HL Deb 01 May 1974 vol 351 cc139-88

4.20 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I wonder whether we might return to the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Walston. We welcome this opportunity to debate agricultural problems and if I may say so, my noble friend made an impassioned speech and made it in an eminently pleasing way. I agree with him, too, that his timing is right. No subject could be more appropriate for the First of May—the Festival of Spring—than agriculture. Equally appropriate is this early opportunity in the life of a new Government; and I would emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, that this is an early opportunity in the life of a new Government. He emphasised that there is a difference between his Party and mine, so far as agriculture is concerned, and that his Party want an expanding and healthy industry. I would say that the gloom which, to some extent, my noble friend expressed—the lack of confidence which he so graphically described—has not grown up in the first six weeks of the present Administration. It is something which has been generated by the policies that were pursued earlier, and I think that if we are to discuss agriculture on a bi-partisan basis (which I hope we can) this point should be borne in mind.

My noble friend emphasised the importance of agriculture, and I would associate myself with what he said. I have figures which show that the value of gross agricultural output in 1973–74 is forecast as being over £4,000 million. About £1,900 million of this represents the industry's net product, the value added by farmers, farm workers, and—I say this quietly to the noble Lord, Lord Sandys—landowners as well. This is a substantial contribution to the economy of the country, important now, and, for reasons stated by the noble Lord, even more important in the years ahead. We still import about 30 per cent. of the food and feedingstuffs that we could economically produce in this country. It does not need me to emphasise that world prices for many of these products have risen, and every ton of food we can produce at home saves imports at these new and higher prices. There is no difference between us on that matter.

My Lords, it has already been said by my noble friend, and no doubt it will be said again, that after two or three years of good weather, expanding production and prospects of E.E.C. prices, some sectors of the industry have now run into difficulties. There has been an unprecedented increase in costs. As I often used to say to those enthusiasts of the E.E.C., one farmer's price rise (to coin a phrase) is another farmer's food costs. In more normal times, the aggregate costs of the industry rose by perhaps £50 million a year. In 1972–73 they rose by over £200 million, and in 1973–74 by over £700 million. This massive rise in the cost of feedingstuffs accounts for £434 million of that 1973–74 figure; but other costs have also risen sharply, notably labour, oil and machinery.

I think we should all be agreed that the rise in food prices was caused by the shortage of proteins last summer and the run on stocks of cereals following the failure of the Russian harvest. Supplies of protein are now more readily available and as my noble friend said, prices have fallen substantially from the high levels of last year. World supplies of soya are expected to be better in 1974-75. The United States Agriculture Department, in a most interesting statement issued recently, say that the carry-over will be four times that of the previous year. There are also signs of a recovery in the Peruvian fishmeal industry. Additional prospects for cereal crops in the Northern hemisphere in 1974–75 are fairly optimistic. We have seen recent falls in the prices of cereals, which our livestock producers at any rate will find encouraging. The noble Lord could take this forecast further and work himself up into a situation of doom, but for the immediate future at any rate the livestock producers can see a little hope for the next year.

For many commodities prices for end products have also been high in the course of the last year or two, so that it has been possible for some producers to recoup much or all of their increased costs from returns on their produce from the market. In particular, market prices for most of the products covered by the guarantees have been well above the guaranteed prices. This has not been true however of all products, and we all must agree with what my noble friend said about the real difficulties in some of the livestock sectors. To help deal with these problem areas, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said, the previous Administration announced a number of increases in guaranteed prices just before the General Election. The present Government also helped with agreed increases at the meeting of the Council of Ministers at the end of March. Agreement was also obtained at that meeting for special help to be given to beef and pig producers in the United Kingdom, and to this I shall refer later.

My Lords, may I deal in more detail with the main commodities. If I may I will answer some of the detailed points which the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, raised when I come (if I am allowed to) to make a second speech in winding up the debate. As my noble friend was kind enough to say, producers of cereals have benefited from the very high market prices; but it is recognised that costs have also increased. The guaranteed prices for cereals were raised to the maximum extent permitted under the Act of Accession to the E.E.C., and although these increases were not sufficient to recoup the cost increases in full, returns from the market are more than adequate. The higher guaranteed prices should protect growers' returns against any unexpectedly severe setback in the market, and the E.E.C. intervention prices for cereals in the United Kingdom have also been increased to provide a higher floor in the market itself.

I have a note here about exports of ware potatoes, which, as the noble Lord said, have been banned since February 20, 1974. I know a ban of this kind is not popular among producers, but it is essential to safeguard the needs of consumers. The supply situation looks even tighter now than it did when the ban was imposed. We cannot afford to ship potatoes abroad at the risk of leaving ourselves short at the end of the season. There will be no large surplus, and producers have the assurance of the Minister that a buying programe will be instituted for any end-of-season surplus caused by the export ban. For next year, the guaranteed price has been increased by £5 to £22 per ton—a very substantial rise. The levy on the planting of excess acreage has been reduced.

My Lords, the sugar beet crop is becoming of increasing importance. Unhappily, it seems probable that we shall get less Commonwealth cane, and our own producers can contribute to making good the shortfall. The E.E.C. minimum beet price applying to the United Kingdom in 1974–75 has been raised by 9 per cent. to £7.65 per ton. United Kingdom producers will in future have an additional quota—a "B" quota—of 90,000 tons. These are important benefits to producers, particularly in view of the need for increased production in the United Kingdom in future.

While it has not been raised as yet, there is obviously not time to go into detail on matters of interest to the horticultural industry. But I should draw attention to the new subsidy by which my right honourable friend intends to assist glasshouse owners and mushroom growers with the extra cost of fuel oil. This has been generally welcomed, I think. It is, of course, in the livestock sector that the principal problems have been and are being encountered. Milk producers experienced a particularly difficult time during the winter. As we know, this led the previous Government to increase the guaranteed price for liquid milk to 26.27p per gallon from March 1974, and to increase the Standard quantity substantially both for the years 1973–74 and 1974–75. An increase in the price of milk for manufacturing has since been agreed with the Council of Ministers. This complicated set of arrangements—it always has me baffled, I must say, and puzzles all but the most expert—boils down to an increase of about 3½p per gallon in the estimated producer's price for 1974–75, plus payments equivalent to an extra 1½p per gallon on the previously estimated producer's price for 1973–74.

As my noble friend said, milk production fell as a result of the difficulties experienced during the winter. I think this is probably one of the saddest things I have seen; high feed prices led to deliberate inadequate feeding of the cattle in order to save costs with a consequent inevitable drop in yields. There is obviously much uncertainty about the future level of production, and if I use the time-honoured phrase that the Government are watching the situation closely, this time I really mean it. It seems likely however that milk supplies for manufacture will be less than the peak rate of 1972–73, which was a peak year, and somewhat less than last year. Nevertheless, the volume of milk used for cheese, cream and some other products in 1974–75 is likely to be greater than last year. The same, of course, cannot be said for butter, for which supplies of milk will be much reduced.

Mention has been made of New Zealand, and one notes that she has been sending us much less butter and cheese than she could do under the special arrangements made in Protocol 18 of the Act of Accession. If the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, is going to make a point of this, and if any of those friends of mine whom I argued with during our E.E.C. debates are going to quote this one. I will only say that the New Zealanders are diverting some of their produce because we have urgd them to do so. In the renegotiations this Government will be concerned with Commonwealth trade, and trade with New Zealand will be borne in mind.

A great deal of concern is being expressed by members of the farming community about the beef situation. The Community support system—and I was surprised, I must say, at what the noble Lord said about this—works, as he indicated, through the maintenance of market prices by means of border support and intervention in the domestic market. This type of support system raises particular problems in the case of beef, because it is difficult and costly to store and because frozen beef is considerably less valuable than fresh beef. Intervention of this kind is, to put it mildly, a less appropriate method, it seems to me, than it may be for some other commodities. For quantities of beef to be taken off the market and frozen when the housewife is perfectly prepared to buy it in its prime form cannot, in my view, really be justified if we can get a better system of support for the producer, but this is a matter which is now under consideration


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend?


May I finish this one paragraph, as it may be covering what the noble Lord wishes to say. There have been reports, as the noble Lord said, of supplies of cheap chilled beef from the Continent being dumped on the United Kingdom market. The Government do not, however, have any firm evidence that the quantities and qualities of this beef are such as to justify alarmist views as to the effects upon our producers. But here again the Government are watching the position and endeavouring to collect facts with a view to seeking an appropriate remedy, should this be necessary.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I only wanted to assure him that I was not, at this stage at any rate, trying to assess the relative merits of intervention prices and support prices. My main proposal was that there should be some form of meat marketing authority—preferably on a Community basis but it could work perfectly well only for this country—which would be empowered to buy at the support price or intervention price (whatever you wish to call it) and sell at a subsidised price, when supplies are in surplus, to special categories such as schools and hospitals.


My Lords, I have a note to refer to what was agreed yesterday at Brussels, which embodied to some extent the points the noble Lord has made. I was here suggesting that with beef one is faced with a different technical problem when one comes to store it than is the case with, say, butter. The Minister of Agriculture obtained an agreement in the Council of Ministers for special arrangements for beef in the United Kingdom. On the one hand, the United Kingdom is not applying the permanent intervention arrangements. This has avoided the need for increases in prices to consumers. But on the other hand, the Minister also obtained agreement for the payment to our producers of an additional £10 per head on the calf subsidy. I agree that this will not solve all the immediate difficulties in all sectors of the beef industry, but it does bring the total direct support to our beef producers to about £100 million a year. In the Government's view, the main problems in the beef sector are essentially short term in character, but we have undertaken to watch developments closely and to see whether other temporary measures may be necessary to overcome them. I hope that all those concerned with the production of beef will take especial care in the next few months not to talk the market down or to endanger producer confidence.

