§ 2.42 p.m.
§ EARL FERRERS rose to call attention to the position of agriculture; and to move for Papers. My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I hope that your Lordships will consider this a suitable time for us to have a discussion on agriculture. A great deal of hard thinking has been going on, and has been given to this industry, over the past few months, and it seems reasonable that your Lordships should have the opportunity to express your views on the industry in general. One cannot help reflecting at the outset that during this harvest farmers have suffered what must have been some of the worst conditions they could ever have suffered, and although the weather at the present time is helping them to catch up, a number of farmers will not get on top of their work until the end of the year. The fact that farmers have succeeded in getting in so much of the harvest in so effective a manner is a tribute to the tireless efforts they exert and the degree to which farming is mechanised.
§ Despite, or because of, the vagaries of the weather, and of politicians, we have the most highly mechanised agriculture industry in the world and we have built up to this position over the last fifteen to twenty years. One has the right to ask what the future holds for us. In what way is British agriculture to fit into plans for the future? We have moved from a position of food scarcity in the Western World to one of relative food surplus. During all this time the minds and ingenuities of politicians, economists and others have been devoted to trying to find a system whereby British agriculture can progress and flourish, and modernise itself to provide some of our food requirements and help our balance of payments, while at the same time it has to provide a reasonable return for farmers and farm workers, produce relatively cheap food and not be an excessive drain on the Exchequer. The fact that it has been possible to achieve a reconciliation of these almost 591 diametrically opposed demands is an astonishing tribute to all those who have been involved in the transition. Of course the shoe has pinched in various places, but overall these demands have been reconciled well. The task is not over; it is evolving all the time. One wonders which way it will evolve in future.
Since we last met, we have had the publication of the National Plan. In the pages dealing with agriculture it says that agriculture's main contribution will be of two kinds. First,
…it will help through increased production to meet the growth in demand.
That is not a staggering declaration of intent. No one can complain that the Government are there sticking out their neck. Then it says that:
by improving its labour productivity more rapidly than the increase in producton, Agriculture will continue to release substantial manpower resources and so help in closing the manpower gap expected during the Plan Period".
That, I should have thought, with the greatest respect, is a thoroughly negative purpose to give to agriculture. I cannot see anyone waxing lyrical over it and feeling that at last we have the guiding light by which to work. While it should be the result of an efficient agriculture it is hardly the purpose. It seems to me a target which is likely to commend itself neither to farmers nor to farm workers. I should have preferred another objective which is that we should
maintain an efficient competitive home agriculture, making its own contribution to the balance of payments and giving a fair return".
That seems to me a far more positive objective, although I readily admit that it is no less difficult to attain. Those words were, in fact, written in a pamphlet called Putting Britain Right Ahead. I am sure that your Lordships will absolve me from Party political bias if I say, merely in passing, that the pamphet is published by the Conservative Central Office.
§ My Lords, the fitting of agriculture into any national economy of the West always seems to pose tremendous problems, and it has recently become a thorn in the flesh of politicians of nearly every civilised Western country. The reasons, of course, are many, but it is a salutary thought that 10 to 15 per cent. of the 592 world is undernourished, and that even the large gains in food production which have taken place in the underdeveloped countries of the world during the last ten years—and which have been due to the vast improvements in their agriculture—have been virtually swallowed up by the increase in world population.
§ The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimate that over the next 35 years food supplies in the developing countries will have to be increased four-fold if the people are to enjoy, not a lavish diet, but an adequate one. When, on top of that, one realises that the world population is likely to rise from under 3,000 million in 1960 to over 6,000 million in the year 2000, which is only 35 years on, two things become apparent. First, there is likely to be a massive shortage of food, even at the present rate of growth; and secondly, if the standard of living rises in the underdeveloped countries—as everyone hopes and intends that it shall—to such an extent that they can become purchasers of food, not only will the surplus of food enjoyed by the West rapidly disappear, but its cost will go soaring up. I mention this point because I think that, in considering the future of our own agriculture, it is vital to look at it against a world background, and to remember that what to us may seem a world surplus is, in fact, a facet of a world shortage.
We in this country produce about one-half of the food which we require, and the other half is imported at a cost of about £1,500 million. It is likely that in the foreseeable future the population of this country will rise, and so also will the standard of living; so that, on both these counts, consumption of food is likely to rise. It is commonly stated that British agriculture can expect a fair share of any increase in the market, but of course the National Plan does not go so far as that. It refers to a "Selective expansion programme" which is neither so generous nor too clear. If we look to the Minister of Agriculture for clarification, we find the issue even more clouded, for he has recently been to Australia where he was reported as saying that
a big proportion of the increase in British food requirements … would have to be imported.
When he returned home and found that the British farmers were worried by what
he had said, he stated that British farmers would be able to supply
the major part of this increase in demand.
My Lords, one cannot have it both ways, but I am prepared to be generous to the Minister on this occasion and assume that he has been misreported. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will tell us exactly what the Minister did mean.
§ It so happens that the Conservative Party, in parallel, but not in conjunction, with the Government, have lately been doing a lot of rethinking about agriculture. We feel that the systems which have been adopted in the past, and which have been so successful, should now be modified to fit more adequately the requirements of the future. We consider that the method of support for agriculture should gradually shift from the deficiency-payments system to one of import control by levies. The advantage of this system is, of course, that it dispenses with the liability on the part of the Government to produce large sums of money—sums of money that cannot be accurately assessed in advance but are known only after the payment has been made. It enables the farmer to try to compete with imported foods in order to gain for himself a larger share of the existing market, without the risk of running up higher subsidies and a higher Exchequer liability. I stress the words "existing market", for in all the words written about agriculture in the Uational Plan, not one suggests that it is the Government's intention that the British farmer should capture a larger share of the existing market. The Government have been very cagey about the expansion which agriculture is going to enjoy, but all that they have said and written goes to show that, if expansion there be, then it is to be on the increased market and not on the existing one.
§ For some commodities, at least, I do not believe that that is good enough. I do not believe that it is good enough to rely on the natural expansion due to a rising population. I believe that we must put ourselves in a better position to provide at least for some higher degree of production to come from our home agriculture, in the interests both of British agriculture and of our balance of payments. That is what our policy is designed to do. Of course, it is said 594 that the disadvantage of it is that it will increase the cost of living. But this danger can be greatly exaggerated, as indeed, if I may say so, it was by the Minister himself over the last weekend, when he unleashed an extraordinary attack on our policy. He said that it was designed to soak one section of the community and leave another high and dry and that we would end up by having a vastly increased bill to pay for it. My Lords, really this is an exaggeration. If one took the full effect of the elimination of the whole of the £175 million of deficiency payments allowed for in this year's Estimates, it would add for home-produced food between 3 and 4 per cent. to the total of retail prices in the country, and if this process were to be spread over eight years it would amount to an increase of a half of 1 per cent. per annum in the cost of food, which is not great.
§ Of course, we do not suggest that this change in the system of support should be carried out overnight. Where satisfactory arrangements can be made, we believe that there should be a gradual phasing-out of deficiency payments and that these should be replaced by a managed market, which will include levies on imports. These levies would be introduced in stages, and as the levy on any commodity began to take effect so the market price would rise and the size of the deficiency payment would be automatically reduced. This process would continue until the need for the deficiency payment on a particular commodity had been eliminated. Cereal crops would be an obvious candidate for this new system, and we believe that dairy products and meat should be considered at an early stage as well. We should also like to see the application of this principle to other commodities discussed with those principally concerned. This, of course, will mean a shift—a shift in the emphasis of support, and one which we feel will benefit the farmers and the nation alike.
§ The National Plan lays great stress on the value of increasing our beef production. Everyone recognises that the weak link in the chain of beef production is the production of calves, and the National Plan indicates that these will be forthcoming from the dairy herd. But if the dairy herd is to supply us with all the calves we require, we shall find that 595 we have a greatly increased production of milk, and I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Champion, could explain, if these are to come from the dairy herd, what precisely will be done with the excess milk which is left after the demand for liquid consumption has been met.
§ In agriculture, as in most other businesses, new ways must be found of reducing the cost of producing various commodities. Vast strides have been made over the past fifteen years and this is well recognised, but one is entitled to ask: Where have these strides come from? From within agriculture or from outside it? From those engaged in farming or from others? While farmers are to be congratulated most heartily on changing their methods out of all recognition over the last two decades, many of the advances have come from outside the industry, from those not directly farming themselves. They have come from the scientists, who have perfected selective sprays to assist in weed and pest control—though I readily admit that the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, considers that this is merely an advance towards the grave; from the plant breeders, who have bred higher-yielding and more disease-resistant varieties; from the geneticists, who have perfected the hybridisation of poultry, which has caused a revolution in the productive capacity of all poultry and the principle of which is being extended to sheep and pigs and later will be extended to cattle; from the agricultural engineers, who have designed vast and efficient machines, to say nothing of tractors, which make the implements of ten years ago look like the base material for an Emmet cartoon; and from the agricultural economists, who have tried—and have succeeded—to convince farmers that farming is not just an art, but a science and a business as well.
§ For far too long there has been a rift between the farmer and the agricultural economist. The farmer has always complained that the economist works things out in an office and has no idea of the problems that confront the farmer on the land. The economist, on the other hand, complains that the farmer is so stuck with his head in the soil that he will not look up to see the facts which are staring him 596 in the face. This rift is gradually narrowing, but it is a slow and lengthy process.
§ I believe that there is an enormous scope for the use of economists in future on farms in a really practical capacity—namely, in the planning of farms as businesses. In fact, I have just had a firm of farm planning experts on my farm to go through the whole thing to see whether it is possible to make better use of the resources which are available. To do this they invoked the use of a computer and I was not a little fascinated to see what the computer would say in my case. I was, however, highly agitated when I was told that my farm had been "fed" (I think that is the expression they used) into the machine and that after four minutes "no solution was obtained and calculations ceased". The problem then had to be taken to London, where it was fed into a much bigger machine, and this was more successful. It churned out—"emitted"—46 pages of figures and calculations which, like some top secret War Office document, then had to be "decoded". The irony of the whole thing is that the computer which boggled at my farm was the one that Mr. George Brown used for his calculations for the National Plan. I will leave it to your Lordships to determine whether the National Plan is a relatively simple document or whether the efficient planning of a farm as a business is a much more complex procedure than might appear on the surface.
§ All these people whom I have mentioned—breeders, engineers, economists and so forth—who have enabled agriculture to progress, have virtually come from the outside. What have farmers done? Indeed, what can they do? They can merely take advantage of the findings of these people. And this they have done to a remarkable degree. But if there is a reluctance to accept change, of course, the fault does not lie entirely with the farmer. Public opinion backs him only too readily, because it is reluctant to accept and adopt new methods. The people who jostle in Trafalgar Square complaining about the intensive rearing of animals are the very ones who enjoy the cheap poultry, eggs and beef which these methods produce. The people who complain about the high cost of agriculture to the taxpayer are the very people who cry, "Desecration!" when hedges and ditches are removed in order to make fields more economic to 597 run. The people who complain that farmers need to be more businesslike in their work are the very people who yearn to go for their holidays to a nice quiet little farm and who murmur whimsically to the farmer, who is racked with worry because his farm is too small to support him, "What a wonderful way of life!"
§ Changes there have been, of course, and many of them. But these have mostly been restricted to the use of larger machines, sprays and so on. The changes of the future must be of a far more radical nature and will consequently be, I suggest, less palatable to accept. Two figures stand out to my mind remarkably. One is that in 1945 78 per cent. of our holdings were under 100 acres. This year the number has dropped by 1 per cent. to 77 per cent. The other figure is that the Milk Marketing Board revealed last week that two-thirds of the milk producers in England and Wales had a gross agricultural output of less than £5,000. This does not, to my mind, make sense, if we are to have a competitive and progressive agriculture. It is commonly said—and rightly so—that agriculture is flourishing. It is a sad, but true, reflection, however, that while agriculture can flourish, farmers can perish; and that is precisely what is happening, and is precisely what farmers are complaining about.
§ What can be done about it? To a large extent, the answer must surely lie in the fact that units will inevitably get bigger. This the Government have realised by the introduction of their White Paper on The Structure of Agriculture. How successful this will be, and, indeed, how popular it will be, remains to be seen. What I would question, though, is whether the size of the carrot which the White Paper contains is sufficiently large to achieve the intended effect. So far, the appearances would be that it is not.
§ My Lords, units must get bigger, whether the unit be a field, a herd or a holding. Here I would say plainly that there is no virtue in being big just for the sake of being big. The only virtue is if it enables you to achieve the desired end better, more cheaply, or more efficiently than if you were small. This it does not always necessarily do. Equally, there is no virtue in itself in being a 598 small farmer, unless you can offer something that the big farmer cannot. Frequently, however, that is possible; and this fact should be recognised. Where this is so, the small farmer will continue; and where it is not so, circumstances are likely to encourage him to join up in some form or shape with someone else. And this, to my mind, will not be restricted to farms of under 100 acres. The time is fast approaching when farmers will see real advantages in throwing in their lot together by large-scale co-operation—not just of buying groups and machinery syndicates, but of selling groups and co-operative production; and this means co-operative planning and co-operative management.
§ Much has been said in the past to encourage co-operation in the use of machinery. This, so far as it goes, is perfectly all right. But if there are advantages to be gained from co-operation in machinery, where you have all the complications and difficulties of personalities, and everyone wanting the machine at the same time, how much more can be achieved by co-operation in management? This applies not only to the 100 acre farmer, but to the 200, 300 and even the 400 acre farmer, as well. Of course, one meets a vigorous sales resistance to this idea, and for one reason. Everyone likes to be the master of his own show, and that is entirely understandable. Everyone values his independence very highly. But, my Lords, independence is becoming a very expensive commodity. In an era where machines must get bigger, more complex and more expensive, it is only the bigger unit that will justify their use to the full.
§ It is said that this will result in the art of farming being lost. But this is not so—or it should not be so. For the man who is an artist with the soil or the animal must still—and even more so—be required, but he will be able to disseminate his art over a larger unit than before, leaving the business side to those more qualified to do it. In fact, the larger the unit, the more vital it is to have highly skilled people to run the practical side, for the effect of their ability, or inability, will be far greater.
§ Then, my Lords, we seem to consider it the sole duty of British agriculture to fill some of the needs of the nation. 599 The new Conservative Plan, which I referred to earlier, envisages that this proportion will grow: and this is the great difference between our two sides. But I was sorry that, so far as I could see, not one mention was made in the National Plan of the development of the export of agricultural produce. It is true that some barley and some cattle are exported, but the time is ripe, in my opinion, for a dead-set determination to be made to export much more of our goods; and I am thinking, in addition, of commodities such as poultry, in which we are virtually self-sufficient. When the market is saturated with our home-produced products, the price rapidly falls and the return to the producer slumps, whereas if it were possible to build up an export market, it would enable yet further expansion for producers. But who would do it? That is the point.
§ At the moment, it is done by the middleman—the man who has purchased from the farmer—when conditions indicate that the export market is better than the home market. There is no body whose sole purpose is to sell agricultural products abroad. It is certainly not the business of the N.F.U., and one cannot expect the middleman to carry it out for the benefit of the agricultural industry. I believe that there should be a Marketing Council (call it what you will) set up whose sole job would be to stimulate demand and to sell British agricultural products both at home and abroad. But I would say straight away that it would be far better were that body to emanate from within the industry than were it to be set up by the Government.
