HL Deb 01 May 1952 vol 176 cc527-96

2.50 p.m.

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord Llewellin, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to measures for increasing the production of food from our own soil.


My Lords, I suppose I should start by craving your Lordships' indulgence for a maiden speech, and perhaps your Lordships will have some sympathy with me in having to make a maiden speech at the age of sixty-five, after half a lifetime in Parliament. The question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, yesterday led to what I think everybody who heard it must agree was an extremely interesting debate, on which there was a large measure of agreement. The problem of increased food production in this island is obviously of supreme importance, and I venture to believe that two considerations are vital: first, the world situation, about which there was a general measure of agreement yesterday and, secondly, the view taken by the public at large regarding the question of food, its provision and its price, about which I venture to think rather less was said yesterday and to which I want, if I may, to devote a portion of my remarks.

So far as the world situation is concerned, your Lordships know only too well—there have been numerous debates on the subject in your Lordships' House over the last five or six years—that the main point which emerges is that the situation, compared with that which existed pre-war, has radically changed. Pre-war, we enjoyed, or so we thought, a period of gluts in the world at large of great exportable surpluses of primary commodities. The primary producer, both in this country and overseas, lived on a very low level of existence, but there can be little doubt that the urban and industrial population of this country, as a result of the cheap foods which came to these shores, enjoyed during those years a steadily rising standard of living. To-day that is entirely changed. The growth of population in the world as a whole, largely due to improved medical science and the increasing industrialisation—promoted largely by the war—of countries which formerly were mainly primary producers, has resulted in a complete change, and the availability of the export surpluses that existed in pre-war days has been reduced.

India, on balance, is a large net food importer; South America, on the whole, contrary to what one has always believed, is a net food importer; the Union of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia are in the same boat; and if we look round the world we find that, apart from New Zealand, Canada and the United States at the present moment are the only countries where substantial supplies are available for export. So far as we are concerned, owing to the dollar position, the greater portion of those export surpluses are not now available to this country. It is true that in the Colonies there is a certain amount of exportable food and raw material, but we enjoy those surpluses from the Colonies—or, at all events, we have enjoyed them over the last few years —only at the cost of our increased sterling indebtedness to them. I have not seen the latest figures, but I believe we owe the Colonies to-day, mainly for raw materials and food imports, something of the order of £1,000,000,000 sterling. Put quite bluntly, although I do not believe the people of this country realise it, what that means is that we have been maintaining our standard of living in this country at the cost of the people in the Colonies, many of whom are on a grossly lower standard of living than we are in this country. That is a situation which cannot go on for ever and which, indeed, it will take all our efforts over the next few years to remedy by increasing our exports to them of consumer goods. Only in that way can we liquidate the indebtedness that we have built up.

Therefore, I am led to the conclusion—which I hope your Lordships will share—that our position vis-à-vis food has radically changed for the worse, and, I am afraid, radically changed for the worse for ever. The question is, does the country realise it? I am inclined to doubt it, but in my opinion—and this is what I am going to try and argue to your Lordships—when we come to consider the future of agriculture and of increased food production in this country, it is vital that the country should realise that fact. I believe that over the years the British public have come to believe that cheap food is an inherent right of the British people, almost regardless of its effect upon the primary producers. The facts are that as the world demand for food increases owing to the rising world population and to its industrialisation, more money and more energy are required than in the past to produce more food from the existing acres or from new marginal land.

I need hardly remind your Lordships that mass production in a factory largely reduces the cost of the unit of production. That, unfortunately, is not true in the case of agriculture. Indeed, the very opposite is the case, as your Lordships will remember from many instances in the last few years which will spring to your memory. Again I wonder whether the public realise that. Again I venture to doubt it, for the system of rationing and food subsidies which has been prevalent over the last ten or twelve years has tended to hide it from view. But again I believe that no system of ration- ing and no amount of subsidies is going to alter the fundamental fact that, as a nation, we shall in the future have to give up some margin of our present consumption of consumer goods and services if we are to obtain the food we require, whether from overseas or from home sources. The sooner we realise that the better, and the sooner we shall get rid of rationing and all that that implies.

Speakers from all sides of your Lordships' House yesterday stressed the importance of the shortage of food with which we are faced. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt—who was kind enough to tell me he could not be here to-day because of an earlier engagement—said yesterday, and I fully agree with him (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 176, col. 493): At all costs, we must do everything we can, as a matter of the greatest urgency, to increase the food supplies of the country. I think the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, a little earlier in the debate, had made a most apposite comment on that. He said (col. 478): 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. That I believe to be very true. The noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, also said (col. 493): What we have to do, therefore, far transcends any issue of Party politics. Again I venture to agree with the noble and learned Earl. But both Parties in this country, as I see it, share my doubts as to whether the public believe that this situation exists. If any one in this House doubts that statement, he has only to look at the canny way in which both major Parties in the State approach the ticklish question of the cost of living to realise the truth of what I am endeavouring to say.

I venture also (I hope that I shall not be accused of being controversial) to suggest that your Lordships will all no doubt remember plenty of examples, on this side and vice versa, over the last few months. It is all very well to say that both Parties are fundamentally in agreement on agricultural policy, both long-term and short-term, but (I do not know whether it is polite to your Lordships to say so) it is a fact that farmers distrust politicians. The farmer tends to look beyond the politician, to the great mass of the people of the country, and to ask: Are they, the urban dwellers, the mass of voters in this country, convinced of these things? I wonder whether any of your Lordships believes, in his heart, that the public of this country are convinced of the entire change in the world situation with which we are faced.

I apologise for stressing this point, but I believe it is fundamental to the problem of greater food production. The farmer here, like the miner, has a very long memory; he remembers what happened between the wars to himself and his family, and to the workers—and, for that matter, to his farmer colleagues across the sea. He wants convincing that it is not going to happen again, before we can expect him to provide the increase in food production which we need. During the early years of the war food production campaign, I was met, whenever I asked the farmers to plough up more and increase production, with the argument: "It is all very well for you to ask us to do this while the war is on, but are we going to be let down again, as we were last time?" My answer—and it was the only answer—was something like this: "The real answer to your question is the food situation in which we are going to find ourselves." I told them I believed that we should be very short of food and that, provided they were efficient and produced food at reasonable prices, I believed they were assured of a market at reasonable prices for all they could produce. The only mistake I made was that I greatly under-estimated the shortage of food with which we were going to be faced. I should add that that was the foundation for the great policy that was eventually worked out from 1944 onwards. To-day, the demand from the farmers is for a long-term policy. I hope that your Lordships will not think it presumptuous if I say that that demand is as ill-conceived as the question which the farmers used to put to me in the early days of the war.

Again, I apologise for saying this, because so many of your Lordships yesterday referred to this long-term policy. But I believe that fundamentally that demand for a long-term policy is only a parrot cry from the farmer. Ask a farmer what he means by a long-term policy. In the majority of cases he will not be able to tell you. If we are right in our belief that this world food shortage is going to continue, then the farmers of this country—again, provided they are reasonably efficient—can be assured of the market they require. That is the best possible guarantee that they could get, and it is the best long-term policy they could get. If we are wrong, if we are going in a year or two to see a glut of raw materials or of food, such as we did between the wars, then we may be quite certain that any guarantee to-day of prices that will be paid three or four years from now, will not be worth the paper it is written on, because no Parliament can bind its successors; and if there were such gluts, no Government, with the pressure of public opinion upon it for a lowering of the cost of living, would be able to stand. Therefore, in my opinion, this demand for a long-term policy is misconceived.

But if we want, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, says, to give confidence to the farmers and get the maximum production of food through that confidence, we have to do something to establish it. Unless we can establish confidence in the mind of the farmer, it is unfair, in my opinion, to ask him and his landlords to invest further sums in improving his buildings, draining his land and improving long-term fertility, reclaiming marginal land and so forth. I believe that that confidence would be most soundly based if the farmer felt that the public really realise and appreciate the facts of the food situation in the world and at home which I have been endeavouring to outline to your Lordships. That is the real long-term policy, not scrapping at yearly or half-yearly intervals about Price Reviews, as we have been doing. That situation will come only when the country as a whole realises that the farmer, here and overseas, whether he be a big farmer or a peasant, has a right to expect a living proportionate to the hours he works, to his investment, and to the risks he runs. I believe that to be fundamental.

From this point of view I confess that I was a little worried about what the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, said in one passage of his speech yesterday, when, in his apparent optimism, he referred to the many food-producing firms in foreign lands who know the value of keeping commercial friendships in repair and who would welcome a return to fuller trade with the 50,000,000 people whose market is here. The noble Lord is much better acquainted with the situation overseas than I am, but I am bound to say that, in my humble opinion, while such pockets of available food may well exist here and there from time to time, in sum total they are very small indeed in relation to the total world shortage. Even if they were available to us, they would certainly not be large enough to solve our problems, though they might serve to alleviate them a little from time to time. But even if those pockets existed in the world at large, it would not necessarily follow that they would be available to us. We might not be able to pay for them. My view is that the balance of payments problem is going to be with us probably for all our lifetime. We are certainly going to have a very hard struggle in this country to export sufficient to pay for the imports of raw materials, without which we cannot exist at all, and for the imports of such foods as, strive as we may, we are not able to produce. We have also to face competition from Germany and Japan. Therefore—I hope the noble Lord will not mind my saying so—I venture, from the farmer's point of view, to deprecate anything which may tend in the public mind to minimise the need for greater food production, or which may lead the country into believing that perhaps the situation is less serious than I personally believe it to be.

That brings me to the present Price Review. I have always been very much concerned with the public relations aspect of agriculture. During the war, we tried, I believe with some success, to "put agriculture over" to the public. The farmers, thanks to their magnificent efforts, and those of their workers, and with the co-operation of their landlords, emerged from the war, I believe, very high in the public esteem. I am very much afraid that that high esteem has not been maintained in the interval. When we were laying our plans for the post-war years—and be it noted that they were non-Party plans, for no Minister ever had a more loyal colleague than I had in the person of Tom Williams—there was an implicit understanding with the farmers that, in return for guaranteed markets and guaranteed prices, there would continue to be strenuous efforts to maintain and increase farming efficiency. Eventually, the Agriculture Act of 1947 was passed. Whatever may have been the intentions of the authors of that Act, I do not think there can be any doubt that in practice it has led to an excessive security of tenure in holdings. I think that was agreed on all sides in the debate yesterday. I am not blaming the authors. It was something that possibly they could not foresee, but I think that is agreed to have been the result. Landlords are frustrated in any effort they make to get rid of a bad, let alone an indifferent, farmer. From such information as is at my disposal, agricultural executive committees are equally frustrated. In other words, it is having a disastrous effect on the whole system of landlord and tenant, on which agriculture over the years has been so largely built up, and which still covers two-thirds of the land of this country.

But I am concerned with its effect on increased food production. I had intended to say a good deal about this aspect, but my task has largely been made superfluous by yesterday's debate. From all quarters, I think almost without exception, the need for dealing with the substandard farmer was stressed, particularly, I thought, by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel and also by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, in a powerful speech with almost all of which I should imagine your Lordships fully agreed. For my purpose, I want to quote only one short sentence. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, said this (OFFICIAL REPORT, Volume 176, column 493): 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. That is a doctrine which I advanced when I was Minister of Agriculture in nearly all the speeches I made to farmers. I believe it to be profoundly true.

I would add only this: that the good farmer, the "A" farmer, is as good as any in the world. We may be able to look to him for some small increase in food production. He farms a considerable proportion of the land of this country but, of course, the very fact that he is an "A" farmer and a good farmer means that he is to-day producing very nearly up to the hilt. I am perfectly certain that your Lordships and the country can rely on his taking advantage of, and applying, any advances that science can suggest towards increasing food production. He farms well, partly from patriotic reasons but mainly, I think, because he loves doing it. He gets a real psychological satisfaction out of seeing his land cultivated well and to the full. Increased prices for him will have little influence, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer will skim most of that off in due course. I hope that I shall not be considered controversial, but I could not help thinking, when the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, was speaking and was "chipping" the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, about the necessity for co-ordination being done in the Cabinet and not by individual Ministers, how we should all like to be invisible hearers of a Cabinet meeting in a future Labour Government in which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, as Minister of Agriculture or at the Board of Trade, was trying to persuade Mr. Hugh Gaitskell of the evil effect on productivity of high taxation.

It is the man immediately below the good farmer who requires encouragement and help, and it is to the land which he occupies that we must look for any really great increase of food production. I believe that this land is capable of a very great increase. The reasons for which these farmers find themselves in difficulties are varied and many—too varied for me to occupy your Lordships' time in discussing them to-day—but I suggest to the noble Lord the Under-Secretary who is to reply that it is on them that we require to concentrate all our help in a large variety of ways to meet the varying needs of the men concerned. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, called attention to the falling output in the last two years. That is not a process that has just taken place in the last two years; that is a culmination of a process that has been going on for the last five or six years. I suggest that what we need to-day is a return to the sense of urgency which prevailed in the farming community during the war. I believe that that is going to be the main task of my right honourable friend Sir Thomas Dugdale, and, knowing him personally very well, I believe he will not fail.

Now a word about prices. Quite frankly, I do not believe that by themselves higher prices will increase production. It is possible that they may maintain it but, so far from increasing production, in the case of many of the really sub-standard farmers these increased prices will merely enable them to carry on in their old bad ways. The prices need to be supplemented, as so many of your Lordships said yesterday, not only by an amendment, or amendments, of the 1947 Act, but even more by an alteration in the whole atmosphere of its administration. In detail I think that, for purely psychological reasons, the increased price for milk is a little too low, simply because of the inherent difficulties and worry of producing milk, as compared with rearing cattle.

