Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £2,469,649, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1941, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants in aid and expenses in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and improvement of breeding, etc., of live stock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, etc., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits, and marketing; fishery organisation, research and development, control of diseases of fish, etc.; and sundry other services including certain remanet subsidy payments."—[NOTE: £1,600,000 has been voted on account.]
The Committee will have noted that there are two other Motions on the Order Paper dealing with cognate matters, in other words, coming under the head of agriculture. It has been represented to me that it would be a convenience if the discussion on the Motion which I have just read were extended to cover matters coming under the other two. The Committee are aware by this time that that is not an uncommon practice, but is permitted by the Chair only with the general assent of the Committee. I take it that there is no dissent.
I will begin, if I may, by thanking the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen for agreeing to postpone this Debate from the date originally fixed. I was of the opinion, and I hope that the Committee will agree with me, that it would be more convenient to postpone the Debate until after the new wages had come into operation and prices had been announced, for then we could discuss the problem of agriculture as a whole. The problems that face me and my colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland are very different from those which faced our predecessors last year, both before the war and when the war first started, and very different indeed from the position in the last war. It is perhaps natural for people to compare at first glance the position that we face to-day with that of the nation in 1917, but although it may be natural to do that, it is very misleading, and if the Committee will forgive me, I should like to spend a little time to develop this aspect of the matter, because I think it will enable us to understand and to see the problem in its proper perspective, and to get a better idea of the means we have available and the methods by which we hope to overcome our present difficulties.
The food production campaign of 1917, with which the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will always be so honourably associated in the history of this country, had to be hastily improvised in order to meet a critical situation which, I think it is fair to say, had not wholly been foreseen. The campaign was conceived on very sound lines, and it was carried through with the utmost energy. Inevitably, it concentrated mainly on increasing the production of cereals and potatoes in order to save the country from actual starvation, it gave less attention than we should to-day to the problem of milk supply, and it more or less ignored livestock. It did, however, achieve very notable results indeed. The right hon. Gentleman would, I am sure, be the first to admit that the condition of British agriculture that he found in 1917 was very different from what my predecessor had to face in 1938–39, or, indeed, from what I and my colleagues have to face to-day. Agriculture may not have been completely prosperous, but it certainly was comparatively prosperous, in the years before 1914. In the first months and years of the last war agricultural prices rose very rapidly and very considerably. The problem that the right hon. Gentleman had to face was really that of persuading the farmers of this country to change over from one profitable form of production in order to increase the production of other goods which were equally profitable.
The problem that we face to-day is very different, because farming, in the years immediately before this war, both in this country and over a very large portion of the world, was, comparatively speaking, unprofitable, despite considerable subsidies granted for individual products. Farmers and landowners had seen their capital steadily reduced in the years after the last war, both by bad harvests and by poor prices, and, in many cases, by what I might call almost penal taxation. In addition to that, the Government, rightly or wrongly, decided, at the beginning of this war, upon a rigid policy of price control, with a view to preventing, or at all events to minimising, so far as possible, any rise in the cost of living. Again, before 1914, we had areas in this country which were engaged on mixed farming, and very considerable areas were under the plough. By 1938 and 1939, large numbers of farmers in this country had forgotten how to plough. Many of those arable acres had gone down to grass, and large numbers of producers, especially milk producers, were coming to rely more and more for their production upon cheap supplies of imported feeding-stuffs. In the light of these very different circumstances I am inclined to think—in fact, I am sure—that my predecessor's policy was the right one, namely, to start off by trying to get increased arable acreage by asking the farmers of this country to plough up an additional 2,000,000 acres. Despite the bad weather, this total, as hon. Members know, has actually been exceeded.
In view of the lovely weather which we have been having during the last two weeks, I find it difficult—and perhaps many hon. Members will agree with me—to imagine and to remember the terrific handicap to farming operations imposed by the unprecedented weather of last winter on agriculture as a whole. Despite that handicap of bad weather, unless something unforeseen happens between now and harvest we believe that we shall obtain a greater proportion of increase in our total farm production in the first 12 months of this war than we were able to obtain in the whole of the last 18 months of the Great War, in spite of the difficulties. I can rightly claim that the farming community as a whole are to be congratulated on having achieved that result, and particularly the members of the various county war agricultural executive committees. Members of the committees, and indeed members of my own Department throughout the country, put in many hours of unremitting labour, and their efforts are deserving of high praise.
Great as that achievement has been, I should be the first to admit that it might have been greater, but I do not think we could have got any material increase in the first 12 months unless the country as a whole had been faced last September, as it was in 1917, with the realisation that unless we got a very large increase of home food production we might be faced with starvation. Obviously that was the case.
Not the least of the contrasts between last time and this time is in regard to the actual potential capacity of my own Department. In 1914, it was one of the smallest Government Departments. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was right when he set up the brand new Food Production Department in order to carry through, in a very short time, his great campaign. Of course, since then, my Department has grown to be very large, covering very nearly every activity of agriculture. It was possible at the beginning of this war, without taking on any very large number of extra staff, to turn the Department into a very efficient food production Department on the same lines as in the last war. We had the advantage of the experience of that war, and of the mistakes that had been made. I hope that we have succeeded in avoiding some of those mistakes, at all events. We have the further very great advantage that there has been an enormous increase in technical and scientific knowledge of the possibilities of agriculture, since what was done by the right hon. Gentleman. Someone may possibly say that I am being complacent, but I think I can claim with some justice that the Department to-day merits the name of a food production department.
Now, perhaps, I may deal with the difference between the situation last September and the situation to-day. My predecessor last September laid down his programme on certain assumptions, which were drawn out after consultation had taken place with various Government Departments, including, more particularly, the Service Departments, chiefs of staff, the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Shipping.
I have had nothing to do with the Treasury in the few weeks that I have been in my Department. His estimates of what would be required from British agriculture were based on the assumption that we should be able to go on importing, not perhaps on our pre-war scale but on a scale approaching it; at all events, on a considerable scale; that shipping would be available, and that our anti-submarine devices would defeat the German submarine campaign. Well, we have actually been able to import on something approaching a satisfactory scale. The Ministry of Food has built up reserves of food and imported feeding-stuffs, and, as I have said, we anticipate that there will be a net increase. Therefore, I think it was sound policy on my predecessor's part to secure a general all-round increase in production in British agriculture. At all events, it has resulted in our having to-day a very large reserve of meat on the hoof and also a vastly increased amount of cereals in our stacks and our barns, which at all events ought to help us to meet any contingency which may arise this winter.
But the problem which we have to face to-day is a very different one. It is true that it is due to the results of the policy of the Ministry of Food and the efforts of our merchant fleet that we have intact adequate supplies of food in this country at this moment and that we have also a good reserve, but if we are prudent, we must face the possibility that we may not always continue to be so fortunate, and we must, therefore, take immediate and energetic steps to ensure that, as far as is humanly possible, the people of this country will have enough food, even if our present import programme has to be seriously curtailed. Before we can do that, however, we must ask ourselves, What is the minimum upon which the people of this country could be maintained? If we are to do that, I think we shall have to ask the scientists to make use of the very considerable amount of research in this matter which has been undertaken in this country in the course of the last 20 years. The scientists tell us that the population of this country could live in a condition of health, able to work hard and to produce munitions and to fight on a very different diet indeed to that to which we are accustomed, and a diet which has the further merit that the greater proportion of it could be grown in this country, and consequently the provision of which would require a considerably smaller import programme. I do not know whether it would be a very palatable diet until we got used to it, but at all events the Committee may be relieved to know that I have put in a plea that it should be supplemented by beer. The task, therefore, of the Ministry of Food and the other Departments is to inform the Agricultural Departments exactly what they wish us to produce and, equally important to tell us what they do not want produced. We shall then be able to inform the county executives, and I am perfectly certain from everything I have seen in the course of the last few weeks that we shall get the necessary response from the farmers.
Farmers will be asked in many cases drastically to alter their normal production, and in all cases materially to increase it. I am sure the Committee and the country realise that if they are to be asked to do that, and if we are to expect them to give the necessary response, then they must be assured of a market for the increased products that they will be asked to give. It is also fair that they should be assured of a reasonable return for the increased expenditure and the largely increased force of labour that they will undoubtedly have to take on. Although we are dependent on the Ministry of Food for telling us what they want, we have to translate the actual instructions and, therefore, my immediate task, and one to which we have been devoting ourselves energetically in the last few weeks, is to try and make sure that we have the necessary machinery—in the wide sense of the term—ready and geared up to enable the programme to be carried out as soon as it has been decided upon. I use "machinery" in its wide sense and not in the sense of an implement.
Perhaps the Committee would be interested if I explained in a little more detail exactly the sort of machinery which we have in mind in order to satisfy as far as possible the potential food requirements of the nation. First, and most important, of course, are the county war executive committees. These committees were set up by my predecessor and were given the task of obtaining, an additional 2,000,000 acres of arable acreage. A quota was given to every county, a sort of target at which to aim. The general idea was equality of sacrifice and each farmer was expected, broadly speaking, to plough up the same sort of proportion of his grass land. As I have already said, the committees have achieved that aim, and, indeed, a little bit more. Of course, the problem which they have to face now is a very different one. It is very much more detailed and more difficult, because, although agriculture is essentially a long-term programme, the crisis through which we are passing inevitably means that we have to take a number of decisions at very short notice, and we may very often have to start new policies in respect of particular areas or particular crops without any very considerable delay.
It seems to me—and I think I can say that the experience of the last fortnight in the Department has convinced me that I was right—that it would be a great advantage if I could appoint a body of prominent individuals who would travel continuously round the country visiting these committees and who would be able to explain by word of mouth, which is much better than by forms or documents, to the various committees exactly what is wanted and why we are trying to do this, that or the other; and at the same time, equally valuable, to come back and report to me again by word of mouth what are the particularly new problems of this or that committee so that we can find remedies. I have called those gentlemen my personal liaison officers. Their names have been published, and I think they command general respect in the farming community. I am deeply indebted to them for the large amount of work they have done. They have put in a great amount of travelling and I am quite sure that any success we have in getting increased food production will be very largely through their efforts.
I have already said in a speech that I made the other day that this old idea—not a very old one; it is last year's idea—of equality of sacrifice would have to be abandoned. What we have to do now, and what indeed we are doing, is to carry out a survey of each individual farm in this country with a view to seeing not merely how much extra food production we can get from the farm, as a whole, but how much we can get from each individual field. It is quite clear that in some cases a man may be required to plough up very nearly the whole of his land and in another case he may be required to plough none, because he may want to transfer the stock from the first farm to the second, and therefore the idea of equality of sacrifice must go by the board. In order to enable the county committees to make that detailed survey it will obviously be necessary to strengthen the personnel, and I thought that the most useful thing I could do would be to place at their disposal all the scientific, technical and educational staff on which I could lay my hands.
The idea underlying the survey is that each farmer's problem shall be discussed with him by the officer concerned and by the members of the district committee, and that he shall be helped wherever possible to decide how his production shall be increased and, as I said, how the production of each individual field on his farm can be increased. In our instructions to the county committees we have given them some general guidance as to the sort of methods we have in mind. In one case it may be a matter of increasing the arable acreage; in another case it may be one of the various methods of improving grass land, and in another it may be both, while in another case it may be a matter of bringing into cultivation derelict or semi-derelict lands. My committees have extremely full powers and they can, if necessary, take over farms. They can take over considerable tracts of country and they can take over individual fields of farms. The committees have very full powers indeed, and I am pressing them to exercise those powers.
I will say one word about that matter later on when I come to the question of fertilisers. I have been round to these county committees as fast as I can, and I have been over half the counties in England. As was to be expected, certain changes are necessary. Changes have been made in some cases and in other cases some changes will be made. Taking the committees by and large, I found them realising now the changed conditions, realising the importance of the functions which they have to perform and willing and ready to get on with their jobs energetically and loyally.
In certain cases, yes. Quite clearly, what will happen is that the Ministry of Food will ask them to grow an increased acreage of some particular crop, potatoes, for example. Clearly, that increased acreage of potatoes, if it is to be of any good from the point of view of increasing the total food production, must be a new and additional acreage and not merely an acreage withdrawn from some other crop. As far as we see at present, we shall divide up the additional acreage among the counties which are suitable for growing potatoes and where the farmers know how to deal with potatoes. It will be the task of the committee of allocating that additional land among the farmers and they will say to the particular farmers, "You will grow a certain crop." I am glad that that particular point was brought up, because it brings home to the Committee the enormously increased work which can be done and the necessity for my taking this technical staff away from the existing institutions, concentrating them on the job on the fields and trying to work out how they can best improve the land in a particular locality. The Committee will perhaps forgive me if I do not go into this in detail, because I have a very wide field to cover. The Parliamentary Secretary will be able to supply the details later. I have gone round the committees, and they have told me that the farmers, in the overwhelming majority of cases, have expressed their willingness to co-operate. A minority there is bound to be who refuse, and who are not farming properly. In their cases, the committee may have to take over the farms, to find alternative tenants, or to deal with individual portions of the farms, but, on the whole, we have found great readiness to comply with our requests, which I think is a good augury for the coming autumn.
I have said that this will involve a considerable increase in our arable acreage during the coming autumn and winter over and above the 2,000,000 acres increase obtained by my predecessor. That will involve considerably increased demands for labour and machinery, I will say a word more about labour in a moment. I referred earlier to some of the contrasts between the state of affairs in 1914 and to-day. In the last war it was calculated that there were between 300,000 and 400,000 more people employed on the land of this country than to-day, but, against that, we had then hardly any tractors Last June the number of tractors employed on farms in this country was about 53,000. In the spring of last year my predecessor decided to create a substantial reserve of machinery. He entered into an agreement with the Ford Motor Company for the delivery of 3,000 tractors in the ensuing six months. The advantage of this was that the Ford Company were immediately enabled to put their factory on to increased production. Their output was more than doubled, and this enabled the farmers of this country to obtain the further advantage that the price of the tractors, owing to the scale on which they were being manufactured, was kept down. I should like to pay a tribute to the Ford Motor Company for the very practical help they have given us during all this campaign, not merely in the matter of providing tractors but in other ways. To cut a long story short, there were 53,000 tractors on the farms of this country last June; to-day there are nearly 20,000 more. If replacements are left out of account, there is a net increase of between 17,000 and 18,000, and I am glad to say that the number is increasing to-day at approximately the same rate.
We have provided not only a considerable increase in the number of tractors, but, what is equally important, a considerable increase in the number of implements. Many people write gaily to the papers about increasing the number of tractors, but they forget that tractors are no good unless you have implements to draw behind them. The difficulty of getting implements is greater than that of getting tractors, because of the difficulty of getting steel. We have ordered a considerable number of heavy track-laying tractors from overseas, the first of which are now being delivered, and we have taken steps to supplement existing orders by further orders. I have said already that it is no use having tractors without implements. Equally, it is no use having tractors without tractor drivers. As tractor-driving is quite a heavy occupation, a man cannot be expected to plough from daylight to dark, or in some cases even after dark, day after day and week after week. Hon. Members will no doubt have noticed in the Press a number of letters on this subject. Yesterday, for example, I read the following:
If we want to increase our output we must double our machinery or work our existing machinery double time. These factors are still officially unrecognised, but they control our output. There is still just time for the expert training of drivers to double-man all machinery during the coming autumn.
Evidently the writers of letters like that are under the impression that we have taken no steps at all. As a matter of fact, we have already issued the necessary instructions to county executive committees. Perhaps the Committee will allow me to read the following extracts:
In the Minister's view it is of the utmost importance that all possible progress should be made, before the winter, with preparation for the 1941 crops. To this end the tractors at the disposal of the committee and a proportion, if not all, of those owned by agricultural contractors, must be kept working during the whole of the hours of daylight, and even
longer if necessary. There therefore, be a demand for tractor drivers, not only to man the tractors that are at present idle, but also to provide for double-manning in many cases, and the Minister would be glad if your committee would arrange for the necessary training work to be undertaken during the next few weeks.
We have also given the committees power to incur the necessary expenditure, and to pay the trainees during their time of training, and we have suggested that they should draw upon university students and people of that age. We can, I think, look forward with reasonable certainty, therefore, to having sufficient tractors and drivers this autumn for any programme of ploughing that may be necessary to fulfil the Ministry of Food requirements. I am also making an order giving the county committees power of control over all agricultural machinery contractors who are at present in business. That will prevent overlapping and wasteful dispersion of labour.
I turn to the question of labour, which is one of the most serious of the difficulties that face us to-day. When I was first appointed I was told that agriculture had lost about 300,000 men since the last war, and 70,000 more since last September. As hon. Members know, to meet this difficulty, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour imposed a standstill order preventing anyone at present engaged in agriculture from leaving the industry, and, what is even more important, he promised to take steps to restore to agriculture men from other industries with previous agricultural experience. It so happens, and it was undoubtedly a very great pity, that, for unavoidable reasons, it was necessary to announce the prospective increased agricultural wages before the corresponding increase in agricultural prices could be published. The increase of wages undoubtedly came as a serious psychological shock to the farmers. They wondered how, with their already diminished resources, nearly at the end of an agricultural year, they were to pay the increased wages.
In addition to this, the hay harvest, although of extremely good quality, was very early and comparatively light, and, therefore, made very little demands for extra labour. The result is that there has not so far been the increased demand for labour which the Minister of Labour and I had anticipated. But if the increased food production, and, particularly, the increased ploughing-up campaign which will be necessary, is to be carried out in time, it is clear that a considerably increased amount of labour will have to be employed, and I have been at pains to impress on my committees that, although they have no power to order a farmer to take on labour, they have power—and they must exercise it—to compel a farmer to do things which will involve his taking on labour. In view of the increased wages, farmers were extremely reluctant to take on unskilled labourers, who clearly could not be expected to be worth these increased wages. In order to get over that difficulty, the Minister of Labour and I have agreed to authorise the Central Wages Board to set new rates for what I might call learners, at prices below the full rate for a skilled worker, for a reasonable period, which will be sufficient to enable the men to become skilled. We have inserted a provision that this can be done only where both sides, the farmers and the workers, agree.
I am coming to that. I have already referred to the inevitable delay in issuing the new prices. These prices will enable the farmers now to see daylight in respect of the crops grown this year. I should not be doing my duty, however, if I failed to emphasise that there is at present considerable financial stringency, so far, at all events, as certain sections of the community are concerned. I know that many people believe that, because subsidies were paid to farmers for years before the war, farming has automatically become profitable. I think the truth is, in a great number of cases, at any rate, that the subsidies began only after the damage had been done. Although those subsidies may have been sufficient to enable the farmers to continue, they were not sufficient to make up the capital losses already incurred. The fact is that the capital at the disposal of the landlords and the farmers has been steadily going down year after year. One of the things that concern me at present is how on earth many of the landlords are to be enabled to carry on and to incur the increased expenditure on repairs and maintenance which the increased wages will involve at present prices. It is a very serious problem, and one of which I cannot offer any solution at present, but it is very present in our minds. Somehow, if we want to keep the buildings maintained and the cottages in repair, and to get the landlords to do the drainage, we shall have to find some solution.
The farms of this country can be divided roughly—and they are being divided by the survey—into three classes—(a) good, (b) satisfactory to moderate, (c) bad. Broadly speaking, judging by the reports I have got from the committees I have already visited, the greatest scope for increased food production must be looked for in the (b) farms, those that are at present satisfactory to moderate, raising themselves up to the level of the good ones. I am also bound to say that many farmers come along and say—and I believe it to be true—"The prices you have announced for this year are sufficient to pay our costs, but I am afraid they are not sufficient to enable us in all cases to carry on that improved cultivation of our farms that we should like to do. We know our cultivation has been getting worse every year. We are only too anxious to do what you want, but, frankly, the new prices, even though they are fairly good, are not sufficient to enable us to take on the extra labour." It is a very great problem, and is one which is being put up to me practically every time. My reply has been, that we have been in consultation with the banking authorities and they have promised to do everything in their power to help the farmer to increase food production. My answer has been to the committees that the first resort of the good farmer is to the banks through the ordinary channels for additional overdrafts, and in the case of the farmer who is not credit-worthy, then the committee must make the fullest possible use of the existing agricultural requisites scheme. I propose to go a step further. I am going to introduce a Bill, I hope in the course of the next few days, to enable the county committees to serve a notice on a man to do a thing, and, if he does not comply within a reasonably short time, to go in and do the job themselves and recover the cost from the ensuing crop or otherwise. That power which they have not at present will extend to such diverse cases as that of the man who does not exterminate his rats or rabbits and to undertaking cultivation for a man where he is either unable or unwillng to bring the property or farm up to a proper state of cultivation. That ought to enable a great deal to be done.
One of the most encouraging symptoms of the whole situation that I have found from the county agricultural committees is that, although a great many of them have already turned out a great number of farmers and terminated their tenancy, there seems to be, with the exception of a few areas, no lack of men willing to come forward and take on the farms.
