§ 2.50 p.m.
§ LORD HUNGARTON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the present drive for food production in Great Britain, and also whether they are satisfied with the present procedure now in operation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this is a very important subject, probably the most important subject facing the people of Britain to-day. For that reason I feel it is only right that I should bring this matter forward to be looked at again by your Lordships. None of us can be satisfied with the present production of food in Great Britain. It is now round about fifty per cent. of our consumption. That ought to go up at the earliest possible moment to 75 per cent. As a countryman and a farmer, I say to your Lordships and to my country that this could be achieved if only we would go the right way to work. It is agreed by all that the economic position, and indeed the strategic position, of our country demands that every ounce of food which can he produced here must be produced.
§ Apart from our own economic position, it is essential that we should produce the utmost from our land because there is definitely a world shortage. Many thinking people are beginning to realise to-day that the increase in world population is greater than the increase in world food production. Last night I had the pleasure of looking in at television and hearing the Lord Mayor of London in his speech refer, as I thought very ably, to what should be done in this country in the way of food production. I am glad that even the City of London know that we should produce a great deal more food. I am convinced that the land is our greatest potential asset and that our farmers, if properly led, will lift our country out of its present difficult position. It is possible to increase food production enormously, by hundreds of millions of pounds a year. We are only just starting to get clown to the job. I know we have been working at it through the war years, but since the war we have slipped back and it is only now that we are again beginning to do a little better. We have to do a great deal more.167
§ Our farmers require a firm policy, a real policy. They require a real lead from the Government—and I am bound to say we have not had that for a number of years. If I may use the expression, we have been wobbling too much for too many years, and many farmers are wondering where the Government are going to jump next. I say that because of the changes of emphasis which have been placed on the various commodities that we produce. We have to find some better way of dealing with the variety of farm produce. For example, many milk producers consider that they were let down badly when the price emphasis was moved in favour of meat production. They had been building up their herds for many years and had spent a great deal of money in putting up shedding. They were producing the goods which the Government wanted them to produce and were a little ahead of their target; then they were let down. I do not think that the milk producers were fairly treated. I should like to see a great deal more milk produced, as well as meat and other things The last time I spoke to your Lordships I said I should like to see more cheese, and good cheese, produced in this country. Our farmers are well able to do it and that must come into any new programme.
§ More recently, we have had another ploughing-up campaign. This has resulted in large increases in barley production, but at the same time the price of barley has dropped 51 per cent., from £10 to £5 per quarter, except for the barley purchased by the brewers at a higher figure. Farmers cannot go on in such an uncertain market. Many of the smaller farmers still have their barley unsold. They just cannot sell it. And the drop from £10 to £5 a quarter is halving their returns. Many farmers in the barley growing districts are in a parlous state. I think that the probability of this happening should have been foreseen. Perhaps I myself should take some little responsibility for that. At any rate, it should have been foreseen, as the lower prices received by barley growers are putting many of them in a difficult position.
§ I do not intend to bore the House by quoting a mass of figures, but I should like to refer to two excellent articles in The Times of yesterday and to-day. The correspondent who wrote those articles 168 might have seen my notes, or I might have seen his articles! I would commend them to your Lordships as excellent and informative reading. It is well known that scores of thousands of acres of arable land were put back to grass between 1945 and 1950. It is good to know that owing to the £5 an acre subsidy this return to grass has stopped and that arable land is again increasing. This is as it should be, because food is best produced by taking the plough round a farm and breaking up leys after three or four years. We can get much more food by ley farming. As your Lordships know, the Ministry of Agriculture publish the average yields per acre of cereals, potatoes and sugar beet. Their figures of this year's yields are 22 cwt. of cereals and seven tons of potatoes and sugar beet. When we remember that these are average figures and that many of the better and bigger farmers are producing over 30 cwt. per acre of cereals, goodness knows what the smaller and poorer men are producing—something in the neighbourhood of 12 to 14 cwt., I suppose. No wonder some of these farmers are in a difficult position. That must be altered.
§ Those of us who are farmers know that at present prices these returns give little or no profit. There cannot be any profit in these lower yields. There is only one way of overcoming that. The land, by better farming, must produce 50 per cent. more. It can be done. Land is honest and will give back all that you put into it, with very big interest. Practical experience shows me that an extra £5 worth of phosphates and potash, properly applied, will return an increase of £20 per acre. That is an illuminating figure, which I can substantiate. I can give one instance where a man who was in the habit of putting half a ton of fertiliser on potatoes, put on a further 5 cwt. (I put on a ton, by the way) and increased his tonnage twofold, probably threefold. At £10 a ton, that makes £30 an acre—even more than the figure of £20 which I have already given.
§ Half of our farmers are doing well and the other half are struggling. Some are spending the money on their farms, while some are spending more on the education of their children and perhaps in running a car. Then there is the increased cost of running the farm. The farmers at the present moment have a little higher standard of living. I am sure your Lordships 169 did not begrudge them the higher standard of living which they had between the two wars—I think they were entitled to that. But now the increased bank rate has added to the farmers' difficulties. I am sure your Lordships realise that since the bank rate has increased, and also costs of securing money from mortgage corporations, land has decreased in value by about 25 to 30 per cent., and the farmers' security has fallen to that extent. This has made it more difficult for the farmer to borrow money from the bank, or from any other source. I do not blame the bankers. After all, bank managers must look after the interests of all their clients, and not merely those of farmers. The higher rates of interest mean simply this: that whereas a farm was worth, say, £12,000 a year ago, it is now worth only round about £9,000.
§ The farmers are, quite rightly, asked to produce more. How is that to be done? I firmly believe that the real solution lies in a much greater application of fertilisers, dung, and the ploughing in of green crops for humus. We must accept the fact that to-day many farmers are short of capital, and a way must be found to help in the application of manures. If your Lordships want to find out whether the farmer is short of capital, just ask the banks and the merchants; they will supply the answer. It is only too true that farmers are short of capital. Many people wonder why that should be so at this time, but we have toface the fact that it is so. I am not going to suggest that higher prices should be paid for produce, except to meet increased wages to the workers. We must stop the drift from the land, and if higher wages are the only answer to that problem, then those higher wages must be paid.
§ There is another factor which has gone against the farm worker recently—namely, the increase of his cottage rent. Most district councils are putting up rents by 2s. a week; and again this is due to the higher bank charges. That increase has to come out of the land; it is a charge against the farmer. During the past year 19,000 men have left the land, and I am very concerned about this matter. For years some 20,000 men have been leaving us each year. This drift must be stopped, and we must by some means get men to come back to the land. 170 The day will come—and I hope it will not be too far off—when the world will see the futility of building up the armaments now being manufactured. Men will then be looking for employment. But we shall still be short of food. Therefore, I say that provision should be made to-day to see that there are in the countryside houses ready for those men to come back to, and also to get the men back to the countryside now. I should like to see 500,000 more men back on the land. In the course of a few years, the country will be glad to see these men back on the land, instead of being unemployed. That is my considered opinion, and I believe it is a matter which is worthy of your Lordships' consideration.
§ I should like to return for a moment to the question of fertilisers. The suggestion I have to make to Her Majesty's Government is that consideration should be given to a scheme whereby the manufacturers of fertilisers receive a loan from the Treasury at a low rate of interest—say, not more than 3 per cent. per annum—to enable the farmer to purchase his manures and pay for them after he has sold his crop, the cost of the loan by the Treasury to be added to the farmer's account. I am not asking for a subsidy. It may be of interest to your Lordships to know that one firm of manufacturers makes upwards of £40 million worth of fertilisers a year. This suggested scheme would not in any way interfere with the present channels of trade, and the responsibility of collecting from the farmer would be entirely that of the merchant. I would have no form filling, which is an important consideration.
§ I turn now to the second part of my Motion, which asks "whether the Government are satisfied with the present procedure now in operation." Many of your Lordships, like myself live in a country district and some come into contact with farmers. Those noble Lords will appreciate that the present Government, like the late Government are using, in peace time, similar methods to those used during the war period. Let me give full marks to the war agricultural executive committees for the work done from 1939 to 1945,and for the work they have—I will use the word—attempted to do since. But they have not been successful since 1945. It is often suggested that greater powers 171 should be given to agricultural executive committees. What for? To use the stick? No, my Lords, that way, in peace time, is not British. It is sound, honest leadership that we want. Farmers will not be driven—and why should they be? The farmers are not the only people in Britain who will not be driven to-day. We say we are a free people, and I believe that we are: let us stay free. They are good fellows, and they respond to good leadership.
§ The National Farmers' Union was formed just over thirty years ago, and is now a powerful body, with over 90 per cent. of the farmers as members. What is the Union for? It is primarily to give assistance to weaker members. I am given to understand that several counties have adopted a "help my neighbour" scheme, which will assist the second-rate farmer to farm better. I am sure we all hope that every county in Britain will follow this excellent example. The National Farmers' Union Council in London are working extremely well with the Government, but unfortunately many county branches, to put it mildly, do not look with favour on the agricultural executive committees. I happen to be a member of an agricultural executive committee, and I know a little about this subject. They look on us as civil servants. Civil servants are all right, but the farmers do not care much for civil servants. When we try to tell them that we are only acting under Ministry instructions, they say straightaway, "Of course, you are: you are working under the Ministry." And when one comes to look at it carefully, one can see that what they say is correct. At the present time, we are being farmed more or less from Whitehall. And what the farmer says when we come into contact with him is, "We do not want so much farming from Whitehall. Let them tell us what they want, and we will get on with the job." This situation is, to me, most regrettable; it does not help food production when the agricultural executive committees are on one side and the farmers are pulling against them on the other. This is not so in every county, but in the majority of counties it is, and we must try to alter it.
The question is: How are we to overcome this difficulty? I should like to make reference to the gracious Speech
from the Throne, which contains these words:
My, Ministers will encourage all engaged in agriculture, mining and industry to cooperate in increasing productive efficiency and thus to produce at lower costs the goods needed at home and by the export trades.
I like that word "co-operate." That is British. Is it possible for us to get greater co-operation between the agricultural executive committees, the National Union of Agricultural Workers, the National Farmers' Union and the land owners? I want to see co-operation between those bodies, and particularly between the agricultural executive committees and the Government. I know that the Government are dealing with the National Farmers' Union, but I want much closer co-operation in this drive for food. May I suggest that a conference of these bodies be called together at the earliest possible time to work out a plan for a new drive for food production such as we had in 1943? That is the kind of drive we want. If such a conference could be called I have no doubt that the Ministry of Agriculture would be represented, and also the Treasury. I hope that at any rate my suggestion will be seriously considered. I am confident that if we all pull together we shall very quickly get some remarkable results from our land. You get nothing by pulling in different directions.
§ I believe that 40 per cent. of the land in this country is farmed by owner-occupiers. In my opinion, the National Agricultural Advisory Service, under the present excellent leadership of Sir James Scott-Watson, is well able to stand alone. They have done good work and are willing to do good work. I believe that the N.A.A.S. will do more than any other body in educating the farmer—and the farmer really needs educating. Some may say that the farmer has had all the education in food production he needs. But that is not so. There is a great deal which the farmers in this country can do but which, hitherto, they have little thought of. They have to change their methods to present conditions, and many farmers are not doing that. I want the farmer to be told what he should do, and I believe that he will do it. For instance, we ought to make better use of the grass for all the cattle and sheep in this country. We could make a 173 tremendous saving in feeding-stuffs—that is, coarse grains fed to pigs and poultry—by using more grass for our cattle and carrying more cattle. Except in a very few instances, farmers have hardly begun to realise the real value of silage. Silage is wonderful if it is properly made. It gives cattle grass during the winter time. I hope that the N.A.A.S. in every district—and when I use the word "district" I refer to areas of about 100,000 acres—will have demonstration plots. That is what the farmers want, plots where potatoes, corn and things of that kind are grown. The N.A.A.S. can do a great deal of work in that direction.
§ At the present time, farmers do not know what is required of then. We are asked to increase food production by so much per cent. above pre-war levels. That is a Very loose way of expressing it. The farmer will say: "I know. I want to do better, but where am I to go? Do we want oats, barley or the other things which we are growing?" Those answers ought to come from the Government. Let the fanners know what is required of them. The target for each commodity should be definitely set for the next five years at least; and it would be better still if it could be set for ten years, particularly so far as livestock is concerned. Then we should get somewhere. The only way to make farming pay is greatly to increase production. That is the only way to meet rising costs, pay higher wages, and possibly lower the price of food. If we can make our land return us 50 per cent. more, or a 100 per cent. more—and the increase can amount to that, if the land is properly farmed—then the farmers will be able to do these things.
§ I would refer now to the Highlands and Islands. The Highlands and Islands are a great potential breeding ground for cattle and sheep. One of the difficulties facing these good people is getting fodder for the stock during the winter months. This is the only instance where I am asking the Ministry for a little assistance for the country. I believe it is essential that these good people should have this fodder. Fodder can now be purchased in the Lowlands of Scotland and Wales, and also from the Eastern Counties of England, at low prices, but transport charges are almost prohibitive. May I suggest that a subsidy on transport should 174 be considered? That is the only thing I am asking for in the way of financial help to our farmers. Those good men who are farming in the Highlands and Islands are worthy of that consideration, and the country badly needs the things we can breed. We shall not get the calves and meat in this country unless it is bred somewhere, and the Highlands and Islands are the greatest potential breeding ground that we have in the British Isles.
§ So far as the horticulturist is concerned, he is always in trouble every two or three years. Weather conditions play an important part in the success or failure of those engaged in horticulture. Every few years there is either a shortage or a superabundance of production. A marketing scheme should be prepared and put into operation at the earliest possible moment. The Marketing Act is there, but it is up to the horticulturists. If they could get a lead from those higher up it would be all to the good.
§ To sum up, I beg Her Majesty's Government to come out with a firm policy which will give confidence to producers. Means must be found to encourage a much greater use of fertilisers. There, I believe, is the key to our problem. Every effort should be made to get greater co-operation, on the lines suggested, between agricultural executive committees, the National Farmers' Union, the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and land owners. I hope that a conference will be brought into being in the very near future. A marketing scheme for horticulture should be brought into being at once. Consideration should also be given to a subsidy on the transport of fodder to remote parts of the Highlands and Islands. Finally, it is absolutely essential that we have a strong food production policy, agreed by all Parties, to give the producer the necessary confidence to grow the food which is so vital to our country. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HUDSON
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, for raising once again the question of food production, because although I think the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he comes to reply, will find some bright spots in the picture to which to call our attention, the bulk of us who follow agricultural matters will 175 agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, that we must be far from satisfied with the progress which is being made. It is true that the September Returns show some increase in production. They show that in some ways agriculture is perhaps doing even better than industry, which itself has shown some regrettable reductions in production compared with last year; but I am perfectly certain that we still have a long way to go.
Now, I should not claim, naturally, to have the wide knowledge of conditions in the country that I once possessed; but I am still honoured by many friendships among farmers—friendships which I made during the war. In talking to many of these farmers I find myself greatly disturbed at the atmosphere which appears to be growing up in the farming community. I think that increased criticism is being made and published of the agricultural executive committees and of the Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, said. I hope no noble Lord will think I am being unduly critical if I say that I get the impression that at the present moment there are a number of what might be called N.F.U. backwoodsmen who are defeating the efforts of their President, Sir James Turner, to carry out the promise of increased co-operation in food production—a promise which he made on their behalf during the February Price Review. It is disturbing to see the increase in the number of farmers, in the counties especially, who are preaching the doctrine that the time has come to get rid of the county agricultural committees and of all controls, and to regain what they call their "freedom." I am certain that if they did this they would find that it was very much like the freedom of the jackass in the desert.
The men who make these speeches should perhaps once again be reminded of our experience during the inter-war years. I have said this before, but perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I repeat it, because I think it is apposite. During the inter-war years, I am reasonably satisfied, our agriculture was efficient; and, taking the whole range of products which we produced, we produced it as cheaply as any other country in the world produced a similar range. But the trouble with our agriculture the 176 difficulty we encountered between the wars, was the fact that there was always some one period when some country somewhere was able to produce some one article much cheaper than we could; and with virtual free trade throughout the world in foodstuffs the British farmer was in many respects defeated in detail. The experience of the war years, and the fears of a recurrence after the war of pre-war difficulties led to a wide measure of agreement as to post-war policy. That agreement was essentially a partnership, a partnership between the agricultural industry and the public of this country, in which both sides had responsibilities and both sides had advantages. The public as a whole realised for the first time the importance of agriculture as one of our fundamental industries, and the public as a whole agreed to give the farmer stability and assured markets. That was the basis of the 1947 Act.