Having regard to the present profitability of pigs, I am not sure that a rise was necessary, but in the case of cereals I am quite sure that we should get much better results by abolishing the system of feeding-stuffs rationing, making farmer-to-farmer sales free and abolishing price control. It is often said that that would result in a large increase in price. I do not think so. I do not think we should see any material advance in prices, because a farmer is not going to buy, for example, barley from a fellow farmer at a price beyond that at which he believes he can profitably feed it to his pigs and get the results in bacon and pork. If the prices for livestock products are right, then I am certain that the cereal prices will take care of themselves. Incidentally, we should by this means get rid of a lot of cumbrous machinery. We should save a good deal of manpower and expense and, above all, I think we should put an end to the black market, which I am certain exists to-day. If the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will allow me, I would suggest that this is pre-eminently a case for his talents as co-ordinator. I have no inside information but, from my general knowledge of the circumstances, I should guess that the Ministry of Agriculture are strongly in favour of this proposal and the Ministry of Food are strongly against it.

I have refrained from burdening your Lordships with a lot of figures. Perhaps you will forgive me if I quote one set. Table 21 in the Economic Survey shows that, at 1950 prices, the expenditure of this country upon food in 1951 as compared with 1950 dropped from £2,627,000,000 to £2,613,000,000—that is, a drop of £14,000,000 sterling in the expenditure on food in this country. The Survey comments that this could be due to prices overtaking income, apart from the reduction owing to the decrease in the ration of carcase meat. This explanation hardly fits the figures in the next column, which show an increase in expenditure on drink and tobacco from £1,501,000,000 to £1,543,000,000. That is an increase of no less than £42,000,000 in the year. By peculiar coincidence, this is roughly the figure by which prices, including the fertiliser subsidy, are going to be raised to the fanner. So your Lordships will realise that if the public reverted to an expenditure on drink and tobacco, not of the order of that for 1938 or for 1945, nor even for 1949, but only of that for the previous year, 1950, the increased prices to be paid to farmers would add nothing to the public's global cost of living.

To sum up, I have tried to show the importance to farming of the public attitude to the price for food. There is imperative need, as I see it, of a determined campaign (and this has nothing to do with Party politics) to explain to the people of this country that the days of cheap food at the expense of the primary producers have gone for ever; and to get them to realise the fact that over the next couple of decades—I consider that this is a safe prophecy—the reward of primary producers all over the world will have to rise materially in relation to the reward of the urban and industrial population, unless, of course, the latter want to go permanently hungry. That is really the issue. So far as this country is concerned, I believe that the reward to agriculture—the farmer, the worker and the landlord taken collectively—will have to be made proportionate to their work, their costs and their risks. The farmer, on his part—and I stress this—will have to see that his industry as a whole is as reasonably efficient as it can be made by the joints efforts of all, so as to remove even that shadow of plausibility which Mr. "Featherbed" Evans genuinely feels is extant in his present-day arguments. Finally, we must hope that the Price Review under discussion will give us a breathing space—the breathing space that we undoubtedly need. But it will only do so, I am sure, if it is accompanied by a drastic amendment in the terms and the method of administration of the 1947 Act.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, may I, on behalf of your Lordships' House, offer our very hearty congratulations to the noble Viscount who has just spoken? I must say that he has taken a great deal of my thunder, but we are more or less brothers in arms, at any rate so far as farming is concerned, because we saw much of each other during the war period. And I think this would be an opportune moment for your Lordships' House again to express its gratitude to the noble Viscount for the wonderful work which he did during that time. Those of us who laboured with him know the terrific amount of drive which he put into his work—and it was drive! Believe me, when the noble Viscount went up to Leicester we knew we had to get on with the job, and we did. If from this debate we can go to the country and get the countryside to work as hard as it did during the war years, then we shall do a great deal to help our nation out of its present difficulties.

I should like also to say how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who has performed a great service in bringing this important matter to the notice of the public. I am somewhat sceptical that the public realise the difficulties which are facing this country. I am sure they do not. I am certain that, whatever we may do, in five years' time the food position will be worse than it is to-day. But if there is anyone to be blamed in five years' time, who will it be? It will be we in this House and those in another place; we shall take the blame from the public for not having provided the food which they require. Therefore we should do everything we can to educate the people to appreciate the difficult position in which we are now placed. There is, at any rate, one thing of which I am very glad—namely, that this debate has been almost non-political. That shows how we can get together if the subject under discussion is important from the point of view of the well-being of our people.

I, as well as other noble Lords, am concerned at the declining food production of this country, It is true that there is a steady decline. We see the workers leaving the land, not only in this country but in other parts of the world. I am very concerned about that. We cannot increase our food production here, in the Colonies, or anywhere in the world, if we have not the men and the women to do the work. What is happening in Australia and Canada? I do not want to bore your Lordships with too many figures, but I think you will find that these are rather interesting. They are taken from The Times of April 15 which states that in 1939 the population of Australia was about 7,000,000, that in 1951 it was about 8,500,000, and that it is hoped and expected that during the next six years it will exceed 10,000,000. The rural forces in Australia in 1939 were 520,000, and they have now fallen to 450,000. Those figures rather frighten me. The factory labour force in Australia in 1939 was 542,000, and that has now risen to 889,000. Australia is becoming an industrial country. In those circumstances, what hope have we of increasing our food production in Australia? Let us take Canada, another great country. Again, these figures are taken from The Times of April 15. During the past twelve years industrial workers in Canada have increased in number by two-thirds, and farm employment has decreased by a quarter. My Lords, these are rather alarming figures, and I hope they will be made more public than heretofore.

Take the little county of Leicester. We are only a small county, but we are asked, quite rightly, to produce more food. How are we going to do it? During the past two years the number of our farm workers has dropped by some 627. I would remind your Lordships that at the end of the war we had in our county about 4,000 prisoners-of-war, displaced persons, and so on, for this type of labour. They have all gone. We now have a casual force of something under 100; that is all. We must get the workers back to the land by some means, and I was very glad to hear the noble Viscount say that there is only one way—namely, that this type of labour must be paid more money and should be housed better. One of the things which I hope the Government will do, and as soon as they possibly can, is to adopt the policy of building more houses in the countryside. We want more homes and we want those workers to return to the land. Human nature being what it is, good wages and good housing will do much to encourage those people to go back to the countryside.

I was glad to hear the noble Viscount refer to the way in which the farmers farmed the land of our grand old country during the war period. I agree with him that 90 per cent. of our country is very well farmed. There is room for some improvement, but it is true to say that 90 per cent. is very well farmed. When we consider that in the 1920's and 1930's the agricultural industry, as your Lordships know, was in a very bad state, it is clear that a wonderful change for the better has been wrought. I remember, in those old days to which I have just referred, paying a visit to the Eastern counties. I there saw farmers in such a state that they were wearing rags, and there were workers in a similar plight. What could those men do? In many cases, they left the land—200,000 of them did so. I do not want to bore your Lordships by going over past history, but I think it is just as well to remember these things. It is because of this that the farmer sometimes says to us: "Ah, I remember the 1930's my boy. What is going to happen to us in the future? If you get the opportunity are you going to manage things so that we slip back into the condition in which we were in those times?" We have to assure the farmer that such a thing will not happen again in this country. I do not think it will. I am confident that, even if adequate supplies of food to meet all our needs were available in the world, we should not let our farmers down. But we have no room for passengers; that 10 per cent. who have been referred to should and must be dealt with.

At this point I should like to place on record an expression of our debt of gratitude to our farmers for what they have accomplished during the past ten years. They have certainly done a grand job. It has been said that the "C" farmers, the poorer farmers, should be the ones to produce greatly increased quantities of food. I do not agree. If you really want a quick increase in food production, you must go to the "A" farmer, the "A-plus" farmer and the "B-plus" farmer, men in the higher categories, and ask them to produce more. You will find that there is not one in a thousand of them who will not tell you that he could do much better. I have spoken to a number of them recently. In the great majority of cases what these men have said amounts to this: "I have not got any pigs, poultry or sheep, and the reason for that is that I have no houses in which to accommodate the necessary men. If I am going to have this livestock I shall want a poultry-man, a pig-man and a shepherd, and they will need homes to live in." All these things come into the picture. To-day, I regret to say, there are thousands of farms which are without poultry, pigs and sheep. Many are without livestock of any sort at all. That is not good farming. I regret to say this, but it is the fact. I hope that the men concerned will be educated into recognising that they are not treating the land as they should. After all, land is a trust and it is not being treated as it should be treated if there is no livestock upon it.

Here I should like to pay a tribute to the National Agricultural Advisory Service which has done, and is doing, a grand job. We farmers are not making anything like as good use of that Service as we ought to do. About 1941 or 1942, when the organisation started, a number of young men from it came along to help our fanners. In my district, we had the assistance of a particularly brilliant young man. I encouraged him to come to ray farm at least once a week. We used to walk round together. With my practical experience and his theoretical knowledge we made a very good job of the farm. I certainly benefited a great deal from that young man's technical knowledge. I urge all farmers to make as much use as they possibly can of the National Agricultural Advisory Service.

How are we to get a big increase in food production? As has already been said in this debate, we must infuse confidence into the agricultural industry. That must be done, and I think it will be done. Farmers, I am sure, appreciate to the full the benefits which they enjoy. They appreciate guaranteed prices and assured markets. Those are grand things, and I think it is well that the farmers should be reminded of the position in which these advantages place them. Broadly speaking, they are, I agree, in a very favourable position. So far as beef is concerned, however, the situation is rather different. When a farmer goes into beef production he needs a period of four years before he sees a return. If a farmer decides to start in beef production, say next week, he buys his beasts for breeding, and by the time he has calves reared and fit to go to the block some four years will have elapsed. That means a farmer has just got the turn-round by the end of the four years. If some other Government were to come into power and to say to the farmer "We are not going to allow you to have the same conditions in the future," it would be just too bad for that man. He ought to know, I suggest, that he has at any rate ten years of the settled conditions with regard to beef production ahead of him.

I want our cousins in the towns to know these things. They should realise that this is a very slow process. There is no other industry in the country which is so slow in its returns as farming. We must face these facts, and I hope the country will face them. We need that ten years; and we need an assurance of that ten years' period before we can persuade farmers to embark on beef production in a big way. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, said yesterday, if we are to get this beef we have got to have more calves. The noble Lord said he thought this country could well rear a further 300,000 or 400,000 more calves during the next four years or so. I agree that it can be done, but I am not sure that it will be possible unless we make some little change in our methods.

I do not like going into technical details, and I will not detain your Lordships more than a moment or two; but I should like to give an explanation to show what I mean. I think we ought to make much more use of the thousands of young cows which are now being put out of dairies as not being good enough milk producers. There is no reason why these young cows should not be potential rearers of calves—at any rate for two or three years before they come to the end of their days. We have to have more breeders, and if we do not use these young cows there are only the heifers. If you use the heifers exclusively, that means taking them away from the beef market. I most strongly urge that these immature cows should be taken off the market and that some use should be made of them for breeding. To ensure this being done, I suggest that the price for these cows should be, say, £1 per cwt. less than the heifer price now prevailing, instead of there being a difference of 50s. per cwt. between the prices of cows and heifers as at present. Let such of these cows as are suitable—they might be chosen by the grading panels in our various markets—be earmarked for breeding purposes. I suggest that that is an idea which might well be considered, with a view to a scheme being worked out. I hope that I have not bored your Lordships too much with technicalities. It cannot be stressed too strongly that if we are going to have the beef which is so badly needed, we must have calves, and such a scheme, I suggest, is one means by which we might get more of them.

Next, I should just like to refer to the greatest potential we have—grassland. That is our greatest potential producer if it is properly managed. Millions of acres are crying out for fertiliser, and I was much vexed to note in the Press two or three days ago that one of the big fertiliser firms were standing off 150 of their workers. The firm could not get rid of the fertiliser which they had in stock. They stated that one reason for this was that some of the farmers had last year bought enough fertiliser to cover their requirements for a considerable future period because they knew there was going to be a rise in prices. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the farmers are not using so much fertiliser, and steps should be taken to ensure that more is used. I do not know how this is to be done but the Goverment must get the farmers to put more fertiliser on to the land. I leave the method to the Government—I do not mind how they do it. If it has to be done by subsidy, then let it be so done. Personally, I hate subsidies, but if they are going to be the means of getting increased production, then we have just got to have them. I am sure that we can double and in many cases treble the output of grass. If we re-seed and then apply fertilisers, it is marvellous what results can be achieved.

At present too much damage is being done to the agricultural industry by stupid and unfair criticism. It is time that this talk about "feather-bedding" and nonsense of that kind was stopped. It is doing harm. It seems as though many people in this country think farmers should not make a profit at all. Why not? The Chancellor of the Exchequer would welcome farmers making a bit of money, which might be useful for the tax collector. I do not know why we should grudge the farmers a little pleasure. We should let them have a look at the money, if only for a month or two. Do not begrudge them that. Speaking seriously, I would point out that the agricultural industry returns a smaller percentage of profit than any other industry.

I should like to ask the Government whether they are quite satisfied with the results of the work done by the agricultural executive committees. Let me pay the greatest possible tribute to the work that these committees did during the war. They did a noble and a grand work. But to-day they are not getting the output. I do not blame them altogether, but I am not satisfied that they provide the answer to our problems to-day. I should like to make a suggestion, which I hope your Lordships will receive kindly. I believe that during the years we have outrun our methods for dealing with farmers and with land. After listening to this debate, I am glad to think that we are more or less agreed that agriculture should be outside politics. I am going to suggest that we should consider forming a Home Food Corporation in this country. Some of your Lordships may think that we have had enough corporations, but I consider that the time has come when we should take a look at this suggestion. We should have a marketing board for every commodity we produce, and that applies more than anywhere else to the horticultural side of the industry. Goodness knows! they want a marketing board. We have already several marketing boards and many farmers to-day say, "Thank God for the Milk Marketing Board!"

