I am grateful for the opportunity afforded by an early Adjournment Motion to raise a matter which I gave notice some time ago that I intended to bring forward, one which I venture to think is of great importance. Also, if I may speak egoistically for the moment, I am very glad, as one who, standing at this Box, has frequently had to criticise the Government, that I am now in a position not alone to criticise but to praise my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. If my right hon. Friend, after so many years of office, is still capable of blushing, I think he will blush when he hears what I am about to say, and that is that with a long experience of this House I think I Can truthfully say that I have never known a more successful Minister of Agriculture than my right hon. Friend. Where my right hon. Friend commends himself so much to many of us, as indeed do some of his colleagues, for example, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, is that when he is dealing with official matters and with those who come within his official purview he does not hesitate to tell them the truth, even though it is the unpleasant truth. The general experience of those of us who are interested in agricultural matters and have seen the development of agriculture in this war and the last is that the great majority of farmers, local authorities, who have some responsibility for agriculture, and war agricultural committees are doing their duty and doing it admirably. But there is a minority who, if I may use the phrase, need some form of scarifying, and the tight hon. Gentleman, ably seconded by the Parliamentary Secretary, and by the members of his Department, has applied that very necessary process with the most satisfactory results.
There is, however, one matter in regard to which, although I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman, I must attach some blame to the Government as a whole, even though the circumstances which have arisen may have been unavoidable, I refer to the question of dealing with land which has not previously been cultivated, or at any rate has not been cultivated for many years. As yet that land has been dealt with only on a very small scale. To put the position more succinctly and clearly, as regards farms that were either actually or nominally farms before the war, in other words, land which was in agricultural tenancy or ownership, nothing could be better than the record alike of the Department and of the agricultural industry during the last three years, but there remain in this country I should say at least 100,000 acres of land which could be cultivated and which in any other country would have been cultivated, the majority of it in peace-time. This is no new phenomenon. The other day, when I was on fire-watching duty in this House, I happened to re-read a book, which I commend to any one of my hon. Friends interested in agriculture as being worthy of constant perusal—not merely one reading—for reference. It is the book of the late Lord Ernie on the history of British agriculture. There are some most interesting quotations in that book from well-known agricultural writers from the 15th to the 18th centuries, calling attention to the large areas of land in this country, compared with what was happening in other countries in Western Europe, remaining uncultivated, although they could be cultivated.
What are the facts in connection with this matter? This land which is not cultivated, and which I claim should be cultivated, or at any rate grazed, divides itself into two categories. I would say in parenthesis that at the moment I am concerned mainly with the South and West of England. First of all, there are literally thousands of acres of common land. Of course, very large areas of this common land in the West of England, such as on Dartmoor and Exmoor, could never be cultivated and could barely supply a living for sheep, but a great quantity of the common land was used in the 18th century and earlier, and until the middle of the 19th Century, for grazing the villagers' cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, geese and the like. A huge area of this land has become overgrown with thorn, gorse, and other things which are detrimental to, cultivation. The reasons for this state of affairs are several, and I do not propose to weary the House by giving them all, bat I will indicate them broadly.
Firstly, the art of, to use a French phrase, petite culture has gone out, in England, to a very great extent. People who live near commons and take the trouble to keep stock are disappearing. In the old days people of that kind very often had two or three cows and sold their milk in the neighbourhood. In modern conditions of milk production, and under the proper regulations for its production, it is impossible for these people to provide the cows and the equipment necessary to produce milk which they would be permitted to sell. There are other reasons; one, incidentally, is the advent of the motor car, which has made it very difficult to keep stock on commons because of the danger of their being run over.
Further, in the old days, the rural police were less efficient than they are to-day, and they were in the habit of ignoring laws which were inconvenient to put into operation. A man who kept cattle or sheep was not prosecuted if he allowed them to stray on the highway. I do not wish to criticise our modern local constabulary, but I must say that in a great many counties the chief constable takes up a rather unfortunate attitude about this matter and insists, even on commons, that there shall be someone there to look after the animals when they are grazing. That condition is impossible to carry out. In the old days, 70 or 80 years ago, young children, who then left school at a much earlier age than they do now, or did not go to school at all, probably used to tend the animals. Those are briefly some of the reasons why these commons have gone out of cultivation. I shall revert to this matter more than once in the course of my speech.
You have, therefore, a really extraordinary and fantastic situation, to which no one has called attention in this House, unless it be a few people like myself. In this beleaguered island, where we are told every ton or every peck of grain is of value—it is constantly dinned into our ears that the food we eat, the petrol we use and the oil we bum have mostly to be brought to this country at the risk of the lives of British sailors—there are hundreds of thousands of acres within short distances of great centres of population which might be grazing stock or growing grain and are not doing it. This astonishing situation illustrates the over-urbanised attitude of so many people. This House, the Press and the country generally are not interested in this question at all. Because of the Orders passed, they are interested in the programme for producing more food from existing land, but you still see, as I myself saw coming up in the train to-day, at least 10 per cent. of the suburban gardens uncultivated. Can we imagine such a situation existing in Germany, Italy or any of the countries on the Continent? Are we or are we not serious in this matter? Is it true, or is it not, that we need every vegetable and every potato that we can get and can grow? If it is true, I suggest, not only to the Minister of Agriculture, but even to the Prime Minister himself and to the members of the War Cabinet, that they have a great responsibility in this matter. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for being present on this occasion.
I understand that the Minister of Agriculture has power not only over agricultural land but over all vacant land, within city confines as well. I would like him to put that power into operation. I commend to his attention what I myself saw coming up from my home this morning on the Portsmouth-Waterloo line. There were large numbers of gardens to be seen from the train and a large number of vacant open spaces, all not cultivated and not used even for recreation, between, roughly speaking, Surbiton and Waterloo. The same can be seen on every railway line coming into London. We shall no doubt hear more about that matter from the right hon. Gentleman when he comes to reply.
To return to the subject of the commons, there are some very successful instances of commons having been taken over by county war agricultural committees and cultivated. I have not seen any instance myself, but I understand that there is an example in Maidenhead. An attempt was certainly made, and I do not know how far it succeeded, greatly to improve the grazing in the New Forest. I am pressing for what might be called a twofold, or bilateral, policy. In some cases, commons should be used for grazing, to relieve the pressure from adjoining land, especially in the counties of Sussex, Hampshire and Kent and elsewhere in the South of England, where small milk farmers may be hard pressed to find sufficient grass by reason of dry summers and by reason of the ploughing-up policy. I suggest that commons should be used for these purposes and that the Home Secretary should issue an Order to all local police forces to abrogate the law on the subject of cattle straying on the highway, that special provision should be made, as it has been made in some counties, enabling people to graze their cattle on this waste land and that a lot of the rest of it may be found perfectly capable of cultivation.
