§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
My Lords, in rising for the first time to address your Lordships, I hope that I may be accorded the indulgence which I believe is customary on these occasions. I too am very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, for initiating this debate, which of its very nature must cover a wide field in matters relating to agriculture. I rather regard agriculture as a person who was knocked down and was picked up again in time for the First World War; was knocked down again after the First World War and, in between the wars, was picked up again just in time for the Second World War. When the Second World War finished, the patient was in a daze. Much has been done for agriculture. Much had to be done. The patient was a tough patient and has recovered.
I have attended many agricultural conferences in the country. I have taken the chair at some of them, and no matter what the title matter of the subject was, the theme always seemed to run: "If only more capital could be injected into the industry, how much more we could do—at reduced costs!" At the passing of the Agriculture Bill the injection will be given. It is an excellent Bill, in my opinion—I am referring, in particular, to Part II, which deals with the farm improvement scheme. It is bold and courageous, and it must not fail through had planning. The Bill defines the scope and conditions of the scheme in very broad terms, therefore giving much flexibility to the planners. The object is to improve the farming of our land. When an application for a grant is received, the best local brains in the industry should be employed before a grant is given. The production of the farm should be planned, and the requirements studied.
What are the main requirements? The positioning of the buildings, ease of working, ease of access, and internal roads. Roads are again mentioned in the Fourth Schedule. They are a most important factor with the present trends of mechanisation. It is the divisional executive officer—and he came into being at the beginning of this month—who 126 administers the grant, and he has the sole responsibility of deciding if a scheme is one which has or may present, difficulties. Should he decide that there may be difficulties or problems, he must then refer the application formally to the chairman of the county agricultural executive committee. But he will do that, I repeat, if, and only if, it is a difficult case. I am in no way criticising the administrative side of the regional offices, but in my view this procedure places an unfair burden on the divisional executive officer. How can a man who is receiving many applications form a true picture of a scheme relating, possibly, to a farm many miles away from his office? Every application, in my view, should be prejudged a difficult case.
As the prudent landlord would expect, the life of any building which receives the grant is scheduled to be not less than fifteen years. Everyone, of course, hopes for longer; but then no-one is a prophet. Time and motion studies can be very misleading. The time of half a man may be saved—so the studies say—but does experience bear this out? The relevant factors must all be weighed: the total bill for labour, feeding, warmth and all the many other considerations. I would suggest that in addition to the Agricultural Land Service and the National Agricultural Advisory Service a picked member or members of either the district committees or estate and husbandry sub-committees should be brought in to inspect and advise on each application. Obviously, circumstances will vary in every county, but it must be right to call in the best and most ex perienced local brains.
As I have said, the farm improvements scheme is a brave and bold one, and it must stand or fall by the full appreciation of its immensity and scope. I should like to mention a further point on improvement grants. These have been met with a great deal of enthusiasm—so much so, in fact, that regret is being expressed that no financial payments can be made before the autumn. This unavoidable delay is caused, as your Lordships know, but the necessary statutory procedure. I would say that that delay is a blessing in disguise, as it gives those concerned—by which I mean the actual owner or farmer or occupier of the land—time to consider his scheme. It gives the officials, and 127 I hope the members of the district committee and estate management committees, and anybody else concerned, time to consider carefully these applications, because the one thing we do not want is for anybody to be able to "shoot at" the scheme and to say, "Look how much money has been wasted."
This scheme has got to be a success. It has a life of ten years, or possibly twelve, and we have to put it to the fullest and best possible use. Your Lordships will remember that immediately after the war, when there were building restrictions, if anybody wished either to construct a new farm building or to repair an old one, he required the blessing of the old war agricultural executive committee and that some of the applications were, shall I say, not at all well thought out. They were either too lavish or just plain shoddy. Of course, there were the plans and schemes which were necessary and correct, but among them were schemes which were bad through over-economy or through waste of money. We do not want that to happen again.
I should like to offer a suggestion with regard to the National Agricultural Advisory Service. In many counties, for the sake of supposed economies, there has been a tendency to centralise the district advisory officers. I have come to believe that the clerical expenditure saved by this centralisation is more than spent on the extra travelling. If the efficiency of farming has to improve, it is important that this front-line advisory service should be based where it is most required, and not in an office, possibly away from the district, where it is difficult for the shyer and more backward farmer to approach the district officer. Possibly he has not the time to take a trip, or is too nervous (as a number of farmers still are) to get on to the telephone to approach what he thinks is a rather formidable headquarters. Where these district officers have been centralised, I should like to see them being put back into their districts and given local offices. I suggest that we should follow what is happening in the United States, where the equivalent of our district officer has his office based on the equivalent of our local authority. I can see no reason why these arrangements should not be made and why the district 128 advisory officers should not be given a room and clerical help in the local rural district council offices, the Minister, of course, defraying any expenses that may be incurred.
Agriculture is going through an exciting time. It is a testing time. I would say that the owner, the farmer and the farm worker, in their own ways and in a relationship which is close and friendly, are all relishing their job—to make the industry more efficient. I am sure that the encouragements that are being given are showing, and will continue to show, results.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to me to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, on making his maiden speech in an admirable and timely contribution to the discussion of our present-day agricultural problems. I appreciate the privilege that I have of commending his maiden effort, partly because his father was an old friend of mine—and a very charming man he was; he was largely responsible for bringing me into Parliamentary life over fifty years ago—and partly because, by a curious coincidence, the noble Earl has stressed those very considerations which I want mainly to emphasise this afternoon. He has made it evident to me that he is a practical and prudent economist, especially when, in connection with the proposed improvement grants, he speaks about the necessity of the injection of more capital into our leading industry.
I should like to say how glad I am that my old friend and political opponent, the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, with his strenuous eloquence, and speaking as a farmer, has once more introduced an agricultural debate in your Lordships' House. I would only say, in passing, that I have never listened to any speech which has provided more emphatically convincing arguments for the present policy of Her Majesty's Government. I am bound to tell the noble Viscount, quite candidly, that there is little in his detailed arguments with which I should agree, except with his emphasis on the enormous importance of an absolutely new and far-sighted development in the reorganisation of our agricultural industry. He talked about there being to-day, in his opinion, grave misgivings amongst 129 farmers. I have an exactly contrary impression. During the time since the Agriculture Act, 1947, was passed, I have never known a greater tendency to remove misgivings on the part of our agricultural community, and notably the smaller farmers—I prefer to say, the smaller husbandmen—than appears to be prevalent in the country to-day.
It is aways a pleasure to listen to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and I am bound to say that, for my part, I fully endorse all that he said. I cannot help looking back over the thirty-nine and a half years that I have had the privilege of being a Member of your Lordships' House and saying what often occurs to ray mind: how enormously this House has improved, particularly amongst its younger Members in the practical knowledge which they display in regard to the greatest of all our national industries. I know it would be improper for me, having been a Member of both Houses of Parliament, to compare the two, but I am bound to say that when it comes to considering the needs of the rural population, I cannot help feeling that this House is far more effective and more convincing to the general public than is another place, under present conditions.
To hark back to the admirable maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, and, indeed, to the justification for this debate at the present time, the Government's policy, as it seems to me, consists of two main sections. One of them is what the Minister describes as "long-term assurances"—that is, in regard to guarantees and subsidies in relation to commodity prices—and the other is capital grants. It is with regard to capital grants that I should like to say a few words this afternoon—capital grants as affecting the requirements both of small ownership and small occupation. It is the small owner and the small farmer who most require assistance at the present time.
