I think it might be of interest to hon. Members if I devote my remarks today to the consideration of some of the problems that will face British agriculture during the next few years, as well as to some which are likely to affect world agriculture from the long-term point of view. The recent Conference at Hot Springs was attended by 44 nations. That Conference passed several resolutions which I think will prove to be of the greatest significance for agriculture throughout the world. These resolutions were passed unanimously. No delegation entered any reservations at all. That fact alone, I think, is of great significance and one, I hope, of good augury. Incidentally, it was the occasion of considerable tributes being paid to the British Delegation under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
One of the most striking facts which emerged from that Conference was the general agreement that immediately after the war the world would be faced with an acute shortage of food, and that this shortage would cover not only actual foodstuffs, but would also cover methods of transportation, and methods of production such as fertilisers, machinery, draft animals, petrol and so forth. The shortages will, of course, be inter-related. I would like, if I may, to stress this point, because, I detect signs in this country of people beginning to think that the war is for all intents and purposes over and that we shall shortly be able to let up. Quite apart from the uncertainty as to the date when Germany and Japan will finally be destroyed, it is, I think, clear that the industry of agriculture at all events in this country will have to remain fully mobilised for a period after the war which cannot be determined to-day, but which is much more likely to be counted in years than in weeks or months. The magnitude of the food shortage which will face the world will, of course, depend on the date when the war comes to an end, and will depend on the size of the harvests, and therefore cannot be precisely estimated to-day.
What is clear, and what all the nations gathered at Hot Springs were clear and agreed about, is that, taking the world as a whole, there will undoubtedly be a severe shortage of livestock and livestock products, of oils and fats, and it is highly likely, difficult as it may seem to believe, that there will be an actual shortage of bread grains and of rice. The reasons for this shortage are obvious. A large part of the agriculture of Europe, Russia and Asia has been thrown into disorder, and it will take a considerable period for those countries and those Continents to get on their feet again. At the same time there will be a heavy demand for food to feed the hungry peoples of Europe and to help in relieving distress in Russia, and in China and other parts of the Far East. Therefore we may say with confidence that at all events the first two years after hostilities have ceased will be years of great stringency on the food front. The Conference at Hot Springs therefore recommended that all countries should plan their production programmes on a realistic basis and should concentrate on measures to relieve hunger in the first instance, even at the expense of putting nutritional improvements of diet second. They pointed out that it was necessary to concentrate on foodstuffs for direct human consumption, because it would make less demands in labour, would produce more calories per acre and be capable of more rapid expansion. This means therefore that those countries which will be faced with the problem of resuscitating their agriculture will have to concentrate on products which quickly relieve hunger, even at the expense of having to defer to some later date the rehabilitation of their herds, important, of course, as that rehabilitation must ultimately be.
The Conference also said that those countries, like ourselves, which have already increased food production during the war must maintain that increased production and if possible increase it. This is embodied in Resolution XII. How do these Conference resolutions fit in with the food production policy which we have been pursuing up to now and the policy underlying our four years' plan? Needless to say, I repeat what the Foreign Secretary said the other day on behalf of the Government, we accept so far as we are concerned the implications of Hot Springs, and also, therefore, the recommendations of Resolution XII. For our part we consider that the best contribution we can make to the food problems of the world is to continue producing from our own soil food for as large a proportion of our population as we can for as long as that process proves to be necessary. We have already done a good deal towards that end, and I do not think I need go over the record of the past three years. It will suffice to remind hon. Members that we have increased our own food production from the soil of this country by 70 per cent. compared with pre-war. I mention this not in any boastful spirit but to show the extent we have already gone on the lines recommended at Hot Springs.
I think I may truly say that we are now getting towards the limit of what is possible, having regard to the shortage of labour, machinery and fertilisers. We have, I think, in fact reached the end of the first phase of our food production campaign, and we are now about to enter on the second phase. During the first phase we strove with might and main to get as great an increase of crops for direct human consumption as we could, and also to push up our milk production. In the course of that we had to sacrifice many other things. We cut down our pig and poultry populations drastically. We also produced milk at the expense of meat. I can give an example of one of the results. I find on looking at the figures that in the year 1942–43 the amount of homegrown cereals used in the loaf was greater by no less than 52 per cent. over the amount used in 1941–42, a phenomenal figure for a single year, and an indication of the way in which we have both managed to save shipping and also keep the nation fed.
During the second phase our chief aim must be to maintain the progress we have made and maintain production at the present high level. It may still be possible, indeed I think it is possible, to get some slight increase in the tillage area, but by and large the object of our plan during the next four years must be to maintain production and at the same time see that nothing is done to lower the fertility of the soil. As hon. Members will hear in a moment, this will involve an increase in our livestock and livestock products. How can we do this? I think we can achieve it by adopting a policy of re-seeding that portion of our arable land which has already carried a number of crops, and ploughing up a corresponding area of permanent grassland for the production of crops for direct human consumption. In this way we shall be able to rest the land in turn and so restore its fertility, and shall be able to continue our contribution to the world's food front and also raise the productivity of our grasslands by increasing the proportion of temporary grass to permanent grass.
The second great plank in our four-year plan is the increase in our livestock, and, above all, an improvement in its quality. If we increase the proportion of leys, we must ensure that there is sufficient stock to graze those leys, which, generally speaking, are much more productive than the old permanent grass they replace. But we must be concerned not only with increasing the number of livestock; we must also try to improve the quality, especially if we are going to aim at maintaining our very high milk yields and improving its quality. The livestock policy announced the other day in the White Paper is an essential part of our agricultural production plan for the next four years.
The House will be interested if for one moment I mention some measures which we propose to take towards that end. The county war committees will have to conduct surveys and classify individual herds. That is the essential basis of the campaign. Many county committees have already made a considerable start in that matter. Next is the question of the shortage of good bulls. At present about 60,000 bull calves are reared every year in this country. About 45,000 of these are presented for licensing, and about 40,000 are actually licensed. Of these some 27,000 come from cows which cannot be identified and only 18 per cent. of the dairy or dual-purpose bulls are the product of dairy cows that have been officially recorded. That is a state of affairs very far indeed from being satisfactory. Therefore, the first thing we have to do is to try and aim at an increase all over the country of officially recorded dairy herds. That will be the first step to getting an increased number of better bull calves from those herds. If, however, we are not to jeopardise the supply of bulls required, we shall have to proceed with some caution, and the day when we can insist on every dairy bull having a recorded ancestry is not yet, though I hope it will come. At the same time we shall have gradually to raise our standard of licensing.
The next important thing is that we have to try to prevent, so far as we can, the slaughter of dairy bull calves from pedigree herds and from recorded herds. Most pedigree breeders at present only keep one or two of their very best bull calves every year and slaughter the rest although the bull calves slaughtered are in the majority of cases, owing to their ancestry, appreciably better than the average run of bull calves submitted to my officers for licensing, and from a national point of view ought not to be killed. Therefore I would appeal to all pedigree owners and all owners of recorded herds to help me in this matter either by rearing themselves, or by selling for rearing, bull calves from their cows to help in remedying the present shortage of good dairy bulls. At the same time we must stimulate the market for a better type of young bull or bull calf. We are going to encourage the farmer to buy a bull calf and rear it for himself, or to buy several bull calves and rear them for sale. In addition, committees are going to be authorised to rear bull calves themselves, to form a pool from which the small dairy farmer can buy. Each committee either has already established or is proposing shortly to establish a county register of approved herds for bull-breeding, from which it will be possible to select bulls. In the case of dairy breeds, no herd other than an officially recorded herd should normally be admitted to the county register.
Also, we want to rear more calves altogether. For the last year or more the number of calves being slaughtered has been far too high. It has been considerably greater than in ordinary times. We want to stop that and encourage farmers to rear more calves and steers. There are a great number of small farms in remote districts producing milk in unsatisfactory, and even insanitary, conditions, which would be better employed in rearing calves. My committees are themselves to be authorised to rear calves, apart from the bull calves, for the eventual replenishment of the dairy herds. By that means we shall increase the total number of young cattle becoming available, and then we shall be able to go on with the process of weeding out the unhealthy and unthrifty cows and substituting better stock. I do not need to deal again with the question of improved veterinary inspection of dairy herds, which is, of course, one of the first essentials of a healthy, well-bred dairy herd.
There is also the question of pigs and sheep. I am very anxious to see the number of sheep increased. I think that that will follow fairly automatically from the increase in the number of temporary leys. In the case of pigs, Lord Woolton is very anxious that the number of breeding sows should be increased, because, as I pointed out earlier, one of the things which will face the world, and especially this country, at the end of the war is going to be a shortage of fats. We want to be in a position to develop our bacon, pork and lard production as quickly as circumstances allow.
Perhaps my hon. Friend will develop that point, if he gets the opportunity to rise, later. There are other parts of the country besides East Anglia, and I must provide for them. It is perhaps a matter of some national satisfaction that the policy which I foreshadowed in a speech at Cambridge as long ago as last October, our British policy, has proved to correspond so closely to the views of the experts of 44 nations at Hot Springs.
On 8th July my right hon. Friend said in this House:
In Scotland moreover, the different methods of farming in operation render inadvisable and unnecessary the adoption of the lines of action which I propose to follow for the breeding and rearing of cattle for meat and milk production in England and Wales."— [OFFICIAL, REPORT, 8th July, 1943; col. 2274, Vol. 390]
Does that statement still stand?
I think my hon. Friend had better raise that question on the next occasion the Scottish Estimates are discussed; I am dealing with England and Wales. I want to allow time for hon. Members to take part in the Debate, and I cannot go into meticulous details about this, that or the other bit of our policy; I want to give a general picture. The Conference next dealt with the period of adjustment. They suggested that as the requirement of calories for the relief of hunger was gradually overcome, the different countries should alter their emphasis from cereal production more and more to livestock. Livestock production requires more land and more labour per unit of consumption than cereals. The Conference felt that in this way the gradual transfer to a higher nutritional standard would of itself create an additional demand for farm resources and farm production, which would go a long way to preventing the accumulation of excessive surpluses of cereals, which were such a bugbear to the primary producers of the world during the pre-war years.
I come now to the long-term agricultural recommendations. The most important are contained in Resolution XV in the White Paper. As I said earlier, they have been accepted, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs stated the other day in the House, by His Majesty's Government. The first is that the natural and economic advantages of any area should determine the farming systems of that area. I need not enlarge on that. It seems to me common sense, though it was often more honoured in the breach than in the observance in pre-war days. The second recommendation, in 1 (b) (i), suggested that farming systems should be so designed as to maintain soil fertility at levels which will sustain yields and ensure adequate return for labour. The Conference clearly realised that food had been produced in the past under conditions which have involved the sacrifice of soil fertility and have led in many cases to soil erosion on a vast scale, with irreparable damage to production in the future; and they realised that the soil, after all, is one of every nation's chief capital assets. They went on to 1 (b) (ii), which deals with the protection of crops and livestock from pests and diseases, and to 1 (b) (iii), which says that steady employment throughout the year must be favoured. They said that these three aims in general can best be ensured by balanced mixed rotational farming and by avoidance of single-crop production.
Taking the third and fourth together, hon. Members will observe that the Conference advocated a world system of farming, based in each country on full economic security and biological security. What are the economic risks to which the farmer is subject? In the first place, he is subject to wide fluctuations in prices, with the subsequent ups and downs in the returns both to farmers and to peasants, to fluctuations in employment, and to fluctuations in output, due to weather and outbreaks of disease. Clearly, the more mixed farming you get, the less is your danger from those fluctuations, because you spread your risks over a greater number of products. The biological risks are those of plant diseases and the loss of fertility, whether due to erosion or to any other cause. The Conference, in Resolution XV, stressed the point that all these economic and biological dangers can be greatly diminished by the adoption of systems of mixed rotational farming. I have stressed this point because it is fundamental to the future of the agriculture of the world. I think that, with the experience we had in this country between the wars, one may hope that we have learned that lesson, although there is still a large body of urban opinion which ignores it, or used it. I might add that there is also a body of politico-economic opinion which ignores it. Is it too much to hope that those people will note that 44 nations, assembled at Hot Springs, unanimously decided that it was in the general interests of mankind that agriculture should be based on sound fundamental principles, and those fundamental principles involves the maintenance of soil fertility and a system of mixed rotational farming, dependent on livestock production, and not on a single crop agriculture?
There is another Resolution to which I should, in fairness, call attention, otherwise someone may quote it against me and say that it invalidates what I have said. On page 34, hon. Members will find Resolution XXV, which says that increasing opportunities should be afforded for supplying consumption needs at prices fair to both producers and consumers alike, to prevent serious economic and social dislocation. The Resolution states that excessive short-term movements in prices of food and agricultural commodities are an obstacle to the orderly development of production and that extreme fluctuations of prices of food and agricultural products increase inflationary and also deflationary tendencies, and that these tendencies harm producers and consumers alike. May I give one or two brief examples of the sort of long-term fluctuations to which farmers have been subject in the past? The price of wheat fell from 21s. 2d. per cwt. in 1921 to 5s. 5d. per cwt. in 1933. Barley fall from 25s. 2d. to 8s. 10d. per cwt. in the same period, and oats fell from 19s. 10d. to 6s. 6d. per cwt. And now I will give one or two short-term fluctuations in price and in the cases I am going to quote all occurred within a single year. In 1920–21 the price of wool varied between 9d. and 3s. 5½d. per lb.; the price of wheat in 1930–31 varied between 5s. 2d. and 8s. 4d. per cwt. in 1925 the price of rubber varied between Is. 4½d. to 4s. 8d. per lb.—and I could go on quoting prices of that kind.
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether these fluctuations, which are very important, are not mainly brought about by people speculating in these commodities who have no connection with the business?