§ I was fortunate enough, during the Recess, to go on a Parliamentary delegation to Singapore, and on the way we stopped at Bahrein. I spoke to one of the officers in the R.A.F. there, and he told me that they had to live on tough Australian meat at 9s. per lb., Polish eggs and Danish chickens. They longed to have British food, but could not obtain it. In this case it may have been the fault of the procurement arrangements for our troops in the Middle East. But it is a pity if British producers want to produce more, and people in other countries want to buy our products, that some method cannot be devised of marrying the two requirements together. Agriculture 600 must be the only industry that puts its money into plant and equipment without, except for certain commodities, knowing who is going to buy the product and having no co-ordinated body to promote the sales.
§ My Lords, I believe that there can be a big future for British agriculture—far in excess of that which is generally contemplated—provided that we are prepared to change our thinking; and change it possibly, also, far in excess of that which is generally contemplated. We need to capture new and expanding markets not restricted to our shores. We need to have larger units and far greater co-operation between them. We need to use all the researches and devices brought into agriculture from the outside. We need to have a progressive policy to give the farmer confidence in the future and to stimulate his energies. We shall have to leave to the picture books the sight of the cosy little thatched farm, with a cart in the yard and half a dozen cows grazing peacefully in a field of buttercups. Nobody will regret the passing of that picture more than I.
§ It can be said that this agricultural revolution with which we are faced is likely to breed a race of rural technicians. What it is unlikely to do—and this may be sad—is to foster a new peasantry or a new yeomanry. But if we do not accept this challenge, we shall find ourselves, like Canute, sitting on the beach and trying to repel the tide of modern economic advance. Either we can wait to get our feet wet, or we can move to higher, drier, and more fertile ground. If we adopt the latter course, this can be done in two ways. The industry can organise itself so that it can make the best use of all the opportunities that are open to it. And the Government, whichever Party composes it, can so set the conditions that the opportunities for the industry to expand and flourish are as large as possible. I hope that some of the conditions which I have outlined this afternoon will commend themselves to your Lordships as being likely to give agriculture and the nation the opportunities they require. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, it falls to my lot this afternoon to be the second speaker on the list of speakers. It will not be my lot to answer at all on behalf of the 601 Government—that will be left to my noble friend on the Front Bench at the end of the discussion. I want, first of all, to say to the noble Earl who started this discussion how much we enjoyed his speech. It was an excellent speech, full of "meat", and I am certain that it was enjoyed on both sides of the House. I am glad also that he has opened for the Opposition this afternoon. He follows colleagues on his side who have dealt with agriculture with knowledge, fairness, ability and distinction in the past. I have never known any bitterness or ill-feeling to creep into our agricultural debates or into consideration of Bills which have been discussed between us, whether they were good or useless, to promote agricultural prosperity and welfare.
I am sure we shall have the same friendly relationships with the noble Earl. He farms himself and, by reason of his interest in the industry, whatever the computers may say, he will use his practical knowledge with some force—as he has done this afternoon—and liveliness to keep the Government alert in considering the difficulties of agriculture now and in the future. In your Lordships' House we tend sometimes to be too subdued and quiescent, and a little liveliness in debate may not be a bad thing. The noble Earl's predecessors won the respect of both sides, and I am sure the noble Earl will on many occasions, as he has this afternoon, give us an example of his forthrightness which will meet with an equal share of our respect and appreciation.
The noble Earl thought that the moment was appropriate for a further discussion on agriculture. I cannot agree with that, because I think the staging of this debate may have been somewhat ill-timed. To-day the scope of our discussion is obviously limited, and it would have been better, perhaps, for it to have been postponed until after the Queen's Speech on November 9. We can air our grievances or congratulations, say what we think of the last Price Review (which really is stale news), and make our suggestions to put right the future of the industry and to make it really prosperous. But in all this, at this particular moment, we should be beating the air. We might as well not waste our breath, because whatever we say on October 27 will have no effect whatever upon the Government's reference to agriculture on 602 November 9. In any case, whatever happens after that, I hope that there will be no more futile, illiterate and illegal poster campaigns by the N.F.U.
I have taken my part in agricultural debates in both Houses for the last twenty years, I cannot say with what impact, if any, upon policies which were initiated in that time. I have pleaded for agricultural prosperity, and still continue to do so. As long ago as just after the General Strike of 1926, I was one of the few colleagues with agricultural experience under the guidance of the late Lord Addison—and I could name others—who produced the Labour Party's Farming Policy Statement upon which the 1929 General Election was contested. Some of our conclusions then might well be followed even now: the industry might be in better heart if they were. We have passed through the subsidy, grants and quota years in agriculture. We have dealt with it in bits and pieces, adding a few shillings here and taking them off some other commodity then or in a later Review, and as usual the taxpayer has paid the bill. This method may have suited conditions as we found them, but really we were playing with a national industry of repute and a great and loyal farming community anxious for the rewards of producing our food. If such a policy is considered by the present Government to be the best for future years, then let it bring its talents to bear and evolve schemes of longer periods and more stability. Farming activities can then be planned accordingly.
Farming has had a lean and difficult harvest. It is experiencing lower prices for its products; it has no powers to fix those prices; it has ever-increasing costs, heavier liabilities to the banks, finance companies, corn and implement merchants, and is still labouring under outmoded and unstable marketing. When prices drop without rhyme or reason and costs rise—and they continue to rise—working capital is depleted and production and enthusiasm diminishes. That is bad economics and disadvantageous to national interests. A prosperous agriculture means a hgih-spending rural community. Money thus spent finds its way into the cities and industrial areas and circulates to the national advantage. The farmers appear to be fair game for 603 hundreds of car-travelling agents all trying to sell agricultural commodities, manures, medicines and implements which seem to fall into three categories, good, bad or too expensive.
Speaking of price, here is work which I hope the Government will seriously consider undertaking. The present price for cereals must be under the cost of production, irrespective of a wet harvest, and there would be nothing in corn production if the subsidy disappeared overnight. As a matter of interest, the present price for corn is lower than it was ten years ago. The price in 1954 was £25 a ton with a £10 subsidy. Conditions are not so favourable at the present time. The margin between cost and price for sugar beet is by no means attractive, and the fluctuation of prices, particularly in respect of pigs, in the stock markets must be tackled. The whole system of marketing in agriculture is too erratic. I can remember—and so can other noble Lords who were farming at the time—that the erstwhile Ministry of Food was the best and surest customer I ever had. I hope the Government will take the hint.
In addition to the commodities I have mentioned, there is at the moment unrest among milk producers who, I understand, are due to suffer, on balance, a drop of 2d. per gallon by the withholding of the 1d. increase and 1d. decrease on last year's price. There may be production over the standard quantity, but—and this was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers—if we want increases in calf births and rearing it would be folly to reduce the number of cows in milk. There will be a rising demand for beef calves and cattle.
I have never been an advocate of limitation of production in British agriculture, or of industrial output. Millions overseas are at starvation level, and our surpluses, if any, could be put to good use. As a countryman, it grieves me to see preference being given in our provision shops—and I have mentioned this before—to Dutch tomatoes, Danish bacon, broilers and butter, foreign meat, whether canned or chilled, American lard and other commodities, when British products are first-class and have been grown on British soil and produced by British labour. Danish bacon vans are a daily sight on the roads of pig-producing and 604 bacon-curing East Anglia, and, through a certain local factory development, are likely to become even more familiar. I passed one of these vans this morning, on my way to Norwich station, and I did not like the look of it. While this is happening, British bacon factories are being operated below their maximum output; or even closing down. I wish that the British housewife would realise her duty to purchase a British commodity which is equal in price and quality and suffers only through lack of advertising and adroit salesmanship. Our producers can supply all her needs, and her husband receives British money for his labours.
The Government, by the measures they can take, have a golden opportunity to counteract the doubts and fears which now agitate the agricultural industry. These are not new, or appertaining only to present conditions. In 1958 I moved a similar Motion in your Lordships' House from the seat I used to occupy on the opposite side of the House, and according to a Press report which appeared in the Manchester Guardian the next day I was reported to have said:Agriculture seems to have passed its postwar peak of prosperity, but responsibility for this does not lie with the farmers or farm workers. Their efforts in recent years have been magnificent.That applies to-day as it did then.Their production rate is well known, but those engaged in the industry are not masters of their own fate—that is in the hands of the Government. The last two harvests have been unsatisfactory, crop yields have generally been low and costs of production and harvesting have probably reached the highest level ever; but prices received under prevailing marketing systems have not been commensurate with production costs.That undoubtedly applies to-day, and I hope that, with the advent of new thinking by the Government in regard to agriculture, we shall be able to do what agriculture desires of us and what agriculture is entitled to.
§ 3.25 p.m.
My Lords, we do not often talk about agriculture at this time of year. I do not know whether that is supposed to be because the Long Recess was originally for your Lordships all to be working on the harvest, or whether it is merely because another debate had to be cancelled and the general feeling was, "Let us give the old farmers a chance": 605 something to lower the temperature between murder yesterday and homosexuality to-morrow. As I say, I do not know which it is, but I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wise, in saying that this is not a suitable moment to talk about it. In fact I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for having got the old farmers put in to-day, because there has been a lot of new thinking on this matter both in the Conservative Party and in the Labour Party.
Although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wise, that our scope is a little limited to-day, because we do not yet know what will be in the Queen's speech—and, even more important, perhaps, we do not know what will be in the Price Review next February and March—we have heard a good deal from both the Conservatives and the Government as to the way their minds are thinking in this matter. I may say, however, that I agree most heartily with the noble Lord in his strictures on the N.F.U. poster board campaign. I felt that it was not worthy of the agricultural community.
The Conservative thinking on agriculture is a complete change, and to me, a very surprising change. I seem to remember that some years ago—I think it must have been about 1959—when Liberal thinking was turning in this direction, one of the noble Earl's right honourable friends (I rather think it was Mr. Maudling) disagreed with us most profoundly for thinking that perhaps we should switch from the present system of subsidies towards the Continental type of import levies and a managed domestic market. The Conservative Party are now thinking along these same lines and, as the noble Earl pointed out, the Minister of Agriculture has attacked them very strongly for it.
He has attacked them on the ground that the consumer will be soaked to relieve the taxpayer. I do not myself really believe this, and I doubt whether it is still useful to think of consumers being supported by taxpayers when they are really the same people. Nor do I think it unreasonable nowadays to suggest that possibly consumers should pay a more realistic price for the stuff they get. I think there is a growing body of opinion everywhere that inclines towards the feeling that we must try to enable the farmer to get a rather larger amount of 606 his return from the market. This is not only because it brings us into line with Europe—and that, of course, is something which is very near to the hearts of us on this Bench—but also because, in the long run, it is more likely to help us to solve the key problem of British agriculture; namely, the relation of homegrown produce to imports of food from temperate climates.
I would accept the noble Earl's suggestion that it probably would not make much more difference than about 0.5 per cent. per annum increase on the price the consumer had to pay, but where I am not happy about Conservative thinking is that I feel that at heart the Conservative Party are not sufficiently expansionist in their attitude to agriculture. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, talked about trying to export agricultural products from this country, and about getting more of the present market, as well as of the future market. Nevertheless, I feel happier with regard to the good intentions of the Labour Party in this respect than I do with the intentions of the Conservative Party. It seems to me that if one is going to switch over from the existing subsidy system to the other kind of system—that is to say, import levies and a managed market—one must be expansionist, because if not the change of system will not work.
What about the Government's policies. There has been a spate of new thinking from the Government within the last few months. It is all within the existing framework, and within the existing framework I think I welcome it. First of all, I welcome what I take to be a genuine commitment to expansion. I say I take it to be genuine because this is far from clear at first sight. In fact the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said it was neither lavish nor clear. I do not think it is clear. If we look on the one hand at the N.F.U. proposals, we see they suggest that we need expansion of the order of £300 million, or whatever it is, a year by 1970, and the Government suggest £200 million.
One might suppose there was a very considerable difference between those figures. The Government are in fact making proposals which are roughly in line with the increase needed to go with rising population in this country and a population which is going to be slightly 607 richer, and it is of the order of 1⅓ per cent. The noble Earl suggested that this was not enough, and indeed agriculture has over the last few years increased by something of the order of 3 per cent. But it seems to me that it is possible that the Government's figure is nearer to the N.F.U. figure than is at first sight apparent, because to this figure of £200 million which the Government suggest we have also to add the increase in home-grown animal feedingstuffs, which is quite considerable, and also have to look again at their milk figure. This is technical and I am not sure I really understand it. But it looks as if the Government's milk produce figures are based on import prices, and if you took our own farm-gate prices you would get a very much bigger figure. When I say I am not quite sure in congratulating the Government on their commitment to expansionist policies, I say this because I am not absolutely sure that it is all that expanionist, but I am giving them the benefit of the doubt and I think it is. I think, similarly, that in spite of noises being made by the N.F.U., they are more happy than they appear to be—for this reason, that it looks as if the Government's figures are more nearly in line with their own than at first appears.
These proposals for expansion are very selective. Indeed, they must be if they are going to do those two essential things the Government suggest in their White Paper—namely, to reduce the bill for imports and try to release labour which is badly needed elsewhere. The noble Earl suggested that these two central points of desirability were perhaps rather negative. I do not think so. I think it seems to be a fairly positive objective and a fairly wide one. But whether it is going to be successful or not really depends on what is going to happen in the next Price Review. If the Price Review figures that come next spring are wrong, then all the specific proposals the Government have made—and they have made many good proposals—arc going to be of very little use. On the Price Review depends the balance we strike between home-grown produce and imports. So until we know what the Government are going to agree to in their Price Review figures next spring it is very difficult to say very much. Here I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wise, that we are 608 limited in our debate. At any rate within the framework of the existing agricultural set-up I think I have confidence in the Minister of Agriculture and that he is full of lively ideas.
As to these specific proposals, I very much welcome first of all the Meat and Livestock Commission and Home Grown Cereals Authority. These are bodies we have been talking about from these Benches for years now. I am also glad that the Farm Improvement Scheme is going to continue, and that for hill farms something will take the place of the old Livestock Rearing Acts. I am not quite so enthusiastic about the Minister's proposals for small farms. These embrace, one might say, three things—the small farm scheme itself. This new scheme takes in another 40,000 farms. There is also the retirement question for small farmers and, lastly, help with amalgamation and co-operation.
I know that the whole question—structure as this problem is called—is a very difficult one. I think it is not so difficult in this country as everywhere else in Europe, but nevertheless it is difficult. But I am inclined to think it is sorting itself out by the ordinary process of the market. It has certainly taken longer than any of us would have thought fifteen years ago, and it may be that these new ideas will help it to go rather faster without at the same time doing any damage to the individuals who are squeezed out. I am not altogether enthusiastic about these proposals, because I suspect they will not do very much more than what is happening by natural process anyway.
Again I do not think the Minister of Housing has been as helpful about farm cottages as he might have been. And I am not sure about the new proposals for credit. So far as long-term credit is concerned, I should like to see someone give the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation a bit of a jerk. I think they are slow, cumbrous and very expensive. I cannot help feeling it is no good having a body like the A.M.C. unless it does better than it is doing now. So far as short-term credit is concerned, I cannot see why it cannot be done through the banks by giving greater scope to the banks for loans, greater flexibility; I think it could be done in this way. This matter of credit is fairly important because capital is increasingly needed in any agricultural 609 operation. Over the last fifteen years we have seen that very much more capital has had to go into the industry merely to maintain the level of real income we already have, and while this has been going on farm incomes have been slipping fairly steadily. Also, the capital available will be indirectly hit by things like the capital gains tax and in a smaller way by the new development levy, but most of all it is affected by confidence, and if there is neither confidence nor money in agriculture you are not going to get any capital. So here again we are very much dependent on what the Minister is going to do so far as the Price Review is concerned.