Pig producers have also been having their difficulties in recent months. There was an increase in market prices up to last November which offset to a greater or lesser extent the increased costs of feed, but prices have fallen substantially since then and over Easter there was an especially weak market. The Government recognised this, and the Minister of Agriculture was able to announce on March 25 a scheme for paying special assistance to pig producers. For the first 10 weeks payments are at 50p per score deadweight on all pigs certified under the Fatstock Guarantee Scheme; then for four weeks payments will be made at a rate of 35p per score, followed by a further period at 15p per score. This is surely a major move to help pig producers and the payments will provide a substantial cash injection of £15 million during this difficult time. It would be a rash man who tried to predict the likely future course of pig and beef prices. This is all the more true because the pig market cannot be looked at in isolation from the market for beef. Nevertheless there are various pointers which suggest that the pig producers' situation could improve.

Under the E.E.C. rules, the compensatory amount of subsidies paid on our pig meat imports are to be halved from today and this should help our producers. The pig herds of main United Kingdom suppliers are certainly not booming. The very decline in our herds—this is an argument which I think will appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, although it is not necessarily one that appeals to me—although highly regrettable can only help to firm up the market in time. This is the question of the rate of supply and demand, which the noble Lord has taught me in the past is something we should recognise and indeed welcome.


My Lords, may I venture to assure the noble Lord that my thoughts were not focused at that moment on the prospective troubles of the pig market. I was still anxious for the calf producers at the prospect opened up by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, when he talked about a mechanical cow, which would certainly confront Her Majesty's Government with appalling difficulties among milk producers at present.


My Lords, I hope to have something to say about the mechanical cow when I come to wind up. In the meantime, I am simply saying that here we are seeing the market mechanism in operation. Since the industry for which I am now speaking expects it to operate, I thought that would gladden the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins.


My Lords, I am sorry once more to interrupt my noble friend, but this is a very important point. Do I understand him, as a Minister in a Socialist Government, to say that he is relying on the market mechanism and higher prices to consumers in order to solve the problems of the pig producers?


My Lords, the noble Lord did not do me the justice of listening to what I said. The only reason why I ventured to intervene and make a reference to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, was because I have my doubts about this method of ensuring the right volume of supply for the market. Nevertheless, let us recognise that the very fact that there will be a decline in our herd will help to firm up the market in the future, and that is something that we should bear in mind. After all, it is the C.A.P. system, which the noble Lord, Lord Walston, always told me when we debated these matters was a superior system to that which we have previously had in this country. Moreover, in addition to that mechanism feed prices have actually fallen. Although we are certainly not out of the wood so far as that is concerned, it is all going to help. It is only right to recognise not only the improvement brought about by the special payments but also the signs of improved prospects.

In contrast to what I said about pigs and beef, the condition of the sheep industry can only be described as buoyant. The breeding herd is increasing, and market prices have risen since early February from about 35p per lb. to over 430 per lb. I should have thought that that was satisfactory to those engaged in sheep production.

In this survey I have tried to refer to the main commodity problems. Inevitably in a period such as this where there are extreme international price rises, domestic inflation, and a rapid transition from one method of support and marketing to another, there are many other problems being experienced by the industry, and almost as many ways of approaching them. Some of them, like land prices, deserve a separate debate. I was greatly interested in the figures that the noble Lord quoted about the amount of land being taken for road construction. It is not possible for me to say that the road programme is going to be reduced, but I will ensure that what the noble Lord has said is assimilated in the Government's thinking.

Much of what I have said relates to short-term problems, but I agree that we should consider carefully the longer-term prospects of the industry. My right honourable friend has in fact announced that he is proposing to consult the interests concerned in the longer-term future of the industry. Certainly in these discussions account must be taken of the changes of cost to which the noble Lord referred. I should like to think, and I shall do my best to ensure, that what has been said, and what will be said in the debate on this aspect of the industry, will similarly be taken into account in those discussions. I hope that I may be allowed later to deal in more detail with some of the other points that have been raised when I come to wind up.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether the Government would consider some form of cash injection into fat cattle, because Her Majesty's Government have some similar scheme, as we have just heard, with pigs? Would it be possible to have some simplified scheme of certification in order to inject cash into fat cattle; that is, of course for fat stock farmers, not the cattle. What it really amounts to is that the British farmer, as a taxpayer, is in fact paying taxes to subsidise E.E.C. Continental farmers, who are now getting £5 extra per cwt. for their fat cattle as opposed to the British farmer. Presumably some of the taxes the British farmer pays as a taxpayer are going to the E.E.C. Continental farmers to enable them to get that bigger price. To be fair, I should have thought that there ought to be some injection of cash for fat-stock breeders, rather like there is for pig breeders.


My Lords, I think that I ought to tell the noble Viscount that I had sat down and I was expecting the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, to speak. However, I shall take into account what he has said.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, we on the Liberal Benches would also join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for introducing this subject at this stage in the life of this Parliament. One has to remember that agriculture is a primary industry and is an industry of primary importance to this country, and it is good that at so early a stage in the life of this Government we should be considering it. I have also been asked to say a word on behalf of a number of Scottish Peers who would have lengthened the speakers' list to-day had it not been that next week our local government regional elections take place. Your Lordships might like to know that it is not a lack of interest in agriculture in Scotland that sends so few of us South of the Border today, it is much more a great interest in what is going to happen in our new regional elections that keeps so many of my noble friends and colleagues away.

This debate is concerned with the problems of agriculture in this period of inflation and the contribution that agriculture can make to the national economy. The second half of that wording is much the easier to speak about. It can be spoken about very shortly, and agreed upon very readily by all sides of your Lordships' House. I think that there can be no doubt of the value of agriculture in times of difficulty. Whether it be times of difficulty in war time, times of difficulty in inflation, or times of difficulty in any other form of crisis, and indeed in times of difficulty of the household, the call is always to the plough and the spade. If I appear a little stiff to your Lordships, it is because my wife keeps lashing me out to the kail yard with a spade in order to grow lettuce, in view of the present price of salads, and to compete with the Common Market in the production of this sort of food.

I do not think that any of us would disagree about the importance of agriculture to the country, particularly in a time of inflation where the effect of a stable agriculture is to tend to bring a certain amount of stability into the economy of the country. Nevertheless, although a thriving agricultural industry tends to bring stability to the economy of the country it, too, can suffer from the evils of inflation. It suffers from the effects of world prices. Indeed, as we have heard in previous speeches, and as I shall say myself, a great many of the problems which the livestock side of agriculture has faced have all been caused by world prices and what has been happening on world markets. It suffers from shortages of raw materials, from fuel shortages, rising prices of fuel, and so on. It suffers from unexpected surpluses causing instability in the market. These are all things that can happen to agriculture in a period of inflation. Nevertheless, overriding all these difficulties is the general stabilising effect of having the greater part of your food growing within the confines of your own country.

In this connection it is good to notice that the proportion of home grown food that we eat in this country is rising. As a farmer, and without seeming to be blowing my own trumpet too loudly, I should like to join in saying how much the whole agricultural industry does to improve the lot of the country, and to meet the challenges of the financial problems of inflation that we are facing. I would say that, on the whole, what is good for agriculture is good for the country and good for the housewife who is, after all, the main consumer of the agricultural end product—at least, she is the one who goes shopping for it and hands the cash across the counter having made her choice. It is a highly efficient capital-intensive industry, an industry with high productivity which works on low margins and a small return on capital. In all these ways it is helping the housewife and the country as a whole. It is therefore important where possible to shelter it from harmful outside influences and to ensure that it is able to go on doing this kind of job.

What is good for the farmer is a steady demand at a fair price. It is useful to have a steady level of the important cost; for example, the cost of fuels, fertilisers, feeds and so on. But the farmer has shown, and has been made to show over the years as Price Review followed Price Review and as the farmer was told to re-absorb more of his costs, that he can absorb temporary setbacks where costs rise. But what he cannot do is to deal with the situation where he cannot sell his products. Therefore, if he sets out to meet what appears to be a demand, it is vitally important for him to know when he has produced the commodities required to meet that demand, that the market should still be there and indeed should be there on a reasonable level and on a level which he can be expected to calculate.

This too, is surely, what the housewife wants. She has arranged with her husband for the housekeeping and she requires to know when she goes out to the market that she can buy at the scale of prices she expects and that her budget will work out at the end of the week. She wants to know that she can rely on continuity of supply of good quality foods at reasonable prices. Our problem is how we achieve this. In considering the problem, for the moment I should like to examine it from the fairly long-term and not the short-term point of view, because what we do in the short term may be one thing but the objectives we are aiming for in the long term should be known before we can be certain what measures should be taken in the short term.

After the Second World War we embarked on the Annual Price Review and the system of guaranteeing prices which has been employed up until now to try to regulate the farming industry. Although it has worked in many ways the method has been far too rigid. It has been subjected to a great deal of criticism, and from the farmer's point of view it has too often been restrictive in that he has often been made to re-absorb costs which he could not fully recoup because of increased costs. This has prevented him producing as much of the various commodities which we should like to see produced and which he might otherwise have produced. Now we have seen set out and practised in the E.E.C. a new system which, broadly speaking, depends on an intervention price. I think that I can safely say that on the whole the farming industry prefers this method because the industry has found it is better to get its price from the market rather than to receive its price at different levels during the production of its products. This is quite easily illustrated in the case of sheep.

It has been the custom to subsidise various levels of sheep production, to subsidise the ewe, to give various hill subsidies from time to time. If you subsidise the hill ewe what you do is to keep alive existing ewes, but the lambs which they produce will make less in the market; so in fact you may well be keeping alive sheep which are not worth keeping alive and not be producing good iamb for the market at the end of the day. Indeed you may be depressing the market to such an extent that you are driving low-ground sheep producers out of production, and this is not always good for the sheep industry.