No, I would not have said that. I would have said that they were due in the main to undue reliance of individual countries on single cash crop production. If you got a very big harvest suddenly in one country and you had a sudden slump, it might be affected by speculation, but fundamentally it was due to dependence upon a single cash crop. One way in which the Conference thought this could be remedied was by international arrangements designed to smooth out these fluctuations. They stressed the need, however, that these stabilisation measures should result in prices fair both to consumer and to producer and they also recommended, as I have already explained, in Resolution 15, that these fluctuations could be largely diminished by a system of mixed rotational farming and spreading the risks over a large number of products instead of over one or two.
The House will observe, therefore, from reading this White Paper, that the task of freeing the world from want is not going to be an easy one but the Conference evidently thought it could be done, and they thought that in its attainment it was necessary to stress the inter-relation between consumer and producer. The final quotation I will read to the House -is from the introduction by the Secretary General on the first page of the White Paper, in which he says:
The work of the Conference emphasised the fundamental interdependence of the consumer and the producer. It recognised that the food policy and agricultural policy must be considered together… The work of the Conference also showed that the types of food
most generally required to improve people's diets and health are in many cases those produced by methods of farming best calculated to maintain the productivity of the sail and to increase and make more stable the returns of agricultural producers. In short, better nutrition means better farming.
That is the point that one wants to emphasise. The House may say that these are rather broad generalisations. It is true, but they are fundamental generalisations which we have to bear in mind when we come to consider the long term problems which will emerge after the period of acute shortage has come to an end.
Before I close, the House will perhaps allow me one purely personal general reflection. I am, I confess, a little depressed when I observe the relative public interest shown in this country in the Beveridge Report and the Report of the Hot Springs Conference. The Beveridge Report, valuable as it is and warmly as I personally sympathise with it, is, after all, what I would call negative. It deals with "casualties." It deals with the sick, with the disabled, the unemployed, the widows and the old age pensioners, which one must hope at any given moment are a minority of the population. Hot Springs dealt with the constructive side Its aim was to prevent "casualties" and to enable 75 per cent. of the population of the world to produce for itself, and incidentally for the other 25 per cent., first of all, the minimum food required to keep body and soul together, and then, as methods improve, the continual improvement in the diet until eventually we get the optimum diet for all mankind. Beveridge affects at any given moment a few millions in this country. Hot Springs affects all the time tens of millions in this country and hundreds of millions in the world. And yet for every person in this country who has heard of Hot Springs there are probably 1,000 who have heard of Beveridge, and for every one who insists that the recommendations of Hot Springs should be put into effect to-day, there are 10,000 who say that Beveridge should be implemented before the end of the war. That indicates some slight lack of proportion; indeed I would go so far as to say that unless the Hot Springs recommendations are implemented, the Beveridge Report will prove to have been still-born in our own land.
The Hot Springs Resolutions definitely pointed the way to a world policy for agriculture, first of all, for the short-term period of acute shortage and then a new period of gradual adjustment and then, finally, they laid down the basic principles on which a practical policy for a well-balanced agriculture should be carried out throughout the world. If these policies outlined at Hot Springs are followed and put into effect in each country according to its different economic condition and geographical conditions, we shall, I think, have gone a long way along the road to solving the problems which faced primary producers throughout the world in prewar days. The adoption of these policies will certainly result in an improvement in agriculture throughout the world and therefore also in the amelioration of the lot of all mankind.
In the autumn of 1940 the Government made an appeal to farmers to increase their acreage under cultivation. For the first eight months of the war there had been a leisurely expansion in agriculture, and farmers had met the harvest of 1940 with but a slight diminution of their labour requirements. The sea lanes were still open, sinkings were negligible and ships were coming in carrying cargoes—because there were at that time few munitions of war to carry—of food for man and for beast. Then almost overnight the whole position changed. The occupation by Germany of land and sea ports, stretching from Denmark in the north right down to the Spanish frontier in the south, meant that we were denied access to all ports on the East Coast and had to use the very few ports of the Western Approaches. Every man that could be combed out was required for the Armed Forces. Equally there was a need for every bit of food that we could produce at home. We ran at that time the risk of defeat by slow starvation.
So great was our need and so urgent our necessity that the Government decided in November of that year to give farmers a pledge in which they told them that, if they could deliver the goods, they, in turn, would agree to formulate an all-party policy to be put into effect at the end of the war. Nobody can deny that the farmers have fulfilled their part of the pledge. Their record in this war has been a fine one. The agricultural community whether it be the farmer, the labourer or the women of the Land Army answered and responded with the same sense of loyalty and patriotism that they showed in the same circumstances 25 years ago. Yet when you turn back and read the speeches of Ministers you will find that much the same kind of promises were made as are now. Then as now we were in danger of being starved out. We had to rely on our own gardens and our own fields for what we had to eat. Yet once the danger was past and the country could count again on filling its stomach with imported food the Government repudiated their promise and let agriculture down. As a result of this policy thousands of acres went out of cultivation and became waterlogged or grown over with weeds and brush. In addition to that, something like 250,000 of the best type of farm labourer left the land. They left it because the future held out so little promise to them, and in addition to that the houses in which they were asked to live and bring up their families were so very inadequate. We as a nation allowed this to happen because we believed that our security from attack was so sure that we did not have to depend on home-grown food and that we could neglect our own fields and go anywhere where the going was cheapest. The memory of this has not been lost upon the agricultural community. They feel that their task in this war has been made that much harder because they first of all had to get back the fertility of their soil before they could begin producing the big yields. For this reason agriculture today is asking that the Government should redeem their side of the bargain and announce what the post-war policy is to be. They are not going to be content merely to wait and drift on into another peace and then find that they have been let down as they were in 1922.
If I have laboured this point at some considerable length, I have done so because I do not believe that people in the country as a whole, and perhaps some Members in this House, realise what a hangover of bitterness there is in the agricultural community and how very fearful they are that what happened in 1922 will happen again. It should be remembered that farmers have had to invest fresh capital—capital which they have frequently had to borrow, in order to purchase tractors, implements, seeds, fertilisers—all the things that were necessary in order to comply with Orders to enable increased acreage. Like everyone else they have to pay Income Tax and in addition to that they pay E.P.T. at a very low standard of profit. At the same time the extra capital which they have had to expend on machinery has not been allowed as a charge against their farm profits. In many instances, therefore, farmers find their overdrafts much higher than they were at the beginning of the war, and they are very fearful that if, at the end of the war, legislation is enacted which reduces or curtails their markets they will find themselves in a far more difficult position financially than they were in 1939.
There is another factor which we should not forget. During the past four years it has been almost impossible to effect repairs to farm buildings. If a building starts to fall down and you do not immediately repair it, the damage proportionately gets far greater, and, obviously, a great deal of expense will be incurred under this head at the end of the war. With all this in mind, surely the time has come when the Government should formulate their policy in the shape of a White Paper. A few weeks ago I put down a Motion which gained considerable support in all parts of the House. I asked that the Government should agree to a policy of maintaining fertility, studying the needs of nutrition, guaranteeing fair prices and stable markets to producers and securing good living conditions for rural workers. I am sorry that the Government felt unable to agree to this Motion and to Debate it to-day, because I feel that, if they had done so, they would very considerably have restored the confidence of agriculturists. Therefore, with all the power at my command, I urge that during the Recess the Government should give this matter serious consideration.
But it is not merely with a view to helping those engaged on the land that I am making this plea. It has become a far wider issue than that. Agriculture, as the Minister has said, has become an international issue affecting the life of every citizen in the country, whether he is engaged on heavy industry and living in the cities or whether he earns his living out of the soil. There are many angles from which you can discuss why we should have an agricultural policy. I will merely mention two which are, I think, the most important—security and nutrition. Take security first. Agriculture is a long term industry. You cannot turn it on or off, like a tap, at the whim or fancy of the Government in power. You must either have on agricultural policy based on stable prices, telling the farmers what it is that you require of them, so that they in turn may maintain the fertility of the soil up to that amount, or else you will return to the uncertainty and disorganisation that existed in the period between the wars, a period which put many thousands of acres out of cultivation. This time I do not think you will find the farmers either so acquiescent or so ready to believe pledges which they feel may not be carried out. The question surely boils down to this. Do the Government feel that, when the war is won, the world will be such a safe place that it can depend on unlimited exports coming in from abroad? Can we allow ourselves the luxury of seeing those fields in which we take such pride to-day, fields bulging with their crops of golden corn, to go by the board and weeds and tares grow in their place? I think a policy of that kind would be crazy. But, apart from that, I cannot believe that this is going to be a war that will end all wars. Looking around the world, I cannot but feel that we are entering, if we have not already entered, a turbulent period of unrest with dynamic forces everywhere at work. You have only to look at the stirrings going on amongst the hundreds of millions of people in the East. Certainly Europe does not look as if it was going to be a stable place for many years to come. Therefore, if we cannot specifically say that our safety in the future is assured, we have no right to run the risks and dangers of starvation.
There is a second aspect of this question to which little thought has been given except by the experts, and which I am glad the Minister mentioned specifically in the course of his speech—the question of a world shortage of foodstuffs. During the past 100 years we have got into the habit of thinking that there are vast areas of the world's surface which have nothing to do but to supply us and other centres of population with food. Economists have assured us in the past that we must do nothing to interfere with that and that, if we did, we would be in danger of losing our markets for our own industrial output. I believe that is an out-moded philosophy. To-day many hitherto exporting countries are building up very large secondary industries for war purposes. Take Australia as an example. Before the war Australia did not produce a single aeroplane. To-day she has nearly 40,000 men engaged in the aircraft industry. Do you believe that when the war is over she will tell those people that they can go back to the land? Do you think she will tear down those factories? Of course she will not, for two reasons—for her own security and also for the purposes of the new economy that she is engaged on building up. Also I am told that the immigrant that she most wants after the war is the skilled worker and not the agricultural labourer.
I will give you also the people of the United States. Before the war the United States was an exporter of foodstuffs, now her nutritional experts will tell you hat, if she has a standard of living throughout her population comparable with that which we in this country enjoy in wartime, she would pass from being an exporting country and would become herself an importer of foodstuffs. Let us not forget that, owing to the greed and neglect of mankind all over the world, hundreds of thousands of acres have gone out of cultivation and have been denuded of their fertility by disease and erosion. I repeat, therefore, that no Government can afford at the present juncture of world affairs to neglect its agriculture. If the House admits that my arguments are correct and that we must maintain the fertility of our soil, the question is to what degree we are going to do it. There is a body of enlightened gentlemen—who I believe call themselves nutritionists—who would like to see a Britain evolving out of this war consisting of grass, glass and vegetables supplying us with an almost unlimited amount of health giving foods. Yet those same gentlemen are violently opposed to the taxpayer having to pay a single penny for food which can be grown more economically abroad. This seems to me to smack too much of having your cake and eating it too. Every agriculturist knows that, if he is to maintain the fertility of his soil, he must go in for a proper rotation of crops. If he does not get help with his uneconomic crops, he will not be able to succeed. The basis of our farming is mixed farming, and so it must continue. I do not mean that I am advocating an unlimited cultivation of sugar beet, wheat and other cash crops upon which the farmer depends for his income. On the contrary, I think they should be kept at the lowest level consistent with economic production.
Now let me say a word on the subject of nutrition, The Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is to be congratulated on the leading part which he and his delegation played at the Hot Springs Convention, in that they laid down certain standards of nutrition to be aimed at by the whole world. If those standards are to be achieved, even to a very limited extent, farmers everywhere will have a very great role to perform. Nutrition is comparatively a new word. Most people did not know what it meant before the war. The food that was preferred by evacuees from the great cities was a great shock to many of us. But things have changed since then and four years of living under a sound, healthy, rationing system have, I believe, woken vast numbers of people who have never given much thought before to the necessity of nutritional values. When the war is over we in this country are going to have a great role to play, probably the greatest role in our history, and certainly out of all proportion to our population. Therefore it will be necessary to have an adequate supply of health-giving food at prices which every one can afford. During the past few months there has been a spate of reports on agriculture. I have read many of them with care. The thing that strikes anyone who studies them is the almost complete unanimity as to what our agriculture policy should be. There should therefore be sufficient agreement for the Government to be able to work out a policy which will satisfy agriculture without putting too great a strain upon the Treasury or causing the price of food to rise too steeply for the consumer.
Our policy must be based on sufficient food for people to eat at prices they can afford and stability for the farmer. The farmer is not asking to-day for high prices. The thing above all that he wants in future is to be sure of his market. 'What he does not want are the kind of conditions that existed before the war when there was in the course of each year a differential swing in prices of something like 70 per cent. He asks that that should be done away with and that something more stable and less speculative should be put in its place. If he is able to obtain that promise he is prepared to accept a far greater measure of control than he has ever had to put up with before. His view is that it is perfectly right that if the taxpayer is to be asked to make a contribution, it is only right that it should insist on seeing that agriculture is carrying out its part of the bargain successfully. My hope is that much of the work that at present is being done by the Ministry of Agriculture will pass at the end of the war to a Ministry of Food, and that in place of the kind of slogans that we used to hear before the war about doles or assistance to farmers there shall be substituted the ideal of providing the best possible food for the inhabitants of this country.
I should like to support the plea of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) for some declaration of postwar policy. What he said about the various reports interested me. I suppose that the right hon. Gentleman is a little puzzled with the various views that have been put before him by all these organisations. Every responsible body, agricultural and political, has by now expressed its views, and if one thing has impressed me, as it has impressed the hon. Member, it is the extraordinary degree of unanimity which has been achieved. A further fact is that all these views are expressed not from the angle of "help the farmer," but from the wider angle of the national need. We seem to have reached a stage where there is agreement that the establishment of agriculture on a solid and secure basis after the war must be the primary concern not of any particular party but of the nation as a whole. I should imagine that the right hon. Gentleman receives a great deal of encouragement from that fact. It is certainly a great step forward from the attitude adopted in the past.