However, so far as I see it, the position of agriculture seems to me to be one of reasonable promise. I should like to see the Government turning a little towards more realistic prices to the consumer, but within the existing system I think that their proposals show they recognise the valuable contribution agriculture can make to the balance-of-payments problem, which is the main problem, not only so far as agriculture is concerned but so far as this country is concerned, and that the Government mean to make it possible for this to be done without straining other resources to the extent of defeating the object.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, this may or may not be a good time to discuss agriculture but, however that may be, the Motion on the Order Paper was put down for to-day at short notice, and a number of my noble friends who live in Scotland and who are not attracted either by murder or by homosexuality, but who would have liked to speak in this debate, have been unable to change their plans in time and to attend the House to-day. Therefore I should like to say a few words, from a purely Scottish angle, about the Government's recent White Paper on The Development of Agriculture. This White Paper was published in August, after Parliament had risen, and although some parts of it had been announced previously by the Government, other parts of it had not, and the question of what is going to be done is causing a good deal of interest in Scotland. In the last paragraph, paragraph 49, which foreshadows early legislation, the White Paper states: 610It is, however, now the Government's intention to invite immediately the organisations concerned to let them have their views, and to enter into formal consultations. For this reason the schemes outlined in this White Paper must be regarded as proposals only and open to amendment in the light of these consultations.I think that is an excellent principle. I hope that the Government mean what they say, and that they will listen most carefully to the representations which are made to them in the hope of avoiding mistakes in advance.
I think that there will be a general welcome in Scotland for the first fifteen paragraphs of the White Paper, which aim at improving the farm structure by giving grants for amalgamations and "golden handshakes" to occupiers who wish to relinquish uneconomic farms for the purpose of amalgamation. I hope that the Government will not think that this scheme has failed if they find that in Scotland a good many uneconomic farmers continue their uneconomic farming, until the time when they had in any case intended to retire and then accept a golden handshake as well. After all, that will prevent the perpetuation of these uneconomic farms.
There is one obvious extension which ought to be made to the proposals on this subject contained in this White Paper. In paragraph 12 it is proposed that the Government may acquire farms which are suitable for amalgamation before the opportunity to amalgamate them has actually arisen, and that the Government should then make arrangements to let the land for an agricultural purpose. They propose to secure possession within a reasonable time when an opportunity for amalgamation presents itself. I do not know whether it is the Government's intention—I think it must be, but it ought to be made clear—that this also should be made possible for the private owner of land. We do not want to do anything to diminish the existing security rights under the Agriculture Acts, but if an uneconomic farm suitable for amalgamation should fall in, then clearly, I think, if the opportunity for effecting the amalgamation has not yet arisen, the Agriculture Acts should be amended so as to enable an owner to let this farm temporarily, on the understanding that he can regain possession when the opportunity for amalgamation arises—in other 611 words, that he should be in the same position in this matter as the Government. If that is not done, then, clearly, amalgamation will proceed much more slowly.
We all understand the reasons why these amalgamations are desirable—they have been described already by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. There are a great many small farmers who, as a result of the great and rapid rise in wage standards, even with unpaid labour from their families, cannot earn as much as the lowest-paid agricultural worker unless their farm is producing some specialised product, which of course cannot be universally the case. But I must confess that I hate to see small farms disappearing: I think it is a sad thing. There are two ways in which to preserve some small farms which would otherwise disappear. One is by finding ancillary employment, either sylvicultural or industrial, for the small farmer, and the other is by greater co-operation. The Danes have set good example of co-operation among small farmers which we, both in England and in Scotland, have been slow to follow. We did little about it.
I think that there will be general agreement in principle about the Government's proposals towards the end of this White Paper, in paragraphs 30 to 40, concerning the giving of grants and help to encourage management, buildings and other features of farm co-operation. But here again there is one extension of these proposals which I should like to put to the Government. I think that these measures to help agricultural co-operation schemes should equally extend to small forestry co-operation schemes. This White Paper says a good deal about the need for reconciling agriculture and forestry, and I think it is just as important to rural development that small owners should be encouraged to do more in the way of co-operating with each other in order to make it worthwhile to do more planting. I would add this: that the forestry societies—the Scottish Woodland Owners' Association and others in Scotland—are a little concerned that forestry has apparently been given such a secondary place in this White Paper. I think it ought to come into the proposals for co-operation.
Finally, there are the middle paragraphs, paragraphs 20 to 26, about 612 regional development boards. I do not want to be unduly critical. I dare say there may be some case for having boards of the kind which are here described in Wales or in some parts of Northern England—I do not know; but in Scotland I think it is generally agreed that regional development boards such as are described in these paragraphs of the White Paper would he entirely redundant, bureaucratic excrescences, whose effect on rural development would be wholly retrograde.
We hope that if anything is done by way of legislation on this matter it will not apply to Scotland. We have already adequate machinery which does everything that these powers are supposed to do. We have the Department of Agriculture, the agricultural executive committees, the Forestry Commission, and the Regional Forestry Committees of the Forestry Commission. In paragraph 26 it is proposed that the rural development boards would work in close liaison with the regional economic planning councils and boards, local authorities and other public bodies—which would, of course, include the Department of Agriculture, the agricultural executive committees, the regional forestry committees and so on. If we go very much further in this direction we shall soon arrive at the point when half our population will be employed almost permanently in consulting with each other about how to conduct the affairs of the other half.
In paragraph 21 the powers which it is proposed to confer on these boards seem particularly unnecessary. First, the boards would have to be consulted, it is said, before any private amalgamation schemes in an area were approved. Why? I do not know. It seems to me that this proposal is purely dilatory and purely negative; it has no constructive value at all. Then in the last two sentences it is proposed that the board's consent would be required to private afforestation projects and that in order to afforest agricultural land one would have to get planning permission from the board, and if the board turned one down there would have to be an appeal to the Minister. If I had been asked, as a kind of intellectual exercise, to invent some plan for delaying and frustrating the progress of forestry in Scotland I do not think it could have improved on that proposal. I do not think the Government would have put it forward if they 613 had realised the difficulties of the Forestry Commission's regional committees, on one of which I used to serve, in their endeavours to persuade reluctant landowners to plant great areas of rough grazing and other pieces of ground which clearly ought to be planted in the national interest. Everybody should be encouraged to do that, and obstacles ought not to be placed in the way of those who want to do it.
I would ask the Government to believe that there are comparatively few people with the necessary skill and knowledge to decide whether land ought to be planted or not. Their number is fairly limited, and most of them who have that knowledge, if they are not the actual parties concerned, are probably already serving either on agricultural executive committees or on Forestry Commission regional committees. I should say that the number of such persons left over who would be able to serve on a regional development board would be absolutely nil.
We supported the Highlands Development Bill; we support the setting up of the Highlands Development Board, whose personnel has lately been announced—very distinguished gentlemen, whose services we all welcome. Their function is a particular function in the Highlands to guide or to promote the broad lines of development, but it is not their function to trot round the Highlands deciding whether some particular piece of land ought to be planted or not. With great respect to them, they would be incapable of making such a decision, and I am quite sure would not want to make it. Therefore we are entirely against giving to the Highlands Development Board the powers proposed in paragraph 21 of the White Paper.
We do not complain at all that there is no Scottish Minister here, for we certainly want Scottish Ministers to spend a good deal of their time in Scotland, and this debate was fixed for to-day at very short notice, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who is to reply for the Government will take note of what I have said, and what will be said by my noble friends from Scotland who have been able to attend this debate.
614 I hope that he will convey our remarks to the Scottish Office, particularly in regard to giving powers under the Agriculture Act to ease the amalgamation of uneconomic holdings, to bring forestry into the co-operative proposals, and finally, if there should be legislation on the lines of this White Paper, to see that any clauses concerned with the setting up of rural development boards should not apply to Scotland.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for introducing this debate on agriculture to-day. I must say that I regarded his speech as a very pleasing one, and I was in almost complete agreement with him. This was a surprise to me, bearing in mind the poster campaign from which we were led to believe that there was so much dissatisfaction among farmers. But so far there has been very little serious criticism of the present Government's agricultural policy. This speaks for itself.
I am sure that all in this House who live in rural areas, and probably many others, are desperately anxious that this great and important industry of agriculture should remain on a sound footing. We are all anxious that it should be really prosperous. The only difference is that we have slightly different ideas of how to bring prosperity to our agriculture. I have always contended, and still contend, that farmers and farmworkers who invest their money and labour in agriculture, producing the food without which none of us could manage, are as entitled as any industrialist to a return for what they have put into an industry, but we know that up to the present this just does not happen. There is not the same reward, either for the farmers or for the farmworkers, as in other industries.
Only last week I was talking to a number of farmworkers who had been round one of our modern tractor factories. There they had seen the beginnings of the tractor on the assembly line, they had watched it go through the whole process, a nut here a bolt there, until, at the end of the line, the operation was complete and it became a whole tractor. When they came back the farmworkers' reaction to this was "This is all very well, they just assemble this thing from its various components, but when the end product comes 615 off the line we, the men on the farm, have not only to operate it but to maintain it—and yet, in the end, there is probably a difference of £5 a week in the wages earned by those assembly men as compared with our own." This is absolutely ludicrous in this day and age. We know that only a week ago it was agreed that from the first day of January farm-workers' wages should go up by 8s. a week so as to bring them to the ten guineas national minimum. This will mean that they are still almost £5 a week below the national average in this country, and until something is done about this I am pretty sure that we are not going to have the prosperous agriculture to which I referred a moment ago, because all the time our best men are leaving our farms for better paid jobs.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was mildly critical of the policy of my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, but I think the real difference between his proposals and those of his predecessors in recent years is that my right honourable friend is planning for the future. It is a long-term policy, and I am pretty sure that in the years to come the wisdom of it will be there for all to see.
One thing about which I am sure we will all agree is that British agriculture has a wonderful record, especially since the war. Reference has already been made to the fact that we produce 50 per cent. of the food consumed here, that our annual turnover is something like £1,850 million a year, and that our increase in production since the war has been something like 85 per cent. This record will stand up to inspection by anybody, and in fact it is one of the best records of any industry in this country since the war. Of course, it is true that to achieve this increased production we have the most highly mechanised agriculture in the world; but there is still scope for increased production. Reference has been made by one or two previous speakers to the National Plan for Agriculture of my right honourable friend Mr. George Brown. I think that his Plan for Agriculture is a sensible one. We all know that it can be achieved, and I am sure that it will be achieved. I am also sure that, so far as the farmworkers are concerned, they will co-operate fully and 616 I am pretty sure that the same applies to our farmers.
With regard to farmworkers, we have just one criticism of the Government at the present time and that is over the continued evictions from farm tied cottages. Only a month ago there was a particularly vicious eviction carried out in Northamptonshire of a farm worker, his wife and ten children from a tied cottage in agriculture, when at the same time there was a vacant cottage right next door to the one from which this poor farm worker was being turned out. This is the one criticism of my own Party and the Labour Government.
To achieve the record of which I have spoken, our industry has been wonderfully served in the past by the N.A.A.S. This service has a wonderful record and has rendered a great service to agriculture, and I believe that if we are to achieve what we want in agriculture in the future it should be even further extended. It has really transformed agriculture in recent years, and I believe that its extension could bring a great improvement.
Because the future of agriculture depends on greater efficiency, I am sure that there will still be a secure place in British agriculture for the small efficient farmer, with emphasis on efficiency. I expect that some noble Lords saw a recent television programme on agriculture about a small farmer in Great Britain, who was saying that he relied on Government help—subsidies and what-have-you—for about 50 per cent. of his income. The question we must ask ourselves is this: How much longer can this country afford to subsidise the small inefficient farmer to this extent? I think we all know the answer to that, but I am confident that so far as the efficient farmer, large or small, is concerned, there is still a definite place for him in the future of British agriculture. Of course, it is going to be to the advantage of many small farmers to co-operate with their neighbours, as the noble Earl quite rightly said, and I am sure—although some of them cannot see it at this moment, perhaps—that once we can get agreement between the smaller farmers on amalgamations it is going to benefit both them and this country and will be in the best interest of the future of agriculture.
617 If we are going to have this greater efficiency in agriculture in the future it will depend to a large extent on the farm workers, and I repeat that they are prepared to support George Brown and his Plan to produce more with a smaller labour force, thereby releasing more men to work in industry. This will mean that we are going to have a smaller labour force in agriculture which will be made up mainly of specialists, because if they are going to operate and maintain all the new machinery that is coming into agriculture they will have to be specialists in their work and will have to be paid as such. But before they can be regarded as specialists they must have training.
We already have the Agricultural Apprenticeship Scheme but it is very disappointing that only a small number of youngsters are prepared to participate in the Scheme and only a few farmers are prepared to support it. So we shall have to do all we can to encourage farmers and young entrants to participate in the Agricultural Apprenticeship Scheme. The Minister of Agriculture has also promised a training board for agriculture, and I believe that both of these schemes should be supported right up to the hilt by both sides of industry if we are going to have properly trained men remaining in agriculture to carry out the important job which will be theirs.
My noble friend Lord Wise spoke, quite rightly, about marketing in agriculture and about some of the unsatisfactory conditions. We are aware of what is happening and I quite agree with him. Quite recently I have been discussing this problem with some of the smaller farmers in Norfolk and they have been comparing the price at the farm of, say, barley with the price of pig meal when it comes back from the millers, and in some cases there is almost 100 per cent. profit. The small farmers quoted to me examples of barley being £20 a ton or £1 a hundredweight at the farm, and of buying pig meal back again at 37s. 9d. a hundredweight, which is getting on for double the price. This sort of thing cannot be right, and I should have thought it was one of the things which my right honourable friend Mr. George Brown might refer to his Prices and Incomes Board. In any case, my Lords, I believe this debate has achieved a very 618 good result in proving that there is really little difference between the policies of the three Parties for our great agricultural industry; and in view of the fact that I suppose we are likely to have another debate on agriculture soon, following on the Queen's Speech, I do not think there is any further need for me to weary the House.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ LORD HURD
My Lords, I am happy to be able once again to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton. We have so often joined in a "ding-dong" across the Floor of another place. I am also very happy to follow my noble friend Lord Ferrers in the line that he has taken, of exploring the present situation and atmosphere in British agriculture. I think we are all pleased that the National Plan comes out quite clearly to give a key rôle to British agriculture in the pursuit of faster economic growth. We perhaps hardly need to remind ourselves that in the past ten years the net output from our farms has increased by one-third, and we all know—those of us who have to do with agriculture—that this pace of increase can be further improved to meet the growth in demand for food and to save unnecessary imports. I think every noble Lord who has spoken so far has accepted that.
What I think is significant—and the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, has just mentioned it—is that agriculture is going to be expected to manage with many fewer men than it employs even now. We have got ourselves accustomed to losing about 20,000 men a year, and this pace is evidently going to continue. This means, of course, using more machinery and improved lay-out of buildings to make the most of the manpower that we do employ. It will also mean fewer general farm workers and, I think, fewer tractor drivers, even, in the old, accepted sense—the general tractor driver. There will be more mechanics, more maintenance men and more fitters who are capable of keeping very costly machinery at work on the farms. I was interested to see at the Royal Dairy Show at Olympia this week that the Ministry of Agriculture were featuring the mechanised feeding of livestock as one of the things on the horizon that we have all to be thinking about and planning for. I am sure this 619 is right. Good stockmen are scarce, and they will not become any more plentiful. We must see that each man employed on the farm has the best possible tools and the best possible "set-up" to enable him to give his full output and to contribute to the increased production which is expected of our industry.
Let me underline for a moment what is said about mechanisation in the National Plan:The requirements of home agriculture from the agricultural machinery industry will continue to provide that industry with an important home base for its vital contribution to exports—exports to the value of £125 million a year—and the Government hope that this can be further increased.I am sure that every noble Lord shares that hope, but it can come about only if our own agriculture keeps well in the front in mechanisation and equipment, so that we can show the rest of the world how to farm and can provide them, indeed, with the tools that they need.