I am suggesting that we should have a Home Food Corporation, which might be composed of one member from each marketing board, plus an agreed number of farmers chosen by ballot and selected for their business acumen and farming ability, an agreed number of land workers and land owners (actually in my notes I have "land owners" first, I do not know why), and, in addition, an agreed number of consumers' representatives and representatives of the Ministries of Agriculture and of Food, and of the Treasury. I suggest a very wide composition and that the Corporation should have wide powers. The Corporation would be responsible to Parliament, as it is bound to be. Parliament would say that it wants such-and-such an amount of food, and it would be up to the Corporation to produce it. I think we should be able to put to use the experience of the agricultural executive committees, which might be reconstructed and come under the Corporation, as would the National Agricultural Advisory Service. This is a big question to throw open for discussion at the present moment, but I hope your Lordships will give some thought to it and perhaps, if thought fit, we might look into it further on some future occasion. I believe that some good could come of it for the country. Give the farmers confidence, I will not say, "Give them capital," but let it be available to them; and give them workers. With good leadership—I stress the word "leadership"—I am certain that the farmers of Britain will not be found wanting in producing the increased quantity of food which is so vital for the well-being of our country.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, this is the first time I have had the privilege of addressing your Lordships' House and I hope your Lordships will grant me the indulgence which I understand is customary for a maiden speech. I am glad to have the opportunity of making my maiden speech on the subject of this debate, which I believe to be of the greatest importance for the country at the present time. There are a few things I should like to say, with all humility, having listened yesterday and this afternoon to many eminent agriculturists and other experts, who seem to have covered the ground very thoroughly. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to explain that during the last three-and-a-half years I have been concerned with the development of a new project in Norfolk which is designed in a small way to add to our supplies of home-grown feeding-stuffs, and, therefore, I have had an opportunity of studying some of the new techniques which are being developed and which may be able to help us to increase our production of food from our own soil.

During the last six years we have been struggling to export sufficient industrial goods to balance our payments abroad, without very great success. It appears that the position now is as bad as it has been at any time since the war. Meanwhile, half the money we earn with our exports we spend on importing food—that is, including drink and tobacco. Considerably more than one-quarter of the total value of our exports is being expended on grain, meat, dairy produce and fresh fruit and vegetables. In these circumstances, as many noble Lords have already said, surely it is of vital importance that we should consider to what extent we can increase the production of food from our own soil and depend less on the export of industrial goods in order that we can afford to buy food from abroad. I believe we should have a much larger and more prosperous agricultural industry in this country and produce at least two-thirds of our own food in future. I am convinced that if we want more eggs, bacon and meat, we must produce them in this country. If we do not, before long people are going to go hungry. Not only do I believe that we can produce the extra foods we want, but I am convinced that we can do so far more cheaply than they can be obtained from any other source.

One thing which is going to be of great importance is the extent to which we should aim to be self-sufficient in our food supplies. One of the greatest problems in the agricultural industry, in considering how we are going to expand production, is the supply of animal feeding-stuffs. Of all the basic food produced in this country at the present moment from our own soil, 80 per cent. is consumed by livestock. Therefore, if we are to keep more animals we have to get greatly increased supplies of feeding-stuffs. I suggest that it would be foolish for us to build up our herds and flocks based on uncertain and expensive supplies from abroad.

In considering this question of the production of feeding-stuffs in this country, grass is a crop of pre-eminent importance. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, referred yesterday to the fine work that has been carried out at the Hannah Dairy Research Institute in Ayrshire, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, also drew your Lordships' attention to the important contribution that grassland production could make to feeding the cattle population of this country in particular. We have 17,500,000 acres of grassland, and if we could increase the production from that grassland by 25 per cent. it would be equivalent to 4,000,000 tons of coarse grains, which would not otherwise be available to us, unless it were imported. A 25 per cent. increase in production is a very modest figure, compared to the actual increases that have been shown to be possible at such research stations as the Hannah Institute, and it is by no means an impossible task. There again, we could produce a great deal more grain from our existing cereal acreage if modern techniques were used, such as using the right variety of seed, with the optimum amount of fertilisers and proper weed control. In that way we could probably increase our yields of grain by at least 10 per cent., and this would give us a further 500,000 tons of coarse grains, which would provide more food for our pigs and poultry.

But increased production of grain is not the only means of providing extra food for pies and poultry. The more grass we can feed to our cattle, the more grain will be freed to feed pigs and poultry. It is often thought that an increase of grassland production is incompatible with producing more corn. On the other hand, I believe that the more grassland we plough up in order to grow grain, the greater the acreage of land that will eventually come into the rotational ley system, which will indirectly increase our grassland production. Therefore I feel sure that the two things can go hand in hand. It has been calculated that if we made the maximum use of grass for feeding our dairy herds during winter and summer it would free for pigs and poultry the equivalent amount of coarse grains that could be grown by ploughing up a further 1,000,000 acres for cereals.

I feel that there is a great potential production from grassland in this country. It is a crop which we can grow easily; and, as I say, there are already 17,000,500 acres of our available cultivable land growing grass at the moment. Above all, grassland can quickly and easily make an enormous contribution to our supplies of home-grown food. At the present time about half the present food for our cattle is provided by grass—I believe the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, referred to that yesterday. The average yield from this grassland is of the order of 15 cwt. of starch equivalent per acre—that is, on the dairy farms of this country. We have a national average of only 600 gallons of milk from our dairy herds. To achieve this we feed nearly 4 lb. of concentrates, some home-produced but mainly imported, per gallon of milk. This is a most extravagant and uneconomic use of a commodity which is expensive and imported largely at the expense of dollars.

The results of an investigation on some sixty farms, mainly concerned with dairying, have recently been published, and I believe that the information gathered is of the greatest importance to the future of the agricultural industry. It is not a survey of a research project, but an investigation of ordinary practical commercial farms, and it has shown what can be done with a good level of management on ordinary farms in everyday practice. I should perhaps explain that these included many small farms of under 50 acres, of poor land—or, at least, not all good land—in districts such as the West Riding and Wales, up to altitudes of 1,000 feet. In 1950, on these farms grass provided 65 per cent. of the diet for dairy cattle, and the yield of starch equivalent from their grassland was 20 cwt. per acre, as opposed to the average for the country of 15 cwt. per acre. The average yield of the herd was 710 gallons, and the income per cow £102, which is very high when compared with the average income over the country. As a result, they were able substantially to reduce the amount of concentrates fed to the cattle. I believe that this is one way in which a spectacular and important contribution can be made to the whole problem of providing feeding-stuffs for the extra livestock which are essential to produce the meat, eggs and bacon that we require.

The criticism is occasionally levelled that by feeding grass to our cattle we should have a fall in our milk production. But if we look at Holland, which has a shorter grazing season than this country, 80 per cent. of the national dairy herd's diet is provided by grass; they have the highest national herd average in the world, and at the same time they are probably, together with Denmark, the lowest-cost producers of milk in Europe. I think we could do better in this country, with our longer grazing season and the warmth and moisture brought to us by the Gulf Stream.

There is one last comment that I should like to make. It appears to me that our present system of subsidising imported feeding-stuffs for farmers, and particularly for small farmers, militates against the widespread adoption on our farms of practices to which I have referred, because so long as a small farmer can buy feeding-stuffs in a bag from a merchant, he knows exactly what he is getting: he can feed it to his stock, and he knows the price of the end product. He can, therefore, calculate fairly exactly what his profit is and he knows the risk. In these circumstances, it will be very difficult to persuade him to adopt new techniques and intensive grassland management, all of which involves risks and unknown practices with which he is not accustomed, and there is no incentive for him to do it. At the present time, dairy cake is being sold to the farmer at about £10 a ton below cost. I have calculated, on figures which have been published, that, if import prices do not fall during the coming twelve months this subsidy will cost the Exchequer something of the order of £40,000,000 over the year. I suggest to Her Majesty's Government that this money might be better applied in paying the farmers increased prices for their livestock, which would encourage them to produce food from their own soil, rather than, so to speak, providing them with an artificially low-priced, semi-manufactured product, which in practice has the reverse effect and is indirectly persuading them to produce less from their own farms.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I believe your Lordship will wish me to express on your behalf our satisfaction and gratitude for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. It is refreshing, as it is right, in your Lordships' House to hear the remarks of experts, particularly when they are delivered in that modest but convincing manner which Lord Melchett has used in addressing you this afternoon. The course of this debate so far has, it seems to me, taken two lines which I wish to follow. In the first place, the speeches from the Benches of the noble Lords opposite have led your Lordships to feel that we have unanimity in an agricultural policy in this country, and I sincerely hope that that is true. Nevertheless, the facts of the matter are that during the last seven years in which the agricultural policy of this country has been administered by the supporters of the Socialist Party, agricultural output has fallen steadily. I cannot believe that that is entirely a coincidence. Farmers, like most other people, prefer to produce more in order to make more money. If they are pro- ducing less, it is not because they wish to produce less or to "do somebody else down." They are producing less because the price policy and the policy which has governed agriculture to date has not afforded them the inducement to produce more.

If your Lordships will look at the Monthly Digest of Statistics you will find very disquieting figures, to which various speakers in your Lordships' House have referred. There has been a steady decline in all cereal products, or the three principal cereal products; a steady increase of land going back to what is called permanent grass, as opposed to ley, and, what is even more disquieting, a steady decline in the cattle population, especially of young cattle, which is what really matters. I do not want to bore your Lordships with figures, especially on the second day of a debate of this sort, but it is not without significance that since 1948 the numbers of cattle under one year of age have been and, so far as I know, still are falling. That augurs badly for the production of increased quantities of meat. The population of sheep is subject to particular circumstances which have led to a rise in the last year. That is a result mainly of the recovery from the very bad and critical winters of 1946 and 1947. The fact of the matter is that the sheep population is vastly below what it was before the war, though what is euphemistically described as "rough grazings" appears, if anything, to have increased rather than decreased Farmers, if they are as a whole producing less, cannot all be out of step, except Mr. "Featherbed" Evans. Or are they? The fact of the matter is that at the present moment farming in this country presents rather a dismal picture of an industry with declining output, and this at a time when it is vital to have increased production, on account not only of our balance of payments but also of the whole future of our population.

The second point which seems to me to come clearly out of this debate is that the remarks which noble Lords have made fall into two categories only one of which arises directly out of the terms of Lord Llewellin's Motion, which deals with the increase of food production in this country. A great deal has been said about food abroad, and it is true that that has a very distinct bearing on the problem. I want to deal with that point for one brief moment before passing on to the question of food production here. Studies which have been made, including those of Mr. Colin Clark, to which there has already been a reference in your Lordships' House, present a picture of world population increasing at the rate of about 1¼ per cent. But what is far more important than that is the fact that the population of the high-consuming countries is increasing far more rapidly than had been expected. In particular, one of the prognostications which was made ten to fifteen years ago was that by the end of this decade the population of the United States would have achieved a stable level. It has, of course, done nothing of the sort. The reasons why it has not done so are interesting. The explanation is unknown, but instead of a population turnover per century of three generations, the turnover is now four, as a result of the young age of marriage, which averages something under twenty-five.

The second point which arises from that is that the average family in the United States, which was two and was expected to decline below two, is now two and a half. The same increase of population in the high-consuming countries is reflected in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and in practically every country in Europe except this country. The consequence is that those countries, being either wholly or growingly industrialised, are all potentially larger consumers of world food. What has been happening since the war is perfectly clear evidence that that is, in fact, taking place.

May I, with all respect, differ from the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, on one particular point? The United States to-day is, I believe, a net importer of food and not a net exporter of food. What is even more important, so far as meat is concerned, is that in the last two years the United States has been a net importer of meat. That gives considerable food for thought. The meat-growing areas in the world are not very considerable. There are some which can still be developed. But if the United States and Canada, from being net exporters of meat and other products, become net importers of meat—there is no question of Canada being a net importer of other foods at the moment—the prospects of imported food supplies in this country vanish into thin air.

The remedy is to secure a development of meat supplies in other parts of the world, of which notably Australia and New Zealand are the most important. An increase in meat supplies from New Zealand is in fact taking place. On the other hand, the prospect of more meat from Australia is rapidly disappearing. I quote from a Report made by the Commonwealth Committee which investigated the development of the North-west. The Report says: Estimates made by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics indicate that if Australia is to meet home requirements for beef and maintain an export surplus at the present level"— that is a pretty low level, comparatively— it will be necessary to increase the output of beef cattle by some 40 per cent. by the end of this decade"— that is within eight years.

The contribution which Her Majesty's present Government and Governments in the past have made to stimulating production of meat in Australia has been to negotiate an export price for meat which is wholly unremunerative to the beef producers in Australia. It is no credit to any Minister or Ministry of Food to negotiate an agreement with a producer of meat which makes it unprofitable for that producer of meat to export it to this country. The present position, so far as meat from Australia is concerned, in a very few words, is that the existing contract—much criticised, naturally, in Australia—provides, I think, for a price of 15.3d. per lb., seaboard, for meat exported to this country. That same meat can be sold in Sydney and Melbourne at 24d. per lb. Is it surprising that, without a greater incentive to the meat-producing areas, Australia, may cease to be an exporter of meat in, say, two or three years?