I would remind your Lordships that our troubles in this connection are mainly due to a continued and serious agricultural depression which lasted for at least thirty years in the latter part of the 19th century and seriously impoverished the landowning class: in fact, I might almost say wiped out, in an economic sense, something like 40 per cent. of the country squires of this country. Unless you mean 130 to nationalise agricultural land—and I do not think anyone is prepared to advocate that to-day, in view of the very personal character of the agricultural industry and the necessity for individual enterprise and resourcefulness—if the nation is not going to provide the necessary capital equipment in order to make the industry really efficient and prosperous, then the only alternative, in view of the relative impoverishment of individual landowners, is, as my noble friend Lord Malmesbury put it so well, to provide a sufficient infiltration of fresh capital in order to equip properly and effectively our farms and smallholdings in this country with the necessary requirements to make the best possible use of up-to-date science and technology as applied to the industry.
In this connection, I want to mention particularly the existence of the Country Landowners' Association. That is a body which was formed exactly half a century ago on the initiative of two remarkable men, neither of them themselves landowners but belonging to landowning families. One was Mr. Algernon Turnor, the private secretary of Disraeli, who most strenuously advocated progressive methods and scientific principles as applied to the industry, and the other. Sir Horace Plunkett, the great pioneer of agricultural co-operation in Ireland, both dear old friends of mine.
The actual founders of the Country Landowners' Association, if I may remind your Lordships, were the late Mr. Walter Long (who eventually became Lord Long), the penultimate or sixth Earl of Onslow, Mr. Henry Abel-Smith, and myself as the first secretary, serving in an honorary capacity. I am indeed, if I may venture to remind your Lordships, the sole surviving founder of the C.L.A., and I look forward, if I am permitted to live for another six months, when, God willing, I shall celebrate my ninetieth birthday, to taking part in the jubilee of that now powerful and influential body. I mentioned it particularly because it is not fully recognised perhaps what an invaluable work the C.L.A. have done for the benefit of our most vital industry, especially during the last twenty-five years. I am glad to be able to say that it has always identified itself entirely, not with property defence but with property justification, so far as our rural areas are 131 concerned. To show that that is recognised it has had the most valuable support and encouragement from all Government Departments during the period of both Labour Governments and Conservative Governments during the past twenty-five years.
What I wish to emphasise is this. The landowning fraternity in this country has been largely responsible for the progress and development of our greatest industry. I would remind your Lordships that three of the greatest names in our agricultural history have been the names of Coke of Norfolk, the first Earl of Leicester, "Turnip" Townshend, the second Viscount Townshend in the 18th century, and that grand old squire Sir John Bennet Lawes, of Rothamsted, the founder and conductor of our leading and most important agricultural research station in this country. I may also, perhaps, refer back to the time when, in the early part of the 19th century. Great Britain was leading the whole world in agricultural progress under the wise guidance of people like Liebig and Sir Humphry Davy, and profiting in every possible way from enlightened developments on the European Continent, particularly in the State of Hanover; benefiting from lessons which could be learnt from overseas, and so improving beyond all knowledge and efficiency our own great and most vital industry. I have every reason to believe that, if only agricultural landowners, large and small, conduct their business with knowledge and with sole regard to the national welfare, they are as deserving of support from any Government in the future as they were 150 years ago.
I am not going to be tempted by anything that the noble Viscount opposite has said to be drawn into what I may call the details of price revisions and guarantees at the present time. Being vigorously opposed on principle to subsidies and guarantees, except as an interim method of arriving at a more normal and freer system of agricultural economy (inevitable, I am afraid, as a process of transition), I remain, for my part, obdurately opposed on principle to a continuance of these annual price fixings; and I hope and believe that that part of the Government programme that deals with capital grants is more calculated to put our agricultural 132 industry on a more sound and lasting footing than anything that has occurred since the Agriculture Act, 1947, was passed.
I have always held the view that there are three forms of control: there is self-control, which must always be reasonably modified in the public interest; there is Government control, and there is what has been found in other countries more useful that either, mutual control, based on the co-operative principle. There are two countries only that I know in an agricultural sense almost as well as I do this country—namely, New Zealand on the one hand, where I had the privilege of being Governor-General for five years, and Denmark on the other. They are remarkable for the fact that their outstanding prosperity and relatively small—one might almost say non-existent—Government control are due, first of all, to the fact that the whole agricultural machine is governed by co-operation developed in every possible regard in relation to the industry, and secondly to the fact that there is no effective Government control in the actual internal economy of the industry.
I have always been fond of the good old Latin motto Fas est et ab hoste doceri. I interpret the word hoste not as meaning "enemy", but as meaning "foreigner" or "competitor". We have in the past obtained invaluable lessons from countries like Hanover and others, particularly in the 18th century. We have derived invaluable lessons from imitating what is best in other countries. I think the time has arrived when we might most usefully, particularly in regard to this new and revolutionary agricultural policy that has now been promulgated by the present Government, look to certain other countries, notably, perhaps, New Zealand and Denmark, and follow some of the methods employed there. For my part, as an old farmer I do not like to see the agricultural industry becoming a mendicant industry. I do not see any reason why it should. If we follow such examples as those two countries are able to give us, there is no reason why the once so proud yeoman of England, or of Britain, should not hold his head as high and as proudly in the future as ever he has done in the past.
133 I want to say only one thing more, and I have said it before in this House. When we look at the difficult position of the small farmer, we must impress upon him that he has got to be an ardent co-operator; he has got to carry on the system of mutual control, rather than look for Government control and help in every direction. Is there not too much of a tendency to ask the small farmer to imitate the larger farmer in his methods of farming? I myself believe that there are good openings for the small farmer if only, with reasonable help and co-operation, he turns his hand to certain methods of husbandry for which there is a reasonably good prospect of prosperity.
I live in an area which I believe is destined, subject to these considerations, to become an almost ideal area for market gardening, and particularly for the growing of first-rate fruit. From my own experience—and I am rather, if I may say so, a fruit grower, a grower of dessert apples on an increasingly large scale—I am confident that there is plenty of scope in that area for what I may call intensive husbandry of that particular kind. It requires encouragement on the part of the Government. When I hear that a subsidy is provided for certain fertilisers, namely, nitrogenous fertilisers and phosphatic fertilisers, I feel entitled to ask: why not a subsidy for potash fertilisers?—potash being essential for successful fruit growing. And it has been found by experience every year that passes to be even more essential for the successful production of dessert fruit. I will not take up any more time, although I could indicate, had I time, certain other what I may call specialist jobs quite suitable for the small farmer with new encouragement from the Government.
Do let us sometimes apply tariff imposition to the importation of competitive agricultural land produce of, shall I say, an indifferent kind. We know perfectly well that, during the winter months, a large amount of rosy and attractive-looking apples come into this country, mainly from Italy and Spain, with little or no flavour in them; but, because they are attractive and are available when, let us say. Cox's orange pippins grown in England are not available, the more ignorant customer runs in and purchases them for the benefit of her children. That is a case in which, in the best interests of the development of what 134 could be made a most profitable form of intensive husbandry with the due exercise of a tariff policy, we could have a very valuable development of productive husbandry of an intensive character, at any rate in certain areas of England.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me for talking at such length, but while emphasising the great value to the community, both in the past and, I believe, in the present, of rightly minded, progressive agricultural landowners, I want your Lordships to recognise the value of the work they are doing. Unless the agricultural land is nationalised, which very few people in this country with any sense or knowledge of the industry would want, the land-owning fraternity must be given every encouragement to play their part—and it may be a very full part—in developing to the maximum extent the future prosperity and welfare of what is, after all, our most vital and important industry.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ LORD KENSWOOD
My Lords, whenever I intervene in an agricultural debate I do so with great diffidence. I am not a farmer and I know very little about farming. Therefore, when I rise to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, on his maiden speech, I do so in all humility. I hope he will not think it arrogant of me, a mere nobody in farming, to say some words of praise to a man experienced in agriculture. I am quite sure that what he said made very good sense. It certainly appeared so to me. I hope very much that he will bring his acumen and his good reasoning powers to bear on other questions as they arise in this House. I certainly look forward keenly to hearing him speak again.