All this is good sense; and so is the unanimous decision of the Agricultural Wages Board that the minimum pay rates in the industry should be increased again now—to be recompensed to farmers, let us be assured, at next year's Farm Price Review. I am sure this is the right attitude of the farmers' representatives. It is, I think, almost the first time that they have joined with the independent members of the Agricultural Wages Board in finding agreement with the workers' representatives. I very much welcome that, and I am sure that the House as a whole does. I think, too, despite what has been said from these Benches and from the other side of the House, that credit is due to the National Farmers' Union for opening the eyes of our political masters and the public generally to realities by their "Fair Deal" campaign which followed on the frustrations of the 1965 Price Review. I think that those posters, garish though they may have been, caught the eye of many people; and I think, too, that the working dinner which the Prime Minister gave to the leaders of the National Farmers' Union at No. 10 Downing Street—I remember referring to it in the last speech on agriculture which I made in this House; it was just about to happen then—was followed by a useful reaction in thought in Government circles. Because of this, I think, the Minister of Agriculture's task 620 is going to be a little easier than it would otherwise have been.
The National Farmers' Union has no doubt that the targets set out for increased production of cereals, meat and milk—and, indeed, all the extra output likely to be required by 1970 under the National Plan—can be achieved if the price levels and the market capacity are set right now. The first test of this Government's good faith in agricultural policy will come at the time of the 1966 Farm Price Review; because, my Lords, fine words butter no parsnips. The targets for the increased food output which the country needs will not be attained if, in order to limit Exchequer liability for guarantees, the Government continue to apply the standard quantity arrangements to the major products (everything now, I believe, except cattle and sheep) so as to reduce the prices received by farmers if their total production exceeds a specified quantity each year.
Here I think the Scottish farmers were entirely right in objecting strongly when that proposal was first brought forward and put into effect. It undoubtedly has a damping-down effect on production, because these limitations, these standard quantities, are fixed a full year ahead (maybe eighteen months ahead) and nobody can foresee what the state of the market is going to be. Nobody could foresee that China was going to be avidly buying wheat from Canada, that the growing markets of the world were going to be relieved of any prospect of surplus for some time ahead, and that we should really need to go on producing more and more cereals in this country. It is foolish to have these quantitative limitations applied to production, this depressing effect, by reducing the farmer's price because he oversteps some purely arbitrary limit which has been set in Whitehall.
This brake to increased output should be taken off. The Conservative policy statement recognises this by proposing the gradual replacement of Exchequer subsidies by import levies. This, my Lords, is an alternative: the managed market, the import levy, is an alternative to Exchequer subsidies. It is an alternative method of carrying out the principles of the first part of the Agriculture Act 1947—that is, to ensure that such part of the nation's food as is desirable is 621 produced in the United Kingdom, and to ensure a fairer reward to farmers, farm workers and people engaged in the industry. I would stress that, because some people (the present Minister of Agriculture being one) are speaking as if the Conservative Party were determined to tear up the Agriculture Act 1947 and to forget all about the most important first part of that Act. My noble friend Lord Crathorne, whom I am glad to see sitting here, knows how much the Agriculture Act 1947—and, indeed, the Agriculture Act 1957—counts in British agriculture. Therefore I think it is very important that we make it perfectly clear to farmers that this is an alternative, and that we are not thinking of scrapping the underlying purpose of the Agriculture Act 1947.
We have had also a White Paper on the marketing of meat and livestock, and another on the development of agriculture. Both appeared in early August. In the first one, very early action is promised on meat and livestock. It says that there will be, to cover Great Britain, a Commission of independent persons to preside over the destinies of the trade, to promote efficiency in livestock production, to advise producer groups how to market their animals to better advantage, to supervise the slaughterhouses, and to classify meat so that descriptive marketing can be introduced in the shops for the benefit of the housewives.
Of course, there is to be more research. Every White Paper promises that. We shall just have to see what comes out of these aspirations. As yet, no one seems wildly enthusiastic about this set of proposals for the Commission, mainly, I think, because the operation will have to he financed by the livestock farmers and also, presumably, by the meat traders. The money for it will come out of their pockets and not out of the general finances of the country. Personally, I think that good can come out of this idea if there are found for the Commission men who command the confidence of farmers and of the meat trade. In spite of the rather vociferous objections of the National Federation of Meat Traders during the last week, I believe that it may be possible to win the confidence of both sections of the trade in this Commission idea. I think it is important for the trade to get together more closely in 622 producing what is wanted and serving the consumer to the best possible advantage.
The other White Paper broaches the moot question of enlarging farms to get more economical production and retiring from farming those who, in the words of the White Paper,just cannot hope to get a decent living from their farms at prices which the taxpayer and the consumer could afford.Here we have the bugbear of what the Exchequer, the public, can afford. This underlines the good sense of Conservative thinking on the point I was mentioning earlier. About this amalgamation of farms and the retirement of farmers with a "dab in the hand", I think I must part company with the Government. The pace of farm amalgamation is proceeding quite fast in this country—50,000 fewer farm units in the past twelve years. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who said that the problem here is nothing like so acute and as pressing as it is on the Continent. We should be foolish to rush into a Government scheme of farm amalgamations and to give grants from public funds to hasten a process which is already going on in a natural and sensible economic way. I am prepared to see the Government hold their hand and see how the thing goes and how the pace goes. I think it would be wrong for the State to intervene by buying up farms and holding them with a view to effecting amalgamations; and I see no purpose in having a Land Commission with that kind of function.
The other matter on which I want to say a few words is the business of co-operation in farming and horticulture. Noble Lords will notice that in the White Paper considerable stress is laid on that, especially for the benefit of the smaller farmers, and in the White Paper our efforts are compared unfavourably with the achievements of most other countries of Europe. This may be. But, please, Minister of Agriculture, do not get too starry-eyed about the virtues of co-operation in the business of farming. I say this as the chairman of one of the biggest groups of producers' egg packing stations in the South of England, Thames Valley Eggs, Ltd. I can assure the Minister that the marketing to the best advantage of the eggs of all 4,000 producer-members of this co-operative society is tough business. We work within the framework of the Egg 623 Marketing Scheme; we candle, grade and stamp on the "little lions", and all that sort of thing, as required by the British Egg Marketing Board; and our relations with that Board are good and cordial. But at the moment we face a considerable problem, and I hope that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Champion, as the Minister who is to reply, will be able to help us find an answer to it.
The British Egg Marketing Board, with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Farmers' Union, is sponsoring a contract scheme designed to maintain level market supplies of eggs through the year. This is an admirable purpose, and very necessary, but it seems that, in order to satisfy either the Minister of Agriculture or the Treasury, the Board means to set up a centralised control system, with a computer at the centre to handle the accounts of all egg producers in England and Wales—some 170,000. This is quite an expensive venture; and to keep down the cost of this paraphernalia the Board intends to take over payment to producers and to pay them only once a month; that is, six weeks after the first delivery of each month's eggs to the packing station, instead of sending out weekly cheques, as the co-operatives like ourselves do, to producer members.
This plan, if allowed to come about, would put a considerable financial strain on the producers, because £5 million of their money would at any time be left filtering through the Board's channels. I am sure that the British Egg Marketing Board could lend this at high interest in the City and so on; but this is the producers' money, and I am sure that Parliament never intended that the British Egg Marketing Board, or any other statutory body under the Marketing Acts, should entertain that kind of business function. Can the Minister tell us this evening, or tell the egg producers, why this concept of centralised financial control is necessary? It is quite foreign to the philosophy of the farm co-operatives whose strength is in personal contacts with producers and mutual confidence between members and their society.
On the bigger matter of the proposal in the White Paper to establish, under Government auspices, a Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural co- 624 operation with representatives of the co-operative societies and the N.F.U., I believe that this can be helpful in promoting common effort in the interests of producers generally. Unfortunately, there has sometimes been divided effort and conflict between the National Farmers' Union and some farm co-operatives. I think that they can be brought together under this umbrella of the Central Council which the Government propose, and I believe that that is useful. I am sure that we all want to see success in this field which can help British agriculture to meet the challenge to produce still more food and satisfy a full share of the expanding home market. It is a challenge which all of us in agriculture welcome, and we mean to make a great success of meeting it.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I am taking part in this debate to-day, as I often do in these agricultural debates, not because I know a great deal about the organisation of agriculture but because I know something about practical farming. In this debate, as in many others in your Lordships' House, I have been enormously impressed by two things: first, that on both sides of the House we speak not in any partisan spirit but because we are all interested in the wellbeing of this industry and of the people who work in it; and, secondly, that at the present time we are deeply concerned with the many changes which are foreshadowed in agriculture in the White Paper and in the National Plan.
I think it very fortunate that my noble friend Lord Ferrers should have had the opportunity to introduce this subject for debate to-day. I do not think it is too soon to talk about agriculture and the 1966 Price Review. The sooner we can put forward our proposals and suggestions and make a contribution from both sides in this House, the easier it may be for the Minister when he comes to discuss the 1966 Price Review. Indeed, I expect it is being discussed now. I used to know the Ministry very well in the old days when things like levy-subsidies were being discussed continually. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, pointed out that in paragraph 49 of the White Paper the Minister says categorically that these proposals are open to 625 amendment in the light of consultation, and perhaps consultation with your Lordships' House may well prove of help to the Minister. I very much hope so.
I have listened with the greatest interest to the speeches which have been made. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wise, who has had such long experience of debates on agriculture, that we are always crying out for a long-term policy. I suppose we shall go on doing so in future debates on agriculture. The noble Lord asked again to-day for a long-term policy, and I agree with what he said. He also pointed out that cereal prices are below the cost of production and that milk prices are clown by 2d. a gallon. I can tell your Lordships that in hill farming, both sheep and cattle, in which I am particularly interested, the price of mutton to-day at 3s. 2d. per lb. is the same as in 1956; and this in spite of the fact that production costs are estimated to have risen by more than 60 per cent. I am sure your Lordships will agree that no industry could afford exactly the same prices today as prevailed nine years ago. This is one of the problems which has to be faced in that section of the agriculture industry. I hope that as a result of this programme for the development of agriculture we shall get special consideration for what is, at any rate in Scotland, a very large part of the agriculture industry, namely, the hill-farming and livestock rearing acreages.
I should like to say something about mechanisation. Like everyone else, I am continually searching for any kind of machine which will help to achieve cheaper production and effect economy in labour. I am not a big cereal producing farmer, but it seems to me that this is easy to do in respect of cereal farming and comparatively easy—although it requires great skill—in respect of pig production. The pigs are under one roof, and one has seen the miracles which can be accomplished by planning and by the use of the new types of piggeries. Cheaper production can be achieved by mechanical means in dairy farming, and I have seen on one or two farms, notably farms for which Members of your Lordships' House are responsible, some of the finest and newest types of dairy mechanisation to be seen anywhere in the world. No doubt these installations were effected only at great cost, but they are serving a very important purpose and are marvellously planned.
626 But when it comes to hill farming one discovers the impossibility of mechanising shepherds. I suppose it would be possible to provide them with motor bicycles but so many machines would be broken on the hillside and so many sheep frightened that the shepherds would not be able to do their job. It is therefore important to realise that, however hard one tries—I can assure noble Lords that people in this section of the industry have tried very hard, because of increasing costs—to be economical with manpower, it is not possible to mechanise a large sheep farm. If one cuts down on the number of shepherds one loses sheep, and if that happens there is no point in trying to be a hill farmer. So when we are thinking in terms of mechanisation, and how to absorb the increased costs by greater efficiency, we should remember that it is difficult to do so by increased mechanisation in the section of the industry to which I have referred.
One reads in the newspapers, particularly the farming papers, that sheep should be put under cover. Imagine what it would be like to put 3,000 breeding ewes under cover. It would be possible on a tiny holding where only a few hundred sheep were involved, but if we are to operate on a large scale as we are urged to do—I think it the only way in which to make a profit—it is necessary to have men to herd the hills in wintertime as well as in summertime.
I wish to say a word about two points in the White Paper which affect the industry as I know it, and particularly as it exists in Scotland. We are all enthusiastic about the Farm Improvement Scheme. It is an excellent scheme and has proved an enormous help. It was started under a Conservative Government and continued under a Socialist Government, and we are anxious that it should go on. It is of the greatest possible importance in Scotland where so much of the countryside is devoted to hill farming. According to the White Paper the Scheme is to be enlarged. Not only will it cover improvements to buildings and similar equipment but it will provide assistance to improve the land. That point is stressed in the White Paper, and I strongly support it.
Sheep and cattle are sometimes attacked by disease and we resort to the chemist and the veterinary surgeon in the treatment of their ailments. There is an 627 old farming maxim, which applies at any rate in Scotland, that if you treat the land first, you may never have to treat the animals. I am sure that is true; but it is much more expensive to treat the land than to buy various inoculations against the ordinary diseases which attack sheep and cattle. I therefore welcome the fact that we are to have a special scheme for the land. It will be of enormous help.
I hope that this scheme will embrace the questions of hill drainage, of fencing and ditching, and manuring, and all the things which may be done to improve hill land. It is already possible to get grants for hill draining—I have had them myself—but the grants are not sufficient to meet the enormous cost which is involved. Even though the job may be done entirely with machinery, it is still very expensive to carry out any project on a large scale. The figure of 50 per cent. of the cost sounds a lot, but the amount of capital which it is necessary to invest is so great that many people cannot afford to carry out a large project. I hope that we shall have a really substantial scheme to improve the land to enable it to graze more sheep and cattle, and that we shall receive a grant of more than 50 per cent. of the cost.
There is a sentence in the White Paper referring to the special importance of field drainage, and there, again, it is possible at present to obtain a grant of 50 per cent. I do not know whether any noble Lords have recently undertaken any big drainage scheme with tile drainage, but I recently drained some 22 acres, at a cost of £100 an acre. If a farmer has to drain a number of fields, that means a large capital outlay. Again, more draining would be done if a higher proportion of the cost could be refunded. It is a capital charge, and as such is important for the future of food production.
We are all extremely grateful for the Winter Keep Scheme, brought in by the last Government and continued by this one. It has been of the greatest assistance in hill and upland farming. But there is one type of farm which does not qualify for the Winter Keep Scheme, because it is classified as a dairy farm. Many of these farms are not very large and are high in the hills; they are not large 628 enough for the farmer to make a living out of livestock production alone, so that he has to keep a small dairy herd, and because of this cannot claim the grant. We should like to see the winter keep grant extended to these hill dairy farms in the North of England and South of Scotland, and in Wales. It is estimated that there are something like 2,000 such small farms in Scotland, of which about one-third used to receive grants under the old M.A.P. assistance scheme as marginal farms, but there is now no such scheme, and they receive no help, though they are badly in need of it. I hope that the Minister will consider this when he is considering new planning under the scheme.
Lastly, I would ask one question of the Minister. In the National Plan we are all encouraged to produce more. On page 9 the Plan notes many economies in the import of foods which can be grown in this country. I am sure that this is right. We have increased food production in this country to 50 per cent. of consumption and I am perfectly certain that we could do more. But how are we to sell that increased production, unless the Minister is prepared to limit a certain amount of food imports This is one of the most difficult things that faces the Minister of Agriculture. I remember that in the old days, long before the war, when we were trying to revive agriculture, which in those days was at its lowest possible ebb, we tried a levy subsidy scheme and this worked quite well, as my noble friends Lord Hurd and Lord Crathorne will remember.
There is something on the lines of that scheme in the new plans put forward by the Conservative Party. But the acid test is that, though the people of this country can eat a bit more, they are not starving and will not be able to absorb a good deal more food. If we produce more for our own consumption, then we shall have to limit the amount of food coming in. I realise the difficulties. The present Government, when they came into office, put a 15 per cent. import charge on goods coming into this country, and this caused tremendous anxiety in many countries. After all, we are faced with the difficulty that if we do not import from agricultural countries they are not going to buy the many 629 thousands of millions of pounds' worth of exports which industry produces.
