-bedding" will go on if you have to pay prices which are too high for the good land and yet barely adequate for the bad land. That is a matter I should like to see considered.
There was one matter which the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, raised at the conclusion of his speech, with which I am not sure that I agree. I suppose that if you spend enough money on any land you can make it produce something. Whether you turn the land to the most suitable form of production is another matter. When I was a farmer I was practising at the Bar. I confess that when I was at the Bar I was earning a considerable income. I confess, too, that when I was farming I lost a considerable amount. But I bore my losses with a stoical equanimity, because, in fact, the Chancellor of the Exchequer paid most of them. People do all sorts of funny things now, simply because of the taxation problem. What we want is to ensure that the people do not do these things—things which they would not do were it not for some taxation difficulty.
There are just one or two other matters that I wish to discuss. This being, I believe, the most important task before this country. I am unhappy about the present set-up. I am unhappy, not because I distrust the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, at all—for when it comes to administration I know of no one better, though I do not think he knows even as much about farming as I do: I at least can milk a cow, and I have sheared a sheep, though I should be sorry to try now—but because I think the Minister of Agriculture should be in a bigger position than he is to-day. I feel that it is absolutely wrong that the Minister of Agriculture should not be a member of the Cabinet. I sat in the Cabinet for six years, and I saw the efforts of Mr. Tom Williams—who, in my view, was a first-rate Minister of Agriculture. Day after day I heard him fight his battles in the Cabinet, because there were all sorts of other Ministries who impinged on his—Ministries whose affairs had repercussions on agriculture—and I think it quite wrong that the Minister of Agriculture, who is one of the most important Ministers in the country to-day, should not be a member of the Cabinet.
I do not mind having co-ordinators, though I would quote to your Lordships again what I have often said before.
497 I have always been impressed by what President Lincoln said. He said:One bad General is better than two good ones.The danger of these co-ordinators is this. You get two people, the noble Lord opposite and the Minister of Agriculture, both responsible for this policy—no one knows quite who is responsible: at least, perhaps they do, but we do not—instead of having one man who is completely in charge of the whole, and who ought to be a member of the Cabinet. I hope that that view will commend itself. If we are going to have a successful agricultural policy we must put our Minister of Agriculture in a strong position from which he can see that his wishes are carried out.
§ LORD WOOLTON
If I may be allowed to interrupt the noble and learned Earl, it seems to me that there is a Parliamentary principle involved here. There really is no doubt about who is responsible for agriculture—responsible to Parliament. It must always be the Minister. The noble and learned Earl has served in so many Cabinets that surely he will accept that as a princple. I have no responsibility.
§ EARL JOWITT
I agree. But then the Minister has no chance of going to the Cabinet. He can be called in, of course; but being called in on exceptional occasions, having to wait outside in the ante-room until his business comes on, is quite a different matter from being in the Cabinet. I ask the noble Lord to consider with the Prime Minister whether it is not right that the Minister of Agriculture should be in the Cabinet. He has at the present time an extremely important job to carry out, on which the well-being and possibly the safety of this country depend.
I cordially agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said about commons. We have had far too much in this country of people saying, "You must not touch that land: it is common land." I have seen acres and acres of common land in August and September shoulder high with bracken, so that no one could possibly get about there. Just because there is this theoretical right, the land is not used; and nothing is done about it. By all means give the people access; let them have their walks, and so on; but we are not in a position to afford to allow that land not to be providing foodstuffs, 498 if it can be made to provide them. I beg the Government to look into this matter. For the rest, go on as you have been going on and as we carried on, with agricultural education. I was in Denmark some years ago and studied their system; and I was immensely impressed with what I saw. About once every year the farmers there go to some university extension course. Their neighbours look after the farm, knowing that in due course their own turn to go to the university will come and that their neighbour, in his turn, will look after their farm. I was told by their Minister of Agriculture that this system of going back to a university broadened these men's minds and proved of immense value. He said, "When we started we covered every form of farming and fertilisation, and so on. Later on we began to cover all sorts of things not remotely connected with farming, such as Greek and Roman mythology, Byzantine art and so on. We found that the farmers liked it very much and that it had a very good result; and they went back to the farms and did magnificent work." I am certain we ought to do all we can on those lines.