I feel that the farming industry has now got round to the point of view which I have long held, that the proper way in which to pay the industry for its products is at the market end and not at different stages in the production of the various products. I would except from this the provision of capital grants. That is an entirely different matter. The provision of capital grants, such as lime or fertiliser subsidies, is in effect money paid in at the very bottom of the industry. The grants are of a capital and a longer-term nature, not necessarily involved in the production of an individual crop. The provision of capital grants to the industry is very important if you do not have some other means of providing cheaper money for farming than can be had in the normal market. Farming is long term; it is a low interest business; it gives a low return from a very large amount of capital involved. Therefore if we are to gear it up this seems to be the only way in which we can inject actual capital into the industry at the sort of level which will be necessary when you reach points at which you have to modernise, and so on.

I believe that we have reached the point at which the agricultural industry as a whole is rather taken with the idea of the Common Market method of intervention as a means of rewarding the farmer for his product. But unfortunately at the moment we are neither in nor out of the Common Market. We are rather like somebody about to get on board a ship, who put one foot on the gunwhale, then changed his mind as the ship slid gently away from the quay. I fear at the moment that in some respects, particularly concerning beef, we are liable to fall between the ship and the quay because of an absolute lack of support. For instance, in the beef area we should have increased our guide price this year if we were going ahead with entry into the Market in the way in which it was envisaged when the Treaty was signed. In fact we did not, and we are not making a market intervention as we should have done.

The effect is that low-grade meat is coming in from Common Market countries which is effectively being subsidised at the rate of 20p in the pound. Unfortunately, this is low-grade meat, so although it is damaging the general meat market, although it is taking some of the floor away from the whole market for meat, it is not improving the availability of steak and the better cuts at the housewives' end. I therefore urge that we should make up our minds quickly whether we are going to give any sort of support and, if so, what sort of support. My own feeling is that we should go for the full implications of the Common Agricultural Policy of the E.E.C., into which we have entered; that we should go ahead with this until we come out of it. We should not remain poised between the boat and the quay in this manner. It might be said by critics of the European Economic Community that this intervention system has not worked and is not working. This kind of criticism is totally unfair, because what we should do if we disapprove of the system is to go into the Market, take up our responsibilities and help to develop the policy and adjust and modify the system.

The really serious problems which farmers in this country face, and which farmers in Europe also face, are caused by the basic world prices of feeding-stuffs. This is something which it is not within the power of the Common Market to control. It is very largely controlled on the other side of the Atlantic; it is very largely controlled in Chicago. It is in fact the world markets which hold the whiphand. The whiphand is that of the super-Powers of Russia and America, and it would be futile to believe that Britain alone could exercise any control over or have any effect upon these commodity prices. So in the short term we must protect our farming industry from damage. In the short term we must take immediate measures to see that beef herds and pig herds are not broken up and slaughtered off to deal with what will undoubtedly prove a very short-term beef crisis. But in the long term we must stop shilly-shallying about going into the E.E.C. We shall never get back our supplies of cheap meat or dairy products from New Zealand, or of cheap sugar cane from the Islands of the Caribbean; and if we want to ensure a healthy farming industry, if we want to continue this ever-increasing contribution which farming in Britain makes to our food supplies, we should step right in with the Common Market, join in helping to make its agricultural policy work, and join in making its agricultural policy one which is suitable for Europe. We must also help the E.E.C. to bargain for itself and on our behalf in the world markets, and to be a power that is big enough to talk to the super-Powers and to bargain with them on supplies of cereals and supplies of protein foodstuffs.

I have often wondered—and perhaps this is something which should be considered—whether we ought not to have a kind of a bag to our bagpipes, a kind of a reservoir to our supplies, in the shape of a permanent stock of feed grains held by the Common Market. I have often wondered, if you are working an intervention system, whether you should not always have a stock so that, as you go from harvest to harvest, you can keep a rolling average and have stocks which you can hold or let out in order to keep markets steady. Because I say again, my Lords, that it is the steady market that pays the farmer. It is a very short-term reaction to like the sudden rise in price. I think most farmers prefer to see their prices remain steady but good, and to see them allow for recoupment of increased costs, rather than to have a bumper year one year followed by a poor year the next.

Certainly, my Lords, what we should do in the short term, as I have said, and as I think every speaker in your Lordships' House this afternoon would agree, is to ensure that at this particularly difficult juncture harm is not done to our livestock industry. I fear that possibly a certain amount of almost irreparable harm will already have been done to the pig industry. There may well have been a large number of good potential breeding pigs slaughtered in order to produce the situation to which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, referred. But we must see that this does not go on. We must see that it does not happen to our beef herds, or to our dairy herds; because the prices which we have noticed in recent weeks and months are indeed the result of temporary crises; which we can and must overcome. Neither must we be complacent about the situation concerning our sheep stocks. One cannot simply measure the health of a branch of the farming industry by the price per pound of its product. One has to take into consideration a great many other things, such as the cost of feed. This year the hill sheep farmer who needed hay—and it was a long, wet, cold winter in the North—was paying £40 a ton for it in Caithness; and I have no doubt higher prices were recorded in various other parts. At that rate one will need to sell quite a few pounds of hill lamb to get back the cost of a ton of hay.

I urge Her Majesty's Government to produce measures that will save our herds, which will hold our herds for us, because this I believe to be in the interests of the farming industry and of the housewife. I also urge them, in the long term, not to shillyshally any longer about the E.E.C. Please to go into it, please to go in with the intention of making it work and of helping the other farming communities in Europe to see our point of view, and of seeing whether we cannot together compete in world markets.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin by apologising to the House, and to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, in particular, because owing to a previous engagement which I cannot cut I may be unable to stay until the end of the debate. My Lords, I start from the premise that the agricultural industry in this country is one of the most important industries, if not the most important industry, that we have; and I therefore think it is very timely that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, with his very wide knowledge of the subject, should have initiated this debate this afternoon. Far from regarding it as a dying industry, as I believe a leading socialist economist has been reported as saying recently, I regard it as a very vigorous industry and one which is going to grow in importance between now and the end of the century, when we are going to have to provide for a further 20 per cent. increase in the number of people in these Islands—and that at a time when the amount of agricultural land is shrinking very fast. My noble friend Lord Sandys put it at 60,000 acres a year, and I understand the estimate is that before very long this will go up to 70,000 acres. That is the background against which we must consider our agricultural future, and it is a sombre prospect when we consider that at the present time we are dependent on imports for roughly 50 per cent. of everything we eat. The days of cheap imported food have gone for ever, as has been agreed by every speaker so far to-day.

I want to direct my remarks to two aspects of the subject. The first is the amount of land available for agriculture and the second aspect concerns land ownership. I suggest that it is urgently necessary to reduce the amount of land which is lost to agriculture. This can be done in one of two ways. In the first place, there is an immense wastage of land because of the prevailing lack of importance attached to the subject in Whitehall. Within Government Departments, agricultural land is generally regarded as expendable; and when a specific project, whether it be a Channel Tunnel, Maplin or anything else, is costed, no allowance appears to be made for the loss of agricultural production which has to be made good, presumably from overseas. What we need is a complete change of attitude by Ministers and civil servants alike.

My noble friend Lord Sandys has mentioned the motorway programme, which I agree should be drastically curtailed. He also quoted, I thought with great effect, from a speech made last November by the noble Marquess, Lord Hertford. Because of that, I do not propose to elaborate the point, but I should like to give just one example. Between Blackpool in the North and Birkenhead in the South, a distance of not more than 50 miles, no less than four separate motorways—lateral motorways—are either being built or are scheduled to be built; and these in an area of highly productive agricultural land. This is crazy. Undoubtedly land must be made available to meet the growing needs of our highly sophisticated industrial society, but could not much more use be made of derelict land, of disused railway sites, disused dockland, and so on? And if agricultural land has to be used, then only that of the lowest quality should be eligible.

Finally, I very much doubt whether we can afford for much longer the endless proliferation of semi-detached houses which make such inroads into the countryside. For a very overcrowded country such as ours, I think there should be a much greater readiness to build upwards rather than outwards. I happen to be a great admirer of the B.B.C. programme, "Mary, Mungo, and Midge", with which some of your Lordships may be familiar. I do not think they are alone in being able to live very happily at the top of a high-rise building block.

There is a second way in which I believe we can reduce the loss of agricultural land which no one has so far suggested—indeed one never sees it suggested even in the Press—and that is by reclaiming land from the sea. No attention at all seems to have been paid to this in the United Kingdom. What a contrast to Holland! The Dutch, who are beset by so many of the same problems as we are, have reclaimed hundreds of thousands of acres from the sea since the Second World War. Why should not we do the same? Why should not we reclaim the Wash, which would provide an area nearly as large as Greater London? At the time of the Maplin debate last year we were told by the previous Administration that the cost of reclaiming the Maplin Sands worked out at £10,000 an acre. The cost of reclaiming land for agriculture would no doubt be somewhat greater, but even supposing that it was half as much again, namely, £15,000 an acre, surely that is a bargain when one considers the very much greater cost of building land in this country?

Recently, I asked the Government whether they could give an estimate of the amount of land off the shores of Great Britain which could be reclaimed at a cost comparable to the reclamation of Maplin. I received a reply to-day from the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, to the effect that no figure is available. I find it absolutely astonishing that no research has been done into this and that nobody has even thought that we might emulate the Dutch. I very much hope that the new Secretary of State for the Environment will take a serious look at this proposal.

I should now like to turn to questions of land ownership. I think it is generally agreed that this country is one of the most efficient in the world in terms of agriculture. Some of the credit for this must go not only to the owner-occupiers and tenant farmers but also to the landowners, who provide much of the capital and impetus for modernisation and improvement, and who are often large-scale farmers themselves. It is a system which has worked well, but it may not work for very much longer. I personally have always accepted that there has to be a greater equalisation of wealth in this country, and that applies particularly at a period of no growth such as we are going through at the present time. Indeed, there has already been a massive redistribution of wealth. One has only to look at the figures quoted by Alan Day in the Observer on January 4 this year.