I have always felt that it is absurd that we should have to argue agriculture's case at all. It needs no defence. History has proved that agricultural decay leads to national decay. Take the case of Scotland. In Scotland one-half of the total population lives in four great cities and there were more people on the dole in one of them for many years before the war than all the workers on the land put together. Such is the result of laissez-faire, industrial squalor and rural depopulation. For the second time in a quarter of a century we have come to realise how insecure our food supplies are. I hope that we have realised that to strip the land bare of fighting acres is tantamount to committing national suicide. Dead acres in peace have meant dead men in war. Derelict land is therefore a menace to the State. I do not think that we are thankful enough to Providence for our deliverance. He has given us good farmers and he has given us also good farm workers. He has given us, too, two first-class Ministers who have succeeded miraculously in administering a blood transfusion to what appeared to be a corpse.
But if I were compelled to argue the case for agriculture I do not think I should fall back on those arguments of national security or national stability. My case would simply be that it is a crime for the State to neglect its land, to allow its plains to become mere grass ranches, and its hills deserts, and to allow its workers to drift away and swell the ranks of the unemployed. I would go further and say that it is equally a crime for the farmer or the landlord to neglect his trust. Our farmers and workers have done an extraordinarily fine job of work during this war. The output per man, I am told, is the highest of any agricultural country in the world. That is a great achievement. But what the farmer fears -s that when the "all clear" sounds and the danger of starvation has passed once more, the drums will beat the retreat to the economic wilderness they know so well. I do not think their fears are justified because of new factors which have arisen out of this war and which are big enough to change the course of history. Moreover, I have confidence in the right hon. Gentleman that he will fight for our industry as I have confidence in the Secretary of State for Scotland. But although we have confidence in our Ministers—and our farmers share that confidence—we are not certain whether the Government are behind the Ministry. Farming is a slow long-term business. It marches in cycles of rotations, not in short steps from year to year. That is why the sooner we have some indication from the Government of what is in their minds about the post-war period the better it will be for the industry and the country.
Whatever happens we must avoid repeating the history of the last post-war period. I feel that then we perhaps expected too much. We expected to grasp prosperity too easily. Far too much was promised and the result was that a retreat began which developed into a rout. For that reason I think the right hon. Gentleman has been wise to be cautious. But what we can expect is that agriculture shall share in the national prosperity if and when that prosperity comes. That is all the farmer asks, and I think that we are entitled, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, to ask for a clearer and fuller indication of post-war Government policy. Many points have been raised by the Minister. The Hot Springs Conference was a great conference and I do not think the farmer has anything to fear from it. I prefer the principle of that conference expansion of production to the Sidney principle of restriction. But I would like to take rather a different line into the realm of pure practical policy. When all is said and done, when all our conferences are over we shall have to define what is really meant by a healthy and well-balanced agriculture. If it means any thing to me it means maintaining our land in good heart by producing a substantial proportion of our food stuffs in time of peace, so rendering the land capable of instant expansion in food production should an emergency occur.
Such a policy means the plough. We must have a larger acreage under arable cultivation. That does not mean that we must launch out into a great programme of cereal cultivation. Certainly we must increase our wheat acreage, but remembering what happened after the last war when the Corn Production Act was repealed, I cannot help feeling that along that road lies disaster. We have to remember that before the war 67 per cent. of the total output in England and Wales and 80 per cent. of the output of Scotland was derived from livestock and livestock products. As a nation we are livestock-minded. Our country is suited to it. Our farmers are highly skilled in this type of farming and I feel that livestock will again in peace time be the sheet anchor of British farming. I do not think the Minister has given us sufficient indication of future livestock policy, although he has indicated that he is awake to certain dangers. This healthy and well-balanced agriculture of which we speak can be secured by growing more crops at home suitable for stock, such as oats, kale, barley, peas and beans. The ley system holds out enormous possibilities for increasing our stock position. Such a policy need not alarm those people who are afraid of a curtailment of imports of feeding stuffs. We shall certainly have to cut down our imported feeding-stuffs, but that may be offset to some extent by an enormous expansion in milk production.
Our livestock policy, being of such immense importance, must be a balanced policy. Milk production is assured in future, but we cannot devote all our energies to the production of milk. We cannot separate beef from milk production, because adversity in the one leads to adversity in the other. Dairy cattle have kept up, and we are glad that that is so, but we must rebuild and expand our herds and flocks of cattle and sheep. There is great scope for a substantial expansion in the production of beef and mutton. Before the war we produced only one-half of our total beef requirements and two-fifths of our mutton and lamb requirements. We imported 1,000,000 cwts. of chilled beef from our Dominions and we should not cut into that. I would like to see it increased because of the wonderful efforts that the Dominions have made in the war. But, on the other hand, we imported over 7,000,000 cwts. of chilled beef from foreign sources. Surely we can cut into that. If we do we shall have to think of our supply of store cattle. Where do we get them from at the present moment? We get them from Southern Ireland and we also get them from our dairy herds. The vast majority of these store cattle on which we must depend must come as a by-product from the dairy industry. We shall have to breed far more store cattle, especially on our own hills. After all, Southern Ireland has not been too helpful during the war, therefore we must cut into her supplies and breed more ourselves, particularly on the hills.
We shall also have to do one other thing, and I am glad to see some indication, but not as much as I would like to see, from the Minister on this important point. We shall have to improve our dairy by-product the beef calf if we are to compete with Argentine products. That will be difficult. We shall have the two types of dairy herd, the commercial and the pedigree herd. The commercial dairy cow should be crossed with the pedigree beef bull and these calves should be reared by the small farmers. Agriculture cannot exist on milk alone. I therefore put three proposals to the right hon. Gentleman. We must cut into our Irish imports, extend the home breeding of store cattle, especially on our hills, and improve the dairy by-product by crossing commercial herds with good beef bulls. But the ruling and final factor will be the price of beef, and here again we can reduce costs by more intensive farming, by improved marketing, by centralised slaughtering and by propaganda. Above all, however, there must be a firm price for beef.
The price for meat must, in my view, be so firm that in the end it will do away with the cattle subsidy. I do not think that the hill cattle subsidy can be a really permanent feature of post-war policy. The men on the hill farms will not keep a calf for expense of £3 or £4 a head if, when it comes down to the market, they only get a few pounds for it. The price of beef is the ruling factor. I hope the Government will explore the line I have indicated. No doubt they are already doing so, for I feel that such a policy would solve a great part of our problem. It would keep the plough going and would prevent an undue swing to milk production. We can only prevent an undue swing to milk by a firm price for beef, that will support the prices for store cattle and will go a long way towards the solution of the difficulties of the hill sheep industry in the Highland areas. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) represents a great constituency where this policy would prove beneficial. The point of view that I have tried to put is that a healthy and well balanced agriculture, as I see it, really means a closer relationship between our livestock and the land.
The last point I wish to make concerns the hill sheep industry. I have spoken many times in the House on this problem. In my view no Government will ever solve this problem until they get over the difficulty experienced in pre-war days of imported supplies of mutton and lamb. We in this country sell all our sheep in our own markets. We sell our lambs, wethers and ewes in our local markets here, and we get whatever price we can for them. That is not what happens in a great sheep-exporting country like New Zealand. New Zealand sends us the cream of her products; the coarse, the under-sized and -the oversized sheep are all consumed in New Zealand. How are we to get over that problem? Once more we come back to the price factor, which, much as we dislike it, rules our policy. We cannot effectively match quality-chosen New Zealand lamb with the average of our British lambs. Finally, I have a suggestion to make to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is doing extraordinarily good work in his job. He has gone about the country, got into touch with our farmers and has taken a great interest in our affairs. The hill sheep industry is a very great industry. In the constituencies of myself and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll there are some 1,300,000 sheep to be looked after. Why do not the Government look into the future uses to which wool could be put? If we can make cloth from milk, surely we can do something with wool. After this war there will be possibilities in the furnishing trade. Surely black-faced wool can be used for some of these processes. So far the Government have sat back and done nothing to exploit future possibilities. They ought to get technical experts to evolve some new processes by which wool can be used, for in that way a great part of the problem of the hill sheep industry would be solved. A new use for wool with a firm and remunerative price would be a God-send to this long neglected section but highly important branch of our home agriculture.
As one of the supporters of the Motion put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree), I should like to support the plea for a clearer definition of Government agricultural policy after the war. I must, however, admit that the Minister has given us a lot to think about in his speech to-day. He has given an indication of the directions along which it seems the Government mind is working in the matter of post-war agricultural policy. The response of the agricultural world, both farmers and labourers, to the needs of the nation in its crisis is well known and acclaimed everywhere, but it is still true that at the back of the minds of farmers and their workers there is a fear of a repetition of what happened after the last war. They are very anxious that that shall not happen again and are asking for a more definite guarantee this time. Personally I can see why the Government have up to now hesitated to be very precise in regard to our post-war agricultural policy, because the fact remains that we have to fit it in to a world system of economy, which is a point which we must not forget even in a Debate like this. We are a great industrial country, with a large world trade, and we must try to find out how post-war conditions will make it possible for us to maintain this great development in agriculture without, at the same time, prejudicing our great industrial and commercial interests, which I should never dream of allowing myself to forget.
I am not surprised, therefore, that the Government have waited, but I hope they are waiting only until they have heard from some big international conference, like that which was held at Hot Springs, some indication of what other countries are thinking, what the world agricultural problem throughout the continents of the world is likely to be after the war and how we can fit in with it. I deprecate any idea of looking upon the agricultural economy of this country as a closed economy. It must fit in with a world system, and therefore the Government are wise not to state it too soon and before they have seen what are the reactions abroad. The methods of cropping we are adopting now have also to be taken into consideration. The large cash cropping of wheat, potatoes and sugar beet is not going to continue indefinitely, and we must come back to an agricultural system which is based more firmly even than it is at the present time upon the economy of livestock products, which I admit have not fallen away as we thought it would do in war-time. It must even more be the basis of our future agricultural policy. But having said that I hope the Government will not wait much longer but will really give us more definite assurances about the line they propose to take. I think the Minister showed us in his speech that this problem, which the Hot Springs Conference did face, has come back to an economy based on livestock, and that it is one which all countries will have to face. We have already based our agriculture on this policy. We started that more than l00 years ago, and in spite of fluctuations that still remains the basis of our economy, but I think it must become the basis of the economy of other countries too. Then we shall be able to see more clearly how we can fit in our own economy to theirs.
This, too, is a real problem which we must all face. The Minister referred to the fluctuations in world prices during the disastrous years between the two wars. We shall need for peace time what we have got in war-time, standardised prices for the principal articles of farm produce. But that proposal has a corollary to which the Minister did not refer, although it is extremely important. If we have standardised prices we must also have control of the areas of production. That followed in the case of the Wheat Act, 1932, which I have always thought was a very desirable and important Act. It gave a certain basis for cereal production in this country and it fixed a standard price for that very important product, wheat, but it also fixed the quantity which was to be produced, which was also desirable, because we could not permit the indefinite expansion of wheat production to upset the whole balance of our economy. Therefore, if we are to tackle the problem of standardised prices we must also tackle the problem of the control of the acreage of the products for which the price is to be standardised.
All this opens up very many big questions. It opens up the question of the control of imports, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough. I am not so much afraid of that as he appears to be. It is very important that we should realise that we must not organise scarcity. What we must aim at when we control imports is to organise plenty. Import controls, provided they are coupled with standardised prices and control of area production, need not necessarily mean organising high prices and scarcity. It means neither Free Trade nor Protection, but organised control of international trade towards which, I think, the world will increasingly move.
Now I would like to say a word about the Government's White Paper on the nation's milk supply. The White Paper goes a very long step forward in the solution of this very difficult problem. It skates warily over thin ice, where there is thin ice, but it cuts a very good figure. The subject bristles with difficulties. There is a great deal of prejudice, ignorance, pseudo-scientific knowledge and, I am afraid, a certain amount of vested interests involved in this question of pasteurisation and the production of clean milk. Many people speak about the subject as though it were not a scientific problem but as though it were a religious question, and they get excited without having true scientific knowledge of the facts of the case. Like all scientific problems, there are many factors at work. We have to face the difficulty that we should first of all safeguard the nation's health by securing a clean and uninfected supply of milk, but that if we go at it like a bull in a china shop, we may throw a whole lot of small milk producers out of business and seriously jeopardise the whole milk supply of the country.
The milk industry is very complicated, and we must proceed with caution, as I think the White Paper has done. You cannot force all small milk producers out of business, or force them overnight into a Procrustean bed. There are two problems connected with this matter, and the first is to prevent tubercle bacilli getting into milk. To prevent that, certain treatment is given to milk which will destroy the bacilli. The methods hitherto adopted to that end are of two kinds, firstly the tuberculin testing of herds, which eliminates reacters and prevents them from producing milk, and secondly, pasteurisation, which treats milk in such a way after it has been sold as to make certain that there will be no tubercle bacilli when the milk passes on to the consumer. The first method is called the production of attested milk and the second, pasteurisation. There is a further method, which is often not thoroughly understood, the production of so-called accredited milk. This has nothing whatever to do with tubercle bacilli but deals with the elimination of certain other bacteria, called in one case the bacillus coli. There are also various so-called streptococci which come through the air, particularly in cowsheds where small particles of manure are flying about. They get into the milk and cause souring, and a general lowering of the feeding value of the milk which may indirectly even have a bad effect upon the consumer's health. This is not as dangerous as the tubercle bacillus but is extremely important and dangerous in an indirect way.
Both these problems have to be dealt with, and they are dealt with in the White Paper, tentatively. We must be clear about the matter. There is a difficulty in regard to the production of milk from attested herds. If we forced every herd in the country to submit to the tuberculin test, we should probably eliminate 30 per cent. of the whole of our dairy herds or at any rate reduce the dairy herd population by 30 per cent, and do very serious damage to the whole of our milk production for the time being. It is true that in the United States whole areas have been cleaned up for some years, but you cannot argue from that beyond a certain point, because in the United States there are large areas where contacts and congested markets are much less frequently met with than in this country and the danger of infection and contacts is much less. The process of cleaning up the herds by tuberculin tests will be a slow business. To argue that that must be universally applied quickly is to ask for something that would be very harmful.