On the other hand, the farming industry as a whole promised, in their turn, that they would make themselves reasonably efficient and would provide in adequate quantities the items of food that this country required. That partnership depended upon common sense and upon toleration—surely essential English virtues. But now opponents of that settlement say, "Why should you continue county agricultural executive committees? Why should you continue controls in time of peace? "I have come to the conclusion that one of the difficulties we are in to-day arises from the fact that the Act of 1947, which was based, broadly speaking, on an agreed policy that we on this side had laid down, was intended to act in times of peace. But in fact to-day we are not at peace: we are in a cold war—a cold war which is not of our making but which is imposed upon us. We are suffering from the burden of rearmament, from difficulties in the export trade and difficulties arising from the balance of payments which flow from that cold war. Above all, of course, we are suffering from the difficulties of capital investment in adequate quantity to bring about an increase in our home food production and an increase in our industrial production.
I am not going to pretend that there has not been some progress in the last 177 year. The very fact that the ploughing-up grant resulted in a far greater number of acres being ploughed up than those which had been set in the target is in itself encouraging; but the ease with which the target was exceeded—and there is no doubt that it was exceeded with ease—is at the same time a measure of the fall since the war-time peak of ploughing up. My personal guess (and it is only a guess) is that the target has been set too low. I am not sure that in a comparatively short time the growth of agricultural production in this country could not be doubled. I believe that it could be doubled—not, perhaps, in the first year, but within a comparatively short time. I think that what would be useful, if I may venture to suggest it, would be to concentrate to-day on trying to find out what it is that is preventing that possible double increase.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, has said, The Times during the last two days published two very interesting articles. But interesting though these articles were—they described why we are not doing what we might do—they seemed to lack the really important thing: How are we going to get over this difficulty, and what, in fact, is holding back the increased production which most people believe is possible and all of us believe is necessary. I do not wish to detain your Lordships too long, but I should guess that one of the main reasons is taxation. To give just one illustration, I was talking only yesterday to a farmer from the north and he said: "Take the case of one of my neighbours, producing meat. He feeds his cattle and sends them to market, and people are prepared to pay an increased price, so that he makes a profit on them. The income tax authorities tax that profit—which is, in most cases, largely a paper profit and not a cash one. When he has sold the beasts and when he comes, in due course, to renew his stores he must consider the increased price of those stores and the fact that a lot of his cash has gone to pay the taxes and that he is therefore unable to buy even the number of stores he sold, let alone the increased number which he would have had to fatten in order to comply with the demand for increased production." Of course, the position of the farmer is no different from that of industry at large. As we know, owing to taxation industry is finding in- 178 creasing difficulty in obtaining the finance necessary to meet depreciation and to provide for the renewal of machinery. Therefore, I suppose that taxation is the chief hindrance to-day to increased food production.
I do not think equipment is one of the causes of this holding back, for it is estimated that since the war landlords have spent £100 million on fixed equipment. Ours is one of the most highly mechanised agricultures in the world. Therefore, broadly speaking, I do not think one can say that lack of fixed equipment is holding things up. Nor can you say that lack of housing is holding things up, because, over the last ten years, or during the last six years since the war, rural housing has undoubtedly improved, is improving and, we hope, is going to improve at a still greater rate.
Finally, I turn to research—and, again, I would say that this is not responsible for holding things up. I should be the last person in the world to denigrate the value of research, but I am certain that if research stopped tomorrow, that fact alone would not necessarily mean that higher production would be impeded. We have to remember the great progress that has been made during the last twelve years, not only in new fundamental research but also in what is equally important, the art of husbandry, and in the rediscovery, particularly during the war, of so many of our grandfathers' and ancestors' methods of cultivation which people, had forgotten. We rediscovered them, many of us thinking that they were brand new discoveries, whereas they were really only a renewal of what had been known years ago. I am perfectly certain that enough is known to-day in practically every branch of agriculture to get the increased production we need, if—and it is an important "if"—that knowledge is reasonably and universally applied.
That leads me to the conclusion that what is really holding things back is the personal equation, the gap between the best farmer, the average farmer and the poor farmer. I am perfectly certain it is not the differences between the big farmer and the small farmer, because, as you see twice a week in your farming papers, example after example is quoted of the small man starting with practically nothing and working up to become a 179 successful farmer producing a large amount of gross production per acre, and at the same time a man with a larger moorland farm or hill farm showing equally the way to get increased production from his poorer land. It is not the difference between the small man and the large, as it is so often said to be. I am satisfied in my own mind—it may be unpopular to say this to farmers—that prices alone will not close the gap, because, certainly in the case of many of the average farmers and a great number of the poor farmers, the only result of increasing the prices is to make it easier for them to maintain the standard of living to which they have been accustomed, and not necessarily to urge them to get increased production. That may not be popular, but I think it is true.
Therefore, I come to the conclusion that the only thing that will do the job (and this largely follows along the lines the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, suggested) is public farming opinion—the public opinion of the individual farmer and the individual branch of the N.F.U. in the various counties. That is the only thing that can be relied on to "work the oracle." May I be allowed to say one word about what I believe to be the difference between land and other forms of property, because I think it is fundamental to this conception of public opinion? I believe—certainly I learned from my experience during the war—that land is a unique type of property, and that a man who is either the owner or the occupier of land is not entitled to treat it like other forms of property and to do withit exactly as he likes, because the land of this country is limited in amount. It is decreasing, through necessity, almost every month. It cannot be recreated, except to a comparatively small extent by reclaiming parts of the Wash, and so forth. The land is in its present state because of the work of our ancestors over hundreds and hundreds of years. That leads me to believe that the owner or occupier of land has a moral obligation to the community as a whole, and that no man is entitled to keep it and say: "I must be absolutely free to do what I like with this land because, after all, it is mine."
I believe that we owe the present condition of our land to a realisation by our fathers, grandfathers and forefathers of 180 that moral obligation. It was present in the minds of the great improvers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I believe it is widespread in the farming industry to-day, among land owners and farmers, though in a great many cases—in fact, in the majority of cases—it is an unconscious recognition. It is up to the people who believe that to see that that view is put across to everyone holding, owning or occupying land. It is perfect nonsense, I believe, to talk about the hostility of the county agricultural executive committees. After all, they are formed from panels submitted by different branches of the industry themselves, and, so far as is humanly possible, they do represent the best local farming experience.
The noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, suggested that it might be a good idea to have a conference of the various county agricultural executive committees. I do not know whether it is of any value, but I recall that at a critical period in the war we were immensely helped by the action of the Royal Agricultural Society in calling a conference of land owners, agricultural workers, farmers, land agents and every one concerned, to work out the broad lines of policy. It is just conceivable that a conference of that kind, analogous to the one that the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, suggested, might be of value. I feel most profoundly that some means must be found in the course of the very near future of breaking the deadlock into which we seem to be drifting, in spite of, apparently, the best of will on the part of Whitehall and the best of will on the part of the leaders of the N.F.U. Something has to be done to break this deadlock, otherwise we shall find ourselves inevitably faced with a situation in which panic measures will become necessary—and everyone knows that that is not to the long-term advantage of either agriculture or the country as a whole. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, said, that it is a matter for leadership. I think that the leaders of the N.F.U. who have played their part in the past must now take a hand and face up to those elements in the countryside and in the counties about which the noble Lord spoke.
There is one final point about which I hope your Lordships will allow me to say a word. I am sorry to say it is rather in criticism of Her Majesty's Government. 181 I refer to dogs on allotments—possibly a bathos after what we have been discussing. The Government intend to allow a regulation that was made during the war to lapse. That regulation imposed a penalty upon any owner of a dog who allowed his dog to do damage to an allotment. Although I realise the desire to get rid of controls, I venture to think that, in the circumstances, this is a retrograde step I hope the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he comes to reply—I have said this to him privately, so I am sure he will not mind my repeating it in public—will not try to fob me off—or your Lordships, for that matter—with a departmental brief on this point. I have had some correspondence with my old Department on this matter, and their reply is most unsatisfactory. In the first place, they say that the main reason for this regulation was that damage was being done to unfenced war-time allotments. That rather implied that it related to only those allotments. The fact is that it was the extension of unfenced war-time allotments that gave rise to this regulation, but it was applied, and does apply, to all the allotments of the country.
The second argument they put forward is that, because war-time allotments are decreasing in number, therefore the regulation is of little value. That is a very poor argument, because the fewer wartime allotments there are, the more important to food production are those allotments which remain. The third argument they use is that it really does not matter, because the ordinary allotment holder has the right, I think under Section 19 of the Allotments Act, 1922, to take proceedings against anyone who does damage to his allotment. If that had been any good, we should not have had to bring in the new regulation. One example of the futility of that argument is that there was a case not very long ago (I believe it is a classic case in this matter) in which an unfortunate man had an allotment—I am not sure whether he was a disabled man, but at all events he was a semi-invalid—where he kept a number of rabbits, and those rabbits were killed by a dog He brought an action against the owner of the dog and won it in the lower court, but on appeal the decision was reversed, on the theory that every dog must be allowed one bite, which I understand is a good legal motto. The net result to this unfortunate man was 182 that he lost his rabbits and, in addition, was mulcted in heavy costs. So, not unnaturally, the National Allotment Society does not hold this answer of the Minister of Agriculture to be very valuable. Nor do I.
What is to be done? I suggest that when, as I understand is proposed, the Minister carries out his semi-promise to introduce legislation next year against dogs worrying sheep, this difficulty might well be dealt with in the Bill. I hope we are going to legislate against dogs worrying sheep, not because the dogs hurt the sheep—that is the sort of sentimentality which goes down very well with those concerned with the Canine Defence League or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—but because, owing to the damage done to sheep by dogs, the keeping of sheep over wide areas of land around towns has gone out, and because, in order to provide adequate supplies of meat for the people of this country—in other words, for food production—it is necessary to restrain dogs and to bring sheep back. I submit that precisely that criterion should be applied in the case of damage done by dogs to allotments, and that a similar provision should be made part of the permanent law of the land.
It is said by the Ministry that the regulation has been useless because no prosecutions have resulted from its use. As a matter of fact, the reason for that is that warning notices have been put up by local authorities and allotment societies all over the country warning people of the penalty, and being a law-abiding nation the ordinary owners of dogs have taken care to keep their dogs under control. If this regulation lapses and no substitute is inserted these warning notices will have to be taken down by local authorities and allotment societies throughout the country, and the obvious reaction of the dog owner will be to think that it no longer matters about food production, and he will let his dogs loose. Therefore I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, comes to reply, he will scrap his brief and give us a really satisfactory answer.
§ 3.45 p.m.
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I feel it is now generally accepted on all sides of the House that if agriculture is to play its full part in food production and is to produce anything approaching 183 the maximum quantity of food of which the land is capable, then the provision of electricity and water comes high on the list of vital necessities. From the point of view of reducing production costs, it is of paramount importance to have electricity at the farm buildings, not only to drive all the various machines which are required for modern farming, but also in order to be able to make full use of the labour available, for it must be borne in mind that at times during the winter the agricultural worker starts and finishes his labour in darkness, and therefore, if he is not to waste his time, he must be able to work with the aid of electric light during these hours. If your Lordships have seen a man trying to do the ordinary day-to-day maintenance on a tractor by the light of a paraffin lamp, you will realise exactly what I mean. It is an exceptional man who, working in those conditions, will not lose his temper and also a great many nuts and bolts, simply because he cannot see properly.
Now I would ask your Lordships to consider the conditions under which agricultural workers live. There are many amenities which the town dweller enjoys, such as the cinema and the shops just around the corner, and clean and well-lighted streets to walk on, which, by the very nature of his calling, must be denied to the agricultural labourer, at any rate for the foreseeable future. But there are two amenities that surely he is justified in expecting to find, at any rate in the near future, and these are electric light and a clean, reliable water supply. The Ministry of Agriculture published last October the figures of those employed in theindustry at September of this year as compared with September, 1951. These figures disclose that there was a loss to the industry of some 12,000 workers, or 2 per cent. of the total employed. You will appreciate that this is a very serious loss in one year, and to the best of my ability I have tried to analyse the cause of it. As I see it, there is no serious complaint about the basic wage—I think all sides of the industry are reasonably content with that. But, looking around, I feel that the loss is due largely to lack of amenities. The man himself may love his job, but if his wife has to put up with an unsatisfactory well, with having to let down a bucket perhaps four times a day, with outdoor sanitation, with paraffin 184 lamps, and so on, she is not going to be a contented woman; and I believe your Lordships will agree that to live in a house with a wife who is not at all contented with her surroundings is liable to make even the best of men consider changing his employment. If we are to stop, or at least to slow down, this trend of rural labour to drift into the towns, we must bring pressure to bear to ensure that electricity and water supplies are brought to even the remotest parts of the agricultural community with the minimum of delay.
If I may, I will now deal with electricity in a little more detail. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power said in another place last May, there were some 81,500 farms already electrified before the industry was nationalised. The latest figures which I have been able to obtain were given by the Minister of Agriculture in October, and they show that there are now 126,000 farms electrified. That suggests a very reasonable advance. But your Lordships must bear in mind that that is still barely one-third of all the farms in the country, and there is a great deal yet to be done. The actual expenditure by the British Electricity Authority for rural electricity has shown a gradual rise since vesting day. For the year 1951-52, it had been planned to spend a sum of £5 million, but, owing to the then economic situation, the previous Government reduced this capital expenditure by £2 million, and instructed that no rural schemes other than those actually in the pipeline, were to be embarked upon. Subsequently the present Government, realising the importance and the urgency of rural electrification, reduced this cut by £1 million. The British Electricity Authority have planned a total expenditure of some £6 million for 1952–53. I do not know if it is possible for the Government to give the House the actual amounts which the British Electricity Authority will be permitted to spend during the years 1952–53 and 1953–54.
I turn to the actual provision of electricity. It has been estimated that to provide the necessary system for complete development and the connection of all prospective rural consumers would entail, at present prices, a capital expenditure of something over £100 million. The main transmission and distribution lines are accepted by the Electricity 185 Authority as their responsibility, and they will cost, it is estimated some £20 million. The remaining £80 million represents the connection to the prospective rural consumers. Whilst it is obvious that for such an amenity a prospective consumer must of necessity make a contribution, such a contribution must be within reasonable limits, taking into account his other commitments, such as the provision and maintenance of fixed equipment which is so necessary for economic farming to-day. In the past there have been three methods whereby a prospective consumer made his contribution towards the capital cost of connection. These were a capital sum (which could be paid as a lump sum or as a series of prescribed payments), a rental or a minimum consumption guarantee, or a combination of any of these.
I should like to comment on these three forms of payment. Where a capital sum is demanded, it may well be that a consumer will have to contribute as much as 70 per cent. of the total capital cost of the scheme. To do this he has to raise capital. It is not possible for him to obtain a loan from the Lands Improvement Company for such a purpose, and whilst he may be able to obtain a loan from the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, such a loan would be only at the expense of a mortgage on his property and not on the electrical installation only. Further, by tying up capital in an electricity supply, he may well be unable to carry out other forms of capital investment, such as the provision of new and up-to-date fixed equipment and all the machinery which goes with the electrification of his property. This applies equally and in proportion, both to the estate owner and to the owner-occupier.
A line rental does assist an owner in that included in his payment is the cost of electricity actually consumed by him. This rental, however, remains in perpetuity. It is a form of amortisation of a capital charge. It would appear to me that the third method is the fairest, certainly for an owner, whether he be large or small. By this form of charge the consumer guarantees to take a specific amount of electricity for a given number of years. Should his consumption not reach the guarantee, he pays the difference at the normal tariff rates. The 186 excellence of this form of charge is that it encourages a consumer to carry out electrification on his farm in order that he may consume the full amount that he guarantees, which surely is both to his own benefit and, in addition, to the benefit of the area board, in that once having achieved his guaranteed figure he is most likely to continue, even after the given period has lapsed. He is not likely to decrease his consumption once the given period is finished. This latter method is one which has been pressed for by the Country Landowners' Association, of which I have had the honour to be an officer for a large number of years.