This year prices went down for sheep and cattle producers. They have been taking less money than they took even last year. The only way they can make a profit is to increase production, to get a lower rate from a larger number of animals. But if they cannot sell them, it is no use producing them. And I cannot see how that is going to be done unless we stop some of the food from coming into this country. If the Minister will bear in mind some of the problems and suggestions that I have put forward, I think that he will gain the gratitude of a great many farmers, whose politics may be all different but whose interests are all the same—the interests of the agricultural industry and of the production of food for the people of this country.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, I should like to say a few words on what I consider to be two of the cornerstones of agricultural industry to-day—long-term requirements and capital. Regarding long-term requirements, I think that the Government do realise that this is an essential part of the agricultural industry to-day. What I am not at all certain of is their interpretation of "long-term". I have a feeling that at the back of their minds it is something like five years. If that is so, I would submit that that is incorrect. When we are talking about "long-term" so far as agriculture is concerned, it should be at least ten years.
Even the facts of life of some of our farm animals determine that the period should be fairly long. For instance, if one considers increasing milk production by breeding more dairy cows, it is going to take something like 3¼ years before any effect is felt. With beef cattle, it would not take quite so long, something like 2¼ to 2½ years. But breeding is a long-term policy, just as farming in general is long-term. I believe that if the industry is to get itself into the right gear, we must know where we are going for at least ten years ahead. Farming structure cannot be changed quickly.
On the other hand, techniques can and should be changed quickly. Industry is entitled to know if we are to remain just as we are, just over 50 per cent. self- 630 sufficient as regards food. If not, what is the target to be in ten years' time? And what are the signposts we have to follow to get us there? We must determine what the farm structure of the future is to be. Here I welcome the Government's publication of The Development of Agriculture. I believe that the Government really recognise the fact, which has been blatantly obvious for many years, that the mixed small farmer does not fit into the agriculture of the nineteen-sixties. Furthermore, it has been an absolute fallacy to think, on the question of priming the pump or priming the small mixed farm, that once you have given it a prime it will keep going. You have to keep the pump going the whole time by giving it assistance. I think we all agree that this country cannot afford to keep on doing this. Here I agree with my noble friend Lord Dundee when he says there is still a place for a limited number of part-time farms in such places as, say, the Highlands of Scotland or possibly in the uplands of Wales.
Changes in farm structure cannot be made overnight; nor should any attempt be made to do this. But the target has to be set so that we know where we are going. For some farmers changes are inevitable, and, unfortunately, like many changes, they can be painful. But what industry is there in this country, or, for that matter, any other country, that can make progress without change? It is for the Government to do all in their power to assist these changes, which, as I say, are often unpalatable to those whom they affect most.
British agriculture got into the right gear during the last war. At that time it was production at all costs. To-day the industry must get into the right gear to meet the national requirements of the industry between now and 1975. I hope that the pattern to be followed in the future will be more self-sufficiency, coupled with increased efficiency, leading to lower costs. To achieve increased efficiency agriculture, like any other industry, must have men with business brains, as well as those who have practical knowledge of farming. Agricultural colleges, such as the Royal Agriculture College, should grade up their courses to degree courses from the present diploma courses.
Increasing efficiency and lowering production costs brings me on to my second 631 point—namely, capital. Agriculture must have increased capital investment. What a difference, as so many speakers have already pointed out, the Farm Improvement Scheme has already made to British agriculture! The effect of this capital assistance has done much towards making the agricultural industry in Britain one of the most efficient agricultural industries in the world. I welcome the fact that the Government have given an undertaking that they are going to extend this very worthwhile scheme. To-day a farmer endeavouring to make his business more efficient does so not only in his own interest, but in the interests of the nation. But to attempt to do this he finds that he has a terrific drain on capital. If the Government wish to see an even more efficient agriculture—and what Government does not want to see that?—then I suggest that they should look carefully at the taxation angle of the agricultural industry. The Government might ask themselves: should capital investment allowances be increased? Should the farmer be left with a little more of his meagre profit if he ploughs it back into his business? Remember, too, my Lords, as I have already said, that changes there must be, but changes can be most expensive: for instance, a farmer going out of dairy farming may have to scrap thousands of pounds worth of equipment in order to make the change.
Provided that British agriculture knows where it has to go during the next ten years, provided that farmers themselves are trained to the same pitch as any other industrialist, and provided that they are not fettered by the penal lack of capital, I have no doubt that we shall have not only a most efficient but also a most competitive agriculture, and that the British housewife will be able to buy her food at or near the present very reasonable cost. I would hope that this may be achieved without the hidden subsidy, which does so much damage to the agricultural industry in the eyes of so many, because it is given to the farmer but indirectly goes to, and is meant for, the housewife.
§ 4.56 p.m.
LORD BELHAVEN AND STENTON
My Lords, before this debate started I thought that I should have to declare an interest, but as so many noble Lords who have already spoken are farmers and have 632 not declared an interest this is probably unnecessary. I would, however, inform your Lordships that I am a full-time farmer; and in view of some of the things I intend to say, I can tell your Lordships that I am an owner-occupier; I am not a tenant, and I have not any tenants.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, mentioned something which I had not intended to talk about, but on which I should like to make a comment. He said that we ought to increase the production of calves—something which, I believe, is becoming quite a popular idea in farming just now. On this subject, there is one practice which I feel should be ended; and if it were, it would help in the increased production of calves. I refer to the selling in livestock auction markets of young calves under three months old. Some of these calves are taken to market at all times of the year, without even having their mother's colostrum. This should not be done, of course, but it is sometimes done. I have seen them pushed through the ring in the middle of January, with perhaps four or five degrees of frost, and then sold. This has unfortunate results, because of these calves which are sold through auction markets (I have had some experience of this, and at one time I bought a few) one in ten, in my experience, does not live. Furthermore, I gather that it is the general experience that 60 per cent., at least, are permanently damaged in health for the rest of their lives. Over and above that, this is a cruel practice, which should be stopped. I feel that calves could easily be sold privately between farmer and farmer, and it should be illegal to sell in public auction markets calves under three months old.
The main point that I intend to talk about is the difficulty which faces a young farmer who wants to take up farming to-day. The experienced farmer who is already in possession of a fair number of acres, and has been for a long time, may be up against certain difficulties, but on the whole he has the experience to overcome them. He certainly ought to be all right, considering the amount of capital which is tied up in his business. Even a moderately small farms, and farms which come within the present Small Fanner Scheme, will have around £30,000 of owners', tenants' and bank capital tied up in it. This does not sound much, in terms 633 of the trade gap, but to most of us it represents a great deal of money.
There is another factor which is part of the background of the present situation, and which I am old enough to haved lived through, because I started at the age of twenty, as a farm pupil on a farm of a tenant of my father's. He told me that he had started farming with £50, and his mother to give him a hand with the milking. When I knew him he farmed well over 1,000 acres, and he tenanted them all. He worked very hard all his life to get where he was. He used to get up at two o'clock in the morning, but when I knew him he got up at four, which was a great relaxation. He was also a beneficiary, like many other tenant farmers, of the post-war Labour Government. I do not think that he repaid them in kind by voting for them. If he and others like him paid the Labour Movement what they really owed it, it would not need its trade union dues. They were, in effect, given a hand-out of capital; and if, like my father, in the case of my own family estate, the landowner had to sell out to pay death duties, the tenant farmers were able to buy their farms at a half, or even a quarter, of their real value. A few of them sold immediately at enormous profit, and for all I know they are still smoking cigars in some delectable resort. But the majority of them stayed on farming and formed the backbone of the prosperous and efficient farmers of to-day.
I hope that your Lordships will not "get me wrong" here. I do not begrudge them their luck. The Labour Party exists to reward the horny-handed sons of toil, and nobody could be more horny-handed or hardworking than the class of tenant farmers as it existed after the war. So the virtuous labourer was amply rewarded by the Labour Government, a little more liberally, perhaps, than was intended; but no matter.
The other result of granting security of tenure was less encouraging. New tenancies have become scarcer and scarcer. For this the landowner was responsible, for when a farm came in hand, instead of reletting it to some deserving ploughman he either took it in hand or sold it. One could hardly blame him for doing that. As soon as a farm comes into hand it is worth about twice what it was with a tenant in it. 634 I think that situation to some extent exists to-day, although not quite so much, and I will come to that matter later.
Following on all this, the Socialist millennium was rudely interrupted, although we have taken up with it again. I think, although I am open to correction on this, that it was about this time that the landowners found a way round the tenancy laws. This was to open a farm to tender. Very often a good landowner would take the chappy who would be the best farmer; but usually the highest tender would get it. The new tenant would then be committed to paying—and still is, I think—an enormous rent for at least five years or even longer, depending upon the conditions of a lease with which he would doubtless find it hard to disagree. He cannot appeal to arbitration within this period. He will also have to sign an agreement whereby he undertakes to carry out such repairs and maintenance as the landlord thinks fit to impose upon him. If he does not agree to all this, it is likely that someone else will get the farm. All these burdens are imposed upon him at the most difficult period of his career, before he has really got going, or, if he is a young man, before he has made his mistakes, as we all have, and lost a great deal of money by reason of them.
Surely there must be a way out of this dilemma on tenancies. At present, the law of landowner and tenant is no more just and moral than Dame Fortune scattering her rewards indiscriminately to the deserving and the undeserving alike. Life is like that. But it should be the business of the law to temper the rewards and penalties of fortune with justice, and not to take a hand in the game itself. The main sufferer from all this is the young man who wants to make farming his career. Either he must rent a farm on impossible conditions, or buy one at an impossible price. He generally does neither, and starts, if at all, on his father's farm in the hope that he may one day inherit it.
In the days when tenants could be given notice a young man could start with £50, a plough and a pair of horses. This could not happen now, but before the war I believe many people started in this way. Now he must have at least £20,000 if he is to start effectively. It should not be impossible to get a policy 635 on tenancies which is just to both landowner and tenant, where the tenant has a reasonable prospect of building himself up, and the landowner has a reasonable prospect of getting possession of his farm within a moderate period of time. I know it would be difficult to find, but if landowners, tenants and the Government could get together and discover a reasonable policy on this matter, it would be an excellent thing.
Finally, I would make one more point. The great majority of farmers—and that must include nearly all young ones starting their careers—have to borrow money. The rates of interest which have prevailed in general over the last five or six years have fallen very heavily on them. When the present Government came into office last year, my wife was very depressed. She is even more of a Conservative than I am. She had driven all day and stayed up half the night listening to the Election results. So I comforted her by saying that there had been a Labour Government between 1945 and 1951, and at least we were still alive and sitting there. But this was small consolation. So in the hope of really cheering her up I said, "At least we shall not have a high bank rate and a credit squeeze". I really believed this. I had been quite certain that we should have both if the Conservatives got back, but (and I am not at all versed in economics) I thought the Socialists had the answer to it. They certainly made us think they had. I suppose the whole dreary operation of raising the bank rate and having credit squeezes must be necessary, or both Parties would not do it.
To come back to fanning, it can put a young farmer in a cleft stick if he wants to go into farming at the time of a credit squeeze and when the stop pedal is hard down. He has to borrow money from the bank. If he borrows from the agricultural securities corporations he will be landed with a high rate of interest for the length of the time for which he has a loan, which may be anything up to 50 years. I hope the Government will find themselves able to bring these interest rates down. Also, since the present Government came into power we have had another blow, namely, the capital gains tax. If one sells assets such as shares or anything else which may come to mind—even armchairs, if you sell 636 enough of them—to buy farm stock, one now has to pay this tax. Consequently, in the time of a credit squeeze we are between the devil and the deep sea, because the banks will not lend us the money, and if we sell our assets we have to pay the Government capital gains tax.
Farming depends on capital, and at present it is extremely expensive and difficult to borrow. Apart from this, our prices have gone up very little in the last decade. I believe they have gone up a little here and there, but I always seem to get the same as I received twelve years, or longer, ago. In the past we comforted ourselves with the increased value of our land, but that particular carpet has also been removed from under our feet. We are hit from both sides. We cannot comfort ourselves in the increased value of our land, and we are not getting any more for our stock. I hope that if the Conservatives are returned they will make no bones about it and will remove this capital gains tax. I think it is a thoroughly bad tax. It hits the less-well-off harder than its hits the rich, and it hits the young harder than it hits the older and better established. I think it is mere sour grapes, and there does not seem to me to be any justification for it whatever, except sour grapes. So far as agriculture is concerned, it is just one more burden.
§ 5.10 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with everything the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said and I will not repeat any of it at this time of night. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, is not here at the moment. I wanted to say to him how glad I was that he raised the question of wages. I entirely agree that the agricultural labourer is not paid what he is worth. On the other hand, the farmer has to earn money to pay him, and this is the problem. The agricultural labourer is given his rises, rightly, but the farmer is not given any. I think the noble Lord did not point out that he was talking about minimum wages. There is no farm servant in my part of Scotland who is working for anything near the minimum wage. They are all considerably better off than that, and rightly so, but this is a point of fact if one is going to start making comparisons.
637 The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, referred to including the small upland dairy farm in the winter keep scheme, and I agree with her entirely. There is a very good case for this, in particular if one requires the calves which are bred and reared when one is wanting beef, because 70 to 80 per cent. of beef is not beef at all but culls from the dairy herd. This is deplorable from my point of view, coming from Scotland and from a beef-producing area.
I could not understand the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, in regard to beef production. If you want to increase beef production by one unit, in the first place you have to breed a calf. There is a gestation period of nine months and then there is a 50–50 chance that the resulting animal will not be a heifer calf but a bull calf. However, supposing you are lucky, you then have to wait until that animal is two years old before you can serve it, and then there is another nine months' gestation period before it has a calf, then 12 months before the calf becomes baby beef.
Even so, I do not agree. However, be that as it may. I agree that the Farm Improvement Scheme has been a great help to agriculture. Nevertheless, there are instances where the administration of that scheme has been so tardy that one has been at one's wits' end to get the job started in the season in which its completion is wanted. First of all, you put the scheme up to your college advisers, if you are wise. They will give you an answer in about a month. If the answer is favourable, you then have to go to the Department. That is when your troubles really start. You are lucky if you get a reply to your letter within a fortnight. Sometimes it is less but normally a fortnight is pretty good going. Then your proposals have to be passed by the Agricultural Executive Committee. I do not know when that body meets, but it seems to be about every three months. You wait until that august body has visited your farm—and here I would put in a plea that there should be an age limit for these gentlemen. Venerable gentlemen, however eminent they may be, approaching 80 years of age, are not as nimble-footed as they used to be, nor, in the 638 modern idiom, can they be said to be quite as "with it". They are of great eminence and have done important work for the country, but they should be persuaded to give way to younger men.
I now want to talk about the White Paper. The proposed amalgamations could solve only a fringe problem—and it is a long-term one at that, about which I do not grumble. These amalgamations raise many problems of detail which should be studied. For instance, if the house continued to be occupied, who pays what rent and the rates and who is going to settle a fair rent and rates? What about the way-going payments? Frequently, they are governed by obsolete conditions of leases which are not designed for the days of combine harvesters and pick-up bailers, and if the man sells out, unless he happens to be working on the herd basis, which few are because they cannot understand it, the capital element he receives is then taxed in that particular year of his way-going as income. This is most unjust. Will that man be entitled to two years' disturbance money, as he is normally when a tenancy ends; and in assessing his other income will his pension be held against him, as one might say? These details need to be gone into carefully if this scheme is going to work, as I hope it will.