In connection with certain journalistic articles which I am writing, I went round to some of the commons with a skilled photographer from a particular newspaper, and he took photographs which I should be very pleased to show to any hon. or right hon. Gentleman. They show an astonishing state of affairs. They show certain commons where there is in parts beautiful grazing, old turf with plenty of white clover, where cattle are grazing, but other areas of the common are completely overgrown. If one goes to the commoners who use the part which is grazed and ask what is the reason, when their cattle are very hardly pressed for grazing land and could do with more ground, that the rest of the common land has not been cleared, they cannot give an answer. Some of them do not even know who the lord of the manor is. They say that they have no power, no authority, that they cannot go and clear this useless scrub and brush, which would make good firewood. Much of it is birch, which, with six months' keeping, makes the finest firewood. They do not know to whom to go. It is nobody's business to deal with the scrub. If this plan of mine with regard to commons was carried out on a large scale, no doubt regard would have to be had in certain areas near large towns to the amenity aspect of the case, but in most cases these commons are hardly used at all.
In the Home Counties before the war they were largely used for picnic parties, often to the annoyance of the local inhabitants because the picnickers were not always tidy. Now these commons are practically deserted, there being no pleasure motor traffic and practically no hiking, I claim that we should go much further in dealing with this land than from a grazing point of view, and that the Minister should take power to use these commons wherever possible for grain production during the war. I have made some rough computations, and I think that in the South and South-West of England alone there are 100,000 acres either of common land or poor woodland without standard trees which would be capable of bearing crops. Although it is too late now to prepare them for autumn sowing, they could be prepared to carry a spring sowing of oats. Assuming that I am right in saying that there are 100,000 such acres in South and South-West England alone, and assuming that they carry only three bags to the acre, that is 300,000 bags of grain. Let the House realise what that means in saving shipping. Some of us who have access to information, not official, because to refer to that would be improper, but coming not far from official sources, know that the shipping position is almost as serious and grave as it could be. We know that the country—Lord Woolton has given a hint of it—is to be asked within the next few months, perhaps in the next few weeks, to undergo a further restriction. How fantastic it is that we should be ignoring the possibility of getting food from this undeveloped land.
I come to the question of these poor woods. To those hon. Members from the North of England who are familiar with the standard woods there, what I am now about to say may seem extraordinary. But in the counties of Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and a few others there are large areas of land which were planted for the underwood business about 100 years ago in the depression which followed the Napoleonic Wars and which lasted well into the 'forties—hence the term about "the Hungry 'Forties," which did not apply to the towns so much as to the agricultural labourers. Some people owning a certain type of heavy clay realised it was more profitable to plant with underwood which could be used for various purposes, than to use it for farming land. Underwood was used for hoops for barrels, a trade which still exists to some extent in the neighbourhood in which I live but which has been largely done away with during the last 30 or 40 years by the use of iron hoops; walking sticks and umbrella handles; hop poles, bean poles and pea poles, which were taken away and sold in the neighbouring towns and urban districts. It is also used to a small extent to-day for chestnut cleft fencing, with which hon. Members will be familiar as one sees it around so many open spaces from which the iron railings have now been taken away. That trade has largely ceased to be profitable. It is profitable only in a few districts and in respect of a few types of underwood; chestnut underwood, for example, still enjoys a high price. A few years ago chestnut underwood of 10 years' growth was selling at £25 per acre, which was higher than the price of agricultural land. But a large part of this underwood is literally derelict woodland owing to its not having been touched for many years. It is useless from a number of points of view, and that land would carry crops.
I do not speak as one without experience in these matters. Before the last war I cleared as an experiment certain underwood land that I owned, with hand labour, using picks. It was very expensive. During the last war, by arrangement with the Royal Engineers, I being on active service, I had cleared another comparatively large area, which is growing corn to-day and has been for some time past, by means of explosives, which the Royal Engineers used for blowing up the stubs. In 1918 I came home from the East, and by arrangement with the War Office took a fairly large gang of German prisoners and cleared another lot. I have also cleared some in this war. At the risk of seeming egoistic, I would like to give the House these figures. I cleared the other day an area of about two acres which I had planted with larch at a cost of £12 after my father's death in 1908. I am rather sorry to tell my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that I was a profiteer, for I sold the wood at the controlled price for £100 14 months ago. I have cleared the land by means of what are known in Australia as monkey jacks, a sort of lever that lifts the roots out of the ground. I intend to sow the land this autumn with wheat, and the war agricultural committee say that it is per- fect suitable for the purpose. AH these methods are to-day old-fashioned, and there is one simple way of clearing this kind of land, by using a machine which I do not propose to describe fully, because I think that to some extent it is still an official secret. But American machines are being used in large numbers in various parts of England for clearing the sites of aerodromes. These machines will take out almost any root and will level almost everything.
They would not be required to take out gorse. The gyro-tiller can deal with gorse; I have seen this machine doing it. I think the Under-Secretary has seen what the Brighton Food Committee did with their gyro-tillers. Just outside Brighton. I saw them remove a whole gorse covert, where these machines, which I think are known as bulldozers, could be used. A certain amount of manual labour is required for finishing off; and the labour which is used for rnaking these aerodromes could in the same way be utilised when the aerodromes are finished. I come to the only criticism that I have—not against the right hon. Gentleman, but against the Government as a whole. If there were in this country that snappiness of effort which we see among our friends and Allies of the United States, the Prime Minister or somebody else would long ago have said, "Here we are building aerodromes on an enormous scale, with extreme rapidity, but these hundreds of thousands of acres of land which the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and others have spoken of have not been dealt with. Let us deal with them as soon as we have finished the aerodromes." Never mind the regulations; never mind if the Minister of Labour says that it is going to be difficult to induce the men to co-operate.
If there was somebody in this Government who said that, instead of allowing these matters to be dealt with by Departmental discussion he was going to give the order, in the same way as Mr. Kaiser and others in the United States are doing, these men could be turned over to this work. I would like to tell a characteristic story of Britain vis-à-vis America on this question of speed of effort. An American officer of some importance, who is a friend of mine, was in a certain place the other day where American troops were about to come in. He saw some American sappers laying telephone wires, some underground and, some overhead. They were doing it at an astonishing rate, four or five times as rapidly as it is done in this country. My Canadian friend saw two or three Post Office workers standing by and watching with their mouths open. He said, "Well, folks, what are you looking at?" One of the men said that they had never seen anything like that in their lives. My friend asked why they did not go ahead and work at the same rate here. The man replied, "There are a whole lot of things to be thought of. There is the Postmaster-General, there are trade union regulations, and all kinds of other considerations." We are up against the failure of so many authorities—including, I am sorry to say, the Service Departments—to aim at the impossible. We have to aim at the impossible.
Lastly, I want to call attention to what I think is a scandal. I happened the other day, as a result of certain duties which I perform in connection with welfare in London, to be making a tour with Lord Nathan, who is the very efficient officer in charge of welfare among the troops in London. We were touring among certain units around London, and I saw something which would be incredible to any German or Italian or to any of our friends—quite incredible to the Russians. I saw vast commons, such as Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common, where there were a few old gentlemen walking out with their dogs, and not a sign of cultivation except for a few military spaces, where some very fine potatoes were growing, and a few allotments. Some of that land is notoriously bad and would hardly graze sheep, but some of it could be cultivated. But that is not the end of it. We are having it constantly dinned into our ears that we are desperately short of fuel. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall), who speaks for the Ministry of Fuel and Power, has told us over and over again on the wireless that we have to save all the fuel we can. I saw enough scrub, birch, hollies and things of that kind to provide any of the dormitory towns for a long time with fuel if it were cut up and stacked. Those are two instances of misuse of land. Is it conceivable that such a state of affairs would exist anywhere near the front line in Russia?
