HL Deb 13 November 1957 vol 206 cc299-320

2.43 p.m.

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Amendment, moved yesterday by Viscount Hall, to the Motion for an humble Address moved on Tuesday, November 5 by Earl Waldegrave. The Motion was, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as followeth: Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

To which Viscount Hall had moved, as an Amendment, to add the words: but humbly regret that the proposals in the gracious Speech are wholly incommensurate with the urgency of the problems facing the country at this time in the sphere of home affairs.

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, to-day, on the last day on which we shall discuss the humble Address to Her Majesty, we are to deal with the question of agriculture. It is not possible within a short speech to make a complete survey of the agricultural position, but I want to deal with one or two points which arise from the reference in the gracious Speech to agriculture. This year there appears in the gracious Speech the statement of a definite intention on the part of Her Majesty's Government to amend certain provisions of the Agriculture and the Agricultural Holdings Acts. This is somewhat of a departure from the general reference to agriculture which has appeared in Speeches from the Throne over the last few years. It may prove a very important departure indeed.

In moving the humble Address of thanks to Her Majesty, the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, welcomed the pledges of the Government to support British agriculture. He said in the course of his very interesting speech many true things with regard to the agricultural industry. He expressed the view that those engaged in agriculture were casting nervous glances over their shoulders to see whether they were being overtaken once again by the disasters of thirty years ago, during the period between the Wars. I think he was right to remind us of those bad old days, not only for agriculture but for the country as a whole. He was right also to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the fact that those engaged at the moment in the agricultural industry are nervous and apprehensive of the future. Indeed that is so, and perhaps our eyes and our thoughts are centred more on the present and the future than they are on the past. We in the industry, and possibly those outside, cannot see the way ahead clearly, and Her Majesty's Government in the gracious Speech have not helped us very much. In other words, they have not improved that vision but made it more obscure.

No one can say at the moment where the agricultural industry is going or where we in the industry shall end. Uncertainty in many ways is coming once again to us, and the stringent nature of our time darkens our outlook and our prospects of maintaining prosperity in that greatest of all our national industries. The usual platitude of support to agriculture is included in the gracious Speech, as it customarily and always is, but at this moment assurances are insufficient and action will have to be taken if our high-level production and efficiency, and the well-being of those engaged in the task of growing food for home consumption, are to be maintained.

Two other agricultural matters were touched upon by the noble Earl. He referred to the good record of the industry, unsurpassed by any other, with good labour relations, increasing productivity and non-partisan legislation. He hoped this proud record would long remain untarnished. I heartily agree. Again he expressed his view (and I must apologise to the noble Earl for making these references to his speech; I am sorry I did not give him notice and I hope he will not mind) that the Agriculture Acts of 1947 and 1948 were the most far-reaching and fundamental of agricultural legislation. He never said a truer word. He was right to remind us of this fact, particularly at the present moment, and the reference in the gracious Speech to these is of very great importance.

Her Majesty's Government tell us that Legislation will be introduced to amend certain provisions of the Agriculture and Agricultural Holdings Acts … In speaking in the debate on the Address, in another place, the Prime Minister said the Government had decided to repeal the disciplinary provisions of the Agriculture Act, 1947, and would take an opportunity to amend the existing provisions dealing with the security of tenure to tenant farmers, and considered clarifying the statutory guidance to agricultural rent arbitrators. I am sure that all who are actively engaged in the industry are anxious to know exactly what the Government's intentions are, and I hope the noble Earl who is replying to this debate will be able to elaborate, if possible, the statement of the Prime Minister.

It would seem to me that Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1947, is in jeopardy. If this goes, one of the fundamentals—as referred to by the noble Earl—disappears, and the foundations on which the Act was brought into being crack and eventually decay. Parts I and II of the Act, noble Lords will remember, are tied together. The first provides for guaranteed prices and assured markets—both, unfortunately, more or less unknown under present conditions and under the present Government. The second deals with good estate management and good husbandry. We cannot hope to achieve this without the assistance which guaranteed prices and assured markets cart provide. Nor are we justified in spending State money by way of subsidies and support prices unless the nation can be assured that the rules of good estate management and good husbandry are recognised and practised.

