HL Deb 01 May 1974 vol 351 cc116-32

3.4 p.m.

LORD WALSTON rose to call attention to the problems of agriculture in this period of inflation and to the contribution that agriculture can make to the national economy; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This is an opportune moment for us to have a debate on agriculture. It is some fifteen months or more since we had one, and I am most grateful to those who arrange these matters for having made this debate possible. All your Lordships, even those who are not concerned with agriculture except at the receiving end of the finished product, know that there is grave disquiet in the agricultural industry at the present time. It is usual for farmers to grumble and say how bad things are, so I will start by admitting very freely, as an arable farmer myself, that the past twelve months—or perhaps I should say the past calendar year—have probably been the best for cereal farmers within living memory. There can be no cause for complaint whatsoever about the level of profits and the ratio of costs to prices that we have experienced during these past twelve months—and indeed the two previous years were not so very bad.

But even on the arable side one cannot say that the barometer is set fair. Since the 1973 crop was planted, there have been substantial increases in the costs of all arable farmers; for example, wages have risen by some 17½ per cent. and the price of tractors by a similar amount. Fertilisers have risen by 50 per cent., and seed corn also, while tractor oil has risen by 250 per cent. To take one example of the effect that this has had on a particular crop, the sugar beet crop, the increased price paid to a sugar beet producer in this country for the coming harvest will be just about sufficient on an average crop to cover the extra costs of fertiliser and sprays to be used on that crop, without taking into account the other rises in price I have mentioned. What is more, we are far from being at the end of these rising prices. For instance, I am told that the price of raw materials such as potash and the phosphates has risen in the last three months by between 200 per cent. and 300 per cent., and the naphtha which is essential for converting these into artificial fertilisers has risen by some 400 per cent. Only about 50 per cent. of these increased costs have so far been passed on to the farmer, so it is clear we are in for further large increases in the cost of our inputs as arable farmers.

If prices remain at something like last year's level for cereal crops, which is somewhere between £55 and £65—possibly even up to £70—per ton for wheat, I do not think many cereal farmers will have cause to grumble. But futures prices to-day are somewhat below £50 a ton, so the only point I would make here is that if prices fall on the world markets the present guaranteed price of some £39 per ton for wheat will result in a complete swing-round from the very high profit of last year to a loss in the current year. I personally do not expect them to fall as far as that, but we are approaching that very delicate balance between considerable profit and a very real loss. It would be wrong if noble Lords, the public at large, and particularly the Government, felt that because of the high profits experienced in arable farming, and cereal farming in particular, during the last twelve months there is nothing to worry about in this sphere of agriculture. It is clear that, because of rapid inflation, the guaranteed price, which was supposed to be a safety net for farmers, is completely ineffectual in providing any form whatsoever of guarantee against loss.

We must not forget that arable farm crops as a whole are a relatively small proportion of total farm output. This year they account for something like £790 million of output compared with horticulture which accounts for just over £400 million, and livestock and livestock products which account for £2,550 million. In other words, livestock and livestock products are some three or three and a half times the value of farm crops, and twice the value of farm crops and horticulture put together. They are far and away the most important sector in British agriculture and it is the livestock farmers who have been so very hard hit by inflation, the rising costs of their inputs, particularly feeding stuffs and more or less static—and in certain cases somewhat falling—prices for the finished product.

What is more, my Lords, you will remember that for many years successive Governments have called on the livestock farmers of this country to increase their output and they have responded magnificently. Ten years ago we supplied 75 per cent. of our own beef and veal; that figure has now risen to 86 per cent. Ten years ago we produced in this country 9 per cent. of our butter; to-day we produce 22 per cent. of it. Ten years ago we produced 44 per cent. of our cheese; to-day we produce 65 per cent. of it. That is the response that the farming community has made to the appeals of Government to increase their production. Now they are faced with a situation where, because of their success and their efforts, they are in many cases producing at a loss. Dairy farmers are barely covering their costs. I know the Government gave them a retrospective increase in price, and that is of value, but it just about covered the extra costs of the last winter period—if that. It is certainly not sufficient to cover the extra costs which are facing them at the present time.