Even assuming that we have a balance of payments which allows us to buy meat, we shall find ourselves in a position in which meat will not be available to be bought—not only in those Commonwealth countries which should produce a great deal more, but also in Eire. The meat from Eire is to-day being sent to feed the United States and the United States Army, and is also being exported to other European countries, because the price which the Ministry of Food are prepared to pay for that meat does not compare favourably with what other people are prepared to pay. We must reconcile ourselves to the fact to which the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, and other speakers have referred, that prices of food products, and especially of meat, are to-day a great deal too low. Reckoned in terms of gold value after a depreciated pound, the price of 15d. per lb. for Australian beef, seaboard, is quite ridiculous. If, therefore, we find that we are not able to get meat from overseas countries, because we are not prepared to pay to encourage meat producers to produce it, and if we find that world consumers are going to take off the meat that we might get, we shall be left in the position of having to produce the meat that we may expect for the next twenty years, substantially, if not wholly, in this country; and if it is not produced here we shall not get it.

I do not want to go into the various methods and schemes to which many noble Lords have referred—in particular the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in his remarks just now—but there is one aspect which seems to me to be quite outstanding concerning what can broadly be termed marginal land. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, was told yesterday by, I think, Lord Woolton, in reply to a question, that about 1,500,000 acres of marginal land could be brought into production and that about 500,000 acres could be brought into production quickly. The fact is, of course, that there is marginal land and marginal land, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe said. I take it that marginal land means land which is connected or accessible to existing farms and which can be very much better farmed than it now is.


The 1,500,000 acres to which Lord Woolton referred is grassland which can be ploughed up as a result of the ploughing-up campaign, not marginal land.


Land, production of which could be substantially improved.


Not marginal.


Not marginal. But there is obviously a good deal of land which is not properly utilised; it is practically waste land—land which requires reclamation or which can be improved. The existing machinery, in the form of ploughing subsidy and subsidies for improvement, is probably adequate for that, but when it comes to the reclamation of marginal land, which is land specially suitable for breeding and for carrying additional stock, I doubt whether the present machinery is adequate. The additional machinery provides for grants for reclamation and for improvement, and there are, it is true, facilities such as loans on mortgage from the Agriculture Mortgage Corporation and other concerns, whereby either a landlord or tenant can improve such land. But in most cases that machinery requires either some initial capital to start the improvement, or some initial capital to which the State will give an addition, or it involves personal borrowing by either the land owner or the occupier. Broadly speaking, that is the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Luke, referred yesterday. Capital for this purpose is not generally available. There are large numbers of landlords and tenants who just cannot find the initial few hundred pounds which they have to put up to start the scheme for the reclamation or improvement of marginal land.

I have been in communication with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and perhaps he will say something when he comes to reply, about what seemed to me a possible way out of the difficulty, which I feel is a real one. Living, as I do, on the borders of a country where there is a great deal of marginal land—on the borders of Wales—I am perpetually depressed at the slight progress in reclaiming land—except during the war years, when agricultural committees did some quite remarkable work. It has seemed to me that there were methods by which something could be done to help on this reclamation. People who come overseas from Australia to see me (I have no doubt the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, also has friends who come from overseas to see him), foreigners from Europe, and Americans, are surprised at the amount of land which they regard as wasted, in a country where land values are so high. That the land is wasted indicates that there is a need for some better machinery than we have yet provided for getting that land into cultivation or into higher production. The ploughing-up of grassland, as Lord Carrington knows, has some enemies, as well as some strong supporters. It is not necessarily true that grassland ought to be ploughed up, or that it will necessarily produce more if it is ploughed up than it is producing now. I am speaking of land which obviously can produce more.

I believe there are two ways in which this can be done. One is—and this is especially applicable to hill farms or high farms—to take a leaf out of the book of our friends in Australia, where certain land improvements, notably fencing (these are very necessary adjuncts to the development of hill farming), access roads and water are regarded and are treated for tax purposes as annual outgoings in the farm budget. They are not subject to improvement charge. In other words, the 1947 Finance Act, which provides for expenditure on improvements being recoverable over ten years, should, I think, for certain types of farms and for certain types of improvements, be modified in order to allow the farmers, occupiers or landlords, as the case may be, to write off the current year's expenditure on certain approved improvements. That has been of the utmost value in developing the country in Australia.

The second proposal that I have in mind, and which I should like to see developed, is that the improvement of land should be undertaken by the Government. I do not mean that this should be done compulsorily, but that it should be done by the Government where both the owner and the occupier, or the owner or the occupier, wish to see the improvement carried out but are neither willing themselves to contract a personal debt nor in possession of capital to start the improvement. Your Lordships will be aware that in the Eastern Counties of England, land which has been flooded and reclaimed is subject to an owner and occupier's drainage rate, payable by the owner or by the occupier, and very often by both. The object of that rate is to keep the land free from water and to maintain the drainage channels and works. I suggest that Her Majesty's Government should consider the reclamation of land by the State and the levying on it of an improvement rate, payable either by the landlord or by the occupier, or by both.

As I see it, this would not involve agricultural committees themselves undertaking the work. Most, if not all, of that work is best put out to contract. I believe that many landlords and many occupiers of high farms would welcome the drainage of waterlogged hill land, and the provision of fencing, access roads, water supplies and improvements to farm buildings. Those tenants, as I think they are legally called, or those tenures, could then be charged with a rate which would in thirty to forty years redeem the capital expenditure on the improvement of that land. I believe that either or both of those schemes would lead to an increased acreage becoming available for the production of meat. Within a short time that would substantially improve our domestically grown meat supplies, without which, on account of our balance of payments as well as of the absolute shortage of world meat supplies, we are in danger of becoming an entirely vegetarian nation.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, doubtless I am foolhardy in taking part in this debate and exposing my dismal ignorance of agriculture. Nevertheless, my justification is that, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, we are directly interested in agriculture, not only in this country but in the world as a whole. If, then, I intervene, I do so because I feel it important that this country of ours should survive, and should survive as a first-class nation. I do so also because I think the economics side of this debate has been perhaps a little neglected. When we look at agriculture, we must remember that, although it is possibly the most important industry in this country (and I suppose that most farmers will agree with that statement) it is only one of our great industries. It is true, of course, that we can live without producing iron or coal—it is possible under certain circumstances—but we cannot exist unless we produce food.

Let us consider for a moment some of the factors which have struck me, as a layman—as an ignoramus, if you like—while this debate has been proceeding. I have listened with very great interest to all the technical arguments which have been brought forward. They have greatly impressed me. I have also been much impressed with the knowledge of the noble Lords who have already spoken. But what has also struck me is the diversity of opinion. Although we have tried to keep this debate on a non-political, non-controversial level, nevertheless there has been a great disparity of view as to what is marginal land, as to what steps should be taken to produce more beef, whether we should go in more for cereals and so forth; whether we should drain land, and gain a larger area for production.

I think my noble friend Lord Hungarton has put his finger on the immediate requirement. What we need is a National Food Corporation. I am impressed, again as a layman and as a consumer, with the lack of unanimity of opinion as to what we can produce. What are our potentialities? I suggest that we should make an inquiry, a "whole-hogging" inquiry, into what our requirements (when I say "requirements," I mean the necessary requirements, not luxuries) are to feed this country. Then we should look at our country's acres, and see how much we can produce, not necessarily at any price, because I have no doubt that we could produce all we need at a cost, but what we could produce reasonably for which a town-dweller would pay a reasonable price. Further, doubtless there will be a gap between what we could reasonably produce and the amount that we think we ought to consume. We should then consider how much we might reasonably expect to be able to buy from other countries like New Zealand, and over a long period. Then we should go to work to see how we can co-ordinate those three factors.

Here again, I am quite prepared to believe that, in spite of improved technique, in spite of improved organisation, there would still be a gap between what we could reasonably expect to receive and what we think we ought to make available for our consumers. That gap will have to be bridged, I believe, possibly through subsidies. Let us remember here that when we speak of subsidies we are speaking of financial encouragement for farmers. Let us consider who pays for those subsidies. We speak vaguely of the Exchequer having to find the money. But who is the Exchequer? The Exchequer comes down, in the end, to the inhabitants of this country, the consumers. But the inhabitants of this country are also producers; and if the producers have to pay more for their food they will increase the prices of the commodities which we are able to manufacture—and let us remember well, the commodities which we shall have available for export. Unless we export, we cannot hope to get the raw materials to keep this country on even a low standard of living. We shall also have to export in order to be able to buy not only necessary food but those things which give grace and significance to the lives of everyone in this country. We do not want to live on the margin; we want to have something to make life really worth living.

I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, liked the last Government, and that may possibly have led him into the criticism that agriculture has suffered so disastrously since the war. I am quite prepared to admit that our farms have not produced as much as they did during the war, but may I point out to the noble Lord that during the war we all lived in a high state of tension? And when peace came, many of us, perhaps all of us, heaved a sigh of relief and thought, "Now we can relax a little." Ought not the farmers also to have had a breathing space? Doubtless, we regret that the difficulties which the farmers had to surmount during the war were not faced up to by all farmers after the war. But they are not to blame for it. Now, of course, is the time for us to encourage the farmers to produce more.

My Lords, my final conclusions from this debate are, first, as my noble friend Lord Hungarton expressed it, to have a National Food Corporation which will look into our requirements and also into our potentialities. Then we must remember all the time that it is fatal to consider agriculture as a watertight compartment. It is part of the life of this country—perhaps the most important part, but nevertheless a part. Whatever we do in agriculture will have an immediate bearing upon other industries in this country. We must not get things out of focus. We must see that, while we encourage farming, while we try to get every ounce of food that we reasonably can expect out of our farms, we do not allow the town dweller, the producer in other industries, to suffer and possibly to push up the prices of the other consumer and capital goods upon which we as a nation have to rely.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, my remarks this afternoon are going to be very brief, because I have only just flown in from South Africa, where I was judging British beef cattle at the International Show at Johannesburg, and I have not had time to read Hansard or the reports of the speeches of the various noble Lords who spoke yesterday in this most important debate. However, I should like to follow on the lines of the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, who I think has made far the best speech this afternoon.

First, I should like to turn briefly to the question of overseas food production and to the efforts that have been made by this country to promote further food production, at our expense. These efforts were inaugurated by various bodies who, I am afraid, up till now have not altogether satisfied public opinion. I am not going to dwell at any length on anything like the groundnuts scheme or the Gambia egg scheme, or even the Queensland situation which I hear is rapidly deteriorating. All these schemes have gone wrong, and I think the public money expended on them might well have been spent on agriculture at home. I should like to make the point that, while distance lends enchantment, it is not necessarily correct to suppose that there are vast untapped areas in countries overseas which are still capable of producing large supplies of meat at cheap prices which can be consumed by the 50,000,000 people in this island. That is an entirely fallacious theory. If we are to spend public money, the taxpayers' money, on these rather random and often quite impractical ventures overseas, I humbly suggest that something in the nature of a pilot scheme might be floated on an experimental basis before millions of pounds of money are thrown away in a completely futile venture.

I should like now to turn to the position at home. When I left a few weeks ago I think we were still importing horse-meat. We are the only country to do so in Europe to-day. This meat is imported from Europe—I may say from Germany. I believe that in the interval a few reindeer have been introduced into Scotland. But that is not going to be the answer to our food problem. In this Island there are 65,000,000 acres of land, of which only two-thirds, or slightly over 40,000,000 acres, are actually producing food; there remain something like 18,000,000 or 20,000,000 acres. I am not speaking of marginal land—it can really be called hill land—of which by far the greater part is in Scotland, which remains completely untapped.

I join issue with the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, in his speech, when he said that he had no great brief for a long-term policy. Of course, he was speaking of his immediate problems in farming down in Wiltshire, but his problems, naturally, are not the problems of hill farmers. Hill farming has suffered throughout the last 100 years by lack of a policy and lack of confidence. I should like to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture for his assurance that, in effect, there will be a long-term policy which will enable us, as hill farmers (I am speaking now for Scotland) to launch out and develop the potential which is unquestionably there but which has never been tapped to its uttermost because of lack of confidence. While I speak of hill farming, may I ask the Government to ensure that less misuse of land—not only hill land, but arable land—is practised by those experts (and here, like Henry Ford, I would say, "Heaven protect me from the experts!") who are in charge of our future and our increased agricultural potential.

It is shocking to think that it is only in the last three or four years that the Government have realised that there is a meat shortage in this country. At the end of the war many of us who have to travel abroad to earn our living voiced the fear that this meat shortage would become apparent, and it was only in 1946 that the Hill Farming Act was placed on the Statute Book, thereby bolstering up the sheep population and the sheep farming, which had fallen to a dangerously low level. Even to-day, as other noble Lords have already said, we are several million sheep below pre-war standard, despite the realisation of our great shortages. But surely beef is even more important than mutton, and the beef producers on the hill farms have had absolutely no assistance. I speak as perhaps one of the largest hill farmers, and I have had to carry out my fairly extensive work in breeding cattle on the hills without any such assistance as was available to the black-faced sheep farmers and hill farmers under the terms of the 1946 Act, which gave a 50 per cent. grant to sheep farmers.

I should like to illustrate the importance of a policy, by witnessing the extraordinarily successful way in which the Irish Free Stale has tackled this farming problem. I am sure I am not offending anyone here present of Irish extraction when I say that as a race the Irish are certainly not very distinguished agriculturists, in the sense of working their arable land. But they have realised that they have grass and constant rainfall, and in Ireland we see a country which is not only supplying beef to the United States, Canada and Europe, but is also sending over to the British Isles somewhere in the neighbourhood of 400,000 store cattle annually. This in itself is a remarkable contribution to the nation's food supply. I am confident that Scotland could do the same, but, in my part of the country at any rate, we see glen after glen and hillside after hillside being taken over either by the Forestry Commission or for hydroelectric developments which involve the flooding of fields, and, to my mind, misusing the land. I will not cite instances to show the cumulative effect of this misuse, but it is becoming more evident all the time in respect of arable land, especially in view of the building of houses and schools, and the laying-out of playing fields, aerodromes and rifle ranges. These things constitute an enormous source of interference with production, and the cumulative effect is such that it is difficult to foresee what is going to happen in the future with world population growing at the speed at which it is growing to-day.