The Prime Minister also referred to the disciplinary provisions. When the Agriculture Act was being considered in another place in 1947 there was complete co-operation, consultation and agreement between the Government of that day and the representatives of the main interests concerned—namely, the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union and the National Union of Agricultural Workers; and a pledge was given at that time that if Part I of the Act was rightly implemented then, in the interests of the nation and of farming, Part II would be operated. And the same applied in reverse: the two Parts must stand together. And it has been so; both Parts have been operated, and the working of Part II has had a very beneficial influence upon the rate of our production and in increasing the efficiency achieved by the industry. The Minister shakes his head, but I am certain that that was the effect of Part II. I do not think I stand to be corrected in this. I am certain that the operation of Part II has made it possible for many farmers who would not have produced at a high level to achieve the result which we required them to do. I am not talking of dispossessed farmers: I am talking of those farmers who have been advised and helped in many ways by the county agricultural executive committees.

Part II was never intended to be a vicious or penal operation. Bearing out what I have just said, it was enacted for the help, guidance and assistance of those in need of such. Comparatively few dispossessions of either landowners or occupiers have been necessary, or have taken place, and the county agricultural executive committees have carried out a difficult and sometimes unpleasant task in a tolerant and even generous spirit. I wish at this point to give a measure of praise to those members and officials of the county agricultural executive committees who have worked so well during the ten years or more they have been in operation. As a nation we must make the best possible use of our land, and as a farming community we are anxious that all engaged in farming should give of their best and should seek to maintain our present high standard of soil cultivation and stock rearing. As farmers we are as critical of, and as distressed over, bad farming as anyone else in the community. A system of supervisory assistance and advice has come in; and in my opinion it should stay.

A few moments ago I made a point about consultation with representative bodies. I understand that both the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union have expressed their disapproval of the Government's intentions. The National Union of Agricultural Workers have not been consulted. I wonder who advised the Government to take a step which cannot be acceptable as being in the national interest. I hope that the Government will go very warily before they seek to amend the main provisions of the Agriculture Act, 1947. The Prime Minister's reference to amending the provisions for security of tenure will frighten a great many tenant farmers.

I think we should ask whether it is intended that we should go back to the days of wholesale notices to quit, with small disturbance compensation, so that farms can be sold with vacant possession at high prices. If this is so it is a very serious proposal, and I wonder who is responsible for it. The Agriculture Act safeguarded the rights of a tenant to remain in occupation, provided that his farming ability and his financial status were approved by those in authority. If security of tenure goes, as well as the proposed demolition of Part II of the Act, that greatest of all Agricultural Acts will become virtually a dead letter. Does any noble Lord on the Benches opposite want that to happen? I am pretty well certain that everyone who is engaged in agriculture would regret the day that the Agriculture Act of 1947 became a dead letter.

In my view the industry should be warned about the position which confronts it, in view of this one small paragraph in the gracious Speech. The Government, unfortunately, in my opinion, are still thinking in terms of a "free-for-all" agricultural policy. Noble Lords will have seen articles which have appeared in the farming Press during the last few days, signifying, in my view, that there is a feeling of disquiet within the industry. One particular editorial, which deals with the question of wage and similar claims, may be referred to. The industry is facing additional wage costs. It will also have to bear, in the immediate future, heavy additional costs in connection with national insurance, and here is a matter to which I think I should call the attention of noble Lords.

These additional costs cannot be passed on in the prices which the farmer receives for his commodities. The additional cost to farmers in respect of the National Insurance contributions of themselves and their employees will probably be in the nature of £5 or £6 million a year. The farmer also has to meet additional bank charges and increasing costs all round as a result of the raising of the bank rate—higher costs which are passed on in prices by other industries. His disadvantage is very apparent. What are the Government prepared to do? Will they repudiate the workers' claim for higher wages? If they do that, I think that it would be a deplorable action and a great calamity to the industry. Will they say to the farmer at the next February Price Review, "We will not reimburse your additional costs," and impose upon him the price cut of 2½ per cent. which was considered in the last Review? That is the position in which we find the industry at the present time.

I want to call your Lordships' attention to the serious cereal problem. The markets are flat, prices are low and difficulty is being experienced in moving and caching grain already threshed. Buildings and stores, cart sheds and the like, are full of barley and wheat which cannot be moved by the merchants or by the farmers. Money is tight and is required by both. Can the Government do anything to relieve this unsatisfactory state of affairs? Is there some solution at which they can arrive and by which this heavy load of corn can be moved and sold?