In some paper there were pictures the other day, taken from a German newspaper, of grain actually growing in the squares of Turin and Naples. I know Naples fairly well, as my wife and I have spent several holidays there, and I know that, although just around Vesuvius the soil is good, in Naples it is very poor. Yet these Italians, the despised "Wops," as we call them, have thought it worth while to grow wheat in the middle of Naples, while the far-seeing British, with the most magnificent Government of modern times, and, as we are told again and again in the Press, the greatest leader in the Prime Minister that the world has ever seen, completely neglect hundreds of acres of common land within a few miles of the centre of the greatest mass of population in the world, because it is nobody's business to deal with it. I am well aware that if my right hon. Friend made a requisitioning order a lot of foolish people would say that they had been deprived of the opportunity of taking their dogs for a walk or of sitting under the trees holding their girls' hands. What do those people matter, anyway? Take over the commons, and take over the parks, the Royal Parks in the centre of London. Either we want production or we do not; either we are short of shipping, or we are not. The Government ought to take over the commons that are close to their hand. I am a very strong supporter of the right hon. Gentleman, and when I press these points with all the power I have it is not done in order to attack the Government.
I know that it will be said, "Where are we to get the labour?" That is a difficult question. I hope that I shall not be thought to be making an inverted class point—because nobody would deny that I am a Tory lord—if I say that you can get quite a lot of labour within a mile or so of this House, In all the fashionable London restaurants: the Savoy, the Ritz, the Dorchester, and others, there are tumbling over each other Greeks, Cypriots, Italians, and others who are waiters. The vast majority of these men—as I know from talking to them—are the sons or grandsons of peasants. Why not do rather a bold "thing, which would attract public attention, and say," We are desperately hard up for people to reclaim land, and under the powers we have we are going to take these waiters"? We should see that they have proper conditions and use them, and we have several thousands of them in London alone. Let the people at these hotels help themselves on the cafeteria system. Would it do them any very great harm? They would be better off than the people in Stalingrad. Ministers, Members of Parliament, and representatives of the great United States and others who frequent these hotels would find that their comfort would be at least 90 per cent. higher than that of the people fighting in the streets of Stalingrad at the present time. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal has property commended to us on more than one occasion the policy of austerity, and a little austerity applied in London hotels to those who move in high official circles would do no harm. I am glad to see that they are to have no heating or fuel. I put forward this proposal with all seriousness. There is a lot of free labour which could be put on to the land.
I apologise to the House for keeping it for so long, but my plan would, as I have said, save thousands of tons of shipping. If this country were Russia or the United States, where they are accustomed to large-scale plans executed with feverish haste, this could be carried out at once. The people of this country combine supreme heroism and courage under fire with a terrible torpidity of mind, a sort of mental constipation, and pioneers of ideas have to argue, urge, threaten and then cajole before the slow-thinking British public say, "Yes, there is something in it." The history of this war to date has been that methods, or proposals or plans in which there was something have eventually been adopted by the Government and by public opinion long after they have been urged by the pioneers of these things. If we are to win the war with rapidity and efficiency, those responsible for directing it must be ahead of public opinion rather than behind it. The Minister of Agriculture, like the Minister of Food, has teen ahead of that opinion, but we have not properly applied all manpower, machinery and other things at our disposal towards utilising the waste-land resources of this country.
I congratulate the Noble Earl the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) upon the abounding enthusiasm with which he has expressed his views, I feel I must sup- port him most enthusiastically in the points he has advanced. Yesterday I spent a few hours on the Thames Estuary; and I was deeply interested in the developments of the Kent War Agricultural Committee. I was amazed, however, at the difficulties that have presented themselves to that committee because of the kind of restrictions which the Noble Lord has mentioned. I suggest to the Minister right away that, if there is one thing needed more than any other, it is what I would call a dive-bombing attack on the restrictions which harass and handicap the war agricultural committees in developing many of the open spaces and the land to be found within 15 miles of Charing Cross. I do not know whether the Minister is conversant with the Rochester Way or the road which leads into Kent, but within 10 miles of this House there stands a public house called "Yorkshire Grey," and within 2½ miles of it there are 500 acres of playing fields which have not been touched at all, or if they have been touched, they contain only one or two allotments as an excuse that the owners are doing something. The war agricultural committee in that area has tried to acquire this land and to persuade the owners to engage in some form of cultivation, but nothing very much has happened. It is not enough merely to say that this land is utilised for recreational purposes. Many of these recreation grounds or playing fields are under private ownership. They are either owned by big business concerns in London or by private companies or landlords who, unfortunately, are holding up production as far as the Minister and his war agricultural committees are concerned.
I submit—and this is on the authority of several members of the Kent War Agricultural Committee—that within 14 miles of Charging Cross there are over 1,000 acres of land, in the main playing fields or land in private ownership, which owing to these restrictions have not been brought into cultivation. What is the Minister going to do about it? I saw 280 acres yesterday alongside the River Thames which a few months ago presented a very difficult proposition from the farming point of view, but an enthusiastic body which interested itself in this land has not only cultivated it, but, I believe, has sown wheat for next season. That is at Belvedere, and they expect a good crop of wheat next summer. But alongside there are over 100 acres of land which have not been touched at all, for reasons, no doubt, best known to the Minister. I am concerned about these places. Most of the local committees have acted in accordance with advice and instructions. They have responded to the appeal. In some towns within the area to which I have referred the local authorities have given up three-quarters and in some cases four-fifths of the recreation grounds of the common people and the ordinary workers for agricultural purposes, but it is not so with regard to the privately-owned playing-fields. In one case there is a very big acreage utilised for playing-fields, and the rental paid to the land-owning syndicate is round about £3 an acre. Whatever compensation there might be if they were to surrender it to the war agricultural committee, it is mere poppycock to say that they should not have to suffer loss or that this owner or that sydicate should not have to suffer loss when we know of the urgent need for the cultivation of such land as stressed by the Noble Earl.
If the Minister wants to do something "in the same enthusiastic manner which he displayed when be gave an explanation to the House during a recent Debate, he should at least mobilise his tractors in the Kent and the Surrey areas and make a panzer-like attack upon many of the open spaces and playing-fields during the next few weeks. It ought to be done. The land can be seen by anybody. I know in Surrey of land which is part of the Green Belt around London and which, owing to the enthusiasm of the war agricultural committee, the Surrey County Council and the London County Council combined, has been cultivated to the extent of nearly 100 acres out of the 230 acres available. I believe more acreage is to be put under the plough during the next few weeks. Then there is a stretch of land towards the Kingston by-pass—I believe it is called the mid-Eastern Surrey area—where there is at least another 1,000 acres. Cannot we be told what is to happen to many of these areas? Cannot we be told the attitude of the Minister towards these playing-fields? If these restrictions are holding up activity on the part of the war agricultural committees, cannot the Minister deal with them effectively right away? It is no use his indulging in land reclamation—although I was grateful for the arrangement which he made to enable certain Members of this House to see land development in Cambridgeshire a few weeks ago. It takes time and valuable labour to reclaim land, but here is land which is not being used by cricket and other recreational clubs to-day as it was being used in pre-war days.