The producers of pork pigs are, it is commonly agreed, losing some £2 to £3 on every pig that they send to market. The producers of fat cattle are losing some £20 to £30 on every fat beast that they send to market to-day. It is no wonder that the confidence of livestock farmers has disappeared, now that they see that the security which there used to be under our system of guaranteed prices has been abandoned in favour of the Common Market system of intervention—and I have no quarrel with that, my Lords. But now the security of intervention prices themselves has also been removed.

There is a further point that is worth while making here. When one refers to the unprofitability of beef production it is wrong to think that this applies solely to the beef producers. It directly affects milk producers also, because a significant part of the income of the average milk producer comes from his sale of calves. If the price of beef is buoyant, as it was a year ago, the value of those steer calves from the dairy herd is high and that contributes to the income of the dairy farmer. But if, as it is to-day, the value of those calves is way down, the income of the dairy farmer is thereby reduced and therefore he is thrown back ever more on the value of his milk.

This problem of beef is exacerbated still further—in my view, to only a minor extent, but it is worth while mentioning it—by imports into this country of store cattle from Eire and meat, in one form or another, ready for the butcher's shop from Germany. Both these imports come from countries which are gaining advantages in a series of ways, which are not very simple to describe, from the Common Agricultural Policy. So that in addition to the high cost of meat production and consumer resistance, which is keeping the price at something very close to what it was last year, we are now having competition from Community-assisted imports into this country. This is bad enough in itself, but farmers might have some encouragement in regard to their losses if they felt that as a result the consumer was getting his or her meat at a lower price, but that is not the position.

The market price for fat cattle—I am quoting February figures—has fallen by 2½ cent. in the last 12 months, but in spite of that the shop price has risen by 4 per cent. They are not very large figures, I admit, but if there has been a fall to the farmer, even of such a small amount as 2½ per cent., surely the consumer could benefit and have his meat 2½ per cent. cheaper. To-day, for pork pigs the farmer receives only 5 per cent. more than he did last year, but the price of the different cuts of pork in the shops has gone up by 17½ per cent. So that, once again, a very small and insufficient rise in price to the farmer has been reflected not by a more or less static price of pork in the shops, but by a 17½ per cent. increase.

On purely economic grounds, I suppose it could be argued that it would not matter very much if British farming were unprofitable and British farm output declined if, first, we were assured of adequate quantities of food from overseas at prices below those at which we can produce it at home; and, secondly, if we had ample foreign exchange with which to pay for that imported food. But neither of those facts is true to-day.

It is impossible to forecast at all accurately what the world food situation will be like in six months', 12 months', five years' or ten years' time. This depends on very many factors which not even the most carefully programmed computer could possibly evaluate. For instance, any day, any year, the Soviet Union or China might decide to enter the grain market on a big scale, as happened last year, and prices would shoot up. Conversely, they might withdraw entirely from the grain market; the Soviet Union might even place large quantities of grain on the world market. There are those fluctuations which one cannot take into account.

For all that, my Lords, I do not think that there is an expert in any country in the world to-day who feels that the days of cheap food will ever return. There might be short periods of surplus here and there when certain commodities can be picked up at a low price, but it is not something that we can rely on if we are concerned with the feeding of our people in this country. Even if we were able to rely on that—and here I address myself particularly to my noble friends on this side of the House—while it may be consistent with Conservative philosophy to buy food at the cheapest possible price, regardless of the effect it may have on those who produce it, surely anybody who claims to be a Socialist must agree that the labourer is worthy of his hire, whether that labourer be a British farm worker or farmer or a food producer in the developing countries or elsewhere in the world. We cannot rely on cheap food bought at bargain basement prices. We must base our agricultural policy, our nutritional policy, at home and abroad, on paying a fair price for whatever it is we want and whatever it is we are going to buy.