A few days ago the amount of the first deficiency payment on wheat was announced. It will amount to a total of £5¼ million, at a rate of approximately 7s. 8d. per cwt., which is equivalent to £7 14s.-odd per ton. Payment is to be made on approximately 6.8 million cwt. Last year the first payment was on a quantity of 8.8 million cwt. and amounted to £2 million, as against £5¼ million this year. That payment was at the rate of approximately 4s. 6d. per cwt., or £4 10s. a ton, as against the present rate of £7 14s. In my view this shows the trend of present home-grown wheat movements and prices, and it is significant in this way: that the lower the price, the greater the payment by the Exchequer and, bearing out what I say about the barns being full of grain, less wheat has been moved for sale after harvesting this year than last year. Again, as a result of the increased wheat deficiency payment the Exchequer may have to bear a heavier wheat payment this year than last. Who gains by these additional payments? Does the nation gain? Do the consumers gain? Do the farmers gain, or do the merchants gain?


Or the millers?


I forgot the millers; I will put them in for luck. I leave it to noble Lords to decide for themselves who are the gainers; I think that many of us realise who, in fact, do gain.

I want now to say a few words about horticulture. A few days ago I received a letter of doubt about the future of horticulture in the arrangements to be made in connection with the European Free Trade Area. I have already made reference to agriculture and forestry, and we who live on the borders of the fen country know the problems which confront some of our horticulturists. From the letter I have received from the fen area, it appears that horticulturists are perturbed and suspicious about what is to happen, to their industry under the new arrangements, if they ever come into operation.

Where are we going? Those of us engaged in agriculture have to contend, and can contend, with the natural difficulties of our industry. We have to suffer from pests and weather conditions—and in the last few days those farmers who have been working on sugar beet have suffered indeed from weather conditions; we suffer from crop failures, stock casualties and disease. All these are sufficient in themselves for one industry. We do not wart also to suffer without reply the high costs of the things we have to buy and of the money we have to borrow; low prices for our commodities; the extraordinarily bad marketing conditions; insecurity of tenure and unhealthy foreign competition. We hope that the time will come when all these will be things of the past. l hope that the Government will act very cautiously here, and, bearing in mind the possible curtailment of the Agriculture Act, that they will not tinker with it so as to undermine the structure of the industry on which alone our prosperity can be safeguarded. We are all concerned—landowners, farmers and farmworkers—and I hope that nothing will be done to shake the confidence of the producers in the fair deal from the nation which they have a right to expect.

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, we are in the fifth day of the debate on the Address in reply to the gracious Speech, and despite the many references which have been made to Her Majesty I feel that I must add my humble thanks that we should have so gracious and so charming a lady at the head of our nation. In this respect we are the envy of countless thousands of people, and it behoves us well to remember that. The charm and dignity with which Her Majesty and her husband conduct their affairs is the inspiration not only of us who are privileged to be her subjects, but of those of other free countries of the world.

I wish to refer at the outset to one part of the gracious Speech to which the noble Lord, Lord Wise, has already referred. The gracious Speech states that: Legislation will be introduced to amend certain provisions of the Agriculture and Agricultural Holdings Acts … We do not know exactly which provisions are to be amended, but I hope, as I indeed believe, that Sections 16 and 17—and particularly paragraph 1 (b) of Section 17—will be among those which will come under review. Those sections deal with dispossession of owners on account of bad estate management or bad husbandry. I believe that this principle is intrinsically wrong. Over the past eighteen months we have seen a clear example of the operation of these sections in the eviction of Lady Garbett from her farm in Sussex. In my opinion that was an act of wicked bureaucracy. I do not say that the Minister was wrong, but I do say that the law was wrong. I should like your Lordships to realise, however, that any observations I may make refer not to that one particular incident but to the whole basis on which those two sections operate; I use the example of Lady Garbett only as a typical result of the way that they operate. To my mind, it cuts right across the very basis of human freedom that an owner, an individual person, should be thrown out of his or her own property because somebody determines that he or she is not looking after that property to a sufficiently high standard.

There are many plausible reasons—the noble Lord opposite has just given us some of them—why Sections 16 and 17 should be retained. The noble Lord has said, as indeed is always said, that if the taxpayer is to provide support for the agricultural community, he must, in return, expect a reasonable standard of farming from the farmers. In principle I would agree with that; but in practice I disagree with it. Democracy is a very fine thing and something that we all treasure, and we might agree that it is through the principles of democracy that our agriculture has been supported. But the greatest danger that lies in democracy—and it is one against which we should for ever be on guard—is the possibility of its transition into bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the curse of the individual.