It is no use the Minister saying that we must have some form of recreation and diversion from the war effort and that, therefore, we must have these cricket pitches. I can assure him that some playing-fields I know are not in use for half-a-dozen hours each week. These playing-fields can be seen by any of his inspectors or members of the war agricultural committees, and I appeal to him to send out his officials in the London zone—he need go no further than 20 miles from Charing Cross—where he will find 3,000 or 4,000 of the 100,000 acres which the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing said were available in the country. I have suggested a panzer attack with tractors and a dive-bombing attack on the restrictions which are hamstringing the, war agricultural committees. I hope the Minister will not be mealy-mouthed in his observations but will let the landowning classes and the various other people know exactly what is needed, so that the war agricultural committees can be freed from the handicap to which I and the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing have referred.
I was unable to get here in time to hear the beginning of this discussion, but I cannot help feeling that it was rather a pity it should have been raised. We have, after all, made the greatest effort ever made so far in agriculture and the production of food in this country. We have at the present, moment the greatest number of acres under the plough that has ever been under the plough. This discussion in the House of Commons will go forth to the world——
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend, but, if I may say so, I have some reason to object to his attitude. He calmly admits that he was not here at the beginning of my speech, yet had he been here or had he troubled to find out what I had said, he would have known that I paid a great tribute to what has already been done. It is one of the finest things in the history of this country, but I want to go a step farther.
I apologise for not being present at the beginning of my Noble Friend's speech, but I was on duty and could not get here before. I am glad to hear that he drew attention to the great work which has been done in this country as regards agriculture, but, nevertheless, the observations he made still leave me rather cold. I do not believe there is a great deal of land still remaining to be ploughed up.
Speakers in this Debate have been talking about the London parks and country within 14 miles of Charing Cross. I admit there is a considerable acreage that could be ploughed up in that area, but to how much does it amount? Is it not very small compared with what has been done? Is it not a fraction of what has been done? Are you not giving forth to the world a false impression? If you attack Hyde Park and get it ready for agriculture, by how much do you imagine you can improve the production of this country? I think you could balance all the extra land you might make available for food production within 14 miles of Charing Cross if the House of Commons was a little more firm with the Air Ministry in their extravagant demands for land. I admit, however, that there is one side of pleasure and entertainment which could be attacked, and that is the enormous number of golf courses remaining in this country. I have not much sympathy with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) in what he said about playing-fields. After all, although they may not be used a great deal, they are places where the youth of this country gets its health and strength. If we are to have an A1 nation—and we want our young people to be strong and able members of this nation, especially in peace-time—the first thing is to give them playing-fields on which they can exert and increase their strength. Therefore, I deprecate any attack on playing-fields in the neighbourhood of big cities like London.
As I have said, there is, perhaps, a case for a review of the situation in regard to golf courses, but I hope no extravagant hopes will be raised by the prospect of cutting down trees and shrubs in London's parks. Can you imagine how many more acres you will get or how much more we will grow? Would you be able to grow much more than vegetables, than potatoes of which, fortunately, we have an abundant supply? It would take some time before fields of wheat could be grown in Hyde Park and Green Park. It would be a great pity if it went out to the world that the acreage of London parks is to be cut down and the trees uprooted.
Because the land in those parks will not produce a great amount of food. We ought to be proud of this nation and the agricultural industry in general for what is being done, and I deprecate this petty carping at small points which are apparent to those who live in big cities. Go out and see the enormous production of food which is going on in this country. I beg hon. Members not to give to the world a false impression of British agriculture.
Certainly, I do not intend to carp at anybody; I want to try to make a practical contribution to a subject which is of enormous interest and importance at the present time. I wish to thank my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) for having raised this matter. In his speech he covered a great deal of ground and made many suggestions, and it would be quite wrong to suggest that he concentrated his efforts on any such matter as the ploughing of London parks. I look upon the Minister of Agriculture as a very exceptional Minister. I have never met any farming people who did not feel the same thing, except perhaps a few of the bad farmers—and they cannot always help being bad.
The question of the use of derelict agricultural land is of extreme national importance at this time. I know very well the part of the country from which the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Major Heilgers) comes. It is flat land, there is not a large number of trees, and there is an immense amount of cultivation. I live in a different part of the country. I have seen what, as far as I know, one does not see around Bury St. Edmunds—considerable areas of hopelessly bad looking land, covered over with gorse and thorn, torn to pieces, bulldozed and turned into good, useful productive land. Naturally, when I see that happen and afterwards see wheat and oats in magnificent crops on that land, it rather influences me. This matter is a really serious one. History will say that we misused, or failed to use, all the available land in this country, and that in consequence of that policy we ran the gravest risks in this war. I say, with every feeling of responsibility, that I hope this failure of ours will not lead to the defeat of this country. I do not put it any lower than that. The food situation is very grave,-and it is right and proper that we should do anything we can to improve it.
Although I am not a technical expert in farming, I fully realise that there is a shortage of certain kinds of fertilisers, particularly phosphatic fertilisers, which we do not produce in this country; but I realise also that a very large amount of the land that has been ploughed up is practically virgin soil, and certainly for the first year it can get along quite well without special fertilisers. It should be remembered that we are growing vast quantities more of grain crops and we have much more straw; and I am not appalled by the prospect of a shortage of certain types of fertilisers. The Minister of Agriculture has said that he is anxious to see removed the enormous gap between the good farmer and the bad farmer and the wide gap between the good farmer and the average farmer. That is a sufficient indication of the seriousness of the situation. Surely, such a statement from a responsible and very highly respected Minister is a measure of his anxiety. I know that my right hon. Friend tells audiences of farmers that he is anxious about the food position. Hardly a week passes without our being told that some alterations are to be made in the quality of our bread and the distribution of our food. As far as the gaps are concerned, I do not see—although it is not entirely relevant to the Debate—how we could expect anything else when, during the whole of my lifetime, it has been the policy of this country to keep the farm workers the lowest paid workers in the country, although they do work of the highest national importance. The bad farmers and the moderate farmers cannot help themselves, for they are the victims of the pre-war policy of this country. They have many virtues and they have a great deal of courage. The good fanners—and there are some wonderful farmers in my part of the country—are the princes of our biggest and most important industry at the present time.
Reference has been made to the county war agricultural executive committees. I have some contact with the one in my own county, and I realise what extraordinarily fine work it has done. I will quote only two or three figures to show the extra-, ordinary increases that have taken place, although those increases are not sufficient and do not touch the fringe of the matter dealt with by my noble Friend the Member for Horsham. Comparing 1942 with 1938, there has been an increase in my county in the wheat area from 13,000 to 32,000 acres. That is very encouraging, but it is not enough, and even if the figure goes up to 50,000 acres, as it is hoped, it will not be enough. The acreage under oats has increased from 10,000 to 24,000, and potatoes from 2,000 to 4,500. When I told a friend that I hoped to speak on this subject in the House, he said, "I will give you an instance. I know of a very rough old field of 75 acres, covered with rubbish and thorns, which for many years produced a total of 2,000 rabbits per annum as its contribution to the food' position—about 3 tons of rabbits. It is now producing, without any fertiliser in its first year, 500 tons of potatoes." That is the sort of thing that, naturally, makes a great appeal to me, and I hope to a great many others.