This is a continuing process, but on top of that we now have the Government's new proposals—though we do not yet know the details—for increased capital taxation, the burden of which is likely to fall especially heavily on landowners and relatively modest-sized owner-occupiers, because of the very high capital value of their land. In practical terms, it is likely to mean that agricultural landlords will find it very difficult to carry out the improvements on the scale on which they have been carried out to date, if indeed they can be carried out at all. It also means that old farms and parts of farms are likely to have to be sold up to meet the new taxation. This fragmentation really cannot be in the long-term interests of agriculture bearing in mind that successive Governments have encouraged, by a system of grants, amalgamation and the creation of bigger units. It is taking back with one hand what has been given out with the other.

The Labour Government have stated that they do not intend to nationalise agricultural land—which would be the logical sequel to their political philosophy. But I do not think they can have it both ways, and the charge which I make against them this afternoon is that they are risking, for political reasons, the destruction of a system of land ownership which is working well without having thought out any sensible alternative. In the process they are likely to do substantial damage to the farming industry. One can only hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will at least consider these dangers when he comes to frame his second Budget.

My Lords, before I sit down, I should like to refer to one other matter, the proposal which I put to the previous Government some 18 months ago in the debate on the Address. My suggestion was—and this arises out of what I have been saying on the question of land ownership—that the Government should provide a fund similar to the national land fund, which has done very useful service to the community, to be administered by a new body, preferably independent from the Government, perhaps something on the lines of the National Trust, which could be used to purchase agricultural estates or individual farms from executors who had to sell up to meet estate duty. The fund could also be used to purchase land on the open market in selected cases. I do not think the Government of the time liked that proposal very much. Perhaps they thought it smacked of nationalisation. Of course it was not nationalisation, it would have been a purely voluntary system which would have had the merit of preserving whole estates which might otherwise have been split up. I am one of those who believe that the land is better administered by larger landlords, whether they be private owners or some other body, rather than have it split up among a vast number of owner-occupiers. I ask the present Government to give further consideration to this proposal because I feel that in these days when capital taxation is obviously going to increase there is an even greater need for something of this kind than there was previously.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, we are very much indebted to my noble friend Lord Walston for the opportunity to express our views and perhaps to help in providing solutions to the many problems facing the farming industry. The analysis of the problems is a perpetual task, one of which is recruiting labour. The need is for annually increased production and this can be achieved only by adequate forward planning; and the five-year programme suggested by my noble friend Lord Walston is an obvious necessity. I propose to confine myself to one of the fundamental day-to-day problems which has to be solved if we are to attain the 5 per cent. per annum increased production which is needed as a minimum. New approaches are required to deal with the escalating of old problems. I hope that I may have the indulgence of your Lordships' House in attempting to outline one new possible approach.

My Lords, farmers are already facing an increasing shortage of labour, particularly on the smaller farms; and the future of the smaller farms is my sole reason for joining in this debate. Tractors and other machines have reduced the total number of hands as mechanisation progresses, but never to do all the sundry time-consuming jobs on a farm. It is this problem which is so important and the solution is to be found only by increasing pairs of hands by any means, even by forms of temporary labour to alleviate seasonal pressure. I have a farmer friend whose 11-year old son spends every day of his holidays helping his father by undertaking these sundry odd jobs and thus releasing his father for other work. This 11-year old son's contribution during the Spring and harvest season has been of tremendous help and will be increasingly so as the years go by, even if it is confined to holiday time. His father is already wondering how he could do without him.

According to law, boys cannot leave school until they are 16, and according to newspaper reports they cannot leave, even if they become fathers, until they are 16. The modern boy of 15 is as mature physically and mentally as were boys of 17 or more 20 years ago. To keep a boy attending school after 15 can be harmful to his natural development if he has no intention of continuing studies of the subjects being taught and in which he has no interest. It is a waste of his time and that of his teachers. For a boy, the years between 15 and 18 are critical as every parent knows. Any restrictions applied to budding manhood are causes of friction. The natural outlet is in outdoor pursuits, especially for the boy who has no interest in a professional career. The Department of Education are encouraging the development of outdoor centres. I suggest that they develop and expand this outlet to provide temporary adopted "sons" for farmers. It is a commonsense solution to let a vigorous boy of 15, perhaps even younger, spend the last year or 18 months on a farm to broaden his education—with very adequate pocket money, of course—until he is 16.

My Lords, I can quote the experience of another friend who is a specialist on agricultural matters. His son was bubbling with energy, so he suggested to a farmer friend that he should be recruited to work on the farm until he was old enough to go to college. The first six weeks were difficult, but after only three months the farmer said that he was a fully-fledged farm labourer. When the time came for him to leave it was with considerable reluctance, but he found compensation in training youngsters to enjoy outdoor pursuits—a subject in which he has now specialised. He linked the two, starting with farming and now rock climbing, sailing and all the activities which are to-day part of a boy's education.

Farmers need more help. Boys of 15 and younger need outlets. There is no need to reduce the school leaving age, but the 15-year old may need a different type of education especially if he is a lusty outdoor type. Here we have an inexhaustible pool of potential recurring labour for the harassed farmer. So why cannot the Ministry of Agriculture help the Department of Education to extend their curriculum and promote even greater interest in outdoor activities, by encouraging 15-year olds who are not professionally minded to finish their education as farmers' boys. I am sure that such action would have the blessing of the National Farmers' Union.

May I ask one question? What are the other alternatives? In my opinion, this is the only untapped pool of labour and it will solve problems for many 15-year old boys, the farmers and the overstressed teachers. I am sure that parents who have large families would welcome an opportunity to give teenage sons an outlet at a critical age. The Ministry of Agriculture might find it worth while to seek the opinion of farmers and schoolmasters, and then the co-operation of the Department of Education. A short preparatory course on the subject of farming would be useful in the case of boys unfamiliar with the open country, in order to encourage enthusiasm.

My Lords, we are all deeply concerned with solutions to present-day and future problems and, under the circumstances any proposal is worth investigation. My views are based on the experiences of only two farmers and two boys, but there must be hundreds of such experiences. Now is the time to analyse the potential benefits, and I hope that in his reply the Minister will give consideration to the idea and include it in the five-year programme suggested by my noble friend Lord Walston.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, first I must apologise sincerely to your Lordships because I cannot stay until the end of the debate, as I have an engagement which I must attend. I should like to say how personally grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for introducing this debate. There was a lady in a song called "Mrs. McGinty's daughter, Mary Ann". She was cockeyed and nearly crazy. Compared to Her Majesty's present agricultural Minister I think she is a candidate for the Royal Society. If she had been made Secretary of State for Agriculture and Fisheries there could have been a marked improvement. Unfortunately, after Lord Walston's lucid speech, the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, was full of anodyne confidence.

I should like to quote some of the figures which, as I declare an interest as a farmer, I know are true. Last year we put on 34p per day of beef at a cost of 17p per day in concentrates. This year it has gone from that average to a situation where it is a 31p per day increase on average, at a cost of 28p per day in concentrates. That leaves 3p per day to pay 15 per cent. interest on the money, grow sileage, pay labour and pay interest charges on new buildings, et cetera. Perhaps 17p per day differential may have been generous. Successive Governments have urged the increase in farm production as an import saver. What have the present Government done? They have withdrawn intervention, which was in any case held artificially low by the last Government, and subsidised nothing. Yet it has, my Lords—it is paying out taxpayers' money to intervene in the rest of the E.E.C. to subsidise the French, German, Italian, Dutch, and Belgium farmers.

The situation has been made even worse by the new E.E.C. ruling that importers are only allowed to import into the E.E.C. if they buy half of their produce from the intervention stores. Consequently, we are subsidising again our own imports of foreign production to the detriment of our own producers. Six weeks ago—and again I speak from my own experience-8½ cwt. store cattle in Guildford Market were sold for £140 each, which I thought was a dismal price then. Last week I withdrew them at £50 each. That is not a healthy position for the agricultural industry. It has been said that in the slaughter houses sows are giving birth to piglets. This is a very unattractive and unnecessary situation, should it prove to be true. Perhaps it is because to rear 10 piglets would cost the farmer only £3 each for the privilege. The price of white-faced dropped calves is at the moment £15. A year ago it was £75.

The Government have decided to subsidise Dutch cheese. The Dutch farmers are among the most efficient in the world and they are also among the people with the highest standard of living in the world. Why should one of the poorer nations of Europe take it into its head to subsidise one of the richer nations in Europe? Fertilisers are up by 100 per cent. and they are due to go up again soon. Diesel fuel is up by 100 per cent. as are feedingstuffs. Wages are up by 15 per cent. Personally, I would prefer that wages were up by 100 per cent. and fertilisers and the other things by 15 per cent. But that is not so.

If we are to keep on the land the quality of labour that we require—and we require now a much higher quality of labour than was required before the war because they have to be good mechanics, understand the soil and pig rearing or livestock—we are going to have to pay a decent wage and house them properly. Your Lordships know only too well that housing is expensive, and labour will not be satisfied with sweet but unmodernised 18th century houses. They want decent housing with central heating, and if we are going to attract the decent, good labour that we need then these facilities will have to be provided. For too long the country has exploited the farm labour force. The wages can only be paid if the farmer is given the right conditions in which to make reasonable profits. No farmer that I know wants to make exhorbitant profits. As the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said, all the farmer wants to do is secure a future for himself and his family, and an ability to look after his livestock and land, to care for it and, almost certainly, to hand it on to his children.