I will not dwell long on the world food situation, but I would remind your Lordships of one or two figures which have been produced by the Food and Agricultural Organisation in their indicative world food plan. They state—and I think most people will agree—that the world population to-day is increasing by between 2½ per cent. and 3 per cent. per annum. The annual rate of increased demand they estimate to be running at the rate of over 3 per cent.—3.1 per cent. to be precise—for cereals, and 5.6 per cent. for animal proteins. Simply taking the Continent of Asia alone that means that their requirement of protein in ten years' time, by 1985, will have increased by 250 per cent. The F.A.O. go on to say that the production of livestock ought to increase at double the present rate at which it has been growing and if we are to have any success in meeting this increased demand, which is essential for nutritional purposes, for health reasons, and not simply to satisfy the gluttony of the overfed.

I said that both the world food situation and the balance of payments make it essential for us to look increasingly to our home agriculture for our own food supplies. I do not think I need further stress the problem of the balance of payments. We all know what it is like. Even by 1980, with the benefit of North Sea oil, we shall still have very heavy debts to pay off, and we shall need every penny of surplus that we can save in order to do that. It is worth looking at the import saving potential of British agriculture in the years ahead. Given the proper resources, British agriculture could without doubt expand its production between now and 1980 by something like 5 per cent. per annum. At to-day's prices this would be worth at least £700 million in saved imports—nearly half our present imports of temperate-type foodstuffs. Not only has agriculture a very great import saving role—and I could expand this argument but I will not weary your Lordships with it—but it is an indubitable fact that agriculture makes far better use of any resources that may be allocated to it than do most other British industries. During the past five years net agricultural output has increased by 25 per cent. and output per person is now 40 per cent. above what it was five years ago. The rate of expansion in agriculture has been double the rate achieved in the rest of the country.

With these facts before us, surely there can be no question that agriculture in the national interest—not for the sake of its own farmers, but for the sake of the whole nation—ought to be given the opportunity and resources which will enable it to continue at the kind of rate that has operated in past years, and to make its contribution to world food and to relieving our balance of payments problems. It saddens me to have to say to my noble friends—although I do not hold them responsible at this stage, but I will do so unless they take drastic action in the very near future—that the confidence of the agricultural industry is at as low an ebb as I have ever known it in all my farming experiences. Those who are most hit by this are the livestock farmers, particularly the beef and pig farmers. Farming is not isolated into cells; you cannot have a lack of confidence in one section of the industry without its spreading out to all the others. Although I repeat that cereals farmers and, in general, the arable farmers, have done well and are not doing badly, the lack of confidence is spreading through to them.

It is not only the effect on farmers that is important, because agriculture is not self-contained and it depends on so many other industries, activities and research. If agriculture is to decline why should firms invest, for instance, in more fertiliser factories? Why should they develop new pesticides? Why should they design and produce new machinery? Farmers must have at least five years' security for proper planning. Industries allied to agriculture—the fertiliser industry and machinery industry—need at least ten years before they can be persuaded to invest their tens of millions of pounds in the new plants. The longer this decline in confidence is allowed to go on the harder and more expensive it will be to restore it. But if it is not restored very quickly—and I do not want to be an exaggerated prophet of doom—we shall undoubtedly be facing a shortage of meat in two years' time, and we may be facing a shortage of liquid milk in nine months' time. Whether this happens or not, the strain on our balance of payments will continue to grow.

That is the situation as I see it at the moment. What can we do about it? What realistically can the Government do? I suggest that they lose no time in announcing a new five year programme for agriculture which will not only give targets for all the main commodities that the Government wish to see achieved but also give an undertaking in so far as they can bind their successors (although I have every confidence that the present Government will be in office for the next five years) to pay prices which will be adequate to-day and will also take into account future inflation. In other words, the programme should contain built-in escalation clauses. The prices must give a reasonable standard of living to the farmer which includes sufficient reward to enable him to pay the high interest charges which he has to pay on his borrowed money. The prices must also enable him to re-invest in efficient equipment. Above all, the programme must enable proper wages to be paid to farm workers.