I have already said that I know very little, or pretend to know very little, about farming. The reason I speak now is because I am keen on the welfare of this country. I am also closely associated with a housewife who is a consumer and, therefore, also keenly interested in prices. Although I am not of the farming fraternity, I live in a county and a country that is predominantly farming I speak continually with farmers, and I cannot agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, when he says that they are not anxious about their future. I have found that they are very anxious 135 about their future. I believe that I, as an outsider, can possibly see some reasons for their anxiety, although those reasons may not be so apparent to people who are continually worried about their own particular industry.
I think there are two reasons which are particularly cogent—although there are other reasons, of course—why various Governments wish to keep agriculture alive here. The first is that we have passed through two very anxious wars, when it was touch and go whether we would not be starved out by the submarine campaign. It is possible that we shall have another war, and if we had an agriculture so organised that we could withstand siege, we should certainly be in a much stronger position than we should otherwise be. I believe, therefore, that it would be much more reasonable and logical for any subsidies given to the farming community on account of security to be added to the approximate figure of £1,500 million which is allocated to security. Surely farming should be the fifth arm of our security and defence forces—the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Home Defence and Agriculture. If that were done, then those people who think of "feather-bedding"—there are some people here who think of the agricultural policy being carried out as "feather-bedding"—would, to some extent, have to "pipe down". I do not think farmers are "feather-bedded"; on the contrary, so far as I can see they are having a pretty raw deal.
There is another reason why I believe in helping the farming community, as has been done by different Governments. It concerns the anxiety which we feel about foreign currency, a point which has already been touched upon. The point I wish to emphasise is this. If, within a short space of years, we manage, as we hope we shall manage, to conquer our external financial difficulties, what are the then Government going to do about the farmers? Are they going to let farming slide? Are they going to say, "Well, we can get food much more cheaply from abroad"? After all, everybody in this country is a consumer, and only the minority of workers and capital suppliers are farmers. Are the Government going to give way then to the clamour for cheaper food, and let the 136 farmers go to ruin, as they did before the last war? To my mind, that is an important consideration. I cannot say that the same argument is as cogent with regard to security, because I am not optimistic enough to believe that we shall become sensible with regard to armaments, anyway within my lifetime. But still the fear there exists. As soon as the farmers cease to be a vital need to the country on those two counts, what is going to happen to them?
I do not propose to speak at any length (though there is a great deal that I should like to say on this subject), but the question of milk production has arisen. We are told that we are overproducing milk. We are selling milk for manufacture at far below the cost of production. Is that really necessary? Within the last few days I have spoken to two young farmers, both under thirty, living in two adjacent counties in Wales. They have both told me the same thing—that within the last three years or so they have begun to build up herds of milk cows. They have put a great deal of thought, capital and labour into increasing their herds and erecting milk parlours. My son is a farmer and he has quite a good Ayrshire herd. He has put a lot of money into building milk parlours. I asked him what he is going to do about that, now that the demand is for a smaller supply of milk. He replied, "I am going to increase my supply of milk—I cannot help myself. Until I get the optimum number of cows in my herd, my cost of production per gallon will not go down sufficiently according to the calculations upon which I invested this capital."
My Lords, does it not seem more reasonable (this point has already been touched on) that, instead of discouraging farmers from producing milk, we should do much more—and we can do much more—to encourage people to consume liquid milk or the products of liquid milk? The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has said that we can learn from other countries, just as other countries have learned from us. Very well, then; let us go ahead. We are told—I do not know with what reliability, and certainly I was most surprised to hear it—that our per capita consumption of liquid milk is higher than in the United States of America. I have thought about this, and I have wondered 137 what was the reason for these statistics. I believe that these statistics are rather misleading. We are, more or less, a compact kingdom. The United States is a widespread, far-flung nation. It has not only forty-eight States, but a number of colonies as well. These States and colonies on the other side of the Atlantic are divided into different kinds of communities, and milk plays a different kind of importance in the diet of the people, particularly young people.
I have lived in the United States and in Canada, and my observations led me to believe that over there the young people drink much more raw liquid milk, and milk products in various forms—such as chocolate milk, and so forth—than they do here. My son went to what amounts to a public or residential school in Canada. I was greatly interested to see how much milk the teenagers drank with their meals. I am quite sure that the learned professor at Oxford, already alluded to by my noble Leader, would have, been appalled to think of the insides of these youngsters turning into swamps. But not a bit of it! One immediate result is that my son is three or four inches taller than I am, who was not brought up on much milk. When he came over here, he went to a well-known public school where milk consumption was not greatly encouraged, although some of the older boys were allowed to drink beer. I do not want to say anything against brewers—this is not the time to say it—but I am quite sure that the difference in physique between the boys from those two schools, the Canadian and the English, is quite extraordinary. The physique of the youngsters on the other side of the Atlantic was greatly superior to that of the apparently weedy boys I met over on this side.
I am going to suggest that a study should be made in America and in Canada to see why it is that there teenagers drink more milk. I have certain ideas in my own head about the reason. One is that at schools in those countries the milk is presented in a much more palatable manner than it is here. For one thing, it is very cold and in summer becomes a most agreeable drink; whereas here it is not so palatable. I would certainly ask the Milk Marketing Board, or whoever is responsible for encouraging the consumption of milk, to investigate 138 this problem. I do not think that exhortations and advertising are enough. I think that one must encourage children to drink milk at an early age, so that they really like it and can continue to drink it. Not only that, but the way milk is supplied here for direct consumption is nothing like as attractive as it is on the other side of the Atlantic, or even in Central Europe. That is all I wish to say at the moment because time is passing. I very much hope that Her Majesty's Government will look into this matter a little more closely.
§ 4.50 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, beg to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and thank him for introducing this Motion into your Lordships' House this afternoon. When the speech of the noble Viscount and the delightful speech that has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, are merged together, I cannot but believe that it is an echo from the past, from our forbears, certainly mine and no doubt of many noble Lords present in the House, from the days of Protection and the repeal of the Corn Laws. The noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, introduced a vital aspect of farming to-day, that of national defence. I wonder whether the friend whom the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, mentioned (I believe his name was Mr. Foster), given that he is dissatisfied with his life on his farm, has considered either selling it or letting it by tender for the highest offer obtainable. I feel that much the more accurate yardstick of the prosperity of the industry is the fact that there is to-day, throughout the land, such a demand for farms. I believe there has never been such a demand for farms to rent, or so few farms available to prospective tenants.
When my noble friend Lord Dundee mentioned the publicity of the Milk Marketing Board, which was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, I wondered whether he had ever heard or had ever seen the Milk Marketing Board's publicity figure, Miss Zoe Newton, whose picture has appeared widely in the Press and on hoardings in most public places. I suspect that the difficulty is that neither the noble Earl nor members of the public at large are keen to spend time or money in milk 139 bars, ice-cream parlours and similar places. The noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, mentioned his colleagues on the Milk Marketing Board. Every year it is my pleasure to play two cricket games, with my estate staff, against the Milk Marketing Board, and when the game is "at home" we provide our own milk from our own cows for the occasion. On that particular day the amount of milk required is somewhat less than on other, normally popular, days. Possibly that is one of the reasons why Miss Newton may not have had success and has not come to the notice of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, my kinsman, Lord Bledisloe or the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood.