There is one other question—and in raising it I speak for myself entirely. I rent a small cottage in Suffolk and I hear a great deal about the question of sugar beet. I often wonder what the rights and wrongs of this question are. I have no views myself, but tills I know: that in your long-term policy you have to consider to what extent you want to develop that industry. There are farmers to whom I have talked who deplore the fact that we have so much sugar beet and wish that there were more ordinary fodder beet. The sugar has, of course, been of immense value, but the real problem is whether the sugar is of more value than the materials which might be produced on that land if it were not producing sugar. It might be producing acres of grain—though of course, there must be rotation. Some would say that it would be better to grow sugar in the West. Indies and stockpile it; then this land could be used for growing coarse grains or the like. But obviously, as I say, we must have some sugar beet. I hope that when the noble Lord comes to formulate policy he will look into this matter. I have no particular opinion myself, but I know that this question has raised differences of opinion amongst 499 people who really understand the subject in that part of the world. I am afraid I have spoken for too long, but I hope I have been able to show your Lordships and the country that this Party is not one which has not the interests of agriculture at heart, but that, on the contrary, we believe—and the record of my right honourable friend Mr. Tom Williams shows it—that this great problem of agriculture is one of first importance to the wellbeing of the whole country.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, we have had this afternoon several brilliant and informative speeches in support of the Motion so opportunely put on the Paper by my noble friend Lord Llewellin; but I venture to say that no speech has been more brilliant and illuminating than that of my noble friend Lord Cranworth. He pointed out—and the noble and learned Earl who has just addressed us has expressed his entire agreement—that the outlook as regards the food supply of this country is a grim one and necessitates every acre that can be usefully applied to food production being so applied. It necessitates also a supreme effort on the part of our farming community, who supply for our consumption essential foods that are not likely in the future to come in any large quantities from overseas. I am not going to attempt to butt in on the subject with which the noble and learned Earl opened his speech. except I to say, first, that I am at one with him in feeling that our Minister of Agriculture should be in the Cabinet; and, secondly, that bearing in mind what happened in the Second World War, we owe an enormous measure of gratitude to the business ability of my noble friend Lord Woolton, who provided so efficiently, to the great comfort of the housewives of this country, essential foods in an unprecedentedly critical period.
Now, my Lords, I am not quite sure that I understood what the noble and learned Earl said in regard to the new award of food prices providing excessive benefits for farmers on bad land. I am far more concerned about providing excessive benefit for bad farmers, which, of course, is a different proposition.
§ EARL JOWITT
I did not say it provided an excessive benefit for farmers of bad land. I said that if you provide what is a fair benefit for a farmer of bad land, it follows that you must provide excessive benefit for a farmer of good land.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
Yes, always assuming that the farmer in question can make the best use of his land, whatever the policy. I am glad that the noble and learned Earl referred to the ex-Minister of Agriculture. I am bound to say that I have known all the Ministers of Agriculture personally from the first, and it is a most remarkable fact that three of the most brilliant and successful Ministers of Agriculture have been men who have not previously been concerned with the cultivation of land. They were Mr. Hanbury, Mr. Runciman and Mr. Tom Williams. Mr. Williams did his utmost to take agriculture out of the cockpit of the Party politicians. I believe that that is the only way to ensure a safe, secure and confident future for what is, after all, the most vital industry of this country. In passing. I should also like to say, with some considerable knowledge of the Danish system of education—and I entirely agree with what the noble and learned Earl has said—that we are beginning to use something in the nature of the Danish system in our new farm institutes. That is a development which is all to the good and will be likely to expand the outlook of the average small farmer to a very considerable extent. As regards beet sugar, for a part of the First World War I happened to be Sugar Controller, and we were not much impressed with the high quality of sugar that came from the West Indies—although the quality has since improved very much. Until it had been efficiently refined by our own refiners at home, we did not rate the West Indian sugar, although coming from a part of the British Commonwealth, as high as certain sugars raised in other parts of the world. What I want to stress is that the value of beet sugar production is not to be found only in the output of sugar. In my long life and experience I do not know of anything that has been more effective in improving the quality of our land, and the standard of general cultivation in the course of the rotation, than the introduction of the beet sugar 501 industry into this country. It is particularly noticeable in East Anglia and the eastern part of England.