Then we come to the Small Farmers' Scheme of 600 man-days. I am glad to see that this scheme is going up to 600 man-days, because if one Government Department is trying to amalgamate holdings into bigger units it seems wrong that another section of that Department should be trying to perpetuate small units which are non-viable. However, they seem roughly to have got together on this by bringing the scheme up to the 600 man-day limit of 125 acres. If one looks at a 125-acre stock-rearing farm producing beef stores, which is fairly typical, it will be found that one is unofficially rationed by the Department to, roughly, 48 breeding cows. You can keep more than 48, but you will not get any subsidy for them. At the present time a good breeding cow costs about £100, so the amount involved is about £4,800 of capital. You have to buy your plant and equipment, and you will not get away with paying less than £2,000 for that. Then you will require £2,000, or thereabouts, working capital to tide you 639 over the first year, making a total of £8,800. If you can borrow that sum at 6 per cent. it will cost £528 per annum. Then on your plant and equipment, including your cows, you have to take depreciation at 15 per cent., which amounts to £1,020 a year. Then you have to pay rent and rates, say. £500; wages, £1,400—that is two men at £700 a year, which is roughly the wage at the present time. Then depreciation and interest, £1,548; fertilisers, £500; food, £250; fuel, £100; seeds, £100; repairs and renewals, £200; and sundries, such as veterinary surgeon's fees, transport, telephone, and odds and ends, £200. All this makes a grand total of £4,798 or, say, £4,800.
Your annual income is what you can get for what you can sell. If you are a hundred per cent. lucky, which you probably will not be, you can sell 48 calves and you can average a figure in the order of £35 a head, making a total of £1,680. On those you will get subsidies of £9 a head, making a total of £432. Then there is the hill cow subsidy of £13, amounting to £624; the ploughing subsidy, which is probably on 18 acres at £5 an acre, amounting to £90. The winter keep scheme is £252, if you are on the "B" grade. Then there is a cereal deficiency payment, which is about £6 on 36 acres, amounting to £216, and the sale of surplus grain, which you usually have, £378. That amounts to a grand total on the income side of £3,672, say £3,700. You can therefore show a loss on paper of £1,100, and this is more or less typical, but of course farmers do not pay themselves the wage to which they are entitled. They can usually scrounge equipment and do not pay for that. Nevertheless those are the figures if one is starting anew, and that is the state of these proposed schemes. The Government go carefully into man-days, man-hours, to grow the crop but draw a veil over the necessary cost to make the scheme pay, although they know it.
The farm management schemes are absolutely excellent. We have not got N.A.A.S. in Scotland, but we have the colleges, which do an excellent job. Nevertheless, I submit my accounts annually for their management report and their statistics, and it takes five months before I get the answer. I availed myself 640 last week of the computer appreciation course in the other place, and I came away on better terms with the computer than some of my noble friends seem to be. But it was impressed upon me that humdrum calculations, boring, repetitious calculations of this sort, are the ideal job for a computer. I say that it is time the Department and the Ministry of Agriculture got together. You have got to write a programme for a computer in its own language; but, having got that one programme, you put it into the computer and then you can feed in different figures any year you like. You can continually feed in annual figures from Scotland, Wales, England, and you get out a whole series of answers—not in the shake of a dog's tail but in the shake of a computer's tail, whatever that may be.
It seems to me that they are not availing themselves in the Department of modern science. They are not moving with the times. They are not sufficiently bullying the fanners. The farmers put in their accounts to these accounting schemes, but their accounting years end on a variety of dates, which is hopeless. There is no reason why all accounts should not end on the same date, to be chosen by the Department. It would make a vast difference if we had the answer back within a month of putting in the return, instead of five months later. I do not say this as a criticism of the people running the Department but of the method by which it is done at the moment. I think it could, and should, be altered.
With regard to the farmers' co-operatives, I have tried our co-operative to do the things which we are told we ought to do. I put my fertiliser requirements in the spring out to tender by "the co-op." and by three or four firms, and in no case, with the solitary exception of grass seed, has our own North-Eastern Co-op, come anywhere near the price at which other merchants are prepared to supply. They were better in the case of grass seed, and of course I dealt with them for that. This trading should be a two-way affair. We have had a very difficult harvest this year, and I asked "the co-op." if they would buy any oats. They just said, "We do not want to see any more oats for another two years". They have not the capacity to cope. These co-operatives are just not "with it", and you 641 cannot deal with them however much you want to.
I want to refer to one other thing, which I think has not been mentioned before, but which causes a great deal of annoyance; I refer to old leases and conditions of let. People who are sitting under old leases cannot alter these leases, and many people are sitting under tacit relocation. These leases were compiled before the days of combines and pick-up balers. In Scotland, tenants generally go into these farms at the Whitsunday term or Martinmas term. At a Whitsunmas in-go the tenant who has sown the crop owns the crop, but the incoming tenant has to do all the work of growing the crop. When the crop is still growing the value of the crop and the yield is estimated (which is another way of saying guessed) by valuators shortly before the harvest. Irrespective of the actual yield or moisture content—which is never considered, though it makes a great difference in selling grain—the incoming tenant has to harvest the crop, stack it and preserve it and is paid half the estimated quantity at the Martinmas thresh, plus the valuator's guess of what it cost to harvest, which bears no relation to actual fact. Then he gets the balance when feears' prices for the county are struck in March. At a Martinmas in-go the crop which has been harvested and stacked in the usual way is taken over by the incoming tenant and paid for at the two threshes and in this case the quantity of corn is measured over "the tail of the mill" by the arbitrators of both parties there. The straw is not measured but merely assessed on the yield of grain.
This procedure was fine in the old days, but it is completely obsolete and out of date now. Who pays for the baling, for example? Theoretically, the tenant could prohibit you from harvesting with a combined harvester. He could say, "I want it stooked. You have got to stook it. That is what the lease says." What I think is needed is a modern clause which does not alter the spirit of the lease but brings it into line with modern farming operations and modern equipment. This might be a good moment, when we are thinking about these matters, to think about that, too.
The Farm Improvement Scheme is, of course, tied up with borrowing money, 642 and there again I think that the time is ripe to look carefully into the procedures under which farmers can get loans. They are governed, at any rate in some cases, by, I believe, nineteenth century Acts. They are very cumbersome procedures, and could, I think, be made far simpler for the farmers and everybody else concerned. This is a point that ought at least to be examined. In this matter of improvements speed is essential if farmers are to get the benefits in the year they are doing it. I hope that the Government will exempt any schemes costing less than, say, £5,000 from the requirements of a building licence. I gather that the good old building licence is coming back and that it will not be possible to put one brick on another without permission, inspection and so on. I hope that that is not so, but I am told that it is. I think that in the interests of speed farm improvements of a reasonable limit should be excluded or exempted from these necessary provisions. The Government will be judged not by their words but by their actions.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
My Lords, the subject of this debate is one on which there are so many experts in this House, and those experts have already spoken at such length, that I find it difficult to add anything new on the subject. I feel that I can be quite brief because everything that I should have said has already been said, which I hope indicates that I have at least been thinking along the right lines this afternoon. But there are one or two points that I should like to emphasise. The first is that I do not feel that sufficient tribute has been paid, either in this debate or in the country at large, to the agriculture industry, and adequate recognition has not been given to the tremendous achievements which it has made since the end of the war.
I do not believe there is any other industry which has made such increases in productivity, whether that be measured per man or per acre, and also in total production, gross output having considerably increased from a declining acreage. Indeed, I think no other industry can claim to have approximately doubled its output and more than doubled its wage level on what has been, even with subsidies, for many years virtually a static price level. This is, I think, a colossal 643 scientific and administrative achievement, and due recognition should be given to this fact, particularly since after the passing of the 1947 Act the industry has been almost completely nationalised, in the sense that its prices and wages have been fixed for it by Government, and the farmer has had far less control over his environment and over his market than any other person I can imagine.
The farmer does not like being paid by subsidies and he does not like the odium which goes with receiving those payments. The taxpayer does not like paying support prices. But the price supports are designed as consumer subsidies, and they are designed to keep food prices down. I am glad to see that the Minister acknowledged this in his speech last week-end. I do not think sufficient emphasis has been given to this fact, and the farmer is blamed for the level of prices when in fact this is a straightforward food subsidy. We are being taxed to the tune of £200 million annually to keep food prices at an unrealistic level. Surely some measure of control of imports, whether by levies or quotas, could be used to reduce this bill. The begging bowl is an inadequate farming implement, and no farmer likes to use it, just as the featherbed (which I am glad we hear no more about now) was in fact not a comfortable one. The income of the industry is dependent on the mood of the Treasury at the time of the Annual Price Review, and while it is true that the public has little sympathy for farmers who protest at the inadequate and unjust reward, I would join with those speakers who have already condemned the hideousness inflicted on the countryside throughout this summer by littering it with meaningless posters. This has done the industry positive harm and certainly no good.
There is one subsidy which I am glad to say has been adequately mentioned this afternoon but which I should again like to emphasise as a further point. It is a subsidy which is a strictly farm subsidy and not a consumer subsidy. I refer to the Farm Improvement Grant. This matter has been adequately covered by previous speakers. It is, of course, of benefit to all classes of farmer 644 —not only to those unpopular persons, landlords, but to occupier owners and to tenants. It has enabled the industry to modernise itself, and although I have at the moment no fears that this grant is likely to be discontinued I would ask the Government to assure the House that they have no intention of discontinuing the grant. I would go even further and say that it should be extended in scope. I would entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Stonehaven that the length of time taken to apply it is inordinate. I would also suggest that it could be broadened to include more modern techniques.
I would give one short example. Ministry of Agriculture officials have recently been recommending the use of such modern things as tower silos—and they are rightly recommending them, as they are definitely here to stay; but their colleagues who deliver the grant refuse to admit them as eligible for grant at the moment. This seems to be a piece of bureaucratic nonsense, which I feel should be done away with.
This grant, together with a relatively declining price level and a wholly justified increased wage level, has led farmers to make huge strides in modernisation and in cutting costs. These advances have led to a decrease in the number of workers employed in the industry, which is not due to the drift from the land which we have heard about before. To refer to the fact that inadequate wages have caused a drift from the land is, if I may use what I do not mean to be a wholly agricultural expression, putting the cart before the horse. Farmers have, as a result of being squeezed, got to reduce their staff, and it has been calculated that if, by mechanisation or modernisation of equipment, a farmer can reduce his staff by a man or so, then he is amply justified in spending anything up to £16,000 in capital expenditure out of his pocket. Many farmers are doing just this, and many more will continue to do so. This is the prime cause of fewer numbers of persons now being employed in agriculture.
Similarly, the lower the return for his produce, the harder the farmer has to work for his living, and the greater the incentive he has to produce more from the same acreage. This, of course, not only results in a food surplus which is 645 sometimes embarrassing but will result in a greatly increased subsidy bill. It seems a convenient way to get the farmer to be more efficient, to squeeze his prices, but in fact the limit to this process may now have been reached, and further turns on this screw might well be disastrous. But there has been this painful incentive, and I should like to emphasise that this should be recognised.
Finally, I welcome the Government's approach to the small farmer problem, and the problem of the uneconomic farm. I think it is a courageous and correct approach, although the compensation offered is virtually derisory, and we shall have to see what happens. I should like to conclude with one observation which I hope will encourage the Minister of Agriculture. I should like to tell him that, however horrible he may have been, the weather has this year proved itself a far greater enemy than anything that he could be.
§ 5.36 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I face the noble Lord, Lord Champion, with some diffidence on this occasion, because some months ago I gave him what amounted to a personal assurance that I should not again be tangling with him across this Table on the subject of agriculture. I gave that assurance in good faith. This is, I think, an isolated occasion. Duty called, and I know with how much respect the noble Lord himself regards the call of duty.
The theme and the goal of Conservative agricultural policy is clear in our minds. My noble friend made this plain in his opening speech. Many noble Lords, notably Lord Wise, have to-day called for long-term measures. We regard this particular policy outlined by my noble friend, and we insist upon it, as a gradual process and a far-sighted process. It is thoughtful and deliberate in its conception. It will be thoughtful and deliberate in its execution. It will be implemented one day by thoughtful and deliberate Ministers. As those who have read it will have found, it is a policy forged from experience and foresight. If members of the Party opposite should be so hasty as to suppose that it is new in the sense of being sudden or opportune, they are mistaken, and it is part of my duty to tell them so.
646 By 1960 it had already become apparent to agricultural Ministers that the system of deficiency payments was under pressures which had not existed at the time of the 1947 and the 1957 Acts. It was also plain that these pressures would progressively increase at cost to the Exchequer. This warning was clearly given by my right honourable friend Mr. Christopher Soames early in his term of office, in the first half of 1961, and was frequently and lucidly repeated thereafter. It was impractical at the time to take action to introduce new policies, to change or adjust the system, while we were making our entirely laudable endeavours to join the Common Market. It was clear that if we took the agricultural industry, together with other industries, into what would comprise a home market of over 200 million people, we should also have to fit and adjust our own agricultural support system into the system already prevailing in the Community. The need to contemplate great changes upon joining the Community delayed the introduction of changes which we knew were needed, until January 29, 1963, the date when talks were discontinued.
During this period of unavoidable delay, the eighteen months which the negotiations lasted, the trend of increased production continued both with in the country and outside, with two clear consequences: a depression in world prices affecting the food we bought from abroad, and an increasing quantity of the domestic products coming on to our market adding up inevitably to unstable market conditions and an uncontrollable Exchequer bill. When I say uncontrollable, I mean uncontrollable under existing legislation. It was in our determination to implement the Agriculture Acts, and to ensure fair returns to farmers, that we had to accept a rise in Exchequer cost of agricultural support of more than one-third, over £100 million in the course of three years. That £100 million was accounted for entirely by meat and cereals.
Noble Lords will remember that the deficiency payment component rose to £225 million in 1961–62, including the need for an additional Vote of £78 million above the Estimate. That was the sort of danger inherent in the system. As I have said, world factors would have inflated this built-in danger yet further, 647 and a responsible Government could not accept the uncontrollable or open-ended character of such a system of support. I have said that until January 29, 1963, we were obliged to wait and leave the tendency untrammelled. But I can relate to the House how on January 30, on the morrow of the setback in Brussels the previous night, the then Minister, Mr. Christopher Soames, set out his ideas on how we should move forward from that point. These ideas were examined, analysed, wrought into practical and acceptable shape, and finally implemented by the time of the 1964 Price Review. They were embodied in two completely original and complementary systems: minimum import prices and standard quantities. Both those systems had to be agreed, the first by our principal foreign suppliers, and the second by the producers at home.
In the context of cereals both were agreed, and the same achievements were nearly obtained for meat. As a result, and another portion of the present Government's inheritance, the £225 million hill of 1961–62 had fallen to £150 million in 1964–65. Credit for this goes as much to the producers, both at home and abroad, as it does to the policy-makers of the day, for their co-operative approach in these arrangements. But it was an example of positive and forward-looking government, the sort of government which a forward-looking industry can understand, with which it can come to terms.
What we have laid before the country in the past few weeks is in the nature of natural progress onward from those decisions. It will enable the farmer to obtain not only a larger and eventually a full return for his labour from the market, but a larger share of the home market. This will remove two present and besetting aversions of the British farmer—and these matters were touched upon by my noble friend Lord Ridley: first, dependence upon the deficiency payment, with arguments as to whether it is a producer subsidy or a consumer subsidy; and, secondly, the sense of restriction, the feeling that the more the farmer produces the less he may earn. The simple and unshameful truth is that a system ideal for an era of scarcity will not be ideal in an era of plenty. The permanent aim of every Government must be to 648 enable the agricultural industry to make a full contribution to the national economy. Farmers have some reason to feel that the present system no longer allows them to do this.