Moreover, there will be no very rapid development in that direction until we have some method of dealing with the reacters in the herds. At present when a herd is tested, you find a certain number of reacters. What happens then is that they are sold on the local market and may come back into the herd of some neighbour or of some other county, or even a neighbouring parish, and thereby tend to increase the source of infection. So far as I am aware, there is no machinery whereby these reacters can be properly isolated or made use of. A reacter to a tuberculin test is not necessarily a tuberculous animal. She may have only a small tuberculous lesion in her system, which may not affect the milk or her milk production. The lesion may be somewhere which cannot be detected until the animal is actually cut up. Rather than throw it away, it is important to have some method of dealing with it; but the farmer should not be left to the tender mercies of the local market for getting rid of his reacters. There ought to be a proper method of dealing with it.
If it is true that it is impossible to apply directly a universal system of tuberculin tests and we must rely upon the gradual expansion of the practice among farmers, what remains? We must undoubtedly press for pasteurisation wherever it is possible. By a judicious combination of tuberculin tested herds and of pasteurisation, we can definitely eliminate this danger to the public. Nor is it true that pasteurisation endangers the qualities of the milk. Of all the vitamins in milk, only one is seriously affected. It is different in the case of sterilisation, which means heating the milk to boiling point, at which all of the vitamins are, I think, destroyed. In pasteurisation, you heat the milk to a point below boiling, and only one is destroyed. The others are still effective.
It is necessary to continue the gradual extension, by education, of the systems of attesting dairy herds by the tuberculin test, of pasteurisation and, lastly, the continuation of what is pretty widespread now, the production from accredited herds, the method by which infections other than tubercle are got out of the milk by sterilising dairy implements and washing cows. This is extremely important, because if milk which is riot accredited is pasteurised, other difficulties and complications arise. If you pasteurise milk which has been infected by the bacillus coli and other germs, milk seriously deteriorates in other respects. All three methods must be tried and worked, and in that way we shall be able to give the public an increasingly satisfactory article. A good deal has already been done, but there is still a long way to go.
I am glad that the Minister is to encourage what have been hitherto the non-milk producing areas of the country, in the production again of a larger quantity of store stock. I have always doubted the wisdom of the milk drive in these areas. County war agricultural committees have been mistaken in some cases in pressing farmers in predominantly store-raising districts to go in for milk production. The result has been unsatisfactory and is bringing about a shortage of stores. I do not blame the war agricultural committees, because I think they were pressed by the Minister to do it, but we must rather encourage higher yields in the areas which are clearly dairy areas and encourage those in predominantly store pro- ducing areas to go back to the production of stores. In this connection I cannot agree with the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). If I understood him aright, he advocated a reduction of the amount of Irish store cattle imported to this country. I cannot see any need for that. I would like to remind him of the fact that the Irish introduced licensing of their bulls for the improvement of their herds before we did so. I have noticed a very large improvement in the quality of store cattle coming into the West of England markets from Ireland in recent years. I think Ireland can contribute very considerably towards the maintenance and improvement of our herds.
I should like to say a word now upon a passage of the White Paper which relates to breeding, and with which I am not in agreement. It complains of
the increasing tendency in the direction of indiscriminate and cross-breeding.
That is rather vague. If it means that we must not cross dairy stock with beef stock and expect to get a dual-purpose cross, I quite agree, but I am not sure whether that is altogether what is meant. There has been an agitation that we should stick more to type and not allow crossing between obviously dairy types or between beef types. I can see no particular objection to crossing between good dairy Shorthorns and good Ayrshires. There are very good types to be got out in that way, but I am very suspicious of any tendencies to argue about sticking to pedigrees and to types. Many of our cattle breeds actually have been bred for superficial appearances in the show rings and a whole series of vested interests has gradually grown up around the show rings which has nothing whatever to do with the production either of good milking or of good beef-quality cattle. It is true that some herd societies have been working on utility types of breed but I do not think they have got very far yet.
I cannot blame a farmer who does not look so much to the colour of his beasts or the shape of their horns and who is more concerned with their milk records than with whether the animal has descended from some bovine Adam or has got the right shape of body. Some years ago I was in the United States, and I remember spending a week-end with a great American cattle breeder, Mr. Parmalee Prentice, who, with his scien- tists, has produced the famous Mount Hope Bull Index, which has been a source of tremendous improvement in the dairy cattle of the United States. When he was showing me round his herd one morning I asked, "What type of animal is this?" He said, "Type? I don't recognise types. I only recognise the records of health and stamina of the animal and the performance in the dairy." I think he was quite right so far as that went. Provided that he had an original strain of good dairy cattle to work upon, he was not concerned about the superficial excrescences of his animals.
The Ministry should not complain too much about this breeding of good quality stock, because they are rather like people who are living in glass-houses; they should not throw stones. At the beginning of this war it was the Ministry who cut down the grants to milk recording societies in this country, which have done a great deal to improve the yield of the dairy herds. Those socieites have had to struggle on by themselves for a very long time before at last they regained recognition, as they should have done at the beginning, from the Ministry, and I am very sorry that the Ministry, for reasons best known to itself, saw fit at the beginning of the war to shut down on its support, because, to my mind, there is nothing which will do more to improve the quality of our dairy herds than the maintenance of our milk recording societies. Much honour is due to them, I think, for having stuck it through the difficult years at the beginning of this war.
I will say just one or two words on the question of the fertility of the soil, which was referred to by the Minister. We have got to a point, 1 think, where, if we do not develop a system of temporary leys on many of our farms, we shall be in danger of the reduction of our soil fertility. In many farms now as much land has been ploughed up as can be ploughed up and as many straw crops are being taken off as can be taken off without exhaustion unless we revert to a system of two or three year leys. I would like to know from the Minister whether the war agricultural committees have been asked to encourage this. Up to now they have rather frowned upon leys of more than one year, although I know there are many committees who have allowed more than one year where they thought it was desirable.
I would like to have an assurance from the Ministry that they are to encourage leys of two or three years at least, because I think in that way we can continue to produce the fullest measure from our soil and at the same time not lose its inherent fertility, which might come about from the overcropping of certain types of crops. That famous farmer on the borders of England, Mr. Elliot, whose book, I see, has recently been republished, used to farm in that way. With very little purchase of artificial manures he could, by temporary leys, maintain the fertility of his soil, and he even introduced certain weeds into his temporary leys which would draw mineral substances from the subsoil in order to help him in maintaining fertility If our farmers are encouraged not to crop too much from the temporary leys, not to make hay more than once in the first year, and the second year to graze, to allow the tread of the hooves of the livestock to encourage that fertility, I think there is no fear for the fertility of our land.
I congratulate the Minister on his administration of his Department during this past year. Any criticisms I have made I hope he will regard as constructive criticisms. In regard to our farmers and workers who are in the forefront of the battle in this great struggle, I am sure that the nation will show their gratitude to them not only in words to-day but by seeing to it that after the war they get a square deal.
We always listen to the speeches of the Minister of Agriculture with pleasure and profit, and to-day he has been not less interesting than usual. He devoted a considerable portion of his speech to the Hot Springs Conference of 42 nations. I hope that that Conference, that kind of League of Nations, will be more successful in averting want than the League of Nations was in averting war. He divided his speech between two parts. One was the immediate relief of hunger and of the want that we may expect after the war is over. That is a Government matter, which will be decided by the Government no doubt, but what I am more interested in is, what do you propose to do for British agriculture? My hon. Friend said quite rightly that there is a great deal more interest in the Beveridge Report than in the Hot Springs Conference, be- cause the Beveridge Report affects this country
I want to know what is the policy of the Government as it affects agriculture in this country. My hon. Friends and myself had the experience for to or 15 years before 1939 of endeavouring to urge the importance of agriculture. We did not forget that in the dread year of 1917 we were nearly starved out. As Lord Woolton said the other day—he paid a very fine tribute to the patriotism and the energy of the farmers—had it not been for the farmers of the country, we should have lost this war. Therefore these farmers deserve consideration, and I am asking now for a policy that will give a reasonably efficient cultivator of the land a reasonable livelihood, and will enable him to live and pay good wages. We have not heard much about that to-day. Doubtless it is in the mind of my right hon. Friend. I hope he will give us his views later.
My right hon. Friend referred to the variations of prices. He has got at the Ministry of Agriculture a very admirable statistical department. They furnished these figures, which I will not read, as my right hon. Friend has already done so, but I would ask him, "Do you intend in the future to prevent these variations of prices, sometimes ridiculously high, others ruinously low?" We want stability. At the moment we are dwelling in cloud-land so far as agricultural matters are concerned. Something like £140,000,000 a year is being spent in food subsidies. That is the policy of the Government. I do not complain, but the subsidies will not go on, they cannot go on, for long after the war. It is no good the people of this country thinking they can pay out £13,000,000 to £14,000,000 a day. Therefore I want to know what my right hon. Friend has in his mind when these subsidies are coming to an end. Farmers are not making large profits, though I give my right hon. Friend the greatest possible credit for standing up for fair and reasonable prices, the Chancellor has diddled him. He has put on Income Tax, which will take all the cream off the milk. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is not any in it now."] The prices are all right; it is the tax.
We are entering upon, some say, a better world; I would say a changed world. It will be a quite different world. As Sir Edward Grey said before the 1914 war, the lamps of Europe are being extinguished, and they will never be lit again in our time. We shall not see things as they were pre-1939, certainly not pre-1914. We shall have to export to pay for our food. Foreign investments, the interest on which came here in the shape of legs of mutton, sides of beef, wheat for bread, etc., will be no longer available. Foreign investments have gone. Therefore it behaves the Government of the day to take particular account of these facts if agriculture is to be maintained as a permanently prosperous industry. We have to-day a control of prices, and there must be a control of prices after the war. So many people have very large sums of money which they are prepared to burn. A member of one of the famous inns here told me the other day that they had sold their stock of champagne and made is less than £6 a bottle. Personally, for sustenance I would rather have a lb. of butter, but when these prices are made it only shows what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said, that pounds, shillings and pence are meaningless symbols. That will come to an end as the war comes to an end.
The Government have added increased costs on to the production of food very considerably. I do not blame them for putting up agricultural wages. I congratulate them. The agricultural labour is worthy of his hire, but I want the Government to realise that increased costs must affect the future ownership of land. Many landowners who have hitherto dwelt on their estate keeping up their repairs, will not, in my judgment, be able to do justice to the land. They will not have the money to spend on repairs with taxes at l0s. in the £ and upkeep three times as much as pre-1914. Therefore the Government have to envisage that condition of affairs. I do not believe that a number of small landowners will be able to do justice to their land.
On the subject of land values, there has to be a quite different arrangement as between town land values and agricultural land values. I doubt whether 25 per cent. of the purely agricultural land in England to-day is worth the equipment on it. I am perfectly certain that in 75 per cent. of cases if you were to sell the farm as a going concern, the house, the buildings, the fences, the drainage would far outweigh the price you would get for the land as land alone. Land in Canada is dearer than it is in England. When I went to Canada you could get so much land for a matter of dollars per acre but with no equipment. The value of much land here is a minus quantity. I wish that fact would sink into the minds of some of my hon. Friends who talk about the taxation of land.
I spoke of equipment. My right hon. Friend is rightly endeavouring to cleanse the milk supply of the country, an admirable object, and I hope he will succeed. One of his principal officers of the milk department, speaking quite unofficially, said, according to the "Farmers Weekly," that if you want to get your equipment for a clean milk supply it will cost something like £100,000,000. Of course, no one contemplates that expenditure. On our farms in North Devon the premises are not adapted to a clean milk supply. It is not the fault of the farmers; they have not the appliances. There is not the water laid on, and it will be a very long time before it can be laid on.
I quite agree that in my right hon. Friend's own area of North Devon, which I have visited several times since my appointment, if we are to turn it into a milk-producing area, we have to provide the water. I have been shocked at the absence of water. But for our short-term policy those farms should be turned over to cattle, to help us in increasing the livestock of the country. What will happen later I do not know, but as a short-term policy they should rear calves.
I understand that; but if you want produce and are prepared to pay for it, you will get it. No farmer will produce for long unless he can see a reasonable return. I come to the question of the quality of milk and its distribution. All our legislation has been devoted to the welfare of the distributor. The milk distributor has a 48-hour week and a Wages Board. In the case of the Minister of Labour, we have had the Catering Act, but the caterers would not be able to do much unless they had the stuff to cater with. Production has been left to private enterprise; and, in spite of my hon. Friends opposite, I am still in favour of private enterprise.
I remember the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain saying once, "When I am called in I will prescribe." We try on our farm to produce clean milk. We have a butter fat content of 4·7—it has been up to 4·9. I understand that this milk is brought to London, and not only pasteurized but standardised; and that the cream is extracted down to the legal limit of 3 per cent. I would like to know whether that is so. At any rate, our butter has 30 per cent. above the legal limit. Before I was bombed out, I lived in London. We went down to the country, and there was a head of cream on the milk there far greater than we had in London. I would like the Minister to say whether these great combines standardise the milk and extract the cream. I am inclined to think that they do. The Government are building agricultural labourers' cottages. I understand that they have to be close together in the villages; but for the provision of milk it is better to have a cottage in proximity to the cow byre rather than in proximity to the cinema. I have always had an idea that with an agricultural labourer's cottage you should have a good garden and a piece of land where the labourer might keep a few pigs and fowls. Mr. Jesse Collings' idea of three acres and a cow was not far wrong. I hope that the Minister will insist on a piece of ground for keeping pigs and poultry with the cottage.
With regard to agricultural education, I do not ask the Minister to develop the point now, but he has had the Luxmoore Committee's Report. They put the point, which is rather astonishing, that agricultural education must be taken out of the hands of the Minister of Agriculture.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some information about that. There is one nugget of wisdom in the Report. It says:
Any attempt to establish a wider and better system of agricultural education requires that the condition of the industry is sufficiently attractive to induce young men and women to enter it. The provision of new opportunities for education and training is the wrong way. To be successful, it is necessary to create the demand by making the industry attractive as a means of livelihood and as providing an interesting and satisfying life, for unless there is such attraction the educational facilities will be but little use.