May I make two comments upon the admirable speech which was made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel? He emphasised, as did the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, the desirability of continuity of policy, both as regards the products of the land and, as I have already mentioned, as regards political Parties successively in power. He spoke also about the agreed prices as affecting small farms. In my humble opinion, there is no more important feature in the present and prospective policy of the Government than the encouragement of the small farmer. There I entirely agree with the noble Earl. The noble and learned Earl started his speech by commenting upon the extent to which in the past we have depended upon overseas supplies of food. May I remind your Lordships that, prior to the two world wars, two-thirds of our most essential foods came from abroad—that is, roughly 50 per cent. of our meat and from 75 percent. to 80 percent. of our cereal food, of our breadstuffs—I use the word "breadstuffs" with a little hesitation, because I, for my part, think that in a crisis potatoes, an important starchy food, ought to be included in the term "breadstuffs." The outstanding exceptions were milk and potatoes, in which we were absolute self-suppliers. Within ten years I anticipate that, as regards animal products, and notably meat, no more than 25 per cent. at the most will be forthcoming from overseas. Apart from home production, and ruling out the dollar countries, the only source that we can confidently look to, and are looking to, for an appreciable increase in meat supplies, is New Zealand.
In passing, let me say, as regards Lord Jowitt's laudatory reference to New Zealand methods, with which I entirely agree, that New Zealand has the inestimable advantage of an almost ideal climate as well as a naturally and exceptionally fertile land. We cannot too warmly express our gratitude to that small Dominion and its farmers for their outstanding help in this time of the Old Country's critical need, and all the more so if we realise—and I do not think that many of the public do realise—that New Zealand could quite well sell her meat output to other countries for at least 33 502 per cent. more than we are paying. As a matter of fact, she has during the last twelve months sold to certain other countries for 50 per cent. more value than we are paying small supplies of her meat. I am not unacquainted with New Zealand, its farmers and its productive potentialities, and I venture to assert that she could increase her output and her exportable surplus, if given fair value, by 40 per cent. in the next two years, and double it within the next ten. In that connection, I should like to pay a modest tribute to the Maori people. The Maori people, unlike, perhaps, the Bantu of Southern Africa, are not only an intelligent but also a very progressively-minded people, and, since I was Governor-General of New Zealand, I do not think I am exaggerating if I suggest that the Maori output of food in New Zealand has at least quadrupled, and is increasing progressively every year.
It seems to me that the expression "meat" should not be taken too literally. Of course, what we really mean is protein food, including such meat substitutes as eggs, cheese of the right type and fish—foods which, eaten with our more starchy products, will give us the balanced ration so essential to health and vocational efficiency. One of my great anxieties to-day is whether, under any scheme of Government organisation, a large proportion of our population are getting, or are likely to get in the early future, a sufficiently balanced ration. That is one of the great drawbacks, of course, in Africa to-day. As some of your Lordships may know, I presided over the Rhodesia-Nyasaland Royal Commission just before the last World War, and the thing which perhaps more than anything else, impressed us all, particularly up in the copper belt of Northern Rhodesia, was that by adding meat to what was in the old days, the exclusively starchy food of the African, it was possible to increase his efficiency and his output by no less than 120 per cent. I mention that only by the way, because this balance of ration is to my mind so enormously important, whether we are dealing with natives or with white people.