I know how much we all wish it were possible for the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, to be able to see with his own sight the land that is around us and the changes, both technical and in the veterinary sciences, that have taken place in the agricultural world in but the past few years. But the noble Lord can hear, and one of the features of the agricultural scene is the appalling noise and danger that there is in a harvest field. He told us, too, of the right that exists for every farmer to grumble at his lot.
I have mentioned the insatiable demand that exists in these times for farms to be rented or bought, but there is one tragedy and I am surprised that the noble Viscount and the noble Lord opposite have not brought it up: that is, the inability of an old farmer in these times to retire in the kind of mental and physical comfort to which in old times he was accustomed to retire. It is not his fault; it is the fault of the times, of taxation and of the difficulty of amassing savings. Possibly in the farming industry more than in any other, personal expenditure is needed to keep one's own little piece of the industry up to date and together as a going concern; and one of the reasons for the bankruptcies of which we have heard and for the fact that there is ill-feeling on the land in certain directions is, I am certain, because an old farmer, a good farmer maybe, cannot nowadays afford to retire to the kind of life to which he has been used. As a result, he still keeps going, making enough and not losing anything, but 140 stopping a younger man, one of the yeomen of England of whom we have heard, from stepping into his shoes. That yeoman is unable to pay sufficient to the older man to furnish provision for that older man's retirement.
I believe that the White Paper on Long-term Assurances for Agriculture, and the White Paper on the Annual Review have gone a long way, and we thank Her Majesty's Government for introducing those two documents to save and to help farmers towards long-term stability for the industry. There is, however, frequent mention of a "viable unit". I take it that that means some type of farm land and that ultimately men from the Ministry will be able to work out what a viable unit will or will not be; but I am quite certain that the type of farm on which it is most easy to live is that which is owned by a landlord and is let to a tenant at a fair and economical price. With the system of death duties that exists in our country to-day, that type of farm is steadily going out of the agricultural industry.
If a tenant dies, the landlord takes the farm in hand, and that is one more farm—one more viable unit, if that is the correct term—which is not available to a hard-working, industrious and clever farmer. If a landlord dies, the tenant has the right, or at least obviously has first call, to buy that farm at a given price. He therefore becomes an owner-occupier and, dependent upon his financial position, he will either sell the farm at a very inflated price (which represents a capital appreciation) or will carry on farming on his own. That is one more farm which is not available as a viable unit to a man of limited means who wishes to take up the best method of husbandry for the land. I believe that, although admittedly very considerable concessions are given in respect of agricultural land, death duties are one of the major causes of wastage of suitable and good land, in viable units which are not available to the yeoman farmers of to-morrow.
I would bring forward one further topic, which really depends more on the will of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in his Department of Education. We have heard a great deal about the demand for scientists and technologists for the future, but we have heard 141 little about the demand for good husbanders and good men who can tend animals. Many of your Lordships will have been in a scientific laboratory at school or at a university. We have all had to learn a certain amount of science, and many—I most certainly class myself as one of them—have completely failed to understand the technical aspects of the scientific professions, with their signs and symbols, formulæ and laws. I believe that there are countless thousands of children who have taken the eleven-plus examination who will never make scientists and who will be in the same boat as the majority of the Members of your Lordships' House who are not of a scientific bent. Would it not be possible for the Minister of Education to build up, publicise and make popular the idea that, for those who cannot aspire to be Harwell atomic scientists, there is just as much honour in being a good husbander and tender of animals? I believe that there are many children coming out of school, boys and girls—many more than is popularly thought—who far prefer the life on the land to that in the workshop, factory or office. I believe that they should be given every consideration and encouragement by my noble friend the Minister of Education.
Lastly, rather than the land, rather than the subsidies, rather than all the assistance Her Majesty's Government are able to give us, I believe that it is good housing and pressing on with amenities in the rural parts of the country that will prove the greatest asset to our farming community. A good house or a good cottage is worth all the land, the phosphates, the modern tractors and animals and so forth that Her Majesty's Government are able to help the farmer with in the way of subsidies. The farm worker and the farmer himself want good water and good electric light; and, above all, a good bus service for the farmer's wife arid the farm worker's wife. I believe that if some of the subsidies—£294 million is the figure we have heard—could be directed towards speeding up electrification even more than is being done at present, towards improving water supplies and subsidising cheap bus services, it would go further than the normal subsidies we consider in the Price Review and the White Paper.
142 I would ask the noble Earl who will reply whether it would not be possible somehow to make a standard system whereby the electricity hoards are able to give the same service throughout the country for electrifying farms out of the way from their areas. It seems a most extraordinary position when one department of a taxpayer's industry refuses to lay on an electric light supply to a farm which happens to be situated in the other department of the industry, even although the distance from one pole to the farm may be shorter in that part than the other. It seems an out-dated approach to the modern industry we need.
I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the long-term guarantees, and I am sure the farming community is happier now than for a very long time. I do hope, in view of the incentives given now and the new ideas given in the Budget a few days ago, that Her Majesty's Government will be able in the very near future to take a really bold and courageous stand upon death duties, not only in the agricultural industry but in all industry and in all classes of capital and earners in our country.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, several noble Lords seem to be worried about the future of the dairy industry, so I want to put forward a suggestion which I hope will be of real constructive value. First, however, perhaps I might add my comments on the recent Price Review. It would appear that my right honourable friend the Minister has won the confidence of the farmers' representatives, and this has led to good co-operation between the two parties and to the production of a Price Review which is fair not only to the farmers but also to the country. The key to this Review would appear to be that there should be a selective expansion of output and that production should be obtained at less cost by relying on home-grown feeding-stuffs and grass. With this I am in entire agreement. In 1953 we imported 2¾ million tons of concentrated feeding-stuffs. This year the figure is estimated to be 5 million tons, costing £123 million. The figure is going up each year, and we must bring it down.
I am not too happy about a reference in the Price Review to "selective expansion of output". Here I think we should aim at something better. Not 143 only is farming to-day highly technical and scientific, but large numbers of farmers have sunk large amounts of capital into their farms in an effort to bring down the cost of production. This, I think, precludes at once any idea that my right honourable friend the Minister might be like a signalman in his signal box, having levers that he can pull to stop or give the "Go ahead" to any particular type of farming. It is quite wrong to think that a farmer should have to change his type of farming merely to fit in with the nation's requirements of to-day, which quite likely will not be the nation's requirements tomorrow. I agree that, in certain circumstances, the Minister must have to pull the "Caution" lever, but this should be done only after all other possible channels have been thoroughly investigated. The ideal is that the signals for each main type of farming should remain for as long as possible at "Go". If a surplus does arise which is outwith the control of the farmers' marketing boards, I submit that my right honourable friend the Minister, instead of putting his hand on the "Caution" lever, which at once introduces a certain degree of lack of confidence, should call in all his varied and extensive advice to try to evolve a method of overcrowding the surplus.
Let us see how this might be applied to our present so-called milk surplus. First of all, we should be quite clear about the cause of this milk surplus. It is not due to the fact that more milking cows are kept—the number of milking cows has increased by only a very small proportion: it is due to the increased efficiency of the dairy farmers and, to a certain extent, to the larger amount of imported feeding-stuffs they are now feeding to their dairy cattle. I think it is odd to talk about a surplus of milk when to-day we are importing 90 per cent. of our butter and 50 per cent. of our cheese—though I know that this is necessitated by our Commonwealth trading policy. Here, my Lords, a word of warning. Should that trading policy change at any time, our present milk surplus might well change almost overnight into a deficiency, as it would do if we were ever involved in another world war. That is why I consider it is absolutely necessary to keep the signals for the main type of farming at "Go."