Not only have the Government withdrawn the intervention, they are threatening the agricultural community with a wealth tax. Any farmer who can make a 2 per cent. return on his land with the present-day values of land would be making a good return. He has to pay graduated income tax upon that, but how is he going to pay in addition a wealth tax and not have to sell a field or something every year to the gross detriment of the agricultural community and the country as a whole? This will not produce one extra grain of wheat or pay one extra pension because it will decrease the value of the agricultural produce of this country.

My noble friend Lord Vernon was justifiably worried about this aspect, and I should like to be associated totally with what he said. As an example, if you are farming 150 acres in Hampshire, and you own the farm—and this is not a very large farm; in fact I would suggest it is too small—that farm, with a small house going with it, is probably worth between £130,000 and £150,000. On paper that man is very rich; in practice, his wealth is not something with which you could buy an extra gin and tonic or take a holiday on the Costa del Sol. It is all locked up in the service of the community. To apply a wealth tax to that would be suicidal from the community point of view.

As the noble Lord, Lord Walston, said in a ruthlessly logical speech, agriculture is the most efficient industry in this country. It is interlocked with the rest of the community and makes an important contribution to the community. Before the war we produced 30 per cent. of our own food. Now we produce 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. If the rest of British industry had also reduced its labour force by 80 per cent. and increased its production by 100 per cent. we should not be in the awful mess that we are in now.

There is also a threatening world food shortage. I have seen on the tickertape that. Dr. Boerma, the Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Committee, is worried that basic food stocks will fall this year and that they could be down to a three-week supply. We must not kick our own industry in the teeth. I say with regret that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, seems to think that New Zealand would prefer to sell us their butter and lamb on longterm contracts cheaply than to the Japanese expensively. However much the New Zealanders like us, they would rather get more money from the Japs than they do from us. There is no more cheap food. All that I can say is that Mary Ann McGinty's understudy must not destroy the yeomen of England.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, I had intended to put down a Motion for a full day's debate on fish farming. However, I made some inquiries and found that it was doubtful that I should be allowed the time; so I approached the noble Lord, Lord Walston, who very kindly said that I might intervene in his speech. I thought that one Lord Walston in the hand was worth two doubtful Chief Whips in the bush. I am not going to speak about sea fishing at all. I am speaking about the farming of fish on land. That is why I think that it can come under the heading of this Motion. I declare no interest at all except in the soles that I sometimes eat in the very good dining room of your Lordships' House. Perhaps your Lordships would be interested to know that they come from Denmark. Until six months ago I knew very little about this subject; but I have been reading many hooks since then and I have been in touch with a number of people. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Radnor, who is a fish farmer and with whom I have had a good deal of correspondence, and also to Mr. and Mrs. Sykes. I was delighted to see that the Daily Telegraph had a paragraph on fish farming in the paper two days ago. It looks to me that this subject is coming slowly into its own.

The reason I bring the matter up is, as I think many noble Lords have said today, the shortage of food the world over; so that it has now become an urgent matter in this country where in fish farming we are very far behind Europe and the rest of the world. I should like to say to my noble friend opposite that there is great scope for this especially in Scotland. There are as a matter of fact two enterprises that I know of in Scotland; one is by I.C.I. and the other is by Unilever. There is also some research by the White Fish Authority; and all are doing well. There is a research station at Port Erin in the Isle of Man, also in Skye and at Hunterston. While this is a beginning, it is nothing to what we could do if we tried. I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, said about the use of reclaimed land. Much of it could be used for turning into fish ponds and for fish farming.

I do not know whether your Lordships have been brought up exclusively on trout and salmon but, in case that is not so, I have made a list of the fish that are being cultivated in other parts of the world. I will read it very quickly because there are more speakers to come. First, carp are cultivated in Czechoslovakia, West Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, U.A.R., U.S.S.R., U.S.A. and Yugoslavia. That is just an example of what is being clone by other countries. Catfish are being cultivated in other countries; also gourami, pike, perch and black bass and the remarkable fish called a tilapia which originated in Africa and which migrated—nobody quite knows how—to Java and has now spread all over Malaysia and the Indian Continent. The fish is called the brooder fish because it carries its young in its mouth until they are able to fend for themselves. Can your Lordships imagine a fish travelling from Africa to Java with its young in its mouth? I do not know any other form of animal that would take this trouble. There are eels and trout which we cultivate here; and also salmon. Salmon is also a big Pacific industry. We have tried fairly successfully with certain flat fish: soles, lemon soles, flounders and plaice—especially the White Fish Authority in this case, and Japan, Norway and Denmark. I do not want to make your mouths water; but there are shrimps, crayfish, lobsters, crab and clams, oysters, cockles, mussels and squid—


What about winkles?


Yes, my Lords, there are winkles and cockles, too. There are a great variety of fish that we could take an interest in. Now that we are beginning to clean up the pollution of our rivers and lakes and now that deep sea fishing has involved us in very complicated issues with our neighbours, I think we ought to turn our attention to this subject and spend more money on it than we do.

I was shocked to hear from the Benches opposite that we spend only £200,000 on the promotion of research and so on for this matter; whereas we spend £140 million on the milk and dairy industry. It seems rather out of proportion. One of the troubles (apart from wanting more money for research) is that there must be a change in the Rating Act 1971, chapter 39, page 1, Part I, Section 1, subsection 3 in which livestock is defined as any animal or bird kept for the production of food or wool or for the purpose of its use in the farming of land. A fish cannot claim to produce wool, I am afraid; but it can, and does, produce food. If we cast our minds back to the Middle Ages and remember the carp ponds kept by the monasteries in this country to feed and provide protein, we see that one of the reasons why the poaching laws were so severe was that the Lord of the Manor ate game and everybody else had to eat carp from the monastery ponds. There was no harm in that and there is no reason why we should not start that again.

I do not wish to keep your Lordships for any length of time, except that I should like to draw your attention to the now vital importance of this subject. It is, I believe, true to say that a fishpond produces more protein per acre than any animal kept on one acre. That gives one cause to think. If we want a good reference, we might go back to the Old Book and remember the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. There we are, my Lords. I have said all that I can say in the time allotted to me, and I do not want to keep you any longer. But may I please ask the Front Bench opposite to give this matter very close attention, and see what can be done to help in providing more money for research and in de-rating proper fish farming land.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, may I first say what a compelling speech my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley has made—how lucid it was, and how much she captured the attention of all of us? Also, may I apologise to the House for not being here throughout the whole of this most interesting debate? I had to attend a committee on Northern Ireland in one of the rooms here. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Walston—who I am sorry is not here at this moment—for giving us the opportunity not only of having this debate, but also of hearing his most excellent speech. He is a man who did me the honour about 25 years ago of showing me exactly how land should be farmed; and if he was at that time a "barley baron" it is very nice to see him here as a true baron.

The part of the country from which I come also has a lack of confidence. I think it is at its lowest ebb since the 1930s. It really does not matter whether this lack of confidence is totally misplaced or well-founded, because without confidence long-term investment in agriculture is totally impossible. It is therefore absolutely essential, from our point of view as a nation, that we should at once return confidence to the farmers. Every time a partial solution has turned sour in our hands it has done very much more harm than if it had not been offered, because the lack of confidence has increased. At the present moment, there is an acute problem in the case of beef and pigs, and in my view the problem will become apparent in dairy produce. In Ulster, the pig industry is especially hit. Ulster leads in many respects and in many things it does not like to lead. One of the fields in which it has not enjoyed leading is in the destruction of the pig industry. The sow population in Northern Ireland has already dropped by 25 per cent. The hold on the bacon market in this country by the Ulster bacon market is something which it is very difficult to regain, when those most efficient people, the Danes, come in to provide what we cannot supply.

In March, the Minister of Agriculture came back with a subsidy from the E.E.C. That subsidy definitely reduced the rate of slaughter, but that rate is now increasing again. The subsidy will end in July and, unless something is done between now and then, we can foresee a further reduction in the pig industry which must result in a shortage of pig meat in the autumn. If the Government really feel that their interest is in not only short-term control of the price of food but in the long-term position, then they must do something at once to remedy this situation. It is in the interests of the consumer and the producer to do this. We do not want as farmers—and I declare my interest in farming—to make unreasonable profits, but it appears to me that we are the only industry which cannot apply to the Price Commission for the costs of production plus a reasonable profit. Perhaps that is one of the first things that should be remedied.

As regards the five points of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, I would go solidly along with him. The announcement by the E.E.C. of the margin for beef simply was not enough. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, whether the announcement by the E.E.C. Ministers which appeared in the papers—and I have to say that I have not read the small print—really meant what it appeared to say, which was that the importers of meat will have to buy from intervention stocks and will then be free to sell into the United Kingdom market, receiving monetary compensation in order to do so. If this is the position: there will be a further downgrading of the confidence of the people in this country. I am not certain whether this is really the position. I apologise in advance to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for the fact that I may not hear his answer but I have to catch an aeroplane back to Northern Ireland. But when we have a supply position which is 100 per cent. or more, even marginal further supplies of beef have a multiplying effect on the price and on the lack of farmers' confidence.

As well as giving subsidies in March we, as a country, abandoned intervention buying. When we went into the Common Market, farmers were sold the policy of intervention buying by the E.E.C. as a method of persuading us to abandon the ordinary fatstock guarantees. The only solution which I can see is that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, supported by others, which is the reintroduction of the fatstock guarantee payment in order to restore long-term confidence, because beef production is a long-term matter. When we went into the E.E.C. we also abandoned another very vital part of our agricultural policy, which was the ability to have a special Price Review when costs escalated to such a degree that the profitability of farming is at all jeopardised.

Last autumn, costs were raised in this country in an unprecedented way, yet because of our entry into the E.E.C. we were incapable of having a special Price Review in order to put right that situation. We were so nearly landed in disaster in the dairy industry and, in my view, what happened has landed us in disaster in the pig industry, and may land us in disaster in the beef industry in the months to come. We now have to wait until March before we can do anything with the E.E.C. about the Price Review. We have lost all our earlier guarantees, our ability to manoeuvre within our price structure, and we have now lost the intervention buying by the E.E.C.