Either there is a food problem or there is not. We cannot go on in the condition in which we are at the present time, with the Minister of Food saying, "Be careful, eat less, do not waste anything, I shall have to put you on shorter commons," and the Minister of Agriculture saying, "Grow more, improve your farming capacity, let everybody go all out." Those statements from two Ministers are an indication of the shortage of food in this country at the present time. Nobody can say that the Minister of Agriculture has not done his best. He has done a very good best indeed. I hope he has forced his views—which he is constantly forcing upon the farmers and upon the public—upon the Cabinet to the utmost of his capacity. Unless the county committees can get the support of the Cabinet, the use of labour, the use of money, the use of machinery, and expanded powers, they cannot do much, if anything, beyond what they are doing at the present time. I think they would succeed completely if they had the assistance and support I have mentioned.
This may be a rather fantastic idea, but nevertheless, I put it forward. There is a very large area of land with which, it is said, nothing can be done, but there is also a very large area of land on which there is a great deal of very fine quality soil. With modem machinery we could salvage millions of tons of good soil from beds of rivers and streams, which is now being carried out to sea, to help the productivity of our land. Millions of tons of good soil have been washed away for thousands of years from the hilly parts of the country and now rests in narrow valleys and what are called ghylls.
I should now like to turn to the question of labour. I can only read between the lines, because I have not the fullest information to enable me to say for certain that labour could be forthcoming for the purposes I have mentioned, but I think it is evident that a good deal of the labour at present employed in the erection of munition factories and engaged on other essential work will shortly be available for other uses. In my opinion this labour, with the men adequately paid and properly housed, could be encouraged to make a contribution to the improvements I have suggested.
No one in this House is a greater lover of trees than myself, but in my opinion vast numbers of trees could be cut down so that land could be brought into cultivation, if we are in the peril which we all know exists. When I look from the Downs to the north and look from the north Downs across the Weald, I can see magnificent forests but no land; not a landscape, but a treescape, and certainly not a farmscape. There are millions of trees, oak and common trees, Which could be dispensed with. We must not forget that we are at war and that we may be at war for years to come, and I urge most strongly that these considerations should not be overlooked. I notice that the authors of the Reports of the Scott and Uthwatt Committees speak of the traditional beauty of this land. No one loves the beauty of our land more than I, but I suggest that those responsible for these Reports are not producing the food for the nation. To-day we hear much about growing more and eating less, but I wonder what our failure to use the land to the utmost means in terms of shipping, in loss of valuable lives, strain and unnecessary work and loss to the Navy. I feel sure that a great deal of excess burden has been put and is being put upon the Navy which might well have been used in other directions.
In travelling about the world, like so many others, one sees the tremendous efforts which the populations of other countries make to supply themselves with foodstuffs. I suggest that we are not making tremendous or prodigious efforts to provide ourselves with the necessary foodstuffs, and I say this having seen the terraced lands of the Mediterranean and the East, and the walled enclosures of Malta, where for centuries soil has been imported and conserved by stone walls, and has now become immensely fruitful. Such are the results of necessity and hunger. We are now faced with necessity and hunger, but we are not utilising our land to the utmost extent. Do not let us put too great a strain upon the Navy and ask them to do more than is reasonable as we have been doing up to now. For years people have said things will be all right and plenty of food will come from overseas. That may be so, but it would have been much better had we not had to import so much because our shipping losses would have been far less. I have no intention of carping at anyone, but I hope the Minister of Agriculture and his colleagues will say after this Debate, "A case has been made out, and something ought to be done." Let them ask for more powers and for more money and machinery and labour, and, when they have got them, let them use them fully and grow more for the nation.
The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winter-ton) is to be congratulated on initiating this Debate. It is an undoubted fact that thousands of acres of land in this country are capable of growing good crops if only we had the labour and machinery to bring them into active cultivation. I say to-day, as I have said in previous Debates, that while I am anxious for every acre of land which is capable of growing crops of grain or root to be brought into cultivation, I am also anxious that the land already under the plough should be improved to grow the largest amount of food possible. In travelling about the country I have seen land with a little grain, a few docks, a few thistles and a crop of twitch, and this is due to the shortage of labour and machinery. The farmers have been ordered to plough up the land, but they have had insufficient labour and machinery, which has made it impossible for them properly and thoroughly to cultivate it. This is something which ought to receive the attention of the Minister of Agriculture.
I was interested in what the Noble Lord said about clearing scrub land, because I, together with a friend of mine, have had some experience of this. The Noble Lord was at the paying end, and so were we. The piece of land in question was of eight acres, and for over 60 years it had not grown a pound of food. I did not do much in the matter myself, but I looked over the land and encouraged my friend. We employed machinery and some labour, and we obtained a 40 horse-power tractor. We uprooted the land. On that same piece of ground last year we grew 40 tons of potatoes. It paid all expenses, and there was a balance in hand. I am sorry it has taken a war for us to have to do things like this. The House of Commons in the past has been too factory-minded and urban-minded to care anything about developing our native land and growing the food that we ought to have done. If we had had a price level for agricultural commodities 10 years ago, which some of us pressed for, we should not now be lamenting the fact that the country is not producing the amount of food that it should. I have seen a really marvellous revolution in food production during the last year. One farmer in my division tells me that he has 600 days of threshing on his farm. It takes some believing, but he is farming 12,000 acres. I think he is farming far too much for one man, but he farms it well and is making the fullest possible use of the resources at his hand and so making a great contribution to victory.
It is possible for a great deal more land to be put under the plough. I went round with the official of my borough who is responsible for letting and re-letting allotments, and we found 150 acres of land within the borough which was not being cultivated. He said he was only responsible for taking over sufficient land to meet the demand for allotments. The war agricultural committee is not responsible for cultivating those 150 acres. Between them and the horticultural committee of the county council it is not taken over and is not being cultivated. There is a good deal of overlapping. Playing-fields and parks should be used to augment the food supply. Steel works and large companies each have their own playing-fields, and there is a good deal of overlapping in playing-fields used by elementary and secondary schools and grammar schools which could possibly make a contribution to our food supply. I think the Ministry of Agriculture has, done infinitely better than the Ministry of Food, for it has grown food, though the Ministry of Food through lack of foresight has let a good deal of it be wasted. I hope that will not be repeated during the coming year. In my division parks are sacred, and there are huge areas only supporting a few deer. I have done my best to get one park used as a landing ground for an aerodrome, but the Air Ministry chose to destroy two farms and to leave the park alone. Vested interests are not dead yet, and I was unable to overcome the opposition. Experience in this war has fortified me in the belief that, if we had paid as much attention to the land as we have done to the development of our major industries, England would have been quite capable of feeding herself now. This Debate is timely, and I am sure the Minister of Agriculture will not resent it. There has been no carping criticism of what the Minister has done or has attempted to do. Our desire is rather to help and encourage him to make an even greater contribution to the problem of food supplies.