As an example of the importance which is attached to land abroad, I would point out that it is, in fact, a crime, both in Scandinavia and in Switzerland, to drown land. I am told that in Holland it is impossible to build a house if the site suggested is one which can be cultivated, and that there are people to-day actually living on the canals of Holland who have not been able to get permission to build houses because of the acute land hunger. We, at home, have not realised to the full how vitally important every acre is to our population. We have the lowest acreage in proportion to population of any country in the world, and these precious acres are steadily diminishing. I hope the Government will take steps to remedy this carelessness—the need to do so does not seem to have been appreciated by their predecessors—for this land is a heritage which will be of supreme importance to us in the future.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to make only one or two points, and I can assure you that I shall not detain you for long. Many noble Lords have already emphasised the fact that it is to the pig that we must look for any substantial increase in our meat supplies in the near future. We all welcome the fact that between December, 1950, and December, 1951, the pig population has increased by over 1,000,000. At the same time, however, there is a rather disturbing feature, in that the total number of sows, which had increased by 100,000 between June, 1950, and June, 1951, had fallen by December by about 20,000. Those 20,000 sows might have produced some 23,000 tons of pig meat.

As your Lordships know, among pigs there comes a day in the life of every girl when the decision has to be taken whether she should become a mother or bacon. The decision is usually irrevocable, and it is important, not only to the pig, that the decision should be the right one. One important factor which may influence the farmer who has to take this decision is what the ration position is likely to be in many months' time when the litter is due. I am not speaking so much about the best pedigree pigs but what I think is usually sold as commercial breeding stock. To resist the temptation of a quick return from bacon needs confidence in the future. It must always be to a certain extent a gamble, but it is made even more so by the fact that the ration is announced such a short time before it comes into effect. The ration scales for the period from January to April were announced on November 29—just a month before they came into effect—and the ration scales for the period starting to-day were announced on March 14—just six weeks ago. I am not criticising the ration scales, as I am sure the Government are well aware of the necessity of making them as high as they possibly can, but I am asking the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to see whether anything can be done to make the Government's announcements very much further ahead, even if it means announcing a minimum scale and later, if more food becomes available, announcing an increase. After all, food is the limiting factor in any livestock rearing programme, and unless the breeder is reasonably certain that the rations will be available to carry the animal to maturity he will not breed it.

While on the subject of pigs, there is one other point I should like to mention. We all want to increase the quantity of our pigs, but we should not forget that at the same time we want to improve the quality. There is a very wide difference between the best and the worst, both in breeding and in fattening qualities. Those of your Lordships who read the results of some of the feeding trials must be amazed at the very high rate of growth of some of these pigs and the high rate of conversion of feeding-stuffs to pig meat. These qualities are largely hereditary. There is a danger, when these sudden increases occur, that in some cases inferior stock is used for breeding, and this leads to a waste of feeding-stuffs which we can ill afford.

One other point which I should like to make very briefly relates to the question of tinplate. We all know how important it is that we should do all we can to preserve our crops, to help to add to the variety of our diet and to save foreign exchange. We know, too, that the supply of tinplate is totally inadequate to meet the requirements of the canners. It came to my notice the other day that in some cases there may be a tendency to concentrate the available supply of tinplate rather too much on canning more expensive crops, such as asparagus and strawberries, as they show a greater profit per tin, than to use it for the cheaper crops. I do not know how far this goes, but though it may be a very natural thing to do I cannot feel that it is in the public interest. What we want to ensure is that the available tinplate is used to the best advantage, because to conserve our food is in many cases almost as important as increasing the production of it.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene with considerable diffidence in a debate of this kind, to which so many farmers have made noteworthy contributions. Originally I wished to speak in order to emphasise a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, at the outset of the debate, in a speech which I thought was in his best form—that is to say, about the quite unforgivable waste of land which goes on in this country. But if your Lordships will allow me to address the House for a few minutes I should like to comment on one or two other speeches made in the course of this most interesting and valuable debate. If the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, will forgive me, I will not try to pursue him into his researches into the parental qualities of the pig, about which he knows a great deal more than I shall ever do.

What the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, said about hill farming in Scotland is also true of hill farming in the Lake District, the Pennines and North Wales. Undoubtedly hill farming has been the Cinderella of farming over recent years, when a great deal has been done for farmers who farm in much more favourable conditions in better parts of the country. Until recently, hill farmers have been left very much in the lurch. Not only have they a difficult occupation in trying surroundings but, as the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, pointed out, their position is made more difficult by the inroads which have been made on to their lands, particularly by the Forestry Commissioners. In the Lake District several famous farms which have bred sheep that have won prize after prize at all the shows over the last hundred years are now under conifers. I appreciate the need for timber, but I think we are now realising that food comes even before timber, and that we must have woollen clothes on our backs even before we have timber for the construction of houses. Obviously, there is a real conflict of interest between these two demands on the land, and there is no question that so far the hill farmer has had the worst of the game.

There has been an undercurrent of extreme pessimism in this debate. I agree with noble Lords who have said that it is important to bring home to the public that we are in a difficult position in respect of food, but I think that idea can be pushed too far. If we overdo it, and try to make the flesh of our people creep more than is necessary, it will have exactly the opposite effect to that which noble Lords desire to achieve. I think there cannot be much doubt that, if we really pull ourselves together, and determine to use our land as well as the people of Denmark, which is not naturally a fertile country, have done over the last hundred years or so, the food production of this country could be tremendously increased. Holland, which is even nearer, is another country where large acreages have been brought into fertile production over the last few hundred years, acreages which were previously lying at the bottom of the sea. Can any noble Lord doubt that if, for example, the Wash, an area of shallow sea which is larger than some English counties, were situated in Holland, it would have been brought into rich agricultural production many years ago? Of course, a good deal of useful work has been done around the Wash, but it is being done much too slowly, and I think the situation has now arrived when we should take these great engineering problems in hand and press for their solution much more strenuously than we have done in the past.

I rose, however, to emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and other speakers, that the demands which are being made on our agricultural land, and very often on our best agricultural land, from all sorts of directions have now become so burdensome that, if we do not take a really firm stand against them, we shall be in grave danger. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, referred to a remarkable address which was given to the Royal Society of Arts by my friend and colleague, Dr. Dudley Stamp. I should like to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" of all that he said. The noble Lord referred to the acreage which had been put in pawn, so to speak, at a figure of something like 500,000 acres. That is a large figure, which Dr. Stamp converts into terms of counties. I should like to quote a few sentences from this address. Dr. Stamp said: It is a saddening thought that if we accept the exaggerated demands of housing authorities and other demands we shall cover with houses and other urban developments in the near future an area larger than the combined surface of the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Is that not an astounding statement? Dr. Stamp continues: I do not think it is any State secret that the Government Departments concerned have been moved to look at the problem involved"— it is high time they did— and that the official view, though not published in detail, is that the acreage which will be so used is in the order of 750,000 acres, equal to the whole of the counties of Berkshire and Bedfordshire. On the minimum scale which, apparently, has been accepted by the Departments (I hope that it has not been accepted by the Cabinet), we are to lose over the next few years the equivalent of two counties.

This interesting and valuable address of Dr. Stamp is entitled The Reclamation of Abandoned Industrial Areas. The main emphasis of his address is naturally directed to the reclamation of industrial areas—and that is the other point which I should like to emphasise. While we are building new towns and extending into the country the suburbs of many of our existing large towns, absorbing agricultural land which we cannot afford to give up, even to the building of houses for our people, we are leaving inside urban areas extensive acreages of land which are being used for nothing whatever. If the noble Lord who said he was having such an easy job of co-ordinating would like to give up some of the hours which apparently he is not planning to use in order to come round the outskirts of London with me, I am prepared to show him sites, including blitzed areas, for thousands of houses about which nothing is being done. Yet all the time housing authorities are going into Hertfordshire and Surrey, and other counties surrounding London, using up agricultural land to build houses which could perfectly well be built on these urban sites which are at present completely wasted and where, very often, the sewerage, the electric cables, the gas pipes and all the other necessary services of a housing estate already exist.

The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, is not finding it difficult, he says, to co-ordinate the activities of the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food. If he finds it easy to drive two horses, perhaps he would like to add a third horse to his coach and take under his wing the Minister of Planning as well. In the Planning Ministry they do not seem to be getting down to the fact that there is a great deal of waste land in the urban areas, not only of London, but equally of a city which the noble Lord knows better than I do—namely, Manchester—and also other great cities in the north of England. I do hope the Government will direct their attention to this important point, because if all the land now being wasted in the urban areas of this country can be brought into productive use—and by that I mean for the purpose of building houses, factories and workshops—I feel sure that a substantial step will have been taken in the right direction.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, throughout a long and lively debate noble Lords on all sides will have felt increasingly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, for so wording his Motion as to make it possible for noble Lords to range far and wide over the whole field of agriculture, with their own particular problems and experience in mind, and still to be in order at the end. I hope, therefore, that I shall be in order if I refer to two matters which deeply concern those who are interested in food production in the North of England, and particularly in the West Riding, of which I have had some experience during the last few years. The first matter is something which we by no means regard as only one of the minor curses of mankind, although some of your Lordships may think it is rather a small red herring to produce so late in the debate. I refer to the effects of opencast coal mining operations on farm land, and the fears of farmers who live on the fringes of it.

In the West Riding opencast coal mining extends to some 15,000 acres, on some 150 working sites, all of which are in various stages of operation. In this considerable area—I think that 15,000 acres is a considerable area—there are instances of highly productive land which, so far as I can see, must be written off as a loss for food production for at least two years. When the restoration has been completed the county agricultural committee take the farm in hand for some five years, and they are at present farming over 6,000 acres. From my own experience during the time when I was a committee member, I have every reason to believe that this land which is being worked will never be quite so good as it was before. The food production from the land which is being worked will certainly be sadly diminished, if not for ever, for many years to come. Your Lordships will all know the importance to farmers of such things as drains, water supplies and fences. These important things are being interrupted and disrupted by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, although the most solemn undertakings are given that everything will be as it was before—which, in fact, is not so, as those who have had experience will know. Even more unsettling are the fears of the farmers who live on the fringes of this area: they have not already been engulfed, and they may be wondering when and where the next blow is to fall.

All this is very unsettling for the future, particularly for the short-term policy of food production. It has been agreed throughout this debate that we want food very badly now, and I call opencast coal mining a short-term rather than a long-term problem. Bearing these points in mind, I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they consider that these operations, which I believe amount to about 5 per cent. of the total national coal production figure in the country, are really justified, in view of the consequential loss of food. We have been told that this must go on: in fact, it is going on very much at the moment, and has been "hotted up" considerably in the last year or two. Therefore, I cannot hope by my remarks to persuade the Government to abolish opencast coal mining altogether—that, I think, would be asking a little too much—but I would, with respect, suggest that one of the methods of increasing the food production they should have in mind is to reduce the scope of this devastating menace to farmers.

The next matter that I come to is one that has been talked about considerably—namely, the release of land from agriculture. I think it was on the Second Reading of the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill in your Lordships' House, before the Recess, that one or two noble Lords, when trying to claim land for the War Office, were conscious of the strong objection of my noble friend, Lord Carrington, to any encroachment on his agricultural land. From all the things that he has heard in the last two days, I hope that he will object even more strongly. Again, I can speak only for the West Riding, but we have been losing nearly 4,000 acres a year—I believe the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, said yesterday that the total figure in the country is about 50,000 acres. Of these 4,000 acres about 1,000 are being kept temporarily for food production, but I think that their loss is certain in a matter of time. That figure does not include land which has been released for such things as the working of gravel, sand and clay. I see no signs of this diminishing at all, and, as your Lordships have already heard, it constitutes a serious threat to future food production.

In these days of food shortage and the necessity to restrict food imports, why should such large areas be designated for new trunk roads, unsuitably placed housing schemes and playing fields? The noble Lord, Lord Luke, is not here now, but I was going to say this about playing fields. Are we absolutely certain that the acreage released for playing fields is not too large? Looking out of the train coming down from Yorkshire, one can sometimes see the schoolchildren playing in only a corner of a field, and I am not at all sure that the area of playing fields could not be cut down somewhat. What I mean by unsuitably placed housing schemes is the acquisition of farm land on the outskirts of towns. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has just told us about London and the South of England, and I could repeat what he said almost word for word in relation to the North. In a city like Leeds there is a considerable area of land devoid of building, or covered with derelict buildings or old cottages, which could be cleared and utilised for housing schemes. This would house the worker nearer his work and save him money in travelling to and from his job. I believe there are few workers nowadays who enjoy having to travel for miles to their work; they would rather be right on top of it. Furthermore, it would save the counties the tremendous expense of having to provide necessary services, such as water, electricity, gas, sewerage and streets.

Like many others, I have a certain grouse against planning authorities, because to the farming community they always seem to require the best and most level land. A great deal has been said about marginal land, but there must be acres and acres of what I should call second-class land, less suited to food production, which could be readily adapted to the housing schemes and school buildings. The county agricultural committees are constantly up against this problem and keep pressing for alternative sites. Sometimes they win, but more often they do not.