That comes back to my point that we must have a prosperous agriculture before you will induce young men and women to go into it. I would ask, what is to be the future of the county war agricultural committees? They have done magnificently, but at present they have unlimited means. Now something will have to happen. I am certain they cannot go on as at present after the war is over. What is to be the future relationship between the committees and the county councils? There is an enormous opportunity for employment on the land. My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, when he used to sit on the opposite side of the House, was rather grudging of any assistance to agriculture.
I am sure my right hon. Friend does not wish to misrepresent me. If he were to interpret my mind properly, he would say that when I sat opposite I was always hostile to wasting money, by giving it with no policy in mind.
I will not pursue that point. If my right hon. Friend considers that the encouragement of farmers before the war was wasting money, I cannot agree with him. I was going to say that my right hon. Friend was always torn between loyalty to his party and what he knew was injustice to the farmers. There is a great opportunity for work on the land. The gravest problem after the war will be to find employment for our working men and women. I always advise men not to go into meretricious employment where they will get larger wages, but to stick to a job which will stick to them after the war.
There is hard work, but it has to be done. I think the employment problem is going to be the greatest of all our problems. It is even more important than Sir William Beveridge's proposals. He seems to me to put the cart before the horse. Employment must be the motive power to draw the cart. My right hon. Friend has a great opportunity now. I believe that the country is more agriculturally-minded than it has been for years.
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman if it is really necessary. My right hon. Friend has unique circumstances. There are thousands of young women who have gone to work on the land, and they have done extremely well in the majority of cases. I know that my right hon. Friend has a great admiration for the work of the war agricultural committees. I wish he could persuade the war agricultural committees, when demobilisation takes place, to find husbands for these good, young women, because they understand work on the land, and we all know that one of the most important things in the success of any farmer is for him to have a good wife. I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he will in the near future give us some information whereby, in the words of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman:
The land might be less the pleasure ground of the rich and more the treasure house of the nation.
I was one of those who put my name to the Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree). We should try to find out at the present time whether we could agree upon
a common post-war policy for agriculture. We shall not agree in every particular, but a discussion of the problem will help us to find out where we agree and where we disagree, and this would be valuable. I find myself very largely in agreement with the speech of the hon. Member for Harborough, though in some places I perhaps would have liked to have approached the problem a little differently. However, I am sure there is a general basis for agreement in that approach, but more particularly the Minister to-day outlined to us a policy for the future in which many of us could find common agreement. I was glad indeed to hear that the Minister attached so much importance to the Conference at Hot Springs and that he would like the public of this country to understand the implications of the Conference much more fully. This is a many-sided problem, and some of us again may emphasise different aspects of Hot Springs, but it is a comprehensive and very important approach to one of the greatest of world problems of the present day. It is an ancient problem, and it used to be stated more simply to be the problem of poverty. If you state it in a more positive way, as they did at Hot Springs, and say that our aim is to establish freedom from want of food, it is perhaps only stating an old problem in a different way, but at any rate it suggests a somewhat new approach. I will quote one sentence from the Hot Springs Report:
Freedom from want is difficult to achieve without concerted action among all like-minded nations—
I believe that that is a very important submission and that we shall not achieve freedom from want for ourselves and for our agricultural community or for the country as a whole by our own action alone:
to expand and improve production, to increase employment, to raise levels of consumption, and to establish greater freedom in international commerce.
Different people may lay different emphases on these different phases. Some people may lay more emphasis on "expanding and improving production," and others may lay more emphasis on "raising levels of consumption," and the nutritionists have very much to tell us at the present time. Those who sit with me on this bench will be glad to emphasise that we require greater freedom in international agreements if we are to achieve
freedom from want of food. One thing the Minister did to-day of which I was very glad was to show us that Hot Springs is not a vague idealistic conception but that it may be made practicable. The policy of going back to livestock rearing in our hill districts is one way of carrying out a part of the Hot Springs policy. There is a feeling among those few people who have taken any notice of Hot Springs —who, I agree, are not very many—that it is an idealistic conception which will not in fact affect our lives in any very great detail. If we change from war-time production of cereals and cash crops to livestock again, it wild affect our farming and the standard of living of consumers in this country. I am glad to find that although the policy of my party with regard to post-war agriculture, in which I had a part, was written before Hot Springs, that policy does also fit in with the proposals made by the 40 odd nations.
There is a difference of approach to this problem. We all agree about what the farming community have done in the war, but many other sections of the community have also contributed all they have to the war. Farmers have done a magnificent job, but others have done the same. I would like to see farmers at the present time devoting themselves to explaining to the country as a whole how this great industry of agriculture can best contribute to the wealth and well-being of the whole community. It is true that in doing so the agricultural community must be given a fair deal. I am one of those who resent the assumption that agricultural workers' wages must always be lower than the wages of other people. I do not see why they should be. I would like to see it established as a general principle that farm workers' wages should be equal to the wages of any other class of worker. I am confident that the farming community can also contribute very much to the well-being of the country as a whole after the war. That is a better approach than the approach which seems to be based upon the argument that farmers have served the country well in the war and must not be let down. There are a great many farmers who are very confident that they are not going to be let down after this war, because they have learned much during the war about farming which convinces them that they can compete with New Zealanders, or Danes, or Americans provided they have level terms, and they can compete successfully in this country with the farmers of any other country in the world. What are those level terms?
That might be one of the terms. If we can get, through international agreement, a levelling-up of the remuneration of the primary producer all over the world, that would be one of the terms, and in that I find myself in agreement with the ideas of the National Farmers Union as developed from the days of the Sydney Conference.
I think I am the only person in the House who is a landowner in two other Continents besides this who supports the hon. Member in this, but I would point out that British farmers are not the only people who are hit. The South African and Canadian farmers have been as hard hit by bad prices as any British farmers.
I am very grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord as an international landowner. That is a matter which we overlooked, and without following up all the implications of that, I would only say that the greatest interchange which goes on in world trade, whether it is across frontiers or within countries, is an interchange between the primary producer and the industrialist, and our policy must be aimed, not merely at raising the standard of living of the one or the other, but at a mutual interchange to increase the wealth of all concerned.
I would like to approach a difficult and special problem that we have in this country of control over imports. No doubt we shall have to continue some control, but that control must be in the interests of the consumer as a whole. Perhaps Conservative friends will not mind my saying that to some extent their agricultural policy is prepared to accept very vigorous forms of control of imports by import boards which they have taken from the policy of the Labour Party. They are prepared almost to nationalise the import industry of this country but object to anything but a very minor amount of control over the farmer and the landowner and the agricultural interests in this country. We must have a considerable amount of control within agriculture it- self. Farmers themselves want to keep the war agricultural executive committees, though they must be more democratic and be subject to an appeal. Every successful agricultural community in the world has some cohesion or some organisation that they have built up in various ways. The Danes have their famous system of co-operation, the New Zealanders have another, the Canadians have another, and the Americans also have their own system. Perhaps it may be that the British system developed to meet war needs is the system of the agricultural committee in each county. British farming is very good, but the war has also shown that it is very patchy too. We have to make the very fullest use of our greatest natural resources. I and my party do not see how we can make the fullest use of the land in this country unless we are prepared to take over from private owners land which is not properly equipped.
The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last pointed to the immense capitalisation which is needed even for one problem alone—that of producing clean milk. I do not believe that capital will be forthcoming from private enterprise alone. I believe that State must lend a hand, and I believe that they should start with land that has been badly owned, on which improvements have not been made and on which the farmer has not got freedom to farm well unless he is supplied with the capital that he requires. We must also improve our internal marketing schemes after the war. I hope we shall have learned some of the lessons of war-time control. Not that I want to retain all war-time control by any means, but I hope we shall attack the problem of the spread between producer and consumer with real vigour and with a real intention to end it. What the British farmer should aim at is assistance and freedom to farm well, If he is given an equal chance with other producers, I think the best of British farmers to-day are confident that they and their industry can really contribute to the nutritional needs and to the general welfare of the country.
Very soon after the Minister published his recent paper of reforms in the milk supply I asked him a question addressed to the position of the hill farmers. He suggested that it would be good national policy if farmers were to turn away from milk to some extent and concentrate more upon raising cattle. I do not dissent from that, but it must be remembered that these farmers went on to milk partly because they were asked to and partly because the system of rationing made it necessary for them, to some extent at any rate, to do that, and, if this change which he desires in the national interest is to take place, it seems to me that he must aid it in some way. I asked him to do that, and his reply was not unsympathetic, for he asked me if I could make suggestions. I do not know that it is for a back bencher to make suggestions when he has so much more information and knowledge, but at any rate here are three. He should give these people more rations even than they are having now; they should be aided in carrying out the reseeding policy, because you cannot expect men on that kind of soil, unaccustomed to ploughing and with small capital, to go in for such a very expensive process to any great extent; and, lastly—a small matter but one which will have its effect —to raise the price of fat cows. There, at any rate, are three suggestions. May we at the end of the Debate have at any rate his answer to the question, how he can help hill farmers to carry out the policy he has asked them to carry out of turning away from milk for the raising of calves?
I should like to enter a caution to my right hon. Friend as to his policy of taking over too much of the power of county councils. It is really a caution to the Government generally to go extremely warily in the policy of reorganising local government as a whole, because this is only a part of it. I have the greatest admiration for my right hon. Friend's leadership in agriculture, and we were extraordinarily fortunate to have him and the Secretary of State for Scotland to do all that they have been able to do in a country which has so sadly neglected its agriculture. But it is one thing to have war agricultural committees exercising very great power in war-time, and it is quite another to have them exercising anything like that power in peace-time. In war-time the feeling that an emergency is about, and the patriotic impulse to do anything, however inconvenient, and to take instructions from officials whom you sometimes do not like, to get you over the matter, but that will not happen in peace-time. When things are going well you put up with inconveniences, and to some extent do not mind being ordered about, but you will not stand for it when more difficult times come, and I think my right hon. Friend should be very careful not to divorce the contact between farmers and farming people generally and the Government from the old-established local government with its local approach and its local knowledge.
I should like to add my voice to the many from all sides of the House which have urged my right hon. Friend to see if he cannot get his colleagues in the Government to frame a national policy in much surer terms over the next few years than they have yet done. I heard, with some understanding but with regret, the statement of the Deputy Prime Minister the other day that the point had not been 'reached in the War Cabinet discussions when they were able to declare a long term policy. We are very tolerant, rightly, understanding the Government's difficulty, but now is the time. Not before has the Minister occupied so good a position with all parties in the House and all those engaged in the industry. Not before has the agricultural case been so sympathetically received by the towns. Not before has there been such a feeling in the country that it is due to the farmers and farm workers, but more particularly due to the country itself, to have a sound agriculture based upon some lasting principle. Now of all times is the time. Therefore, I add my voice to that of others to say, "Get the War Cabinet now, before it is too late, before this sense of agreement passes, to declare a policy which will relieve the anxieties of the farming community and will be of the greatest permanent value to the country."
The Minister gave a most explicit statement in regard to the Conference at Hot Springs. It was obvious that he is determined to carry out their Resolutions and, in particular, to develop the production of food as far as is humanly possible. Other countries will do the same thing. In the case of this country agriculture has been extended into areas where it is very doubtful whether arable cultivation can continue after the war and after the events which will follow the war, when there will have to be provision of food for starv ing populations. These lands will then go back to grazing, very naturally in a much better condition to produce food for cattle and sheep than they are to-day. But there is a vast area, particularly in Scotland, where grazing can be the only practical matter as regards food production, and that is in the great sheep areas. I think it may fairly be said that in these areas nothing has ever been done to improve their fertility. Nature has been allowed to take its normal way, particularly in Scotland. The problem then is, Can anything be done to bring about an improvement? Experiments have been made, both in small and large areas, which distinctly show that a great improvement can take place. These improvements are obviously beyond the power of the individual, either tenant or owner. In the case of arable agriculture, two classes of subsidy have been paid, one for the crop produced and the other for bringing in new land from grass and turning it into arable cultivation.
In the case of forests the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) introduced the other day the Report of the Forestry Commission in which it was recommended that, where proprietors handed over or dedicated their forest lands, 25 per cent. of the cost for the first 15 or 20 years would be paid for properly cultivating the land and rearing a proper stock of timber. Nothing has been done for the grazing land in Scotland. It can be said that a subsidy has been given for destroying the bracken, but that was as an aid to prevent further deterioration and not as an aid to improve the land on its original condition. Arable land has been subsidised for improvement in various ways and in forestry assistance is to be given for improvement. In the case of grazing land, however, there are 5,000,000 acres which could be greatly improved, and I would ask the Secretary of State to consider helping sheep farmers and sheep-land proprietors to improve the condition of their land, because if an improvement takes place the amount of sheep that can be carried will be greatly multiplied. In the Highlands of Scotland, and, I believe, throughout Scotland, apart from the central narrow belt, it requires something like five acres to carry one sheep. The Forestry Commission say that it takes three acres of the land they pro- pose to cultivate to feed one sheep. On Lowland pastures there are five sheep to one acre. There is, therefore, a difference between the two types of grazing land of 25 to one. Obviously, therefore, there is a great difference between the pasture of ordinary grassland and the pasture of the land in the hill country of Scotland.
I would like to see this matter taken in hand by the Secretary of State. A hill-sheep industry commission is sitting and discussing these matters and I am unable to say what conclusions they have arrived at, but it is evident that something drastic requires to be done if improvement is to take place and an adequate number of sheep is to be carried in the area that I know so well in the Highlands. I had a letter from the Scottish Landowners Property Association pointing out that the present number of sheep carried on these lands is only 60 per cent. of what it was 60 or 80 years ago. In other words, there has been a progressive deterioration. It is not only a deterioration which has come on in recent years because of bracken, but a deterioration in the kind of pasture itself. That is complicated by the fact that in nearly the same period deer forests have covered greater areas, and as a general rule they do not carry sheep. The reservation of deer forests has reduced the number of sheep. Notwithstanding that, there has been a great reduction in the sheep carrying capacity of the country because nothing has been done to improve the pasturage. I shall be glad if the Secretary of State can say that something will be done to improve the pasture and that if it cannot be brought to the condition of the pasture in the Lowland areas, it will at any rate be brought back to the condition in which it was 60 or 80 years ago before the bracken pest became so bad and the deer forests reached such a large area as they do now. It is obvious that as a result of the war deer forests must not be allowed to cover such a large area, and probably not more than 1,500,000 acres will be covered by them. That means a release of 2,000,000 acres for sheep and that will be a great help. The deterioration that has taken place in the pastures, however, is the important point, and it is urgent that the Scottish Office should consider whether improvement should not take place.