My Lords, I need not remind you that to-day is May 1. I need not remind you that it was the agricultural workers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were in the vanguard of the movement for organised labour to obtain reasonable wages. It is an unfortunate paradox that since those days the agricultural workers have consistently been at the bottom of the scale. Over two years ago I suggested publicly that farm workers ought to receive at least £25 a week. I felt that would make their wages comparable, bearing in mind their skills, with the greater part of industry. To-day the agricultural craftsman receives £25 a week; but of course once more he has been overtaken by inflation. I believe the very lowest wage that it is reasonable to expect a farm worker to work for in present circumstances, if he is to be on a par—fairly low but still on a par—with other industrial workers, while taking into account the various advantages there are in working in agriculture compared with many industries, should be no less than £35. Any price structure which is agreed for agriculture should be based on that factor among others. I think that wages should be £35 or more.

In this five-year plan or programme, that I urge the Government to consider, obviously the most urgent problem of all is meat. I believe that the Government should consider setting up an overall meat marketing board with powers similar to those of the Milk Marketing Board. It should have the job both of bringing order into meat marketing and distribution and also of implementing whatever guaranteed prices may be fixed. We have only to look across the Channel at what is now somewhat misleadingly called the "meat mountain" to realise that if you have a guaranteed minimum price and an intervention price, or whatever it may be called, if the costs of production escalate (as they have) that minimum price may well be above what the large proportion of the population can afford to pay. Consumer resistance then steps in and the total product is not absorbed.

There must be a governmental organisation of some kind—a marketing board, as I suggest—which will take that meat off the market at the intervention price or the guarantee price, call it what you like. That organisation must also be empowered not simply to store meat indefinitely at an enormous cost or to sell at knock-down prices to the Soviet Union or to the Middle East, who are big buyers of meat at the present time, but to sell that meat at subsidised prices for welfare purposes to those who hold old-age pension cards, and to hospitals and to schools. None of this is an insuperable administrative problem and, by its essence, if we are to have order in meat marketing, there should be some outlet of this kind.

My Lords, nothing that I have said runs counter to the Common Agricultural Policy. I have not dealt with that point; it would take too long and I have been speaking too long already. But the problems which we are facing to-day are, to a greater or lesser extent, identical to those which our partners in the Community are also facing. What we must do now, at the same time as solving our own agricultural problem, at the same time as restoring the confidence of our own agricultural producers and of the ancillary industries, is to take the lead in showing our Community partners how the difficulties of agriculture can be overcome in a manner that ensures adequate food for the people of this country at the lowest prices consistent with fairness to those who produce the food. Time is running out. The longer we wait the greater will be the certainty of shortages and the higher will be the cost of making them good. The Government must act now. I beg to move for Papers.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this extremely important subject and I should like to congratulate him on being so successful in securing to-day as the approved date for this debate. If his speech was non-controversial, it certainly provided us with a wealth of information. I agree virtually with 99 per cent. of what he has said except in that one respect where he assured us that in five years' time the present Government would still he in power. In this extremely complicated subject we are dealing with a very large area indeed; for the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has cast the range of debate in the widest terms to cover not only the national scene but also to be set within a world context. I thank him for doing so.