I am given to understand that the majority of area boards throughout the country have now agreed to offer a consumer the option of either a capital sum or an annual guaranteed revenue. There remain, however, four boards who continue to insist on compulsory capital sums. In the interests of increased rural electrification, the landowners and occupiers would welcome all boards offering an owner the choice of these two forms of payment. I suggest that, under the Electricity Act, 1947, it is the duty of an electricity board to promote the simplification and standardisation of methods of charge and supply. Also under the Act, to quote Section 6 (1), the Central Authority may give such directions to the area boards as appear to the Central Authority to be necessary or expedient. My Lords, I thank you for bearing with me with the courtesy which you always show to one who addresses you for the first time.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, it falls to my lot to discharge the extremely pleasant duty, on behalf of your Lordships, of congratulating the noble Earl who has just sat down on his admirable maiden speech. I am sure we have all been delighted by the extremely thorough grasp which he has shown of his subject. I think your Lordships will agree that the especial value of agricultural debates in this House lies in the connection of those who take part in them either with the land or with the Ministry of Agriculture. We therefore need noble Lords like the noble Earl to enable us to maintain the quality of our debates. We shall look forward to hearing him on 187 this subject, which he understands so well, on future occasions. I should also like to say, on behalf of noble Lords who sit on this side of the House, how sorry we are that the noble Lord, Lord Wool ton, cannot take part in this debate. I think it is the first debate on the subject of food production since the present Government came into power which he has missed. I hope that the knowledge of the affectionate regard in which he is held by all who know him in this House will help to speed his recovery.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, said in the course of his remarks that we might well direct our attention this afternoon to the question of what is holding production back. We all agree that the nation needs more food, and I think we all agree also that the land is not producing as much food as it might do. I propose to deal with one or two matters which, in my opinion—though the noble Viscount may not agree—are holding back production. The first is farm rents. Perhaps I can speak more easily about this subject than some of your Lordships who have much greater knowledge and experience than I have—and for this reason. I do not own an acre of land anywhere, and since I am a member of the Labour Party no one can suspect me of even unconscious prejudice in favour of landlords. What worries me, because I think it is a handicap to production, is the gap between the average rent paid by farmers to-day and the economic rent of farm land. An obvious example of this disparity is the difference between what a man can get if he sells his land and what he can get by letting it. I think it is common knowledge that land is expensive to buy but cheap to rent. That broad impression is borne out by the latest figures of gross rents, which can be compared with the pre-war figures. Most uncontrolled prices have risen from 50 to 100 per cent. since the war. That represents the general rise in the price level. But farm rents have lagged far behind other prices. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to give some figures.
In 1938 the average rent of farm land in England and Wales was 25s. 4d. per acre. In 1950, a joint inquiry by the Ministry of Agriculture aid the Country Landowners' Association showed an average figure of 31s. 7d. The present figure—it is only an approximate one— 188 is about 33s. 6d. That means that the total average increase in farm rents since the war is not more than 30 per cent. The fact is that rents have risen far less than farm prices, wages or the cost of estate maintenance. I believe this is harmful to agriculture in three ways. It means quite often that the whole rent received only just covers maintenance, with nothing left over for improvements, which are not carried out unless the landlord has outside income or capital. Landlords with capital or income from other sources have been putting it into the land in an admirable and praiseworthy way, but as time passes estate management is bound to deteriorate unless rents are adjusted to meet rising costs. Land owners will find it increasingly difficult to put more back into the land than they get out of it. The second ill-effect of the low level of farm rents is this. The farmer now finds that the cost of rent is the cheapest of his production expenses. Labour is dear; feeding-stuffs, fertilisers and farm equipment are dear, but land is relatively cheap. Sometimes, therefore, he is more concerned to produce as much as he can, per worker employed, and to get a reasonable return on his working capital than he is to increase output per acre. The bad farmer can pay his way to-day without making the best use of good land.
The third ill-effect of under-renting is that it lends colour to the charge of "feather-bedding" the farmer. As your Lordships may remember, because I have said it before in your Lordships' House, I regard this broad charge as being entirely unjustified. Therefore, I regret all the more that low rents for first-class land give a weapon to those who make the charge. The subsidies and price guarantees paid at the moment enable the farmers on poor and marginal land to get along without reducing his output. They cannot give him more than a narrow margin of profit. But the fact that the rent paid for good land is far too low means that public money is adding to the already substantial profit of some people who are fortunate enough to farm the best arable land in the country. I think we shall all agree that, while special consideration should be given to the many smallholders and tenant farmers—and the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, suggested that farmers 189 of this kind compose about one-half of the farming community—who cannot afford to pay more rent without reducing their output, the closing of the gap between the prevailing level of farm rents and the economic rent of farm land will increase the efficiency and output of our agriculture.
The next subject with which I should like to deal, and to which I would direct the particular attention of Her Majesty's Government—because this is much more a matter of Government responsibility than is the question of rents—is common land. I hope the Government will act upon the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, in our debate last April, that we should look more closely into the use to which common land is being put. The noble Lord then said he estimated that we have between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 acres of common land in this country. I believe (the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will correct me if my information is not accurate) there has been no official survey of common land since 1870, and there is some doubt about the accuracy of that survey, which is now eighty years old and, therefore, quite out of date. We are really in the dark about the exact extent and character of common land, and we are equally in the dark about the manner of its present use and the methods required for its improvement. May I suggest that the Government consider undertaking another survey of common land as soon as possible? This would enable the Government to tell the public—and I know the public wish to know—how common land is being used and what should be done if it is to produce more food. But what I think everyone knows, without this exact information which we ought to have, is that at the present time an enormous amount of this land is wasted. Thousands of acres which might be used, either for crops or pasture, are not used at all, or used only by the commoners for a little rough grazing. The rough grazing that does go on is highly inefficient, because the grass is poor, the grazing area is unfenced and there is no way of regulating the number of animals turned out. The special importance of bringing this land into full production is that it is mainly grass land, and the providing of home-grown animal food will be a limiting factor in the expansion of our livestock.
190 There is, of course, a small area of common land which is still cultivated under Defence Regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, told us in April that the Minister would continue to use his powers until they expired in 1954. May I ask the noble Lord now whether he can tell us what will happen at the end of these two years? Are these food-producing acres to be allowed to revert to rough grazing or waste land? I sincerely hope that that will not be the case. We shall all agree that, whatever powers the Government may be obliged to ask for in order to make this common land more productive, due regard should be paid to the long-established rights of the commoners. It seems to me that they would gain, rather than lose, by giving up their theoretical control over the use of common land. They would either receive rent or other payment in lieu of rights which they do not, in fact, exercise, or, if they wished to continue to exercise their rights, they would benefit from the improvement of the land.
I hope the Government will bear in mind the interests of forestry as well as those of agriculture in connection with common land. I go round the country occasionally as a member of a forestry executive, and I have with my own eyes seen land doing nothing, land which would have been acquired for planting by the Forestry Commission if it had not been common land. There must be large areas in the country—this is one of the things we should discover if a survey were taken—where the soil is too poor for cultivation, which are not being used at the moment, but which could grow valuable timber and therefore save a large amount of foreign exchange if the forestry authorities had the power to acquire them. Let us not forget that during the war 20,000 acres of common land were taken over and extremely well cultivated. The food shortage was serious then, but it is still serious. And I am convinced that if in due course the Government would publish a White Paper (which I suppose is the proper procedure in cases of this kind) to show the wastage stage of common land at the present time, and set out the additional powers they would require to make it fully productive, they would have public opinion on their side and Parliamentary support for any legislation they decided to introduce.
191 The third topic that I should like to mention is farming efficiency, a matter with which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has dealt on several occasions. I hope that I shall again find myself in agreement with him, because it is a comforting thought for any speaker on agriculture. In our last debate on food production there was general agreement about the need for a high standard of farming and a general agreement, I fear, that the present standard of farming is not what it might be. The small minority of sub-standard farmers were described by the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition as "enemies of society," and the Government agreed with everyone else that such people must mend or end their present ways. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, while emphasising, very properly, the responsibility of the land owners in the maintenance of a good standard of husbandry, acknowledged the responsibility of the Government, which is exercised through the county agricultural committees. Indeed, he went so far as to say that the Minister would ask these committeesto exercise more freely the r powers of supervision and dispossession,if farmers continued to ignore the expert advice at their disposal. I think I am interpreting the sense of lie noble Lord's reply to the debate, but he will no doubt correct me if what I have said is wrong. Six months have elapsed since the noble Lord's statement, and some response should have been obtained from the county agricultural committees. I do not pretend for a moment that it is not too early to judge whether the county agricultural committees will make the contribution they have been asked to make to this drive for efficiency, but we can see how much progress has been made to-day.
The noble Lord was good enough to give me some information which shows the sort of response he has received from the counties. I was glad to know that the county committees are getting a bit "tougher"; and that there have been more dispossession orders this year than last. But I wish I could think—and I am sure we all wish we could take his view—that, in the long term, an increase of only fifteen in the number of these orders would be a sufficient increase. I 192 was rather alarmed to find that there are still over 800 farms which have been under supervision for more than a year. My own feeling is that after a short period under supervision—I should imagine not more than a year, as a rule—farmers should be allowed to sink or swim; and if they keep afloat, as we all hope they will do, it should not be by means of a Government lifebelt. May I ask whether the noble Lord shares this view of policy in regard to supervision?
I was also a little concerned to see from the figures given by the noble Lord opposite that there are fewer farms under supervision this year than last. I am not sure what the correct interpretation of the figures is, but I hope it does not mean that the committees have been reluctant to place "B" and "C" farmers under supervision when their standard of husbandry has not improved. I am sure that what we should do is to place these "B" and "C" farmers under supervision if they do not respond to the advice they receive. It is essential, if the efficiency drive is to succeed, that the county committees should play their full part. Of course, as several noble Lords have mentioned, it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to do this without the co-operation with the farming community: that is exceedingly important. But if they should fail, whether through their own fault or anyone else's (and there is no need to try to attach the blame to any particular individual or organisation) I hope that the Government will think out a new procedure to tighten up Part II of the 1947 Act.
I should like now to say a few words about another way in which I think production could be increased. It will be generally accepted that the extent to which we can increase the number of our livestock, which is the most important item in our agricultural expansion programme, will depend on the amount of home-grown feeding-stuffs which we can provide. We cannot afford to import fodder at two or three times the price of the home-grown article. This is a problem for farmers generally, but the Government have a special responsibility to set an example to other sections of the community, and to make good use of the land in their own possession. I wonder 193 whether better use might not be made of grass grown on aerodromes. To-day, such grass is either wasted or made into low-quality hay by neighbouring farmers. What I should like to ask the Government to consider is this. Could not county agricultural committees be given responsibility for improving the grass on R.A.F. stations, and for growing the largest amount consistent with operational requirements? If this grass were conserved, either as dried grass or as silage, we should save a large amount in expensive imports of winter keep. The area covered by airfields at the moment is very large. We hope that it will not grow, but it is likely to continue to be large for a considerable time, as I am sure the noble Lord opposite is painfully aware. So I should be obliged if he would look into the possibilities, with the other Departments concerned.
May I now say a few words about capital investment? I am quite convinced that if we are to get this increased food production there must be a sufficient investment next year in new farm machinery, drainage, electrification—a matter which was mentioned by the noble Earl who has just spoken—and in various forms of capital development. This will depend on the priority given to agriculture by the Government in their capital investment programme. I know what a hard fight the Ministry of Agriculture have to get their rightful place on the priority list, but I do hope that the Government will give agriculture the same priority as the defence industries. Agriculture really deserves it, for food is just as essential as arms. Unless agriculture receives this degree of priority, I fear that we shall not get the capital investment on which the production of more food will depend.
In conclusion, may I say this? Although the Government can and should provide the conditions of increased food production (I think that is being done, and has been done by all the Governments since the war), the job can be carried out only by the people who live and work on the land. Cannot responsible members of all political Parties join in a fresh appeal to the public spirit? As the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, said, we must convince public opinion in the countryside. We should, I am sure, be frank with these people and ex- 194 plain to them the gravity of the national emergency. Our standard of living has begun to fall. If the present trend of production and export continues, it will fall still further, and only a great and sustained effort by the agricultural community can prevent a catastrophic decline. We can offer the agricultural community two things if they rise to the measure of their responsibility: first, an assured market for every scrap of food they may produce over an indefinite period of time, and, secondly, the gratitude of the nation.
May I suggest to the Government that a fitting way of launching this appeal would be—as two speakers have already suggested, although there was no consultation beforehand, not even between speakers on this side of the House—to convene a conference in London of the leaders of the agricultural community: the representative of the National Farmers' Union, of the two large farm workers' unions, of the Country Landowners' Association and the chairmen of the county agricultural committees. Let me add this suggestion—it has not been made before, and I do not know whether it will commend itself to the other noble Lords who approved of the idea of a conference of this kind. I hope that the Prime Minister might be personally associated with such a conference, and that his address would impart that sense of sharing in an urgent national task which he gave us during the war. No industry gives more unpaid public service than agriculture. I am sure that an appeal of this kind, made in the nation's name to the traditional patriotism and public spirit of all engaged in food production, would not be made in vain.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I should like, first of all, to endorse the tribute which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, paid to my noble friend and neighbour Lord St. Aldwyn, on the excellence of his maiden speech. In that connection, I would say that it is gratifying to some of us who knew and, if I may say so, loved his eminent grandfather, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, to find his grandson coming into the Parliamentary arena and doing something to maintain at Westminster the traditions of the family. I may say, incidentally, that Lord 195 St. Aldwyn, who lives in my county is showing himself an extremely progressive farmer and a most enlightened land owner, and we are glad to welcome his recent appointment as the Deputy Chairman of the Country Landowners' Association.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has referred to three or four matters of great importance, some of which have been discussed on previous occasions in this House. I was glad to note that he frankly admitted that farm rents have lagged far behind other agricultural figures. It ought to be realised and emphasised that the average rent of what I may call the ordinary country squire is wholly insufficient to provide, or even to maintain properly, the essential equipment of modern husbandry. It is doing no service to agriculture generally that there should be any attempt to restrict the payment of a reasonable economic rent for the use and occupation of our very limited agricultural land. The noble Earl also referred to common land. This matter has been discussed before, and I do not want to say anything more than this. There is throughout the country a fearful waste of this so-called common land. Geese are supposed to be the privileged animal equipment of common land. They are doing an immense amount of harm, as geese always do to the finer herbage of our pastures.
I do not see my noble friend Lord Hudson in the House, but I should like at once to say that I note with great satisfaction that during last week he found himself the proud possessor of the champion British Friesian cow in this country, with a milk yield of over 3,000 gallons. Had he been here, while congratulating him on that outstanding achievement, I should be a little inclined to question whether that particular cow is, on balance, an economic proposition. I do not want to stress this, but my experience is that, by the time you have put food in at one end and milk comes out at the other, and you have done it three times a day, with the present cost of food and maintenance expenses and with the doubtful advantage of having bovine animals that are doing more than what I may call their normal natural function, it is questionable whether the working life of those animals is really long enough. However, that is by the 196 way. The noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, mentioned another matter which is not fully realised by the public, and that is that the taxation of farmers is assessed largely upon what he quite properly called a "paper profit," based upon valuations. In many cases there is no real profit at all. I should like to see the whole system of the taxation of our farming community reorganised and put upon a more equitable basis than it is to-day.
Having in days gone by been the chairman for many years of two of our agricultural research stations—including the oldest and perhaps still the most important one at Rothamsted—I am inclined to agree with what the noble Viscount said regarding research. It is not so much that more research is required, but more abundant application of research already conducted. While thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, for opening this debate, that leads me to say how fully I endorse what he said about the ample provision of appropriate fertilisers. I use the word "appropriate" advisedly, because there are still a certain number of our farmers who do not altogether appreciate the relative value or constitution of the various common fertilisers that are on the market to-day, and because, through a lack of information, there is a certain amount of waste going on in applying, shall we say, nitrogenous fertilisers to crops for which they are not absolutely essential. Of course, all leaf crops require nitrogenous fertilisers, but also phosphatic or potassium fertilisers, the balance of which, with nitrogen, it is so important to maintain.
Referring back to the interesting speech of Lord Hungarton, I noticed that he started by saying that farmers need a firm permanent policy. I hope we are all agreed about that. In my opinion, the sooner the Ministry of Agriculture can make up their mind to embark upon a long-term policy of something like a stable character, the better it will be for agriculture, because it will impart a feeling of security which is so important to farmers generally and, of course, in the best interests of continuous maximum food production in this country. In that connection, we must do more than we have done so far in making our farms more self-contained. We cannot look, as we have in the past, to any large quantity, 197 still less an increasing quantity, of animal feeding-stuffs of a concentrated character coming from overseas. In certain parts of the country during the last three or four years we have made farming a more self-sufficient proposition than it was previously, but much can still be done by growing on our land, particularly in the West of England, larger quantities of beans, oats, lucerne and other crops having a high protein content which will make less necessary the importation and use of purchased feeding-stuffs from abroad.
The noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, uttered this remarkable sentence: Some of our farmers are doing well and some are suffering. That leads me to the point I really wanted to emphasise this afternoon. I want to ask this question of this House and of the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture: Are we utilising the land of this country—taking into account fully its regional differences of soil and climate—in the best manner to secure the largest possible amount of the protein foods, starch foods and fats, not to mention vitamins necessary for the sustenance of our population and its vocational efficiency? There is an old legal motto, "Equality is equity"; and in order partly to implement that maxim the farmers generally have been put more or less on a par, as regards what they are expected to produce, in every part of this country—with a loss of equity so far as the consuming public are concerned.
I agree with the noble Lord in commending very highly the two excellent articles which have appeared in The Times newspaper yesterday and to-day. In the course of my long association with the industry I cannot remember a better summary of the present food output of this country and its potentialities. In these articles emphasis is laid upon the fact that in this country we are conspicuously successful in, and well adapted for, animal husbandry—far more so, in fact, than we are, for various climatic and other reasons, for the production of cereal corn. I hold the view strongly that in the best and highest interests of the consuming public the time has come to differentiate in regard to what the farmers grow in, say, the West of England, particularly the South-West, and in Wales, compared with what they grow in, let us say, East Anglia and other Eastern coun- 198 ties, arid East Midland counties. if it were found possible to frame a scheme under which we could look preponderantly to the Eastern counties of this country, and particularly to the East Midland counties, to produce the bulk of wheat that we require for the purposes of bread and other starchy foods, and leave it preponderantly to the Western counties and Wales to provide to a much larger extent the animal products, whether milk or meat, than they are doing at present, I am sure that the public, as a result of such a regional arrangement, would in the long run have a far larger quantity of essential food than they have at the present time.
I hesitate to say any more to-day, except that to my mind it is very cheering, particularly to one who tried his best in another place to champion the interests of agriculture when it was at a very low ebb in this country, to find this stimulating and salutary keenness in every part of both Houses of Parliament with regard to our home food production. It is also good to find that there is no material difference in our outlook on this subject. The more we can co-operate—I, too, like the word "co-operate"—not merely in putting our agriculture on a firmer and more stable basis than it is to-day but in keeping up to date (however reluctant some of our "backwoodsmen" may be) by applying the very progressive scientific methods available today, the better it will be for every aspect of the industry, and the more cause the nation will have for gratitude to this generation of Parliamentarians.
§ 4.36 p.m.
My Lords, the debate on economic affairs which is to take place in your Lordships' House to-morrow would, so far as I am concerned, if I had been able to be present, have turned on very much the same subject as that upon which I venture to address your Lordships mow—namely, agriculture. Before commenting on the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, and those of other noble Lords, there is one thing which I fear it is necessary to say. That is, that it is necessary to remind your Lordships that, athough we are living in a period of rapidly falling commodity prices, the ratio of the prices of raw materials to those of food products is likely to alter, 199 and to continue to alter, to our disadvantage. From the increase in world population which was referred to in a debate in your Lordships' House in April last, and from the fact that the acreage of food production in the world is not increasing—indeed, in many countries it is diminishing—that result seems to me inevitable. It is of the utmost importance to this country that the relative cost of food materials to other materials is going to rise. The effect of that, so far as we are concerned, is that as long as we remain in the position of having to import about two-thirds of our foodstuffs from abroad we shall be in a progressively worsening condition, and not in an improving condition.
But it also follows from that fact, as has been revealed in other debates in this House—though it has been too often and too long forgotten in this country—that our balance of payments problem can be more quickly modified by an increase of food production than by any export that we can see any reasonable prospect of being able to achieve. If the present economic position, with falling commodity prices and credit restriction, continues, the difficulty of exporting our manufactured goods must increase; and the rather precarious balance (I think the operative word is "precarious") which we have managed to achieve is not likely to be maintained unless our own food production can be increased in order to economise on our imports as a whole.
The quickest and simplest method—and figures make this very easy to see—is to increase food production from one year to another. Perhaps I may be allowed to give your Lordships a few figures taken from the recent Statistical Review. Take the figure of wheat alone, which for 1952—that is, the current year—is estimated as being likely to be 2,200.000 tons—an increase of 10 per cent. Therefore, a quarter of a million tons of wheat produced here would save us, at the very low figure of landed cost of £30 a ton, 30,000.000 dollars—an economy on our balance of payments alone. We have seen a falling food production in this country regularly for the last four or five years. Some of us had hoped that between the autumn and winter of last year and this year the trend would be reversed. But that is not the 200 case. That has not happened. The figures, so far as they are now available —and they need emphasising, regrettable as the figures may appear—show that food production is still falling, and falling, curiously enough, in certain departments of agricultural production to which Her Majesty's Government appear to have paid considerable attention.
Let me take the single case of cattle in connection with the calf subsidies. The figures recently published in the Press show that from September, 1951, to September, 1952, the cattle population has been practically steady; but what is important is that the number of female cattle which are coming into the breeding period has fallen, and not risen. The number of calves has fallen severely. The figures were quoted lately in another place by my friend the honourable Member for the Leominster Division of Herefordshire.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD CARRINGTON)
May I interrupt the noble Lord? In point of fact, the figures of calves under one year old from September last year to September this year have increased by about 50,000.
That is a later figure than I have. They have increased by 50,000. Can the noble Lord say from what to what?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I have the figures here. These are the figures for England and Wales only, not for Scotland. The figures of male steer calves under one year old were: 411,000 in September, 1951, and 438,000 in September of this year. Female calves were: 1,015,000 in 1951, and 1,036,000 in 1952.
I see. I must modify that. There has been an increase of 50,000 on 1,000,000, which is not a very large increase for the calf subsidy.
The other figures which have fallen, according to the currently published figures, are those for the arable acreage under cultivation. In spite of the ploughing-up subsidies, according to the figures from the last statistical summary the acreage devoted to wheat has fallen from 2,131,000 to 2,030,000, and the total arable acreage, from June to June (these figures are the latest available to me) has 201 risen only from just under 18,000,000 acres to 18,077,000 acres, an increase of 79,000 acres in the year. That is a very modest increase in arable acreage after the efforts which have been made to increase it. I wonder what is the reason for this—because more figures of the same sort appear in the current returns. The farmers do not want to produce less to spite anybody, or because they are feeling in a bad mood. The farmers want to produce more in order to make more money. Whatever noble Lords opposite may feel about the profit motive in production, I am quite sure that the farmers would like to produce more in order to make more money. If they are not producing more, there can be only one direct explanation; that is that they do not see how they can make more money on the present scheme and level of production.
The reason why they cannot make more money must fellow: there are only two elements which affect that. One is that the net prices they receive, after paying rents, wages and outgo on farms generally, are insufficient to warrant the greater effort and greater expenditure to produce more on a given farm; or, alternatively—and perhaps it is a combination ofboth—the level of taxation which they suffer after having made a profit removes so much of that profit as to make it not worth their while to try to increase it further. One of these reasons must be responsible. No other explanation is possible, except the absurd one suggesting ill-will.
On the first point, the question of the level of prices, it seems to me that the whole scheme of agricultural prices needs revision. It may be that the principle of paying subsidies, either to cheapen the cost of fertilisers or to increase the number of claves, is a wrong method. It may be that the whole of our price structure in agriculture is wrong method. It may be that the whole of our price structure in agriculture is wrong. Personally, I rather suspect it is. It has always seemed to me what has been described as "Cloud Cuckooland" to pay the farmers who are producing beef cattle a subsidy to keep calves which in any event they are not going to get rid of. It seems curious to pay a guaranteed price for certain cereals and then to import them from abroad at a higher price than is being paid to the farmers—and very often at a higher price than that at which 202 they are being resold to farmers, simply in order to give the to give the farmers the subsidy. We know that there are such cases. There was a Question that was answered in another place concerning a purchase of barley from farmers in this country this summer at, I think, £23 or £23 10s. a ton, and the purchase of barley from abroad at from £30 per ton. It is anomalies of that sort, and the effect of subsidies such as I have described, that make me wonder whether the whole price structure of agriculture should not be looked at again.
May I give your Lordships one other example from the experience of those of us who are to-day concerned, as I happen to be, with trying to grow sheep? It is better this year, since the Wool Marketing Board was set up; but two years ago the whole of the increase in the world price of wool was very substantially removed from the farmers and is now sitting as a reserve in the Wool Marketing Board accounts. It is curious, if not ridiculous, to have a scheme which seeks to encourage the growing of sheep on hill farms, subsidising farmers to keep more sheep, and therefore to grow more wool, and then to take the price that the farmers could get from their wool in the open market and put it into a reserve. In other words, you collect the money with one hand and redistribute it with the other, through two bodies, an expensive bureaucratic machinery.
I also find it difficult to understand the figures of subsidies given for cultivation, hill farming and ploughing-up. If the figures which I have heard about the subsidies payable for ploughing up land are correct, they should be reflected in the amount of land which is alleged to be under cultivation. I would ask the noble Lord whether, when he replies, he can explain one apparent discrepancy. Do the returns from the very small amount of additional land which is being ploughed up, whether from permanent grass or from temporary grass, and which is put under cereal and other crop cultivation, bear any relation to the amount which we have been told will be required to pay the subsidy for ploughing up land? The figures which I have bear no relation to one another.
The second point in that connection is one to which I must come back again; 203 it is one which I raised in your Lordships' House in April—I refer to the improvement of improvable land. I have had a long correspondence with the noble Lord who is to reply on the subject, and if the noble Lord will allow me to summarise it, the outcome of that correspondence is: yes, we could improve hill land and spend a good deal more money on doing so; but there is only a limited amount of money available for the improvement of agricultural land and we have thought it better flat money should be devoted to improving good land rather than to improving, uncultivated land.
I doubt whether that is the right policy, and on this matter I find some very illuminating figures. The total amount of what is euphemistically described as "rough grazing" appears to be something of the order of 17 million acres. The hill farming and similar schemes to which the noble Lord referred in his reply to me in April are said to be sufficient to deal with the problem. On the other hand, so far as the Welsh hill farm schemes in my own immediate neighbourhood are concerned, I saw this week a report which has been recently published referring to the unexpectedly small amount of improvement which has taken place. The report goes on to say that by June of this year 2,300-odd schemes had been approved formally, representing a total cost of £3½ million; but so far only £200,000 has been paid out in grants—that is, the 50 per cent. grant which is payable—and that considerable difficulty has been found in getting on with the work.
One of the reasons for this alleged in the report—and it is a reason which came out in our debate earlier this year—is that occupiers and land owners have been unwilling or backward in putting up their part of the money necessary for the improvements. My Lords, that really is the whole point of what we were discussing earlier on. Too many landlords and occupiers are not only unwilling but unable to put up the capital to meet their half share or, in the first place, to do the whole of the work and then recover the half share which they will get from their grant. The point is that under conditions to-day the capital is not available to improve land, however many schemes may be approved in theory, and in my experience neither landlords nor farmers 204 are, as a general rule, in a position to put up even their own half share, let alone initially the total amount which they have to put up before they can recover the balance. Credit restrictions have made it practically impossible economically to borrow the money, either from banks or from mortgage institutions. The rates asked are such that it is not economical to put improvements in hand, and the margin that is required by lending institutions to do so to-day, with the fall in land values to which the noble Lord referred, makes it physically impossible to raise the money.
I come back to the proposal originally made—that land improvement on a scale which is going to produce a notable increase in our output can only be achieved, either in the form that I suggested then, which is by charging the land with an improvement rate, or by direct contribution of the initial capital by the State, and the recovery thereafter by the State of his share from the farmer, the occupier or the land owner. The present system under which the land owner or the farmer must find the total sum first and then recover a half share has, the report suggests (and I think the figures show it), proved quite unworkable. If this continues, we shall remain in the position of having 17 million acres of rough grazing unimproved for a virtually indeterminate period, and incidentally, I must repeat, incur a great deal of comment and criticism from overseas visitors who come here and see the amount of unimproved land which, in their view and in the view of most of us, could be improved.
My Lords, criticism is all very well, and it may be that I have been too critical of what has or has not been done in the last twelve months; but as each twelve months goes past and nothing happens except a steady fall in the food production of this country, I feel that some more drastic action is required by Her Majesty's Government to effect a change. If that change is going to be effected by a conference such as has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, and with which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and other speakers have found themselves in agreement, let the conference be held; but let the terms of reference be such as will enable the whole price structure of the agricultural industry to be reviewed, to see whether or not we can get on to a 205 more rational basis for agriculture, rather than offer driblets of subsidies here and there which in fact have produced no visible results, or scarcely visible results, in the last five years. Let us get away from these wild schemes by which we remove half the price of a Welsh farmer's wool from him and then give it back to him as a hill farming subsidy. The time has come in which the use of palliatives—these remedies of a subsidy here or a subsidy there—must be reconsidered if the problem that we are facing is to be solved. I repeat, the problem that we are facing is, first of all, that of maintaining the rather precarious favourable position that we have achieved on our balance of payments, but, above all, that of seeking to find enough food to live on over the course of the next few years in a world in which., so far as we are concerned, the exportable surplus of food is going to rise in value and fall in quantity.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, rising at this time in the debate I find myself somewhat at a loss as to what to say. I had prepared careful notes of a speech that I wished to make, but I find that already noble Lords on this side and opposite have said very much the same as I myself intended to say. Perhaps I may commence, however, by voicing the hope that the Government wilt take note of this debate; that they will not be too complacent about this matter but will bring into the campaign for agricultural production such a drive as we all wish for, so that in the years to come the agricultural Industry can produce the foodstuffs which the nation requires. I have read the review in the Prorogation speech of last year's work by the Government, and I read the mention of agriculture in the gracious Speech last week. But in neither speech do I find any hope at all for the production of foodstuffs in this country, unless the Government come forward, preferably with a long-term plan which will put matters right.
In passing, I wish to make a few remarks concerning some of the speeches which have already been delivered this afternoon. In congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Rennell on the very open speech that he made from the Government Benches, may I say that I hope the Government themselves will take note of what their supporters are saying in this House and in another place, for 206 it is obvious that many of them, both here and there, are not at all satisfied with the present position? The noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, referred to a deadlock, and speaking of the progress already made during the last year, suggested that although progress has been made in some directions, it has not been sufficient. I think I am able, at this stage, to say that, although the Labour Government have been attacked in many directions for the work they did, or left undone, they cannot be accused of handing over to the Government of the present day anything but a very fine legacy in regard to agriculture.
§ VISCOUNT HUDSON
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but since he has referred to me I must tell him that, although I did not indulge in the luxury of Party controversy, I refrained from doing so only because I thought it was right on such an occasion as this. I refrained from referring to the terrible conditions which his Government handed on to the present Government only because I wanted to keep this subject out of the realm of Party politics. But if he is going to talk like that, I shall feel disposed to take an early opportunity of reminding him of some things that his Government did not do.
§ LORD WISE
I was talking entirely of agriculture. If what I say upsets the noble Viscount opposite, I will leave that point and go on to another, with which perhaps he will not disagree. In the course of his speech, he referred to the fact that there was a moral obligation on the land owners and farmers of this country to treat their land as a heritage of great value. I certainly agree. There is also a moral obligation on the Government to do the same; to see to it that the land of this country is properly farmed and, generally speaking, is utilised in the best possible way and made as productive as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, referred to the question of improving improvable land. I was coming to that matter, because I believe that there is a vast acreage of land in this country which can be improved, and which can be made to produce foodstuffs. I am encouraged in that respect by the presence of the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh. It is my good fortune on many occasions to travel through his estate, and, if I may say so, 207 it is remarkable what a tremendous improvement has been made in the land in and around that area during the last few years. The noble Earl deserves the thanks of the whole community for the operations which he has carried out and is putting forward in that respect. To me it is clear that what has happened at Elveden can happen in other parts of the country. I think that one of the jobs—if I may use that word—of the agricultural executive committees is to devote their attention (I am sure they can do so with very good profit) to seeing, in every county, whether there is not land which can be brought back into cultivation or can be cultivated as it has never been cultivated in the past.
Having sought to impress upon the Government the necessity for action in this respect, as so many other noble Lords have done before me, I do not want to reiterate that part of my speech. But I want to refer to what I consider are certain weak spots. The noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, has spoken on the question of barley. If I may say so, with all due deference to those who are concerned, I think that the handling of the barley crop this year has been a tragedy. Admittedly, the prices received by the growers for the barley crop for 1951 were exceptionally high, but the Government, in view of their aim of ensuring stability in the industry, should never have allowed barley prices this year to fall to the extent to which they have fallen. This is a serious matter. The noble Viscount opposite shakes his head, and possibly he disagrees with me. I insist, however, that the position, so far as barley is concerned, and so far as the returns of the farmers are concerned, is serious.