In passing, I should like to thank the Government for a concession. I have recently learned that a concession is going to be made whereby owners and their agents are to be informed when agricultural land is likely to be used for non-agricultural purposes, at the stage when the Ministry of Agriculture have been approached by local authorities or by the planning Departments. That is a step in the right direction. The importance of common courtesy cannot be stressed often enough. I understand that these owners or agents are not going to be consulted; they are only going to be informed, and this arrangement is to run for a trial period of one year. I think it ought to be made permanent, and I hope it will be, and that it will even be extended to the occupiers of the land, because when it is a matter of other authorities coming around they often get the worst deal. I can tell your Lordships of an ambitious young tenant farmer whom I know and who has just got his first holding and has settled down. He is farming the land with the utmost enthusiasm, with all the rules of good husbandry. Suddenly, one morning last year, he spotted an army of surveyors with maps on his land. After a time they went away, and he knew nothing whatever of the purpose of their visit. Some time later, in the round-about way that one often gets to hear these things, he heard to his dismay that half his farming land was required for a school. I give that only as an example. I am sure that other noble Lords know of other instances of that kind of thing.

I may have seemed to turn a blind eye to the requirements of everything except food production, but I assure your Lordships that, living as I do near the big industries, I am only too aware of the other side of the picture, and how the urban dweller needs the essential things of life—coal, housing, education and recreation. But, in the battle of priorities, it is only natural that one wants the thing one is interested in to win. The Government have an extremely hard job in satisfying the needs of everybody. Next week we might have a debate on coal production, and we should hear exactly the same arguments in favour of that. I was glad to hear the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, refer to the way in which Mr. Tom Williams hammered away at the Cabinet, sticking up for his own industry. That is excellent. It does not mean that the Ministry of Agriculture always win the battle of priorities, but I wish the best of luck to the two noble Lords, Lord Woolton and Lord Carrington who, I know, are thought a great deal of in the North of England. I wish them every good luck in winning many future battles for the farmer.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, we are a House of moderate men, but I suggest that this is the one issue facing us over which we ought to be extremists. There is nothing relative about the need for further food production in this country—it is absolute. I speak as a countryman but not as a farmer, and I have not in any sense a technical contribution to make. I have spent far more time than I should like in big cities, rather than in the wide open places, with the exception of two in New Zealand or Canada for a short time. Therefore, I feel the urgency of this situation in an urban way, and I cannot help being appalled at our numbers. There is no need to go into the history of that—it is all obvious and common ground. But when one considers the roads of this country on any Sunday evening in the summer and the returning people, one cannot be anything but staggered by the situation. Here are all our people. Consider at the same time that the overseas sources of food supply are really permanently drying up. That is a very open question—whether permanently or not. In my view, the overseas sources of supply, so far as we are concerned, are permanently drying up. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether he agrees with that, or whether he thinks that in any sense this is a temporary situation, even if by "temporary" one is to mean thirty years. Does he envisage in the future a situation in which food production is not so important to this country as it is at the moment? I think there never will be such a situation, and the temptation to think that there will be is one of our worst disadvantages, because it tempts us to regard the present food shortage as merely a gap which we have to fill before the overseas countries are again going to do this tremendous job of feeding us.

What an undignified business it all is! We ought forthwith to dedicate ourselves to a new pioneer concept, to a pioneering spirit, on our own land. Why go 13,000 miles to New Zealand or 3,000 or 4,000 miles to some part of Canada, when the thing is crying out to be done within 100 or 200 miles of your Lordships' House? There must be a great need for emigration, but certainly we cannot afford to lose a single farm person. We have it in us, and we have the people to get out on to the sub-standard fields and into the hills. I agree that it is a far-fetched metaphor, but I think we ought to try to view ourselves as if we were newly arrived immigrants in some new, fertile country, with the urgent problem immediately of clearing the ground this year for houses and for planting seed. We need to view the situation in that way, and to try to get back something of a spirit essentially worthy of the Mother country of the Empire.

I am very loath to criticise the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, but I feel, in the light of the belief of so many of your Lordships that this is accurately the situation, that it is really not enough to use words such as the noble Lord used (OFFICIAL REPORT; VOL 176, col. 479): Our views of British agriculture are broad-based. To the average farmer here I cannot think that that is a dynamic inspiration. The noble Lord went on: I believe in this, if I may say so. …"— why does one need to be apologetic?— I am sure that I am speaking for the whole of this House and not one side of it. We want to give confidence to the farmers. I think the noble Lord was speaking for both sides, but in far too negative a way. There will be no let-up, as I have suggested, and our task can prove a blessing in disguise, because we shall be able to get back this true Empire spirit into this Island. That is why it is dangerous to emphasise one product or another. This is a convenient method of linking the endeavour. All lines of production should march forward together, with no such long-term limit as, say, 60 per cent. above pre-war. Of course, even that may not be achieved without quite a new approach. We have to deal with the psychosis of the past working in the farmer's mind. That will not easily be cured in the older generation. It takes very little to destroy confidence.

I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether he imagines that at any future point he will be in a position to give a permanent guarantee to agriculture—or rather, a guarantee to agriculture whenever a Conservative Government are in power. We ought to move on the lines of some sort of national pledge by both main Parties. This would have a terrific psychological effect on the farmers. There is one other point. Have the Government a specific new expansion programme in connection with this figure of 60 per cent. above pre-war? If so, what are the details? This is an overseas problem too. The matter is the most urgent at the point where it is also the most difficult. No one doubts that there are full costings available—the facts are known. Our cities simply must accept the fact of the increased cost of producing food. We have to develop new methods of dealing with the matter from the farmer's point of view—as regards, for instance, large variations in efficiency—but we have to accept the situation that food will never be cheap again.

Perhaps I may be allowed to end with a quotation from John Ruskin, which seems very pertinent at the moment—indeed, it would be at any time—with regard to our city communities. He wrote: We find the inhabitants of this earth divided into two great masses: the peasant paymasters—spade in hand, original imperial producers of turnips; and, waiting on them all around, a crowd of polite persons modestly expectant of turnips, for some—too often theoretical—service. We could bridge this gap, but, in doing so, we must move from the city towards the country, and not the other way.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, debates on agriculture in this House have a very great usefulness, because agriculture is not a Party matter and there are many experts in this House of all kinds who come from all parts of the British Isles. I do not wish to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes but there are one or two points that I should like to mention. The noble Lord, Lord Luke, yesterday mentioned the question of Ireland and of store cattle coming to this country. I farm in Ireland and I go there frequently. In Ireland there is a strain of nationalism which makes the Irish people wish to kill their own cattle and to use the by-products for themselves, rather than export them to England as stores. In the past, English people have not taken that attitude very seriously, but I can say that a number of factories are either being set up or to be set up in Ireland, which will deal with cattle when they are fat. In due course the numbers will increase, and we shall not be able to depend upon Ireland for store cattle in the same numbers that we have had in the past.

Moreover, in Ireland we have other good customers. Your Lordships may remember that a short time ago some publicity was given to the fact that a number of Irish fat cattle were being flown to Italy. I believe they were sent to Birkenhead; from there to Lympne in Kent; from there to France, and on to Le Touquet—scarcely an appropriate place for fat cattle—and thence to Italy by rail. In what condition they would be when they got to Italy I do not know; but I do know that when I was in Italy recently I got some good meat which may well have come from Ireland. If the Italians can buy Irish meat it may be that our prices are not attractive enough. We have either got to pay world prices for our meat or not get it. We must not, at any rate, depend on the Irish store cattle trade continuing in future to the same extent as in the past.

Arising out of that—and this matter was touched upon during the debate initiated some time ago by the noble Lord, Lord Lovat—I think we should consider whether the Highlands of Scotland cannot supply far more stores than they have done in the past. I should like to back up what Lord Lovat said, to the effect that beef production can be increased in the Highlands. There are various questions, however, which make it difficult. One is the question of transport—and that, of course, affects the cost of feeding-stuffs enormously. In the debate which I have just mentioned, Lord Lovat spoke of a sum of £26 a ton for hay in the Isles. Recently I met a man who had paid £30 a ton. That was in Skye. No one can winter animals and pay £30 a ton for hay. Therefore, unless the Highlands can get hay from elsewhere, or get much more silage, they cannot winter many animals. The usual practice is that the small crofter or farmer has a certain number of cows, and winters last year's calves, carrying them through until the end of the summer when they are eighteen months old. If the price could be adjusted it would be better for him to have more cows and produce more calves and sell them rather than carry them through the winter, with hay at £30 a ton or any other price. He could, perhaps, have three or four cows, instead of two, and increase the production of store cattle enormously.

One other question I wish to raise is that of competition for land in the Highlands. It is essential for the Government to take into account this question of competition between forestry, hydro-electric schemes, and agriculture. I think the first priority in our present position should be agriculture, for food is more essential even than electricity or forestry. These three interests are in competition for the best land. Nobody competes for the rocks: all compete for the valleys. Although you can plant trees up to several hundred feet above sea level, if you do so you take away the best grazing. The only animal that can survive at the top is deer. Even sheep cannot survive without lower land, and certainly cattle must have low ground for wintering. I hope the Government will consider the question of priorities among the three competing interests, and I hope that the first place will be awarded to food production.

Lord Luke spoke yesterday about the question of calves. He said that there were about 1,000,000 calves slaughtered every year and not reared for beef. Of course those are the milk calves, such as Guernseys, Ayrshires, Jerseys, and so on. It is not economic for farmers to rear those calves for beef. In the first place, they do not make good beef if they are raised; and secondly, because it pays the farmer far better to sell the milk and then sell his calves for 15s., 20s., or 30s. each when they are two or three days old. I may say that in Ireland there is no demand whatever for milk bull calves—so much so that my Ayrshire bull calves in Ireland go to the Dublin Zoo; I cannot even sell them. But the position is a little better in England. I see the noble Marquess, Lord Townshend, sitting near me. He has done what I have also tried to do—that is, experiment with a few Ayrshire bullocks. I have a few Ayrshire bullocks now which my friends have told me I am silly to try to rear. I have them on some good land at present, and I hope they will prove that it is worth while rearing Ayrshire bullocks. I do not say that it is as profitable as selling the milk and sending them to the market as veal, but in this case it is not always a question of profitability, because we want the meat. I hope that that question of rearing the milk bull calves will be considered. I hate subsidies, but it may mean some alteration in price, or even a further development of the calf subsidy, in order to encourage farmers to rear a certain number of milk bull calves. Farmers are a very peculiar people and, if the financial inducement is enough, they will turn their production in one way or another. It is all a question of weighting the inducements a little bit more on one side than on the other. As the noble Lord, Lord Luke, said yesterday, if even 250,000 calves a year could be reared, that would be a very big contribution to our meat supply.

I am sorry to be going round all the different varieties of farm animals, but the next I come to is pigs. I am glad to see that the pig population has increased as well as it has done recently, but the amount of pigs which the bacon factories can take is limited, which means that a great many of the pigs will have to be used for pork. The pork that I personally get in this country is very unpleasant. It is really rejected baconers; as baconers they are no good. The bacon factories will not have them. They are too big, or they are wrong in other respects, and they get turned into pork. The pork which gets into our restaurants or into our weekly meat ration is very bad. I suggest that Her Majesty's Government might consider starting a bona fide pork type—in other words, encourage the farmer to sell the 8-score pig instead of waiting until it is 9-score, or even more, so that many people would still enjoy eating pork, instead of disliking it. At present, there is no attraction in eating the sort of pork that we get. It is a question of educating the public. I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture will realise what a help really good pork could be to the meat ration. As pigs increase in number so quickly, I hope that pig breeding and pig selling will be encouraged, not taking into account at all the pigs going to the bacon factory.

Arising out of that (I have put these views forward before), it always seems to me remarkable that in Germany the pig population has increased much more quickly than it has in this country. That is because everyone in Germany who wishes to keep a pig can do so, if he can get the food with which to keep it. He can also sell the pig or kill it when he has reared it, whereas here we are so bound up with restrictions in keeping pigs, rearing them, selling them and killing them, that people are discouraged. After one of the debates in this House, I was speaking to somebody and this question of restrictions on pigs came up. Another noble Lord, who had better be nameless, said to me: "Well, it really is very remarkable, because I asked my agent to arrange that my semi-annual pig should be killed." His agent got the licence to kill the pig, but unfortunately it was killed on the thirteenth day after the obtaining of the licence, instead of on the fourteenth day. The noble Lord said, "That was very unfortunate, because I was fined £10, and they took the pig away as well." That is the sort of restriction we suffer in this country. I know how keen the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, is on private enterprise, and I hope that he will direct his attention to private enterprise in pig keeping.

The last point I wish to make is on the question of sheep, because, of all farm animals, except the pig, the sheep reproduces its kind more quickly than anything else. I am not going into the question of rabbits, but sheep are a very essential part of British farming, both in Scotland and in England. A few years ago, I had the honour to be President of the National Sheepbreeders' Association. In 1946–47, which was during the time I was President, we had that awful winter, when the sheep population was depleted to a very large extent. I am glad to say that, although we had a bad winter in 1950–51, and a bad lambing in Scotland last year, so far this year we are having a very good lambing in Scotland; and I think there has also been a very good lambing in England and Wales. I hope there will be a big increase in the sheep population this year. Arising out of that, I am not complaining that the price of wool has gone down, because obviously it had to. I am not complaining that the subsidy for ewes has gone down, because it is quite right that it should. But I hope the sheep breeders and the sheep owners will not be discouraged by the reduction in the subsidy on ewes and by the reduction in the price of wool. The breeders need encouraging, since they can supply immense quantities of meat. That applies to the Highlands more than it does to England.