I trust that it will meet with the approval of the House if I intervene at this stage to put the Scottish point of view on the proposals that my right hon. Friend has advanced. I am sure that English Members will agree that the Scottish point of view should be put. May I at the start assure my hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Sir R. W. Smith) that in broad outline the proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend will apply to Scotland? There will, of course, be certain adjustments, one or two of which I will touch on, but we are naturally keen to implement the resolutions of the Hot Springs Conference in terms of our own particular agricultural problems. May I give the background as it is at present? My right hon. Friend gave some United Kingdom percentages of production which are an eloquent tribute to farmers and farm workers. One can say in all modesty that Scots' farmers and farm workers have made their full contribution to these figures. Of our total land area of 19,000,000 acres, somewhat less than one-quarter came within the definition of cultivated land, and yet we have managed to achieve a considerable increase in production. I am forced to agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that we, too, have almost reached our limit of tillage, for in Scotland the percentage of tillage to total crops and grass, which was 32.5 in 1939, is to-day 48 per cent. The increase which we anticipate for next year will bring the figure to just under 50 per cent., if performance links up with forecast.
I do not think that that is particularly relevant to Scottish agriculture. The main proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend will also apply to Scotland, and we shall continue to maintain the maximum production possible. Such increased production as we have achieved has been brought about by ploughing up one-third of our permanent grass and by making substantial inroads into rotational grasslands, with some risk to the maintenance of fertility. When the pressure for intensive production of bread grains and potatoes ceases it will be necessary to take steps to restore that balance of rotational cropping. I do not think it will present so big a problem for us in Scotland as it will perhaps in the South, for, although we have two-thirds of our arable land under crops and only one-third under temporary grass, the proportion before the war was about 5050. Therefore, the move back will not be so great, because we had not the great reserves of grasslands that they had South of the Border. It seems to me that almost every inch of soil that can be used in Scotland will have been used.
Relatively to England, where rotational farming—taking the plough round the farm—has not been of such long-standing as in Scotland, where it has been traditional, it will not be so difficult to restore that fertility to the soil which is basic to any post-war programme. How far it will be possible or desirable to continue rotational farming on the less good land, the intermediate land, we have yet to ascertain, and we are making sample surveys to arrive at a decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Sir M. MacDonald) put forward a plea that the vast areas to which he alluded in the Highlands were best suited to grazings, and he begged for improvement. We have taken some steps in that direction. Our hill grazing subsidy scheme is designed not only to help the cattle, but also to increase the fertility of the hills for the sheep. In recent tours, which have taken me to various areas, including my hon. Friend's constituency, we made it clear to the crofters that as far as the machars or township grazings were concerned, the Department would be only too glad to help in the improvement of those grazings. I cannot go beyond that at this stage, but I wish to indicate to my hon. Friend that we have in mind the point which he is so very keen about and it will not be lost sight of.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), in an informative speech in the course of which he was kind enough to allude to myself, for which I thank him, brought a very authoritative knowledge to a subject on which he is something of an expert. The statements of my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture on livestock, both cattle and sheep, in relation to the Hot Springs resolutions fit very well into the natural farming economy of Scotland. Indeed, as I listened to the Minister's speech / almost heard an echo of a speech made in June by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). If he will look back to that Debate on the Adjournment, he will find that he was expressing for a very great area of very fine breeders of cattle the point of view which we find comes out very well in the discussion on these resolutions. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth has pointed out, in normal times something like 80 per cent. of our agricultural output in Scotland comes from livestock and livestock products, and therefore we have the keenest interest in this matter and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is very keen that the upgrading should continue and that we should continue to improve our breeds all round.
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, may I point out that while the Minister of Agriculture dealt in great detail and very comprehensively with dairy herds, he did not say so much about beef, and I should like to know whether what my hon. Friend has said just now goes for beef herds as well, and whether it will be part of the Government's policy to improve beef by paying as much attention to that industry as to the dairy farms?
Most certainly. We are very keen on improving the beef industry. Had not my hon. Friend interjected, I was just coming to one or two points which would have shown that we have this question very much in mind, In Scotland there is a clearer line of demarcation between our dairy herds and our beef herds, and therefore it may not be' necessary to follow the line proposed by the Minister of Agriculture in his references to a survey and registration of herds by county committees. We have this advantage that in operating the Licensing of Bulls Act it happens that most of the bulls concerned are already in the herd book, and that has given us a very high standard. That is a matter which we shall continue to encourage. We are anxious to maintain the excellent quality of our beef as well as of our famous dairy cattle. It may interest the hon. Member for East Aberdeen to know that there has been some perhaps unconscious attention—or perhaps events have worked together to bring it about—paid to the question of the licensing of bulls by farmers themselves. I note with great interest that whereas in the first six months of last year something over 3,000 bulls were licensed, in the first six months of this year the number was well over 4,000. We want to increase their number and their quality all the time.
As to the milk side of the problem, already about one-third of the milk supplied from our Scottish dairy herds is T.T. milk, a very high percentage indeed. We are anxious to encourage milk production, and one of the things envisaged in interpreting the Hot Springs Resolutions will be the maintenance and some expansion of dairying in Scotland. That is highly desirable. Already one sees a turning point in the rather serious decline in milk production which occurred three years ago and which we are only now beginning to overtake. With the improvement last winter the auguries for the future are better, but we still have a long way to go.
I think I have in the main covered most of the points which affected Scotland in this Debate, though I realise that other Scottish Members may be speaking after me. We do believe that a balanced agriculture suited to the nature of the land, mixed or rotational farming, producing a good, even fertility, is basic to whatever we do. In touring many counties and agricultural communities in Scotland it has been borne in upon me that their view of a healthy and balanced agriculture is an agriculture which is healthy not only in its economics and finance but healthy from the point of view of the homes of its farm workers and their conditions of work; healthy also in the sense of there being a remorseless attack on animal and crop diseases. They hope it will be balanced in the sense of standing firmly on its own legs, not balanced precariously on the knife edge of erratic market prices. It is my view that the policy which flows, if I may use the expression, from the resolutions of the Hot Springs Conference does give that outlook a good start. It is a policy which has been very admirably expressed by my right hon. Friend and with which we in Scotland associate ourselves in broad outline.
I do not apologise for having risen to take part in this very interesting Debate. I am glad that we are able from time to time to devote our attention to this oldest and most fundamental of all human industries. It is difficult to avoid taking an urban view of society in these days. A remark by one of my hon. Friends from Scotland brought that home very clearly when he stated that half the population of Scotland lives in four large cities. That shows there is a very large body of people in this country who must consume agricultural products, but there is also a large and important industry which grows food for those consumers. An important point is that we are not concerned entirely with home agriculture. There is a problem there and one which cannot be ignored, for we must maintain the closest watch upon the scale of progress in this great industry; but to-day the Minister took us away to the wider field where the whole problem of human sustenance, of the production and distribution of food, has been discussed, and where a very significant step has been taken in human economy. At the conference at Hot Springs 44 nations met to consider the problems arising out of the dislocations of the war and to consider ways and means of avoiding the disastrous experiences of the last post-war period. That is a subject of vital importance, and I am glad that so much attention has been given to the report emanating from Hot Springs, and join in the congratulations offered to our representative at that Conference.
We here are not a large agricultural country, but we must always play a large part in international conferences. We are a leader among the nations, and I am glad we have a sufficiently deep sense of responsibility to take leadership in so important a conference. It is stated in the report of that conference that two out of three of the families of mankind not only grow enough food for themselves but enough for the third family, who are otherwise engaged. Two-thirds of the human race are food growers; one-third are consumers only, and must be provided with the surplus of the agricultural producers. It is a tremendous problem. The distribution of labour is not even. There are countries engaged almost exclusively with food production and other countries which produce far too little food for their own use, and when we survey the problem as a whole we must include those areas which are importers of food as well as those which are exporters. It is gratifying lo hear that our place both as an importer of food and as a producer has been taken fully into account. It would be wrong to assume that there is any likelihood of prosperity for agriculture here unless some regulation or control of markets, including production and imports, is undertaken. That should always be present to our minds.
The problem of the maintenance of agricultural prosperity depends upon building up side by side with the greater production which we hope to attain to satisfy enlarged human wants an increase in the purchasing power of the people. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) referred to that point. The Hot Springs Resolutions, excellent as they are, are only part of the solution; there is the larger problem of providing and maintaining stable purchasing power to secure stable prices for producers at all times. Prices can never be stable while there are two buyers for one unit of production. In such conditions prices must rise, unless there is the most rigid control. Prices must fall when there is one unit of purchasing power to two units of production, and control would be equally necessary to maintain prices stable.
We must always endeavour to see the problem as a whole. Hon. Members are rightly concerned with prices. Under a money system you must be concerned with prices. What is the farmer to get for the produce he takes to the market in order that his labours shall be properly paid? I am sure I am safe in saying that the farmer will produce more when he gets a better price than when he gets a bad price. We must not lose sight of this important question of prices and of the machinery by which they are to be maintained. That does not mean that the farmer is to be regarded as dependent on State charity. It should be a simple matter of organising to see that production and demand are always approximately equal and that production is not carried out at a loss.
The speech of the Minister gratified me very much. What happened after 1919 was a calamity, and I am not sure that it did not play a big part in the slump, while the industrial slump which set in brought unemployment and large cuts in purchasing power and affected agriculture too. We must guarantee both sides of our community at the same time. That is the economic significance of the problem of organisation which has been carried on experimentally. The ground has been very well explored, and I wish well to all those who are working still further to improve mutual understanding and the co-operative plan by which agriculture can be made secure in all producing countries in the world. I well remember a statement in a French newspaper back in 1934 which impressed me intensely and which showed the disparity between the prices of primary products and of manufactured goods and which was the cause of the collapse of one agricultural country after another. The newspaper stated that a farmer, in order to buy a suit of clothes, had to take to market and dispose of one calf, one pig, one sheep, six head of poultry, 100 eggs, a ton of potatoes and a load of hay. He got his suit of clothes, but it had to last him a very long time in those conditions. Badly organised distribution of manufactured goods exploited the farmer to breaking point and produced widespread calamity, and I believe that this period of war through which we are now going is due to the economic disorganisation of the 10 previous years. I think I ought to read one or two sentences from page 33 of the Report to which the Minister referred in a general way. They showed the vital importance of the statement which was published under the auspices of the Conference as "Final Act of the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture. "It says, on page 33, Section XXIV:
The first cause of hunger and malnutrition is poverty.
We all know that! That is perhaps the oldest of human complaints. In the songs of misery which mankind has uttered, poverty has always been publicised. The Report goes on:
The promotion of the full employment of human and material resources, based on sound, social and economic policies, as the first condition of a general and progressive increase in production and purchasing power.
One by one these points have been made, and I commend them to the close attention of Members of this House. I hope they will be read and made known widely to all the people of the world. The Minister said that the Beveridge Report was very well known; I wish it might be better known, but I hope that everybody in this House will help to make known the real nature of the Beveridge proposals. I hope that this House will not fail to implement the Beveridge Report, particularly in the absence of that kind of efficient organisation which, on the whole, makes them less necessary.
The Beveridge Report and its recommendations will be no burden to anybody in this country if we do the right thing first. The cause of our troubles is very clearly set out in the document from which I have quoted. We know why there is poverty and how to remove it, but we have not decided to take the superficial risks of the organisation that would dispense with poverty for all times. The Report presupposes the abolition of poverty; if it does not, it is not worth the paper on which it is printed, not worth -the labour of 44 nations or the writing down and committing to the press of its recommendations, unless we have made up our minds that there is to be no preventable poverty in the world.
It is really to another conference which has not yet been called to which I would now like to refer, and while I would not disagree with one statement made by the Minister, if I were asked whether I would prefer a large measure of unemployment benefit or regular and well paid work for a man, I would say, "Give me the work and the proper wage, and you keep your benefit." He will not need the ambulance which he only requires if the system breaks down. Guarantee the employment of purchasing power and a decently regulated system which will place money at the service of those who must have it to make a living, and I daresay that includes all of us in some way or another. If the purpose of money is interpreted as being to make trade and production prosperous, there will be no poverty and no need for much that is contained even in the Beveridge Report.
I am glad to find the Minister so optimistic about the prospects of agriculture at home. He has said that we are now growing more food than we did before the war. I suppose that means in volume.