On the 9th of this month, Sir Harold Woolley expressed two principles of the 1947 Act which his Union regarded as cardinal. In his words they were thatour industry should produce from the farmlands of Britain such quantity and kind of produce as will best serve the national interest, and should do this efficiently.Secondly, thatthere should be proper remuneration for the personal services of those who do the job, he those services manual or managerial, and that there should be adequate interest return on capital invested in the industry.We stand staunchly by both those principles, but we think that with present and foreseeable production levels they will require change in a system which has played its part magnificently during the period for which it was designed.
We plan, therefore, to move over from a system of support by deficiency payments to a system of support by levies on imports; that is to say that, over a period, deficiency payments would be phased-out and levies phased-in. As the levy on a particular commodity begins to take effect, the market price will rise and the deficiency payment will contract. By this process the need for deficiency payments will ultimately be eliminated. We do not think that all commodities will lend themselves to this process (and we are speaking only in terms of temperate products), but the cereal crops suggest themselves immediately, and meat and dairy produce would come up for early consideration. The process would clearly have to harmonise with the rate of increased production at home, and the scope of this has not yet been fully measured. Everyone in touch with the farming industry knows that the scope exists and the challenge would be keenly, exultantly accepted.
Negotiations would be required automatically with our overseas suppliers, and the change will create problems for some of them. But they cannot ignore the problems we face ourselves, notably in our balance of payments—and with some of these suppliers there is a striking imbalance of trade—to our present demonstrable disadvantage. Nor can they ignore the global shortage of food 649 available to the human race, a matter which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. The practicality of such negotiations has already been proved in the cereal talks last year, which obtained agreement for import controls, and, indeed, the system itself has been gently tested and found promising.
Members of the present Government have made much of the fact that this system will put up food prices and thereby the cost of living. I should have thought that they were in pretty poor case to attack in this sector at the moment. As my noble friend has said, spread over, say, eight years this process would mean an increase of one-half of 1 per cent. in the cost of these foodstuffs—that is home-produced foodstuffs—as an element of the Cost of Living Index. However, by virtue of the levies, imported food would also be pushed up in price. But the total value of imported temperate foodstuffs is even now considerably less than that of home produced (in the region of £900 million, set against £1,500 million) so that, even if all such commodities were made subject to the levy (which is not envisaged) the cost of living would be raised by a good deal less than 1 per cent. a year. How much happier, how even blander and more benign would be the smile of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, if he were worried at this moment by a rise of only 1 per cent., instead of 6 per cent., in the standard of living during the first year of the Labour Administration!
LORD ST. OSWALD
In the cost of living—I am glad to be corrected on that. Whereas this 6 per cent. has brought nothing in terms of satisfaction to either the people or the Government, the saving of, let us say, £23 million as a starting fraction of the £175 million would appear automatically on the credit side of the Government's ledger. And although nobody would seek to tie down a future Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, these increasing millions might well be put to assisting those who were especially affected by a change in the cost of food.
In the light of these fresh conceptions, I cannot see how, in all honesty, the noble 650 Lord, Lord Henley, can continue in doubt that the Conservative Party is truly expansionist in its approach. The farming industry of this country has felt confined and, as things stand, it seems undeniable that agriculture, looking to the future, cannot be properly rewarded for its own increasing efficiency and productivity without the consequence of a higher subsidy bill. Two utterly interdependent associates are, in fact, pulling against each other, in a most wasteful manner. We believe that we have the answer. I think that the Government see the problem, but have they the answer?
Three relevant documents lie figuratively on the table to-day. The most compendious is the National Plan, which states in its opening paragraph:An essential part of the Plan is a solution of Britain's balance of payments problem".Agriculture is given virtually no responsibility and no scope in this "essential part of the Plan", despite the most extravagant claims before the Election last year. The document merely recognises the expected increase in domestic demand by 1970, and allots a "major part"—which might be no more than 51 per cent.—of that increased demand to the home producer. It rather looks as if Mr. Peart has been promising much the same thing in Australia and New Zealand. But at best it does not promise very stimulating rewards. There is a note, of pretty frigid comfort only, in paragraph 16, on page 138: the somewhat self-evident conclusion that, if the whole of the additional demand for food were to be met from overseas, it would be expensive in imports. I doubt if even proof of enlightenment will set many rural hearts dancing. What emerges from the Plan as a whole is the inference that the manufacturing industries are the blue-eyed darlings of a slick-talking though somewhat absent-minded uncle, while agriculture is the ugly, muddy duckling of the family.
There are on the Table, however, two White Papers exclusively relating to farming: The Development of Agriculture and Marketing of Meat and Livestock. These have been referred to by noble Lords, and I have already spoken for nearly as long as I intended, so I will touch only briefly upon both. In the first, among other things, the Government have set about the problems of farm structure; 651 and I wish them success, because it may well be that there is a part for the Government to play in providing incentive for amalgamations, for the health of the industry. In perusing the White Paper I do not have the impression that the Government have tackled the problem wholeheartedly enough to achieve much success—but this calls for expenditure, and I know that there are forms of expenditure easier to justify convincingly among colleagues. Perhaps we shall learn from the noble Lord how his colleagues measure the reaction, so far, of those for whom these schemes have been designed.
In the other document the recommendations of Sir Reginald Verdon-Smith's Committee seem to have been accepted and transformed into policy painlessly, without distortion, though also without any expression of gratitude to the Verdon-Smith Committee, which appears somewhat grudging. The Commission envisaged has a similar look to the sort of body that a Conservative Government would have set up, and upon this good sense we can congratulate the Ministers concerned. But there is a kind of concealed dagger in the proviso that the Commission,should be empowered to submit to Ministers schemes for reorganising, developing or regulating one or more sections of the industry."Reorganising, developing or regulating" are the sort of terms over which Socialist Ministers lick their lips with sinister intent. I should like to have some reassuring interpretation from the noble Lord, who I am sure licks his lips only over the most wholesome and innocent forms of nourishment.
In summary, the hopes held out to agriculture by the policies of the two main Parties contrast in value and conviction as strikingly as you would expect. In the months leading up to the General Election, Mr. Harold Wilson preached import substitution as vehemently as he preached anything, and with particular reference to agriculture. There is no visible, traceable, tangible element of import substitution in the agricultural section of this National Plan. There is no opening horizon for the efficient, energetic, aspiring British farmer. There is no real courage or confidence, no willingness to change in a changing world. These are the qualities which British farmers 652 look for in an agricultural policy to-day. It is in our thinking that such farmers will find the stimulant they seek; it is in our execution that they will find the reward for their enterprise and labour.
At the time of the Price Review White Paper seven months ago I described the Government's agricultural policy there set forth as apoor shivering town mouse, creeping out through the protective portals of the Ministry, and scuttling down Whitehall.That metaphor clearly met with the approval of the Minister himself, since he has lately compounded and completed it. Speaking at Workington last Saturday, he declared:The Tory cat is now out of the bag".My Lords, he never spoke a truer word.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I have been given a quite impossible task to reply. So knowledgeable are noble Lords, and so detailed have been so many of their speeches, that it would be quite impossible for me to attempt to reply here tonight. Indeed, if I attempted it I should be here a very long time, and so would those noble Lords who would stick it to the end. This has been an extraordinarily useful debate. I even welcome back to this field the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, who certainly did not follow a non-Party line, as most of the participants in the debate have done. He clearly was banging the Party drum with all the vigour that he could apply to it, and I must say that the House, like himself and like myself, enjoyed it.
The debate was admirably opened by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who seemed to me to be trying hard, and not without a great deal of success, to take a detached look at this great industry. I know that it is very difficult for a farmer and a Tory politician, as of course he must be, sitting where he is, to do that. Of course, he had to have some Party "cracks", but I felt that, underlying it all, was a determination to take a look at this industry and to try to give the House some guidance as to how the industry should develop.
The noble Earl began by telling us that there had been a great deal of hard thinking about this industry over the past few months and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, agreed with that—and rightly. 653 Certainly, the Government have given it a lot of hard thinking, as the policy documents which have been issued and the National Plan, clearly show. The Tory policy document makes it clear that the Opposition have been thinking about this matter, and, indeed, have given it some fresh thinking. The industry itself has also been thinking about the future, and has been telling the country, through the posters we have seen, what they think the country ought to do about the industry. I must say that I disagreed with the posters that were stuck up. I thought they were blatant and they did not set out a good case; but to some extent they caused people to think about this great problem, and the part that agriculture can play in the future of this country as a whole.
At this stage in my speech I must join the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in his sympathy with farmers in the bad harvest weather that we have had this year. It looked like being a bumper harvest. I thought at one time that, if it were a bumper harvest, we could claim this as purely the result of having a Labour Government. Unfortunately, it did not work out quite that way, and it looks as if it will prove to be this year only an average harvest. This is one of the disappointments to which all those people engaged in agriculture have become accustomed, although each year they all start out with the hope that it will be the exception; that the sun will shine at the right time, and that the rain will fall on the very fields where it is needed.
The noble Earl went on to set out the apparent irreconcilables that we have to face in our thinking on this industry. He then went on, as I understood him, to pay tribute to the farmers, politicians, economists and others who had achieved a remarkable degree of success in this apparently impossible task. I think he is right here. There has been a wonderful job done by all the people concerned, who have done a lot to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable.
However, after the opening generalities were over, the noble Earl, as did several other noble Lords, went on to examine the key words in the National Plan, which is before everybody to-day. He found and decided, and told the House, that the role given to agriculture for the next five years was a negative one. With that remark 654 I am in profound disagreement. I do not agree with his considered judgment of the role that is given to agriculture here. We all know that to get our economy moving in the right direction we need to increase productivity, to expand our exports and to save imports, while securing the most effective use of our own resources. In all this, as was admitted by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, agriculture has a key rôle. It has a big task. It has a job to do, and it is a job which, if well done, we shall welcome.
It can contribute in two ways—and these were mentioned by the noble Earl. First, we want to save imports by meeting ourselves a large part of the growth in food demand, estimated at £200 million by 1970. Second, if our agriculture continues, and even increases, its high rate of growth in productivity it will release manpower resources to other sectors of industry. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, seemed to find the first of these ways unexceptionable. He had no fault to find with it, but he said it was not exciting; that it would not stimulate anybody to do anything. But upon the second of these ways he poured some scorn, saying something to the effect that farmers and farm workers were not likely to be stimulated by the idea of investing vast sums in agriculture in order that some of the men employed, or some of the men who would have been employed, can go and work in the factories. I understood him to say something like that: I hope I have taken him down correctly here.
This objection I simply cannot understand, for all of us who have any association with this industry, in whatever capacity, pride ourselves on the increase in productivity that has taken place since the end of the war. We all do, whether one is in a comparatively minor capacity, such as I am, of being a politician interested in farming in these days, whether one is a farmers' leader or whether one is an actual farmer. We are all delighted with the fact that, with the aid of the machine, one man can do what two, three, four or five men did in the inter-war years. Of course we are! That this process with regard to the sort of work that was being done by hand in the bad old days shall continue is surely the aim of us all. It is what we must struggle for; it is what we must aim for. I would say that to employ one more man than is necessary in any 655 undertaking to-day is contrary to the national interest—quite contrary.
My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble Lord for a moment, because I should not like him to have the impression, or to give the impression, that I intended that agriculture should not be efficient and should not economise in labour, because that was not my intention at all. What I tried to point out was that the words in the Plan, that substantial manpower resources should be let loose for other purposes, would be an excellent result of an efficient agriculture, but should not be the sole purpose for it; and there is a great deal of difference.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I thank the noble Earl for that clarification of his point here. I still think that I am right in saying that it is the job of this industry to produce all the food that we can possibly get provided the resources being used are not wasted, which means, of course, using your manpower to the best possible advantage of the nation as a whole.
I agree completely with the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, with the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and of course with my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton, that what we want in this industry is a smaller but highly-skilled and highly-paid labour force. This is something which I have pleaded for time after time in the transport industry, in which I am also interested. In that industry I have always condemned this crazy desire to keep a lot of resources standing about with manpower being wastefully used, and I have never been popular for my condemnation of it. The same thing applies here. We want a smaller labour force, a more highly-skilled and a more highly-paid labour force. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton wants to see precisely that; and I welcome some recent steps which have been taken in connection with the wages of the agricultural worker. But we have got to go beyond that and ensure that the skills are really there and that the apprenticeship scheme works—and here I am sorry to say, with him, that a lot of farmers are not supporting the scheme as they should, neither are the workers in the industry.
656 I believe that our farmers can do the two things set out in the National Plan by means of a selective expansion programme based on the maintenance of the rate of increase in the industry's productivity. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, agreed with this selective approach to the problem, and I am sure that he is right. Perhaps I say that because he happens to be agreeing with me here—one tends to do that a little—but I think he has given this matter a great deal of thought, and I can still remember his very thoughtful speech in March last when we were discussing the Annual Price Review. The main emphasis in this programme will be on the expansion of our beef production, which will have to be increased to the full extent of the technical possibilities. We also expect that mutton and lamb and pig meat will contribute substantially to meeting the increased demand; and since the largest part of our beef production comes from the dairy herd, expansion of beef production will also entail expansion of milk production, which will meet the rising demand for liquid milk and cream and will satisfy the substantially increased demand we expect for milk products.
The noble Earl, in speaking about this, asked: if we are going to have increased milk, what are we going to do with it? We are going to have an increased population, and we expect that, under a Labour Government, the standard of living will continue to rise at an even faster rate. That being so, we expect people to want the more expensive things—the meat and the cream. I can almost see noble Lords opposite licking their lips at the thought of the cream that they will be using in future. I shall be coming back to the noble Earl's point on exports later on. But these increases in livestock will naturally raise the demand for cereal feed, and we expect a large part of the additional demand to come from our own farms. So much for the expansion that we are looking for.
As I have said, we shall need to ensure that this expansion is based on rising productivity. We cannot and dare not allow our agricultural expansion to absorb resources which could be better used elsewhere. If we did this by unlimited farm support or by large increases in prices to meet uneconomic production, the effect would be to hamper rather 657 than to encourage the growth of our economy. The Times last Monday put this succinctly in its editorial columns when it said:Some compromise between home output and imports is essential. If only for strategic reasons Britain cannot become dependent on foreign suppliers…The Conservatives would now tip the balance towards more self-sufficiency, arguing that import saving will help the balance of payments. This argument has always been thin. It becomes even thinner when it is realised that the inevitable rise in the country's food prices is bound to raise costs generally, which will not help exports.The Times is surely right here; and I am positive that the sensible leaders of this industry recognise this.
What the industry is entitled to ask of the Government is that it should be able to get the resources to enable it to achieve selective expansion and yet higher productivity. These will have to be under continuous review and the machinery for achieving it will be, as agreed with the Farmers' Unions, the Annual Review. Already, however, we have assured the industry of our intention to maintain the guaranteed price for beef at least at the existing level, over the next three years and not to reduce the standard quantities of cereal. This assurance, also, has been welcomed by the industry. This is some thing of a step in the direction of a plea which has been put forward continuously by my noble friend Lord Wise who, I think, feels that it would be well if we had the Annual Review at intervals of about five years. My own view is that that is impossible; but any step that we can take to give this assurance to agriculture such as is contained in this National Plan is a step in the right direction.
We have, too (and this has been mentioned several times this afternoon), already announced our measures to encourage greater productivity, improved farm structure—which has been welcomed by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and others; measures to encourage co-operation, better marketing, higher standards of management, better credit facilities. These are all part of this encouragement to greater productivity, as is, of course, a continuing drive to reduce the losses through disease. I believe that, despite the noble Earl's strictures, our announced policy will give our farmers 658 confidence in our determination to give agriculture and the British people a fair deal.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, accused the Minister, my right honourable friend Mr. Peart, of saying one thing to the farmers of the Commonwealth countries and another thing to the farmers here. This suggestion was repeated, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald.