I believe it to be fundamentally against the basic interests and basic principles of freedom that in peace time a person should be thrown out of his own property. That is a cry which the Party that noble Lords opposite support invariably produce on behalf of the tenant against the landlord. But if it is wicked for a landlord to throw out a tenant, surely it is criminal for a Government to throw out an owner. However, I do not believe that we need worry ourselves for fear that there will be many farmers farming badly, yet living riotous lives and "growing fat" on the superfluity of Government grants. I have yet to find it possible to "grow fat" farming to the best of one's ability. I know that the 1947 Act is the "baby" of the Labour Party, and they feel that it has given agriculture such confidence that it must never be touched. It is true that it has given agriculture great confidence; but it is not sacrosanct; and if it is possible to improve the Act, the Government should not hesitate to do so.

I said that one must guard against the encroachment of bureaucracy, and I believe that to be true both in our everyday life and in agriculture. I should like to give your Lordships a few examples of the encroachment of bureaucracy into agriculture. I know of an individual, highly respected (I do not know whether he is highly paid, but he certainly should be) and a highly qualified member of the Eastern Area of the National Agricultural Advisory Service who is required to sign the book at 8.30 each morning to show that he has reported for work; and there are many others in a similar position. Your Lordships may consider that a rather insignificant matter to bring forward, but if your Lordships will bear with me, I will endeavour to show how dangerous it is.

A highly qualified, highly respected individual, holding the equivalent of an executive position, is paid to do a job of work. If he is going to be made to "clock in" at 8.30 in the morning, the natural and obvious corollary will be that he will "clock out" at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Surely, these people must be paid to do their job of work, and not be paid for an eight-hour day. It is this type of petty bureaucracy that destroys the initiative, the individuality and, indeed, the responsibility of people who have to work with it. If I may coin a rather vulgar word, one might call it an encroachment of "oculo-schizophrenia", which, being interpreted, means split eyes—one on your work and one on the clock. That, to my mind, is a particular aspect of our nation which we see only too often nowadays, and it is one which fundamentally destroys interest.

I have even been sufficiently unfortunate to witness a most incredible piece of bureaucracy. I once saw a circular that had been sent to the Norfolk Agricultural Executive Committee, and, frankly, it was enough to make a strong man weep. It said that, in the interests of economy, pins and paper clips were to be cut by 50 per cent. It is incredible to think that any business, any institution, which is supposed to be run on reasonably sensible lines could ever tolerate such utter rubbish as that. One may laugh; but my point is this—and it is a serious one: it is this dreadful encroachment of bureaucracy that is undermining not only the work but also the morale of the people who work in the Agricultural Advisory Service and in other departments of the Civil Service connected with agriculture. I would ask the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, to take this matter seriously, and I should like him, if he would be so good, to give an assurance that he will look into the extent of the encroachment of this bureaucracy and give us some idea whether it is, in fact, as bad as to me it appears to be.

There is one other point that I should like to mention, and I do this, I confess, with a certain amount of trepidation, because I once remarked to a noble Lord that there was to be a debate on agriculture the following day. From his rather palsied reply I gathered that he was not very interested. When I asked him whether he was in fact interested, he said, "The trouble is that whenever there is a debate on agriculture noble Lords always seem to reach for the money, and they all say that their particular aspect of farming requires a greater subsidy than another." He capped it by suggesting that it was a little undignified. At the risk of being even a little more undignified than is my normal habit or, indeed, at the risk of resembling a character from a Fougasse cartoon, I should like to mention one particular aspect of subsidies which I feel has room for improvement.

Contrary to what many people believe, farming is not such a prosperous industry as it used to be.


Come over here!


No, not yet. However that may be, to a large degree the farming industry is reliant upon the subsidies which are given to it. My point is that there is a very poor correlation between the amount of subsidy that is given, when it is given, and the harvest to which it refers. To give an example, on October 28, 1957, the agricultural workers' wages were increased. We are told that that increase in cost is to be taken into account in the February Price Review of 1958. That refers to the harvest of 1958, and the barley harvested in August. 1958, will receive its subsidy, its deficiency payment, in September, 1959. 'Therefore farmers will not have the full recoupment of the cost of the increase in wages which has just taken place until two years have elapsed, by which time they will have had three more wage claims. So where are we?