144 I believe that we shall have to use a combination of two methods for dealing with the present temporary milk surplus. First of all, we must produce milk from home-grown feeding-stuffs and grass alone. This, I think, fits in with the views of Her Majesty's Government as declared in the recent Price Review. The result would be that although maximum yield would not be achieved, the cost per gallon of milk would decrease, as would the volume for manufacture. The nation, through our balance of payments, would benefit substantially by a large reduction in the amount of imported feeding-stuffs, and also by less milk. Moreover, the farmer would be no worse off, because, although he would be producing less milk, the cost of production would be less. I believe that Her Majesty's Government have recently taken the first steps to bring about this result by the introduction of grants for building silos. I suggest that they take this a step further and provide more encouragement by giving grants towards silage made—like the 15s. a ton grant given in Northern Ireland. I know that in the past there have been difficulties over such a grant, but I believe that these difficulties can be overcome. If it is quite impossible to give a grant for silage, then I suggest that Her Majesty's Government should look into the possibilities of giving a grant towards silage-making machinery. But I should far prefer to see a grant given for the actual silage made.
Secondly, encouragement should be given to the farmer who keeps dairy cows and pigs to separate his milk on the farm The skim-milk would be fed to the pigs and the cream would be sold to the public, through producer-retailers or the milk marketing boards. Unfortunately, at present these is a very small demand for cream. This is mainly due to the fact that, owing to the war-time restrictions, people have almost forgotten what cream tastes like. To-day, the housewife probably takes the top off the milk—not realising that in any case the milk is 87 per cent. water, so that she probably leaves herself with about 99 per cent. water—or she makes synthetic cream. This means that the consumption of cream to-day is a mere fraction to what it was before the war. I am confident that, in this era of freedom, given a little encouragement, people would again take to—I 145 do not know whether one should say eating or drinking cream.
In this connection, I was delighted to react in the Press that my right honourable friend the Minister said the other thy that he believed there was every opportunity of whetting the public appetite for cream or half-cream—the kind that Americans pour over cereals. I entirely agree with my right honourable friend. I believe that, with a little drive, it would not be difficult to establish a market for cream—at least, for half-cream, which is within the purchasing power of nearly everyone to-day. My right honourable friend has done great service to the dairy industry by drinking milk himself, and by advertising the consumption of liquid milk. Unfortunately, my right honourable friend's capacity—although not his capability—is limited and he cannot absorb the whole of the national surplus himself. Perhaps my right honourable friend and the noble Earl who is to reply to the debate would now turn their attention to cream with the same vigour that they have been giving to milk.
Before I go on with this suggestion about separating milk on the farm, I must declare an interest. I have a very great interest because, with a few other farmers in the North East of Scotland, I am pioneering such a project in conjunction with our milk marketing board. Although this scheme is still in its infancy, there is a real prospect of great success. Already interest in the scheme has been aroused very far afield. There are many advantages to be gained from separating milk on the farm. There is the saving in transport—because cream is only about one-tenth of the bulk of the milk from which it is produced. Then there is the automatic reward for producing good-quality milk. The higher the butter fat content of the milk, the more cream is produced. The farmer has been asking for some time to have this recognition for quality milk. Here is a way of giving such recognition automatically.
Last, but not least, there is the benefit to be derived by the nation and by the farmer from feeding skim-milk to pigs. Here one finds that quite astonishing results are produced. First of all, barley and skim-milk, with some vitamins added, make an extremely good ration for pigs. This means that no imported feeding-stuffs 146 whatever are required. Then one finds that the cost of producing bacon pigs is considerably reduced. I think it will work out at something over £1 per pig—that is, costing the skim-milk produced on the farm at 3½d. per gallon. Then there is the advantage to the nation that the pigs, being fed with skim-milk, grade better. This means that there will be better bacon on the market. The farmer also benefits, since he gets paid for better quality carcases. So there is a way to overcome this milk, surplus and, at the same time, very greatly help our balance of payments, in addition to bringing down the cost of production of bacon and pork. When we remember how magnificently the dairy farmers responded to the urgent call made on them to increase production of milk at the beginning of the war, how magnificently they improved their industry, surely the present temporary milk surplus is a direct challenge, not only to the farmer but also to the Government, to devise a means of changing the "Caution" signal to "Go ahead."
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONSDALE
.: My Lords, the debate to-day has come at a welcome time, as we have all had a chance to digest the Agricultural Price Review. What is being said to-day reveals that there is a great measure of agreement about it. Successive Governments for the last fifteen years have turned the agricultural industry from being a broken-down, nondescript cart-horse into a thoroughbred and now it is being pulled for doing too well. We are getting ourselves drowned in a sea of milk and we are embarrassed by over-production of eggs. I read yesterday that the Danes are complaining rather bitterly about exports of British eggs to the Continent. The emphasis of the Price Review was on reducing the prices to be paid for milk and eggs—those two over-produced items. Such a reduction hits, first and foremost, the small farmer. Milk, eggs and pig-meat are commodities produced mainly by small farmers, and where there is a basic increase of cost that must hit him once again.
It is disappointing to find in this last Price Review that agriculture is not substantially recouped for these cost increases for another year. The Review has kept within the letter of the long-term 147 assurances—long-term assurances which are very welcome in that they give stability against violent changes of emphasis on production. But this Review has disregarded the farmer's extra efficiency. His income has been reduced by £24 million. There has been an award of £14 million towards cost increases of £38 million; and the permissive reduction under the long-term assurances of 2½ per cent. is approximately £29 million, so that the possible reduction is almost taken up by the actual reduction of £24 million. At the same time, the long-term assurances point out that the estimated annual increase in the efficiency of the industry is of the order of £25 million, so that the reduction of £24 million in effect covers the industry's increase in efficiency.
This, at any rate, is consistent with the figures of the net agricultural income, which have altered little in the last six years. Since 1952, when the net income was the highest it has been at £336½ million, it has never varied more than a few million pounds in the succeeding years, and for this last year it is estimated that it will turn out to be £317 million. The incomes of farmers as a whole have remained constant over these years, entirely regardless of their achievement. Output in that period has gone up by 10 per cent. over pre-war, and there has been a substantial increase in efficiency. At the same time the cost of living has gone up, and farmers still feel the effects of the cost of living because they cannot get all they require for personal and family use out of the farms on which they live. Wages, salaries and dividends have gone up elsewhere, but there has been no increase for the farmers in their real income in the last six years. They have been under-recouped for increased costs over that period by upwards of £150 million. Now there is a new round of wage increases looming—5 per cent., it is said. If only to reward the enterprise and the efficiency of the industry, it is high time the farmers had a rise.
Returning to the details of the Review, I would point out that the position in regard to milk and eggs hits the small man again, and there is the recurrent problem of surplus production. Some sheep farmers are beginning to wonder whether there will not be a surplus of 148 mutton before long. How can we avoid the occurrence of surpluses, or, if they do occur, how can we meet the problem? Surely the most sensible way is to calculate the amount of each of the main commodities consumed in the country, if in fact they are not known already, and to tell the agricultural industry how much of each commodity is required, taking into account the economic condition of the country. The Milk Marketing Board could calculate the amount of milk required and arrange contracts with individual dairy farmers for the supply of definite quantities of milk. Such contracts would give the farmer adequate scope in regard to efficiency. He would know that only so much milk was required from him every day, and he could breed up his stock so that he could produce the same amount of milk with fewer cattle. It would give him the possibility of organising for other forms of livestock. The new Egg Marketing Board could do the same in regard to eggs; and in respect of other commodities which are in danger of being over-produced it would be possible to arrange for the National Farmers' Union to pass on to their members information about the quantity the country requires.