I am not allowed to go into details, as it would require legislation, but I am satisfied that the committees require these powers at the moment to enable them to get on with the job, and most of them, when I told them what I proposed, agreed that it would enable them to do a very great deal more than they are doing at present. If further powers are necessary, we shall not hesitate to come along and ask for them. One of the other difficulties in facing the question of employing increased labour is the matter that was referred to just now of the housing shortage. In a great number of areas, especially those which have gone down to grass since the last war, many of the cottages which used to exist have tumbled down or have been condemned, and there is a very grave housing shortage indeed. Even in those areas where numbers of men have been called up either as Reservists or as members of the Territorials, their cottages are occupied by their wives and families, and naturally are not available for any new labour that has to be introduced into the district. We have several schemes in view, in co-operation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, to help to overcome this, details of which I hope to publish from time to time.
Another important item in our increased food production campaign is, of course, the provision of fertilisers. There we are very much more fortunate than we were in the last war. We have available many times more fertiliser than was then available, and in the case of lime in particular the supply is supposed to be unlimited. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs will remember the great difficulty there was in carrying out the proposals in the last war to increase lime and how they broke down because of lack of labour and transport. But we have supplies at the present moment, and hon. Members will agree with me that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the exact figures. The point I want to make is, that although we have supplies in fairly big quantities, there is not enough, and we shall sooner or later—sooner, probably—have to decide what is the best use to make of these fertilisers. In particular, we shall have to weigh up the advantages of ploughing up more land and using fertilisers for that land against the increase of food production that we should obtain if we used the same amount of fertilisers on land already arable, and which, in many cases, is at present below its maximum productive capacity. I want to say that because it imposes a limit to the amount of land that can properly be ploughed up. There is a very great increase in ploughed-up land, but the total is not susceptible of unlimited use.
I would rather not give details, but I shall be glad to give my hon. Friend what information I can. It is an extremely important point, because of the probability that we shall require a largely increased amount of potatoes. I am afraid I have already detained the Committee unduly long. There is still a number of points with which I would have liked to have dealt. I answered the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) this afternoon about allotments, giving him the latest details of the circular that we have issued stirring up local authorities and telling them that they must get more allotments and stimulate the demand for allotments, and must also take measures to supply that demand after it has been stimulated. There is the work of the Domestic Food Producers' Council under the chairmanship of my Noble Friend Lord Bingley, which is doing extremely valuable work along cognate lines. There are the pig clubs, which my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Drewe) is fathering so successfully, though I do not know whether "fathering" is the right word. I have these pig clubs particularly at heart, because they serve two purposes. On the one hand, they enable household waste and scrap to be used which would otherwise be wasted, and in the second place, if they develop as much as I hope they will, they will go some way at all events towards making good the inevitable reduction in the pig population which otherwise would have to occur owing to the shortage of imported feeding-stuffs.
Then there is the large and important problem of drainage, and I will leave my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to deal more fully with that. I would only say that included in the Bill to which I have already referred will be provision to enable a grant to be made of 50 per cent. of the cost of tile drainage up to a maximum of £7 10s. an acre. County committees have already been authorised, in anticipation of Parliamentary sanction, to go ahead with the making of the necessary preliminary arrangements in all cases where the installation of such drainage would be of advantage to the production of the crop next year.
The limit for grant, and in certain exceptional and extreme cases, owing to the particular nature of the land or the large number of drains, if the county committee consider that there are some very exceptional circumstances which justify a larger grant, they have power to ask for it, but in general the grant will be £7 10s. an acre. We are also asking the committees to take immediate steps to get hold of local manufacturers' tiles and to try and make arrangements before prices go up.
Yes, certainly. To sum up, agriculture at the beginning of the war was undoubtedly in a much worse and more enfeebled state than it was in 1914. The first step towards its recovery and increased production, namely, the ploughing-up campaign of 2,000,000 acres, has successfully been taken, but in the meantime the crisis with which the nation is faced has become immeasurably more serious and will undoubtedly provide us with a large number of new problems. At the same time it also involves considering first things first. The real thing that matters is this winter and 1941. And the test, I suggest to the Committee, that we have to apply to every proposal is, Will it result in an increased crop next year? It is no good talking about what the crop will be in 1942 or 1943, but what will be the crop in 1941? Agriculture is in its essence a long-term proposition, and we shall undoubtedly have to take in the course of the next few months many steps which are uneconomic and which indeed are unwise, from the long-term point of view, but which are forced upon us by the inescapable necessities of the situation with which we are faced. We shall have to give detailed guidance, and detailed directions in many cases to the farmers what they are to produce and what they are not to produce. We shall have to provide the farmers with the necessary means and with the necessary incentive. We shall have to provide them with the necessary labour and machinery. We have in the last few weeks, I hope, cut red tape, and cut out delay repeatedly. We have given the county executive committees in the course of the last few weeks many additional powers, and we are giving them everything naturally for which they ask. We are putting resources at their disposal, and if there is still anything left that we think is necessary, I shall not hesitate to come down and ask this House for the necessary powers. I am certain, taken by and large, we shall get the necessary response from everyone concerned, whether he be landowner, farmer or farm worker.
Agriculture, in my opinion as a layman who has taken a certain amount of interest in it as an observer, has been recovering during many years from a generally widespread belief that British agriculture had failed and would not do more than provide a very few weeks' supply of food, and that, taking it by and large, it was not worth spending a great deal of trouble on it. But now a real crisis faces us, and agriculture at last has its chance. We have to-day sufficient food, and I hope shall still continue to do food, and I hope will still continue to do so, but we must insure ourselves against our present importation programme being stopped by enemy action, and the only way to do that is by increasing domestic production. Tens of millions of people on the Continent of Europe will face in the next few months the danger of starvation. Many millions may well perish, but British agriculture, with modern methods, modern machinery, modern science and the necessary enthusiasm and drive, can and will play a very large part indeed in saving the people of this island from suffering a similar fate.
I am sure that I can, on behalf of the whole Committee on both sides, congratulate my right hon. Friend on a very admirable and most comprehensive statement that was succinct, well planned and, if I may say so, well planed. If I may go further, also on behalf of the Committee, I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the position which he occupies. I hope I shall not be out of order if I commend this Government most thoroughly. It consists, if I may say so, of all the toughs and all the talents. In my opinion there were in the past far too many good little boys in former Governments who never caused trouble to the Chief Whip. I will not say my right hon. Friend comes into that category, for he certainly caused the Chief Whip and others in this House a certain amount of trouble at one time or the other.
I think perhaps I ought to apologise to the many distinguished agriculturists in this Committee for having caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, on this occasion, but I have had a wide experience of farming both in this country and in one of the Dominions, and I have owned and bred pedigree cattle and sheep. Following on the closing words of my right hon. Friend's speech, I would like to say that in this matter love of land is not enough. British people must be taught to see—and perhaps this crisis will teach them—that misuse of the soil, intended by God and by nature to produce food on an overcrowded island where, nevertheless, millions of acres are not cultivated, is a crime against nature and their own interests. To me, land is something more important than the man who owns it or works it as a farmer or a labourer. British people of all parties and classes have neglected many things at their peril in the past, but none of them have neglected more at their peril than this question of the soil, and I want to deal with one aspect which, in my judgment, is the most serious part of that neglect.
The soil of this country or in any other country is a hard task-master, and in the past there have been far too many inhabitants of the nation who have spent their time trying to get higher dividends or wages, as the case may be, in peacetime. One thing is quite certain, that nobody can work the soil and expect as high a profit or wage from it as from other industries. It was true during the last war and before. I think one should be concerned to-day not so much with high returns from existing farms, although that is immensely important, but with the position of land which is not properly cultivated. We are faced, and have always been faced—and it has not come out sufficiently in agricultural Debates—with the position that while we have many farms in this country as good as and better than many farms in the world, we have a vast amount of land which is scandalously farmed, due to circumstances which as a whole are the result of economic circumstances and not so much to the wrong action of owners and occupiers.
Due to economic circumstances. I have travelled by train to all parts of Europe, to Constantinople, parts of Germany, the borders of Russia, Poland, Italy and other places, and I do not care what place you go through on any such journeys, you will not see any land so neglected as the land between
Dover, Folkestone and London. I am not making any attack upon particular farmers in that part of the country; it is true of other parts of the country. Whatever our political views may be, it is no use denying the fact that agriculture has an immense leeway to make up if it is to achieve what it did many years ago. I think the Minister has had assistance from many organs of the Press, and many outside this House, expressing that point of view, and if I may give an example, I would like to quote an excellent sentence from the "Daily Express," which I think puts forward what should be our object at this moment. It is:
The ploughing of uncultivated land should begin now, and the ploughing of other land should begin the moment this year's harvests or crops are gathered.
I want to say something about this question of land which is at present not being properly used, or being only partially used. I think the use of the term "waste land" is not very exact, because waste land can be divided into two distinct categories, although the line of demarcation is not always easy to draw. For example, there is true waste land, such as the Aldershot sandy heath country, which is not cultivated anywhere in Europe. There is a great deal of similar land to be seen in Germany, and even in Denmark, so there must always be a proportion of true waste land in this country. But there is the second category, an enormous amount of land which has become waste land, which was once ploughed or grazed and which consists of various forms of soil, such as heavy clay, poor sand or chalk. Literally, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of such land which have been gradually going out of cultivation since the basic year of the agricultural depression of 1879.
I want to speak from the point of view of the county which I know best and the western portion of the Weald in East and West Sussex, South Surrey and the Western Southdowns. I can claim an extensive and intensive knowledge, from observation, of that part of the world, which is probably unique. In my constituency and adjoining district I have ridden, hunted, walked and gone on manoeuvres over huge tracts of it, and I can assure the Committee that the average Englishman has not the least idea of what is the real scandal of the amount of uncultivated land. When I use that word I am not making any charge against any brother landlord; I mean it is a scandal that this House and Committee has allowed it for years to exist. During the 34 years I have been in the House the majority of agricultural Debates have been attended by only a handful of people while all this has been going on. Now it is only because my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and others have roused us to a sense of the situation that we find such an interest in the matter being taken to-day. I feel I owe my right hon. Friend a debt of gratitude for what he has done in that respect.
I would like to go into further detail about this question of land, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give me an answer to some of my points when he comes to reply. First of all, may I give one particular example? On the Western Southdowns between, roughly speaking, what is known as Amberley Gap—which may be familiar to some of my hon. Friends as a well-known beauty landmark—and the boundary of Hampshire are thousands of acres of downs. I remember, 45 years ago, walking with my father, who was a well known agriculturist in West Sussex and was connected with many prominent agricultural movements in this country. As we walked we saw miles of down dotted with gorse bushes and heather. My father, with characteristic emphasis, said, "Bless my soul, when I was a boy and used to come here, every bit of land was close grazed by sheep." If he was alive to-day, he would see, not a few hundred but thousands, of acres of this land covered with nothing but gorse bushes. Let me take another example; in the district around Churt, where my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs lives, conditions are the same save for the land that he and a few other patriotic people have recovered. What makes me more angry than anything else is that much of this land has been bought by speculative builders and allowed to go out of cultivation because the builder does not care whether the land is farmed or not. He has merely bought it as a speculation and let it go to waste.
Then there is land which is covered with thick thorns, brambles, sorrel, moss and weeds where once corn grew, as you can see from the marks of the furrows. This land could grow corn again to-day. It is quite true that to do so you would have to buy back the land, as the phrase is, but in war-time that would be worth while. Some of us have experimented, partly for patriotic reasons, in that sort of work. I personally cleared land last winter which had got into a bad state by using what we call in the South a grub axe and a "slasher." It really is not very skilled work, and it could be done by unskilled labour. I welcome very much my right hon. Friend's announcement about steps which are being taken to do it.
There is another reason for dealing with this matter of derelict land. We have a number of good, small dairy farmers. They are men who run their farms on a family basis, their own families almost exclusively working on them. Many of them have been rightly asked by my right hon. Friend to plough up two or three fields for his current production programme. It has been to some extent a hardship for them. In some cases they have had to grow more than they actually required themselves, being unaccustomed to arable farming. They do not object, being patriotic people, but what they object to, as my own tenants and constituents have said to me, is to seeing next door to them a farm with exactly the same texture of soil which has been allowed to become derelict. I cannot say how glad I was to hear my right hon. Friend's announcement of the steps that are going to be taken to deal with the matter. I hope he will not ignore the case of the towns. Some urban authorities own large areas of land which they have bought, partly to protect themselves against beauty spots being destroyed and partly to protect their waterworks. I do not want to mention the particular town that I have in mind, but there is a large area of land which has been bought by the corporation. Outside the borough area there is land which is being cultivated, and some inside, but there are thousands of acres inside with nothing but thorns and gorse growing, when there is a demand everywhere for allotments. The right hon. Gentleman should be as drastic with that as with any other form of ownership. I welcome very much the system which he has inaugurated of inspection of farms. I welcome the creation of liaison officers to advise him and also the stiffening of the war agricultural committees—perhaps that is rather an uncomplimentary phrase, but the addition to them of certain experts. Those committees have been described in some quarters as reactionary, but I think they deserve a word of praise. I think all, these things should do the trick and should lead to the utilisation of derelict land.
There is one other point. I have not heard attention called to this matter in any Debates that have taken place in the House, possibly because it is comparatively a local problem and applies only to some parts of England. We have in Sussex—the same applies to Surrey—thousands and thousands of acres of common land which was once closely grazed by the village flocks, sheep, and in some districts goats, and in others used by large flocks of geese. They are not commons which are required for recreational purposes. They are well away from the main roads. They have become intensely overgrown with gorse and other things in recent years, for two main reasons. One is that no one can afford the labour of looking after cattle, and the other is the state of the law, which charges a person with an offence against the highway laws if he allows cattle to be on the highway. My right hon. Friend should consider whether, under the general powers conferred on him, he could not do something to obtain the abrogation of that Act. I suggest that he should erect a notice saying that cattle are turned out on the common and motorists must exercise caution. This is a problem of great importance.
There is another reason why these commons should be cleared. They offer an admirable target for incendiary bombs. It is well known that gorse will burn at any time of the year. It is most inflammable, and bombs dropped on it would not only burn the gorse but would set fire to surrounding harvest fields and woods. My right hon. Friend should see whether something cannot be done about utilising this waste space for grazing. In Sussex, if you were to cut gorse now, you would get some sort of herbage growth. We cannot afford to neglect this potential source of herbage supply.
I hope my right hon. Friend will make representations to the Ministry of Transport about a matter to which I have previously called attention. The Ministry is cutting grass verges at the side of roads. If labour is to be used in cutting grass, the grass should be used for agricultural purposes and made into silage. [Interruption.] The Minister informs me that he has been in communication with his right hon. Friend and it is being done, but we know nothing about it in our part of England. I believe I have been mainly pushing at an open door, but we have to consider the production of food from every acre of land, not only this year but next, and also to some extent on a long-term policy. I hope that the message which my right hon. Friend has sent out to the people of the country through you, Sir, will be taken to heart by everyone, that the fortress which is England must not be betrayed because its people in the immediate past have forgotten the wisdom, the patience and the courage of their ancestors who tended every rood which could give them food. Many will have to suffer from this agricultural policy which will have to be put into operation, but, after all, the burden that they are asked to bear cannot be as great as that which the soldiers, sailors and airmen are bearing. We are dealing with something which is essential. At no time has this country shown greater vigour and virility, both in mind and body, than at present. We have passed away from the deplorable era of defeatism, decadence and depression of the immediate post-war era after the last war. Here is an opportunity for the British people to show at long last, through the Government programme, that it has not forgotten the first duty that man has to learn, and that is that you neglect your soil at your peril.
I have taken part in a great many agricultural Debates and have listened to a great many Ministerial statements, some of them very unsatisfactory and most of them disappointing, but I am very glad to be able to congratulate the present Minister of Agriculture on having delivered a speech which shows that he has a read grip on the problem. He has realised what a great many of his predecessors were not able to grasp with regard to some of the fundamentals of the problem. He has difficulties which are not merely inherent. The inherent difficulties of his task are as great as those which confront any Minister, but, in addition to that, he has, as every Minister of Agriculture has had in the past, the prejudices and the acceptance of agriculture by the whole community as a sort of derelict industry, something beyond redemption, which you have to put up with. You have to make a sort of pretence of doing something when, as a matter of fact, it is an industry which is in the way of other industries. The more you cultivate the soil of the country the fewer manufactures you will be able to sell. It damages your shipping, and, above all, the City of London has never liked it. It is not a very good industry for bankers. The total turnover is too small really to bother about. Especially when you have converted your banks into these gigantic concerns which deal with tens and hundreds of millions, what was the use of bothering with agriculture? Therefore it was no one's interest—no one's child. It was a sort of evacuee amongst the industries of the country.
I have heard many Ministers of Agriculture, and there was a sort of air of inveterate depression surrounding them. They got up expecting an empty House, and they were not disappointed in that expectation. I have never heard a Minister of Agriculture indulge in a peroration. What was there to perorate about—drainage, cattle disease, and matters of that kind which you had almost to apologise for mentioning in the House of Commons? I am very glad that, in spite of the fact that it is a tragedy that has roused us, we have come to a realisation of what the tillage of the soil has meant since the days of Eden, when Adam was turned out because he was a bad farmer, and when the next two farmers cut each other's throats—Cain and Abel. [An HON. MEMBER: "Only one!"] Since then it has been essential to the life of countries, and every great country that has developed itself into an important Empire has always begun with agriculture, and it was only when it left agriculture that it began to decay. It was true of every Empire in the world; it was true of the Persian and Roman Empires, and of that decay that might have been premonitory of the destruction of our Empire, too.
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman is approaching his task not merely in earnest, but fearlessly. I should have expected that. I am very glad, for instance, that he emphasised at the beginning of his speech the importance of a survey. That is the first essential step in reconditioning the land of this country. Anybody driving round the country could see for himself, if he knew anything about agriculture, that a survey was essential; but most people did not know anything about agriculture, and there were fewer people, generation by generation, taking any interest in agriculture. They thought that buttercups were pretty, that they were beaten only by the yellow ragwort, and that the more weeds you had the mare attractive the landscape. A survey was essential. I have been pressing that on Minister of Agriculture after Minister of Agriculture. I remember having a conversation with Lord Halifax when he was Minister of Agriculture, and urging him to get a survey of the land of the country. The late Sir John Gilmour undertook it, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, for two or three counties in Scotland, and it was a very valuable piece of work. But I was utterly unable to persuade any Minister of Agriculture to take the step here. I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman is taking, not merely what is called a broad survey, but the only survey that is of the slightest use, and that is a survey field by field to find out whether each field is making its contribution to the life of the nation—and the word "life" has, for the first time, a sinister meaning to the nation. Every field ought to make its contribution in the life-and-death struggle of this great Empire. If it is not done, we may perish; if it is done, I am convinced we shall be saved. I am very glad we are undertaking the task in real earnest.
I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman later on where I think he ought to do a little more, but I know why he has not done it. It is not because he is not convinced of it, but because he is fully alive to the difficulties in the way, not in his own Department, although that could be improved. I was not in the least excited by hearing that his Department is a bigger Department than it was in 1914. It depends entirely upon whether it is filled up with people who have any sympathy with agriculture and any knowledge of agriculture. It is far better to have a small Department filled with men who are really whole-heartedly on the job than to have a huge, ramshackle Department filled with clerks and civil servants just sent over by the Treasury because there is no better place in which to put them. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman first of all upon undertaking the task of a real survey, a genuine survey, a practical survey, because the possibilities of the land are infinite. Anybody who has been trying to cultivate bad land and has a memory of what the land looked like before, at the beginning, and then looks at it now, with its waving corn, producing food for the people of this country in their dire need, knows what the land of the country can do when the country is fighting its battles. That is the contribution of the soil to the struggle.
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has also undertaken drainage in what is certainly a less piffling spirit than that which characterised the last Bill. We had a small grant for mole drainage. One might as well have left it to the moles for all the real good that it did. The right hon. Gentleman has taken the more important part of drainage, the only drainage which you can get over every part of the country. Mole drainage is applicable only to particular kinds of soil, whereas the other is applicable to every kind of soil. My hon. Friend who is now Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture put that point in the past; I hope his appointment to office has not corroded his fine bucolic spirit. The only thing I want to say on this matter is that there was in the Minister's speech a very hopeful sentence, when he said that power is to be taken to exceed the £7 10s. when, in the opinion—of the Minister of Agriculture or to whoever the Minister delegates that task—there is any project which in itself is worth more money. I take it this would enable drainage to be done on a bigger scale, not merely where there is drainage field by field, but where the drainage of fields is quite impossible unless some sort of arterial drainage can drain off what the fields pour into the outlets. This would involve the possibility of draining very considerable parts of the country, which are full of fertility, full of food—[An HON. MEMBER: "And wire-worms."] I could show the hon. Member places where there are plenty of wire-worms in land at the present time. They can be got rid of ultimately. Some of the best land in the country was drained by the monks.