I think the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has done a real service in raising this matter. He certainly had an excellent opportunity, and I congratulate him on the advantage that he took of it. I hope I shall not be looked upon as a trespasser in participating in what is a purely English Debate, because the Noble Lord pretty well confined his remarks to the Southern and Western part of South Britain, and I know that the Minister of Agriculture has no responsibility for agriculture north of the Tweed. I do not want to raise controversial points, but I am concerned about the use to which the products of the land are put once they are produced. Everyone is agreed that there ought to be, not only in wartime but in peace-time, a greater use of the productivity of the soil. That is further strengthened in war-time owing to the risk and danger involved in bringing the products of other countries to meet the food position in this country. Because of these considerations, because of the danger that has been mentioned in the Debate to-day of bringing goods from overseas to feed our population, and the necessity of producing more food in this country, I have been reminded of the attitude of the Minister of Agriculture to the way in which certain products are used. I would much rather have been speaking in the presence of the Minister than asking my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with this point.
Some time ago I raised the question about the production of rye in this country and obtained a reply from the Minister that whatever purpose the rye was put to it would receive the subsidy payment for, ploughing up the land on which it was grown. I followed that up by asking the Minister what was the scientific basis of the statement he was reported to have made in the north of England that rye used for the production of beer was making as valuable contribution to the national effort, and, indeed, to our food resources, as rye used with wheat to make bread. His retort to me was that he thought the basis was a commonsense one. I have not been able to find that common-sense, however that term may be used, justifies the use of grain of any kind, and, therefore, from the point of view of food value, its almost entire destruction, in the making of beer, nor that his statement is justified on scientific lines. I hope that in giving consent, as I hope it will be given, to the urge that has been expressed from many sides of the House to-day that land will be used in the future more than ever it has ever been used in the past for the production of food and the products from which food can be made, the Ministry of Agriculture will not show an attitude which is expressed in the Minister's statement that there is as much food value to be got by destroying grain in making it into beer as there is by using it for normal food purposes.
I stand as one who does not use the grain that is destroyed in making beer and who uses that which is used for making bread. I do not seek in the slightest degree to push my own personal point of view in the way that my hon. Friend is apparently trying to push his.
I am sure that it would be folly on my part to intervene between my two hon. Friends in their discussion as to whether beer contains food value or whether to produce beer is common sense or otherwise. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) has ever tasted beer. I have heard it said that he is a lifelong teetotaller. In that case it would be difficult for him to determine whether beer has a food value or not. I am bound to confess that my knowledge of beer is so fragmentary that I am unable to say whether to turn rye into bread or turn it into beer is the wiser policy for this country to pursue.
I have seen some of the scientific data based upon the beer which used to be made very many years ago which had a real food value. Whether all the food value has been extracted during the past 30 or 40 years I am unable to say. It certainly is true that there are slight differences of opinion as to the food value of beer, and it is clear from my two hon. Friends that the discussion could go on for a considerable time before they reached happy and harmonious conclusions.
Turning to the speech of the noble Lord who introduced this Debate, I am sure that neither my right hon. Friend nor any other Member of the House could com- plain of the tone, temper or substance of that speech. Despite the bumper harvest which we have all seen in the countryside and which should have brought joy to the eyes and heart of every individual who saw it, except, of course, the born pessimist, who, if he saw a nice field of com, would look to the opposite hedge and hope to see a field of thistles—in spite of that, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will not and cannot complain if there are still some Oliver Twists who demand more and yet more food production in this country. He has been ceaseless in his non-stop efforts to secure the maximum yield from the maximum acreage consistent with the available supplies of labour, machinery and fertilisers. He has not done this from a cosy office in Whitehall with his feet on the mantelpiece. He has gone out into the highways and byways. He has visited parks, farms, commons, hills, derelict land, scores of demonstrations on farms, and so forth, to acquire the knowledge necesary for any successful Minister of Agriculture. Here and there a word of warning has had to be given to the farmers, with a word of advice occasionally and a word of encouragement where it was necessary.
I am sure that every hon. Member will agree that my right hon. Friend has not been wholly unsuccessful, because we have just harvested what must be a record harvest for this country during any period. But in dealing with parks, commons, down land or waste land, obviously a decision has to be taken as to whether or not it is land which is suitable for the employment of labour bearing in mind the shortage of labour. We dare not waste any of our available labour on costly reclamation schemes or on third-class park or common or down land at the expense of neglecting good arable land. The Noble Lord said he could think of 100,000 acres of land which might have produced 300,000 bags of grain. That is perfectly true, and no hon. Member would dare to deny it, but the labour that would Have been needed on that 100,000 acres of land to produce 300,000 bags of grain might very well have been better used on another 100,000 acres of land which would produce 600,000 or 900,000 bags of grain.
The genesis of my argument was this: Large areas of existing farm land have been cleared, but much larger areas of land could have been cleared if only the Ministry had obtained power to make use of the "bulldozers" used on aerodromes in order to clear the land. It is a question of clearing the land.
The Noble Lord will appreciate that I am not contesting his point that the land is there, but all too frequently the decision which has to be taken either by the county agricultural executive committee or by the Ministry itself has to be based upon the best use to which to put the available labour, and the gradual increase in the acreage under cultivation from 1939 to 1942 is the clearest indication that such labour and such machinery as we had have been used to the best possible advantage, because otherwise we should not have enjoyed the good harvest which, has just been gathered in. The question of cultivating commons and parks is continually under review by county agricultural executive committees, and as we find ourselves in charge of more Italian labour or with an increase in the numbers in the Women's Land Army so we find it possible to divert skilled men from here to there, mixing and blending skilled labour with unskilled labour, and to take charge of more park, common or down land for cultivation. The question is always under review, but always with due regard, and I must emphasise this point, to the available supplies of labour, machinery and fertilisers, It can be said that large areas on which a certain course had been pursued in 1941 grew com this year, in many cases very good crops, and now that area is added to the com growing area.
My hon. and gallant Friend can take it from me, even without my uttering the words, that nothing would give my right hon. Friend the Minister greater joy than to be able to extend the area of cultivation and to improve the crops from the acres already cultivated. We are, however, always confronted with a shortage of either labour, machinery or fertilisers, and with all the will in the world it is no use setting about the reclamation of vast areas of third-class land or undertaking costly clearance schemes if that rneans diverting labour from land which is of far greater productivity, because in the end we should lose by the process.
I assumed that in raising this question the Noble Lord would be particularly interested in commons and parks in Kent, Surrey and East and West Sussex in particular, and I paid a personal visit to certain of those areas. I roamed over the county of Kent far and wide and in all my travels I did not see one park which was not either cultivated or being used for grazing purposes or used by one or other of the Services. I came away from Kent feeling more than happy that the county agricultural executive committee had not discriminated between Noble Lords and poorly placed farmers, but that all and sundry had made their contribution where it was proved that their land was capable of giving a good return for the efforts put into it. I tried to get a general bird's eye view of the four counties of which I have spoken expressly in order to be able to reply to the Noble Lord and to fill in any missing links. In West Sussex there are not many very large commons. Portions of smaller commons are already under cultivation. There is a large area of light sandy soil west of Midhurst, but I learn that soil tests have shown that that land is of little or no agricultural value. Most of the other commons are heavy clay soil which would certainly absorb too much labour in their present condition for us to undertake their cultivation.
I believe that was their general intention, but a series of soil tests taken recently has proved that in some cases they failed in their endeavours to enclose the best land, for some of it is not nearly so good as the lords of the manor of that day thought it would be. In East Sussex——
Before the Parliamentary Secretary leaves West Sussex, may I ask this question? Did he look at the thousands of acres of woodlands which I have described which were once agricultural land—you can trace the old banks—but which are now poor woodlands? I myself and others have proved that such land can very simply, by the use of certain machinery, be brought back into cultivation. It is not a question of labour but of obtaining the machinery from the Air Ministry or other Departments.