Figures quoted by my noble friend suggested a reduction of 50 per cent. Possibly that figure was a little too high, but figures suggested by the prices of last year and those paid this year are on these lines. If a farmer received, say, £5,000 for his barley of the 1951 harvest—that is in the beginning of this year and the latter end of last year—the same yield, at present prices, would fetch only somewhere in the region of £3,000. There would therefore be a reduction in the farmer's returns of £2,000. That is a very serious matter for the farmer, because it means that he has £2,000 less from his returns to spend in other directions. It 208 means that the purchasing power of the agricultural community is decreased by many millions of pounds. If my figures are correct, the production of barley of the 1952 harvest in the United Kingdom will be in the region of 11,000,000 quarters. The loss on this 11,000,000 quarters, as compared with last year, at £4 per quarter—if that is the right figure—will be no less than £44 million. That is a pretty big inroad into the returns of the farming community.
The reaction of the farmer will obviously be the same as it has been in the past in similar conditions. This means that next year he will not be disposed to grow the barley or other cereals which may be required. In the past, when prices have gone up and down, the farmer has given up producing a particular commodity after finding the price paid to him in the preceding year unfavourable. In my view, that state of affairs can be avoided by—if I may use the expression—proper planning, so far as the price structure is concerned, and control of the commodities concerned, so that, year by year, the difference to the farmer is not likely to be so great and the farmer is not likely to lose confidence in the production of a particular commodity.
There is another matter to which I wish to refer—namely, the question of rents. It is obvious that the average rent paid in this country is low. On present rents the capital expenditure necessary on many farms and estates cannot be carried out. There is a scheme afoot, which will be published in a few days' time I think, to allow farm rents to be fixed at an economic figure and make provision from them for the improvement of buildings and equipment. I am glad to say that in the main land owners have been very lenient about rents during the last few years, but the fact remains that if rents increase unduly it is likely to be serious for the farmers.
Another matter of great importance for agricultural prosperity which has been touched on is the credit facilities and borrowing powers of the industry. I think this can be well illustrated by a case I have in mind. I know a farmer who during the war rented a farm of an annual value of £500. It became necessary for him to purchase the farm and he had to borrow the money to do so. Unfortunately for him, he had to borrow the money 209 after the interest rates had been increased, and the result was that instead of paying a rent of £500 a year he is now faced with interest charges of £1,100 a year—a tremendous increase for him to have to meet. The gracious Speech refers to the need for reducing costs, and I hope that consideration will be given by the Government to the question of reducing interest rates charged by the banks and other concerns to the farming community. Cheap money is supplied by the Government for municipal and other operations, and I think it is highly desirable that the food-producing industry should receive similar consideration by the Government. In the past it has been suggested that an agricultural credit bank should be set up, whereby the capital required by the industry for equipment and improvement could be supplied at a reasonable rate and money could be put into the industry for productionpurposes at a lower rate than has to he borne by the industry at the present time.
I do not wish to speak for any greater length of time, but I want to refer to two other; matters. The first is the question of manpower. It has been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon that during the past year we have lost 19,000 regular workers from the industry. To some extent that loss has been made up by part-time married women, but that is not at all satisfactory from many points of view. In order to retain the young men who are leaving the industry, I hope the Government will consider active steps to provide smallholdings. The Acts are on the Statute Book and all the means for providing them are there. If it is impossible for the county councils to provide smallholdings to the extent required by the demand, the Government should set up and give authority to some body, composed of experienced and practical men, in order that the smallholdings policy, which has been accepted by this Government as it was by the late Government, may he brought into fuller operation. I realise the difficulties about the purchase and equipment of land, but if we continue to lose our manpower at the rate of 19,000 a year the industry will suffer badly. My next point is about horticulture. In the past much has been said in this House about schemes for setting horticulture on its feet. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, comes to reply he will have 210 something to say to horticulturists about the possibility of some sort of stability, and eventual prosperity, for their industry.
I have informed the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that I wish to refer to one particular item—it is not the same sort of item as that to which the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, referred at the end of his speech. I want to call attention to the fact that in the Fen country the concrete, cemented roads which were laid during the war and, I believe, just previous to the war, are becoming dilapidated. I am told that in the first instance the roads—some of them main roads going from place to place, and some roads coming to a dead end, but serving productive land on either side—were badly constructed. They are on foundations on which it is difficult to construct roads. The fact is that they are now in bad repair, and in a few years' time, unless something is done to put the matter right, will be unusable by mechanical implements or lorries; and highly cultivated land, which has been brought into cultivation generally from grassland and grazing land, will revert to its original state.
It is felt that the Government should take a hand in maintaining and improving these roads. The tenants of the land alongside these road-ways would find great difficulty in expending the necessary money for repairs, as indeed, would the drainage boards concerned. Therefore, I have suggested to the noble Lord opposite that the Government should give some indication, not only to the drainage boards but also to those people who have to use those roads, that the necessity for improvement is recognised, and that some contribution may be made to the expense. I wish to conclude with an assurance from this side of the House that we who are interested in agriculture will be behind any drive which the Government can make to increase the supplies of foodstuffs needed for our people, on the basis that those who work for our benefit in tilling the fields, harvesting the crops and looking after our stock will receive fair and just rewards for their labours.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ LORD GLENTANAR
My Lords, in this exceedingly interesting and important debate one point I should like to make 211 is on the question of the use of land which is suitable for producing food. Much might be said about the insidious and progressive use of good farming land for aerodromes, housing schemes, arterial roads, and so on, but I will not attempt to go into that question, because I do not feel qualified so to do. I only express the hope that agricultural authorities will keep their eyes well open, and that we may rely in this matter on the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, who have taken over the functions of the former Ministry of Town and Country Planning. The two other uses of land on which I should like to speak first are uses which may, but need not, compete—and my remarks in this connection are almost entirely in connection with Scotland, with which country I am most familiar. The two uses to which I refer are both important—namely, the production of food and the production of timber. The Forestry Commission have already acquired extensive lands in Scotland for the growing of trees. In my view, it is fortunate that the last word in matters of policy and administration in forestry rests, under the Forestry Act, 1945, in the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is also responsible for farming interests. Thus, there is an arbiter who can deal with situations where these interests might he antagonistic.
I believe it is important to realise that he may—and I think any Minister may —reconsider decisions already taken before the setting up of the present machinery, if a change of decision can be shown to be both desirable and practical. Why I refer to that is that there are cases where certain areas have already been acquired by the Forestry Commission, but where actual planting has not started, and where it has now been found that the land is suitable for purposes of hill cattle. That matter may have to be reconsidered. A further point I should like to make in that connection is that advisory bodies—and both the Department of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission in Scotland have these advisory bodies, which are usually made up of men, not only of the particular interest, but of other interests as well—canoften bring about a reconciliation between the interests before the matter becomes a major issue, and before 212 it has reached Ministerial or high departmental level. That is a good thing whenever it can be done, because the machine goes on. When a big planning programme has been undertaken and possibly houses have been built, it is difficult to reverse the process. In the matter of co-operation between forestry and agriculture—namely, the planting of shelter belts and large shelter blocks of timber—progress is being made with certain important schemes. There is no happier way in which these two great industries can be married together. There are in Scotland many great windswept straths and glens which considerable quantities of trees would greatly improve for agriculture.
On the question of the development of productivity on existing farm lands, I should like to refer to what has already been said by other noble Lords as to the careful and wise use of fertilisers. Also, the great waste which is going on in the natural fertilisers, such as liquid manures from byres, to use the Scottish word—cow-houses—should not be allowed. In many cases it runs down the drains into the sea, instead of being put back on to the land. The best use should be made of farmyard manure and waste vegetable products, or things which are treated as waste products, such as straw. They should not be burned or sold for other purposes, but should go back to the land from which they sprung.
Much has been said about the agricultural committees, and I should like to say that these men do a hard, difficult and often unpleasant job. I do not think they get enough recognition for what that job involves. They are having a great deal to do now in the classification of farms, and they sometimes need some help in getting round the country to fulfil their task. With regard to the extension of marginal and hill lands, it is unfortunate that we have not with us to-day my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who, as we all know, is Chairman of an important Commission which is looking into this matter, and from whom we hope to receive a very interesting report before long. Both these important matters—the development of productivity on existing farms and also the extension of the marginal and hill lands—require capital and labour, and I doubt very much whether, even at the high rate of interest, the full agricultural credits are available 213 to farmers in such measure as they should be. I know that they have increased greatly since the end of the war, but your Lordships who farm—and there are many here who do—know the enormous cost of mechanisation. When one scans the figures—I will not trouble your Lordships with them—I often wonder whether the amount of capital available to the farmer to day is sufficient. Capital is needed in the production of winter keep in the hill farms. In many cases it means that lands near the farm house or the steading have to be fenced so that crops may be grown for the winter, and without buying fencing this cannot be done.
More than one of your Lordships have referred to the fall in the labour force since 1943, and, as your Lordships know, a great deal of criticism has been expressed because National Service has unfortunately to be undertaken, usually by the most energetic man on the farm. Undoubtedly this does hit very hard the small farmer who may have only one or two men to help him. He finds it very hard to replace such a man at all if he is in an out-of-the-way part of the country. With regard to the economics of the problem, I wonder whether we can still afford a policy designed to produce milk and beef to the same extent, both in the winter and in the summer. If more of our beef could be slaughtered in the autumn and put into cold store, we should save a great deal of winter feeding; and, similarly, if the dairy cattle could be allowed to breed more in their natural season, we should have a larger surplus of summer milk which could be processed into cheese and dried milk for the winter. When I put this point to the experts, I am always told that we have neither the cold storage nor sufficient creameries to deal with these supplies. But if a real economy could be effected in this matter, I think Her Majesty's Government should look into the possibilities of making such a policy more possible. On the same score, I feel that our dairy herds should contain more dual purpose animals, and also that in our purely specialised dairy herds more of the cows should be mated with beef bulls, so that instead of having a large proportion of calves killed when they are a few days old we should be able to bring the majority of them to maturity as beef.
I feel that the basic need of our farmers is not an ever-changing pattern of incen- 214 tives and admonitions, but the creation of a condition of stability and continuity. Such a condition is necessary for the expenditure of capital for development—not only the capital represented by money, but also the capital of energy and hard work. This, as many of your Lordships have emphasised, requires a long-term policy, avoiding constant changes in conditions, incentives and rewards. Such a policy can be achieved and carried out only by the co-operation of all political Parties. It will require the realisation on the part of the farming community of the responsibility it bears in the future of our country, and it will require on the part of the very large proportion of our people who live in towns and cities a greater measure of understanding of the small proportion who live and work in the country. The co-operation of the town dwellers as relatives, as consumers and as voters, must be ensured, and I feel that this can be achieved only by raising agriculture above Party considerations and giving it the place which, as a David confronted with the Goliath of economic menace, it rightly deserves.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
My Lords, the Motion for which the House is indebted to the noble Lord opposite, and the speeches that have been made on it, are the measure of the revolution that has overtaken agriculture in the last five and twenty years. I well remember the time when I had the honour of being for a brief while Minister of Agriculture, and when I had the privilege of being associated very closely in that capacity with the noble Viscount who sits beside me, and whom the House was so pleased to hear a short time ago. I recall how in those days one used to wrestle for thousands of pounds and felt oneself very fortunate if one got anything at all for what was then the Cinderella in the national house party. Now how different it is! It is, of course, true, as almost every noble Lord has observed to-day, that the hard pressures of international trade and business hive had, and so far as we can see are likely to go on having, the result of making it impossible for any Party to deny to agriculture a place of primary importance in the economy and life of the nation. Therefore, it comes about that on no industry more than on this, the oldest and greatest of our industries, do we all more directly or 215 indirectly depend to support life amid what I may call the mingled comforts and austerities of the Welfare State. That is almost common ground between us all at this time.
The broad result of those pressures, coupled with the general predictions of world shortages that I venture to say have constituted a revolution, has been a fuller understanding by all our people of the business of agriculture and its difficulties—an understanding not confined to those directly concerned. In the second place, it has had the result of bringing the teachings of science from the lecture room and laboratory into the general field of agricultural custom and practice to an extent that would have been judged impossible thirty years ago. And by so doing it has enabled agriculture to make a real and growing contribution. But when one has said that, I think there is a double-headed rider that one ought to add to it. The first head is this. Although there is a fuller understanding of agricultural problems in the minds of those who have no direct connection with agriculture, a great many people are still a very long way indeed from recognising what a very domineering and wayward partner is nature, with whom the agriculturist has to work. In a few minutes she can convert what looks like almost certain profit into almost a certain loss. And although the cultivator takes it as part of his work, accepts it and recognises it, it certainly has, and is bound to have, the effect of preventing agriculture from ever being a very exact science; it is a kind of danger against which no amount of "featherbedding" will ever protect the agriculturist.
The other head of the rider that I would wish to add—and here I find myself in agreement with other noble Lords who have spoken—is that although in my judgment a good deal has been done to improve the standards, much still remains to be done, and much can be done. The noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, spoke of the importance of the three partners in all this business: the land owners, the cultivators and the agricultural workers. It is vitally important, in my opinion, that conditions should be such as to give to each of these partners an incentive to do his best. I think it is fair to say, if agriculture to-day is more 216 prosperous than it has been at any time in the last fifty years, that it is the land owner, the supplier of fixed capital equipment, upon whom the burdens to-day rest most heavily.
In case any noble Lord may not entirely follow me in that observation, let me amplify it. The rise in the cost of living, I think we may not unfairly say, has been taken reasonable care of by the adjustments made by the Agricultural Wages Board and by other measures. That increase in the cost of labour is, of course, reflected—again I think not unreasonably—in the Annual Price Review, which is of great assistance to the cultivator. But there is no such countervailing relief available to the owner for the consequential increase on his general estate labour. This is largely responsible for the steadily increasing costs of estate maintenance and management to-day, to which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred. That increased expenditure is something that no owner can avoid.
The habits of those engaged in farming are changing; and quite rightly. More people are going in for improved grass cultivation, and for ley farming, which demands the laying on of water and the like; and the mechanisation of which we have heard much demands better farm roads. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, had something to say on this matter. It also demands the provision of new implement sheds, because the old ones do not lit the new implements. These things, too, demand electricity, about which the noble Earl. Lord St. Aldwyn, spoke. One could go on indefinitely on these matters. And all the time the human standard is rising. People want bathrooms and inside water closets. It is right that they should have these things, but they are all very expensive to provide. And, of course, speaking generally, the farmer, from his point of view, with expensive labour and scarcity of labour, also wants to have as much and as good fixed equipment as he can.
From every angle, therefore, this pressure on owners is, by and large, in spite of considerable Government help in the way of minor subsidies for particular operations, increasing all the time with the consequences to which Lord Listowel has drawn our attention. I fully recog- 217 nise that the owner to-day is not ungenerously treated by the Government in the matter of tax relief and Government loans and grants to which he may be entitled. And I permit myself one general observation. I think that if the Government were really convinced, as I have no doubt they are, that our system of land tenure is the most economical from the national point of view, and if circumstances made it possible to give vitality to their conviction, they would so act as to show it. There is one thing that any Government could do, than which nothing could be more beneficial: they could revise the death duties which, year by year, are causing the break-up of agricultural estates.
But, quite apart from that matter, the fact remains that these pressures, year by year, month by month, are making it more difficult for owners to keep pace with modernising demands unless they can do it out of capital or invoke outside resources. Either of those courses is within the power of only a limited number, and neither can last very long. If that is so, where is the remedy to be found—because it has a great deal to do with the productivity for which the noble Lord opposite pleads? Partly, no doubt, by the adjustment of rents and of interest rates on capital improvements, both of which, as has been recognised by more than one speaker this evening, have lagged a very long way behind the rise of other general costs, and both of which occupy a place that is almost insignificant in the farmer's budget, compared with his cost of labour and general costs of cultivation. Although, however, the rent may occupy an insignificant place in the farmer's budget, the aggregate number of several increases of rental may make a difference, even a great difference, to the owner who is struggling to modernise his estate.
Help can also be sought, I think, by recognition of the fact that, as a long-termproposition, whether or not the modernisation of an estate is to be judged economically sound must always depend to a considerable extent upon the efficiency or inefficiency of the cultivating tenant. By that I mean—and although this may not be universally acceptable I am satisfied that it is true—that at the present time, tenants, good and bad, enjoy a degree of security of tenure that is 218 quite unnecessary for the good tenant, whom nobody dreams of trying to disturb, but which allows a moderate tenant to sit back and make little effort to do better. The present interpretation of legislation is having the effect of causing many owners to hesitate to give the moderate tenant notice on the ground of bad husbandry, except in perfectly cast-iron cases; and all the time, as every land owner in this House will know, every land owner has a waiting list of keen young chaps who want to gel into farming, who want to make a start but cannot. Many of these young men have, therefore, drifted off—and all good luck to them!—to find new fortunes and hopes in the Dominions, when we ought to have them here. Therefore I believe that if the bad tenant enjoyed a little less security of tenure it would be good for agriculture; it would give encouragement to the better tenant, and would enable the young fellows to start. It would also be fair to the owner and the general level of production would be raised.