Although the Government and other interested bodies tell farmers that their costs are to be recouped in the next February Price Review, the farmer has come to take that as meaning very little. In other words, he has to find the extra increase of money himself.


Hear, hear!


It is all very fine for noble Lords opposite to say "Hear, hear!"—I am glad they agree with me. But the point is that if the farming industry is to expand and increase, there must be some more immediate correlation between the increase of costs and the increase of subsidies. I should be grateful if the noble Earl would give that aspect a little thought and see whether it is possible to avoid these great lapses of time, particularly with reference to the cereals deficiency payments.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I find it a little difficult to follow the noble Earl who has just spoken in his strictures on the procedure in cutting pins and papers by 50 per cent. I should have thought that he would have enjoyed that experience, because if all bureaucracy could in fact be cut by 50 per cent., there might be one shilling off the income tax.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will pardon, me for one moment, I think he will agree that to take one shilling of the income tax you would have to save a considerable quantity of pins and paper.


I think the noble Earl did not take my point, which was that it was a beginning and that if bureaucratic expenses could be cut all through by that amount, then we should be able to see that reduction in taxation.

We have had a good many debates on agriculture just lately, and no doubt when measures are brought before the House to implement the undertakings that have been given we shall have a few more. But agriculture is timeless and farming is timeless, and it can never suffer from having the problems which beset it ventilated from time to time. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the present day is that the policy of noble Lords belonging to the Party opposite—and I believe it to be their official policy—is rather not to nationalise the land. Not long ago we had a by-election in the county in which I reside, and the official speakers of the Opposition—and I am bound to say they won the seat—went about promising the farmers of Carmarthenshire that land nationalisation was not in the Labour programme. If that is the case, it would be right that it should be known to the full.

I am encouraged by it, because in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wise, he referred in kindly and generous terms to good estate management and the good handling of husbandry by private enterprise. It would be a great thing for agriculture if it could feel that it is not to be torn between the Scylla and Charybdis of private enterprise, on the one hand, and nationalisation, on the other, but will be free to proceed with its plans—and they have to be long-term plans. It would be interesting if the noble Viscount who is to reply for the Opposition could give us some indication of the intentions of the Party opposite should they win the next General Election.

A few minutes ago your Lordships generously gave me permission to introduce a Bill dealing with the return of the rabbit. I will not on this occasion spoil what I hope will be a good Second Reading speech, if I am fortunate enough to be given time in this House to make it, by saying any more about the return of the rabbit, except this: it is a very serious problem and a serious pest. My Bill, which perhaps will be in your Lordships' hands to-morrow morning, is a bigger and better Bill than the one I introduced last summer. Its most important provisions will be to allow the artificial spreading of myxomatosis, if required, and I am adding to the Bill a provision to make it illegal to sell wild rabbits' skins and carcases in the shops. I say no more now than that I am not at all sure that the second provision is not going to be more effective than the first, if it ever became law. I leave that matter now until the Second Reading debate, which I hope may take place before too long.

All the speeches of noble Lords have drawn attention to the three main promises that have been given by the Prime Minister lately in connection with agriculture. If I might summarise them at the risk of repeating what was said by the two noble Lords who have already spoken, these are the three main points: the repeal of the disciplinary measures under the 1947 Act; the amendment of existing provisions for the security of tenure of tenant farmers, and the clarifying of statutory guidance to arbitrators in fixing farm rents.

May I discuss those three points very briefly, in order? The question of the repealing of the disciplinary measures in the 1947 Act is all very well so far as it goes, but, unlike the noble Earl who has just spoken. I take the view that if farmers receive large agricultural subsidies from the State, the least that the taxpayer can expect is a reasonably good standard of farming in return. Up to now so far as estate management is concerned it has always been possible in the case of bad farming to apply to the county agricultural committee, either for a supervisory order or, in an extreme case, for an eviction. I happen by good fortune to be the tenant for life of a reasonably large agricultural estate, and I am happy to say that so far as I am concerned the relations between the estate and the tenants are always excellent. because we try to row together; and if it so be, in certain very infrequent cases, that the standard of farming is allowed to decline, a friendly visit and friendly talk generally does the trick. So far as I am aware no question of appeal to the agricultural committee or eviction has ever arisen. That is a point that is very important.