Hill farmers receive the worst knock of all from this Price Review, and not only through the new arrangements for their subsidiary enterprises—eggs, milk and pig-meat. The hill sheep and cattle subsidies have disappeared, admittedly before this Review. The disappearance, particularly of the subsidy on hill cattle, is to be regretted very much, because that forms one of the few real, practical ways of improving upland grazing—by getting cattle from the lowlands up on to the hills. The hill farmers who have done this in the past have found it profitable, and it has paid them to do so with the hill cattle subsidy they used to receive. Now many of them say that it will not be economic for them to take cattle from the lowlands up on to the hills.
In the hill farmer's budget, wool is of first importance, and there has been no extra award for the price of wool. It is the one possibility of some recoupment of costs. The increases in the prices of mutton and beef do not directly help the hill farmer, because, generally speaking, he does not sell fatstock; he sells stores. 149 The price of stores is slightly affected by the price of stock when fat, but at the same time the price of stores is more extensively affected by the conditions at the end of the season, when stock is sold. If lowland farmers have no hay, they cannot buy stores from the hills.
I think that this is a deplorable Review, in that the agricultural industry has not been given some reward for its increased efficiency. I think that this is best summed up in what the Manchester Guardian had to say on the subject. It said:The settlement is a tribute both to Mr. Heathcoat-Amory's delicacy as a negotiator and to the farmers' sense of responsibility, for the penalties upon them are more severe than they have yet had to face.That is the view of the Manchester Guardian, one of the more just and responsible of our daily papers. In a pre-dominantly hill farming area in my own county of Cumberland, and Westmorland, the weekly newspaper which has a very wide coverage in the area, the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, has this to say from the hill farmers' point of view:This Review really means that the small farms in the North-West are once more back to the days of the 1930's when we lived by sweated family labour…There is another point with reference to hill farming on which I should like to touch. A Committee headed by Sir Arton Wilson was appointed to review the provincial and local organisation and procedure of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Some of the recommendations in their Report are being put into effect, and one of the first effects appears to be the abolition of the old hill farming committees composed of voluntary members, sub-committees of the agricultural executive committees, and they are one of the most valuable of the county organisations in the hill farming areas. There was the personal touch of larger, experienced and knowledgeable farmers, who could get up into the hills and educate and encourage the more backward and ignorant type of man who is so often to be found on the hill farms. As I say, I think it is a great pity that the hill farming committees have been abolished in hill areas, and that the work they previously did should be taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture staffs, who, inevitably, will not have the same personal touch with, or personal knowledge of, these essentially highly individualistic men 150 up in the hills. Under the new local and provincial organisations which are slowly emerging, would it not be a good idea to establish a specialist hill farming service, consisting entirely of people with wide experience of the problems of hill farming, in order to administer the Livestock Rearing Act?
The Arton Wilson Report is a most capable document, and great credit is due to the Committee who produced it. However, now that it is being implemented—although it is difficult to discover yet to what extent it will be implemented—various anxieties are becoming apparent among the agricultural community. First of all the valuable voluntary services of the agricultural executive committees and the sub-committees are largely going, and their place is being taken by seemingly further staff (I am speaking, in particular, of the regional controllers and their staffs), so that the impression is beginning to grow that, rather than fewer staff to administer the grants, there will be a greater staff; in fact, a greater cost, rather than art economy in administration. So far as I can make out, although the Report was published in April last year, there has been no statement, either in your Lordships' House or in another place, as to the extent to which it is to be implemented, and how it is to be implemented. Therefore, I should like to ask the noble Earl who is to reply whether he can say, first, the extent to which the Report will be implemented; secondly, how its recommendations are going to be put into effect; and thirdly, what economy in administration there is likely to be in a full year's working of the revised services.
Finally, I should like to touch on agricultural housing, both farm houses and cottages. If, as we have discovered, the cash income of farmers is to remain static, and incomes of the workpeople are to continue at approximately £3 a week below those running, on the average, in other industries; and if the workpeople receiving this £3 a week less than is paid in other industries are to continue to do three hours a week longer, then I think some serious effort should be made at least to improve agricultural farm houses and cottages. The Housing Acts provide for local authorities to give grants up to a maximum of £400 for capital improvements. I have made inquiries in my area, and of the ten local authorities 151 from which I was able to get the information, seven give the grants in full; one gives the grants only in part, and two do not give them at all.
I have heard—though I have been unable to verify this—that there are local authorities who give the Housing Act grants for cottages but not for farm houses. For the improvement of agricultural housing there is the precedent of the Livestock Rearing Act, in that, in a comprehensive scheme, not only the capital works but the works of repair and adaptation qualify for 50 per cent. grants; and that Act is administered by the Ministry of Agriculture. In the same way, could not agricultural housing which is not covered by the livestock Rearing Act be removed from the jurisdiction of the local authorities, so far as grants are concerned, and handed over to the county committees; and could they not be included in the 33⅓ per cent. farm improvement scheme? That concludes the remarks that I have to make, except for this comment. Now that the Farm Price Review has been digested, it seems deplorable that no reward has been given to the agricultural community, to the farmers, for their increased and increasing efficiency, and their consequently greater output.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, this debate has been remarkable for the considerable degree of unanimity that exists on both sides of the House about the lack of adequate support which the Government are giving to the farming community. We have had those who are engaged in fruit production, milk production, general farming, hill farming and almost every other aspect of the farming industry who have all made the same complaint. I want to say a few words in connection with pig-keeping, which I hope is regarded as an equally important part of agriculture. Every other speaker has spoken from practical experience, and I too want to speak from my own experience as a pig-keeper.
I hope that I can say—I trust your Lords will not mind my being a little personal here—that I am an efficient pig-keeper; at least, I have been told so by an adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture who has inspected my place. He told me that my pig-keeping is the most 152 efficient in the country, and that my results are the best—I say "my results" not in the financial sense (I will come to that) but in connection with the production of good bacon. I want to make that point, because it could be argued that if one cannot make a success of an undertaking it might well be due to one's own inefficiency. I want, therefore, to make it quite clear that, whatever may be the difficulties, it is not due to inefficiency.
Nor is it, in my view, due to lack of any of the requirements that are necessary to produce good bacon. It is not due to extravagance in the buying of food: I mix and grind my own food, and I believe that I buy as cheaply as the next man such commodities as I have to buy. Nor is the feeding in any way extravagant. I am sure that it is good because it produces the best results. With all those factors involved, I find, in common with every other pig-keeper that I have spoken to, both inside and outside this House, that none of us can make pig-keeping pay at the present time. There are times when pig-keeping is more profitable than it is to-day, but taking the whole year round I challenge any pig-keeper who keeps proper books—and many of them do not; they do not really know what they are doing—to say that he is in fact making his pig-keeping pay.