It does not relate to prices, and it is a handsome increment in production. It has been done practically without employing one man more, not mentioning the Women's Land Army, the volunteers, and the boys who have sometimes come in. There were many faint hearts who believed that we could not produce more food at home, but I was never among them. I have seen parts of my own little country neglected and its valleys flooded over and flooded during harvest time because of bad drainage. I have seen water-soaked meadows, yielding only a tenth of what they would have produced under proper conditions. We have seen now handsome results. I hope it will be laid down by this House that no progress will be satisfactory that does not Maintain at least the volume of food production and food values that we have at the present time. Hon. Members may ask whether that implies that we have to import less than we did before the war. I do not think it does. If we live and feed better than we did before the war we may need imports. There were a large number of people in this country, particularly the children, who were undernourished before the war came. It does not necessarily imply that we should cut down our imports. I hope we shall continue to produce more food than we did before the war and that a guarantee will be given to the farmers that the Government will do everything in their power, in collaboration with other Governments and peoples, to guarantee a level of production at something like the present price value and at the same levels as exist to-day. We must guarantee a stable condition in agriculture such as we have never had before. It was pathetic to hear of 250,000 land workers leaving the land between the two wars, and I hope that that will not happen again. I hope we shall not see again our countryside starved and deserted by its own people. I have no expert advice to give the Minister, but as I travel around I find that there is much to admire and little to condemn. I have been seeing much agricultural activity in other parts of the world, such as Canada and the Antipodes, but the best looking farming in the world is that which I saw in Scotland, in Midlothian
May I then add, and the Lowland counties? They have many advantages. I belong to a small country which has not these advantages. We have small-scale farming on the hillside, where there are many natural disadvantages. I welcome the references made by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). There is a future for hill farming in this country. A great series of experiments have proved incredibly successful. Professor Staple-don has laid down the beginnings of a revolution for the waste pastures of this country, and there should be ample food on the hill-side pastures for all the sheep. I noticed that the hon. Member did not say that he represented 1,000,000 sheep in this House, but he did say that he had 1,000,000 sheep behind him. There are about 20,000,000 sheep in this country, and we have stocks of various kinds of sheep appropriate to the conditions. Hill farming provides healthy sheep stock and the best mutton. I speak with knowledge of the importance of sheep farming in my own small country, and I hope that, in his desire to see the wonderful tuberculin-tested herds that he spoke of, the Minister will not forget the little mountain sheep and the man who gains his honest and clean livelihood by tending those sheep on the hillside.
This House is always interested in these problems. I have listened with the greatest pleasure to the agricultural expert. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. W. Roberts) always speaks in these Debates, and always interests me very much, because he is so close to the problems of his constituency and speaks with familiarity of them. The problem of agriculture is of the utmost importance. I am not doubtful about the Minister's intentions, but many things may happen between the Government Front Bench and a Department, and I would like hon. Members to make one point definitely clear and to express their determination that they will provide all the support, encouragement and prompting which the Minister may require. This House should be determined not to see the vital and fundamentally important industry of agriculture neglected once again and that we shall strive to build on this small Island, this small foundation in the sea which is our home, a prosperous agriculture, in which not only the beasts will be healthy and fit, but which will have a happy and fit population to be the backbone of our national stock.
I listened together with other hon. Members with great interest to what the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture said with regard to the Hot Springs Report. It appears to me that it follows on lines somewhat similar to most of the other agricultural policies that we have met before. I have studied very carefully these various post-war agricultural policies which have been brought forward, and it seems to me, as with the Hot Springs Report, that they all agree as to the importance of maintaining after the war a healthy, stable, and well-balanced agriculture. But what I submit to the Minister and to this House we have to do is to consider the ways and means by which this can be achieved. In the first place we must decide what place British agriculture should have in the economic life of the country after the war.
Before the war our people purchased the bulk of their foodstuffs—two-thirds—from foreign countries and only some one-third from this country. The British farmer was unable to compete, owing to their cheaper means of production, with those foreign imports, and he was in a very distressed condition. Help was given by the Government through the Wheat Act, giving a wheat subsidy, and by means of the sugar beet subsidy, various marketing boards and so on. But in the main agriculture was depressed before the war. How did the country pay for that food which was imported? It did so by invisible exports, interest on our capital abroad, shipping and so on. What will be the position after the war? It will be vastly different. Before the end of the war we shall have consumed the bulk of our foreign assets. If we import food from abroad after the war as we did before the war, we shall be unable to pay for it by these invisible exports. We shall only be able to pay for it by the visible exports, by an enormous increase in our manufactured goods exported abroad, otherwise it will remain a debt we owe. After the war the national interest will therefore demand that we provide more food here and import less from abroad.
During the war, owing to our shipping needs, the imports of foreign food have been curtailed to a minimum. British agriculture has been asked to fill up the gap and produce more food, and owing—I say this very definitely—to the energy and efficiency of the Minister of Agriculture and his Department, together with his agents, the war agricultural executive committees throughout the country, and also the patriotism and loyalty of the farmer, and the hard work of the agricultural labourer, the production of home-grown foodstuffs has been increased, as has been said to-day, to the extent of 70 per cent. above pre-war. That is a marvellous achievement. Therefore, the nation after the war will have to make the same demands on British agriculture as it does to-day, that is, increased production, to which the Minister has referred during his remarks.
Since the methods adopted during the war to bring about increased production have been so successful, I respectfully submit that we should attempt to profit by experience and adopt some of those methods in our post-war policy that have been so successful during the war. What are the methods that have been in operation here? We have a Minister of Food who more or less directly or indirectly buys all home-produced food from British farmers. He pays for that a fixed and reasonable price and imports the balance and distributes that food to the consumer at a controlled price. The gap between what the Minister pays the producer and the price at which he sells to the consumer is filled, in order to keep the price of food low, by a grant from the Treasury. The Minister of Agriculture, in consultation with the Minister of Food, stimulates agricultural production so that he gets the largest possible quantity of the right kind of food. We have a Minister of Agriculture trying to make, and making, the farmer do what he otherwise would not do. We have a Minister of Food controlling all the food we consume. Yet throughout the country to-day these two Ministers, far from being reviled, have in the view of the great British public exercised their powers well and have been and are an unqualified success.
Consider our post-war policy. Which of the methods which are adopted to-day should we incorporate in that post-war policy? Practically all the policies of the
various groups that we have studied support this:
that by collaboration and co-ordination for measures of post-war reconstruction between countries of the world, and by inter-Imperial and international agreement the flow of imported foodstuffs should be regulated.
I suppose to this one agrees, although I confess I do not understand exactly what it all means, and I have some doubt of ever obtaining in the future these great international agreements. However, I will make a concrete suggestion for a policy of the future. I suggest that a post-war agricultural policy should contain the retention of the Ministry of Food either as a separate Ministry or as a branch of the Ministry of Agriculture, and that this Department should buy all the produce of British agriculture, either through the various commodity marketing boards or through a central marketing board, at an agreed reasonable price, and buy the necessary imported balance at the world price. These commodities should then be pooled and distributed to the consumer at an average price. Care should be taken to eliminate as far as possible the enormous number of middlemen, who have, in my opinion, been taking far too large a toll between the producer and consumer. If a cheaper food policy is in the national interest, this pool policy which I am putting forward could be augmented by a levy on wheat under the wheat subsidy or by a levy on manufactured products or by a tariff on luxury foodstuffs. Also, if it is necessary in the interests of the consumer, this fund might be assisted by a Treasury grant, as it is now.
I was merely endeavouring, Sir, to help the Debate along by putting forward a practical post-war policy. Shall I get support for that from my colleagues in this House? I recollect some 15 years being invited by one of the colleagues of the gentlemen who sit above the Gangway--the Labour Party—the late Mr. Wise, to attend a meeting in one of the rooms upstairs to hear him speak on his agricultural policy, which was one of buying from the British farmer at a remunerative price and acquiring food imports from abroad as cheaply as possible, pooling the lot and distributing to the consumer at an average price. I came down afterwards with some of my Conservative colleagues, and they said to me, "Now we know what we are in for if, these Socialists get into power—the nationalisation of our industry." I feel I owe an apology to my Conservative colleagues for daring to put forward the policy I am now advocating. I certainly owe an apology to my past life. If I had died then, my body would have turned in its grave if it had listened to what I am now saying.
What am I advocating? I am advocating farming from Whitehall. How often have I in the past condemned that? Let us apply that old chestnut to the present Minister. The President of the Board of Trade informs the Minister that he is short of wool, and says, "Can you help me?" The Minister of Agriculture says, "Of course I can," and he says to every owner of sheep, "Wool is required, so start shearing. "Farmer Giles says, "I am sorry; it will be impossible, I have started lambing." Then comes a telegram from the Minister of Agriculture, "Do at once what you are told; stop lambing, and start shearing." With our knowledge of the Minister of Agriculture, we need have no fear of his taking action of that description, but I am still of opinion that agriculture is definitely an individualist occupation. It cannot conform to arbitrary rules. We have heard about the difference between agricultural processes in Scotland and those in England. It is also true that agricultural land is different as between one county and another, and that it requires different processes. It is also true that one farm in a county differs from another farm in the same county. It is also true that one field on a farm requires different treatment from another field on that farm. A farm cannot be farmed by an official who has obtained his knowledge from an agricultural college. If we are to get the best production from the land, it must be farmed by men who know their jobs, and who know the idiosyncrasies of every field on the farm.
I appeal to the Minister, who will perhaps have to exercise some control over agriculture even after the war is over, to see that he does not destroy the initiative and energy of the local farmer, but that he makes use of him. The British farmer has done his duty in producing the goods for the war effort. The British farmer is proud to produce good crops, and he takes a pride in his land. Give that farmer an opportunity, and give him advice. If it is good advice he will make use of it. We have heard a great deal about co-operation. I hope that in future there will be close co-operation between the State and farmers; and if there is, I am confident that British agriculture will play its part in the future as it has done during the war, for the good of the country after the war.
The House of Commons to-day is discussing the world's most important industry. Some of us forget that 60 per cent. of the gainfully-occupied population of the world is employed in agriculture. It seems to me a most encouraging fact that there should be so high a measure of agreement between Members of all parties on the vital importance of seeing that after this war agriculture does not slump again. We have talked during the war, and rightly I think, a good deal about freedom from want. There will never be freedom from want as long as the largest industry of this country runs the risk of not being properly paid. Its purchasing power directly affects that of the workers in the city. For that reason it is extremely important that every member of this House should do his best to get rid of the old rivalry between the workers on the farms and the workers in the factories, because co-operation between the producers of food and the producers of manufactured goods must be very much closer in future than it has been in the past.
One ought to remember how difficult a time we are going to have at the end of this war and how unwise it would be to imagine that we were going to be able to get back to the same relatively easy life we had before this war. Even before the war Soviet Russia was producing more steel than this country, and the steel production of the United States was three times that of this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) wisely reminded us of the way the Dominions and other countries have developed their industries during the war. He referred in particular to Australia. Recently I had the pleasure of going through Canada. It is amazing what the Canadians are doing in this war by way of war production. We never can sufficiently express our gratitude, but we have to remember that after this war they will not want to import anything like the quantity of manufactured products from this country that they did before. It may also be many years before international trade revives. There may be great distress in Europe for a long time, and we have to remember that, as many Members have pointed out, our income from foreign investments will almost have disappeared. If we are to be able to pay for the essential imports to keep alive this large population in this small island, we shall need at all costs 'to maintain our agricultural production. I believe that even if we maintain our agricultural production at its present level we shall have to spend 300,000,000 a year on imports of food. Obviously, we must also import a great amount of raw materials for other industries. We shall experience these difficulties at the end of the war, when the men are coming back from the Forces and expecting to find the freedom from want about which they have heard so much. If we were to reduce the standard of living of our people much there would be grave social disturbances. I do not believe that we need do it.
I have been for 25 years a student of international affairs. It is because I am interested in international affairs that I believe we must see that this great industry is prosperous. There will be no freedom from want, and there will be no freedom from fear unless in each national unit we have the sanest possible distribution of wealth. That involves the production at home of much food we used to import from abroad. It involves the control of imports, to limit the purchase of unessential luxuries. It involves measures to avoid such competition from markets abroad that we cut down wages at home. No Member in any party wants to see that untrammelled competition starting again. It leads to artificial restriction of production; it leads to unemployment, to misery and to war. The home market is so important that even if we were able, as obviously we should not be, to increase our pre-war exports by 50 per cent., the total national output would go up only by 7½ per cent. We can pre- vent agriculture from becoming a depressed industry again if we get rid of that rivalry between the workers in the cities and those in the country to which I have already referred. We shall do this if we draw the proper conclusions from the realisation of the importance of nutrition. This country can never show sufficient gratitude to the Ministry of Food for the way it has aroused the interest of the public in this problem of nutrition.
I believe that you will achieve this freedom from want if you give the farmer the assurance of stability of prices—not necessarily high prices—and I had hoped that my right hon. Friend the 'Minister of Agriculture would have been able to-day to be more precise on that matter. Members of all parties in this House need, in order to be satisfied that we shall be able after the war to face up to our responsibilities, much more precise assurances of a long term agricultural policy. We shall obviously have to control imports and exports. I see no handicap in that. I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) say that he saw no handicap in the State buying all the food and selling it again. Surely it is better that the State should do that than that it should be left, as it was before the war, to the speculator, who holds it up until he gets the price he wants. I think that the State must continue to distribute the food after the war. The farm worker and the factory worker will both suffer a lot if we go back to the pre-war chaos, in which the consumer paid £1,500,000,000 for food for which the producer received about £650,000,000. My hon. Friends of the Liberal party, in their plan for agriculture, urged that the Ministry of Agriculture should take over the work now done by the Ministry of Food after the war. That would, I think, be a disaster. The Ministry of Agriculture would be accused, and rightly, by the public of looking after the interests of the farmer and not those of the consumer. The Government should give us an assurance that the Ministry of Food will continue in time of peace.
In conclusion, I will return to the international aspect. A number of hon. Members have paid a tribute, which I was glad to hear, to my right hon. Friend who headed our delegation to Hot Springs. I was in the United States when that Conference was on. Not only were its technical recommendations very warmly re- ceived by the American public, who had not expected anything much to come out of it, but my right hon. Friend, as a negotiator and a representative of this country, received a most encouraging number of tributes. The experts at that Conference discussed the urgency of international machinery of all kinds. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture paid a high tribute to-day to the work of that Conference and expressed high appreciation of that work. But we need international machinery to hold up surplus stocks and get agricultural products along the wisest lines. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough I believe that at the end of the war the responsibility of this country will be greater than ever before. There is a possibility—I hope it does not happen—that we must take into account that at the end of this war the United States will be involved in very difficult internal problems and will not be able to play as big a part as we should like it to do. There is also a possibility that at the end of the war the Soviet Union will have a terrible problem of supplying food to its own people, because it has diverted so much energy in order to make sure that the Red Army has been properly fed and clothed. In that case this country and the Dominions and Colonies will have a far greater responsibility than they have ever had before, and it is essential that we should as soon as possible take the initiative, or help other people to take the initiative, in getting down to serious discussions on the sort of world we want at the end of the war. You cannot begin serious international discussions as long as there is no long-term national policy to assure a decent future for this, the most important of all our industries.