That means that the agricultural committees, to which reference has also been made more than once this afternoon (and I agree with the noble Lord who, I think, spoke last, that great, thanks are due to them), must be more ready to give certificates of bad farming than they have been in the past. It is no doubt proper that the farmer who is challenged should have a right of appeal, but if an owner gives notice to a tenant on the; ground of bad farming t think it is, worth considering whether, when the case comes before the agricultural committee the onus of proof might not be turned round, so that, instead of the owner having to prove that the tenant has farmed badly, the tenant should have to prove that he has farmed well. That is rather a subtle difference but, human nature being 'what it is, I suspect that the effect might be to secure a higher level of farming. I have no doubt that if all farmers were even as good as the second best the level of production in this country could be raised substantially. Incidentally, one effect of this would be that the critics would no longer be able to say that the friendly dew of Government help descended equally on the just and the unjust, and the agricultural industry would be able to make a much more substantial contribution to meeting our needs even than it is making to-day.
§ 5.56 p.m.
My Lords, I think that anyone who listened to the debate on food production in your Lordships' House in April cannot fail to have been profoundly impressed by the opinions expressed on all sides about the imperative importance of producing more food in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, emphasised that particular aspect of this subject this afternoon. Although it is only six months since the debate to which I referred, it is probably an opportune time to review what has happened during those six months. Those of your Lordships who are in touch with the agricultural industry may know that although the official statistics for this year's harvest are not yet published and we do not know exactly what the results of various measures that have been introduced by the Government have been—we do not know yet exactly how much production has gone up or down—most people have a feeling that we are not getting, the results that they hoped for in April.
I join with the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, in feeling that this is the right moment to try to find out what is holding us back. Everyone now agrees that we must produce more, but there may be certain factors which have come into play which were unexpected at the beginning of the year and which are now holding us back. It may be that it is a question of the degree of importance which is being attached to the drive for home food production, as opposed to other forms of industrial production in this country. I believe that this is a matter of the greatest importance. In the regrettable absence of the noble Lord, Lord Wool ton, I should like to quote just two sentences from a speech he made in April in the food debate to which I referred. The noble Lord, Lord Wool ton, said:For reasons of defence, we know that we must grow the maximum amount of food at home. To preserve and stabilise our currency, we must grow the maximum amount of food at home. Britain's agriculture is Britain's biggest dollar saver.If those three reasons for increasing food production are the three primary pillars on which we base the whole food production drive, and taking into account the urgency and the precarious position in which our balance of payments and dollar resources are placed at the present 220 time, my feeling is that we have not yet transferred that sense of urgency into the food production drive.
Looking back over the results of these last six months of the farming year, which is the most productive time of the year, when we really see what is being produced as a result of the planning of the other six months of the year, the impression which I have gathered is that there is a widening gap between the results obtained by the application of the best practices and the results that are obtained by people following the more usual practices of farming. That is really the measure between our actual production and our potential production, and I think it is very great indeed. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Wool ton, said, maximum production is the target we are looking for, I believe that in the last six months we have failed. We have not only failed to achieve maximum production—because, quite obviously, in six months that is impossible; it is going to take a great many years—but I believe that so far we have failed to set out in the right direction.
Rather than the great sense of urgency which the whole problem demands, I think one detects a slight sense of frustration in the industry at the moment. We are called upon on all hands to produce more, and yet in many spheres one finds that there are endless obstacles which, as compared with the importance of the task in hand, seem to be put in the way quite unnecessarily. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, may feel that only six months after the Farm Price Review and halfway into this farming year is too early a time to judge whether or not we are going in the right direction; but, again in April, the noble Lord, Lord Wool ton, said that now that the Farm Price Review was settled, the Farmers' Union and the Government were going to sit down together to work out a policy, the object of which would be to give farmers the confidence to embark upon a policy of long-term food production. So far as I know, we have not yet had any indication of whether a long-term policy has been settled, or whether its broad outlines have been settled.
It would be of great value to the agricultural industry if the outline of the long-term policy could be settled and made known at the earliest possible 221 Opportunity—preferably before next spring, which is the normal time of the annual Price Review. What is not planned during this autumn—that is, before Christmas—will not be put into operation next year; missing a month or two at this time of the year means missing at least one harvest's production and almost eighteen months of actually putting the policy into practice on the farms. Even if the annual Price Review has not been published, I do not think one can emphasise too much the importance of outlining the broad lines of policy for the production of livestock and crops for the next several years.
I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, has left the House. I know that he is not in favour of, or does not agree that it is necessary to have, a long-term policy or guarantees. He explained in an earlier debate in your Lordships' House, that the mere shortage of world food supplies and increasing prices were a sufficient guarantee. But if that had been the case, I think by now we should have had a higher level of production in this country. In actual fact, the use of subsidies on imported food and imported feeding-stuffs, which is one of the most important raw material supplies to the agricultural industry of this country, can remove the automatic guarantee or incentive for farmers to produce more in this country. In the last five or maybe seven years, I think the subsidies have, to a certain extent, done that. We have not really felt the full impact of higher import prices because they have been cushioned by the very high rate of food subsidies.
The agricultural industry requires guarantees and a programme from Her Majesty's Government. It is well aware that the free play of economics is not going to produce this guarantee automatically, and the Government, which virtually controls the industry at all stages, can always, at short notice, adjust the relative position of agriculture in regard to other industries. People talk of farmers as being free to increase production over and above any particular target set by the Government, but in practice everything connected with the industry is controlled—capital investment, all the basic costs, prices and profit margins. To all intents and purposes the industry is nationalised, and I think it is impossible to expect an all-out drive for greatly in- 222 creased production unless the lead comes clearly from Her Majesty's Government, both as regards the actual quantity of food which it is planned that we should produce and the programme—that is, the time in which it is going to be clone. Are we going to set an eight, a ten or a fifteen year programme? I am sure that this is a prerequisite to getting any substantially greater quantity of food produced than we are producing at the moment.
On October 17 in another place, in the course of a debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries stated that the extra food production in this country must be achieved without any greatly increased amount of capital or labour. I think it is that particular attitude, which has been manifest during the last six months, which has led to a great deal of uncertainty in the minds of people concerned with agriculture. It is really impossible to look forward to greatly increased production without the employment of more capital and labour. There is hardly any project in the agricultural field in which production can be increased without the employment of more capital, either fixed or working. Probably the shortage of capital and the small amount of national resources which has been set aside for agriculture is one of the greatest brakes on production at the moment, and it is certainly conditioning the amount of the increase that we can expect at the present time. In the Economic Survey for 1951 it is shown that the total addition to the net national fixed equipment was of the order of £1,860 million, and of that amount only £80 million, or 4½ per cent., went to agriculture; and that has since been cut by 15 per cent. It is hardly in keeping with the urgency of the problem and the contribution which the industry can make to the national balance of payments and to the solving of the economic crisis if we are to set aside now, for this vital industry, less than 4½ per cent. of our annual capital investment.
My Lords, I believe that a revolution in outlook and in action is imperative if we are going to get more than a very slight increase of one commodity or another commodity in the next few years. I think Her Majesty's Government have to state clearly what the target is. Do we want to produce two-thirds of our total food requirements, or three-quarters, and by what date? We must have some 223 definite programme. It must be agreed to what extent the national resources in the form of labour, investment, steel and so on are going to be allocated to agriculture, in much the same way as a definite programme is established for defence. Until that is done I cannot see how we are going to get sufficient confidence and urgency into the food production drive to bring about more than virtually insignificant increases in the amount of food produced in this country.
It is always dangerous to criticise what is being done without having any suggestions to make in its place. At this late hour, I do not want to detain your Lordships with a lot of suggestions as to precisely the lines on which increased production should be planned. I should like to follow other noble Lords in suggesting that a new national plan should be worked out, whether by a conference on the lines that have been suggested or by such other machinery as is thought suitable. There is, undoubtedly, a great need for a fresh approach to the whole problem. That, I think, should be one of the first moves, a sort of clearing of the decks, before it will be possible to get much done on the practical side of food production. Another early move which I feel to be necessary, but which has so far been insufficiently appreciated, is to try to remedy the extreme lack of storage in this country for almost every type of agricultural product. One noble Lord has referred to the shortage of storage capacity for meat, and plant for the conversion of liquid milk into cheese has also been mentioned. Those are two forms of storing what we naturally produce during the summer—the summer being the cheapest time of the year for producing food, and the best time for producing grass—and carrying it over into the winter months. We have an equally pressing, problem to deal with in the matter of storage of grass itself, which is our most important crop. Our equipment for the drying and storage of grass and also for the drying and storage of grain is still hopelessly inadequate.
We saw the extraordinary position during this harvest in which the Ministry of Food started exporting barley. It was stated at the time that there was a clear balance of payments advantage with the European Payments Union, but it seemed to be generally accepted in the trade that the most pressing problem was the storage 224 for this year's grain. Having examined the Board of Trade's account for September, we find that the barley which was exported went out of the country at £35 6s. per ton. The average price paid this year for imported barley has been £37 15s. The actual price in September was £38 9s. and the top price paid in September was £45. So 12 per cent. of the additional grain—assuming the extra 1,000,000 acres ploughed up produced a ton each—we have exported. I suggest that was because we did not have sufficient storage room for it. And we are going to have to buy back additional grain during the winter at higher prices. It is absolutely essential that we should realise that it is not possible or even worth while to enter into schemes to produce greatly increased quantities of food in this country unless, hand in hand with that programme, we provide adequate storage facilities to carry these products over from the summer into the winter months.
Those are only one or two of the vital prerequisites for producing greatly increased amounts of food. I think, most of all, it is essential to have a complete change of attitude a change of mind; and I am very doubtful whether, as certain noble Lords have suggested, the change of mind needs to come from the public or needs to be instilled into the public. I am not at all sure that the public are not in some ways ahead of opinion, both in Whitehall and generally in industry. Certainly, the national Press has taken the initiative in several directions to point out the extent to which we are lagging behind in taking what appear to be essential steps recognised on all sides. I suggest that the first step ought to be to re-examine the policies of Her Majesty's Government to see whether, in fact, there is sufficient priority in essential materials and capital investment, and adjustment of prices between imported foods and prices paid to farmers in this country—whether all these arrangements are, in fact, in keeping with the urgency of the problem and the declared aim of the Government's policy to produce the maximum amount of food which can be produced in this country.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF IVEAGH
My Lords, I shall not keep you long because I did not come to your Lordships' House with any prepared speech. But the noble Lord, Lord Wise, unfortunately or fortunately, 225 has galvanised me into thinking I ought to say something. It seems to me that practically every speaker, in one way or another, has raised questions which depend on money, money, money. And how are you going to get it? Take the reclamation of land. That is a matter on which any amount of money can be spent. I have no doubt that if you take land that is unsuitable now for agricultural purposes you can eventually make it into decent land; but that means the expenditure of more and more money. Again, it seems to me that you want more cottages. This also calls for more capital. More electricity is needed, and that means more and more money. More capital is called for every time. I am glad that I do not sit on the Front Benches and so have to work out how the money is to be found. I hope that some means will be devised of getting the capital which is needed, so that we can get the food. I have mentioned cottages and electricity. Of course if you want people to live in the cottages they will say that they want electricity. More electricity means money, money, money; or, if you like to call it so, capital. That is the problem we have before us, and it seems to me that we have somehow got to solve it.
I agree that there is always the danger that capital may be used in the wrong way. But I feel that we have to face the problem, nevertheless. I think we have, in the first place, to try to see to what extent land can be improved without the expenditure of a great deal of capital. It may be that one thing that is required is the increased use of fertilisers. Another thing which may be needed is better drainage—and in this connection I must say that drainage is infinitely better now than it was ten years ago. As we know, it is necessary to do things in a hurry, but even if they are done in a hurry that means a matter of years before we reach the goal at which we are aiming. If we are to get the food for which we are all looking it seems to me that we must convince everyone that it is essential that more money should be put into the industry. As we have been told, there is great need for better facilities for storage of produce keep it from one summer to another. If we are going to do without buying from abroad, we must have storage or money. It is ridiculous to think that 226 we should have to buy all our food. But we must have the means of making it possible for us to produce our food. The land is there, but we cannot tell how much it will produce until we try; and we cannot try without a long purse behind us.
I speak feelingly. I think this debate has been extraordinarily useful in bringing out every sort of angle of the problem. As a community, we have to try to produce the energy—the money or capital— in order to help the farmer. And we have to educate him so that he uses it properly. There is plenty of scientific advice at the moment. My farm manager is one of those who goes round the country and inspects farms. A day or two ago he told me that farmers wanted to improve their buildings, but how could they? One smallholder said that he could not keep his cows, because his landlord was the county council. The county council had told him, when he wanted to improve his holding and keep more cows, that it was meant for a hen farm, and that if he put cows into the hen-house (I am exaggerating, probably) he could not get quite the right attitude for cow-keeping. All the same, this is a serious problem. What are we going to do about it?
One of the great troubles of agriculture is that the Ministry of Agriculture say that we must have more eggs, or more pigs, or more cows, or more milk—and the same buildings cannot always be used for all of these things. I do not see how we can stop that. When I first began to use silage, I put up tower silos, but I found that that was not necessary, and that I could dig a hole in the ground with the aid of a bulldozer. That can be done only in certain places, because conditions are not the same everywhere. That is another great difficulty about British agriculture. All sorts of things are possible in different places at different times, and my view is that we just have to do our best. But first we should realise that more energy, in the form of money, has to come from somewhere, although I do not quite know where, while we have to provide armaments and build houses. And I do not think we ought to use good agricultural land for building houses. I felt I had to say these things because my experience is a real and practical one.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, I have great pleasure in following the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, who his demonstrated on such good lines in Suffolk what wonderful crops and what a large amount of milk can be produced. I am afraid that before I heard the noble Earl, I had decided to speak on the question of finance for agriculture, amongst other things. We know that at this time it is essential that neither the Government nor private individuals should waste money and launch into experiments which may not be successful. But, a part from coal, food is the only indigenous product of these islands and it is essential that we should produce the maximum quantity of food. That cannot be produced without capital and labour.
On the question of capital for agriculture, it seems ridiculous for the Government to extract large sums from agriculture, in the form of death duties, and then have to pay it back again in some other way. For many years I have been fighting the question of death duties on agricultural land, and to-day I speak with some personal feeling on the subject, because I have had to sell quite a deal of agricultural land to pay death duties. It is interesting to note that my farm tenants cannot afford to buy their farms because they cannot borrow money from the banks. And, frankly, I do not know what is going to happen. Some of the banks are better than others, but perhaps the banks which are not so good might be advised by the Government to do a little better, because it is essential that farmers should have capital for increasing food production. It has been suggested that agricultural land should be treated for death duties in the same way as pictures and objects a historic and artistic value, where the death duties are not paid until the objects are actually sold. I do not think that would produce very much less tax to the Treasury in the long run, but it would prevent capital from being taken out of the land at a time when it is especially needed. At present there is a 45 per cent. rebate on death duties on agricultural land, but the rate of death duties laid down in the 1919 Budget was more advantageous than the 45 per cent. rebate. I think that the Chancellor might consider this question seriously in his next Budget. We are not asking for any privilege for land owners, 228 but it seems absurd that the Chancellor should annually extract £3 million, as at present, out of agriculture and that the Government should have to find even larger sums to put it back again.
I was interested to hear the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, talk about money, because I find that the cost of repairs and capital improvements is enormously increased over pre-war years, while the rents received from the land are often the same as pre-war rents—and I even know of land owners who receive rents which are the same as those paid before the 1914–18 war. I think that is unwise. On the other hand, it is difficult to increase rents until improvements have been made. It comes back again to the question of capital. To build a cottage in Scotland, where I own land, might cost anything up to £2,000; and even with a grant under the hill farming scheme, it still costs £1,000. In some out of the way places it is also difficult to get capital improvements carried out at all. And unless these improvements are made, land owners cannot get people to live in these out-of-the-way places. Even if the men are willing to live there, their wives are not. Then the children, as soon as they get to a certain age at the village school, are sent to the local town, and the mothers want to be near the children. So the drift to the towns is encouraged, and agriculture becomes denuded of its labour. That also can be traced back to lack of capital.