I do not wish to weary the House with figures. I could do so, and I will gladly, if the noble Earl wishes. I will gladly give him any accounts from my own experience, or from other people's experience, that he would wish. But I ask him to accept from me that at the present time there is a dead loss on pig-keeping, and that, taking the whole year round, including times when prices are higher, there is no profit in it at all. One produces bacons for human consumption merely for the joy of doing so—and I admit that there is some satisfaction in it at week-ends; to come away from the turmoil of this House, and life in London generally, and go back and apply one's mind to pigs. That gives satisfaction, admittedly; but one would hope to have the further satisfaction of getting at least some financial return on the capital employed, which can be quite considerable, as well as something for one's own activities.
153 Let me put to the House, and to the noble Earl, some of the difficulties. The first is that there is virtually a monopoly in the selling of pigs. You sell to the Fatstock Marketing Corporation or to one or two other bodies like Wall's, who are outside the Fatstock Marketing Corporation, but who pay exactly the same price as the Corporation. Their prices from week to week are determined by the prices of the Fatstock Marketing Corporation. So far as that Corporation are concerned, they are absolutely a law unto themselves. There is nowhere else one can go, except auction—and I will say a word about that in a moment. But if you sell your bacon in the normal way, you have to go to this Corporation, or to some other body whose prices are identical with those of the Corporation.
The Corporation announce their prices weekly, and if you buy the Farmer and Stockbreeder or the Farmers' Weekly you can see the prices for the current week. But you have to give from ten to fourteen days' notice before the Corporation will accept your pigs, so that at the time you give them notice you have no idea what you are going to get. The prices fluctuate considerably from week to week. They may go up or down to the extent of 2s. or 3s. a score which, on a normal baconer of 7½score, may amount to 15s. a pig. That is quite a considerable item, and you do not know at the time you give notice what you are going to get. You do not even know at the time you send your pig what the price is going to be. In my own case, we send our pigs out on the Monday, and on the following day, if I happen to be in the country, I pick up the Farmer and Stockbreeder, and then I know the price I am going to get. That is not very satisfactory.
Furthermore, there has recently been introduced a much more stringent grading system. Pigs are now paid for according to the thickness of fat (the noble Earl knows all about this), and on the length of the pig. To a certain extent, one can, over the years, control the length of the pig and develop a particularly long pig, thereby qualifying for the higher grade. But it is a very long-term business. It has been done in Denmark, and to a lesser extent in Sweden, where they developed the landrace. You cannot buy 154 a Danish landrace, and the Swedish is not so good as the Danish and is liable to put on fat and to give you a bad grade, even though the length may be right. Nevertheless, with all these difficulties, it has been made much more difficult for the pig farmer to qualify for the higher grades; and, indirectly, this has meant, in addition to the low prices already being paid, a further reduction in the price. I think that anyone who has any experience of pig-keeping will know that in the past two or three months since the new method of grading has been introduced, it has involved a substantial reduction in price or, rather, in the amount realised for one's baconers.
I should like to ask the noble Earl whether it is the Government's policy to encourage people to carry on. It is all very well for certain types of farmers who are not absolutely dependent upon earnings in farming to carry on, but that is not the normal situation. The vast majority of farmers farm for a living, arid it is quite certain that those who go in for pig-keeping are not able to make a living. Therefore, I should like to know what is the Government's policy. I know that they have stated in recent official documents that they have no desire to increase the pig population. But have they a desire to reduce it? If they do not do something about it, they will, in fact, reduce the pig population of this country, and we shall be forced to import more and more pigs from abroad.
It is said that the policy of the Government is to make pig-keeping more efficient in this country, in order that we may compete with Denmark, which is the primary pig producer in Europe, at arty rate. But I venture to suggest that it is quite impossible, for many reasons, for pig-keepers in this country to compete with Denmark. As I indicated, Denmark has a start of some forty or fifty years on us. By virtue of the length of their pig it is not necessary to feed them with the same degree of expensive proteins, like fish meal and other expensive food, as we have to do in this country. The result is that our feeding costs are substantially higher than the Danish feeding costs. I speak with some knowledge on this matter. I spent some time in Denmark since I became a pig-keeper, and investigated the situation thoroughly. I found that their feeding costs are substantially below ours, so that they are 155 well able to produce their bacon at a lower price. I would therefore appeal to the Government to make some statement, and tell us what is their policy about pig-keeping. Do they want pig-keepers to continue in their activities? If so, will they not give us rather more assistance than they are giving at the present time?
I said earlier that there was a virtual monopoly by the Fatstock Marketing Corporation, with the alternative for the producer of going to the market and selling pigs by auction. But anyone who goes to any auction mart knows the chancy nature of it. I said that the Fat-stock Marketing Corporation were uncertain in their prices, but auction prices, of course, are even less certain. Anyone who studies prices will see how they fluctuate violently from week to week at the auction markets. Furthermore—and I want to say this quite seriously—I personally have had very unsatisfactory experiences as regards weights in going to auction markets. I have become quite satisfied that one is not paid on the actual weight of the pig which one sends into the market. On many occasions I have had my pigs weighed before they left. I have made full allowances for reduction in weight, due to the short journey that they undertook, and I know pretty well what is the right reduction to allow for. Then I have found that I have been paid on a weight of something like 4 or 5 lb. a pig less than the reduced weight that I had allowed for. That cannot at all be justified on account of the journey or for any other reason.
On several occasions, I have sent my man down to watch the pigs being weighed, and on those occasions the weights were correct. It should not be necessary to have to send a man to spend half a day checking up on the weights of one's pigs. From what I have been told—I cannot vouch for anybody else's experience—it is a common experience that one is not paid on the actual true weights of the pigs that one sends in. I do not want to mention publicly any particular place, but I should like to send the noble Earl some particulars to see what can be done about this matter, because I am afraid that the public are not getting a fair crack of the whip.
§ LORD SILKIN
Yes. I apologise for intervening in an agricultural debate. I think it is the first time I have done so—probably it will be the last. I am most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who has given way and allowed me to interpose without giving any notice, but I thought it worth while to draw the attention of the House to the position of pig-keepers, from, I hope, an objective point of view. I should like to give the noble Earl more detailed figures establishing what I have said. I think I can satisfy him. I should also like to give him information about the auction.
§ 5.53 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for intervening and giving us the benefit of his advice. I was most interested and must congratulate him on being such an efficient pig-keeper. I wish, indeed, that I could follow in his most noble footsteps, if only from the point of view of husbandry, if not from that of economics. But I must confess that, although I do not profess by any means to be an efficient pig-keeper, I like to think from my rather sketchy accounts that my pigs make me something and if I were as efficient as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I feel that they would make me considerably more.
However that may be, I should hesitate to blame the Government, because I feel that they have offered a form of considerable stability over the past six months. We have had the long-term assurances; we have had the fact that the Price Review refers to the next harvest as opposed to the harvest eighteen months ahead; we have had the improvement grants and, finally, we have had this last Price Review. Although the farmers have had to find £24 million to recoup themselves, nevertheless the Government have produced an extra £14 million, and under these long-term provisions they were forced to use only £8 million. I do not say that that necessarily shows great credit, but, if one takes it realistically and bears all things in mind—because one is a taxpayer as well as a farmer—one cannot fairly say that this was an unjust Price Review.
157 There is, however, one snag in the long-term assurances which I should like to point out. The whole basis of those assurances is to give the farmers confidence in the future of agriculture because they know that the Government will not lower their support by more than 2½ per cent. One has the feeling that if the Government drop the support by 1 per cent. they expect to be slapped on the back and given very many thanks for not having dropped it by its maximum. That seems to me to be putting the wrong emphasis on the drop of 2½ per cent., because, for these long-term assurances to have effect, the farming community must feel that they are there to stabilise their industry and not in order to enable the Government gradually to reduce their Exchequer support.