I should like to comment shortly on matters which were raised by, I believe, my noble friend Lord Vernon on the gift taxes and wealth taxes. It seems to me absolutely crazy to subsidise amalgamation and then destroy it with these taxes. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, will convey our extreme worry about the effect of this prospect on farm amalgamation. We have very few large farmers, but even small farmers—with land being valued at £1,000 and £2,000 an acre in highly productive areas—are running into the most appalling problem. Maybe what will happen is that the farms will be eventually bought by Prudential, and then when another Labour Government come in they will nationalise the Prudential and by so doing will nationalise the land. I hope that that is not the intention of the Government.

I should like noble Lords to turn to a special subject which has not been mentioned here and which solely involves the Irish Republic; that is, tomato growing. When the Irish Republic negotiated its transitional period of entry into the Common Market it had a special transitional compensatory payment, a subsidy, which in 1973 was £34 per ton on tomatoes. The Irish Republic tomato growers have always sold a large proportion of their tomatoes in the United Kingdom—a large proportion in Northern Ireland but quite a large proportion in the rest of the United Kingdom. Their costs are the same as ours, and yet last year they had a special subsidy of £34 a ton. This was in fact to fall by 20 per cent. per year throughout the transitional period. But a month or two ago they took their case to the Brussels Court, which decided that the original calculation by which the figure came out at £34 a ton was quite wrong and that in point of fact they ought to have been paid a special subsidy on tomatoes of £105 a ton—and £105 a ton is more than the total cost of production, and probably profit, that people made even in good times. Since the figure was reducing by 20 per cent. this year, the compensatory amount is £85 per ton. We in this country are expected to sell our tomatoes on this market against a subsidy figure of £85 a ton. I believe that that figure should be looked into, or we shall certainly destroy the tomato industry in Northern Ireland. But I should equally think it would hit the tomato industry hard in other parts which are very close to the ports here. All we should like is to be on an equal footing. My Lords, I should like, since the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has now returned, to say, "Thank you" once more to him for initiating this debate, which has been most interesting and which I hope will be helpful to the Government.

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot resist the temptation before I start, and before the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, escapes, to comment on her fascinating speech. I should be most interested to hear from the Government whether they can shed any light in due course on how it is that we cannot breed, for instance, trout for hotels and restaurants; I thing a 12 oz. fish costs 65p or something of that kind, and we have them for stocking here and not for eating. In Holland and elsewhere they do just that, and I do not know why we fail. Secondly, in the matter of carp I have stocked a pond since 1965 for that purpose and the fish have grown to over 20 lb. But if one wants to produce for the market one has to feed them on an enormous scale, and I have not been able—I am too old—to start farming of that kind. I should much welcome some investigation.

To turn now to the main part of our subject, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, should have introduced this debate. It gives me the opportunity of saying—the first I have had—that in 1970, sitting here, he alone on the then Opposition Front Benches turned to the Government and said: "I hope they succeed where we have failed." That is a sentiment expressing a generosity which is not common in Parliament. "Get them out!" is the general call. I should like to associate myself with the noble Lord's sentiment and say: "For Heaven's sake, don't fail again!" Both Governments have failed in the main task, and power has passed to non-elected people outside of Parliament altogether. I, for one, should be horrified if the present Government, with the concurrence of the present Opposition, do not ensure that we do not fail a third time, especially in the matter of agriculture.

My time in farming is to be measured by the immense transition and progress for the better which was inaugurated by the Labour Government in 1947 and continued and agreed to by others. It is a dramatic transformation which covers all my active experience. I have been anchored and rooted in agriculture, and the poverty of landowners holding agricultural land was the background of my youth—cottages that could never be repaired, dry rot in the floors, and heaven knows what! This transformation has come about since 1947. In 1947 the Labour Government gave security of markets, and in 1948 security of tenure. On these two planks British agriculture has bounded forward. Very well. The situation has unpleasantly changed all of a sudden. Of course, the device by which this prosperity was given us was to give a price to the farmer which differed from the price that the consumer paid. It is a tradition in this country, unlike France, somehow that the urban dweller has a divine right to cheap food no matter where it comes from in the world, no matter if it is at the expense of extreme poverty of farm labourers and farmers at home, or that it results in dust-bowl farming in the Americas or in dumping policies elsewhere. This prejudice is the kind of thing which has had to be overcome.

The prejudice—the hostility to rises of prices on the Continent, for beef for example, on the grounds that it is protecting inefficient French farmers, to use the current phrase, at the expense of the British housewife—has its roots in the parts of England, in the hearts of the towns, which are more Socialist than the rest. Therefore, I should like to cross swords in one respect only with the noble Lord, Lord Walston. He was a little unfair in charging the Tories with disregard of what happened to workers on our own farms in our own country. The insecurity which we have run into at the present time is that we have abandoned the 1947-onwards system of support—it has gone for good—and have denounced the alternative, the Common Agricultural Policy. Nothing is bad enough to say about that, and every increase has a heap of abuse poured on it, and ever and again the allegation that it is a French device for benefiting inefficient French farmers. Better prices are required for us, and we are in the doldrums because the system which is being followed now is rather an unpleasant, uncertain, unpredictable mixture of both these methods, having not the best of either.

There is a further insecurity in the matter of tools. There is an immense delay in obtaining a replacement vehicle, an immense delay in obtaining spares. Last year I was in such despair over a tractor of a special kind to replace one which was entirely defunct, that I ended up by getting one from Moscow. It was advertised in the journal of the National Farmers' Union, and in despair I went to the suppliers in this country. I said: "I suppose you've brought it in under proper licence?" Oh yes, of course, they had. It is an excellent machine, of slightly more power than I wanted, for very much less money than I was prepared to pay. I have been reduced to that. I am a person who normally likes to buy a British product, but in despair at waiting for a year for delivery I was rescued by Moscow.

The insecurity of tenure is hanging over us in ways of which I heard partly—and, I think, partly missed because I was out of the House writing a few notes for my speech. The first insecurity of tenure is, of course, the enormous bound from £400 an acre to £800 an acre which I think is the average throughout the country this year. Nobody can afford to die. Then there is the threat that the waiting period for gifts inter vivos will be extended from seven years to infinity and that there will be a heavy wealth tax on the living—anybody having over £30,000. When you are in the farming world £30,000 just does not go anywhere. You are not rich about it. You still stagger about with muddy boots. Then there is the gift tax, the wealth tax and the inheritance duty.

These are things which are hanging over us, together with the uncertainty about what is going to happen—whether we are going to be in the Common Market or not. There is no doubt at all that we are wondering whether it is worth going on—whether the ownership of any property at all, even a farm, is going to be regarded as so dirty and degrading that we had better quit it and go somewhere else. These uncertainties have taken the place of that splendid foundation which was laid by the Labour Party and has continued until the present time. It seems that both Governments have of late been handling the affairs of our farmers with a palsied hand.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, in this debate this afternoon we have had many interesting and many-sided speeches. Looking to the future, one might almost rename the debate after the old guessing game: animal, vegetable or mineral. But there is one side of this wide subject that I consider has not been sufficiently stressed, and that is the human side—the side of the farm worker. By that I mean everyone connected to the farm, as each one of them depends upon the other and upon whom, surely, the success of our agricultural policy largely depends. While on this point, I should like to associate myself with the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, in his remarkable speech, that the agricultural worker should be paid a realistic wage. Speaking from experience, he works long hours, in all weathers, and is rarely heard to grumble. So, my Lords, I should like to say, quite simply, a few words on his behalf.

The Government of the day, no matter of what Party, consider the future of the country's food requirements and make their plans accordingly. Then, in order to safeguard the situation, they lay down certain principles and, in order to encourage the farmer, they give him, or say they will give him, certain guarantees. Following on this, the farmer works out his long-term plans because successful farming, as has already been said, cannot be conducted on a short-term basis, whether it be beef, grain, dairy, fish, pigs or anything else you choose. However, he is faced with serious problems, as has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. He has to incur considerable financial expenditure in putting his houses and buildings in order, not only to comply with modern building requirements, which in these days of inflation seem to rise monthly. It will probably necessitate a bank overdraft on which he may or may not get tax relief, but mainly his problem is to attract the right kind of man for the job—often, these days, highly qualified.

After some years of hard work all round—and, one hopes, as has been the case in the past, a certain amount of success—another Government are elected—I am not talking necessarily of the present Government but of changing Governments—who make sudden drastic changes in policy, withdraw certain guarantees vital to the farmer's profits and plans and almost overnight he may find his hard-earned earnings turning into a heartrending loss. What happens, my Lords? What is he to do? His livelihood is fast disappearing. Is he to continue making losses, hoping, like Mr. Micawber, that something better will turn up, or is he to abandon his enterprise and discharge a good and an honest man, together with his wife and family, thereby causing acute distress and possibly further unemployment? I leave this to your Lordships and to the Government's imagination. A few months ago I made a short speech in this House in which I said that, although equality was probably unattainable, equity for all was essential. But if, for whatever reasons, promises are to be broken, and equity abandoned, for expediency or short-term gains, then there is indeed cause for deep anxiety, if not for fear.

Our political and economic future is, to say the least, uncertain. Of nearly 2,000 years ago, we read marvellous accounts of 4,000 people, as Lady Emmet said, being fed by seven loaves and a few small fishes; but alas! we are not living in the early days of miracles but in the latter half of the twentieth century with an ever-increasing number of peoples to be fed. And if, as a responsible nation, regardless of what Government may be in power, forgetting our personal likes and dislikes, we cannot join with other nations to agree certain policies and promises, and to stick to those policies and promises, upon which millions of defenceless people depend, then I fear two things: first—and this again touches on the question asked today by the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet—that one day we may wake up, too late, to find that our loaves and fishes are insufficient to feed the hungry multitudes; and, secondly, that whatever confidence there remains in the future of Great Britain and the contribution that her agriculture could make not only to the national but to the international economy, then I fear that that confidence may be severely, if not irretrievably, damaged.