Reference has been made to pigs. I know that the Government are doing something to help us in regard to greater production of pigs. But let us always remember that when we are suffering from meat scarcity the pig is capable of 503 reproducing meat in greater bulk and at a greater pace than any other domestic animal. I hope, incidentally, that the small pig-keeper will always be borne in mind. In the old days, when every allotment holder had his pig and there were far more styes occupied by pigs owned by the working population, the small pig-keeper was, if I remember rightly, producing no less than 40 per cent. of the whole of the bacon, if not the pork, that was consumed in this country. Let us give him a chance.
I want to add only a word or two as regards the price awards. I hope that at no distant date we are going to learn something more about the long-term policy of the Government. I do not think that we can adequately judge the efficacy and value of these price awards until we know much more than we do at present about the long-term policy. I personally strongly deprecate cavilling at these awards which have been agreed to after long negotiation between the Farmers' Union and the Government. At the same time, I contend that you cannot fix any scale of prices that is even approximately equitable to the producer, or fair to the consuming public, unless you differentiate markedly between large farmers, with their labour-saving equipment and relatively low overhead costs, and the small farmers, especially in the West of England and Wales, where they are mostly very small farmers; and between those who are efficient and those who are seriously inefficient. Farmers may be inefficient through laziness, old age or poor capital equipment; but, as has been pointed out, we must disentitle these people to occupy our precious, scarce and ever-dwindling area of farmland in this small island. The proportion of inefficient farmers is estimated as at least 10 per cent., but I put the proportion as high as 15 per cent. The process of dispossessing such farmers is far too slow under the present agency of the county agricultural executive committees. To-day, if they are tenants, the farmers have virtual fixity of tenure, whatever their landlords may say; and of course the system of so-called supervision has become almost a farce.
There are two other matters that I want just to refer to. We are told that additional capital for farm purposes will not be available to any material extent.
504 In the present state of the country's finances I am not prepared to grumble about that. But I would say (I am not sure that other noble Lords will entirely agree with me here) that, when it comes to expending national capital, I cannot persuade myself that it ought to be expended to any large extent on the improvement of marginal land at high altitudes, in Scotland and elsewhere—at any rate until the country is in a much sounder economic position than it is today. A great deal has been said in this House this afternoon on marginal land. There is marginal land and marginal land. The land which, out of his own pocket, Lord Iveagh has so magnificently improved, seems to smack of similar work carried out by "Coke of Norfolk" some 150 years ago. That is all very well if the money is provided out of a private purse. But when you come to land at high altitudes, in Scotland and elsewhere, in view of the burning need for additional capital on efficient, well-developed farms, I cannot think that marginal land is the right type of land on which to expend the nation's capital at this time.
What I want to emphasise most of all is the supreme importance of the greater self-sufficiency of the British farm. The noble Earl and other noble Lords today have referred to the importance of grass. During the last ten years there has been a positive revolution in British farming, owing to the discovery that grass (and under that heading I am inclined to include clover and other leguminous herbage) at, we will say, no more than six to eight inches high, is not only an extremely valuable crop, equivalent, in its dry matter content, to the cattle cakes upon which we used to depend for the fattening of our farm animals and the main supply of concentrated food for our dairy cattle, but, when properly fertilised, with due regard for the balance of fertility, can be made to provide for the needs of our livestock to the extent of at least 50 per cent. more than was contemplated ten years ago. It is in that direction—if I may venture to suggest it—that I think we can perform the greatest service to the consumers of this country. Make all possible use you can of herbage, particularly lcy herbage—which, by the way, does not interfere with the rotation of cereal and other arable corps. Make all the use you can in this country, of herbage, controlled grazing, 505 the drying of grass (if farmers have the necessary capital, available for this), silage and, particularly in the matter of self-sufficiency, such crops on arable land as beans, peas, and lucerne.