I am looking forward to this Bill, and I should like to say a word or two about it. I have not seen it; the right hon. Gentleman has seen it. Let him not be bullied by the Treasury, or even by the Chief Whip, who, I am sorry, has left the Committee. I should like to give him a word of advice on Bills of this kind. Arising from the old period of Parliamentary obstruction, when parties fought each other and wanted every possible Amendment which was debatable, Bills are drafted in such a way as to compel the Chairman to rule out of order everything that is worth while as an Amendment, as an improvement. On the last Bill on this subject the Chairman had to rule us out of order because the Bill was drafted in such a way that one could not possibly amend it. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman comes to his Bill, he will not allow the Treasury to make it impossible for the House of Commons to amend the Bill to incur even expenditure which is not contemplated in the Bill itself. For instance, to give a case, in regard to mole drainage, it was out of order to move an Amendment adding the words "tile drainage," because the Money Resolution was so narrowly drafted. Let me give a tip to the right hon. Gentleman. He must circumnavigate these draftsmen who try to make it impossible to improve his Bills. I know he would like to have those powers.
Nobody wants to obstruct a Measure now, because there is no point in doing so. We want to help the Government to get these powers and to get them as quickly as possible, but we want to have a chance to say a word. Each of us has his own experience, and each can make his own contribution in his own way, which is not everybody's way. We would like to make our contribution, but we cannot do so. We have to keep an eye on the Chair the whole time when we are even suggesting Amendments of that kind, unless a Bill is drafted in an intelligent way, and an intelligent way is a comprehensive way, with real latitude. The right hon. Gentleman will find that his Bill, however good it is, will emerge from Committee as one of the greatest agricultural Measures that has ever been introduced into the House if he just takes that bit of advice from an old Parliamentarian. I urge him to bring forward a Bill which is capable of being amended, however good it is, in the direction in which he wants it to be amended.
I should like to say another word about something that was said by the right hon. Gentleman. He said that what we wanted to do was to lift the class B land up to class A. I think he ought to do more than that, because class A and class B do not cover the whole of the resources of our soil. I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) speaking about derelict land. I remember walking over that part of the country with a Danish professor. I told him that this was second-rate or third-rate land, and his reply was that in Denmark they would call it first-class land. We have four classes of land in this country which would all be cultivated in Denmark. I was told that in Denmark they had very little first-class land, and that our second-class land was what they would call their first-class land. Third-class land is barely cultivated in this country, and the fourth-class is left untouched.
We are up against a proposition when we may need all the food that every acre of land can produce. I am not pessimistic, but in war you must face all the possibilities. I do not think the real campaign against our shipping has begun. The nearest approach to it was made yesterday, and it is very gratifying that they did not pull it off. I do not think it was very encouraging for them, but they are not people to be discouraged by one rebuff, and I have no doubt at all that the attack is going to be of a much more formidable character, and that it will be not merely upon the ships at sea, but upon our docks and communications. If our communications are destroyed, impeding transit from one part of our island to another, it will limit the possibility of distributing food. Therefore, we ought to be in such a position that whatever happens they cannot starve us. That is vital. I have always taken the view that a long war is better for us. The short war is the chance of the enemy, and the long war the chance of the tenacious races which live in this island. The greater the difficulties confronting them the tougher they get. I always thought that the long war gave us a better chance, but it means that every acre of land—firstclass, second-class, third-class, fourthclass—should be made to produce the last blade of grass and the last bit of corn. I therefore say that it is not merely a question of lifting up the B class land but of cultivating all derelict land. We may not obtain very much for the first year from these other classes, although we should have something, and it is amazing to me what has already been obtained this year. I should like to congratulate the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman. I was a critic of his, but not too severe. He has achieved the object he had in mind, and it has been a real success. The results are extraordinarily good so far as the appearance of the crops is concerned.
The Minister ought to go beyond the mere limit, I will not say imposed upon himself, but which looks for the moment as if it is. I hope he will not be satisfied with lifting B to A, but that he will carry it further. In order to do that he has indicated what the conditions are—labour and a secure market. The Government are putting a good deal upon the farmer, but he is not always a good business man although he may be a good farmer. He is not always a good business man in disposing of his produce. Take that off his shoulders as much as you possibly can—
Mr. Lloyd George:
I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary understands that need. It will help the farmer enormously if the worry of disposing of his produce is taken off his shoulders. See to it that he can dispose of his produce, especially now that we are getting into a more varied diet. I do not agree in the least that it is unpalatable. It is infinitely more palatable, and it is the diet upon which I was brought up and which has lasted me for 77 years. It was a very varied diet with vegetables and barley. No one seems to eat barley in these days. Barley bread with a mixture of wheat is first-class stuff. A diet of vegetables of every kind with not too much meat is quite sufficient. The Government are not making the most of milk; they are just putting it into tins, but what they can make out of it is something which has not been taught. There is micws mali, which was first-class—I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman has ever heard of that dish. It is a contrast—something which is hot, and something which is cold—and it appeals to the palate. The peasant discovered that. Let the right hon. Gentleman name anything more attractive or sustaining than a hot potato in cold butter milk. All these things can be made very palatable. Vegetable soups are a meal in themselves, and the Russians, who are a fine, powerful race, have lived on them.
The Government are now coming under the instruction of men who have made a study of the problem of nourishing diets, and it is all to the good that the result of their investigation has been to counsel us to return to simple fare. But it involves more labour, and labour is one of the essential parts of the problem. Most of the work could be done by women. In Denmark, for instance, they keep their young women in the rural areas by giving them something to do, such as preparing palatable dishes for the markets. We too should take it in hand. It would do more for the health of the country than anything the Minister of Health could offer. Nothing would do more to restore the health of the country than to put the diet of the peasant on the tables of Mayfair, and of the workers, who at the present moment are spending their money upon things which, although they appear to be attractive and palatable, are not good for their health. Let us get something of value out of this terrible evil while we are endeavouring to restore the land of the country and regenerate our rural life.
Mr. Lloyd George:
We can deal with that. The landowner has gone down with the decadence of rural life, and he has almost disappeared in our part of the country. I do not know whether that is the case in England; but one after another the old country houses and landed estates have disappeared. It has been a general decadence.
Mr. Lloyd George:
At any rate, to the extent that there is now no leadership. Here we have a doctrine of a new diet, and a diet which is cheaper and far more palatable and one to stick to in health and in sickness. It gives you more vigour and more vitality, and it gets rid of the pessimism which bad feeding puts into your veins. Vegetables, for instance, need far more labour than a field of corn. You cannot grow them with a tractor; you have to cultivate the soil. I hope, therefore, that the labour will be obtained. The Women's Land Army is not the success it was in the last war. I do not know why. Is it because we are not getting the necessary recruits or because there have been no positions for them on the land? For vegetables women would be quite as quick as men, and in some parts of that work they would be better.
Credit is the other thing. The part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which dealt with it was the most disappointing. I can well understand his difficulties, because the moment he talks about credit he gets up against the banks and the Treasury. When Mr. Birrell was Secretary for Ireland and we could not give Home Rule to Ireland, he had all sorts of proposals and sops for Irish agriculture. He came before the Cabinet and before me as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and said, "I have a scheme. The Irish Members will be quite happy with postponed Home Rule if I can get this scheme through, but, mind you, it has got to swim in butter." My advice to the right hon. Gentleman is that he should see that these schemes swim in butter. I have had communications with farmers and with men who have been in contact with many more farmers than I have, and they say that the credit system at the present moment as devised by the Ministry of Agriculture is not helping them at all.
One contrast between 1914 and to-day was indicated by the right hon. Gentleman. Farmers are not as well off as they were then. Oddly enough, if you were to appraise their stock and implements, you would say that they had more capital, but it is not liquid capital. A farmer has a tractor which costs more than the price of four horses, and he may have two tractors. He has to renew them much oftener than he did his horses. His nominal capital may, therefore, be bigger than it was, but the liquid capital on which he can lay his hands to buy fertilisers and seed is not there. Another thing that I was told by somebody with agricultural experience was that you would be surprised at the type of farmer who find himself unable to lay his hands on money—the respectable farmer, the man who has been regarded as quite well off, and probably is if he were able to sell the whole of his stock. He has, however, no liquid cash on which he can lay his hands. He cannot carry out a programme of this kind without having ready money. It is no use saying, "Go to the bank." The banks have ceased to lend money for a long time, and the farmer has been financed practically by the dealer, the auctioneer and the corn merchant. The banker does not think his business is profitable enough; it is of small account.
The farmer must get money from the Treasury, but not at 5 per cent.; it must be something very much lower than that because he is doing work for the nation. It is not the farmers who are asking you whether they can do these things. You are saying to them, "We want you to do this, and we will tell you more—we are going to compel you to do it." If that is the case, you must find them the wherewithal to carry out your orders. It is no use sending a soldier into battle without providing him with the necessary equipment. That is one of the troubles from which we have been suffering recently in the other sphere. You are sending the farmer into action without providing him with the necessary equipment to carry out his task. He is half equipped. The money ought to be given somehow or other. The right hon. Gentleman should consider whether it should be given through the agricultural committee or some other committee, but there ought to be an independent committee which would examine every case. I have seen the instructions that have been given to the farmers with regard to credit. They have to exhaust all other means; they must try their banks, they must try the usual sources of borrowing money, and then, if you are satisfied that all these sources have failed, you begin to consider their claims for credit. That is not good enough. They ought to be encouraged so long as the proposition is one which will end in the increased production of food.
The right hon. Gentleman made one wise observation, among many others, when he said that in carrying out our programme we must not look to economic profits. The supreme purpose and aim is the production of food to prevent our people from being demoralised, beaten and famished into surrender. What is the use of quibbling about an extra ½ per cent. or 1 per cent. and sending a man trotting round, a man who dislikes the idea of borrowing, and going from one person to another and saying, "Can you lend me £10 to buy seed, £15 to buy fertilisers? I want a few implements, and I really cannot spare the cash for them. Will you lend it to me?" That is a humiliation to people whom you are asking to discharge a great duty to the State. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pluck up the courage which I know he possesses, rouse himself to face all the lions, tigers and jackals of finance, and say to them, "Here, I am out to save the country from disaster. I want your help."
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has put some heart into those of us who feared that the war-time rationing that we are likely to get will be intolerable. He has given us the names of certain dairy products in his native country of which I have not heard before. I would like to remind him that even in the land of the Sassenach we have some products of that kind. There is, for instance, in my county the famous double Gloucester cheese, which is second to none of its kind as a first-class dairy product. Many years ago I spent many months in the Middle East and Central Asia and lived for a good part of that time on the sour milk called yoghourt made by the Tartars and Russians. It is first-class stuff and I did not suffer from it. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is right in suggesting that we can in the situation which we are likely to face find much good in adversity. I would like to congratulate the Minister on his statement and on his taking up his important office. It has often been the grave of reputations. I remember congratulating the last Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (Sir R. Dorman-Smith) when he made his first speech from that Box. I expressed the hope then that the tide would turn and that the office he had assumed would not be the grave of his reputation. I had all the more pleasure in doing so because he is, like me, an old Harrovian. I fancy that the new Minister is an old Etonian, but, in spite of that fact, I wish him luck and every success in his office. His speech was most interesting and it will be, I think, a landmark in our agricultural policy.
Those who are not directly connected with the land and agriculture do not often realise that land is not like a factory. It cannot suddenly turn out products, but it has to wait for the processes of nature. Therefore, it is difficult in this hour of crisis for the land suddenly to respond as quickly as we would like to the needs of the nation. Years of neglect of this industry cannot be repaired in two, three or even more years. It seems that war and the threat of blockade alone will arouse this democracy to think of its land and its agricultural industry. I have on one or two occasions in the House referred to that great classical writer on agriculture, Virgil. In his great Georgics he had a passage in which he referred to the devastating wars which at that time had swept over the then known world, and he said in one passage:
There are so many wars throughout the world to-day, so many are the phases of evil, that the plough meets not its due honour.
I hope that in spite of this devastating war our democracy will be able to give to the plough its due honour. There are two immediate practical steps which we must take in the near future. We must evolve a price policy which shall aim at encouraging the production of those foods which are most needed in war time and secondly, we must aim at a long-term policy for the land which will not only give us our war-time food, but will conserve the fertility of our land, without which we cannot fight a long war. If we are to get these policies carried out the first and foremost step to be taken is to secure to the agricultural labourer decent conditions such as befit his position as a citizen in our democracy. That problem seems to have been solved for the moment in that we have at last taken a tremendous step towards bridging that gap between the economic status of the agricultural worker and the urban worker which up to now has been the greatest difficulty confronting us. There are still points which will have to be reconsidered, however, par-
ticularly in view of the fact that the hours of agricultural labourers are still not subject to the Central Wages Board, and it is possible for some of the improvement which has been conferred upon agricultural labourers to be filched from them by the activities of county wages boards in unduly extending hours.
In general, I may say that we approve most heartily of the steps taken by the Minister. But as he rightly said in his speech, one cannot expect the farming industry to pay these wages unless they are assured of prices for their produce which will enable them to do so, and I think it will be necessary to readjust the wholesale prices of farm products from time to time. In the mixed farming country of the South-West and the Midlands of England, which I know fairly well, the wage increases come to quite considerable sums, being 21 per cent. over the old wage rates when all factors are taken into consideration. Even so, labour charges will still be not more than 25 per cent. of the costs of production on that type of farm. Against that there have been quite considerable rises in the wholesale prices for farm produce since the outbreak of the war. In the last five months milk prices have risen by from 26 per cent. to 30 per cent., fat cattle prices by 26 per cent., and sheep prices—taking an average between ewes and teggs—by 20 per cent., and in sheep raising labour is only 15 per cent. of the total cost of production.
If that were all, the position would not be at all difficult, and I think fanners could very well bear the present wage increases; but it is not the whole story. There are other and very much larger increases in production costs. The prices of implements and seeds, particularly seeds, have risen enormously, and among feeding stuffs compound dairy cake has risen by 50 per cent. since the outbreak of the war. This alone justifies an increase in the price certainly, of milk, and I think of other forms of produce. Here I would utter a word of warning to the Minister. I hope that he will not listen to those who are inclined to argue that because feeding stuffs have risen by so much that the prices for milk and other products of the farm must go up in proportion. It is necessary for him to induce the farmer to economise in feeding stuffs, particularly in those which are imported from abroad.
I will come back to that point in a few minutes, and meanwhile I should like to say that in my opinion the Minister must base his price policy mainly upon the need of the country to produce from the farm certain foods which are necessary to keep the country in health in war time. In his speech he referred to the scientists whose advice he has sought to work out a war-time ration. I think he is on the right lines. I conceive it possible that we could live for a very long time on a diet mainly, say 75 per cent., home produced, comprising milk, potatoes, vegetables and oatmeal, with the addition, perhaps, of certain things which we should import in smaller quantities which would give us our bread and our fats. We talk about bringing Germany down by our food blockade. It seems to me that we are up against a tough proposition, because the Germans are used to this kind of war-time rationing. They have always lived largely on rye, oatmeal and dairy produce and are used to it. While I think we can bring them down by other means—a shortage of oil and a shortage of fats—before we can do that we shall ourselves have to adopt to some extent the kind of diet on which they have been living for many years, the Spartan diet to which they have been used for so long. I believe that the scientists will be able to tell us that with such a home-produced diet, and the minimum of imported foods—various breads and fats and perhaps a little sugar—we can get 2,000 calories per head per day, which the dieticians say is necessary to keep the human frame in decent working order, and which provide vitamins A, B and C, without which we cannot have healthy people.
Therefore, when the Minister revises his new scale of prices—I understand that the present scale is a kind of interim scale—which will have to wait upon the further advice from the scientists when they put forward their proposals, he should encourage the production on the farm of the foods for war-time rationing to which I have referred. He will have to see that the prices of milk and potatoes are really attractive to the farmer, and, conversely, that livestock prices are not perhaps so attractive, relatively, because at a time like this we want to conserve our livestock on the hoof rather than allow them to go to the slaughter-house. I have been a little disturbed at the new scale of prices which has been introduced. There should have been a drop in the prices for lamb at the beginning of this month, but under the new scale that drop does not take place, the idea being that a decrease would encourage farmers to hold over their sheep for several months, if possible right over the winter. It seems to me, however, that now that the threatened drop has been removed there will be a tendency to market more than is desirable at the moment, whereas we ought to conserve our flocks as much as possible.
I know that the position is difficult, that there are many farmers who have not much capital and wish to realise their stock, and it would be a hardship to them to hold them over for many months, but I think it would be better if the Minister would inspire an effort to induce farmers to hold their stock over. A committee presided over by Lord Moyne is going into the whole question of livestock prices, and I hope it will consider what can be done in this respect, possibly by offering a premium to those who will hold over their stock for some months, or possibly by rationing the sales on a quota basis in the markets of the country, so that we do not get large numbers being offered at certain times of the year. I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary what is the idea of this Moyne Committee, and whether it will be working along the lines which I have suggested.
Another way in which the Minister can encourage certain types of food production and discourage others is by the rationing of our feeding-stuffs, not perhaps direct rationing, which may be difficult to carry into effect, but in the indirect way in which it is done at present. I am glad that up to now it has been the policy of the Ministry to give the first chance with feeding-stuffs to the dairy herds, because it is clear from the scientific investigations which have taken place that dairy herds convert at a more economic rate, pound for pound, than other herds. For instance 1 lb. of dairy produce can be produced from, roughly, 5 lb. of feeding-stuffs. On the other hand, the pig is a pretty good converter of feeding-stuffs, but to produce 1 lb. of pig meat you want 8 lb. of feeding-stuffs. In the case of poultry feeding, the process is more wasteful still, because 1 lb. of poultry meat requires 15 lb. of poultry food. Worst of all, I am afraid, are the beef animals, 1 lb. of which requires 20 lb. of feeding-stuffs. Those proportions were all right in peace-time, when they did not matter, but in these iron-ration days of war-time you have to consider the most economical use of feeding-stuffs. For that reason the dairy herds must have first place. I am glad that the Ministry are working along those lines.
At the same time, one cannot help feeling that something should be done to prevent disaster to our poultry industry. I would not mind so very much if the pig industry decreased. It is all right in peace-time, but in war time a pig does not produce quite all you want. The poultry industry does, however, produce an article which contains important vitamins necessary for our general health. A very important and high feeding quality is to be found in the egg. It may be true that we must considerably reduce our flocks of poultry and our output of eggs, but we must keep a certain minimum. One reason for reducing poultry flocks is, as I have just said, that poultry are not economical converters, but if we can import feeding-stuffs at all, as I hope will still be possible, we should allocate a certain proportion to the specialised poultry flocks, to prevent them going out altogether. It used to be argued by the Treasury that it was much more economical to import eggs from Denmark by the short haul than to import feeding-stuffs from America on the long haul. That was probably true then, but the conditions that existed at the beginning of the war are now gone. If it is still possible to import, on a different scale, perhaps, some feeding-stuffs from America and other continents, it would be desirable to allocate a certain proportion of it to poultry, despite the fact that they are uneconomical converters, just because poultry produce a very highly important and valuable foodstuff.
We must not, on the other hand, fall into the error of thinking that the poultry industry can be kept going only by imported foodstuffs. We must recast our whole idea of the poultry industry. There must be a more extensive method of poultry keeping on free range. In my opinion also it is necessary to organise a much more systematic method of collecting from the towns offals which can be valuable to the pig industry, and, particularly, to the poultry industry. I know towns in the West of England where nothing has been done at all for the proper conversion of important offals which could be used for those industries.
Let me now sum up some of my suggestions so far. The first was price policy in regard to the encouragement of those articles of food which we need in wartime. The second is a long-term cropping policy which will give us our war-time food and conserve the fertility of our soil. The present situation in this latter respect is very bad. The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has given a very interesting account of what has happened in his county, land gradually becoming derelict in large tracts of Sussex. I can assure the noble Lord that that is so in other counties. In my own county of Gloucestershire, Victorian landlords and well-to-do people of that generation drained large areas, turning parts of the Severn Valley from marshes only slightly productive into land where you could raise one bullock to the acre, but there has been steady deterioration there for many years past. My grandfather, who sat for many years in this House, took an interest in the reclamation of land. He drained many acres in the Severn Valley. I have his drainage maps to this day. I have now handed them over to the Gloucestershire County Council drainage authority, because they are now going to bring back that soil into its original fertility, which the Victorian landlords and the men of that age brought about. The people now on the land cannot afford to do those things. It is not their fault; it is the fault of the age. It is necessary that the public authorities shall now do the thing which those men, great in their day, carried out.