I next come to the question of keeping sheep in England near the towns. I have a number of farm tenants who would keep sheep if they could, but they say that it is impossible to owing to the activities of dogs. I am not going to suggest that the dog population should be decimated, but I think that if it were decimated, there would be a great deal of food which might be diverted to pigs, with the result that we might have all the more to eat. But such action might be very unpopular with the electorate. Perhaps Her Majesty's Government would not like to go to the country at the next Election suggesting that the dog licence should be put up to five guineas from whatever it is now, or that the dog population should be reduced. But this question of sheep being killed or mutilated by dogs is a serious one. There are very few flocks of sheep on farms which I own, because the farmers say they cannot keep flocks of sheep. I personally lost about a dozen sheep last year through dogs, and my farm is not so near the town as some of the other farms are. It is impossible in large areas of the country to keep sheep at all. I feel that something should be done about this question, even to the extent of legislation being passed to enable farmers legally to take even stronger measures against dogs which maraud their sheep. That is all I have to say. I hope that Her Majesty's Government, who have a great fund of knowledge already, will learn even more from the debate which we have had during these two days.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, in the course of this most interesting, and what I am sure we shall all agree will prove to be most valuable, debate, the emphasis all the time has been on cattle and beef, and pigs and pork, but little has been heard about the hen and the egg. For instance, a little while ago the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, in the course of his most interesting speech, grew almost lyrical about the pig. For a few minutes I am going to sing the praises of the hen and the egg. Someone has said that The egg is smooth and very pale, It has no nose—it has no tail; It has no ears that one can see, It has no wit or repartee. But on the question of home food production, we must give some consideration to the home egg supply.

I must declare my interest in this matter, because I am Chairman of the Domestic Poultry-keepers' Council of England and Wales, representing the backyard poultry-keepers. That most worthy body of home food producers are a very badly treated lot so far as rations are concerned—because hens are rationed, just like human beings. Our domestic poultry-keepers to-day number over 1,000,000. They are estimated to possess about 10,000,000 hens, and are responsible for producing something like 20 or 25 per cent. of all the eggs consumed in this country. They depend largely upon what is called a balancer ration—and a very meagre one it is too, and it was recently reduced. I urge upon Her Majesty's Government that there will be no quicker or more effective way of increasing home food production than by giving our domestic poultry-keepers an increase in the balancer ration.

But that is not the main point I want to make on their behalf this evening. Domestic poultry-keepers, unlike commercial poultry-keepers, get no balancer ration or any ration to feed what are called "replacement" pullets. Hens have to be replaced like other livestock, but they have to be replaced much more quickly, because the working life of a hen is only about two or three years. There is absolutely no ration to-day to cover the twelve to sixteen weeks from the time that the bird is hatched until she starts to lay, and I should like to urge upon the Government that this is a matter the consideration of which is long overdue. I ask them to give earnest and full consideration to that matter when they are considering the results of this debate.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, this is the end of two days of long, varied and interesting debate, and I am sure all your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, for having raised the subject. Anybody who has listened to the debate cannot have failed to be impressed with the knowledge and experience which has been shown by noble Lords in the speeches to which we have listened. We have had speeches from my noble friends Lord Bledisloe and Lord Cranworth, who have each spent a lifetime in the interests of agriculture and have forgotten more about farming than a great many of us know. I hope, contrary to their expectations, that we shall hear a good many more speeches from both of them for a good many years to come. We have listened also to speeches from younger members of your Lordships' House, such as my noble friends Lord Savile and Lord Amherst; and we have had the welcome addition, if I may put it not disrespectfully, of some agricultural outsiders in the persons of the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition, and the noble Lords, Lord Kenswood and Lord Chorley.

Having regard to all this, I hope that your Lordships will be sympathetic with me in the task I have this evening of trying to answer the questions that have been put to me and to sum up the debate. First, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Melchett on the maiden speech which he addressed to your Lordships. He spoke from real knowledge of his subject, and, among the experts we always welcome, we welcome him as yet another expert in agriculture. Then we had the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Hudson. I think it was about six months after the Election of 1945 that I was first appointed to a county agricultural committee, and, even so, I may say that his influence was still very strongly felt. The occasion on which he visited my committee is still referred to as "The day that. Mr. Hudson came to see us." I never thought that I should be in a position, or should have the temerity, to congratulate him on his maiden speech, but feel sure all your Lordships will remember how indebted we are to him for the magnificent work that he did as Minister of Agriculture during the war—and not only for that, but for the plans he laid for the foundation of our post-war policy.

My Lords, I shall try to answer at any rate some of the questions which have been put to me. Several noble Lords have mentioned the loss of agricultural land to industry. I entirely agree that that is one of the most serious difficulties with which we have to contend. I was glad to hear of the conversion of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. I remember that he helped to pilot the Town and Country Planning Bill through this House, and his support when we moved Amendments designed to assist agriculture on that occasion would have been very helpful to us if he had had the same views then as he has to-day. All the same, I do not think that any noble Lord in this House would go so far as to suggest that development ought to be stopped altogether. We must go on building houses, schools and factories, and we must exploit the minerals which are so badly needed for our industry. But what we can do, and what we are doing, for agriculture, is to exert every effort to see that as much as possible of the good agricultural land is kept for food production, and that no development takes place on good agricultural land if it can be diverted to land which is of less use for food production, or if it is development that cannot be fully justified on its merits. Quite understandably, we hear a great deal about land which is lost to agriculture, but we do not hear much about land which is saved. The provincial officers of the agricultural land services—I pay them a tribute—are continually engaged on this work, and I can assure your Lordships that they have, through their liaison arrangements with other Departments, succeeded in saving a great deal of good agricultural land.

It has been suggested, I think by my noble friend Lord Llewellin and by one or two others, that common land ought to be used wherever possible, either for food production or for development. This is a suggestion which I shall look into at the first opportunity, but it is clear that there are considerable difficulties in the way of accepting it without any qualification. The rights in regard to some commons go back for many years, and they should not lightly be taken away. The Minister intends to go on for as long as he can—which is until December, 1954—using his powers to cultivate commons. But making use of commons for agriculture is one thing; to obliterate them for ever with bricks and mortar is quite another. Nevertheless, I agree that there are considerable expanses of land which do not appear to be much used for amenities and which can be brought into or continued in production. I will look into this suggestion.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and one or two other noble Lords, felt rather unhappy about the call-up of agricultural workers for the Forces. It has been suggested in other quarters as well that farm workers would probably not be called up in war time, so why should they be called up now. I do not think that we can assume that no farm worker will be called up in war time. Obviously, it would be necessary to keep a big labour force on the land in any future war, but arrangements would depend largely on the conditions prevailing at the time. In any case, the reason for the call-up of farm workers was the urgent requirement of the Forces for more men to meet their commitments now. The period of National Service was first extended from eighteen months to two years in an effort to bridge the gap; but that did not prove adequate. It became necessary to get more men into the Forces, and so both the previous Government and this Government had to agree that there should be a call-up of farm workers. But I would remind your Lordships that, unlike any other industry, there are elaborate arrangements for deferment in cases of need. Originally, workers from farms with not more than two full-time men could get deferment, as could also cowmen and shepherds; but recently, as my right honourable friend the Minister announced in another place, the Minister of Labour has agreed that a farmer can apply for deferment for any stockman, and some deferment can be given where a large farm is liable to lose several workers within a short time. Furthermore—and I think this is an important point—farm workers are not going to be called up during the period of the root harvest.

Another point which my noble friend raised was the incidence upon farmers of the tax on petrol. As your Lordships will know, a scheme was introduced in 1950 by noble Lords opposite which was intended to relieve farmers of the incidence of an increase of ninepence per gallon in the tax on petrol which was announced in the Budget of 1950. Payments under the scheme were related to the estimated average annual consumption of petrol per machine. This may have been rough justice, but the result was that contractors and large, efficient farmers who use their machines more than the average were not adequately recouped. At the other end of the scale many small farmers and those who were over-mechanised did not use their machines as much as the average and were over recouped. Payments under this scheme have now stopped, but account has been taken in the annual Price Review of the effect on farm costs of the recent increase in the petrol tax. This seems to be the best way of dealing with the problem. Any scheme involving direct reimbursement of farmers for the extra petrol tax would necessarily be complicated. We should either have to have a scheme that was simple to administer but which tended to be unfair as between different farmers, or we should have to have a more complicated scheme, expensive to administer, which might be fairer to farmers but would be very difficult to control.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, whose speech we all welcomed, and whose support we very much appreciate, asked whether the £4,500,000 which the Government were proposing to devote to the calf subsidy would be sufficient to cover both beef heifers and dual-purpose heifers. Under the old subsidy scheme steer calves had been drawing subsidy to the number of 500,000 a year; at the rate of £5 per calf this would account for about £2,500,000. It is intended that the subsidy on heifer calves shall be paid only on calves of recognisable beef type, a definition which will exclude a large number of the dual-purpose calves in Great Britain. We are now getting down to work out a practicable scheme, and we shall shortly be consulting the farmers' representatives. For the moment I do not think that there is anything I can usefully add upon that subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, to whose speech I have already referred, made some interesting observations on the subject of grass and its conservation. Let me say at once that the Government fully realise the importance of grassland production. Great advances have been made in the science of management and conservation of grass, and the scope for increased production is very great. I think, however, that the noble Lord will agree with me when I say that a great deal of progress has already been made in improving the quality of our grass and also in the increasing use of dried grass and high quality silage. The farmers are coming more and more to see the advantages of good grass, and with the present shortage of feeding-stuffs the dairy farmer who manages his grassland efficiently can afford to rely more and more on grass in his ration without reduction in milk yield but with considerable reduction in costs. We intend to give as much publicity as possible to this matter and to continue the encouragement given by our advisory officers to the farmers of the country. The new subsidy on phosphatic fertilisers and the Government's announcement of the extension of the fertiliser subsidy scheme should play an important part in raising our yields. We have got to keep more animals on a smaller acreage, and this, I know, can be done by efficient methods of management and conservation.


May I ask the noble Lord one question about the extension of the fertiliser scheme? Does that mean a new scheme applying to another fertiliser, such as the nitrogenous fertilisers, or not?


As my right honourable friend announced, at the end of the year we are not abandoning the system of subsidies and there will continue to be a scheme.


He has not specified what fertilisers will be included in the schemes?


Not yet. Lord Melchett seemed to think that the feeding-stuffs subsidy removed the incentive for farmers to grow their own feeding-stuffs. With purchased barley costing £27 17s. 6d. per ton and maize costing him £30 15s. per ton, I think there is a real incentive to the farmer to grow his own coarse grain. Rations are not enough for any class of farmer. The dairy farmer has to be self-sufficient for the first one and one-eighth gallons per cow. The pig bonus is only 3 cwt. for each eight score dead weight of pork supplied. Fanners who want to expand production have to be increasingly self-sufficient in feeding-stuffs. Many small producers, and notably small dairy farmers in the East Midlands and many small hill farmers, cannot become any more self-sufficient in feeding-stuffs as they have not the land or the type of land on which to grow the crops. Other small producers specialise in poultry and pigs and produce a large output from a small acreage which cannot support them in feeding-stuffs. It therefore follows that it is the small producer who is most dependent on imported purchased feeding-stuffs who is the hardest hit by high feeding-stuff prices. Nevertheless, I can say to my noble friend Lord Hudson that the Government agree that it is desirable that the feeding-stuffs subsidies should be removed progressively with the object of bringing to an end the feeding-stuffs rationing system as soon as possible. But this can be done only if more feeding-stuffs are grown at home to relieve the shortage of imported feeding-stuffs.

Several noble Lords have talked about the importance of increasing the prices of our pigs. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, whom I do not see in his place at the moment, complained about low prices paid for heavyweight pigs. The new price schedule intentionally gives low prices for heavyweight pigs. After it reaches a certain weight, any additional feeding-stuffs which you feed to a pig tend to be converted mainly into fat, which makes the meat unsuitable either for bacon or for pork. For this reason it is clearly a waste of feeding-stuffs to fatten a pig above the economic weight. Accordingly we have adjusted this price schedule to discourage this practice. Lord Hawke, who has apologised for not being able to be present this afternoon, asked about prices for pigs sold by domestic pig keepers. The domestic pig keeper can sell his pig either to the Ministry of Food for slaughter for bacon or pork or to a retail butcher. If he sells to the Ministry he gets exactly the same price as any farmer would. If he sells it to a retail butcher, the butcher pays him the price which he would pay the Ministry of Food. Lord Amherst of Hackney complained that there was not much advance information relating to the scales of pig rations. I assure him that we will in future give as much time as we possibly can when we announce the feeding-stuffs scales.

Lord Savile spoke about opencast coal mining. Anyone interested in farming who passes by areas which are being worked for opencast coal will naturally be horrified at what he sees. None of us likes it, but in the present circumstances of our acute need for more coal it is inevitable that it should continue. There is, however, considerable scope for restoration. I spent a day last month visiting sites in the West Riding—whence the noble Lord himself comes. I believe that with the new regulations which came into force last: year there will be much better results in restoration. Until these new regulations came into force it was obligatory on the contractor only to segregate the topsoil, and even this, I believe, was due only to the intervention of the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson Now, however, the contractors are required to segregate both topsoil and subsoil, and although we have not been handed back any sites on which this has been done, I am confident that these sites will show a very considerable improvement.

Lord Rennell made some very interesting suggestions on the question of marginal land. As your Lordships will be aware, there are a number of measures under which marginal land can be improved. There are the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts and the Marginal Production Scheme. I thought it would interest your Lordships if I gave some figures to show Slow these schemes are progressing. Under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts we have had about 4,500 schemes for England and Wales which cover about 1,500,000 acres. The total amount involved is £7,750,000.


My Lords, is that the figure of the Government grant or the total amount of capital involved, taking into account what the tenant or owner is paying as well as the amount the Government are paying?


I think that is the 50 per cent. grant, but I will check this up for the noble Earl. As regards the marginal production scheme, in the year ending March, 31, 1952, grants amounting to £720,000 were approved. In spite of that, I think we can all agree with my noble friend Lord Rennell that it is well worth while considering whether or not there could be some speeding up of the improvement of hill and marginal lands. I was very interested in the proposals which the noble Lord made, but I cannot help thinking that he is a little too optimistic about the possibilities in this direction. As your Lordships are aware, the main limiting factor is capital investment. The amount of capital investment allocated to agriculture is strictly limited, and noble Lords will have heard there has been a cut of 15 per cent. in the investment in water supply, drainage and buildings in 1952. We cannot increase the amount allocated to the development of marginal land without reducing investment in some other direction.