I should like to start my remarks from one given point, the point in time where we start to unwind the enormous ball of wool of this complicated subject. I refer to the gracious Speech. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the position of two phrases in it. This positioning to me synthesised the Government's attitude. In th egracious Speech we have the following remark: Measures will be laid before you to establish fair prices for certain key foods, with the use of subsidies where appropriate; and to restrain price inflation. Then, a great deal further on, in the twentieth paragraph, we find agriculture mentioned and we hear: My Government will encourage the maximum economic production of food by the farming and fishing industries of the United Kingdom in the interests of the national economy. In my view, these phrases ought to be closer together; but their positioning is important. It is so clear that the cart has been placed firmly in front of the horse. It is the horse, it is agriculture, it is the producers, which require the strength and support. Instead, we have the well-oiled wheels of the cart placed in front of the unfortunate animal (the subsidies and consumers) and the producers are left to fend for themselves. The gracious Speech was delivered on March 12. Only one month before, the last Minister of Agriculture, my right honourable friend Mr. Joseph Godber, introduced a Price Review. In that Price Review a very significant thing took place: and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, made some reference to it but not specifically. It was that £145 million was to be injected into the dairy industry. It happened not a moment too soon; because the industry had been running in an unprofitable manner since approximately last July. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, when he said that the retrospective payment was very timely in this connection.

But what is the real danger? It is that of a shortfall in milk; and it is something which is linked closely to the subsidy: the intention of the Government to subsidise the product. This intention, to subsidise milk, will create only one thing; that is, demand. Demand will create scarcity and scarcity is bound to create a price increase so that we are faced with a vicious circle, because the subsidy will have to be increased and so we go on. It does not matter which commodity is chosen for subsidy. It may be milk, or cheese, or bread; it is always the same; it is a vicious circle.

My Lords, our approach is entirely different. We wish to create plenty and a prosperous agricultural industry of the kind outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, when he referred to investment leading towards (as I understood it) an increase of approximately £700 million over a period of five years in the present amount of home-produced food which, he envisaged, would carry us into a situation of far less dependence on very high-cost imported products. With this we must agree; but what is happening at the present moment? I believe that one of the real indicators, and it is an obvious one, is the rate of calf slaughterings. They are taking place at present at a rate approximately 100 per cent. in excess of the rate a year ago. Last year the rate was approximately 3,000 a week; this year it is approximately 6,000. So the £10 calf subsidy to which the industry gave a cautious welcome when the Minister returned from Brussels, has done nothing to stem the flow. It was a palliative, no more. What the industry is looking for is that the same amount of attention be paid to beef. The £10 was quite insufficient for a calf. Our greatest concern, without a shadow of doubt, is the livestock industry as a whole. It dwarfs everything else in comparison with priorities in this debate. There is a very real sense of urgency in the whole farming industry. Therefore, the remarks I am going to make will be necessarily in this regard.

It may be unfair to compare the livestock industry with other industries. But surely this is so true. An industry—shall we say the chemical industry?—has only to go to the Price Commission to achieve a price increase. It is reviewed almost immediately, and a decision is taken. The farmer is placed in an entirely different situation, a very unfair situation, because, as we all know, quite long periods of up to a year can elapse unless an emergency situation demands that some review should take place immediately. This situation exists now, and I ask the Government most earnestly to reconsider the position as it stands to-day. We support the Government's express intention with regard to the expansion of agriculture in the words in which it was expressed in the gracious Speech. We support the measures which are designed to curb inflation. What we do not support are the subsidies at present outlined.

May I offer, on behalf of my Party and in somewhat telegraphic form, (I feel this is suitable in present circumstances; in an emergency) an outline of six matters which I feel would play a real part in both curbing inflation and improving the agricultural industry. The first matter is somewhat complicated and affects a much wider field than agriculture itself. It is so fantastically simple that I cannot imagine why anybody has not proposed it officially up to now. The suggestion is this. A brief enactment that by law all wages and salaries or earnings, call them what you will, should be quoted net officially in publications or in newspapers. It is our view that nothing has added more to the sense of anxiety among people in this country than to see enormous proposed increases which are quite unrelated to the reality of the take-home pay. With a unified tax system this is not impossible. The Revenue will howl and say that it is impossible to do. In my view, if we can simply quote the earnings, the salary or wages, at the net figure, not taking into account any allowances or anything else, straight from the tax tables, this will do a great deal to eliminate that factor of envy which is so potent in the minds of all of us. It is perhaps very unfair to attribute it to envy, but surely in the human mind there is that factor when somebody sees somebody else doing so much better. These vast increases in wages and salaries bear no relation whatsoever to what goes into the pocket. This is a very simple point and I pass over it to a more complicated one.