I should like to talk for a few moments about agriculture in the Highlands, because to a certain extent I farm in the Highlands. I welcome the Government subsidy on hill cattle. A hill cow now has a subsidy of £7 a year, and recently a further subsidy of £3 a year was proposed for feeding a hill cow during the winter. That subsidy of £10 per cow on Highland farms should be attractive, but the difficulty there is that it costs far more than £3 to winter the cow, because in out-of-the-way places, particularly on the west coast, where it is so wet, you cannot get enough hay. I have heard of one farmer on the island of Skye saying that he has to pay £30 a ton for hay. That is quite ridiculous. Freight charges from the place where the hay is grown to a place like the island of Skye are so high that this particular farmer decided that he would not have any more cattle, and sold them. The 229 production from that farm has now become nil. I should therefore like to suggest that the question of the Government's buying hay and storing it in various parts of the Highlands should be gone into further. I hope that that will be done, because wintering is the crux of the whole of Highland agriculture. You can summer thousands of beasts in the glens, but you cannot winter them. Unless you can make the Highlands the breeding place for cattle, in order to produce stores for the Lowland yards, you will never increase the beef production of the Highlands.
Arising out of that, and returning to the hill farming scheme, I believe that the hill farming scheme would be utilised much more if land owners, or even farmer-occupiers, could put forward the hill farming scheme for their farms bit by bit. I am told that if I wish to put forward a hill farming scheme for my land I have to put forward a complete scheme for the whole of the estate. That one may not be able to afford to do in one fell swoop; but one might do it farm by farm I hope that the Department of Agriculture for Scotland will consider the advisability of allowing hill farming schemes to go forward at, say, the extent of so much money in each financial year, lasting over three, four or five years.
I do not intend to take up much more time, but I should like to say how interested I was in what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said about storage. I have farming interests in Ireland, and I have talked to a good many people in Ireland in connection with the production of eggs. We could get a great many more eggs from Ireland for the housewives of this country. I personally hope that eggs will be freed next spring, so that supplies can find their own level. The egg is a difficult subject to control. It gets under the counter, runs about all over the place, and then it is called a "black market" egg. Some people seem to be able to get eggs all right, but others never seem able to get more than one a week for their ration. I feel that if eggs were freed, and allowed to roll about where they like, people would get far more eggs. I know that far more eggs would be produced in Ireland under private enterprise, and the eggs would not take so long to reach the tables of the housewives. By the time the eggs 230 have gone through all the Government channels which they do go through they are probably most unpleasant for people to eat, and that gives the egg a bad reputation. Therefore, I hope that eggs will be freed. But if eggs are to be freed, you will have the hen laying the eggs in the spring time, because hens apparently lay more eggs in the spring time than in the winter. If they lay the eggs in the spring time, then you must have storage facilities for the eggs. To take up Lord Melchett's point, I believe that vastly more eggs would be produced in the fifty-two weeks of the year if there were storage facilities for storing summer eggs, and if they could be stored sufficiently well so that they would taste quite nice when they came out of storage. And in fact they taste far better coming from proper storage than if they take three weeks or a month getting on to the table, as happens now.
It is important to get more storage facilities. We read in the newspapers that the meat ration may be coming down by a certain amount each week. There again, if you had more storage facilities for cold storing your meat, you could kill the cattle at the most favourable time of the year, store them, and let the meat out at the time of the year when the people in Britain want to eat it. I wish to add my plea to that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that the whole question of storage facilities, not only for eggs, but for cattle, and such meats as pork, which might be greatly increased, should be kept well in mind.
To return to the doctrine which has been preached by so many Lords this afternoon, I am afraid it means that more capital has to be provided for agriculture. I hope that the Government will differentiate between capital for an essential industry, such as agriculture, or even capital for the provision of goods for the export trade, and other capital which is not so essential. I sincerely hope that capital will be injected into agriculture, either by private enterprise or by the Government, and that the rates of interest charged at present by such a body as the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation will be kept down. At present it is almost impossible for farmers to pay the interest on what they may borrow, apart from whether or not they have security to borrow the capital. In that connection 231 (I cannot remember the exact figure at the moment), I know that for planting the rate of interest chargeable is considerably less than that at present charged by the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. I hope that the Government, and particularly those interested in finance, will look into that point. As a last word, I would say that agricultural production in this country could be increased to a large extent—I will not say by how much per cent.—if the capital, the labour and, of course, the brains of the farmers, were available. Therefore, I hope that we shall have a satisfactory reply, particularly on the subject of the provision of capital.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hungarton has every reason to feel gratified at having initiated this debate, and at the discussion which has ensued. It has been remarkable for the general agreement which the speeches have shown on the problem. Indeed, I can think of only one controversial note, and that was the note struck by the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson (who is now going), who was concerned about the problem of dogs on allotments. The noble Viscount must bear in mind that that is part of the policy of "setting the people free": it is a natural extension of that policy that it should be applied to dogs as well.
I think everybody will agree that agriculture is one of the most important industries in this country, and that it is essential that we should increase our output. All the speeches that have been made this afternoon have been made on that basis. The question that has been discussed is: How can we increase production? A good deal has been said about the need for increasing efficiency, which, in turn, involves considerable capital expenditure. Various theories have been put forward on this subject. I would say just two things about the increase in capital expenditure. One is that there is no doubt that the high rate of interest and the restriction on capital expenditure have been felt in agriculture as they have in industry generally. Raising money at the present time for agricultural purposes involves an interest of something like 6 per cent., and that wants a lot of earning, especially in the 232 peculiar conditions of agriculture, which, as the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said, is the most speculative and difficult of all our industries. As the noble Earl said, with the greatest efficiency in the world, one can find that the whole of one's efforts have been frustrated for a whole year. In those circumstances, it requires a great deal of courage in these days to embark upon capital expenditure, even if one can find the capital.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, has been talking to farmers, and so have I. My own experience is that farmers are still very uncertain as to future Government policy. One can explain to them about the world shortage of food and the certainty that there will be an unlimited demand for an unlimited period, and yet they have doubts about what Government policy will be; whether they can rely upon guaranteed prices for a sufficiently long time to justify any capital expenditure that they may incur. Their minds go back to the inter-war years (and it is very natural they should) when "the devil was sick." et cetera. and they consider that the time may come when it will be possible to import food at cheaper prices than it is possible to grow it in this country. In those circumstances, they feel that a Government of the future might not hesitate to let them down. There is that feeling; and I am convinced that if the farmers could be guaranteed prices over a long enough period to justify their capital expenditure, in spite of the difficulties that I have mentioned we should get more efficient farming.
In addition to guaranteed prices there is the question of security of tenure, and I was interested in the noble Earl's observation on that subject. I think I am right in saying that something like 60 per cent. of the farming in this country is carried out by tenant farmers. If that is so, you will not get those tenant farmers to give of their best unless they have security of tenure. Therefore, I should be very hesitant to relax on the security that they at present have. I know that the noble Earl is seeking after a solution which will give complete security to the good tenant and not such good security to the medium tenant. I think he went a little far when he said that nobody wants to turn out a good tenant. I hope that that is generally the position, but it does not 233 quite fit the conception to which I think my noble friend Lord Listowel drew attention—that rents are very low, and that there is the temptation in the case of some land owners to get rid of their tenants in order to be able to sell their land at the high price which prevails at the present time. One certainly wants to remove that temptation from the owner. Therefore, while I am in complete agreement that we ought not to be soft with the tenant who is not farming his land as well as he could, we must be quite certain that we do not take away from the good tenant the complete security which he has at the present time.
I did not really rise to talk about agriculture at large at all. This is the first time that I have ever spoken publicly on agriculture, and I cannot claim to have one tithe of the knowledge which every speaker who has taken part in the debate has. I really wanted to say a few words about the rationing scheme, which is of special interest to the smallholder. I believe it is true that the smallholder makes a considerable contribution to our food production at the present time. I speak in terms of proportion. I have heard that it is as high as 40 per cent. That figure may be much too high; but, at any rate, it is a substantial contribution. Particularly in the case of pigs, the smallholder—I do not say necessarily the backyard pig producer, but the man who has his three or four sows, or the man who sends his forty or fifty pigs to market every year—is making a very substantial contribution to the pig production of this country.
I can assure the noble Lord who is to reply that there is considerable dissatisfaction about the existing rationing scheme among a good many of the smallholders of this country. In the first place, they are by no means satisfied that rationing of feeding-stuffs is desirable or really necessary at all. Many people have asked me: What is the sense of rationing feeding-stuffs and limiting their importation, but importing meat instead? Is it not more economical to import feeding-stuffs than to import meat? The answer some years ago was that there was difficulty of shipping space, and that there was difficulty in obtaining feeding-stuffs. But I am quite sure that Her Majesty's Government would do well to explain very clearly to the smallholder why it is that rationing of feeding-stuffs is neces- 234 sary to-day or, alternatively, why it is better to restrict our imports of feeding-stuffs and to import meat instead. I do not venture to express any opinion. I should be very happy if the noble Lord could give an answer to-day. At any rate, it is an answer which ought to be given, because is of considerable concern to the smallholder. I have not made up my mind whether it is right to go on importing feeding-stuffs or to import meat. But the onus is upon Her Majesty's Government, because the common-sense thing would seem to be that it is better to import feeding-stuffs and to produce meat.
It is upon the application of the rationing scheme that I should like to say a few words. I have here a document which is a circular, issued for the purpose of explaining to smallholders and others the basis of the animal feeding-stuffs rationing scheme. It starts off by explaining that, under the war-time rationing scheme which obtains to-day, basic rations for pigs and poultry kept commercially are allowed for such stock kept on holdings on which pigs and/or poultry were kept in 1939 or 1940. Unless pigs or poultry were actually kept on a holding in 1939 or 1940, under this rationing scheme you are not entitled to a ration. But there is an extended scheme, and those who want to start to-day, or have started since 1940, are entitled to a smaller ration—an inadequate ration; I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me that it is not adequate in itself for the purpose of keeping pigs or poultry—based upon the area of the holding.
And so we have the position existing to-day that if anyone is the owner of land on which pigs or poultry were kept in 1939 or 1940, he gets a substantial ration, even though, for most of the time, no pigs or poultry were kept on the land. In fact, if the noble Lord would like to study the local paper of the county in which he and I both reside, he will find that the existence of a pre-war ration is often advertised as a considerable asset; and people who want to sell their land pray in aid that this land has a pre-war ration and that it is, therefore, of greater value than other land. Moreover, a good many of the people who enjoy this pre-war ration are not using it. I believe that these rations are being sold freely in the black market at Is. a coupon I cannot tell the 235 noble Lord where to go and get them, but it is common talk that you can buy these coupons at 1s. a time. That does not seem to me to be a very satisfactory basis if we are short of feeding-stuffs.
As for those unfortunate people who are entitled to the benefit of the extended scheme, they get a small ration based, as I say, on the area of thy; land, and then they get a farrowing allowance after the pig farrows; and if they fatten their pigs they get an allocation of 3 cwt. per pig, after the pigs are sold to the Ministry. But how they are going to fatten these pigs without a ration is left to speculation. That is no solution to the problem. It seems as if all the emphasis at the present time is laid on the people who had land before 1939 and 1940, and as if it were the deliberate policy of Her Majesty's Government (which I know it is not) to preclude people from starting pig or poultry farming who were not in the business before 1939–40 or who do not own the land on which this business is carried on. The ration is quite inadequate for the purpose of feeding stock. For instance, at the end of a period, when you have sold your pig, you get 3 cwt.; but it takes about 6 cwt. to feed a pig on a fattening basis. Therefore the other 3 cwt. has to be found somehow, either by way of root crop or in some other way. Everything is done to discourage an enterprising smallholder from increasing his pig or poultry stock.
While I am on this subject there is one other point with which I should like to deal. You do not even necessarily get your 3 cwt. when you have sold your pig to the Ministry. I have here a letter sent by the Ministry in reply to an application for the necessary coupons. It says in this document that the coupons will not be available until September, 1952—the pigs having been sold in June—because the period runs from May to August. Therefore any pigs sold in June do not become eligible for coupons until September. What the unfortunate smallholder is to do between June and September is not stated. Certainly he gets no coupons until then.
This is not a criticism of the administration locally. I must say that, generally speaking, those who are responsible locally for the administration of this scheme conduct their task efficiently, 236 courteously, and most helpfully. I cannot praise too highly the services of the advisory people, who come over at any time they are wanted and who are most eager to help in every possible way. But it seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong about this rationing scheme. If we must ration, if the policy is that rationing must continue, at least let it continue on a more sensible basis; let it be based on the number of pigs or poultry or other livestock being kept on a farm, and let it be administered in a way which is going to be helpful and which is going to encourage the keeping of livestock as far as possible. As I said at the outset, we are all, and especially my noble friend Lord Hungarton, entitled to feel very gratified with the most helpful way in which this debate has been conducted. I am certain that any criticisms that have been offered, either from this side or from the other side, have been made with the sole purpose of assisting in the vital task on which we are all agreed—that of increasing food production so far as we possibly can.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, it is customary, when speaking on behalf of the Government in a debate of this kind, to say how grateful we are to the noble Lord who introduced this helpful Motion. We do this whether or not we are grateful and whether or not it was the noble Lord's intention to be helpful. But on this occasion I do thank the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, very sincerely for having put this Motion down. I know him well enough to realise that his only motive in doing so was a genuine interest in the progress of the food production drive and an earnest desire to help in every way he can. And that applies, of course, to all the many noble Lords who have taken part in the debate this afternoon. And a very remarkable debate it has been. We have had two ex-Ministers of Agriculture, an ex-Minister of Town and Country Planning and, I think I am right in saying, two ex-Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Perhaps I may take this opportunity of congratulating the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, on his maiden speech, which we all heard with so much pleasure. I have the privilege of working with him on one of the agricultural organisations and I know what good work he does. I also know that he is 237 one of the leaders of good farming in his own county. I hope that now that he has, so to speak, taken the plunge, he will speak many more times in this House, and not only on farming.
I suppose agriculture is not a very controversial political topic, but of its importance there can be no question; and as it is now some six months since we discussed it I think it is high time that we had a debate of this kind. The Motion which Lord Hungarton has put down asks two questions: first, whether the Government are satisfied with the present drive for food production; and secondly, whether we are satisfied with the procedure now in operation—by which, I think, he means Part II of the Agriculture Act. Before I answer I think it may be useful if I remind your Lordships briefly of the circumstances which led my right honourable friend the Minister to launch a production drive earlier this year. In 1947 the Labour Government announced a large-scale expansion programme, from which followed a very impressive burst of activity in the industry which lasted until about 1949. From then onwards, the rate of expansion slowed down until, when the present Government took office last November, it had almost come to a stop. Indeed, in some directions there were signs that a positive decline had set in, as, for example, in cattle rearing and in the tillage acreage.
I think the main causes of this check to the rate of progress were, first of all, steeply rising costs, which were making it increasingly difficult for farmers to finance further expansion, and, secondly, a general feeling of uncertainty among farmers about the future demand for their products. There were also several minor reasons for the check: the effects of the weather on the hay and crop harvests in the western parts of the country in 1950 and, in particular, on milk production in the first half of 1951 and on lambing in 1951. It was with these facts in mind that my right honourable friend the Minister framed his production policy. His aim was to reverse the downward trend which had become evident in some lines of production and to raise the net agricultural output by 1956 to at least 60 per cent. more than the pre-war output and 12 per cent. more than at the present time.
238 My noble friend, Lord Hudson—and perhaps I may congratulate him on his world record-beating cow, in spite of the aspersions cast upon her figures by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe—has said he thinks we are not aiming high enough, but I must make it clear that this is the minimum objective. Before deciding on the figure of 60 per cent. we had to consider what additional resources we could make available to the industry to support the expansion that we wanted to see. Naturally, remembering our economic difficulties and the demands of our defence programme and the export industries, the share of our limited resources which could be allocated to agriculture was much smaller than we should have wished. The figure of 60 per cent. is, therefore, a conservative estimate of what can and must be done with the help of some additional tools and by increased technical skill. Bearing in mind the way in which the industry has responded to the demands which have been made upon it in the past, we naturally hope that the minimum objective which we have set will be exceeded.
The noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, said that a target ought to be set for each commodity. In the White Paper that was issued just after the Annual Review the Government made it clear that they did not favour the setting of detailed targets. We did not want to lay down a rigid overall plan from Whitehall, with targets imposed on counties. But the White Paper did give some illustrations of reasonable objectives for each main product by 1956. These were the illustrations we gave: an increase in the production and utilisation of grass by some 15 per cent.; an increase in the number of grass-eating animals, including a greater rate of increase in the number of sheep and the rearing of another 400,000 calves each year; an extra 1,000,000 acres of tillage and a 5 per cent. increase in the yield of tillage crops; as much wheat as could possibly he grown, and enough potatoes to satisfy the demand; the maintenance of the existing number of dairy cows and an increase in the yield per cow an expansion of pig and egg production to meet the demand and to the extent that was made possible by increases in the tillage acreage. Finally, and most important of all, we said that the production of beef and veal, mutton and lamb should be raised to the utmost.