We see throughout the world a general deterioration of land. In the American Continent there are soil erosion and dust bowls. Here, we have sour land, due to years of agricultural depression, filling of ditches and a general growing of rushes and ragwort. Suddenly, we have to try to increase food production. Professor Stapleton, who has done more work than any other man in trying to rouse the country to the need for improvement in our pastures, warned us some time ago that we must regenerate our grassland on a long-term policy and not in one or two years. We have to think it out for many years in advance. He advocated a ploughing-up campaign and a combination of temporary grass, or temporary lays, permanent lays and arable, in proportion of roughly one third. To my mind, that is the way in which the war agricultural committees of the counties must try to induce farmers to act. There must be elasticity. I was very glad to note that the Minister seemed to envisage that in his speech. He said there were no longer to be fixed percentages for ploughing up. I know of farms where 50 per cent. should be ploughed up, because many of the pastures there cannot be improved. On the other hand, I know of places where it would be of a great mistake to plough up a large proportion because the pastures are producing well, as a result of proper treatment some time ago. If you were to plough up large proportions, you would probably get actually a temporary fall in production. All these things have to be thought out farm by farm and field by field. I was very much cheered by what the Minister said in his speech, because he seemed to envisage greater elasticity in the future.
Every farmer must think out the percentage which he can plough up, and can keep as pasture. In this connection, I would refer to Professor Stapleton's new book, "Grass; An Essential Part of Food Production." In that book he advocates long-term rotations and the planning out of the crops on each individual farm. The suggestion is that the ploughing-up subsidy should be continued, irrespective of whether there is war or no war. I suggest there should be a long-term policy going over at least 10 years, and the granting of the subsidy should be dependent upon the production by each farmer of a cropping plan for his farm. It should not be given indiscriminately, but only if each farmer produces a plan over a long term of years for increasing the production of his farm and for a cropping policy.
Closely connected with what I have just said is the policy of trying to make each farm self-sufficient in feeding-stuffs. I believe it is possible. The other day I saw some very interesting statistics from Holland and Denmark, relating to the period of the last war. Denmark has been largely dependent on imported feeding-stuffs for its livestock. Holland, on the other hand, has produced its own feeding-stuffs to a very large extent. Holland has developed the method of making silage from various forms of catch crops, one of those methods about which we are only just beginning to know in this country. The silage method uses the bacteria, which are found all round us, to do the work of producing protein, carbo-hydrates and high feeding values out of common grass and vegetation of many kinds. I maintain that it is possible largely to do away with the importation of cake if we go about the matter in the proper way.
The method in Holland was to put one-third of the land under permanent grass, one-third under arable cultivation, and one-third under catch crops for silage. That method has been going on for years, and the result was that, between 1916 and 1919, the last years of the last war, the milk yield in Holland per cow per annum dropped only from 10,000 gallons to 9,000. In Denmark, where a system of importing feeding-stuffs from all over the world was the order of the day, the yield per cow dropped from 8,000 gallons to 5,000. I have had some experience of silage production. Last winter, I kept 15 to 20 dairy cows, fed on hay, ensilage and home-grown beans; only the best milkers got any cake. During that time, a very bitter winter, the yield per cow did not drop at all. I intend to continue along this line, and I am hoping that by next winter I shall have so much ensilage that it will be possible to keep my dairy cows without any cake at all. I would like to conclude by drawing the attention of the Committee to that quotation of Virgil once more. I believe that we can only achieve this aim by clear thinking and clear acting both by the Minister and the farmers on the land. We must grow the nation's war-time rations; we must make our herds more self-supporting, and we must farm and not ranch and process. Farming at last is coming into its own. I believe the Minister is fully aware of the problem, judging by the speech which he has made. I wish him God speed in his work and I believe the farmer and the farm worker will do their duty by the nation.
It has been almost a rigid convention to leave these Debates to the experts, and I am afraid that I cannot compete with the hon. Gentleman who remembered the Georgics, nor with his predecessor who has lived the Georgics, nor with the Noble Earl who spoke before him and who has followed the plough across a whole rape of Sussex and over several Continents. Nevertheless, I embolden myself to intervene by the recollections that I represent in this Committee a larger conglomeration of land-owning experience than, I should think, any other five Members, and also that I represent the place from which, I may without impudence say, some of the best agricultural opinion comes. I think that the Minister would bear me out in thinking that that is not an excessive boast.
I wish to make one or two small and disconnected points to begin with, and then to make a short connected argument; at least, I hope it will be short and connected. The disconnected points are these. First of all, a point in itself, very small. I am told that there will be a shortage of beet seed which will be really serious, and that recent misfortunes on the Continent will make it more serious. I am told on the best expert opinion by one of the best scientific farmers in the world, who has himself experimented for years on end in what I am going to refer to, that the sulphuric acid treatment of beet seed really does double the productivity, or rather halves the amount of seed that is needed. I understand that a good deal of exploration is needed if that knowledge is to be exploited. I am told that until recently at least—I am not sure if it is still true—we were still exporting nitrogenous fertilisers. I see that the Minister is taking notes, and I shall be glad if he will be good enough to inquire whether that is still the case.
The third of my disconnected points concerns barley. I do not think that the subject of farm prices is one of the things which I fully understand, but one point in the farm prices recently published which left me with some doubts is that barley prices have been left loose, and, from the little that I do know about East Suffolk at any rate, I think there is a very serious risk if barley prices are left loose that farmers will plant considerably more barley than would be planted if all that was desired was the maximum nutritive result, which I suppose from the public point of view is all that should be desired. In every given year there are one or two farmers in a certain area who have obtained a very lucky price for barley, and the word goes round, "So-and-so made a small fortune out of 15 acres of barley." As long as barley prices are loose there is a serious risk that far more fields in East Suffolk and other parts too—East Yorkshire, for instance—will be under barley than should be.
With submission, I think that is not what the Minister said. That brings me to my more general point. I do not believe that we can any longer rely upon the price nexus, which works well enough in peace time on the whole, when we can fall back on importation, and when all the farmers do not make the same mistake in the same year; nor do I think we can any longer rely upon exhortations, to make sure that the farmers will plan for the 1941 harvest in the way in which we for the public interest desire that they should plan. The Minister's predecessor asked for 50,000 more acres of beet. I have not looked up the figures, but I think I am right in saying that so far from getting 50,000 more acres, he has fewer acres of beet than he had in the year before. What I wish to plead with the Minister for is what my hon. Friend below the Gangway suggested he had said, but what I, listening as carefully as I could, thought he did not quite say. There should be a centralised and authoritative statement of what crops we must increase, and by what amounts, over the last year, and what we can afford to lose.
We all have to treat science with a certain amount of reserve. Scientists 25 years ago had not heard of vitamins, and it may be that 25 years hence they may have heard of something else which ought to be in our diet and which at the moment is not. Yet, allowing for such unpredictabilities, it is no doubt true that there is now enough knowledge in the country, in the Ministry of Food and its committees—the committee presided over by Sir William Bragg, and others—for us to decide upon the optimum diet for an iron-ration basis; although, in passing, I should be a little doubtful whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was quite right when he suggested that for our tough-jawed, iron-teeth, tenacious people, if you could only put their noses down to it, they would prefer flummery to beef. That suggestion may possibly be a little dubious, but I do not think there is any doubt but that there is enough knowledge in the Ministry of Food to do that part of the business and to know what we have to lose in order to make room for what we must gain. In the main, what we have to lose is grass and also certain vegetables. I am told that celery for instance and broccoli, once of such political importance, have no nutritive value at all, and things of that sort no doubt have to go. The Minister spoke to us of farmers being asked drastically to alter their products. What I wish to suggest to him is, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon suggested, that he should take into his hands all of that courage which we know him to possess and that he should face the fact that asking the farmers is not at this moment any longer enough. The Ministry of Agriculture has already on its files and in its drawers, with the Ministry of Food, enough material for it to be able to say how many extra acres ought to be devoted, X for instance to potatoes, Y extra acres to beans, and Z extra acres to oats, and so on. There is enough information there already for that to be done. There is now enough information there also for the Minister to be able to distribute his requirements as amongst the counties, to be able to tell each county what extra acres of particular crops he requires. Beyond that, I think that there is—or in a very few days there will be, when this farm survey, which we are told approaches completion, has been finished—enough information available for the county committees to say which farms are to produce the extra acres of each of these crops.
I believe, in spite of my general prejudice against Socialistic and bureaucratic control that in war we need the maximum expenditure from our permanent resources, and that the thing can be done in that way. But that is not quite being done yet. If I understood the Minister aright, he suggested that he had the power up his sleeve, rather as a last resort, if the farmers were being recalcitrant. My plea to him is that he should bring it down his sleeve. At the moment all the farmer knows is that we want less grass and many fewer pigs and poultry and more wheat, and with much less certainty and less quantitatively, that we want more beans, oats, potatoes and roots. In particular, the farmer does not know how much more of these things it is in the national interest we should try to produce. The one product that I have not mentioned, of course, is milk, but these things all mean milk in another sense—it is from beans, oats, vegetables and so on that we shall be able to produce milk.
I am very sorry, but I have sat here all day, and the hon. Lady can now listen to me or, if she wishes to avoid that, leave the Chamber. I suggest that the individual farmer has not yet been given these directions, and it may be in the public interest that he should be given such directions. I wish to make one specific suggestion about the basis of calculation for what are regarded as the absolute necessities—and I suppose potatoes would come first in the order of priority. The basis should not be the average yield of the last five years or ten years; it should be the worst year of the last ten years. I know it has been said that if you take that basis you may land yourself with 500,000 or more tons of potatoes beyond what you need, and thus with a loss of £1,000,000 or £2,000,000, but I suggest that that does not really matter in the least at this moment. The Minister spoke of some farmers being told what to grow in what fields; but he watered that down, if I understood him aright, by saying that such powers would be exercised only in extreme cases, or when it was absolutely necessary. I suggest that he should reconsider whether that is enough, and whether arrangements ought not to be made to give detailed instructions, not to every farmer about every field, but in a general sort of way to farmers who might otherwise not rightly plant their fields. I believe that there would be less resentment about detailed instructions if it was known that they were issued in a general way than there would be if it were felt that they were to be used as a sort of stick on farmers or in districts where things had threatened to go wrong.
Mr. De la Bère:
I want to start with a very short quotation from the report of the Macmillan Committee on Finance and Industry in 1929:
It is not unnatural to think of the deposits of a bank as being created by the public through the deposits of cash representing either savings or amounts which are not, for the time being, required to meet expenditure; but the bulk of the deposits arise out of the action of the banks themselves; for by granting loans, allowing money to be drawn on an overdraft, or purchasing securities, a bank creates a credit in its books which is the equivalent of a deposit … the banks can carry on the process of lending until such time as the credits created or investments purchased represent nine times the amount of the original deposit in cash.
I have quoted that passage because I have called upon the Minister of Agriculture to request the banks to reduce the rate of 5 per cent. which they are charging on overdrafts to the agriculturists of this country. There is, I believe, no sound reason why the banks do not make that reduction to-day. I know the arguments which the banks use against it. They say that if the reduction is allowed, the Government will have to take over the whole, or, at any rate, part, of the sums outstanding which have been borrowed by the agricultural community. It is never easy to get any figures regarding borrowing by the agricultural community from the banks, but on 2nd July, 1940, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told me that the amount outstanding at the middle of February was £53,000,000. I know—and this may be verified—that for the last five years there has been a sum of approximately £50,000,000 outstanding from the agricultural community. If we reckon 5 per cent. on £50,000,000, we get the amount which is paid to the banks, as a tribute, by a great many agriculturists. That calculation shows that the banks are drawing £2,500,000 a year, or in the neighbourhood of £250,000 a month, from the agricultural communities on money which has never cost the banks anything at all. It is a most astonishing thing. Of course, the banks have to pay for administration, through their branches, and I am aware that that administration is very efficient, but the banks are making, in spite of assurances to the contrary, £2,500,000 annually out of the agricultural community—and the agricultural community cannot afford it.
I ask hon. Members not to misunderstand me. I am not trying to run down the banks. Our banks have a reputation second to none throughout the world, and they have earned that reputation. I do not want anyone to associate what I am saying to-day with any movements either from the Right or from the Left. We want no dictatorships from the Right or from the Left. We want none of that nonsense. But we want administrative reform in this sphere, based on common sense. If that were obtained, the first thing would be that the banks would reduce this 5 per cent. to a figure of not more than 1 per cent. above the existing Bank Rate. I have many times asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Agriculture, and, indeed almost every Minister who can be called in any way appropriate, that that should be done. I do not know whether I am in order in reading an extract from a letter on this subject received by me to-day from the Minister of Agriculture. I will not read the whole letter, but only this extract, which is very applicable:
My own experience in the last month or two has been that, except in comparatively few instances, farmers are not in difficulties about supply of credit or troubled by the present bank overdraft rate of about 5 per cent. Until I receive some evidence to the contrary, I do not propose to take any special action.
Fortunately he has already received some very strong evidence to the contrary which I have forwarded to him to-day. I hope that, if any agriculturists read the OFFICIAL REPORT, they will also forward to him direct evidence to show that there is a very real demand for money at a cheap rate in order that we may grow food and save this country from starvation in time of war. It is really too bad of the Minister to write that sort of thing, which he cannot possibly justify. He must know, in his heart of hearts, that this money is required and that there is a very real demand for it. I will not labour that point, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take what I am saying very seriously into account. I think he is engaged somewhere else at the moment, but I hope, notwithstanding the fact that he is not face to face with me at the moment, that he will take some notice of what I am saying. It is a very important subject and not one to be treated lightly.
Some sections of the Press will probably not publish one word of what I am saying. They are somewhat wedded to our old procedure and our old ideas, but at one time the "Daily Express" conducted a campaign to get the banks to reduce the interest charges on overdrafts to agriculturists to a figure below 5 per cent., and I hope that at least the "Daily Express" will have the courage to continue that campaign notwithstanding the lack of courage which has been displayed by other sections of the Press. I will not detain the Committee, because long speeches are wearisome and should be out of order in war time, but as long as I have the honour to be a Member of this House I shall fight to get the rate of interest charged to agriculturists reduced by the banks below 5 per cent. I believe that my fight will be successful, before the end of 1940.
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) into the realms of finance except to say that there is plenty of evidence in certain parts of the country that farmers are suffering from lack of capital, and that if they could get capital at a cheaper rate, possibly they would develop their farms a little more than is being done at the present time.
We have listened this afternoon to a speech from the Minister which was not only interesting but which suggested changes of policy likely to make for a more prosperous agriculture. We are all agreed that in these days particularly we need 100 per cent. production from our land. I am also very pleased indeed to know that the Minister thinks that the new agricultural prices will do something to satisfy the farmer. For years, as a layman who has taken a great interest in agricultural Debates, I have contended that the farmer was entitled to a fair price for his products at the point of production. It should be a figure sufficient to pay him for all that he has put into the land, and give a decent return for the capital and enough to pay a reasonable wage to those who work on the land. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I think that the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), who says, "Hear, hear," will agree with me that years ago, each of us in turn, said that the farmer had the right to an economic price and the farm worker to a fair wage and decent conditions.
I am prepared, on the appropriate occasion, to discuss land values, but this afternoon we are discussing agriculture. For some considerable time there has been in this House and in the country a feeling that the farm-worker was not being paid sufficient in wages, and I was very pleased indeed when, two or three months ago, the Minister brought in a Bill fixing a national minimum wage. Although we think that a minimum wage of 48s. in these days is not very high for the work these men do, it certainly is an improvement, in some districts, upon what the farm-workers were already receiving. We have first to see that the men who work on the land get the minimum of 48s. a week. Some years ago, we set up a system of inspection which enabled inspectors to go round and interview farmers and inspect their books and to see that the farm-workers were being paid properly. I was in an agricultural district a fortnight ago addressing meetings of men who were 100 per cent. in favour of winning the war, and farm-workers told me that they knew of scores of cases in the locality where the minimum rates were not being paid. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to say whether these inspectors are still being employed and whether the Department is taking steps to see that the 48s. minimum wage is being paid. I regret that the minimum wage of 48s. is not linked up with the question of hours.
We put Questions in this House this week as a result of which we extracted from the Department that while 75 per cent. of the agricultural wages committees had played the game in the matter of hours, there were 10 agricultural districts in the country where the hours of work had been increased. I believe that one or two districts reduced them. One county, in particular, which is supposed to be a county of hard-headed men, namely, Durham, had the audacity to increase the hours of farm-workers from 50 to 60 per week. I am more than pleased that the Minister is taking up that matter with the Durham committee. That is contrary to the spirit of the Act, and I do not believe there is a Member in this Committee who would agree with the Durham committee in increasing the hours from 50 to 60, and I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to get the hours reduced. I had hoped, as I say, that the minimum wage would he linked up with the hours that were in operation when the national minimum wage came into being.
There is no other industry in this country, and I especially mention the heavy or highly organised industries, where, if you fixed a national minimum wage and made a big increase in the hours of the workers, you would not have a strike. If you had fixed a national minimum wage in the mining industry and 10 districts in the country had increased the hours, you would probably have had 10 strikes or disputes. If we are to have a prosperous agriculture let us remember that there are skilled men in agriculture who, up to now, have not had a square deal compared with the industrial workers. I hope that we shall pay more attention to this matter and give these fellows a feeling that they are part of the nation.
Would the hon. Member object to the increased hours in the districts to which he refers if the pay was adequate in accordance with the minimum wage? In almost all agricultural areas men are working overtime for a certain number of hours per week as a general thing, which means that it is not really overtime. The hours are general.
The hon. Member need not be in any doubt as to what I mean. I mean that when we fixed a national minimum wage, we ought to have had some basic figure for hours in those areas. We ought, at least, to have laid it down that we would give the agricultural worker a 48-hour week. We ought to have said that the hours in operation in the districts when the national minimum wage came into being should be the weekly hours to be worked for that minimum. Just as workers in other industries get extra pay for overtime so are farm workers entitled to extra pay for overtime. In some localities not far from the constituency which the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) represents, the agricultural wages committees, in fixing overtime rates, suggested that they should be very slightly more than the hourly rate paid for ordinary time during the week—
I was not talking about the reduction of wages but about the number of hours necessary for the occupation. Agriculture is different from other industries because where you have stock, a certain number of hours must be worked.
I am not complaining about that; I am saying that in order to give the farm-worker a square deal, there should have been some guidance to agricultural wages committees as to what the minimum wage carried with it. I recognise that on a farm you cannot strictly work factory hours but you can work in better conditions now than in the past and if you are to make agriculture prosperous you must face that fact. In the ordinary heavy industries, where employers and employés are highly organised, discussions take place and differences are removed without any friction. Unfortunately, in agriculture, owing to the scattered nature of the industry, its workers are not so well organised as some other workers and the effect is that the men are not getting quite the same protection as trade unionists in other industries. I want to bring to the notice of the Committee one or two things which are now agitating the mind of the National Union of Agricultural Workers and into which I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to inquire. Here is a letter I received to-day from the General Secretary of the Union. It says:
We have an important matter which should be raised in the House and it is the widespread dismissal of farm workers now that the minimum rate has been raised to 48s. a week. You can draw your own conclusions from the following examples and I may say they are coming in now every day.
Here is one from Somerset:
Our branch secretary has been dismissed on the grounds that the farmer cannot afford to pay the increase in wages.
That is not the real reason. The letter goes on:
At Ottringham, near Hull, one of our members has been sacked because his boss said he could not pay the increased wages. Other members are complaining that farmers in the district, when their sons are due to join the Armed Forces, sack their workers and then plead they are short of men in order to keep their own sons from doing their military duties. Our district organiser has been instructed to proceed to this district to make full inquiries and report. The report is not yet to hand.
Our East Norfolk organiser reports to-day that in his district farmers are standing men off although there is plenty of work to be done.
He states that a certain farmer stood off five men out of eight and goes on to say:
Our members in this district suggest that if the farmers will not farm properly the Government should take it over.
Here is one from another district, in Suffolk:
At our county conference last Saturday it was reported that since the introduction of the 48s. minimum rate some members have already been discharged and others have received notice to leave. A resolution was passed strongly protesting against the employment of women in agriculture while fully skilled men are unemployed. The conference was careful to state that it did not object to the employment of women as such.
In Monmouthshire there is another case which needs investigation but I will not read the letter because it involves a matter concerning the War Office. I am prepared, however, to submit this document to the Department, to have the matter investigated. We are asking workers throughout the country, and farm-workers in particular, to put their best into the national war effort. Up to now they have done so and farm-workers as well as others in the country are prepared to do their best to see us through this war. Frankly, I have taken the view that the one and only thing to do now is to win this war. In saying this, I am voicing the sentiments of more than 99 per cent. of the population who wish to see it through, come what may and however great the sacrifices.
