It is now three years since the Committee had the opportunity of discussing this Vote, and a great deal has happened in those three years with regard to agricultural policy. From the historical point of view, it is obvious there is a good deal of ground to be covered, and that ground is enlarged by considerations other than that of the mere lapse of time since our last discussion. The operations of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries are numerous and diverse, and the area of its administration is a very large one, not entirely confined to the land of this island and the sea which immediately surrounds it, but extending even to the inhospitable waters of the Antarctic, where our people go in pursuit of whales. Therefore, it is obvious that I must make a fairly rigorous selection of the topics which I shall discuss in this introductory speech. If one were to try to cover all this ground one would have to encroach very severely on 'the time of the Committee, and in these discussions it is often more valuable for hon. Members to address the Minister through the Committee than for the Minister to take a disproportionate amount of time in laying his Estimates before them.
I do not propose to try to deal with every single subject, or, indeed, with a great number of them, but I shall endeavour to select those topics which are of the greatest interest. No doubt I shall choose some erroneously, but if so I am sure that I shall be promptly informed of the fact. If I do omit any particular topic in which hon. Members are particularly interested, I hope they will not think that it is due to any lack of interest. The diverse nature of agriculture in these islands renders different commodities of more particular interest- to different localities, and what I would try to do is to give a general picture of the state of affairs as I see it at the present time. My task of selection is rendered a little easier by the fact that two out of the five Votes for which I am responsible have been put down, the general Vote of the Ministry and that dealing with milk. The three omitted are those dealing with sugar beet, the livestock industry and. Cattle Fund and the Ordnance Survey.
Of the two Votes selected, I should like to say a word first about milk. The stage which our efforts to deal with this commodity have now reached makes it difficult to say much in this Committee without transgressing the rule against discussing Measures requiring further legislation. We had the report of the Milk Reorganisation Commission just before last Christmas, and the important proposals made by that Commission have created a great deal of controversy among those interested in various aspects of the industry. It is only recently that many important interests have been able to make up their minds as to what advice they ought to tender to me on the subject, and I hope, with this valuable but not unanimous assistance, to be able to put before hon. Members for their consideration proposals for the future of this industry.