239 Here, surely, was a clear indication of what was expected for each commodity, and farmers could hardly have wished for a plainer statement. The Government's intentions were given the fullest possible publicity, and I think the announcement should have removed any doubts that farmers might have had about the new Government's production policy. It is too soon yet to see clearly from the figures we have available how the production drive is going. It is, after all, only six months since the results of the Annual Review and the Price Award were announced. Some noble Lords, I thought, tended this afternoon to forget that farming is not an industry where spectacular increases in production can be made within a few months. Also, the only statistical information so far available for crops is that contained in the June 4 Returns. But in spite of what my noble friend Lord Rennell said—and I thought he was unduly gloomy this afternoon—we feel a restrained optimism about the results of the drive so far.
The decline in the tillage area which was so pronounced between 1950 and 1951 has been stopped, and there is an increase of 150,000 acres of tillage this year—that is a net increase. It is due, I think, in large part to the ploughing grant announced in February and which is to continue next year. We have also gone some way towards stopping costs from rising. Noble Lords will know that the Government have introduced a number of measures which are designed primarily to keep the farmers' costs down, and in addition to these the Chancellor of the Exchequer's anti-inflationary policy is beginning to show encouraging results in agriculture as well as in other industries.
We can draw a few tentative conclusions about the latest trends in livestock production from the September returns for England and Wales which have just become available. In the case of cattle it seems that the decline in dairy cattle numbers has been halted. On the beef side, as I said in my in. to the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, the figures for calves under one year old show a definite improvement. Although the number of pigs has risen substantially, the breeding stock seems to have remained about the same, as it has, also, in the case of eggs; but there is no reason why we should 240 not have more of these in proportion to any increase in feeding-stuff supplies. Sheep numbers have increased significantly following on the large lamb crop of 1952, and the September returns suggest that many extra lambs will be kept for future breeding.
Even after due allowance has been made for the very short time that has passed since the Government began to tackle this problem of the declining rate of expansion, I think it is fair to say that the industry has made a good start and that there are signs of recovery and confidence in the future. As I have said, the figure of 160 per cent. of pre-war production should be well within the industry's capabilities. It amounts to an increase of only 3 per cent. a year for the next four years. Even so, I am sure that we shall not achieve even this objective unless we can secure the co-operation of all the 350,000 farmers in the country. Financial inducements alone cannot be relied on to produce this. We must convince the farmers that the production drive is necessary, and we must show them how they can achieve the target. There are three main ways in which we hope to secure their co-operation.
The Government are providing financial assistance through a number of measures, each of which is designed to encourage production in some particular line which we think should be given special emphasis. We have introduced a subsidy on fertilisers and two schemes for the payment of ploughing grants. We have reintroduced a calf subsidy, and the subsidies for drainage, water supplies and marginal production, which were due to end this year, are being continued. The basic release prices of feeding stuffs will be continued until the end of March, 1953.
But, as I have said, financial aids are not enough by themselves. We need to keep in the closest possible touch with the farmers in the counties, not only so that we can let them know what is needed but also so that we may ourselves learn about their difficulties. For this purpose we have the county agricultural executive committees and their district committees. Members of these committees come from the ranks of the National Farmers' Union, the two workers' unions and the Country Landowners' Association. That seems to me a fact of the greatest importance. These men and 241 women, who spend a large amount of their time, voluntarily, to help the cause of farming, are the trusted members of the farming organisations themselves, and their chief duty should be, and is, to encourage, to help and to advise their fellow agriculturists. I was heartened to see, in the two articles to which the noble Lord and other noble Lords have referred, in The Times of to-day and yesterday, that the author says this—I quote:In all this"—that is to say the expansion of output—the technical advisers and the county committees haw had a great part to play. They have been the farmers' friends without whom present progress would be impossible.If this system is to work properly the Minister must be in constant touch with his committees, but unfortunately we have found that there are so many ties which bind the Minister to London and his office that it is impossible for him to get about the country as much as he would like. To overcome this difficulty my right honourable friend has now appointed thirteen liaison officers, all prominent men. These officers will act as personal ambassadors front the Minister to their respective areas. They will both interpret the Government's policy to the county committees arid other organisations and also keep the Minister informed of developments in their areas—particularly of anything which might be hindering the food production drive.
We rely largely on the county committees to see that the farmers know about the advisory services which are available to them. We have every reason to be proud of the first-class services which are provided by the National Agricultural Advisory Service and the Agricultural Land Service. There is certainly no country that provides better services, and few have anything that is even comparable. But now that these services have become firmly established here, it is important to see that they are used to the full and that the advice is given in those quarters where it is most needed. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on all farmers to ask for advice; nor can we safely assume that, if a farmer does not seek advice, he does not need it. That is why we must rely on the district committees of the county agricultural executive committees to carry out a regular survey of the farms in their dis- 242 tricts. This is by far the best way to discover which are the farms that are not producing as much as they could and on which advice is needed. At the same time the Farm Survey is a means of establishing personal contact with every farmer and convincing him that a food production drive really is necessary and that he can help himself and the nation by increasing his output.
In spite of repeated denials, I believe that there are still some people who think that the primary object of the Farm Survey is to find farmers to put under supervision or to dispossess. It cannot be said too often or too strongly that this is not the case. The Farm Survey is a means of increasing agricultural production, and if we relied for our increased production on farms that were eligible for supervision we should have no hope at all of achieving the object we have in mind. On the contrary, we know that it is from the middle group of farmers, who with help and technical advice could produce much more from their holdings but who are in no danger of supervision, from whom we shall get the increase we want. The committees have been asked to concentrate on helping these farmers to step up their production. The only type of farmer who has anything at all to fear from the Survey is the one who is farming really badly and who refuses to take advice. He will and must be put under supervision.
All this is very important, because a considerable proportion of the increase that we are planning over the next four years must be achieved by the better use of existing resources—which means by greater technical skill. Farming efficiency has been increasing steadily for many years and much credit is due to the industry for that. If I may give only one example, we now have fewer dairy cows than we used to have but we are producing more milk. But we all agree that there is still a large gap between the productivity of the average farm and the productivity which the best farmers have shown can be achieved by the use of the most up-to-date scientific methods. We must do everything we can to close that gap.
In addition to the normal contact with farmers through the county committees, we are arranging to publicise the production drive on a nation-wide scale. In 243 case there should be any misunderstanding, let me say at once that we do not intend to exhort farmers with fine phrases—we are all rather tired of exhortations—but farmers must be told what is required of them and why it is required; and they must be told this in statements which are addressed perhaps rather more directly to them than is an announcement in Parliament. To do this we shall enlist the co-operation of national and local organisations of farmers, land owners and workers, and also of corn merchants, auctioneers, land agents and others connected with the industry, and we intend to make the drive something in which everyone who lives on or by the land takes a vigorous part. Already, my Lords, in a small number of selected counties pilot publicity groups are being set up, composed of local people who are interested in agriculture and who will be able to help, by spreading their enthusiasm to their neighbours and by suggesting ways in which farmers can best be helped.
My Lords, having said that, I do not wish to be accused of complacency. I have said that we have made a good start and that the procedure to which the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, has referred is working fairly well. But there are, of course, many worries. Perhaps at this juncture I might try to answer some of the questions which noble Lords have put to me during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Glentanar, drew my attention to the need for closer co-operation between the Agricultural and the Forestry Departments. He referred particularly to Scotland. My noble friend Lord Home has asked me to apologise for his inability to be present here to-day. He would have liked to be here, but unfortunately it is impossible. The Agricultural Ministers who are responsible not only for agriculture but for forestry in their respective countries are, of course, very anxious to see that the land is put to its best use from the broad point of view of public interest, and I think it is true to say that since the publication of the Balfour of Burleigh Report, and the passing of the Forestry Act of 1945, this machinery has, on the whole, worked fairly well. I think your Lordships will be encouraged by the appointment of my noble friend Lord Radnor as Chairman of the Forestry 244 Commission. He is known to all your Lordships as having a deep interest in both agriculture and forestry, and I am certain that under his guidance both foresters and agriculturists will work together in the closest co-operation.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, whom I thank for his speech, asked me one or two questions. He referred to common lands. I agree with very much that he said. At present there is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. The law on the subject is involved and out of date; it does not match with the needs of the present day. During a debate in another place on June 12, my right honourable friend the Minister announced that he was urgently considering the whole future of common land and how best to increase the contribution that it can make to our national food supply. This will of course take time, and I am afraid that I cannot at present add anything very useful to my right honourable friend's statement. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, also made some remarks about rents. As he said, that is not primarily, or indeed at all, the business of Her Majesty's Government; it is a matter for the land owners themselves. But I am quite sure that, coming from the quarter that it did, the statement of the noble Earl will be read with great interest. He also asked me a question about the utilisation of grass on airfields. He will know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air is himself a keen farmer and agriculturist. I am glad to say that there have been consultations with his Department about the best use to which the grass on these airfields can be put, and we have had encouraging results.
My noble friend Lord Hudson expressed some anxiety about the decision of the Government to allow Regulation 62AA, which was introduced to protect war-time allotments from straying dogs, to lapse. He has, I know, been having some correspondence with my honourable friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in another place on this subject. I am afraid that I have nothing much to add to what has already been said. The noble Viscount said that he would not be "fobbed off" with the brief with which my Department had provided me. I must confess that I do not think it is such a bad brief as all that. The regulation which he mentioned created a com- 245 pletely new criminal offence, that of permitting a dog to trespass, whether it caused damage or not. In spite of what the noble Viscount says, I think, now the number of war-time allotments have greatly diminished, that we should not be justified in pressing for its retention. Powers of this kind, I should have thought, could be justified only in time of war. I Know I have not satisfied my noble friend, but I assure him that I will look into this matter again and see whether there is anything else I can do to help him. Other noble Lords asked for a conference to be convened by the Royal Agricultural Society of England or a body of that kind, to discuss the food production drive and to make suggestions to the Government. I confess that that is a new idea to me.
§ LORD HUNGARTON
May I just say that I wished the Ministry or the Government to call that conference—certainly not anyone lower than Government level.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
All sorts of suggestions were made in the course of the debate. I may not have got them all, but I think the general idea was that a conference should be called. I will certainly bring that to the notice of my right honourable friend, and perhaps I may write to noble Lords who have put forward that suggestion. The noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, asked about money which could be spent by the British Electricity Authority in the year 1953–54. At the present time the fourteen area boards of the British Electricity Authority hope to spend on rural electricity, in the year 1952–53, £6 million, and although they have not yet worked out the corresponding figure for 1953–54 it looks as though it will be about the same. We welcome the intervention in an agricultural debate of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I did not realise that he was a neighbour of mine in my county. I hope he will soon be farming there as a neighbour of mine. He mentioned the question of the rationing scheme, and I agree with a great deal he said. But it is a very complex and difficult subject. I had no notice that he was going to raise it on this particular occasion, but I assure him that I will look into the matter and, if I may, I will write to him later on.
The noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, quite rightly drew your Lordships' attention to the problem of labour. We know that there is a drift away front the land, 246 particularly of regular male workers, who are, of course, the most important part of the labour force, and this must mean difficulties for individual farms, particularly in those areas where accommodation and other amenities are short or where competition with other industries is particularly strong. On the other hand, we think that the programme we have set before the industry can be accomplished with the resources already available, and that applies to our resources of labour as well as to other things. The output per man has been rising steadily If only we can make the best and fullest possible use on every farm of the labour we have, we should be able to increase our output of food very substantially.
Of course, Her Majesty's Government will continue to do all they can, within the country's limited resources, to help the industry to attract and keep the labour it needs. So far as possible we avoid, under our town and country planning arrangements, the setting up of industries in areas where they would compete seriously for labour with agriculture. Agriculture already has first preference for labour, and farmers are not required to go through the employment exchanges to get their labour, as most other industries are—though we would naturally encourage them to use the labour exchanges so far as possible. We have training schemes, both for adults and juveniles, and we hope the industry will itself soon establish an apprenticeship scheme.
The Government's recent Housing Act, as well as arrangements to which my noble friend referred to extend water and electricity supplies to rural areas, should help in providing better housing and amenities for farm workers. We shall go on improving housing and amenities in the countryside as quickly as resources allow and we shall do our utmost to see that agriculture gets a fair share of these. Above all, we aim to provide confidence and stability for agriculture so that the industry may itself provide conditions of work, whether through wages or any other means, that will enable it to maintain an adequate and skilled labour force. Perhaps the recent Country Landowners' Association scheme for pensions—which I venture to think is a courageous and bold experi- 247 ment—is a first instalment of that kind of thing.
Another difficulty which I think almost all noble Lords have mentioned is high interest rates and a shortage of credit. The rate of interest in the money market is, of course, high, and the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation has not been able to escape the consequences of this. The rate at which the Corporation lends depends on the rate at which it in turn, can borrow—plus, of course, a margin to cover the Corporation's running costs. However, I am glad to say that in the three months since the Corporation's lending rate was raised to 6 per cent. there has been only a slight decline in the demand for loans from the Corporation.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has, I think, already adequately explained why the high rate of interest s an indispensable feature of his policy. If we want to see the country's finances restored to solvency, this, I think, is one of the sacrifices we have to make. On the other hand, realising the special difficulties with which the agricultural industry has to cope, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear to the banks that, in applying their advances policy, they should give full weight to the importance of agricultural production. What is more, the Chancellor has explained that by "agriculture" in this context he also means the merchants and others concerned directly with agriculture. There is every indication that the banks are co-operating in carrying out the Government's policy in this respect. Indeed, there is evidence that many small farmers are not making as much use as they might of bank credit, and we should like to see them making better use of the facilities that are available. Bank managers will not, of course, be inclined to make advances to clients who are bad risks; but a great many farmers, I think, would receive a much more sympathetic hearing from the banks than they seem to expect. The day has long since passed when there was some social stigma associated with borrowing money. The practice is now perfectly respectable, as most of your Lordships will testify.
I suppose that the most important thing any Minister of Agriculture can do, and sometimes the most difficult thing to achieve, is to gain the farmer's confidence and give him faith in the future. I think 248 that the actions, and not only the actions but the character, of my right honourable friend the Minister, have succeeded in this. But, apart from that, the farmers of this country—and this has already been mentioned by several noble Lords—have only to look at world conditions and read their newspapers almost any morning to realise that they have a guarantee for the future. There is, in the world, as has been said, a serious shortage of food which looks as if it will continue indefinitely, and combined with that the population of the world is increasing. There will certainly be no return to the days of cheap imports of food such as we had in the past. In addition to that we must continue to look at our strategic position, and a stable and healthy agriculture is an essential part of our defence. Food production, as has often been said, is the fourth line of defence. If, on top of all this, you consider the guarantees which the Agriculture Act contains, your Lordships will agree with me that the farmers of this country should have real confidence in expanding their output to the limit of their capabilities.
I recall that in the speech which he made the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, said "We have been wobbling too much for many years." If that is the noble Lord's definition of the course pursued by the late Government. I shall not quarrel with him. But he went on to ask where the present Government were going to jump next. Of all the many means of locomotion available to man, jumping in this case seems the most inappropriate. Those who jump usually do so with no particular worry about the direction, but only with a strong wish to jump farther than the next man; and they seldom know where they are going to land. That may be an exact description of what goes on at a Labour Party Conference, but it is certainly not the way for a Conservative Government to progress. We shall jump nowhere, but will continue steadily on the path which we have chosen, making the road as smooth as we can for the agricultural community who march along with us. We have made an encouraging start with the production drive. There remains a great deal to be clone, but we owe a great debt of gratitude to the farmers who have done so much in the past and, with our help, will do even more in the future.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ LORD HUNGARTON
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for the able and lucid way in which he has replied to the debate this evening? We nearly came to a little bit of Party politics at the finish, but not quite; and we will keep away from it right to the end. It has been an excellent debate, and I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part. It has been en a high level from beginning to end. I am grateful to noble Lords for the kind way in which they have treated me in this debate. It is the first time that I have had the privilege of moving a Motion in your Lordships' House, and I appreciate the kindness with which your Lordships have received it. There is little 250 more for me to say. I am assured by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that everything is being done which can be done. I shall watch him and what is happening in the country and I shall bring this subject before your Lordships again if I think that progress is not being made as it should be. We are all keen to get as much food production as we possibly can, and I am sure the Government are doing whatever they can at the moment. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes before eight o'clock.