But that only touches the fringe of the problem, in my submission, because by far the greater number of farm holdings in this country are not owned by the tenant of a landlord; they are owned by the farmer himself; he is the landlord, and there is no supervision whatsoever except his own good will and, hitherto, of course, the discipline of the agricultural committee should the bad farming become too apparent. I forget the exact figure, but the State pays something like £250 million to £300 million a year in agricultural subsidies of one sort or another, and, as I say. I do not think it is the least unreasonable that some return should be made.

The second point is about security of tenure. Security of tenure is now pretty well absolute, and I do not think anybody would wish ever to see a return to the days when a landlord could evict his tenant at will. Security of tenure has meant in practice that the farmer has carried out great improvements to his own house and farm at his own expense in the certain knowledge that unless he really fails to carry out the terms of his lease or really goes in for very bad farming he can stay there. As noble Lords will know, the only way at present that an owner can regain possession of his farm is either by voluntary surrender of it by the tenant, or by giving three months' notice to resume possession in the event of the death of the tenant.

That, I think, has brought great satisfaction and contentment to the countryside, and I do not know the answer to my next proposition—that is, that security of tenure has gone so far that ii is becoming more and more difficult for young farmers to get a farm. I had a farm to let only two or three months ago and there were twelve applications for it. Ten of the applicants were under thirty-five years old, so it shows that there is, in my part of the country at any rate, a very considerable land hunger among the younger people. If you ask what the solution is; I do not know whether you can make an age limit or some other provision I do not know. I can only throw out the suggestion that in satisfying one side of the question you are making it very difficult for the other side to come along. If the discipline of the agricultural committee is to be abandoned—and here I should be grateful if the noble Earl who is to reply could tell us what is in the mind of the Government on this matter, because I have the feeling that there is more to it than the bare announcement we have already had—it will make it very difficult in estate management for the owner to have rigidly to enforce the terms of his lease or take his tenants to court. I very much hope it will never come to that.

As regards the fixing of farm rents I have not much to say, except to remind Her Majesty's Government that the 1957 costs of repairs are extremely high. If it ever comes to the question of increasing rents, as noble Lords will know, a year's notice has to be given by Michaelmas in any one year in order for that increase to take effect in the following year. But there is one small point—I do not know whether l can expect the noble Earl to reply to it; it is more a Treasury matter. Although in farming there are certain substantial rebates obtainable under the income tax laws, for which agriculture is extremely grateful, is there any way in which they could take effect a little more quickly? It takes such a very long time for maintenance claims and other claims to be passed through the Inland Revenue. If there were any way in which, for example, on January I or within a month you could claim straight away the rebates you will get in due course for the previous year, I believe it would be quite an encouragement to people to spend money, because by the time the benefit comes through you have forgotten what you spent the money on. Perhaps it is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but maybe the noble Earl would be kind enough to draw his attention to it.

The rural worker has just received another increase in wages, and I for one do not dissent at all. Provided it is possible to pay the money, I think the agricultural worker is as much entitled to the amenities of modern life as anyone else. It is plain that the actual scale of wage cannot be as high as the industrial rate, but in point of fact what is so often overlooked is that this is the basic rate and that in practice the actual wage packet taken home is a great deal more. The agricultural cottage in many cases is still rented at about 3s. a week, and I have noticed, as many of your Lordships have, quite a number of modern amenities in the countryside in the form of television masts and so on, and I am delighted to see them. In my own case we have carried through, just finished, a big scheme of modernisation of workers' cottages. Some are being held up because the South Wales Electricity Board will not bring the electricity, but the cottages are ready to receive it as soon as it comes. The young married woman, quite properly, is not going to take the old-fashioned agricultural cottage that looks extremely nice, with roses round the door and a thatched roof, but is extremely dark and insanitary inside, although of course beautifully kept by the occupant it means much harder work than when one has running water, nice appliances and all modern amenities.

With the hope of education, the younger people wish to receive these benefits, and that brings me to just one more point in connection with education. At last I think the teaching profession is beginning to come away from the point of view that to be an agricultural worker is not to be as good or as grand or as smart as the industrial worker, and the schools can do a great deal in that direction. If agriculture itself is provided with more up-to-date amenities I see no reason whatever why the younger people should not come into it. There are, happily, even in this mechanical age, a number of persons who do not want to work in a factory, who do not like the noise and the banging and the clanging but are much happier in rural surroundings. Good housing and good education are fundamental matters in connection with the agricultural industry.