In conclusion, may I say that we ought to give these farm-workers, who have been neglected throughout the centuries, who have been the butt of music-hall comedians, who have inspired poets and song-writers and have been looked upon by some industrial workers as having not quite the same intelligence as the townsmen—which is certainly not true—the treatment they deserve. They are skilled folk, as sturdy, hard-working and patriotic a body of men as any in the world and, like the hon. Member for Evesham who has said that as long as he is in the House he will plead for cheap capital for farmers, I shall never hesitate to ask the powers-that-be for fair treatment for the agricultural worker. Agriculture has long been the Cinderella of our industries. The farmer, too, is entitled to fair treatment, but I ask the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary not to forget the farm-worker, to do their best to redress his grievances and to let him feel that he is getting "a fair crack of the whip."
May I beg the indulgence of the Committee, usually so courteously extended to one who is making his maiden speech? I have only two points to raise. First, I must assume that the Minister of Agriculture is conversant with many forms of what are called siphonaptera which in some cases are such a curse to farmers. A more particular variety of it is known as pulex irritans which is reputed to carry on its back members of smaller species and so on until they are reduced ad infinitum both in numbers and in size. I think that analogy might, possibly, apply to the Prime Minister surrounded by his Ministers. Each Minister bites him in some peculiar place. The Minister of Agriculture, to take one of these virulent creatures, is also being bitten in numerous places by various bodies and committees, perhaps the National Farmers' Union or the county executive committees—and so it goes down the scale. They are being bitten by a host of farmers and the farmer is bitten by a host of other parasites and insects. It is to one or two of these worries and troubles that I wish to refer.
The most irritating sore at the moment is, perhaps, the question of the new vaccine for tuberculin tests for dairy herds. This has only recently been brought into general use and it has caused a good deal of disorganisation among the herds. I do not think we can judge from that fact that the incidence of tuber- culous infection has gone up by leaps and bounds. It is merely the new standard vaccine, which seems to have a surer effect on possibly doubtful cases which would have escaped under the old vaccine. That, no doubt, is all to the good but its introduction at this moment causes alarm and despondency among owners of some herds of long standing. That is one of the things that bites the poor farmer. There is another which, perhaps, is not very general but which I have come across in my constituency, and that is the question of sheep. My constituency is almost entirely milk. It is nothing but milk, morning, noon and night in most cases. In fact, on more than one occasion I have told the farmers that I do not consider that they are farmers at all but merely milking machines. All the more for that reason one wants to draw attention to the farmer who really tries to farm and produce bread.
Bread, in a milk country, is almost forgotten, and after all it is about the most staple thing that we shall require in the long run. In order to produce bread, it is essential, on certain soils at any rate, that sheep should be hurdled on the land. You may say that artificial manure will take its place but on certain soils I am not at all sure that the effect is as good as the hurdling of the sheep and the farmyard manure. It is just that farmer who in a milking district is apt to be forgotten in the supply of feeding-stuffs for which the Minister is making arrangements, for the dairy herds to be maintained during the winter time. If some arrangement could be made for these sheep-keepers to get their ration of any feeding-stuffs that is going, they would be very grateful.
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken on the very practical points that he has brought to the attention of the Minister, and to welcome him to our agricultural Debates. I want to make a few short and, possibly, disconnected points. The first is that I and the Committee generally, welcome the approach which the Minister is making in what he has told us to-day to the problem of producing more food. I am very glad that he has been going round the country meeting the executives face to face. I am sure that is valuable. There has been hitherto a tendency to keep counties in watertight compartments and for one county not to know what another is doing. A very healthy rivalry might develop, if we knew a little more of what was being done in one county and another. Perhaps the institution of liaison officers, which I am sure is an excellent arrangement, may help in that direction.
If there was one question which I felt the Minister did not deal with adequately it was that of credit. He was quite right, I think, in saying that it is impossible to have equality of sacrifice. Each farm has to be dealt with individually. The right hon. Gentleman has introduced a new range of prices. He did not say anything about it to-day, but we note that he has withdrawn a concession to farmers in their Income Tax assessment, giving the reason that some farmers might and will, under the new prices, make considerable profits. It is equally true that, while some farmers have a preponderance of capital, some are exceedingly short, and to rely on the banks is not an adequate way of dealing with under-farmed land. It will be very difficult for the officers and the executive committees to force a man who has not the means to improve his farm. While in the worst cases it may be possible to turn a man out of his farm, there are borderline cases. If credit at cheaper terms than 5 per cent. were available, it would be of real assistance in bringing the farms back to a better state of cultivation. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us something more as to what is intended in regard to payment of Income Tax by farmers in the future. I think that is a subject which many farmers will like to know about and at the same time perhaps he will tell us how the Excess Profits Tax is going to affect the farming community. Is it intended where the level of profit has been exceedingly low, that that level should be stabilised? If we can be told anything of that, I shall be glad.
There is one other big question which gives the farming community an immense amount of trouble and on which the Minister touched. I am not quite clear about it. That is the feeding-stuffs position. Though I am sure each individual farmer ought to plan his production on the basis of producing the largest propor- tion of feeding-stuffs for his own requirements that he possibly can, nevertheless there are types of farming where, if one knows what is likely to be available, one can plan ahead. Without knowing what is likely to be available, you cannot plan at all. I am thinking particularly of the intensive forms of poultry and pig farming, which, although they are to be cut down, will still exist. If a poultry or pig farmer knows that, provided there are feeding-stuffs at all, he will get a certain quantity, he can make his programme accordingly. I am not confident that anything that has been done so far will ensure that he knows this. I wonder whether it is quite impossible to work out a ration system. The merchants are now being rationed on a satisfactory basis, and I wonder whether that system cannot be carried through to the individual farmer, and whether a pig farmer or a poultry farmer cannot be told that, provided things go on normally, he will get so many tons or hundredweights a month. It might be that things would not go on normally, and that such a farmer would get only a proportion, but in that case, everybody would have his supplies cut down by 10, 15 or 20 per cent., whatever it might be, of the ration to which he had thought he would be entitled. Would it not be possible for the firms concerned to work out what their customers got last year in an average month and during the winter, and then to make that the basis of calculation? I have been told by one very large firm that if they brought their travellers off the roads, where they are not needed at the present time, and set them to work in the office for a fortnight, they could work out what each farmer's quota should be on the basis of previous business. This would make it possible to give confidence to the farmers that they would all be treated alike.
What is the position in the countryside at the present time? We have been asked to reduce poultry and pig stocks to onethird—not one-third of the pre-war figure, but one-third of what we had last autumn. Some people reduced their stocks last autumn, and the patriotic people who did so are being asked to reduce again. A great number of people always hope for the best, and these farmers hope that their neighbours also will reduce their stocks. It may be that poultry farming, because of the great shortage of eggs that will exist, will be profitable for those who can carry on, but it seems to me that it will be very unfair if the thing is not done on a regular basis, and if, for instance, the poultry farmer who pays well is able to get more than the one who does not pay quite so well.
There is one point I would like particularly to make. It is all wrong to force everybody to reduce his stocks equally. It is wrong, from the point of view of general justice, to ask a St. Dunstan's blind soldier to reduce as much as a man who started a year or two ago. I wonder whether the Minister has really given much thought yet to the question of reducing stocks of poultry and pigs. I hope he will give it a little bit more consideration before the autumn gets much nearer. Surely, the right thing to do would be to have a ration scheme and to tell the executives to go round and distribute that ration to the farmers. A limbless or blind ex-Service man who is a poultry farmer ought to have a much higher proportion than other people. Another consideration that ought to be borne in mind is the efficiency of the farms. An efficient farm which is making good use of the feeding-stuffs which it receives should have priority over the less efficient farm. That would be difficult to administer, but one could tell the poultry and pig men that unless they registered and got their quota, they would not get any feeding-stuffs. I suggest that on some basis of that sort the thing could be worked more fairly.
This assumes that the reduction of stocks is necessary, and I wonder whether it is, and whether the question has been given real consideration. The question of the relative nutritive value of various foodstuffs produced by the farmers is an important one. Obviously, milk is important. Eggs are important as far as proteins are concerned. I wonder whether the beef men, who are well organised, have not perhaps had a little bit more consideration than they deserve on the scientific basis of what the consuming population needs. Two-thirds of our egg supplies from abroad have gone. I do not know from where additional eggs are to come, but if our stocks are to be reduced, I think it means that the population will not have eggs for breakfast next winter. That may be right, but I ask the Minister whether it is right to give the beef men such a high priority. Surely, there is an immense amount of land that ought to bear arable crops which is now producing beef. The egg is a very valuable contribution to our diet, and is probably more important than some forms of beef. I hope the Minister will give attention to this difficult problem of a reduction of stocks—first, whether the full rigour of what has been announced is necessary, and if so, what steps are being taken to see that it is carried out fairly; and secondly, whether it is impossible, with the co-operation of the Ministry of Food, to work out a system to ensure that what happened last winter does not happen next winter, and that there is an equal distribution of feeding stuffs and not such an unequal distribution as there was last year.
I should like to make a point about drainage. I very much welcome the subsidy for tile drainage. It has been valuable in certain districts which I know in the North-West. The amount of £7 10s. is perhaps hardly enough, but I will not be too ungrateful about that. The cost of drainage has gone up, and it will be very difficult to get the men to do the work now. If the Minister's wise decision had been taken two years ago £7 10s. would have been very much more welcome.
The practical point which I want to make is that that part of the cost payable by the landowner should be dealt with in the same way as in some other schemes, and that there should be a provision that the landowner may pay his share spread over a number of years. That would be a real help to many landowners who are not too well off at the present time. In conclusion, I want to say that the farming community is ready to do its best. The farmers realise the gravity of the situation, and I am sure they will give the Minister all possible assistance.
I would not have dared to intervene in this Debate but for the fact that I have promised various persons that I would try to obtain an answer to a question from the joint Parliamentary Secretary. First of all may I be allowed to congratulate the Minister, and his Joint Parliamentary Secretary on their appearance, and also, if I may, to congratulate the Minister on his grasp of a new subject? I have always believed it was necessary, in regard to these complicated subjects, for a new Minister to have a very profound previous knowledge of them, but that conclusion has been shaken by the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has made to-day, because he seems to have grasped the essentials of the subject in a very short space of time. There have been speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), and they have, at times, waxed rhetorical about agriculture. For myself, I have held for many years that we shall never obtain a proper agricultural population until we take more trouble in giving earlier training on the land. I have tried to do something in this respect in previous years, and in another office, and I am immensely relieved to know that at this moment the Ministry of Agriculture have taken over from the Ministry of Labour the scheme, originally designed only for boys from Special Areas, and that it now applies to boys from whatever part of the country they may come. That is an immense advance.
As I understand it, there is an additional scheme which has been worked out between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Board of Education, covering boys from elementary schools who; under certain conditions, go on to the land. There never was a time in the history of this country when more boys between 14 and 15 have been in the country districts. This, of course, is due to evacuation. Farm institutes have in many cases closed down, and the staffs have been used for excellent practical work. I wish to obtain from the joint Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, a statement of where the Y.M.C.A. scheme stands at the moment in relation to the new scheme of the Board and the Ministry of Agriculture. How many boys between 14 and 15 is it hoped to put on the land? This is a unique opportunity to get almost a new generation of young fellows, who for the first time have been forced, as it were, to be in the country, to start a career on the land. This is not just an academic point, but something which would be of great help to the Minister when looking for fresh labour. I would like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, to make a statement, because although I have asked questions on the subject, I have been unable to obtain a satisfactory reply.
I feel a certain nervousness in criticising one or two of the remarks made by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts). His knowledge of agriculture is very extensive, whereas mine is only limited, but I think that his remarks with regard to the feeding-stuff position may be inclined to lead farmers astray. In the Minister's first broadcast he said that we must reduce our pig population by two-thirds, and our poultry population by the same amount. His time, of course, was exceedingly limited, but I am certain that, although the Minister did make that statement, he did not wish to see two-thirds of the pig population of the country slaughtered. I believe that he wished to make it plain to pig breeders that they would be able to have only sufficient food to keep alive one-third of their existing pig herds, but that if the pig population were scattered in pig clubs and so forth, there would not be in that case the necessity for slaughtering two-thirds of them.
I am afraid that, serious as that broadcast was, and clear as the Minister's statement was about the food shortage, it has not really sunk home in the minds of the farming community. I am convinced that the average farmer—or in any case a great many farmers—has not fully appreciated it, and has not made plans to cope with the situation which will arise in the winter with regard to feeding-stuffs. We all know that lately there has been a more satisfactory price for milk, but I very much regret to say that in some parts of the country farmers, in order to obtain a larger milk yield, have, even at the present time, been feeding some of their dairy herds on a certain amount of oil cake in addition to the grass they have been obtaining. That is a very serious state of affairs. They may be getting a larger milk yield now, but they have been using food which ought not to have been touched at this time of the year. I hope that when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies he will make it as clear as is humanly possible that the oil cakes are not going to be there, and that such stocks must be kept exclusively for the winter.
I know that the Minister is very interested in encouraging the production of silage, but I wonder whether a little more cannot be done in this direction before the winter is upon us. We have now had rain, and owing to the very early hay crop we may have another grass crop which could easily be converted into silage. In many instances the farmer will say that owing to the shortage of timber he cannot construct a silo, but I urge upon the Minister to go in for a little more advertising, and to demonstrate the possibility of utilising pit silos, because it is possible to manufacture silage without having a wooden silo. We all realise, although the prices the farmer is getting are rather more satisfactory than in the past, that there is an urgent necessity to do what we can to lower the cost of running his farm. I do not think there is any better way in which that could be done than by encouraging the production of silage. Even to-day the cost of silage per ton is only 10s., compared with £14 per ton for oil cakes. Therefore, a small amount of additional silage will be of tremendous advantage when the winter comes with the difficulties which we shall have to face in the feeding-stuffs position. The hon. Member for North Cumberland urged the Minister to consider who should get the existing feeding-stuff supplies. While I sympathise with his point of view, and agree that, for instance, an ex-Service man with a poultry farm should have more consideration than a man who has recently started a farm, I am much afraid that the feeding-stuffs position may be so serious that we shall not be able to consider it on that basis at all.
May I explain what I mean? The Minister has told us that everybody has to cut down. I am suggesting that it would be fairer to cut out entirely some poultry farmers and leave the ex-Service man with a little more. The Minister must have some basis on which to cut down, and as one-third of the feeding-stuffs will be available I suggest that an average level cut of two-thirds would be unfair.
I agree with the sentiment of the hon. Member, but I think that that would be a very difficult and arbitrary way of assessing and distributing feeding-stuffs. It sounds easy in theory, but in practice it would produce terrible hardship. We must ration according to the things in the country that have to be maintained, and the first thing to maintain is the milk supply. I am afraid that it will not be a case of rationing one poultry farmer against another, but a case of saying what we have to maintain in the country and what it is imperative to produce. The first thing that it is imperative to produce is milk. It is well known that, if necessary, we could maintain our health and strength on a diet of vegetables, milk, cheese and bread, and that we could live without eggs and meat.
It is a wholesome peasant diet. It may not be an interesting diet, but you could maintain health and strength on it if you are forced to do so. I would urge that greater consideration should be given to the production of milk and that when that question is considered there should be close co-operation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food. There is in existence an Order which prohibits a man manufacturing cheese if he sells milk, and I suggest that, in view of the importance of encouraging the manufacture of cheese, which is so easy to store on the farms, that Order should be rescinded for the duration of the war. Cheese is one of the most valuable foods we can produce, especially the cheese made on the farm, which is of far greater nutritive value than the small manufactured cheeses from the factories which have a large percentage of water. In view of the importance of cheese I would urge that for the duration of the war there should be no question of the pasteurisation of milk. I realise that I am not in agreement with a good many hon. Members on that point.
I was afraid that you would soon notice that fact, Colonel Clifton Brown. I only wished to urge closer co-operation between the various Departments on this matter. In the event of invasion extraordinary powers are vested in the Regional Commissioners, and I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to make it clear how the agricultural community are to get their instructions from the centre in the event of that taking place. There is a little uncertainty about what powers the Regional Commissioners will have over the farming community and how farmers will be able to get into touch with them. I was a little worried over the remarks of the Minister with regard to housing the increased staff which he said he would need on the land. He rather skirted over that subject. I hope that there will be no question of moving from the homes they have inhabited for many years the families of men who are serving at the Front who were previously serving on the land. So many people have had their homes broken up that I hope that in no case the homes of these people will be touched.
I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) has mentioned the question of feeding-stuffs, because I rise to make a point in connection with it. Like other Members, I heard the dreadful broadcast of the Minister of Agriculture, and I am not sure that I applauded what he said. It might have been better if, before advising the pig breeders and poultry keepers to be prepared to get rid of two-thirds of their stocks before the autumn, the Ministry had given more attention to the possibility of finding an alternative supply of food. I want to address the Committee on that point and to refer to the possibility of feeding-stuffs being made from kitchen refuse. I have introduced this subject in the House before, and, because up to now the Ministry of Agriculture do not appear to have shown very great interest in it, I am venturing to have another try.
I do not particularly blame the Ministry of Agriculture. I think that the reason why such a tremendous opportunity has been lost by the people generally and the Government particularly, an opportunity which the people would whole-heartedly have taken, has been that, as in other instances with which some of us are familiar, two or three Government Departments are concerned. They are the Ministries of Agriculture, Supply and Food. None of them has appeared to be very anxious to hold the baby, and between them very little has been done. There has been an anxiety in some of the negotiations I have had to conduct to push it from one Department to another. The present position is, therefore, entirely unsatisfactory. I raised this matter in the House in January, and pointed out that in one locality of which I have knowledge, by a simple piece of organisation and at no extra cost to the rate-payers or anybody else, but merely by the exercise of common sense, 20 tons of kitchen refuse very suitable for pig food had been secured each week over a period of several months. That statement created some interest in the House, and soon afterwards 50 Members of Parliament accepted an invitation to come and see what was actually being done. There were all kinds of criticisms and suggestions, but the general view was that it was an exceedingly interesting experiment and they wished it well.
Many months have passed since then, and I shall now tell the Committee of one or two things which have happened since. If the suggestions that were made as long ago as January last had been followed up there would have been no need for the Minister's broadcast; but no guidance in this matter was given by any Government Department. On the occasion when the 50 Members of Parliament came to see the experiment the Minister of Supply was among them, and on that account, I suppose, the Minister of Agriculture considered the matter had nothing more to do with him and left it to the Minister of Supply. As a result of the publicity given to the experiment, a number of local authorities started to do the same thing, but, as I say, without any guidance, so far as I know, from any Government Department. But the warm weather came and brought with it two difficulties. The first was that a weekly collection of kitchen refuse became impossible. We could not ask housewives to keep their kitchen refuse for a whole week, because when it was collected it was often a mass of flies and maggots. Therefore, the local authority to which I have been referring, my own Borough Council of Tottenham, decided to make a daily collection.
It is not easy—and that is why I regret that the Government Departments do not seem to have been interested—to introduce first a weekly collection, at no additional expense, and to collect 20 tons of feeding-stuff a week, and then to follow that up by introducing a daily collection, again at no additional expense, and to collect 40 tons a week. The Parliamentary Secretary may ask, "How did you do it?" It was done by putting the road sweepers on to the work. They have been going from door to door. The Ministry of Supply has been talking about making a compulsory Order that housewives must keep their kitchen refuse apart, instead of putting it in the dust-bins, but in Tottenham, without any compulsion at all, we have had 70 per cent. of the householders doing it voluntarily for the past month, and we are now collecting 40 tons a week. The next difficulty we had to contend with was that after we had collected the refuse and treated it at the central depot it became unusable, during the warm weather, before we could get it to the farmers, some of whom are 150 miles away. To deal with that situation we installed a processing machine, and the product will now keep from 12 to 14 days, even in warm weather. It finds a ready market at £4 a ton, and we are told that analysis has shown it to be as good as feeding-stuffs sold at £13 a ton. We could sell all we produce 20 times over. We are sending it as far as Devonshire. Seeing that there are large cities like Bristol and Exeter so much nearer to Devonshire, why we should be sending kitchen refuse collected from our householders in Tottenham down to Devonshire passes my comprehension.
I have heard farmers and experts on pigs—I am neither—say that pigs cannot be fed properly for any length of time upon what is called "swill." We have Droved that that is not so. We have 100 pigs, and they are as good pigs as can be found anywhere. That has been testified to by pig experts from all over the country, and testified to, also, by Her Majesty the Queen, who came to see them this afternoon and said she had not seen such excellent pigs for many years. As I have said, an appeal was made by wireless to people to save their kitchen refuse, and many people started to do so, and many local authorities began to collect it, but no Government Department appeared to be sufficiently interested to give a lead to the country beyond sup- porting the general broadcast; and the position we have now arrived at is that many local authorities find in this warm weather that after they have collected the kitchen refuse all they can do with it is to burn it directly they get it to the destructor.