I wish to say only a few words more. I had hoped that a noble Lord hailing from Worcestershire would make some reference to fruit. It may be suggested that fruit is not an essential food, but certainly it conduces very materially to the health of our population. I am bound to say that, in the West of England at any rate, we have not been fairly treated, in my judgment, in the matter of the production not merely of plums but, very particularly, of dessert apples. That is mainly because the bottom was knocked out of the market fast December by large importations of fruit from overseas, and, so far as Worcestershire was concerned, the importation of large quantities of plums from the Continent of Europe. Another adverse factor was the non-availability of containers, made of tinplate or otherwise, for preserving purposes. An immense amount of valuable fruit was lost 10 the public during the last twelve months because of these importations, which were so detrimental to our own fruit growers, and because of the lack of containers. I hope that this matter will be considered by the Government, especially in view of the fact that in certain areas—the Vale of the Severn, in which I live, is one of them—a considerable number of new fruit growers have put the whole of their little capital into what is undoubtedly a very attractive and, seen prospectively, profitable industry, and some of them have already gone out of business. Certainly no further encouragement is given to new and potential fruit growers by reason of this unfortunate policy of deluging our markets with competitive products from overseas.
I ask your Lordships to forgive me for addressing you at such length. It is all very well for Lord Cranworth to speak as though he were advanced in age. Of course, compared to me, he is positively a young man. In, case I may not have further opportunities of addressing your Lordships in regard to a subject to which, I think I may say without exaggeration, I have devoted practically the whole of a long life, I am taking this opportunity of doing so now. My Lords, a hundred years ago Britain had no rival in the world in the supremacy of her agricul- 506 ture. If her successive Governments display courage, vision and a full consciousness of the potentialities of science, and enlightened human enterprise, she will regain that position. God grant that it may not be too late!
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ LORD LUKE
My Lords, I rise with some trepidation, after the magnificent contribution to our debate from the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, to which we have just listened. We always know when he rises that we are going to hear something good, and we have not been disappointed on this occasion. I take heart because Lord Cranworth, that other great expert, has also spoken, and I shall confine my remarks largely to following many of the things which he has said. I think we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, for setting this debate off on its way. We have had from him an expression of hope that every acre in this country in future may produce the utmost of which it is capable. From Lord Wootton we have had a statement to the effect that he is all for encouraging and giving confidence to the farmers. That was his theme, and he followed it out very thoroughly. From the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, we had a speech in which he impressed us with the seriousness of the situation. We have also had from him an assurance that there is no controvery in regard to these important matters. So I think we are making quite good progress.
There is one matter which I should like to take up from Lord Llewellin's speech. He referred to the question of taking agricultural land for housing. He also said, I think, in parenthesis, something about this land being taken for playing fields—at least, if he did not, I was wondering whether he would go on to say something about that. I could not agree with him more that the process of taking the best land for housing should stop. I do not go quite so far with those who say that too much ground has already been taken for playing fields, and that no more should be taken. I would say to those who have been critical in this matter that, whereas when you build on a piece of land it has gone for good, if you reserve a piece of land for playing fields—adjacent to a school or elsewhere—you can, in the direst necessity, plough it up again. You cannot plough it up 507 again if you have given up the land to housing. Further to what Lord Llewellin said with regard to the Service Departments (and Lord Woolton has given some answer in that connection), I hope that the Air Ministry will be very careful not to allow, unless it is absolutely necessary, airfields now required in connection with the rearmament programme to go out of food production. I have some knowledge of some of those airfields, and they are producing food which it would be the greatest pity to lose. It would certainly not be conducive to an increase of food production if this source of supply were to be ended.