I had intended to refer to the question of bulldozers and other machinery later, but I had better say at once to the Noble Lord that the West Sussex County Agricultural Executive Committee are very fully aware of the possibilities of the land referred to, but are also painfully aware of the shortage of labour for bringing it into cultivation, despite the use of either the bulldozer, the prairie buster or any one of the other machines brought over from America. The constant question before country committees and others responsible for cultivation is how much labour they can spare for clearing this area or that without neglecting the known good arable land in the district.
May I explain that when I asked the war agricultural committee to obtain machinery for me and offered to supply the labour myself to use for growing wheat on a large area of land, they said they were very sorry but they had not the machinery and could not get it out of the Government?
At the time when the Noble Lord put the question the reply of the county executive committee would no-doubt be strictly true, for it must be known that both the Royal Air Force and the Army had machinery for their own purposes which was denied to my right hon. Friend for considerable periods; but the moment my right hon. Friend was able to make out a case to either of the two Service Departments, we were able to borrow from them various kinds of machines not hitherto available to us. The maximum use is being made of them, if not in West Sussex, then in certain other parts of the country. I ought to emphasise further that, for whatever machinery we have available, in every county there is a machinery committee. The county is sub-divided into districts, and there is a machinery officer in each district. It is our object and the object of the counties to see that the maximum use is made of all machinery, whether the machine be a prairie buster or a bulldozer. The Noble Lord can take it for granted that any landlord who desires to clear an area of land but is unable for the moment to secure the use of a bulldozer, may be sure that somebody is using the bulldozer at that time. Since there is a limitation on our imports, applying to agricultural machinery as well as to wheat, food and other war equipment, we can use only the machinery to hand. That is perhaps why many of the areas referred to by the Noble Lord, and by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish), not all of them first-class agricultural land and some of them only third-class, have not been explored up to the present moment.
I hope that the Noble Lord will now allow me to proceed into East Sussex and to tell him exactly the position there, as far as we know it. Ashdown Forest, Crow-borough, Challey, and Ditchling are the largest commons in East Sussex. Samples of soil have shown that, in their present condition, those vast areas are of little or no agricultural value. They would require much reclamation work and much lime and artificials, before tillage crops could be grown. There again, it is a question of balancing the use to which labour can be put. In Kent, I know of several large commons, such as Keston, Hayes, Chislehurst and Dartford Heath, all of which are of little agricultural value. The Noble Lord will appreciate that, when I say that they are of little agricultural value, the statement is based upon tests that have been made of the soil in every one of those areas; and not merely upon one test. Several tests have been taken, in order that county executives undertaking a new reclamation scheme may be sure that they are adding something of real value to our tillage acreage. The Noble Lord said that hundreds of thousands of acres were available for the grazing of cattle or sheep. There may be examples such as were chosen by the Noble Lord where, perhaps from lack of wire or means of keeping cattle off the roadway, the areas were not grazed as keenly as they might be; on the whole, wherever we find that a park or a piece of common is not suitable for cultivation, because of the large amount of labour that would be called for, we insist upon those areas being grazed by cattle, sheep or both.
In regard to parks, all executive committees have had inspections made and reports prepared, with a view to cultivation. There are many parks under cultivation. I myself saw some glorious crops in various parks in Kent. Indeed, in one park there, with a tree to my right, a tree to my left and a tree forward, the people had dodged round with the tractor. They must have been almost acrobatic to do the ploughing, the sowing and finally the harvesting of the magnificent crops. I said to myself, as I stood there and looked at it:"If the Kent War Agricultural Executive Committee insist upon a park with so many trees being ploughed, and sown down to wheat, I cannot imagine that they would neglect any park in their area." I am certain, from what I saw later, that in no case have the Kent Committee neglected to have a park ploughed up if they thought that a reasonable quantity of food could be produced.
Oh dear no. So far as I could see, it made no difference at all whether the park was private or public. If a park was capable of producing good crops with a reasonable minimum of labour, that park has been made to produce good crops in 1942. I should like to make it clear that I do not think any discrimination is being shown in the counties in which I have had the good fortune to travel. There may be an odd case, such as was referred by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), and no one would deny it. If my hon. Friend is aware of any park of any size, easily cultivable but not being dealt with, I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be the first to see that the county committee were asked the reason why. I gave an example of one county and of what is happening. What has happened up to date is the clearest indication that parks have not been neglected, in our desire to get the maximum acreage and maximum yield from each acre.
Let me take the sort of county in which the Noble Lord might be most interested—West Sussex. So far as I can get a report the position there is as follows: West Grinstead Deer Park—all the deer have been killed. Some of the land is already under crops and all available remaining land is being ploughed now. Knapp Castle parklike grounds—consideraible area already under crops. All available remaining area being ploughed now. Warnham Park—used largely for dairy cattle. Up Park—greater part under corn crops. Goodwood—considerable area under crops. Petworth—many cattle and sheep grazed. Area suitable for ploughing not sufficiently large to justify erection of fences. Dale—Northern end under crops, Southern part unsuitable for ploughing. Stansted—considerable area under crops. Further heavily overgrown area being cleared for cropping in 1943. I need not go beyond that to indicate that parks have not been forgotten or neglected. The list is by no means exhaustive and applies only to West Sussex. I am hopeful that every county executive will pay the same attention to the cultivation of parks as the West Sussex executive committee appear to have done. If should be realised, however, that parks and commons vary in texture and in their agricultural utility.
A further point that ought to be emphasised in a Debate of this description is this: There are large areas of parks or commons that have been used wholly or in part by various war Departments either for training or as camp sites, and it will be understood, I know, by hon. Members that the demand by the, Service Departments is continually growing and that several commons, and parks for that matter, have been left in reserve exclusively for those purposes. Indeed, county executive committees are encouraging the War Office to take over these areas in preference to good farm land. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg referred to two farms having been taken over by the Air Force whereas a certain park might have served their purpose equally well. That may have happened in an isolated case, but if my right hon. Friend can prevent either the Air Force or the War Department from taking our best agricultural land, diverting them into commons, parks or elsewhere he will do so; he is constantly waging war and trying to preserve for ourselves the best cultivable land in the country. It seems to me elementary common sense that whether it be either park land; common land, or downland not yet being cultivated, and the value of which is doubtful, it is far better to divert the various Ser- vices to those areas than to let them take our best agriculural land and leave this second or third or fourth-rate land for use later.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I put to him a point which I wish he would put to the war agricultural committees, and, at the risk of making myself unpopular with my constituents, to the West Sussex Committee? May I say that a lot of these people, because they have always farmed in this country, seem to assume that you cannot plough up land of equal quality with land adjoining which is being farmed without the extensive use of fertilisers. As one who has farmed on a large scale in new countries, I say that is absolute nonsense. On land that has never been used for crops you can grow in the first year, and probably in the second year, crops without any fertiliser at all. Will he do his best to have such an idea removed, because it has been proved wrong by the war?