§ LORD CHAMPION
The noble Earl said that he said different things. I realise that in all this "he said and he said" I may be getting a little mixed up; but the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that the Minister was engaging in "double talk", that he was saying one thing to the farmers of the Commonwealth and another thing to the home farmers. He challenged me to clear up the Minister's intentions. I will do precisely that by reading what the Minister said to the New Zealand producer boards. Speaking of the National Plan, he said this:We must obtain and maintain a better balance of payments. This is in the long-term interest of both our countries, indeed of the whole Sterling Area. To do so means increased productivity, increased exports and selective import savings. In this British agriculture has a part to play. We estimate that the growth in the United Kingdom population and the rising standard of living is likely to increase our food bill by some £200 million over the next five years. No doubt, it would be technically possible to expand United Kingdom production to meet just about all this; but that is not our intention. We have no wish to indulge in policies of indiscriminate expansion, regardless of the best use of our resources, nor of forgetting our international trading agreements and commitments. Our policy will be one of selective expansion for agriculture, of giving the British farmer an opportunity to supply a major part of this increase in demand and so to contain the huge increase that would otherwise take place in our food import bill.I should like to underline this by repeating that the Minister said that:Our policy will be one of selective expansion for agriculture, of giving the British farmer an opportunity to supply a major part of this increase in demand.There is no "double talk" here. He clearly said to the farmers and to the boards of New Zealand what I have been saying to-day and what is contained in our National Plan.
My Lords, I accept that. In fact, the noble Lord was telling us what his right honourable friend said in New Zealand. I am afraid that I should have warned him in advance that what I was complaining about was what the Minister said in Melbourne, Australia.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I understand that what my right honourable friend said in New Zealand was what he also said in Australia. But, of course, there can be little slip-ups in reports and so on. But certainly I cannot imagine my right honourable friend saying one thing in New Zealand, another in Australia and a further, different thing in Great Britain.
The noble Earl, finally, dealing with this point—or in his questions at any rate—asked me about conditions that he found in Bahrein. I do not think the House would be interested if I read out the whole of the letter which has now been sent to him, I think, by my noble friend, Lord Shackleton, on this subject. The point here is—and I think this is important—that attempts ought to be made, as the noble Earl pointed out, to try to ensure that there should be some form of stimulation of agricultural exports. I take it that that was what he was really aiming at, and that he was not just "shooting his line" for the benefit of the people on the stations in Bahrein, Singapore, Cyprus or anywhere else—although, of course, they are important.
The noble Earl spoke in this connection of the need for a body organised by the industry to stimulate agricultural exports. I know that this is a matter which is very close to the heart of my right honourable friend, the Minister of Agriculture. Although our exports of agricultural or horticultural goods are not great, we are, by and large, an importing nation, and our international commitments set some bounds to our exports of subsidised products. The Government share the noble Earl's belief that with good organisational backing our agricultural exports could be expanded. My right honourable friend has entered into discussions with the main associations in the industry and will offer all available help to get a promotional body off the ground. This will not be an easy 660 matter for the industry, as there is no body already in existence which speaks for all the interests concerned; but I hope that, with the Minister's encouragement, the interests concerned will soon form an Agricultural Export Council which will be eligible for assistance in its activities from all sources provided by the Government, the British National Exports Council, the Board of Trade services, and those of our posts abroad.
I am glad that the noble Lord has called attention to the work awaiting such a body; and if his trip abroad to some parts of the Commonwealth did nothing else, certainly it has enabled me in your Lordships' House to make that statement, which I think is a forward-looking one.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me to interrupt him for a moment? During the last twelve months there has been a very sharp rise in the export of pedigree stock, particularly to Eastern Europe. It is very encouraging.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I am delighted to have that information. I know that this has been one of our best agricultural exports for many years. Long may it continue and increase!
The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, told us that when we refer in our White Paper to consultations we really mean what we say. My Lords, we always—or at least this Government always—mean what we say in White Papers. The representations made by the noble Earl, as well as those made by others, will be carefully considered before the legislation which will flow from the White Papers he mentioned is presented to the House. We wish to get these representations fairly early, because I am hoping to help my right honourable friend to get this legislation on the Statute Book as early as possible in the next Session. I believe that we should take the action which will flow from the White Papers as quickly as possible.
There are a number of points to be considered and I hope that in particular my right honourable friend will consider the point about a private landlord standing in the same position as a Government body would stand in relation to the purchase of a farm and then letting it with the proviso that it would be possible to get the tenant out when the area was 661 ripe for amalgamation. That is what was aimed at. I hope and expect that my right honourable friend will consider this matter carefully.
The noble Earl went on to express the hope that we should not give forestry a second place. I hope that we shall always give afforestation a place which is not secondary to agriculture. I believe that forestry and agriculture are complementary rather than competitive. I trust that the people responsible, the rural boards—there may not be a rural board in Scotland but there other bodies will be responsible—will look at the areas and decide where forestry shall be undertaken and where agriculture shall continue, and that the decisions taken will be of the kind that would be taken by a wise landlord. The noble Earl did not think that we ought to have a rural development board in Scotland, and he gave reasons for his opinion. Initially, we propose to set them up in one or two experimental areas. I am not sure whether Scotland has been considered in this connection, but certainly the remarks of the noble Earl will be taken into consideration.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, referred to the difficulties which would attend any attempt to mechanise farming on the hills and uplands. She pleaded for a progressive plan. When considering plans for schemes for mechanisation, one tends to think of those vast areas in the Eastern Counties where mechanisation may be carried on with comparative ease. As one who did a little hill farming on a very moderate scale between the wars, I know how difficult it would be to introduce mechanisation into hill farming. On the whole, the noble Lady welcomed the Government's proposals. Her comments on farm drainage will be given every consideration. It is something which always appears to me to be a contradiction in terms, that farm drainage should be required on a hill farm or on upland acres, although of course I know that it is required.
The noble Lady asked how we should be able to sell the increased production which farmers are being asked to provide. She said that the answer contained in the National Plan was not good enough. I understood the noble Lady to 662 say that there would be a sudden increase in the population in 1970. Of course, that will not be the case. The increase will stretch over the years, and as agricultural production increases so, pretty well at the same rate, will the population increase between now and 1970. I do not think that there is much about which we need worry in this connection. I believe that we shall be able to sell all the useful products that the farmers find it possible to produce—that is, selective production.
I have crossed swords on many occasions with the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and on this occasion, as has been often the case in the past, I find myself more in agreement than at variance with him. The noble Lord welcomed, with some reservations, the Meat and Livestock Commission. I believe that he agrees with me that what was said when the Butchers' Federation met at Black-pool last week was absolute nonsense. It certainly was so far as the cost to the consumer is concerned. We estimate that the cost of the Commission will not in any case exceed ¼d. a lb. on the retail price of meat, and when the benefits of the Commission are spread over the whole there may even be a decrease in the price of meat.
The noble Lord seemed slightly at variance with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on the speed at which farm amalgamations are taking place, but I will not go into that. He asked a specific question about what is being done by the Egg Marketing Board. As he said, at present egg producers are paid weekly by the packing stations which collect their eggs as agents of the Board. Next April the Board will introduce new contract arrangements under which producers will receive a bonus in respect of the maximum quantity of eggs sold to the Board each quarter. The annual entitlement of individual producers will be related to the sales to the Board in the past two years. The object of the scheme, which has been agreed in principle with the Government and the Farmers' Union, is to promote more orderly marketing and a closer relationship between supply and demand.
The detailed arrangements for the administration of the new scheme are the responsibility of the Board, to be settled in discussions with the Farmers' 663 Union and the representatives of the packers. The Board has decided that under the new contract arrangements it will be necessary to adopt centralised recording and some form of centralised accounting, in order to secure effective administration and enable the Board to discharge its legal obligation to producers under the contracts. This is a decision by the Board and does not result, as I understood the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, to believe, from any insistence by the Ministry that centralised recording or accounting is necessary for the operation of the new arrangements. The Chairman of the Board made this clear in a speech at Preston last night. I have an extract from the speech he made which I can show to the noble Lord, if necessary.
The Board makes it clear that although it strongly recommends four-weekly payments, it will take account of the views of the Farmers' Union and will not take a definite decision until towards the end of November. Discussions between the Board, the Farmers' Union and the packers should continue meantime. I hope that this satisfies the noble Lord.
§ LORD CHAMPION
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, praised what had been done by economists in relation to farm management. He gave an illustration of some of the difficulties when he told us that the computer used in an attempt to solve difficulties on his farm "boggled", and that it was necessary to get a bigger computer in order to do the job. He said that the one that apparently failed to solve his problem was the one used in the preparation of the National Plan. I can only say that it must be that the National Plan is nothing like so complex as sorting out the mess there must be on the noble Earl's farm. That is all I can think, but perhaps there is some other explanation that he can give to me. Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Stone-haven, who has taken a course on this, will be able to help me afterwards.
The noble Earl welcomed our attempt to further the merging of farms into more economic units, though it seemed to me that that clashed with his object 664 tion to the words in the National Plan about employing fewer people in agriculture. There seemed to me to be some dichotomy of thought here. The noble Earl was thinking, in one case, of fewer small farms and, in the other, was saying that we should not turn people out of farming. That is how it seemed to me, but perhaps we can sort this out over a drink—provided that he has the money to treat me!
The noble Lord, Lord Forbes, asked about long-term credit. The Government are discussing with the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation how best to extend existing loan facilities to help farmers, particularly with schemes of amalgamation. Generally the Government prefer to give encouragement to investment by means of grant rather than by cheap subsidised credit arrangements. This answers the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, whose racy speech I thoroughly enjoyed and very much welcomed. I would think that the question of forbidding the sale of calves under three months is not really a matter for legislation. I welcome the noble Lord's tribute to the post-war Government. I wondered why he was sitting on that side of the House when he paid such a tribute to the Labour Government of those days, but afterwards, when he said that his wife was more Conservative than he, I understood it. We are all to some extent influenced in these matters by our wives.
Frankly, I cannot see the way out of the difficulty of the high capital cost of entry into farming. This problem was highlighted by the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven. How to get a young man a start in agriculture is an extremely difficult problem, because of the high cost of land and of everything else he needs to have in order to start. I cannot pretend to see any solution to this. Of course, there is always the smallholding ladder, which he can try, hoping that this may provide a way in, but it is not an entirely satisfactory one and does not always lead to the steps upward that we hope would come.
There is so much else I ought to reply to. I have now exceeded the time I thought I would take, but I must say a few words in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, on the new policy statement of the Conservative Government. Did I 665 say Conservative "Government"? I am getting on now, but I am sure this will never happen in my time, so if noble Lords had some little comfort from a slip of the tongue, I hope they enjoyed it. When I read the Tory policy document, I thought it was based on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in March last, but that does not make it any better, in my opinion. I was hoping that to-day we should have a more complete exposition of the policy than Mr. Godber gave to the Tory Party Conference last week. After listening to the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, who is pretty good on these matters, I am still disappointed in this. Listening to the noble Lord, I almost believed in this new Tory policy—but not quite. I am not such a simpleton as all that.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, suggested that if we take the figure of £175 million of deficiency payments and add that to the cost of food to the consumer, it would add between 3 and 4 per cent. to total retail prices, and that if the process were spread over eight years, it would amount to an increase of one-half of 1 per cent. per annum in the cost of food. I fear that it is not so simple as that, and that he and his Party have seriously underestimated the effect of putting their policy into operation and of departing from the policy laid down by the 1947 and 1957 Acts. Mr. Peart, with much greater resources at his command, has guessed (I am using his word) that the cost of extra food we might need would be £400 million in a year, and that may mean for meat an increase of between 10 and 15 per cent., and for farmers' feedingstuffs an increase of over £6 per ton.
Why do I think that the effect on retail prices has been seriously underestimated by the Tory Party? It is because the effect on food prices will not merely be the cost of the present deficiency payments spread over the retail price of food. The price of all food, whether imported or home-produced, will have to rise in accordance with the level of minimum import prices, and, in addition, the producers of livestock products, such as beef, lamb, bacon and eggs, will have to charge more because their imported foodstuffs will cost them more. Higher feeding costs will, in turn, damage our balance of payments, because we can 666 hardly expect our overseas suppliers to offer food at less than the minimum import price, and will face our industries with a prospect of higher costs, since dearer food must lead to higher wage demands. Industry will want to know a lot more about this Tory policy; and so will the country.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I did refer to the fact that levies would push up also the price of imported food and I included that in saying that it would be more than one-half of 1 per cent., which was accounted for by purely domestic production. Also, the higher price of feedingstuffs will be included in the higher reward of the stock farmer when he gets his market price.
My Lords, the noble Lord said that the greatly increased production of cereals in this country was going to be used for the feeding of stock, but he said just now that the increased cost is going to be due to imported feedingstuffs. Would the noble Lord clarify this?
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, think I said in both cases that there would be a demand arising from what we see in the National Plan, which is an increased amount of feedingstuffs, but I do not think that we shall ever get from our own production the whole of our requirements in this field. Some will be imported, and this will have the effect which I have just mentioned.
Sir Harold Woolley, who is pretty knowledgeable about this subject, has said of the Tory policy that although the information it contains is scanty, it is nevertheless significant. He went on to express grave doubts abut the idea of switching from the system we now operate under the 1947 and 1957 Acts, to support by import control. We share those doubts, and in particular whether it would be practicable to fulfil the Acts of 1947 and 1957 by the sort of system now operated by the Common Market. That is really what is happening here. The Tory Party are attempting to foist on to the farming industry and the British 667 public a system that has failed so miserably in the Common Market countries.
There is much I should like to say in this connection, but I will end by saying about the Tory policy that unless the difficult question posed by this statement can be convincingly answered, both our farmers and the public in general would be well advised to leave the control of agricultural policy in the hands of a Government who stand by the Agriculture Acts, the 1947 one passed by a Labour Government and the 1957 one passed by a Conservative Government. This is a well-proved system, and I think that the industry and the public would be mad to depart from these policies which have served so well.
§ 6.42 p.m.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for dealing with so many problems so effectively. The noble Lord answered a lot of questions, but he started off by mildly castigating my noble friend Lord St. Oswald for beating the Party drum. I am bound to say that as I sat on this Bench during the latter part of Lord Champion's speech I almost choked, because I thought, if it was a Party drum that my noble friend had been beating, what on earth it was that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, had got hold of, I did not know. It made my noble friend's speech seem much more like a child's tap, compared with the one that was issued by the noble Lord, Lord Champion.
I do not want to go into any great detail on any of the points over which we took issue, but the noble Lord, Lord Champion, suggested that we might settle one thing over a drink. Here I regret that I must take issue with my noble friend Lord St. Oswald, because I think he has got the noble Lord, Lord Champion, into bad ways. I remember that on the last occasion we had a debate on this subject the noble Lord, Lord Champion, issued a list like a gourmet's menu of the type of food he would be prepared to accept at the hospitality of my noble friend. While I should like to extend as much hospitality as I could to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, he should not expect me to carry on the form of hos 668 pitality which my noble friend was reckless enough to offer.
In all seriousness, I am grateful for one thing which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said, and that is that his right honourable friend is going to establish, or help to establish, some form of export body to try to encourage all sections of agriculture, as a whole, to make a set at exporting some of their goods. I recognise that this will be difficult, but it is a great step, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for mentioning it.
We have had a number of speakers this afternoon, and as your Lordships are always so knowledgeable on the subject of agriculture an agricultural debate here is a most useful thing. I hope that this debate has served a useful purpose. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part, and particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for answering the questions and beating his particular drum in such a pleasant manner. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.