May I just turn for one moment to another aspect of the policy of Her Majesty's Government, and refer once again to the Report which was debated in your Lordships' House, although I think this part was never mentioned the Report on Forestry, Agriculture and Marginal Land, in so far as it affects Wales. I quote it really as an instance of the success of the policy of the Government, which I hope they will be able to continue and to expand, because in central Wales they are faced with a difficult problem in regard to rural depopulation. It is a trend that we should like to see reversed if it is at all possible.

May I cite two or three small points to illustrate what I am saying? The rural development panel of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire carried out a survey of a selected 300,000 acres in Cardigan, Montgomery and Radnor. That area, in round figures, was broken up like this: under tillage, 17,000 acres permanent and temporary grass, 64,000 acres; rough grazings in sole occupation (that is, by the small farmer) 180,000 acres; common grazings, 15,000 acres; forests, woodlands, other non-agricultural areas and inland water, 22,000 acres. The population in 1951 was 10,646, which works out at a little more than one person to 30 acres, compared with 12,000 in 1931—a drop of about 13 per cent. That is quite a severe reduction in rural population. There were, on the other hand, 25,000 cattle and calves in 1953 compared with 22,700 in 1931, an increase of 10 per cent. or so, and there were other figures of that kind. An interesting point is that there were 358,000 sheep and lambs in 1953 compared with 305,000 in 1931.

That is an area where there is still vast potential development. The increase in knowledge of grasses and so on enables the stock of sheep and lambs to be almost trebled; the operation of the Hill Farming Act has been of considerable advantage, and in these directions, when we are losing land at the rate of 50,000 acres a year for building and other purposes, it is most important that these outlying parts of marginal land should be developed to the fullest possible extent. If I commend the attention of Her Majesty's Government—if they need it to be commended, which I do not think they do—to these areas, it is because I believe there is still a great field for development, with its bearing on the foreign exchange in the sense that the less we have to import in the way of foodstuffs the less foreign exchange we have to find.

Perhaps the noble Earl can say something on this, my last point, upon which I am not clear myself. To what extent will European free trade really affect the agricultural industry—and in that definition I include the word "forestry"? We are told that agriculture is to be excluded from European free trade, but I do not think that that exclusion applies to the timber industry. We are being encouraged in every possible way to replant our woodlands—by grant, by example and by encouragement from the Forestry Commission, who are extremely helpful; but if European free trade is really going to hurt the price of timber in this country, I fear that some of those efforts may be brought to naught. I ask for information on this point only because I do not really know myself. My Lords, on those points to which I have endeavoured to draw the attention of your Lordships, I await the reply of the Government.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I would intervene for only a few moments on the Amendment moved yesterday by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and I do so after hearing yesterday's debate, the appeal made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall (a very old friend and colleague of many of us), which moved me, and also because of a suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Salisbury. I think the noble Marquess was led to make that suggestion by a sort of feeling that we all want to get together; that we all realise we are facing a difficult situation, and yet it seems a little doubtful whether on either side we know just where we are going. Let me say about that particular suggestion, which, if I understood the noble Marquess aright—and I have reread his speech—was that in deciding on wages in industry, whether by arbitration, or conciliation, no one takes into account the general interests of the country, or even the particular interest of the consumer, that there is a certain amount of truth in that suggestion, but at the same time I should have thought that it was the duty of the independent arbitrator to pay some attention to those matters.

But I come to the particular remedy which the noble Marquess proposed, which was this: that because it is so important that the general interest, the general world situation, particularly the interests of this country as a whole, should be taken into account, all wage awards should be referred to a Minister, should have his imprimatur or his dissent, and should then be subject to debate in Parliament. I am bound to say that I could not possibly agree with that suggestion, and I am not sure that, on reflection, the noble Marquess would press it. Let us accept at the value he put upon it the failure of arbitration hoards to take the wider view. But is his proposal really the way out? As noble Lords opposite know, I have never taken an academic view on nationalisation. On the whole, I have thought that nationalisation was a bad policy for most industries because it eliminated competition; there was no yardstick of comparative efficiency to which one could work, and so on.

But I always felt one objection to nationalisation more than anything else: that in all industrial relations in what is still, next to America—I leave out Russia—the greatest industrial country in the world, it is tremendously important that the State, the Government. Parliament, should stand aloof from the day-to-day management and affairs of industry and should therefore be able, when it became necessary, to represent the common interest and speak for the nation as a whole. For that reason, I felt that nationalisation, leaving aside its economic merits or demerits, presented one great danger—namely, that the moment the State, in effect the Government, became the owner of a great basic industry and the employer in a great basic industry, then the Government themselves, by becoming the employer, became involved in every industrial dispute, became both employer and judge, and there was no sort of court of appeal outside it. In short, the Government abdicated their impartial and national function.