The noble Lord suggested that in order to finance his proposal the land should be charged with an improvement rate spread over thirty or forty years. He will be aware that there is already provision, as indeed he said, whereby land owners or farmers can obtain a loan to meet the cost of improvement under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts which is not covered by the Government grants—that is to say, the other 50 per cent. The Agricultural Mortgage Corporation can lend money for many of these purposes, and repayment can be spread over a number of years, which would have much the same effect as the improvement rate which the noble Lord proposes.

If the Government were to take over directly this business of developing marginal land on a substantial scale, I think that legislation would be essential, because we have no statutory authority for such expenditure. The mere fact that there is statutory authority for making grants to farmers and land owners under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts to do what the noble Lord suggests that the Government should do, would, I feel, be regarded as a sign that further Parliamentary approval would be necessary before an alternative method could be adopted. It is well known that the Government are not anxious to extend the scope of State enterprise and prefer as much development as possible to be undertaken by private enterprise. In view of the facilities already available to farmers and land owners to help them to develop marginal land, I think it would be very difficult to justify the Government's undertaking a scheme of the kind which the noble Lord suggests.

It has been suggested, too, by some noble Lords that bad housing conditions are driving workers off the land, and the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, asked us to do something in this direction. From April 1, 1945, to December 31, 1951, 140,100 permanent houses were built by local authorities in rural areas, of which 29,192 were rented to agricultural workers. In addition, 38,431 houses were built by private builders in rural districts, and although it is not known how many of these were let to those employed on farm work, working on the same percentage as those built by local authorities the figure would be about 8,000. As your Lordships know, until recently only one-fifth of the total housing quota has been available for private building. We have however, increased this proportion to one-half, and I think this should help farmers and landowners to build more houses for their workers than they were able to do during the time of the Labour Government. The previous Government also refused grants for the building or improvement of service cottages. We propose to make subsidies and grants available for service cottages when occupied by agricultural workers, and this also should improve the housing conditions of those working on the land.

As regards electricity, which was another subject mentioned, rather more than one-third of the farms of five acres and over were connected to the public mains by the end of last year. Of course, the figure for dairy farms is somewhat higher, running at about 45 per cent. Last year the previous Government found it necessary to put a stop to the further development of rural electrification schemes. We have now decided to increase the amount which the electricity area boards may spend this year, so that it will be possible not only for existing schemes to continue but for some new schemes to start. However, I should point out that rural development in relation to the use to be made of the power is extremely expensive, and it is inevitable, in the present financial crisis, that area boards will be unable to extend their power lines to the extent which all of us would like to see.

Almost every speaker in this debate has referred to the question of farming efficiency and the need for taking action against the farmer who is making very poor use of his land. The noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition went so far as to say that such a man was an enemy of society and must be treated as such. The noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, said that too much security had been given to the tenant, and that amending legislation was desirable so that the landlord could play his proper role in the encouragement of good farming. In his announcement in another place just a week ago, my right honourable friend the Minister said: The Government intend, with the full support of the leaders of the industry and with all the emphasis it can command, to inaugurate a special drive to increase output and make the fullest use of the land. We shall take vigorous action to ensure that the limited area of agricultural land in the country is neither used inadequately nor misused through incompetence. That statement represents the Government's policy in this matter. There is undoubtedly a great deal that can be done to raise the level of efficiency, and hence to increase production by better use of the facilities for technical advice and of the powers already available under the Agriculture Act, 1947, and the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948. We want to make sure that the additional security given to tenants in those enactments is not being abused and that full protection is given only to the efficient farmer.

With this object in view, my right honourable friend is asking county agricultural executive committees to be more active in the discharge of their duties in promoting efficiency, both by giving advice where needed and, failing that, by being ready to exercise more freely their powers of supervision and dispossession. Next week, the Minister is meeting all his county chairmen to explain to them what he wishes to be done and to suggest how they and their committees can best help. Here I want to emphasise that a great deal depends on the members of both county and district committees. If they play their part, I do not think there is a serious need for amending legislation, though no doubt some improvements could be devised in procedure and otherwise. In addition, my right honourable friend proposes to meet the leaders of the principal organisations of land owners, farmers and workers to discuss with them the part they can best play in any campaign to eliminate the bad fanner and to promote the best use of the land. There is no doubt that some landlords have been discouraged and lost interest in the standard of husbandry of their tenants, and it must be part of our task to convince them that the land owner, like others concerned with food production, has both a responsibility and a great opportunity to help along the campaign for more food. In these days I am sure that all concerned must be more vigorous in their efforts. I hope that members of county and district committees, and their officials, will make their influence felt throughout their areas.

I am sure, too, that the greatest increase can come from "B" farmers, and that the increase can be obtained by greater technical efficiency. Here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton. It has been my experience, and probably that of other noble Lords who have served on county agricultural executive committees, that it is precisely the "A" farmer who seeks the advice of the National Agricultural Advisory Service, the Agricultural Land Service and his district committee members. I hope that in the future we shall be able to persuade this group of "B" farmers also to make use of the facilities for technical assistance which exist in their counties.


Did the noble Lord say the "A" farmer, instead of the "C" farmer?


I meant "A" farmers. What I have found is that it is the "A" farmer who makes use of the advice of the N.A.A.S. and the A.L.S.


I said that the "A" and "B" farmers were the two classes which would give the result required. I am entirely in agreement.


Then we must not quarrel if we agree. There has, of course, been considerable interest in the price settlement announced last week by the Minister. But, important though that is, the direction that we are giving to production, and the creation of conditions favourable to expansion of output, are even more important. All your Lordships, without exception, have agreed on the importance of producing as much of our food at home as we possibly can. As has been said, the standard of living is rising all over the world. That is a fact which we all welcome, but it means that there is less food for us to import from abroad. The population of the world is increasing at a phenomenal rate: there are 50,000 more people in the world to-night than there were when the House adjourned last night. There are, it is true, vast areas in the world capable of producing food, areas as yet undeveloped or only partially in production. But this development will take time. I had the good fortune at the end of last year to attend a Conference of the Food and Agricultural Organisation in Rome. I was heartened to hear not only of the steps which are being taken to develop the backward areas of the world but also of the determination of the sixty-four nations present to grow as much food as possible from their own soil.

We should not forget that, apart from the considerations which I have mentioned, and the importance of food production from the defence point of view, agriculture is still our third biggest industry, and that altogether 1,250,000 people are directly dependent upon it for their livelihood. It is in the light of all these points that we are planning ahead. The announcement which the Minister has made deals with the next four years. Some of your Lordships have criticised the figure of an increase in production of 60 per cent. over pre-war as being inadequate. I would remind your Lordships of what my noble friend Lord Woolton said yesterday. He said: I should not like the ideas of the farming world to be limited by a figure of 12 per cent."— that is, on present production. But with the calls on our resources disclosed in the Budget, and in the Economic Survey which has now been published, it is obvious that civil investment must be restrained for a time. Large-scale additions to physical equipment of agriculture could not possibly help to feed us or to save imports until long after (but for such restraint) our reserves had been exhausted. It is therefore no lack of a sense of urgency about the national situation of our food supplies that has made us expect agriculture to share in the restraint on civil investment.

I would emphasise, however, that we have not stopped investment in agriculture. The Minister dealt with this matter fully in another place on April 4. We have looked around to see what we could expect with the tools likely to be available. The farmers' leaders would have liked more tools and still greater increases in food production. Naturally they would; and so should we. But even so they agree with us that with the tools available there is room for a great increase in production; and we believe that an increase of 12 per cent. over our present output is perfectly possible. This would mean, roughly, as an example: grass as a crop, 15 per cent. more; an increase in grass-eating animals; a continued increase in the rate of sheep; and the rearing of between 300,000 and 400,000 more calves. There would still then be enough grass to permit 1,000,000 acres over the figure likely to be ploughed up in June, 1952; and June, 1952 should be at least 500,000 acres up on 1951. On the basis of this we should be able to expand pig or egg production, in proportions required by consumer demand. As for milk, the fact is that people want more meat, which is rationed, rather than more milk. We need not resign ourselves to the lower standard of living of the Continental veal and cheese. Lastly, it remains of first-rate importance to grow all the wheat we can, to maintain sugar beet and to satisfy the demand for potatoes. This, I believe, is a firm foundation for a long-term policy.

We all know that there is scope in all these ways for increasing efficiency. It is one of the most encouraging features of our national situation that our land is capable of greater production, in spite of—and I emphasise this—the high level that we have already reached. I do not want it to be thought from what I have said that the industry has been backward in this matter. We all know, also, that the improvements effected during and since the war in the general standard have been very remarkable and praiseworthy. There is a steady increase in the yields of crops and of milk. A comparison of output with numbers of workers employed shows a substantial increase in output per worker. It is this improvement in technique, in management, in strains of seed and of animals, which has enabled the industry to carry on as it has. This has enabled farmers to pay greatly increased wages to their workers, and not pass on the full increase to the taxpayer or the consumer.

There have been some downward trends in production, to which the Lord President referred—for instance, in the number of calves reared and in the area of tillage—going right back to 1950. This was the situation when the present Government took office, and we were very much concerned to analyse the reasons for what seemed to be a hesitation in the expansion of production. The major cause underlying the whole situation is, of course, the effect of rising costs and labour difficulties associated with rearmament. These problems are not peculiar to agriculture. They affect our whole economy, and their evil effect can be completely removed only by the application of general policies which Her Majesty's Government have initiated. In agriculture, the problems have, nevertheless, presented particular difficulties which the industry cannot fully surmount unaided. As I have said, the industry has to a large extent offset increased costs with increased efficiency. It is right and proper that it should do so. If the industry were not able, by its resource and resilence, to absorb a due proportion of increased costs, it would be much less worthy of the confidence which we hope and expect the general population to have in it. But it is no good expecting agriculture, any more than any other industry, to absorb all the increased costs unaided.

All these considerations were, of course, in our minds in drawing conclusions from the Annual Review conducted by the Agricultural Departments and the Farmers' Unions which has just been completed. I do not think that there is a disposition anywhere to quarrel with the Minister of Agriculture's description of the Government's: decision as "a just and constructive award." The award, covering subsidies and prices, will enable the industry to meet the higher costs which have arisen during the year and to maintain its level of income, and will give help to mitigate cost increases which might otherwise have made it particularly difficult for the smaller farmers to increase production.


Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Earl. Can he say how much of the increased costs the farmers are carrying this year? We were able to estimate a figure for last year.


I should prefer the noble Earl to wait for the White Paper which is to be published. It is a very difficult and technical subject and, as the noble Earl well knows, there are several ways of calculating these things. If he will be patient, I think all will be made plain in the White Paper. As I have said, I do not think there is any disposition anywhere to quarrel with what is being done. I am glad that none of your Lordships has come out as a "feather-bedder."

Before I sit down, I should like to give a few figures which illustrate how we are expecting, agriculturally, to meet the problem of the rise in costs that has occurred. If I may refer to the figures which the Lord President gave yesterday, comparing the previous Government's award of a year ago with the present award, I would remind the House of three figures: of the £16,000,000 addition last November, the £2,500,000 reduction of a once-and-for-all addition made a year ago, and the present award of £39,000,000. These three figures give us a total of £52,500,000, which is the measure of the increase in receipts since February, 1951—that is, the last Annual Review—in respect of the commodities falling within the Annual Review. This may be expressed as a percentage increase in what one might call the wholesale price level of home agricultural production. I think I should be putting the: percentage figure rather high if I put it at 7½ per cent., but I will take that figure, and I will compare it with the movement of wholesale prices as given in the published Digest of Statistics. If I take what I may describe as the two other main bulwarks of our economy, coal and steel, and compare February, 1952, with February, 1951, I find an increase in the wholesale price index to compare with my 7½ per cent. for agriculture, of about 11 per cent. for coal and about 20 percent. for steel. I think that those figures, which I give without any intention of praise or blame for one industry or another, indicate that agriculture is fairly and squarely playing its due and proper part in our economy.

My Lords, I have gone on for too long. I do not expect that I have answered all your Lordships' questions. If I have not, I apologise, and I will write to any noble Lord who has asked me any questions which I have not answered. Let me end by saying that I think we have now laid the foundation for a sound and balanced and prosperous agriculture; and with the support of all concerned, of farmers and workers and of land owners, we shall reap the full fruits of our policy.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I think we may say that we have had a most valuable debate, and once more this House has shown that amongst its members it has a very large number who can give profitable advice on agriculture and on the food situation. One reason why I am glad that we have had this debate is that it has elicited such an informative and instructive speech from the noble Lord who has just sat down, and I think we shall all be very grateful to him for the full way in which he has answered our questions—or most of them. He did not deal with my question on top soil, but I hope that that will be dealt with in the same way as the question on mineral workers will be dealt with—perhaps he would write to me about that. We are all indebted to him for the extremely thorough way in which he has wound up our debate to-day.

I was delighted to know that the Ministry of Agriculture are so up to date with their information, because the noble Lord informed us authoritatively that between the time we adjourned yesterday and now, the population of the world has increased by 50,000 people. It is satisfactory to know that the Ministry of Agriculture have the statistics as up to date as all that.


It is the Ministry of Health.


The whole object of this debate was to profer helpful advice, if we could do so, to the farmers, the farm workers, the Ministry and everybody concerned with our food pro- duction. I want to produce more food and not Papers, and, therefore, without further ado, and with your Lordships' leave, I will withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.