Orders of the Day — Food Production.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 22nd October 1940.

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Photo of Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise , Maldon

I hope that the hon. Member may be right when he says that the ploughing up is to be part of a long-term policy; but I think he has forgotten his history and the fact that a short while ago, 20 years ago, we had a great ploughing-up campaign. Agriculture then was going to be so wonderful, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was telling us how wonderful the world was going to be. But what, in fact, happened? Was there a long-term policy? There was not, and there is no guarantee that the land which is being brought under the plough at this great expense is not going to drift back again into grass. Therefore, I think I am right in drawing the analogy between the amortisation of factory costs and the costs of these farming operations. It is certain that an adequate price level will unlock the flow of all healthy credit, whereas inadequate prices will jam the flow of credit and long-term production which the nation requires and which we must have. Any doubt as to whether the price level has been fairly fixed will, for certain, hinder production.

In the concluding passage of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, he alluded to the future of the industry. I am bound to say that I was disappointed that he dismissed the future almost in a sentence. I agree that anyone who stands, to-day, in this House and is bold enough to prophesy what the future will hold in store for any of us is a bold man, but when you are dealing with a long-term industry like agriculture, and when you are calling upon it to make great superhuman efforts in the time of the nation's need, it must have a great effect on the future wellbeing or otherwise of the nation's industry. Therefore, I think it is germane in any agricultural discussion to cast our eyes upon the future. For a minute or two I should like to argue the case in favour of thought being given now to the future of agriculture, not from the point of view of agriculture itself, but entirely from the national point of view.

Our exchange position to-day is, of course, none too good. But what our exchange position will be like when this war is over it is very difficult to say. Money will probably be scarce. I think one is on safe ground when one hazards that at the end of this war it will be vitally necessary for us to produce everything that we can of everything for the simple reason that we shall not have the exchange wherewith to pay for imports from anywhere. If that is so—and I am arguing from the national point of view—it is essential, in the national interest, that the nation should plan for the future of agriculture now, so that we can cut down our imports after the war and save expense. I will not elaborate that point any further, although it is a point which I trust the Government have in hand. In spite of the somewhat short length of time devoted in the speech of my right hon. Friend to the future of agriculture, I hope the Government have it well in mind.

I have one word of criticism to make before I sit down. When speaking of the future, hints have been dropped by Government spokesmen of this nature. They have pointed to the enormous accumulation of foodstuffs which is going on in several Dominions and foreign countries at this moment, and they say, in so many words, to the farmers, "Now you be good boys. Look at the big stick there is in the cupboard. If you do not behave, what the Government will have to do is to turn on the tap at the end of the war and let the foreign and Dominion surpluses flood in here and break you." That is not the way to get the good will of the farming community, and I am very sorry that there should be indications that that line of argument is being adopted. It will not achieve results. I believe that the farmers, as a community, are, as patriotic as any class in the country, and I do not think that will be challenged. They have responded nobly to the calls made upon them, they are responding, and they will continue to respond, to any call which may be made upon them in the interests of the nation. They are fully aware of the important place which their industry takes in this time of great national crisis. They will, I believe, respond willingly again to words of encouragement, such as those which the Prime Minister used in his recent letter to the President of the National Farmers' Union, when he said to the farmers of this country, "You are fighting in the front line of freedom."