We have heard in this debate a great deal about the last two wars, the post-war period and the lessons we have learned. We have indeed learned lessons of food production and food procurement—if I may so call it. We have found that our great suppliers, more especially the Argentine and Australia, have upset their own balances between primary and secondary production. We found ourselves facing an unbalanced economy a good while ago after the Industrial Revolution. Those two countries are going through their industrial revolution at the present time, with their populations increasing, standards of living rising and, in consequence, less food for export. As has already been mentioned in your Lordships' House, they have had to contend with climatic conditions which have had the effect of making food exports even thinner. No one blames those countries for having—as I have put it—unbalanced their economies, though it hits us pretty hard. It has to be admitted that the condition of our agriculture when we did not need it so much as we do now was deplorable. Time was when we were quite happy that cheap food should come in and everything was well—or seemed to be well—with everybody except those engaged in agriculture.
We have seen, and do not wish to see again, great depressions in agriculture. The recovery of agriculture during the recent war was remarkable, and all praise ought to go to our farmers for what they have done. But I suggest to your Lordships that it has been on an artificial basis. It has been done entirely by subsidies and price arrangements. I believe that what is now necessary is more capital in agriculture for development, for 508 equipment and for restoration. Both the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, have touched on this question of capital. Lord Cranworth spoke on capital and the land owner. The poor old land owners, much maligned though they have been, have been taxed out of existence, although I agree that taxation allowances have assisted matters. I do not know what is the position of farmer-owners with regard to capital and how far they are able to plough back their reserves, but I question whether they are able to do very much.
We all know, probably, how much money has already been lent to agriculture by the banks, but let me remind your Lordships that these loans are supposed to be temporary. The Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and the Land Development Company have done a great deal to bring capital to the land, and the University Colleges and City of London Companies owning land have no doubt seen that their properties do not lack capital. Is that enough? I do not think it is. There are far too many acres giving a minimum increase, or none at all. Where are we to find further capital for the land? Are we to find it from the State? We have just had a warning from the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, about the State not putting capital into marginal land, and I have taken note of his words. I do not know whether we want the State to be any larger landlord than it is at the moment; I do not think we should appreciate that. I am not sure that the State is a very good landlord anyhow, and I would question, as other noble Lords have already queried, whether State ownership has been good for agricultural schemes in other lands.
I believe that capital is to be found from industry—not the agricultural industry but industry as a whole. Industry has made great strides in supplying machinery and all other items to agriculture. I should like to quote Cohn Clark, who in 1940 wrote a book entitled The Economy of 1960. Recently he has written an article entitled Halfway to 1960, in which he points out that in Britain now there is one tractor for every 3½ men working on the land, as against one tractor to 17 men in the thirties, and that the rate of increase in gross production per head is 3 per cent. while the rate of increase in the population is a little over 1 per cent. That shows 509 what has been done by industry in bringing more machinery on to the land. Science also has played its part. It has helped better growth and earlier maturity, but we always have to consider the pace of nature when discussing the question of food—that is the trouble. It is no good putting up another factory to double output, as industry can do. We have to deal with the conditions of growth. Industry has taken a hand in a very commendable way in improving our breeds of livestock. I would ask why industry should not take a greater interest and investment in food production. Why should not those who buy and sell food have a greater say in its production? They might then learn some of the trials and tribulations of the production of food. Why is there not this interest and investment of capital by industry in agriculture? Is it because there is not enough return? Do the investing public feel there is too great a risk for their capital? That may be the answer. We have not seen public companies dealing with agriculture to any great measure.
But I ask this further question: Is a quick and rich return the only consideration that we have to think about at the present time? I do not think so. In my view, the improvement of land through additional capital should bring its own reward in increased productivity. There is one big drawback to the investment of capital in the land and that is the tenancy terms of the Agricultural Act of 1947. We have already heard a good deal about that, so I will not keep your Lordships long on it. As the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, has already said, it offers great security to borderline and indifferent farmers. In industry the borderline man would be replaced by a more efficient competitor, but it is not so in farming. I suggest to your Lordships that the backing or investment, whether of horses or men or machinery, should go to the best and not to the indifferent.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD CARRINGTON)
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but it is nearly six o'clock. when a Royal Commission is due to sit to give the Royal Assent to a number of Bills. I suggest that we now adjourn during pleasure.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.510
§ House resumed.