I am now going to tell the Parliamentary Secretary what we propose to do in the Borough of Tottenham, and to say that we shall appreciate the help of the Ministry of Agriculture, but I would add, and I hope that he will not think that I am being rude, that whether we get his help or not we are going to do it. We propose to instal another processing machine, twice the size of the one we have at present. To do that we shall need a little help from a Government Department—not the hon. Member's Department. We want him to use his influence with the Ministry of Supply to get us a priority order to enable us to obtain that machine. If we get that help we shall be able to have the new machine working within a fortnight. With that new machine, plus the one we have already, we shall be able to provide 150 tons of feeding-stuffs a week, because we shall be working the machines 24 hours a day. With the addition of 15 to 20 per cent. of feeding meal, that 150 tons will be enough to feed 10,000 pigs. I am making that estimate on a rough calculation that one ton of food is enough to feed 50 pigs for a week.
The Parliamentary Secretary may ask where we are going to get the kitchen refuse to make 150 tons a week. The answer is perfectly simple. I have told him that, at the present time, we are collecting 40 tons per week from our own locality; we have also been approached within the last week or two by other local authorities. Their requests are becoming more and more urgent every day, as the pressure increases, because some of these local authorities are collecting kitchen refuse but have no processing machines such as we have, and are being driven into the position, although the public do not yet know it, after collecting this kitchen refuse, of having to burn it. One of our neighbouring authorities, with a population twice as big as ours, has offered to give us all its kitchen refuse, amounting to 100 tons per week. Another adjoining authority, having heard that we had a machine that could process the stuff, has approached us in a similar way. The result is that we shall not find the slightest difficulty in getting 150 tons of kitchen refuse per week. We are prepared to process it 24 hours a day by putting it through the machine, and so producing enough food to keep 10,000 pigs.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will think that that is a considerable contribution, made by a town which has nothing much to do with agriculture. It is an entirely new contribution. None of that food for 10,000 pigs was being provided before, and it is an entirely new source of supply. I said a month or two ago that I would tell the Parliamentary Secretary what we proposed to do, in the hope that the Ministry would help us. In any case, we are going to do it. The next thing we shall do is to get a new machine double the size. We know where there is one, and, with a little bit of help from the Ministry of Supply, we shall get it, and have it installed within a fortnight. Nobody else wants it, or is likely to use it for some time, and we do not think there will be any difficulty about it. We are not asking for any money. We have the money and we shall pay for the machine.
The next thing we want to do, having kept 100 pigs successfully for eight or nine months, and thus demonstrated that we can feed them, is to keep 1,000 pigs, in one of our public parks. That may seem somewhat of an innovation, but we claim that more people will go into the public parks to see 1,000 pigs than will go to see the tulips and the carnations. We propose to keep 1,000 pigs; what do we want from the Government? We want them to remember that we are living in an emergency. We want the Ministry of Agriculture and other Government Departments to close their eyes to the fact that what we propose will, in fact, be a municipal piggery. Have the Ministry of Agriculture any objection to our setting up a municipal piggery? If we do so with our 1,000 pigs, we shall require only 20 tons of kitchen refuse to feed them. We shall still be able to put into the common pool of feeding-stuffs of the country somethink like 130 tons, in addition to what we shall ourselves use. In return for that very great contribution to the pool, we ask the Ministry of Agriculture to make it possible, in whatever way they like, for us to keep this piggery. If they object to our running it as a municipal piggery, we shall be glad to receive any suggestion from them as to whether we should make it a co-operative piggery or a smallholders' or small pigkeepers' piggery. We do not mind, but we are determined to go on and keep 1,000 pigs ourselves, because the people in our district are clamouring for them.
Another reason which should appeal particularly to the heart of the Parliamentary Secretary arises out of the fact that the Ministry recently decided to abrogate all the rules and regulations about keeping pigs in backyards. It is a very dangerous thing, but I am not complaining about it. It may be dangerous, particularly, if the idea of keeping pigs catches on in small, congested areas. Therefore, as people who take an active interest in municipal life, we think we are doing the country a really good turn by stepping in quickly before people in the mean streets begin here and there to get pigs, collect food and feed them. In our collective way, we are gathering the food now from door to door, taking it all to a central place, putting 1,000 pigs into a public park a long way from any houses, and so doing useful work by discouraging what nobody wants to see done, people keeping pigs in their backyards in the congested streets of the town. I hope that the Minister will look at this matter very sympathetically.
I have reached almost the end of what I wanted to say. I would like the Minister to encourage us by saying that we are not tied down. I do not want that we should be tripped up just now by being told that we have no legal powers, as a municipality, to set up a municipal piggery. If there is any other way in which we can get round it, we want to be able to have the full support of the Ministry of Agriculture. In turn, we shall make a really valuable contribution. In return for producing 150 tons of food we want the Ministry's authority to obtain from three to four tons of feeding-meal per week. We need it because we shall feed the pigs on 80 to 85 per cent. kitchen refuse and 15 to 20 per cent. meal, according to their age. Therefore, to keep 1,000 pigs, we shall need about three or four tons of feeding-meal per week. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to be good enough to give consideration to that reasonable request. We are making a great contribution, nearly 150 tons of kitchen refuse that was never used for pig-feeding before. If we cannot act as a municipality or as a vast corporation, make us a branch of the Small Pigkeepers' Council, if you like. We do not mind. We shall be pleased to keep 1,000 pigs in that locality, and if the Minister can see his way to let us have that small amount of meal we shall be very grateful.
I apologise for speaking for so long. I am sorry to have confined my remarks to one district. I need not remind the Minister that this is not a local question, and if he had been here I would ask him why he does not organise the collection of town refuse on a national scale. It would be better to do that than to make gloomy speeches on the wireless. You have not tried out what can be done from alternative sources of supply. There are vast municipalities in the country, and there are people waiting. As to whether there is a lack of machines, we have obtained one machine, and we shall obtain another in a few days. Another place in the East End of London, Stratford, can handle 200 or 300 tons of this stuff almost every day. There is a farm down in Devonshire where there is an apparatus used to make cider, but which can deal with this kitchen refuse. If the Minister would organise this matter on a national scale, we should have a much more optimistic outlook than we have at the present time. I hope that he will give sympathetic attention to the points which I have put before the Committee.
The speech which we have just heard interested me specially, because one of my recent experiences in agriculture has been in going across France and Belgium with two pigs per company and feeding them on what was left over every day. We had great success, and we made a great financial success of that military operation. Unfortunately, other military operations terminated it. I listened to the broadcast by the Minister of Agriculture, and I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison). It is unfortunate to talk too much about slaughter. We ought to tell people now that they cannot expect to rely upon imported feeding-stuffs and that if they are willing to keep pigs or poultry, they must be able to support them from their own resources, or, anyhow, largely from their own resources. By and large, each producer has to plan to support the livestock that he is carrying, whether it is in his backyard, his park or his farm. Therefore, we should encourage the mixed type of farming as much as possible.
The other tendency which, I think, is growing and which also is unfortunate, is this laying of special weight on milk and saying we can live without meat. The problem to-day is one of providing for our garrisons during the immediate future, and we shall not get a good strong force of men guarding this island unless we ensure that our meat and beef production is safe and flourishing. The whole nature of our agricultural problem is changed. It is no use talking, as I have heard many hon. and right hon. Members talking in this Committee, of a long-term policy for agriculture. After the war that will have tremendous importance because new problems will arise, but for the moment we are faced with the immediate problem of increasing production tremendously in this present cropping season and the next—no further. That is the task into which I feel we have to put a little more energy than even we are doing at the present time.
The great problem, in my view, is labour. I am not satisfied, from what I have seen in the country since I got back, from what I have read and even from what I heard from the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon, that the problem of labour is sufficiently appreciated and provided for. We have had a lot of fine weather, and on the law of averages we shall get a good deal of wet. Therefore, it is vital that we should so increase our labour on the land that we can get our crops in quickly and in good condition. In many parts of the country that I visited there is certainly a shortage of labour, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to apply his mind to that problem. I wish to make a suggestion to him. There are back from France at the present time a number of men who were previously agricultural workers but who are still in the Army. There is in particular a number of R.A.S.C. drivers who were called up in the early stages, who are by trade tractor drivers and who were in the lines of communication area in France. Those men, in my view, could be brought out of the Army for the next three months, put back in the rural areas and should drive continuously for those three months the tractors and the other motor implements of the farm. We have the harvest and after the harvest that period of breaking up the stubbles, and I hope also of increasing the arable acreage of this country. I believe that if those men were brought back to the countryside on light leave for three months, they would add to our food production, and, what is more, by their military experience they would probably give even greater stability to the Local Defence Volunteers in the area. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to apply his mind to that problem. We must get men back on to the land.
I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) deploring the fact that the girls' Land Army had not been quite successful. One of the reasons is that the job of an agricultural labourer is skilled, and at the present time it is a mechanical job; you must, therefore, get the right men on to it, and do not let us forget that the question of agricultural production at the moment is first and foremost a matter of defence. We must have in agriculture men as good as in any other branch of the Defence Forces. The Minister talked about drainage. I was sorry when the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) said that £7 10s. was not enough, and I saw the Minister nod. That seemed to me to be a pre-war attitude to this problem of agriculture. We must get this land drained. The Minister says he is giving 50 per cent. of the cost up to £7 10s. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us the figure on which he bases the cost of draining an acre at £15. The lowest cost previous to the war in August was in the region of £22 an acre for properly draining agricultural land in my area. Since then I am glad that wages in the countryside have risen, and I hope with them the wages of those engaged in land drainage.
I should have expected the cost of properly tiling and draining an acre of land to-day to be in the region of £30. In that case, if you are going to offer £7 10s. as 50 per cent., you will not get the response that you need to your drainage policy. I should like to see it made definitely 50 per cent., whatever the cost. Otherwise we must tell the Parliamentary Secretary that if he is offering £7 10s., some farmers will spend merely £15 on draining an acre, and when they do that repeating the same mistake as has been done in drainage, certainly since 1870 in our area; you get your drains too far apart, and it is really a waste of tiles to put them into the land. You must work out how far apart the tiles are and put them at that distance. It is no good draining heavy land 12 yards between the tiles. You must have it at the proper distance and put the full amount of money into that work. I hope that before this matter comes again before the House due consideration will be given to that fact. We want to see the land productive, and the nation must take its share of the expense in maintaining the land.
The other point as well as labour which is important is credit, and I do not think the Minister fully appreciates that fact. Quite rightly, we have raised agricultural wages to 48s., but there is a time lag before the farmer gets the benefit of the increased prices; therefore, it is paramount that the Government should give credit to tide over that period, otherwise the farmer will not increase his labour force as he should. If he has to go to the bank and borrow money at 5 per cent., 6 per cent., or even 7 per cent. if he is not particularly credit-worthy, he is not able to farm that land as he should, and it is up to the Government to-day to put the credit system right for agriculture in relation to this immediate problem of increasing production.
I heard the Minister appeal to farmers to lay in their store of fertilisers three months in advance. That appeal received this response in our area: "How are we to do it if we have not got the money for it? If the Government will put forward a scheme by which the farmers are enabled to get the credit for that fertiliser there will be some success in the scheme, but if we have to go to the banks or to a merchant or to a big money-lending firm, like the United Dominions Trust, who charge 5, 6 or 7 per cent., then it is not economical and the farmers will not do it." I hope that the first job that the Minister will undertake will be that of putting credit right. This House has made this subject one of ridicule at times. It is not a matter of ridicule; it is matter of real concern. If the farmer is not credit-worthy, it is our fault, the nation's fault. Now, in war-time, when agriculture is a Department of Defence, we must see that nobody is hampered, through lack of credit, in farming his land to the best of his ability.
The Minister made some vague threats in regard to farmers who are not able to undertake what the war executive committees demand, saying that the farmers in that case should have the duty taken over from them by those committees. The failure, in most cases, will arise from lack of credit. No farmer, if he has the credit and the labour, will fail to undertake work for the improvement of his land, and for aiding the nation; but if he has not the credit, if you are denying him the credit, it is wrong to punish him by taking the control and working of his land out of his hands. I did not quite like the Minister's attitude when he was talking about those committees. In my area the committees have been a tremendous help, they have acted in a friendly, advisory capacity, and have not shown the mailed fist, but if the Minister talks in that style there is a danger that the farming community will feel that those committees are dictatorial bodies and are their enemies, ready to trip them up and take their land from them. We want co-operation between those committees and the farmers. I believe that one of the ways to get it would be by giving the committees the power and the money to make loans at 2 per cent. to the farmers. Then you would get co-operation between the committees and the farmers, and the Government, who have kept the rate of interest very satisfactorily low in this country for the most part, could afford to lend to farmers at 2 per cent. Then, I believe that we should be able in agriculture to play our part in the defence of this country, and that each farmer, as a section leader looking after his section, would be able to keep his land intact.
One curious feature of this Debate is that I do not believe any Member who has spoken in the Debate is now in the Chamber, with the exception of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), and he has not had time to go out. It is a striking testimony to the lack of interest which is taken in a subject of this character. I make that comment by way of protest. In the Ministry of Agriculture there have been many changes recently, but I hope that there will be in future a settled policy, and that one Minister will be kept at that job. I am not intimately acquainted with the present Minister. He has tried many jobs, but I hope that he will now settle down to one. As for the Parliamentary Secretary, I am glad that he holds that position. If anyone in the House has earned his position, it is he. Everyone knows how devoted a miner is to his calling, and for a miner to have turned to agriculture and acquired such a knowledge of it as the hon. Member has, shows strikingly what a Labour man can do. He carries the best wishes of all Members on the Labour Benches. I was interested to hear the Minister's remark that he expected that during the first 12 months of the war period we should be able to produce more than we did during the first 18 months of the last war. That is a remarkable thing, and it augurs well for the stability of our island home, in spite of losses by enemy action.
I would urge people to make better use of the land of this country. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) spoke of a scheme for keeping 1,000 pigs. I wondered where they were to be kept, and he said that the public parks were to be used. It may be a startling suggestion that pigs should be kept in a public park, but I agree with it. I hope that during the war we shall not keep parks simply to cater for the aesthetic tastes of the people. Aesthetic tastes are all right when things are going well, but in a time of grim necessity it is better to fill the bellies of the people with substantial food than to have beautiful flowers in the parks. That brings me to the question of the Royal parks. We have always been proud of our Royal parks.
Then I will just say that much of the open spaces which are used in London for the benefit of the people in times of peace, by giving them peaceful surroundings, could be turned to better use now by converting them into allotments or by utilising them in the manner referred to by the hon. Member for North Tottenham. He said that he was afraid that they might be prevented from using the parks in that way by the existence of particular rules, but I do not think that rules of that sort would stop people doing that kind of thing. I do not believe anyone would challenge them if they were providing food for the nation. Dirt tracks, racecourses and places of that sort also could be turned to advantage. There is a great outcry at present against the uses to which racecourses, dirt tracks and dog tracks are being put. Here is a chance for the Minister of Agriculture to use them to produce food for the people. I believe that such a step would be welcomed with acclamation by everybody. This afternoon we were speaking about the people from the Channel Islands coming here, and how we were to provide work for them. If some of these open spaces were turned to the use I have suggested, these people could be put on useful employment. It is really remarkable how in industrial areas people are asking the councils to provide them with allotments, so that they can do something useful. I am glad to see the way that our people responded to the call of the country in getting allotments and putting them to great use by providing not only their own households with vegetables but supplying people round about. It is a remarkable tribute to our people. I want the Ministry of Agriculture to direct their attention in that direction and not let the matter lag at all. I know that my hon. Friend who is now Parliamentary Secretary is a great believer in allotments, and I want him to keep up this policy and to do all he can on the lines I have indicated.
During my walks in the country I generally get into conversation with farmers and ask them how things are going. As a rule they grumble and say that the weather is not as it ought to be. If you say that we have had plenty of rain, they will say that they could do with some dry weather until they have got in their hay. But at the moment they feel more or less satisfied that the Government are trying to do something for them. One farmer made a complaint to me which I think is well worth consideration. Under an Order farmers receive £2 per acre for ploughing up fresh ground, and I made the remark to the farmer that he had done very well in getting £2 an acre for the new ground that he was turning over. He said that when they ploughed they could not get close to the fence and had to leave a fraction, and that the Ministry officials measured up the fraction and deducted it from the total acreage of the field. To me, that seems to be rather mean. I should have thought that, if a field inside the fencing covered a certain acreage, and the man farming it did his ploughing as close as possible to the hedge or fence, at least the Ministry would be prepared to pay for the total acreage. He told me—I do not know whether it is correct or not—that the man who came round said that there was half a yard all round, and that the amount was calculated and deducted from the total acreage. If that is so, I think it is taking the thing rather too far. The total acreage of the field should be taken, and when the farmer has done his best to get, so to speak, as near the bone as possible, the Ministry ought to be prepared to pay for the whole acreage. It is much harder for the man with a number of small fields to plough close to the fence than it is for the man with a large field, and I suggest that this is a matter which the Parliamentary Secretary might keep in mind.
I am not a farmer's man, and I do not know much about agriculture, but I am vitally interested in the prosecution of the war, and I realise that, if we are to win the war, it is necessary, among other things, to have in our own little island sufficient food to keep us going if the enemy tries to prevent food from being brought into this country. That is why to-night I heartily join in helping the Minister of Agriculture to make every effort to win the war.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in his opening remarks mentioned that Members on the Government side of the Committee spoke and then went out of the Chamber.
I want to say that I agree whole-heartedly with the hon. Member when, in his opening remarks, he offered congratulations to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) who now sits on the Front Government Bench. I have been in this House for many years, and I have appreciated to the full all the interest which he has taken in this great industry during the time he has been here. The speech of the Minister this afternoon brought home to us very conclusively the great change that has come over British agriculture in the last few months. At one time agriculture was considered rather as a national luxury which was to be subsidised by the State to keep it alive for its amenity value. To-day, agriculture, and the practice of that industry, has become a national necessity. Farmers, at one time, grew whatever crops they liked in their own interests and crops which they thought would pay them best. Now, all personal gain and interest has to give way to the national interest, and farmers to-day are working in that interest, with the one object of producing the greatest possible quantity of foodstuffs in this country. The agricultural labourer was once considered an unskilled man, a mere manual worker, but at last he has come into his own and is now recognised as a skilled man, worthy of a skilled man's wage. That is the change that has come over agriculture. The measures which the Government have recently advanced have to a large extent brought about that change, and for them we thank the Government. They have raised agricultural wages to 48s. per week, and the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) would have liked to have seen wages related to hours.
I agree that there should be 48s. a week for 48 hours' work, and that if a county wishes its men to work 54 hours, it should put the wages up to 54s. In the past the farmer has grown his crops for his own personal gain, and in his operations has had to consider keeping his land clean and the building-up of the fertility of the soil. To-day it is not for him to consider the building-up of the fertility of his land. In the national interest he is cashing-in on the fertility built up in past years. By taxation, whether Income Tax or Excess Profits Tax, the farmer's income will be definitely limited, and therefore both he and the agricultural worker are working not for themselves but for the country. The income of a farmer depends directly upon the weather. One year he may make a good profit, but in the next the weather is bad, and instead of a profit he makes a loss. I should like to ask the Minister, when considering the question of taxation, to remember not to take too much away in a good year and so prevent the farmer being able to meet a year when adverse conditions prevail.
A great responsibility rests on the farmer to-day. He has to organise for food production. It is not a question whether a crop pays. The question he has to decide is whether the commodity that he is producing is the best one in the national interest, and on that question he would like the advice of the Government. It may be and possibly is being assumed that, because bread is the staff of life, wheat should be the first commodity in the list of production, but I would ask the Minister whether that is correct. An acre of wheat with fair average land produces something like four quarters. At 4½ cwts. to the quarter it would produce 18 cwts. an acre. An acre of potatoes producing 7 tons an acre produces 2½ tons of food products per acre. An acre under sugar beet at 10 tons per acre produces 1½ tons of actual sugar. I should like to submit those figures to the Minister and ask for his advice as to which of those crops is the best in the national interest for the farmer to grow. There is another crop. It is possible to grow 30 tons an acre of carrots. I would suggest to the Government and the war executive committees that fair land should have a rotation. The practice of agriculture is the rotation of crops. You cannot grow wheat or potatoes year after year. You cannot grow sugar beet year after year. There must be a rotation of crops. Can we get a rotation that will produce the largest possible quantity of foodstuffs? I suggest that we can by means of a three-course rotation of the crops which I have mentioned—wheat, followed by potatoes, followed by sugar beet. All these crops produce a large quantity of essential foodstuffs. I know from practical experience that this rotation is possible, for it is the rotation that I am working.