The support price of beef was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Walston. I did not quite understand his recommendation, but from this side of the House we would wholeheartedly recommend that the intervention be invoked. The situation is very nearly reaching this point at the present time. The intervention system has been suspended, as your Lordships know, both for beef and for pork. We recommend that the intervention should be invoked in the very near future. Intervention for pork, is my third point.

My fourth point is that the fertiliser subsidy should be continued beyond May 31. As your Lordships are aware, the subsidy terminates on that date, now a very short distance away. The fifth point is that the lime subsidy, which has done so much to bring land into bearing, should be continued beyond July 31, when it is due to terminate. The sixth point is a wider matter that I wish to examine in greater detail: the loss of agricultural land in this country. I will comment on that a little later.

My Lords, I am much indebted, first of all, to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, who is present this afternoon, for inviting the Government to express a view on the amount of increase in food prices which is attributable to our entry into the Common Market. The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, on April 3, replied to this point and said that it was approximately one-half of 1 per cent. This factor is of the greatest significance; this Answer to a Written Question on April 3 is the kernel of our thinking. Our entry into Europe has caused only a minute increase in the price of food. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, for giving us this information and for officially confirming it.

I wish now to turn from the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, to the matter which is so closely associated with it, the myth of cheap food. Nobody has set aside the myth of cheap food more clearly than Mr. George Thomson, the E.E.C. Commissioner in Brussels. If I may quote a few sentences of what he said on Friday, April 26, I feel it should be on the Record. He said these words: It is a modern myth to imagine that there are great reservoirs of cheap New Zealand dairy produce, of cheap Canadian wheat, of cheap Caribbean sugar and Australian produce ready to flood into our supermarkets but blocked by the darn of Community food taxes. The world price of wheat more than doubled in 1973. Seventy-five per cent. of New Zealand dairy produce now goes to more profitable markets elsewhere than Britain. New Zealand last year under-fulfilled its quota for butter to Britain by 21 per cent. and her cheese was about one-third under quota. Whatever the fluctuations in the future, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are not going to bind themselves to artificially low prices if they can get more on a world market. My Lords, that ends the quotation, but the situation is precisely as he has stated.

Prices on the world market are greatly in excess of those obtainable under previous arrangements. For instance, New Zealand butter is selling in America for approximately £600 a ton. This is also the case so far as lamb and other dairy products are concerned—not this precise figure, but in a graduated and related way. This myth of cheap food has done much to undermine our relationship with our partners in Europe. We hope that the negotiations going on at the present moment will succeed, and I personally am not going to comment on the decision taken last night by the Italian Government to erect a price barrier.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, mentioned that approximately 60 to 70 per cent. of temperate-climate foodstuffs are produced in this country for consumption here, or possibly re-exported; and it is the remaining 33 per cent., the gap, which has then to be bought abroad. He mentioned the balance of payments. I think it would be wearying your Lordships to go further into this subject. But we most heartily recommend to your Lordships the plan for expansion over five years which could more than close the gap by half.

My Lords, I come now to another matter which I mentioned a little earlier, the loss of land to this country running at approximately 60,000 acres a year. This subject was illustrated far more accurately and far more interestingly by my noble friend Lord Hertford in a speech on Wednesday, November 7, last year when speaking on the subject of oil shortage and road transport. He was relating the land loss specifically to the loss of land in motorways and major constructions. He said this: Every mile of motorway uses forty acres of land. Forty acres of land can, and in Warwickshire last summer did, produce 80 tons of wheat. Forty acres can, and in Warwickshire do, produce 36,000 gallons of milk every year; forty acres can, and do, produce 24,000 lb. of beef every year; forty acres can, and do, produce 14,000 lb. of the best English Iamb every year; or one mile of motorway."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7/11/73; col. 422.] Your Lordships will be aware that the road programme envisages approximately 3,000 miles of motorway to be constructed in this country and, very approximately, 1,000 miles have been completed up to date. Surely the moment has come—the then Government were urged at the time and the present Government will be urged now—to reconsider the road programme in the light of the oil shortage. We are unaware at the present moment whether the road construction proposals are being reviewed and whether the land loss will be greater or smaller.