6.19 p.m.


My Lords, I find it quite impossible to-day to remain silent because I believe more long-term damage has been done in 21 days by this Government than in my 21 years as a farmer. I know all farmers will be pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, initiated this debate. I personally was sorry not to hear him expand more fully on the subject of land tenure, on which he is such an expert and on which the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, spoke later. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, blamed farmers for bringing down beef prices. Let him come with me and persuade farmers that it is our fault and not the fault of the Government that beef prices are so low, particularly if those farmers are Welsh speaking. In the sheep world, too, I fear his optimism may be misplaced. Last week the ewes with one lamb at foot at Banbury were only making £25 for the pair—not a very good price.

The noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, spoke about 15 year old boys. In my area schools have day release and I have the pleasure of having two of the boys on my staff at the moment. The idea is a good one, particularly for my patience, but not always for my temper, and certainly not for my machinery repair bills. One other point is that in recent Written Answers the noble Lord, Lord WellsPestell, has put all his faith in the extra £10 calf subsidy. I fear his faith is nonexistent, as I think my noble friend Lord Sandys has pointed out. May I ask the noble Lord, as I ask my children, to change the record and try another one?

This afternoon I want to draw the attention of the Government to just one point; namely, the section of farming dealing with beef, and particularly beef from grass. If the noble Lord wants further evidence of the potential that we have in this country for beef from grass may I suggest a little bedtime reading of the Economist of April 20 and also the leader in The Times of April 27. I think this would convince the Government that our world food supplies are really balancing on a knife edge. Noble Lords will know that grass grows best in the West of the United Kingdom where there is a higher summer rainfall and a longer growing season. My experience in Oxford and in Anglesey more than bears this out. Unfortunately the position of the farmer in Anglesey to-day is worse than ever. I am sorry to say that again this is due to Government policy. The state of the stock in Anglesey is ghastly. The grass is non-existent, due to lack of money to buy fertiliser, and due to poverty there are high beef prices and colossal feed prices. The slaughterhouses are full of emaciated cows which are too weak to live, a fact brought out by the Farmers Weekly and eventually admitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I could continue on this miserable theme, but I feel in a benevolent mood this afternoon because it has started to rain so I will go on to a few measures that I feel the Government could take to put this right.

With regard to drainage, the West is wet, and it needs drainage. The Government have decided to adopt the E.E.C. rules for drainage grants, which means a drop of 5 per cent. for most and maybe even more for the smaller, hard-hit beef producer who has not been able to invest enough during the past two years to claim the full grant. Secondly, lime, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. The West is basically acid, and growing and fattening livestock requires lime, but the Government, in their wisdom, are about to abolish the lime subsidy. I come to a favourite point of mine which I have mentioned in your Lordships' House before; namely, fencing. The West is poorly fenced and fattening bullocks and lambs—particularly Welsh ones—are notoriously difficult to fence. Also the West is a tourist area and many people (quite rightly) are wandering about; but strangers encourage stock to get out. Under the Road Traffic Act the Government put more responsibility on the farmer if his stock stray, but the Government do away with the fencing grant. My noble friend Lord Sandys also mentioned fertilisers. In particular, phosphate is required for growing and fattening stock. The price of phosphorus has trebled, slag has become very difficult to obtain but the subsidy is taken away.

These actions might not have been too disastrous if the Government had kept their promise for a fairer return for the finished beast, but to repeat the remarks made by many noble Lords, as we all know the Government took off the guaranteed price last year in exchange for the E.E.C. intervention system. Again to turn to world cereal beef prices, last year they rose from £28 to £60 a ton; hay was in short supply due to the extra animals that farmers had been implored by Governments to rear and the price rose from £14 a ton in 1972 to £50 a ton in 1973. The final, and, in my opinion, most irresponsible and cruel blow came when the Minister announced the end of intervention buying and a slowing down of integrating with E.E.C. policy, although, as I have explained, we already have their costs.

This slowing down caused the ridiculous situation of Irish producers being paid £1.76 per cwt. subsidy to send beef here, ironically that subsidy being paid in part by our taxpayers' contribution to E.E.C. funds. Similar compensatory payments, restitution payments and export subsidies are being paid to other E.E.C. countries. For instance, when I last checked up there was 18.6p per pound subsidy on beef coming to this country from Germany—quite a sum when our final return here is only 28p to 30p a pound. So the poor beef producer is left with his trousers round his ankles and cannot even afford a bit of baling string to tie them up because the cost of that has also trebled.

To conclude, I must ask the Government whether they will seriously consider the following: increasing drainage grants, restoring the lime, phosphate and fencing grants and, most important of all, giving a guaranteed minimum price or (if they must) intervention price, tied to costs which to-day must be about £20 per cwt. I can supply detailed costs to show that to break even we need 20.88 per cent. on to-day's beef prices and due to inflation it looks as though we shall need 30 per cent. next year. This will give no profit. I wonder whether the noble Lord will be prepared to take away a copy of this costing for his evening reading?

If such steps are not taken, and taken very quickly, a serious contraction of the beef herd will take place, causing a desperate shortage in the future, when in point of fact on fair level terms, with no dumping, we can produce beef as cheaply as anywhere in the world.

There is real bitterness in the beef producing industry. It appears to us that once again it is only the strong that the Government worry about; the small Welsh farmer and the farm worker can, like the nurse, be sent to the wall. As a result there is a real possibility that these naturally law-abiding farmers will take the law into their own hands and copy those irresponsible sections of our community in putting on their own minimum price for beef and in picketing markets. I understand that the picketing laws are about to be changed to make picketing even more vicious. What is sauce for the gander must surely be horseradish for our bullocks! I myself would deeply regret such action but the Government would have only themselves to blame. It may be that we have the whole thing wrong and it is not food production from our land that the Government want but recreation in the form of caravan sites and lion parks, in which case they should be honest with us and tell us. At least, due to the lack of fencing grants the lions should get out and, with a bit of luck, they might mistake our legislators for Albert.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened to an interesting debate, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Walston will be satisfied with the result of what he has initiated. I am sure it has been a most useful debate. By and large, it was what I would call a fairminded debate, of a kind one would expect in this House, although there were two contributions (one unfortunately, made largely while I was not present) which might escape the description of being fair-minded. I will make passing reference to those later.

My Lords, I should say at the outset that I speak for the second time with the permission of the House, and assuming I am not going to be stopped—and I will not object if I am—may I deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, about fertiliser and lime subsidies. The noble Lord criticised the decision to allow the schemes to expire on May 31 and July 31 respectively, but the decision was taken not by this Government, but by its predecessor. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, might make a note of that, and take it home for his bedtime reading. The Farmers' Union have opposed the idea of dropping the schemes. Their opposition has been taken into account and is being considered.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, also asked me (and other references were made to this most interesting feature of the agricultural landscape) about Dr. Norman Pirie's mechanical cow. Dr. Pirie's work has been based on the belief that feeding extracted protein directly to humans is likely to be the best use of the protein. If the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, were here. I would assure him that the Government's assessment is that in the changing agricultural situation that we are now facing, the higher priority may be to use leaf protein for animal feed; that is, to break down the higher protein forage crop of either lucerne or well fertilised grass into a protein curd for pigfeeding and silage cattle feeding. I understand the Ministry is taking a close interest in this question, supported by the views of the Joint Consultative Organisation for Research and Development. The Agricultural Research Council is sponsoring studies at the National Institute for Research in Dairying, and similar work is being carried out in Scotland. In addition the Ministry's Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, together with the National Institute for Agricultural Engineering, is carrying out a full-scale pilot trial into the commercial extraction of leaf protein in conjunction with a commercial firm.

May I add a little more to what I said earlier about the so-called beef mountain referred to originally by my noble friend Lord Walston, and also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. Perhaps I ought to put this into better perspective, because, while I do not myself defend this building up of intervention stocks, the present stockpiling amounts to only some 75,000 tons, 1 per cent. of the Community's annual beef consumption. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the Government have taken the option of not operating permanent intervention, so in this country we are not adding to the quantity held. As I have said, and to some extent this does meet the point made by my noble friend Lord Walston, the disposal of these stocks is now to be subject to two measures discussed yesterday at Luxembourg: first, the subsidised beef will be made available to non-profit-making institutions, and, secondly, importers bringing frozen beef into the Community from third countries will be required to buy a certain amount from the intervention stocks. These measures should help to keep down the size of the stock, and to ensure that the beef is consumed within the Community. Having said that, the fact still remains that it would be much better to enable the consumer to buy beef prime rather than to have it frozen into slabs.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, also mentioned the question of other inferior quality beef coming into this country from the Continent. I hope he will read what I said at the beginning of the debate. The amount is small, and is not likely to influence beef prices in this country. But the Government are endeavouring to see that the practice is being kept under control.

The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, in a manner for which I have absolutely unlimited admiration (but also a little doubt, I am bound to tell him, as to its procedural propriety) made a short speech, out of place on the list, in which he asked whether something could be done to inject a subsidy into beef in the same way as has been done with pigs. I am not certain whether he was in the House when I spoke for the first time, but if he had been he would have heard me say that the additional subsidy of £10 for calves does bring the amount of direct support to the beef producers to £100 million a year. I would have thought that was the sort of injection the noble Viscount had in mind.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, told us, and we were very interested in his views, about the inadequacy or the disadvantages of injecting subsidies at different stages of the process. The noble Viscount preferred to have the market system operating instead of the practice of putting in the subsidy at some point. I am bound to tell him that, although he appeared to have great admiration for the market system, he only liked it when it operated to his advantage. When it produced a slump, apparently we were expected to do something about it. This is one of the difficulties of the law of supply and demand; it does not always operate in the way one would like. It is essential, therefore, to take some steps. The noble Viscount expressed the view that a hill sheep subsidy was not as satisfactory as probably I indicated when I gave a good report of the sheep situation. I am advised that not all farmers would share the opinion which the noble Viscount expressed. Many hill farmers have emphasised the value of an injection of cash in the course of production in order to provide capital. Otherwise they have to wait during a very long production process for a return on the end product, which can make for difficulties.