No, only on land that is suitable for sugar beet. If there is too much clay in the land, it is not economic to grow sugar beet. I should like briefly to refer to the remark of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that the time had come for us to feed more simply with more nutritious foods. The representative of the Ministry of Food is not present at the moment, but I suggest to the Minister that all the bread we are eating is white bread which has had the greatest sustenance taken from it. In order to make the best use of the wheat which we are growing in this country, we should make wholemeal bread, and do away with all white bread. The right hon. Gentleman also spoke of a great deal of fourth-rate land that is going out of cultivation. It has gone out of cultivation because in the past agriculture was treated as being of no importance. That land can be brought back into cultivation and stored up energy can be used, but to bring it back into cultivation will cost money. I am afraid that a great deal of it will have to be brought back into cultivation by the war agricultural committees or by the Minister himself, because neither the tenants nor the landowners can afford to spend the amount of money that will be necessary. Finally, I want to assure the Minister that the farmers and the labourers are not merely willing but anxious to do their bit, as the Army, Navy and Air Force are doing their bit, to win the war, and to let Hitler know that when he attempts to attack this country he is going to bite off more than he can chew.
What I appreciated most about the Minister's statement this afternoon was that he made no attempt to evade the fact that this is practically a one-year programme, and that it is governed by the grim necessities of the present military situation. Having listened to the Minister's very practical statement, I realised that a general expression of views on agricultural policy would be irrelevant at the present time. I have been a severe critic of the policy which successive Governments have followed with regard to agriculture. Now that we are facing the present emergency, and as we look back over the last 20 years of wasted effort, and find ourselves, on the Minister's own admission, in a situation in which, in the first year of the war, the agricultural and food produc- tion position is worse than it was in 1917, I hope that when this Committee once more resumes the examination of a long-term policy for agriculture we shall not repeat the mistakes of the past, and that we shall recognise that the mere pouring of sums of money into the industry in no way settles its basic problems.
The most encouraging feature in the Minister's statement, although I recognise that for the moment it is limited and relates to the immediate programme of increased production next year, was the decision, even under present conditions, to organise a survey of agricultural production in this country. I sincerely trust that that survey, although used for its immediate purpose, will be used also as a starting point for a new agricultural policy in the future. It should yield an immense amount of valuable information with regard to the condition of the farming land of this country—types of soil in different localities, the yield of foods, and the type of foods which can be most economically produced. An adequate survey is vital. In the past our policy has been haphazard. Sometimes we have given a grant, a subsidy or a "dole" to this or that phase of agriculture which has led farmers to turn from one subsidised product to another. This survey will, I hope, be used to give us the knowledge whereby we can stabilise and redirect production and begin to produce a balanced food supply.
I should like to support and emphasise the references which were made by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) with regard to the encouragement of allotments. It is only natural in a Debate of this description, covering a year's emergency production, that the weight of opinion should express itself on the main field of production, namely, the farm land of this country. That aspect has been so extensively dealt with, that I feel that there is no need to keep on repeating the arguments. With regard to allotment production, there again the experience of the Ministry of Agriculture has been unhappy. There have been spurts in production, and then allotments have again fallen out of favour, and again a good deal of prejudice has had to be overcome. I think that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will agree that there has been an encouraging response during the last six or eight months, although, of course, it has not been nearly sufficient. The point, therefore, arises whether the first burst into allotment production cannot he considerably increased this autumn ready for next year.
There is no need for gloomy or alarmist speeches on this matter. The average citizen appreciates the main facts of the situation which he has to face in regard to food supply. The Parliamentary Secretary, however, should bear in mind that the point has emerged clearly in this Debate that while the farmers grasp the general objective of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry's own survey and examination of the problem have impressed on them the need of detailed direction. That applies to the general community. The average housewife is conversant with the source of her seasonal supplies and knows that most of them at certain seasons have to come from abroad. She is sufficiently intelligent and practical to realise that these sources of supply are now cut off. It is not an alarmist, gloomy and hopeless picture for her. She knows that these sources of supply are to be denied to this country while the present situation in Europe, the Channel Islands, in the Mediterranean and other places prevails. As regards a considerable increase in ultimate production, we must aim not at a 5, 10 or 20 per cent. increase, but direct our energies to get a vast increase in production in every direction. To a large number of working-class families, particularly those who are on fixed and low wages, an allotment can play an important part. In certain circumstances the prices of many green vegetables and salads will be beyond the reach of that type of family. It is all very well for Members to emphasise the nutritive value of an increased variety of foods of that type, but when they are necessary they are often beyond the capacity of a large number of people who want that type of food to purchase.
I suggest that propaganda among women's organisations would be valuable in this direction. I know that the question has been referred to local authorities, but they have rather a lot on their plates at the present moment. Now that the Ministry of Information have established their local committees, one of the jobs of which is to establish an intimate contact with people in the streets and in organisations and to provide them with current information, I suggest that lectures or personal explanation or information should be given through trade union branches, co-operative organisations, Conservative and Liberal organisations, women's institutes, women's guilds, women's sections and bodies of that kind. The information should not be of an alarmist type to the effect that people will starve and that kind of thing, but should bring out in a business-like way the problems they will have to face in particular seasons with regard to certain supplies of foods that are essential, the high prices they are likely to have to pay, and the vital necessity with regard to their own domestic economy of thinking ahead and making their own contributions. I am convinced that if the women of our country, especially the working women, could have this problem brought home to them by propaganda which would put it before them from the point of view of their own domestic budgets rather than in a purely general way, they could influence their men folk enormously, and they would take care to see that every bit of the garden which could be cultivated was used for food production. In that way we should get a considerable increase of foodstuff.
One thing which has rather interested me to-night is that this is the first agricultural Debate in which I have taken part in which no representative of the farmers has complained about prices. The new schedule of prices has not been referred to, but I should like to deal with it. First, I would say that I do not approach this schedule of prices in the circumstances in which we are to-day in the way that I should do if we had to look at agriculture in relation to other industries and problems. During a war the Government of the day foster production and pay the price necessary to get it, but if that is done without regard to efficient and economical production, then the politicians desert the farmer after the war, and the collapse is correspondingly severe. A schedule of prices, either in war-time or in peace-time, should, in my view, always bear the test of a measurement, but we never get any indication from the representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture of any measurement test which they apply when prices are being fixed. We have had wheat increased by 32 per cent., oats by 26 per cent., potatoes by 20 per cent., sheep by 17 per cent., pigs by 11 per cent., and sugar-beet by 6 per cent., an average of about 20 per cent.
Here we see a contradiction develop in Government policy. There are 14 main items in the food section that goes to make up the cost of living, and this schedule of increased prices will affect very materially several items in the cost-of-living food index. I cannot vouch for it myself, but I asked an agricultural expert and a statistical expert to check it up for me, and they told me that it will advance prices by approximately 20 per cent. We have, on the other hand, the Ministry of Food conveying to the public an entirely different impression by the representations it is making to food traders to put up cheap packets of food. Perhaps it is too strong to say that it is farcical, but it conveys an entirely false impression to the community with regard to the effect that these cheap packets of food will have on their domestic budgets. I think it is a wrong policy to create two impressions in the minds of the public with regard to food. If the Government are of opinion that the circumstances are such that we cannot escape an increase in the price of foodstuffs, they should permit that fact to be absorbed by the public. It is wrong for two Government Departments to put out opposing ideas. The Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture are related intimately in the public mind; in fact, the public can hardly see any difference in the purpose of these Departments. I shall deal more fully with the Ministry of Food when that Department comes under review. In regard to the schedule of prices, it will advance approximately 20 per cent., and will increase considerably several items in the cost-of-living index, yet another Government Department is endeavouring to convey that as propaganda elsewhere. I do not want to stress this point just now.
I feel that we must look at the schedule of prices as a war-time programme. If the Ministry can convey to the public generally and to this House that the test is fair, no one will begrudge this schedule of prices. As a matter of fact, I ask again that a test should be applied on an ordinary farm, predominantly a dairy farm, to ascertain the effect of the new schedule of prices, taking into consideration particularly the new increase of agricultural wage rates up to 48s. per week. In the test that was given to me of a predominantly dairy farm, only the in- creased milk prices were taken into consideration. The increase in wages on the farm will amount to £1,400 a year, yet the increased revenue from milk prices alone will amount to £2,948, a surplus of £1,548 on milk revenue alone, over and above the increased wages costs. Of course, there are other expenses to be taken into consideration, but that appears to be a very reasonable margin, apart from the increased prices of other articles that the farm may produce. As I say, one must expect, even in the present grim situation, that a Government Department, putting out a schedule of prices, and such economic reactions, should give to the country and the House of Commons some measure in regard to those matters.
There are other topics that I should like to touch upon, but, in view of the time, I will content myself with emphasising that if the Ministry wish to increase allotment production, the campaign must start immediately, because some weeks will elapse before it sinks into the minds of the community. During the last eight or 10 months, while we have heard a lot about food supply, nobody in the country has actually gone short of food. Ordinary routines of diet have hardly been interrupted. Therefore, I emphasise that, particularly in towns and urban areas, an immediate campaign would ease the situation in tens of thousands of working class homes next spring, summer and autumn.
My other point is that I sincerely hope the Minister will use the information that the survey is expected to yield, for current purposes, to begin to lay the foundation of a new policy such as we have never yet had in this country. It is that an efficiency production test should govern the granting of such aids as subsidies from the State. During war conditions, we might have to put up with the fact that the schedule of prices may keep the most inefficient farmer in production but because, at the moment, we cannot allow him to go out of production, that policy will not see agriculture through in time of normal peace economy. I see no reason why at this present moment a survey should not be used by the Department for the purpose of getting those conditions in a preparatory stage, so that when this war is over we can once more confront the problem of agriculture as a normal part of our life. We shall then get the maximum degree of unity, an efficient agricultural system related to the needs of the consumers as well as the producers, and we shall be on the way to forming the basis of permanent agricultural prosperity.
So far in this Debate nothing has been said about the position of the market gardener and the fruit grower, and they are people who employ more labour to the acre than any farmer. They are in a position now of having to pay the extra wage without any promise, so far as I can make out from the Minister, that they will be recompensed in any way at all. A great many market gardeners have been in the habit of growing flowers and bulbs as well as their market-garden produce, and a great many acres of flowers and bulbs have been ploughed up at the instance of the agricultural committees and replaced by vegetables. I find in my constituency great dissatisfaction at the vast number of lettuces which are going to seed because there is no market for them, cabbages which nobody wants and carrots which they cannot sell. The position of these unfortunate people is attacked on both sides. On the one side the most admirable allotment movement is producing an increasing quantity of vegetables, and on the other side the farmer in a big way of business is growing large acreages of such things as sprouts and cabbages. That puts the market gardener in a deplorable position, because while the farmer in a big way can perfectly well grow corn instead of vegetables, a market gardener cannot grow corn in a small acreage.
Then there is the question of the fruit grower, whose costs of cultivation and spraying are tremendously high. Last winter the price of apples was perfectly appalling. What will be the position this next winter? Then there is the question of the black currant crop, which is now being gathered. Many growers were led to believe by the newspapers that the Government had fixed a price of £56 a ton, and a great many growers entered into bargains to sell their currants more or less around that price. They now find that it is a free market, and those people who did not make such bargains may possibly get prices considerably higher. All that sort of thing causes great uneasiness and dissatisfaction. If the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some hope that the efforts of these unfortunate people to supply the country with what the country wants are going to be met with prices which will actually pay them, they will be very much obliged indeed to the Minister.
I am sure that the hon. Member who has just spoken has deserved the thanks of the fruit-growing section of agriculture for what he has said. He represents one of the most important fruit-growing districts in England, and, as one coming from a much smaller fruit-growing district and being a fruit grower on a small scale, I know how true are his words. I am quite certain that nobody doubts that the farmers and the farm workers of this country will do everything that they possibly can to carry out the vigorous policy and programme that has been outlined by the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon. The farmers realise their responsibility in the matter, and the farm workers realise it, too. The Government have recognised the vital importance of agriculture by doing what they can to safeguard the labour supply. Agriculture feels that it is in exactly the same position as the munition workers, and that it has to turn out every ounce of food it possibly can. One of the most salient features of the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon was the part in which he pointed out how much worse fitted in many respects we were in 1939 to face the threat of blockade than we were in 1914. That is a terrible reflection on this House of Commons. We who belong to the generation that lived through the last war remember the promises that were made then, the hopes that were entertained, the realisation that came to us of the vital necessity of agriculture. This House of Commons, and everyone of us, in greater or less degree, shares some responsibility.
I quite agree with my hon. Friend. At the end of 25 years, agriculture is in a worse position to help the nation in its hour of need than it was in 1914. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman recognises that fact, because unless you can diagnose the disease you cannot accurately prescribe the remedy. The root cause of the evil and difficulty with which he has to grapple is the fact that the great majority of farmers in this country have no financial resources at all. Their land has been under-farmed for years, not through any lack of goodwill or of skill on their part, but simply because they had not the financial resources to carry them through; they were not getting the prices to enable them to farm in the way they would have liked. That goes right through the whole of the farms of this country. The land, the farm buildings, the implements, instead of being in A1 condition, are all in C3 condition. That is the problem that faces the right hon. Gentleman. I was very glad to see how fully he recognises that, and also how fully he recognises the effect on the landowners of the present conditions. You cannot get your farm buildings or cottages kept in proper repair unless somebody has the financial means to do it. I would point out to my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches that one of the results of raising the agricultural wage—and we all welcome the raising of the agricultural wage—is that the wages of everybody in the villages will have to go up. That means that the cost of all repairs to cottages and of all repairs to farm buildings is going up. The Government passed a law last September, which was very right in its object, to prevent the raising of cottage rents. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that unless some amendment is made in that Act, he will find it impossible to carry out cottage repairs in different parts of the country. The real key to the whole of this problem, as has been said time and again, is to secure that the farmer gets a fair price for his produce. If you will give him that, then you have gone nine-tenths of the way to solve your problems.
I want to give my right hon. Friend and the Committee one little bit of experience that I have had in the last few years, which, I think, had a bearing on what he was saying this afternoon, and I was reminded by those words of that experience. I have always been very sorry that past Governments have not made more use of the Agricultural Marketing Act. I have always thought marketing reform—as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has so often said—was one of the most hopeful methods by which you could help agri- culture. I am not going into that tonight, but when the Milk Board and the Pigs Board were started they were not given a fair chance, and the discouragement and difficulties with which these boards met caused a whole setback to the marketing movement in this country.
I was instrumental in starting the first marketing board that was ever set up. It was a small marketing board—the Hops Marketing Board—which has been functioning very successfully ever since the year 1932. I want to tell the Committee of the unforeseen result that few of us anticipated when that board was set up. When I am talking about hops, I want the Committee to realise that I am not suggesting that hops are similar to every other crop in this country. They are not, but especially when you deal with such crops as fruit and other rather specialised crops, there is enough similarity in this analogy for us to learn a useful lesson. When the Hops Board was set up the hop-growing industry was in a state of bankruptcy. The setting-up of the board had to be approved by the House of Commons and at the time it was violently opposed by the brewers. There was a very touching alliance, I remember, between the brewers and Lord Astor to try to wreck the establishment of the Hops Board. The brewers were afraid that the establishment of the board would mean that they would have to pay more for their hops—and Lord Astor objected to the whole of the marketing policy of the Government—and, of course, the only reason why the farmers were supporting the hops scheme was that they hoped it would give them a better price for their hops. Owing to the difference of opinion and the acute controversy that existed at the time of its inauguration, the life of the scheme was limited by Parliament to seven years, and at the end of that time we had to go back to the Ministry of Agriculture and ask for a renewal of the scheme. We then had the whole-hearted and enthusiastic support of the brewers.
Lord Astor, I think, is still opposed to it. He remains the one just man. The brewers entirely changed round, and why? It was not because they had not to pay more for their hops—they had had to pay more—and not because they liked paying more than was necessary for what they bought, but because they found that the quality of the hops they were getting had steadily improved. Why? It was because the farmers were getting better prices for their produce, were able to cultivate their hops properly, grow bigger and better qualities of hops, buy modern machinery and put the latest type of kilns into their oast houses. You cannot find a more businesslike set of business men in this country than brewers, and very deliberately they came to the conclusion, as the result of their experiences, that it paid them as customers to pay a little bit more and have an agricultural industry that could supply a first-class article instead of having to rely on a third-class article. That was not foreseen by anybody at that time. If you give the farmers in this country a fair deal in regard to prices—whether you do it by subsidies, tariffs or marketing boards is not the point; we are not discussing that now—and at the same time give them security, they will spend money and raise new capital so that they can farm in the very best fashion.
I am a little bit nervous about one aspect of the policy of my right hon. Friend, although I realise that it commends itself to the enthusiasm of many Members of this Committee. I do not know whether he actually said so, but my right hon. Friend gave the impression that the Government would tell every farmer what he ought to grow on each field on his farm and how to grow it. I hope my right hon. Friend does not really intend to go as far as that, because the farmers of this country are not fools and are not inefficient. There are no two fields in the whole country that are the same, and the man who knows best what his fields are capable of is the man who has been farming them for a number of years. Therefore, the idea that scientists from agricultural colleges, bureaucrats from London or county war agricultural committees will be necessarily always right, and the farmer who has farmed the land always wrong, is a doctrine to which I, personally, cannot subscribe. It is a great mistake to think that the farmers of this country are inefficient as farmers, although I quite agree that they are not good sellers or marketers. But on the question of getting the best crops out of land the farmer, in nine cases out of ten is the best judge. I quite agree that the Government will have to legislate to provide for the minority of cases, but I think there will be only a minority, and a small minority, of cases, in which a newcomer to the land will be able to tell the farmer more about his particular soil than he knows.
I see that my right hon. Friend does not agree, but I beg to differ. Inefficient farmers have not been able to survive during the last few years; it is only the efficient men who have been able to survive, and the fact that they have been farming on a "C" scale does not necessarily prove that they were fools. It means they were farming in such a way as to keep them out of the bankruptcy court in the conditions of the time. When you give him an assurance of decent prices and he realises, as he does, what his national duty is, that man, if he is not an inefficient farmer, will know better than most people what his own farm can produce. It is a great mistake to suppose that farmers do not pay attention to the results of science. I have been struck enormously, in the last few years especially, by the fact that the younger generation of farmers—most farmers farm with their sons on the land; it is the young men who keep the old men up to date—are exceedingly alive to the advances of science. But what you can do in the laboratory and in a Government experimental farm is not necessarily what you can do under ordinary farming conditions. That is the only caveat that I would put to the right hon. Gentleman's policy.
Then we have had rather an attack on the banks by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and that was followed up more drastically by the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère). I happen to be a part-time farmer and also a part-time banker, so I see both sides of the case, but I do not think that what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said about the banks was quite fair, although I think a tilt at the penguins of the City is always dear to his heart. After all, the banks have lent £50,000,000 to the farmers, and I know that no banker is pressing any farming account at present, if for no other reason than that the Government have asked him not to do it, and no case has ever been brought to my notice since the war began of any bank behaving harshly to any farmer. But really you will not get over the problem simply by credit. What is preventing farmers from borrowing more from the banks is the fact that they know they will have to repay one day. They have to see their way to get their money back. You come back to that every time. You will not find responsible, reasonable men willing to borrow money unless they can see their way to pay it back. So again you come back, as you always do, to the question of prices.
There are one or two questions that I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary. The first is in regard to the ploughing-up of commons, which was dealt with by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton).
I want to go further. What the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said is true. We have to make the best use of every acre of land in the country. The right hon. Gentleman said that what we regard as fourth-class and useless land the people of Denmark have cultivated. That is also true. There are thousands of acres of land round where he lives which have not been cultivated in the memory of man. I want to ask the Minister whether he proposes to take any steps to cultivate these great stretches of heatherland. I believe that some of them—I do not say all of them—would be capable of growing a potato crop next year. I do not see why this should not also be applied to commons. The right hon. Gentleman has got to be drastic in his policy; he has got to go the whole hog. Let him get all the machinery he can, let him call upon the farmers to do everything he requires them to do. There are then these great tracts of Crown Land, much of which is required for the manoeuvring of troops, and therefore is perhaps not available for agriculture, although I do not think the two are really incompatible. Troops manoeuvre on my farm without doing any harm. These great tracts of Crown Land and commons do not represent the best agricultural land in the country no doubt, but I am sure that much of that land is capable of growing a potato crop. I hope this matter will receive the consideration of the Ministry of Agriculture, if it has not yet received it.
The right hon. Gentleman told us that he is providing machinery to enable farmers to carry out this programme. I want to ask him what he is doing about ensilage. Is he providing the silos to enable the requisite amount of ensilage to be made this season? My information—and I think I am entitled to give it to the Committee, for it did not reach me from any confidential source—is that the Ministry of Agriculture have been anxious for the past two months to order, or arrange for the ordering of, a large number of silos, but they have been held up by objections from the Treasury. I should be very much obliged if the Parliamentary Secretary would correct that impression on my part, if it is a false impression, and also tell us exactly what steps the Ministry have taken to provide for silos in order to carry out the ensilage programme.