It was exactly to meet that danger that we all agreed (I think it was common ground between all three Parties) that, if we were to have nationalisation, we must remove an industry which was nationalised as far as possible from the individual control of a Minister, and must place it under some board which would be independent and would work in its labour relations in the same way as employers in ordinary industry would work, and that the Minister would come in only in the last resort. If that is right—and I still think it is—surely it cannot be a solution of our present difficulties to make the Minister himself not only the employer in the nationalised industry but also the dictator and arbiter in wages disputes in every industry; and there are not only wages disputes, for many disputes concern not only wages but details of employment within an industry. I believe that it cannot be right to refer all this to the Minister, to the intense embarrassment of the Minister himself—and, if I may respectfully agree with the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, this applies whichever Party is in office—and the almost equal embarrassment of the Opposition who, because they are an Opposition, have almost as a matter of course to take the opposite line.

I do not think therefore that the solution lies along those lines. At the same time I was impressed, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was—and as I believe all of us are, in Parliament or in the country—with what I said at the beginning was the feeling: that somehow or other we have to get together over these things "which belong unto our peace" and our salvation, and on which, if we go wrong, we may go wrong for all time. Yet it would seem we have nothing to bring us together. I am not quarrelling about what has been said by spokesmen for Her Majesty's Government. For my part I believe that a very great deal that has been said is absolutely right and that the economic situation is as serious as they say it is.

At the same time I can well see the pressure upon trade unions and trade union leaders who, after all, must have the interests of their clients at heart. So that, while we all have the feeling that we must get together, we seem somehow to be drifting further apart. Reasonable things are said by Her Majesty's Government on economic dangers, and on the other side there are wage claims, some of which merit careful consideration. But what is to bring us all together? It has been my experience that it is often difficult to get together about general principles, except perhaps at some international conference, where the only thing that ever comes out is some formula which means very little and is a kind of lowest common denominator on which everybody can agree. That will not be any good here. I believe that if we are really to come together we must have a concrete plan.

That leads me to this comment. A very old friend of us all, a colleague of many of us in the National Government under Sir Winston Churchill, and of others of us in the Conservative Government which Sir Winston headed, Lord Chandos (Mr. Oliver Lyttelton as he then was), who, apart from the few—too few—years during which he was a Minister, has been all his life a very able industrialist, has made a concrete suggestion. That is that throughout industry there might be an annual offer of a 2½ per cent. increase in wages, with a condition with which I believe most people on both sides of the House would sympathise, and which many practise; that there should be a longer term of notice, or security of tenure, for those who have been longer in the business. I believe that that is very important, because although security of tenure may not mean much when there is over-employment and a man can get work anywhere, that position may not go on for ever. I believe that security of tenure is more important in industry than it is in farming, but that aspect was almost a sideline of the noble Lord's proposal. The main proposal asked, in effect, could we not agree that, with this so-called "standstill," we could go forward together, in a combined effort, without further wage claims on either side, except for minor adjustments, for, say, five years, and this links up with the idea of Her Majesty's Government that increases in wages should be compensated by increased production.

After all, as the Lord Privy Seal said in a debate in another place, we have lately shown a remarkable increase in output, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that, taking industry broad and large (though some industries will not do it), this 2½ per cent. increase ought to be on an average, year by year, a not unreasonable increase in productivity to assume. In return for that increase in productivity every workman in industry would know that he was guaranteed that, year by year, there would be a 2½ per cent. increase on his basic wage or earnings. I do not think that is unreasonable.

I would not ask your Lordships to commit yourselves to that unconditionally without further consideration, but I do want to put this thought to the House to-day. Neither side has concrete proposals to put forward. It is much easier to meet over a concrete proposal. Could not that suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, be taken as a basis on which both sides—though I do not like that expression "both sides"; all who are interested in this: Her Majesty's Government, the Opposition, employers and trade unions—can come together for discussion as to whether out of that proposal, could not come some result so that, instead of drifting wider apart, we might get together and see whether we cannot find, starting with that idea as a basis for discussion, something on which we can go forward, to the mutual advantage of everybody in industry and to the great benefit of this country and the world?