In the light of the confidence and support which agriculture has, I feel that there is one great fault—and the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, will be delighted to hear that it does not lie with the Government. To my mind, it lies with the farming community itself. I feel that the farming community is making the same mistakes as are being made by the trade unions. They are always telling us how they must prosper and how they must be paid more, instead of saying: "Here we are, working in relative prosperity. It is up to us to endeavour to better our industry as much as we can, in order that we can take any knocks that may come in the future."
As a farmer, one tends to think that food must be produced and, because one produces it, its sale will be certain. That is a great fallacy. In my humble opinion, as I explained in the last debate that we had in this House, it is the duty of the farming community to try to sell their goods, to try to advertise more. As the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, there is great scope for advertising one's products more attractively to create and attract the customer. If, on our own initiative, we earl attract customers to our industry, we are giving it a fair basis and broadening the basis on which we can rely in the future. There is a great scope for advertising. It is a plea that I put forward on the last occasion when we debated this subject and it is a plea that I would put forward even more strongly now. The noble Lord, Lord Forbes, mentioned cream. Of course there is no 158 sale for cream, for the simple reason that a customer has to go and ask for the cream. One hardly ever sees cream advertised or in a shop. If it is anywhere, it is in a refrigerator. One does not see it. We must, therefore, accept part of the blame ourselves for not putting our goods in front of the customer and encouraging him to buy them.
Now it is the business of the farmer, as I have said, to produce his food and to try to sell it. He must produce the food the consumer wants, and that means that he must produce the quality the consumer wants. I believe that one of the most important places where quality is missing is in the beef industry. I do not profess to be a beef farmer—I know remarkably little about the subject; but if your Lordships would bear with me I can give an instance of what I mean as to how people react to the quality of beef. The other day I bought some meat and I took it home to the lady who was to cook it. She has been in England for some two and a half years; before that she was in Germany. She looked at this meat and said, "It is excellent meat. It is the best I have seen since I left Germany." I must admit that my first reaction was a great swelling of pride at having been such a clever shopper. But in fact I should have been grossly insulted, as should any farmer. The inference was quite clear. Her comment that it was the best meat she had seen since she left Germany meant that the consumer does not know about the quality of meat, and that the farmer does not know about it, and, indeed, does not care about it.
On the credit side—because it is not always as bad as that—one has the remarkable progress that has been made over the last four years in Lord Silkin's industry—that of bacon pigs. I feel that the increase in quality over the last four years in that industry has been quite remarkable and should be a pointer arid a guide to other aspects of the industry. It is surely the result of co-operation between the farmer and the scientist. The scientist has worked out what weight in food is required, how much is required, when it ought to be fed, and how heavy the pig ought to be, in order to grade out correctly. That sort of effort is grossly lacking in the beef industry. I think that there has been remarkably little research into this. People buy their beasts, say, in 159 April; they put them out on to grass; they have a look at them in July, say "that beast is fat", and send it off to market. That is not the way to produce quality beef. I should like, if it is possible, to see a little more research into the beef industry, in order that farmers may know what quality beef is and how to attain it.
I must confess that I am baffled about one thing in this search for quality—I refer to this new stipulation about solids not fat in milk. I should be grateful if the noble Earl who is to reply would be good enough to mark what I am going to say, because I should like some information on it. So far as I understand the law as it now is, if your milk contains 8.5 per cent. of solids not fat it is all right. If it has only an 8 per cent. content then you are producing inferior quality milk. I fail to see what difference one half of 1 per cent. of solids not fat will make in a pint of milk which the housewife buys. Before the noble Earl rises to tell me that it is a question of standards, may I be allowed to point out to him that, first of all, you cannot tell, either by taste or by sight, the difference between milk of 8 per cent. solids not fat and milk of 8.5 per cent. solids not fat. The housewife does not know—she cannot tell it; she cannot see it, nor can she taste it. Secondly, the housewife does not know what solids not fat is. Thirdly, the scientist does not know how to correct the beast that is producing low solids not fat. Therefore, I think that this qualification is of little use. I am sure that the noble Earl has some excellent reply, and I should be grateful if he would give it to me.
I am always amused by those who say that they wish their milk to be paid for on a quality basis. The noble Lord, Lord Forbes said that. By that, I presume that he and other people who use the term "quality milk" mean a milk of high butter fat content and a correspondingly low cream line. I fail to see why that should be quality milk. What about this curious milk with the high solids not fat? Is that not quality? Then again, I believe that in America the fashion is to have milk of 2 per cent. fat. Perhaps that is "quality" milk. Those cows that produce this high butter fat content in fact produce fat which consists of large 160 fat globules which are relatively indigestible.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has kindly indicated, it may be indigestible only for babies. The Government may be only too pleased at the babies that they have produced, and the amount of milk that they have poured down their throats, and I do not think that the children of our country should be looked down upon because they are unable to drink so-called quality milk.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
I am sorry to intervene again, but perhaps I should have added: and only in respect of Channel Island cattle milk Jerseys and Guernseys.
Exactly. It was Jerseys and Guernseys that I had in mind. I must apologise if I have not made that clear. My point is that Friesian milk, for instance, is more digestible for babies than Channel Island milk. Therefore, why should digestibility not count in regard to the quality of milk? I feel that some clear line of thought and direction should be given by the Government as to what is quality.
I am inclined to suggest that the Government should encourage quality on the basis of cleanliness and purity, as opposed to a basis of content. Indeed, I find a slight but rather pathetic pleasure in anticipating what the housewife in ten or twenty years' time will be saying when she wishes to order her day's supply of milk. Instead of saying to the milkman, "I will have 4 pints of milk ", she will say to him," I will have a pint of T.T. Jersey milk because I like the cream on my cereals; I will have a pint of T.T. Friesian milk because my son cannot digest the Jersey milk; I will have a pint of pasteurised milk because my mother will not believe that any milk is free from germs unless it has been boiled; and I will have a pint of ' high solids not fat ' milk because I am told that it is good for me; and before you go, Mr. Milkman, I will have a tin of national dried milk because my baby cannot digest the fresh milk that you produce—it is too rich and therefore too 161 indigestible." That is indeed a slightly strange state of affairs. I suppose that if one always has controls, one will get examples of the absurd. If I may be allowed slightly to digress, may I say that I heard an example of this sort of absurdity the other day. A farmer applied for his petrol ration and was asked what form of conveyance he had. He said that he had a Fordson Major and a stallion. He was allowed 8 gallons for his Fordson Major and 10 gallons for his stallion.
My Lords, there is one other point I wish to deal with. In our last debate on this matter, several noble Lords pressed the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, to see that the improvement grants were approved by Parliament as soon as possible. He said that the schemes could not be passed through before September. At that time I was satisfied, but I must confess that since then my mind has gradually turned to coincide with the views of other noble Lords. It seems to me that if these grants are not approved by Parliament before September, virtually no building will be done before the winter is over; and therefore no job will be completed before fifteen months from the time the measures were originally announced. To my mind, that is a great waste of time.
I should like the noble Earl seriously to consider whether it is possible to bring these measures before Parliament earlier than would otherwise have been the case. I confess that I remain greatly surprised that a measure such as this, which is acclaimed by all Parties and all interested persons as being an exceptionally good measure, and one which will have a great reception, should take such an extremely long time to get through Parliament, while, on the other hand, a highly controversial measure and one which some noble Lords and many other people did not like at all, such as the Homicide Bill, passes through Parliament as if it were jet-propelled. I should be very grateful to the noble Earl if he would seriously consider bringing the necessary measures before Parliament a little earlier than otherwise would be the case.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.