The great uncertainty in people's minds is this. The Ministry are working to fixed specifications. At intersections and areas where major land losses take place this is done largely by computer. The current practice is for two or three young men to be put in charge of the design of an area, and the land loss factor is at the end of the queue. My Lords, this is so important so far as the farming industry goes, and especially regarding road construction, because it is in this field that some of the very highest quality of land is lost. Year after year, we hear Ministers of Agriculture beseeching the industry to increase production on an ever-diminishing area of land. The economists assure the Minister that a land loss of 60,000 acres can be easily offset by an increase of one per cent. in production. This is very well-known. Ministers are under great pressure, and are unable to take a strong enough line with their ministerial colleagues in reducing the land loss. But now is the opportunity to review this situation. Now is the time to re-examine the degree of priority for land use. Are we to construct the whole of the road programme of 3,000 miles of motorway, or are we to take into account those remarks made in the debate of November 7 last year and all your Lordships' speeches on that occasion?

My Lords, I pass finally to another matter: that of British agricultural research and the value of the chain of research establishments in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, referred to this particularly and in the context of the world food shortage. It is surely in this field that British agriculture excels. It must be a matter of great pride to breeders in this country to go and see on the plains of Texas herds of Hereford cattle; to visit parts of the world where, thanks to experimentation in this country in plant protection and animal husbandry, large quantities of food are being produced where none was produced before or was produced on a much reduced scale. Surely the Chief Veterinary Officer and all his advisers in the various establishments in this country and his colleagues in the research field should be heartily encouraged by the Government to do all they possibly can.

In this context I have asked the Government, and given notice, about one special field which I feel ought to receive a degree of priority; that is, a research project being undertaken at Rothamstead over a period of years by Dr. Norman Pirie. Dr. Pirie has developed a mechanical cow which is able to eat leaves and grass and turn them into an edible protein. This device, a mechanical cow, has the very greatest possibilities in the world food context, and once again related to this food programme we hope that the Ministry will be able to give us a satisfactory report. My second question is one which specifically concerns production of livestock. I should very much like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether research into foot and mouth disease, following the epidemic of 1967–68, has taken place along the lines of the inquiry, and what preventive measures are now being undertaken to protect our livestock industry from further recurrences.

My Lords, I draw my remarks to a close on the field of the farm itself, the whole farm, the family farm, and the anxiety which our Party has on the future of the ownership of the small farm in the context of Western Europe. We are well aware of Professor Halstein's views. We are well aware of the threat under which small-scale family production is placed in the context of the world of "Mr. Big", if I may call him thus. This is a very old subject and people have been pondering on it in Europe for a very long time. Perhaps I might close my remarks with a letter written by a Frenchman, Francois Bernier, to the then Minister of Finance, M. Colbert, in 1668. Francois Bernier had been doing some original research on land tenure in Hindustan at the time, and he concluded his remarks thus: Yes, My Lord, to conclude briefly I must repeat it; take away the right of private property in land, and you introduce, as a sure and necessary consequence, tyranny, slavery, beggary, and barbarism: the ground will cease to be cultivated and become a dreary wilderness; in a word, the road will be opened to the ruin of Kings and the destruction of Nations. It is the hope by which man is animated, that he shall retain the fruits of his industry, and transmit them to his descendants, that forms the main foundation of everything excellent and beneficial in this sublunary state; and if we take a review of the different kingdoms of the world, we shall find that they prosper or decline according as this principle is acknowleged or condemned: in a word, it is the prevalence of this principle which changes and diversifies the face of the earth.