On the other hand, by trial and experiment the statement which the Noble Lord makes has been proved to be wrong during the present war. I am sure we can supply evidence which justifies the statement I make, and for us to go all out on reclamation schemes hoping that we can produce reasonable crops without fertilisers would perhaps not only be wasting our man-power and machinery but would be wasting the general effort too. Nevertheless, if the Noble Lord has any case in point which he thinks he might like to submit to my right hon. Friend, I am sure that neither my right hon. Friend nor any member of the Department will refrain from examining it faithfully and meticulously—or any case that might be brought to our notice.
My right hon. Friend stresses the fact that some of this land is very poor and that because we are short of manures it would not be worth ploughing up. The case I have referred to is of land derelict for 60 years where the rotting vegetation has provided manure for the two years. In the first year the land grew 40 tons of potatoes.
I do not make a wide sweeping statement to the effect that no land would produce a crop without fertilisers, but what we have done by way of experiment on certain common and down-land justifies the statement I have made that without fertilisers we could hope for very little in the shape of a crop. With regard to downland, the executive committees and farmers have not hesitated to put them under the plough where the soil tests justified it. The present programme, for instance, is to reclaim about 1,000 acres of downland in West Sussex for the 1943 harvest. Similar action is being taken in Kent and East Sussex. West Sussex are reclaiming 1,500 more acres of derelict weald clay, most of which has not been ploughed in the past fifty years. That goes to indicate that constant tests are being made and areas are being added as and when material and labour are available, [interruption.] I am sure the House of Commons fully appreciates the contribution the Noble Lord is making by stressing this point constantly, and we have no objection. In Kent and East Sussex they are proposing to cultivate thousands of acres of marshlands in the Pevensey, Romney, Rye, Sandwich and Faversham areas and other parts.
The drive for more tillage areas for corn is stronger to-day than it has been even in any previous part of the war. Again one must curb one's activities in the light of the limitation of labour, machinery and fertilisers. Land of the kind referred to might have been rendering a contribution if before the war it had been the accepted policy that we could have grown more food in this country. With a sound agricultural policy then it would not have been necessary for us to reclaim this land, which would have been reclaimed many years ago. I am sure that hon. Members will realise that although the war has been proceeding for three years, which is a long time from the point of view of brutalities and that sort of thing, it is not a long time in which to reclaim hundreds of thousands or millions of acres of land, which might have been ready and available in September, 1939.
With regard to labour, we are fortunate in the sense that we have doubled the Women's Land Army this year. About 50,000 members of that army are rendering yeoman service on the land. From all the reports we know that in spite of the hesitancy at the commencement on the part of farmers to accept these women they are employing new recruits as fast as they are passed through the various training centres. I think that both the women and the farmers who employ them axe enjoying the association. Output is increasing as a result. My right hon. Friend also hopes that before the end of this year we might have an addition to the number of Italian prisoners. They are peculiarly useful for these reclamation schemes, drainage work, and work of that kind on the land, particularly if we can have a few skilled agricultural labourers to tighten up their work and give them that lead which is so necessary.
One of the questions which the Noble Lord has perhaps not appreciated to the full, and which perhaps many other hon. Members in this House have not appreciated, is that we are short of houses in rural areas. In many areas where we have reclaimed land in remote agricultural counties the land is there ready for cultivation. It requires a farm foreman, or deputy foreman or a skilled labourer. We could get any one of the three if there was a house for that person to reside in, but since the house is not there the foreman, deputy foreman or skilled labourer cannot be persuaded to go. Consequently, there are many acres to-day in danger of not being cultivated, because of the shortage of houses in many rural areas in this country. That is a pre-war problem which no Government would face up to, and now we are suffering from that legacy of a shortage of agricultural houses which is one of the prime problems with regard to agriculture to-day as well as before the war. We are hopeful that some assistance might come to our aid through the Ministry of Works and Planning, but certainly an extension of the area of cultivation could have been intensified perhaps if the housing problem had not been so nearly acute.
Yes, but there are other Ministers who have priority powers. My Noble Friend will not forget that there is an importation of soldiers from other parts of the world. You cannot expect hundreds of thousands of them to come across the Atlantic, and to lie out in the middle of fields; accommodation must be provided for them. [Interruption.] The Noble Lord's observation does not seem to be, quite to the point. I am certain he could not persuade any foreign Government, friendly or otherwise, to send hundreds of thousands of men to this country if it was known that they would have to lie in the middle of fields. Other Departments have their priority claims, and it is a question of balancing one with another. We are doing our best to get our share of the labour.
That may be so, but they must have some accommodation here; otherwise, we could not expect them to be sent over. So far as machinery is concerned, we are trying, through the county executive committees, to make the best use of it, whether the machinery has been produced at home or imported. We are trying to divert fertilisers to where the land requires them most. In exercising our authority for allocating these resources, we have met with few or no criticisms from the farmers. I understand that in my absence my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) said that he was going to treat me lightly; and I gather that he did treat me very lightly. All I can say is that I will not forget him and his kindness to-day when the next election comes.
With regard to the ploughing-up of fields and golf courses, it may be that an odd playing-field or so too many is left for the children; but we can say, on the whole, that even in the town represented by my hon. Friend a good playing-field has been ploughed up in the last year, and that it produces a good deal of oats for livestock.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend refers to the golf course at Doncaster or to that in the Don Valley. That in the Don Valley would not be worth the labour required to plough it up: as for the other, it is a toss up whether it would be worth while or not. On the whole, I can say that when a golf course has been examined by a county executive committee, if it would be worth while to plough it up—and the compensation at the end of the war would not be too colossal—there is no hesitation in either ploughing it up or in grazing cattle or sheep upon it. That is the policy, and it has been for at least two years.
If my hon. Friend has not been to Doncaster race course for the past two years, I can tell him, with tears in my eyes, that immediately the war broke out the Army took possession of the race course, and that they have used the interior part of it for German and Italian prisoners. There have been no races held there for the past three years, nor have there been any race horses there. In odd spots tiny crops have even been produced on Doncaster race course, where nobody would have thought that anything but dandelions could be produced. [Interruption.] I said that this was done in very small spots: if we had taken the general advice of the Noble Lord, and had ploughed up the whole of it, we should have wasted a lot of labour, a lot of machinery, and a lot of money. The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes said that we were importing too much food, before the war and now. I have a faint recollection of having said something of this sort for years before the war, but nobody worried about it. If my hon. and gallant Friend can persuade many of the people who are operating in the City that it would be serving the nation well to produce more from our own acres in peace-time, he would be doing the country a service. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg was going to reveal one or two pages from the Book of Lamentations, but I was glad to discover that he has himself found that there has been a revolution in agricultural production in these last two or three years. That has not been achieved without power, drive, direction, advice, and encouragement. I am certain that if we are given the power to continue with the job, what my right hon. Friend has achieved so far will be improved upon, but that can only be done in the light of his available supplies of those three magic things: labour, machinery, and fertilisers.
Will my right hon. Friend deal with the specific question of privately-owned playing fields and sports grounds within a 20-mile radius of London, as distinct from those under the control of local authorities?
I did not hear my hon. Friend's observations on that point, but I understand that he said that it was thought that there were 1,000 acres within 15 miles of Charing Cross rendering no contribution at all. That may be the case, but I am not aware of it. If my hon. Friend will give us the exact situation of the acres to which he refers, I will endeavour to tell him why this 1,000 acres has not been cultivated.