The noble Lords, Lord Sandys and Lord Vernon, and others, spoke about the loss of agricultural land. I made a passing reference to this earlier. May I say that I agree with them that agricultural land in this country is not in unlimited supply, except to the extent we are capable of reclaiming something from the sea. Of course, something is being done on this, especially by the Crown Lands. Having gone through the debates on the Maplin Bill I, too, was left with the impression that if we turned our minds to it we could do even more by way of reclamation. I will certainly see that the point of view so well put forward is again considered. Nevertheless, I do not say that we agree with the theory that every new acre obtained, or every acre saved, is of great value. The view I express is shared by the Ministry of Agriculture for whom I am now speaking. I can say that in future the Ministry will be scrutinising with even greater care planning applications referred to it by the planning authorities under the existing administrative arrangements.

The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and, I believe, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, all spoke about the evils of taxation, and I suppose that I ought not to express surprise that this was a subject concerning more of the noble Lords opposite than on this side of the House. They all seemed to think that taxation, wealth tax, lifetime gifts and development gains could act to the disadvantage of agriculture. I only say that I think it is premature to speculate about possible effects. Tax on development gains, for example, will only affect the very few landowners who make, quite fortuitously, windfall gains as a result of planning decisions. So far as the effect on the size of the holdings is concerned, the effect of capital taxation has been to increase the average size of the farm in this country and not to decrease it.

We had a most interesting speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, about fish farming, and I think we were all absolutely fascinated by what she said. She made the point that more money should be spent on research. I can tell her straight away that twice as much is being spent on research as she indicated; the figure is £400,000, as I think my noble friend said earlier, and not £200,000. I hope she will agree that this higher figure is an indication of the importance which the Government place upon this subject. I should add that the whole question of fisheries research is under scrutiny by the Fisheries Research and Development Board, an independent body which reports directly to Ministers. The noble Baroness called for land now used for fish farming to be derated in the same way as land used for agricultural production. This, of course, is a matter for another Department, not the Department of Agriculture, but I will see that what she says is taken into account. I have previously been interested in a good deal of what the noble Baroness has said, and I am sure that much can be done about this. When the noble Baroness went through the list of fish that can be produced by these methods of farming, what we have to bear in mind is whether they can be produced economically, and in the greater number of cases the fact is that although they can be it is not as economic as with the present methods. But this research is going on, and if more can be done then I agree with her that we should do more. She made a biblical reference, which reminds me that probably one of the most successful countries in this regard—I speak from personal knowledge and not from any figures—is in fact Israel.

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, made a number of references, which I confess I could not follow, about Mrs. McGinty's daughter. I hope they were accurate because he was not very accurate when he spoke about the present Government subsidising the Dutch in the production of cheese. What we are in fact doing is subsidising the consumer to enable him to buy more cheese, and I should have thought that that was something which most of us would support if it enables the present Government to pursue successfully a counter-inflation policy.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, spoke about the problem of getting spares for machines and equipment. I did not hear what he said in that regard. I will read with interest what he said, and see whether there is anything more that we can do to help. He, along with others, complained about the cost of farm land, which is a problem. It is not, of course, simply an agricultural problem; it is a problem bound up with the whole question of inflation. As I indicated earlier, I think it may well be a subject about which we could usefully have a separate and full-scale debate, because there are many different points of view involved.

I am afraid I also missed what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, but again I will read it. I gather that he stressed the importance of the agricultural worker and this, of course, was something said so very well by my noble friend Lord Walston. I am not sure that we should not all agree that something must be done, but it will not be done within six weeks; it is a question of getting the whole of the economy on a more sound basis. But certainly I have always maintained that the agricultural worker should be better paid. If I may be allowed to reminisce, my first speeches in the Election campaign in 1945 hammered home the theme that the two most essential categories of worker in the country, mining and agricultural workers, were, as it happened, the two worst paid, and I said that we had to do something about it. To some extent I think we have, even in the case of agricultural workers when one thinks of the wages they were getting in 1945. Nevertheless, more needs to be done. The noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, also emphasised the need for long-term policy, and he had very powerful support from my noble friend Lord Arwyn I have indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that the Government accept that there is this need to look at agriculture from a longer-term point of view. He has invited various interests to discuss this with him, and certainly what has been said in this debate this afternoon will be taken into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, I gathered, was going to ask a question about calf subsidies. I did arm myself with some material. If he did not raise that point, then I gather he is satisfied. If he did raise it and I did not hear it, and I have not a note of it, I will see that he gets an answer. What he did say, according to a note I have here, I am bound to suggest leads me to believe that he and I will not agree on a number of things. When he says that more damage has been done to agriculture in the past 21 days than was done in the past 21 years, I have to say I have never heard so much nonsense in this House. I know enough about agriculture and enough about 'the problems involved to know that you cannot damage an industry of this kind in 21 days. The fact of the matter is that the troubles we are dealing with now originated under an Administration other than the present one. Much of what has been done has been designed to help—and I think it has to some extent—but more needs to be done; I thoroughly accept that. I would not accept the taunt of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that I have been anodyne. I do not believe I was anodyne; I emphasised the importance of the industry and I said what had to be done about it. I would hate to be anodyne, but I would hate also to talk myself into a fit of depression. There has been such a tendency on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and indeed at one point in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walston—my dear friend Lord Walston—when he said that confidence was never so low. Certainly there is a sort of backlash, a reaction to the euphoria which the farming community had about 15 months ago. Let us not take that pessimistic point of view, let us not be anodyne, but let us think that between us we might be able to do something more for what is certainly a great industry.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I interject for five seconds, as the noble Lord was kind enough to refer to me? We all as cattle breeders—and I am one—welcome very much the £10 extra calf subsidy. I should just like to point out to the noble Lord, as he, of course, knows full well, that not all cattle breeders are cattle fatteners. This calf subsidy will not help the cattle fattener, the man buying store cattle to fatten them. It will not help him directly. I do not know whether it will help him indirectly, but I should rather doubt it. I should also like to say that according to the Rules of this House, provided one says, "Before the noble Lord sits down", one can interject.


My Lords, I say to the noble Viscount, and I say it as a former Chief Whip and in the presence of a notable Chief Whip, that devices can be employed but they should not be abused.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—and I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for anticipating him for a moment—there is one small matter that I should like to raise. Perhaps the noble Lord would draw the attention of his right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture to this and possibly his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It relates to what my noble friend Lord Vernon said in regard to farm structure and fragmentation. There is a quite specific scheme known to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, designed by the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, to take into ownership where owner-occupiers are obliged to part with land. This has come unstuck, as I understand, because of certain provisions of the Finance Act 1928. From a technical point of view there may be remedies. Would it be possible to investigate the scheme further, as it may be of the greatest facility to farmers in these difficult times?


My Lords, I shall certainly see that what has been said is looked at, and I shall write to the noble Lord.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, it is obvious by the fact that people do not seem to wish to draw it to an end, and from the many other things that they would like to say, that this debate has been a success. There are many things that I should have liked to say but I restricted myself, although noble Lords may not have noticed it. I did not speak at inordinate length, and therefore I did not allow myself to touch on the very important questions of land ownership, death duties, gift taxes, wealth taxes, or whatever it may be. I hope that my noble friend's suggestion in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, will be followed up and that in due course, when we know more about future provisions, we can have a talk on this very important subject.

One of the factors that has impressed me during this debate is the number of people who have taken part who did not join in our previous debate at the beginning of last April. I regret that many of those who took part a year ago are not here to-day for various reasons, but it is very good to welcome new speakers, especially those who range as widely as they have done. It is sad that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is not here to take part, but it is excellent that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has done so in such an admirable way. As always, I have nothing but admiration for my noble friend Lord Beswick, who knows far more about farming than he lets on. I was going to say "more about farming than he has shown to-day", but that would be unkind. He has admirably performed the unenviable task of answering for a Ministry of which he is not a representative.

Our speeches have ranged very widely. We have had a quotation from Francois Bernier by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys; a quotation which was accurate but which was, of course, wrong. Certainly, if his sentiments of the 1680s were transposed to to-day they would be entirely wrong. We have had mention of land nationalisation—and not entirely in opposition to it—from, curiously, the Opposition Benches, by the noble Lord, Lord Vernon. We have had an interesting suggestion from my noble friend Lord Arwyn about schoolchildren on farms and, in particular, about school courses on farming. This is an admirable idea.

We have of course had the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, telling us, quite rightly, of the very great contribution that fish farming in this country can make to our supplies of protein, and which fish farming throughout the world can make to the supplies of world protein. I am mentioning only the newcomers to the debate. We have had the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who told us many things of great interest, including a fascinating piece of information about subsidies for tomato growers in Eire. We have also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, who I was very happy to hear reinforcing what had already been said about farm workers and their importance, and the scale of remuneration that is due to them.

I hope and believe that enough has been said to help my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture in his difficult task. I am quite certain that he will pay attention to what has been said. The most important message that can go to him from this House is not so much about what he can do (he has much expert advice on that, and we have also contributed some expert advice to him to which I am sure he will pay regard) but that what is needed is "action this day". It is no good taking action in six months' time or nine months' time; it must be taken to-day. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.