There was then a very pertinent question raised by one of my hon. Friends earlier in the Debate, of which the Minister of Agriculture recognised the importance, though if he did not deal with it. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us a little bit more about it. It is the question of the provision of further housing accommodation for rural workers. That strikes me as being a particularly difficult and fearfully important problem. As has been pointed out, owing to the depression of the last 20 years, the population on the land has been steadily dwindling, fewer farm cottages have been required, and therefore, the cottages have either been sold to week-enders and turned into something more like country houses than cottages, or simply allowed to tumble down because the landlord had not the money to keep them in repair. Therefore, there are thousands fewer cottages than there were in 1914. The Government now want this greatly increased agricultural output, and it will be necessary to have more men working on the land. I know that the right hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of providing further housing accommodation, but I confess that I do not quite see how he is going to do it at the present time. If the Parliamentary Secretary could take us a little bit into his confidence, and tell us what are the Government's plans in that respect, I am sure the Committee would be very much interested.
I do not see how we are to get this programme carried out unless we get more men working in agriculture. Women cannot do it all themselves. Farmers feel at the present moment—and I am not saying whether they are right or wrong—that the agricultural wage which has been fixed for the women land workers is higher than a woman is capable of earning, even with improved prices. That is why there are thousands of would-be land girls whom farmers are unwilling to take on. They cannot see their way to getting a return from a girl, because she has not the physical strength. I myself have had four land girls on my farm, and I am bound to say that they are not an economical source of labour. It is a thing which all of us, in a position to do so, should support, but there are so many things on a farm which a woman has not the physical strength to do that is not a cheap form of labour. I do not know how the Government are going to get over it; but you cannot force farmers to employ land girls, and it may be that the wage will have to be reconsidered.
I should like to conclude by wishing my right hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary every success in the Herculean task which they have undertaken. It falls to their lot to make good the mistakes of 25 years, and they have to do it in 12 months. They will have the good wishes of everyone in this House and everyone outside it, and I am quite certain that if the Government take the agricultural industry as a whole into their confidence, and work with farmers, farm workers and landowners, and appeal to them in the spirit of colleagues, striving for the common cause, they will find agriculturists willing to do everything they can to make that programme a success.
For these past several years I have been one of the chief unpaid advisers to various Ministers of Agriculture, and it is therefore, a welcome change to be able now to receive all this free advice. I assure hon. Members that if their advice is nearly as good as that which I used to give, it will be carefully sifted and acted upon.
The Noble Lord can rest assured that my own advice will not only be acted upon, but I hope that as a result of my association with my right hon. Friend, it will also be improved upon. I think I have heard nearly every speech which has been made, except a maiden speech, and there has been little or no criticism until the end. My right hon. Friend fortunately is a man of action, as has been evidenced by the steps he has already taken in regard to wages, prices, labour, technical assistance, drainage and the powers referred to to-day. If my right hon. Friend can only have a few more months to operate, the area of criticism will have been severely limited. A lot has been said about farming from Whitehall, and I hope my right hon. Friend will never attempt to do so, but I am sure it is his intention to do everything he possibly can to help farmers to achieve the maximum results on every farm in the country. The farmer who fails the nation at this moment ought to be given very little sympathy indeed.
Before dealing with the many points of a general character that have been raised, I should like to make one or two observations with regard to labour and drainage. As hon. Members will know, there has been a general decline since 1921. From 1929 to 1939 the number lost was no fewer than 100,000 labourers. Since hostilities began a further 70,000 left the farms to enter the Services or for better-paid employment. In the early days of the war the age of reservation for nearly all classes was 21, but more recently there has been a change in the age of reservation, and now, for farmers, crofters, smallholders, bailiffs, stewards, foremen, headmen, carters, horsemen, ploughmen, machine attendants, tractor drivers and threshing machine attendants the age of reservation has been reduced to 18. Key workers at 20 can apply for postponement, and the first postponement can be extended until the person arrives at 21, after which he would become reserved. I am bound to say the Army authorities have been extremely generous in their attitude towards these applications for postponement. Still, however, a very serious labour problem remains. A clause was embodied in Government contracts in the hope that all labour supply for them would be recruited from Employment Exchanges, but this was found not to be watertight. It was the vast disparity between the wages of agricultural and urban workers which made it well nigh impossible to retain agricultural labour upon the land.
Therefore, if this last campaign and the new campaign about to commence are to have any chance of success, some drastic steps had to be taken to deal with the labour problem. My right hon. Friend, in co-operation with the Minister of Labour and with the approval of the National Farmers' Union and the trade-union representatives, devised the threefold policy to deal with wages, prices and the virtual conscription of agricultural labour as the only conceivable means of a voiding a further drift from the land and of attracting back to the land agricultural labourers who had left to go on Government contracts, when those contracts were completed. That has at least steadied the position, but it has in no way solved the real labour problem on the land. Other measures have been taken, and my right hon. Friend has appealed to local authorities in the country to release roadmen with agricultural experience so that they may render service in agriculture for various periods during the year. Then my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Labour jointly have appealed to farmers, where conscientious objectors are available, to accept them and train them and allow them to fulfil the conditions imposed upon them by the tribunals when they gave exemption from military service. While agriculture is so peculiar that we have approximately 300,000 effective farms and 550,000 agricultural labourers, regular and seasonal, which is less than two labourers for each farm, it is easy to see that agriculture must be maintained by skilled men. Yet there is and will be great scope for supplementary labour for seasonal and harvesting work.
My right hon. Friend's predecessor and my right hon. Friend have devised various schemes to supplement the labour that is available. The Women's Land Army may not have achieved the dimensions that some people would desire, but at least 8,000 women have been recruited for it, and almost all are now working on the land. I am bound to say that the experience of the Noble Lord is not uniform throughout the country, for there are on record cases in which farmers have been grateful that they were able to get members of the Women's Land Army; and in any case, if the situation is as grave as we all know it to be, if a woman is willing to be trained and to work in agriculture 2s. or 3s. a week ought not to make the difference between whether a farmer will employ that woman or not. While my right hon. Friend is doing his best to recruit for them such labour as is available, I hope that farmers will take members of the Women's Land Army who have been trained for the work.
Then there is the Women's Land Army Auxiliary Force, for seasonal work. They can be of great use for harvesting. An appeal was sent to all the universities to recruit students to work during the vacation for one or two weeks, or a month, or 10 weeks. I am delighted to say that no fewer than 2,000 students have agreed to work on the land, their readiness to work being, so far, rather in advance of the willingness of the farmers to accept their services, and I understand that 200 or 300 students are still available for farmers. Then my right hon. Friend has been attempting, in co-operation with the Association of Headmasters, to recruit boys from public schools and secondary schools, and to utilise such labour as may be available at holiday camps, and civilian internees and prisoners of war will be readily accepted for work on the land where they have knowledge of agriculture. An appeal has also been made to holiday makers. Whatever part of the country they may go to, if they feel they would like to put in a few days or a week's work on a farm, they should apply to the local Employment Exchange. In certain parts of the country gang labour has been organised, not perhaps on a very large scale, but at least a start has been made in that direction.
Finally, and here I would reply to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay), a scheme for elementary school boys has been produced, and for the first time in its history the Ministry of Agriculture has taken over a function originally carried out by the Ministry of Labour. Where a boy of 14 can be persuaded to accept work on a farm and a farmer can be found willing to accept him, the Treasury will pay the farmer 12s. a week for the first month, 8s. a week for the second month, and 4s. a week for the third month. During that period all that the boy receives from the farmer is board and lodging and 2s. 6d. a week spending money. We do not expect that in England and Scotland we shall get a large influx of boys of 14, but everyone may make a permanent worker and augment our general agricultural labour supply. But in spite of all the efforts we have made, farmers have not been very helpful so far. It may be that the announcement of the increases of wages before the appearance of the new schedule of prices caused hesitation on the part of farmers, but I hope that the new schedule of prices, the new survey which is taking place, and the advice and the guidance which are being given to them, will inspire farmers to make the best use of all sources of labour.
Before the hon. Gentleman passes from the question in regard to farm work, I would like to ask whether it will be possible for the farmer to retain that boy after the period of training? In the other scheme, I think, the boy could go to another man?
So far as I understand the scheme, there is no obligation upon a boy to remain with any particular farmer. If the boy remains with one farmer for three months, the farmer provides the boy with the training and receives the Treasury grant for the whole three months. I assume that the farmer's treatment of the boy will largely determine whether the boy remains with that farmer or not. We can only hope that a community of interest between the farmer and the boy will grow up, during the period of training.
I would say another word in regard to drainage. I know that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is particularly interested in drainage. I need not make a lengthy reference to the Act of 1930 dealing with main rivers, except to say that schemes already approved, for which grants have been provided, amount to approximately £13,000,000. Instead of sending the catchment board a postcard or even a circular letter, the executive of the National Catchment Board were sent for from London, and they were invited to concentrate upon those schemes on the main rivers, which would help to provide an increase in the harvests for 1940–41. We understand that to concentrate upon lesser rather than upon larger schemes would involve about £7,000,000. I need not say that the catchment board executive expressed their readiness and willingness to comply with the request of my right hon. Friend.
The scheme by which smaller watercourses dealt with under the terms of the 1937 Act, by district drainage boards or county or county boroughs, where 50 per cent. grant can be obtained, either for public or private works, has now been accelerated tremendously, and the number of schemes received and approved since 1st January this year is almost 50 per cent. of the total of the schemes that have been received since October, 1937. The total number of schemes approved so far will cost £1,100,000, and it is expected that they will benefit no fewer than 1,000,000 acres of land. I repeat that, since 1st January, the procedure has been to some extent simplified, and we hope to simplify it further. We hope that circumlocution will be cut out and that action will be accelerated.
As to the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act, 1940, under the provisions dealing with the farm watercourses and not with main rivers, only one new scheme has been so far submitted, although 50 are on the way. This is very disappointing indeed, but is very largely due to the dilatory procedure. A case was brought to his notice, in which my right hon. Friend had no hesitation whatever in taking action, and almost immediately a regulation was produced to short-circuit the procedure of the 1940 Act. Now, if the county executive, examining the area, decide that a drainage scheme ought to go through, they invite the catchment board to prepare one, but before they do so they have to ascertain the names and addresses of owners in the area and give them time to lodge objections against any scheme, to apply to see the scheme after it is produced, and, after, to have further time to put in their objection. Long before the scheme is approved and well on the way, the next war will be over.
My right hon. Friend has accelerated that procedure and now the war executive committee, having made up their mind that this area of land ought to be drained, invite the catchment board to prepare a scheme. They prepare a scheme at once, and all these formalities will be dealt with while the scheme is in course of preparation. We hope that schemes will now come in at a very rapid rate and that a further 250,000 acres will be drained in the course of a short period of time. Mole drainage was dealt with in the 1940 Act, and schemes calculated to improve 33,000 acres have already been approved. The only missing link, as I see it at the moment, is tile drainage, and that was dealt with by my right hon. Friend in his speech. I do not think I need make any further reference to that.
Drainage authorities have the labour problem just as much as farmers. They have already lost 15 per cent. of their skilled operatives, largely for better paid work, and they are finding it extremely difficult to carry on their work in those circumstances. The age of reservation has now been reduced from 30 to 18, and other measures are being considered to augment their labour supply. But they have a further problem with regard to machinery, for the War Office have requisitioned a large part of their excavating machinery for defence works, and we can only hope that because drainage work is held up for the moment, the War Office will very quickly return this machinery to our catchment boards. If we can supply the catchment boards with labour and machinery, hundreds of thousands of acres can readily be restored to fertility, and it is the object of my right hon. Friend to see that that is done at the earliest possible moment.
Now to the more general questions raised in the course of the Debate. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) referred to conditions in Sussex and generally in the South, which, unfortunately, are too general in all parts of the country. Whether the farmers have not farmed because of their lack of knowledge or their poverty, I am unable to say at the moment, and from my point of view it matters little or nothing. What we are concerned about is what we shall do in future with that land which has only been partially cultivated. As to the scheme outlined by my right hon. Friend to-day, with 11 new liaison officers and expert staffs from the colleges working in conjunction with members of the war agri- cultural executives, we shall expect them to apply themselves to areas such as that described by the Noble Lord, and we hope to see the results of their activities in the harvest of 1940–41. I can at this moment reply to the Noble Lord who spoke last with regard to ploughing up the commons. Where it is felt that a crop can be obtained in the next harvest, we think it would be quite reasonable to plough up any proportion of that land, and instructions and advice will be tendered accordingly.
I think that my right hon. Friend said he intended to be ruthless, and if he will have no partial affections and if no private interests will stand in his way, then I expect uniform treatment is bound to be meted out. With regard to the question of grass verges, I notice that the Ministry of Agriculture did send out a letter to county councils as late as last April, inviting them to deal with grass obtainable from grass verges. I am informed that the Ministry of Health, as a result of the Noble Lord's representation, have sent instructions to their divisional road engineers in the London and Southern areas, asking them to draw the attention of highway authorities to the need for making the best use of roadside grass. I hope that that advice will be taken.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs almost embarrassed me by his congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Minister. When I heard him welcome the survey, welcome my right hon. Friend's drainage proposals, and welcome the compulsory powers that my right hon. Friend intended to take, I wondered whether there would be anything left for the right hon. Gentleman to criticise. However, he came back to one of my own pet subjects, namely, marketing. I am bound to confess that I agree with every word he said with regard to marketing, and I hope that he will enjoy himself next Thursday, when the Ministry of Food are answering for their sins, and that he will invite them to get on with schemes for different commodities, including vegetables. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) knows something about the hops scheme, and has been for years an advocate of better marketing schemes. Some of the marketing schemes which emerged from the 1931 Act have never fulfilled the purposes from which they were intended. They have tended to become price-fixing schemes, and we find to-day that in some instances, instead of the number of people between the producer and the consumer being reduced, it is actually increased. There must be some room for efficiency and real organisation in the marketing boards.
With regard to credit, all I can say is this: The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot always came back, whatever practical proposal was made or whatever difficulty appeared to be in the way of the farmer, to the question of prices. It may be that my right hon. Friend has miscalculated, but if his calculation is anywhere near correct, this new schedule of prices ought to solve the credit problem for farmers. Should the new schedule not solve the problem and should we find farmers still hesitant to do the work they should do because of lack of credit, I am sure that my right hon. Friend has art open mind on the subject, and anything which may stand in the way of the success of the campaign be it credit or anything else, will receive his early and earnest attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) said that we ought to use our price control in order to get the food that we require during this emergency period. I entirely agree. If the price-fixing machine is used, plus the intimidation which can be applied to farmers, we can get the kinds of food we require in the quantities in which we require them. Variations in price ought to be utilised for doing what the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean suggested and the keeping of fat cattle on the hoof until the time when they ought to be marketed.
My hon. Friend also had fears for the poultry industry. I can tell him that all the experts in the poultry industry and county executive committees have been interviewed. We have considered every conceivable kind of suggestion from them whereby specialist poultry keepers may assist us. So far no scheme has been produced that would allow us to escape from the unpleasant situation of not having the proper quantity of feeding-stuffs for our poultry. We have made suggestions that, in certain cases where specialist poltry-keepers are in numbers, then some part of their number ought to find work elsewhere, the smaller number remaining behind to care for such poultry as we can provide feeding-stuffs for. It may be that a specialist poultry-keeper adjoining a farm may take his poultry on to the farm and help to fertilise a field or fields which badly need fertilisation. It may be that the farmers could plough up land upon which poultry have been far too long, but as far as we can see no rationing of feeding-stuff is possible. We want to see pedigree stock preserved and that is why the minimum herds will be reduced to round about one third. If the Department can be helpful in any part of the country to any individual or individuals, it will be our great joy to help them over their difficulties.
The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) asked whether we were still exporting nitrogenous fertilisers. I can answer that question at once. We are not exporting nitrogenous fertilisers at present. He also referred to the question of barley prices being left uncontrolled so that we might get too much barley produced. I do not think that that fear exists since farmers are usually wise enough not to knock the bottom out of their own market, and I do not think there is any likelihood of farmers producing more barley than we can safely consume at a reasonable price to the producer. Another question which the hon. Member asked was as to the situation with regard to the sugar beet season. We have ample supplies for the 1941 season and are endeavouring to accumulate stocks to ensure ample stocks for the season 1942. The hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) had a lot to say about credits, but he does not happen to be here and therefore there is no necessity to make a special reply to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) asked a question or two about wage inspectors. During the period from September 2,707 complaints were investigated, and in addition 1,195 test inspections were made on farms. Since the war commenced, however, complaints have appreciably reduced, and there has been a slowing down of their work because inspectors have been diverted to other activities. But in view of the increased wages it is fair to assume, in view of our experience in the past, that we shall not be more negligent perhaps in the future than we have been during the past few years. In any case, I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall keep this matter under close observation.
My hon. Friend also made some reference to the hours of labour. It is true that in 10 counties a slight increase in hours was fixed by the county wages committees, when wages were increased to 48s. a week. Most of the 10 counties were low-wage counties, where, instead of increasing the wage by 10s. per week, they actually had to increase wages by 14s. per week to make the wages up to 48s. Where the hours have been increased only by one or two per week but the wages have been increased by 14s. a week, I personally see no real ground for grievance. The only case outstanding has already been dealt with by my right hon. Friend. Cases have been referred to by the hon. Member for Normanton in which farmers have dismissed employés. One can only hope that my hon. Friend will let us have information about such cases because if farmers are deliberately perverting the ideas and desires of every hon. Member of this Committee, it is the duty of my right hon. Friend to have such cases investigated at once.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) mentioned the work which is being done in his constituency, in the collection of household waste for pig food. I am sure I voice the feelings of the Committee as a whole when I say that we were interested in what he said about the progress of that scheme. Speaking for the Ministry of Agriculture and my right hon. Friend in particular, I can say that we have watched this experiment with interest and no little gratitude. My hon. Friend can rest assured that the Minister will do everything in his power to encourage the continuance and extension of this valuable work. As regards machinery, that is rather beyond the scope of my right hon. Friend and perhaps involves some other Department. All that I can say at the moment is that the work is being watched with interest and gratitude, and anything the Department can do to assist the Tottenham experiment will be done—
Could my hon. Friend go a little further and say that in return for our 130 tons of kitchen waste for pig food we might be able to get three or four tons of meal for our own pigs?
Without attempting to commit the Department to any actual figures, I am sure my right hon. Friend will be ready to look at the proposal.
The hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) has explained that she cannot be here as she has to visit a doctor, but I think I am entitled to reply to her submission with regard to silage in clamps, pits and stacks. The Ministry value this means of conserving food; they have encouraged it by means of the Press, by advertisements and instructional leaflets. Demonstrations have taken place quite recently at farming institutes in Staffordshire, Lancashire and Durham. It is a valuable method of conserving food but has the disadvantage that it entails a certain amount of waste. In order to make silage by the ordinarily accepted means it is necessary to have short grass, stimulated by fertilisers, and made fool-proof by the use of molasses and treacle. While pushing this scheme, the Department have no desire to crab the scheme to which the hon. Lady referred. She also put another question in regard to a breakdown in any agricultural area in any part of the country. I understand that arrangements have been made whereby an officer or officers of the Ministry will be available to advise the Regional Commissioners in the event of a breakdown in communications. These officers will be familiar with agricultural conditions in the various regions of the Government's food production policy.
To the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Colonel Boles) I must say that I am sorry I cannot compliment him because I did not hear him, but I can compliment him on what he said. He raised the question of the vaccine used at present and being produced at the Ministry's experimental station at Weybridge. It is true to say that more reactors are showing up than was the case with the vaccine which was previously used. It is now thought that the old vaccine was not of a uniform strength, and numbers slipped through which are now being shown up and which unfortunately may have affected others in the herds. I do not quite know where the developments will lead us, but it seems that the Weybridge vaccine is infinitely more stable and reliable than that which has been used hitherto. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) wanted to know whether some scheme could not be produced for rationing feeding-stuffs. A great deal of consideration has been given to that possibility, but no workable scheme so far has been discovered. I am sorry not to be more helpful, but a rationing scheme is well nigh impracticable in view of all the difficulties involved.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) referred to labour and suggested that the Department ought to release tractor drivers from the Army who have been to France and elsewhere, for a period of three months. Without consulting my right hon. Friend, I think I can say he would welcome their release if the Army authorities can be prevailed upon to release them, but we are attempting to train as many tractor drivers as w ill be necessary for the forthcoming campaign. I understand there are a few more questions that I might have replied to, but I can assure hon. Members that there are sound reasons why I should not speak any longer. I hope, therefore, that the Minister's statement to-day and the assurances that I have given generally will give ample room for optimism, and I hope we can continue to collect all the support and confidence of hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the Committee.