Most of the speeches to which I have listened in to-day's Debate have related to the future, and the reason for that is not far to seek. All Members of the House are satisfied with the present condition of agriculture, and we are grateful to my right hon. Friend and for the co-operation which he has had from the farmers and the farm workers for that result. Speeches have related to the future, and there has been insistence on the necessity for a policy. I feel certain that as long as the present all-party Government are in office and as long as my right hon. Friend is Minister of Agriculture, the present policy which has produced a prosperous agriculture will be maintained and promises made will be fulfilled. I was very glad that my right hon. Friend told us of our adherence to the conclusions reached at the Conference at Hot Springs. I feel that that will carry on the prosperity of agriculture in this country, because it will have to be maintained for a considerable period. But, looking forward to the time when the present Government cease to exist, when the world becomes more normal than at present, when our present emergency legislation lapses and when we once more engage in party politics, farmers and other people as well fee] that it is possible, unless something is done, that agriculture will again be neglected. It is easy to say that something ought to be done, but it is much more difficult to suggest the means whereby we may be certain that any policy arrived at will be carried out.
No Government can bind their successors, but if a committee representative of all parties in the State were to be appointed and were to hammer out a postwar policy for agriculture and that committee could arrive at an agreed policy acceptable to all interests concerned, it would be very difficult for any Government which might be in office to ignore that policy. I am emboldened to make that suggestion because a group of II Peers representative of the three main political parties in the State produced an agreed policy and published it in February of this year. I am not concerned for the moment with the policy itself but with the fact that in a great many matters the views of those who were the authors of the policy were diametrically opposed, yet they did come to an agreement. I will quote a few of the sentences from the introduction to their Memorandum. They say:
We have agreed to the following proposals containing something which each of us might find difficult if not impossible to accept if we did not feel the overriding importance of the goal. The task before us is not easy. If we want a prosperous countryside we must be prepared not only to accept, but actively to bring about the changes it entails. Happy-go-lucky farming, chaotic distribution and the landowner who is a mere rent receiver—these are not the things which we can enjoy or endure and at the same time have a prosperous countryside. We must choose one or the other. Our choice is definitely for the prosperous countryside.
If a strong influential committee such as I have in mind were formed of men who have the confidence of the Members of their particular party, who have wide experience of agriculture in all its aspects, then there is a real chance that a policy of that kind might be accepted after the present Government have gone and another reigns in their stead. We cannot be sure that any of the many policies put before us will be accepted, but if we have an agreed policy, there is a chance that it might be put into operation. Twice we have been found in a very precarious position as regards food supplies, twice within the memory of us all, and twice, owing to frenzied measures, we have got away with it. What has happened in the last war and this war may well happen again, and surely it is up to us to do everything we possibly can to see to it that, if another emergency arises, agriculture is in a fit state to meet it.
The Debate has ranged over a very wide field and I think we are all agreed that the eyes of most of us are set upon the future. We are particularly fortunate in having the present Minister of Agriculture with us still in control of the industry. I have felt—and I dare say hon. Members in other parts of the House have felt too—that it is comparatively easy to do what the Minister of Agriculture has done since he has considerable powers. But it has been a remarkable achievement and he and his Department, and those much maligned bodies, the war agricultural committees in various parts of the country, are to be congratulated very sincerely on what they have done.
I was very interested, however, to note that the Minister of Agriculture was turning his face still further towards the future. The real problem facing the Minister of Agriculture is, what are we to do with the land when we have secured these wonderful crops from it? There has been a great deal of drive and first-class scientific work but are we to let that land fall idle again and go back to the condition in which it was before the war began? One is very much encouraged to feel that the Minister of Agriculture has very definite views about what is to happen in this land in the future. The prime problem facing the Minister of Agriculture is to restore the fertility of the land. We have had wonderful crops for the last four years, but every farmer knows that that kind of thing cannot continue, and unless we have a policy for restoring in some way or other the fertility of a great deal of this land, British agriculture will be faced with disaster sooner than we anticipate. I feel that the Minister of Agriculture does not agree with that view but I find, on looking around the country, that in some cases, even now, the crops are not as satisfactory as they might be.
That is rather an important point. There are people who say that we are "cashing in" on the fertility of the soil. If I felt that I was responsible for a policy of that kind, I would not sleep comfortably at night. I would think it disastrous. I am quite satisfied, in going round the country, that the policy that we are pursuing is not destroying the fertility of the soil. I think, taking the country as a whole, the fertility has been raised during the last two years and the whore of my policy, as I have said in my speeches, is designed to avoid that very danger, which, I agree with my hon. Friend, is the cardinal danger. We have to avoid loss of fertility and I am satisfied that the policy I am pursuing will accomplish that object.
I am very glad indeed to get such a very encouraging statement from the Minister of Agriculture. It will encourage a great many people in this country who have been apprehensive about that very point. That is one common difficulty that we have to face. We shall have to reorganise our agriculture to some extent, with a view to the future demands that will be made upon it.
The other point I would like to touch upon, is that this achievement has been attained through a considerable measure of compulsion, combined with inducements offered by subsidies. These are difficult questions. Are we to continue this system of compulsion? An hon. Member who spoke from below the Gangway was definitely in favour of retaining a degree of compulsion but, if we are to exercise continued compulsion upon the agricultural work of this country, we must to some extent combine it with a measure of subsidies too.
I do not think we can get the farming community to agree to live under a system of compulsion unless it is in some way combined with a system of subsidies. I believe we are up against a very wide question, because it may well be argued that, although agriculture is an industry of prime importance, there are other industries which will have to be succoured, possibly for a long time, by means of subsidies. I can for see a struggle developing in the future as to what industries are to receive subsidies; how much each is to have, and whether some industries will have to try to get along without any assistance from the State. The great advantage of a subsidy from the State point of view, is that it enables the State to provide some guidance to the industry which it is encouraging. We are particularly fortunate in that we have, by this time, a growing body of scientific experience which could be made available for the use of farmers in connection with any subsidy that they might get.
The other problem we shall have to face is that there will, possibly, not be the same drive in agriculture in the future as we have experienced under the direction of the right hon. Gentleman. There will not be perhaps quite the same demand, though I was glad to hear him emphasise the fact that we shall still have to produce some primary products. But agriculture in the future, as in the past, will have to fit itself into the economic scheme of the life of the country generally. We all deplore the fact that it has been neglected for so long, but I think economic forces in the -future will be just as powerful in some directions as they have been in the past. One is naturally glad that the Hot Springs Conference has really given a new complexion which it was apparently impossible to conceive in pre-war years. These are the lines along which we must try to develop. But there are two problems. We must fit our agriculture into the scheme of the agriculture of other nations associated with us in conferences of this kind. It cannot be an isolated British affair. It will have to fit into the general scheme of things. Then, in our own country, in view of our experience in the past, we shall have to fit in agriculture, which is, after all, our most important industry, with all the other vital industries which will claim attention as soon as the war is over. I should like to express my personal gratitude to the Minister because he has not confined his attention merely to the triumphant results of his four years of office but has prepared us to take a forward view of the possibilities of the expansion and the improvement of agriculture.
I should like to preface my speech by quoting a short passage from a rather remarkable leading article which appeared recently in "The Times."
Food is the most elementary of human wants. Of all the economic maladjustments which tormented the world in the period between the two wars, none caused more cynical disillusionment or more bitter discontent, or did more to smooth the way for Hitlerism, than the condition which compelled farmers to let their land go out of cultivation and to destroy crops because they could not find a market, while millions of people could not afford to buy the food they needed, and industrial workers were unemployed because farmers could not afford to buy the goods made in their factories.
I think that summarises the problem we are discussing; and I do not think there is anyone who is not resolutely determined that it shall never happen again, if we can possibly help it. We have had two great agricultural depressions within living memory, the depression of 1873 to 1880, and that of 1921 to 1939—because there was practically no let-up in the depression during that period. The root causes of both were the same—monetary instability, involving price instability, and. Free Trade. We must get down to fundamentals if we are to get anywhere. I believe the control of credit and the control of imports of food are absolutely fundamental to the problem. Unless we face the necessity of these two controls, we are, to a large extent beating the air. It is an issue which cuts pretty deep. It is nothing less than the issue of what kind of society we are going to establish after the war; and whether we intend to be predominantly a mercantile society, or an agrarian and industrial society. After the last war we went back deliberately, but mistakenly as I think, to be a predominantly mercantile society.
That issue was really decided by the country at the Election of 1923. I think the country made a wrong decision. It involved three things. It involved Free Trade; it involved the gold standard; and it involved the supremacy of the City of London and of finance. It also involved the ruin of our agricultural industry; because no farmer on earth, however efficient, can stand up to a continuously falling wholesale price level for a period of 15 or 16 years. Farmers are hit by deflation far more than any other primary producers because of the time-lag between their costs of production and the realisation of their produce in the markets.
The problem of agriculture is, fundamentally, a problem of prices; and it was the failure to recognise this simple truth that led to the tragic downfall of no fewer than three of my right hon. Friend's predecessors at the Ministry of Agriculture before the war. You cannot get away from prices. If you give the farmer a remunerative price—he does not ask for an excessive price—he can make a living. If you do not give him a price to cover his costs of production, you will have an agriculture which goes sadly down to grass, with the workers leaving the land, and the farmers gradually becoming bankrupt. That is what we had for 15 or 20 years.
There is a good deal of talk about planning to-day, and much of it is nonsense. Of course, we must have some kind of plan for the post-war economy of this country. The basic principle of a soundly planned economy is social and economic stability in terms of prices and wages. It has very little to do with public ownership or what is called nationalisation; and that is why I feel that so much in the political party argument that goes on in this country to-day is comparatively meaningless. An economy composed of private enterprise may be planned if it is well controlled from the centre. An economy composed of entirely socialised industries would be quite unable to function if it were not well controlled at the centre. It seems to me that, so far as agriculture is concerned, the vital strategic controls are two, namely the control of credit and the control of imports. We must face up to this fact.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) announced that after many years he had become a convert to the proposition of import control boards. I can say with truth that I was converted to that proposition as long ago as 1927. The late Mr. E. F. Wise and Mr. F. L. MacDougal—who played a prominent part in the Hot Springs Conference—and I, worked together on that question, but, with one solitary exception, we could never find much support in the House of Commons. The exception was the present Secretary of State for Scotland. Otherwise we were always faced with this argument. When we approached the Tories, they said it was Socialism, and when we approached the Socialists, they said it was Protection. Neither was true and, if either had been true, it would not have mattered, because the important question was whether the proposition was sound or not. But because the Tories thought it was Socialism and the Labour Party thought it was Protection, we could never make any headway. Yet it was the only real solution of our agricultural problem. The point I want to make is that these controls now exist. We have, at the moment, control of credit and control of imports. I do not believe they are going to be removed. The question therefore is by whom, and in whose interests, they are to be exercised in the future?
I should like to ask one further question. How comes it that since the outbreak of war, with all the reduction in imports that we have had to suffer, prosperity has in fact returned to the countryside; and, not only that, but the people of this country are better nourished than they have even been at any time in the whole course of their history? It is because a policy of expansion has succeeded the policy of restriction of output. It is because, at long last, we have stable remunerative prices in agriculture; and decent wages, for the first time in history, for our agricultural workers. Last but not least it is because we have a Ministry of Food. I think the Ministry of Food provides an essential complement to the great work that the Minister of Agriculture has done; and I hope the Ministry of Food, or something like it, will not be abolished after the war, as was the case after the last war. If British agriculture is to survive, and the nutritional requirements of our people are to be met after the war, there must be a monetary policy designed to keep wholesale prices steady and at a remunerative level; there must be control of the import of essential foodstuffs; there must be rotational farming, maintained at a high level of production; and, last but not least, there must be a more efficient distributive and marketing system than we have had in the past. To the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster, what place British agriculture is to take in the postwar economic life of the country, my right hon. Friend made no reply.
My hon. Friend has unwittingly misquoted me. I did not say anything about mixed rotational farming being a good thing for the country. I am under instructions not to talk about postwar agriculture.
That is what I am complaining about more than anything else. My right hon. Friend is apparently allowed to talk about world agriculture, but he is under definite instructions not to mention British agricultural policy to the House of Commons. What a business! So that is what we are up against. All I can say is that the sooner he gets fresh instructions from the Cabinet the better; because he is not going to get away with Hot Springs, and the fact remains that,: on his own admission now, the Government has not only got no long-term agricultural policy, but has refused to allow him even to suggest what a long-term policy might be. I thank him for making it so clear; and I am sure that I have the support of other hon. Members in pressing the Government to produce a long-term policy at the first opportunity; because nothing is more calculated to increase the suspicion of the farming community than this continued delay in announcing it. They have been bitten to the bone once; and 75 per cent. of them expect to be bitten again; and nothing will do more to convince them that they are going to be bitten, than my right hon. Friend's intervention. I press the point most strongly that, although we may disagree about details, it is absolutely vital that the Government should issue a White Paper at the earliest possible moment, and produce a comprehensive, constructive, long-term agricultural policy. A White Paper has been issued on education; and agriculture is surely at least as important.
Perhaps I might be allowed to suggest to my right hon. Friend the outlines of a constructive agricultural policy, as the Government do not seem to be able to do it themselves? I am ready to oblige with a few helpful suggestions. One vital question is whether we shall develop our agriculture on the lines of raising our standard of living by basing it mainly on the protective foods—livestock, dairying, poultry, vegetables and fruit, and putting wheat and sugar into a subordinate position; or, alternatively, whether we shall pursue the same method we adopted im- mediately after the last war, which was soon discarded, of making wheat the corner-stone of British farming. My right hon. Friend, although he did not announce a long-term policy, replied to this question, and in my opinion gave the right answer. We must concentrate on the production of those protective foods which this country is well qualified to produce and which we know to be of the highest nutritional value. We can produce in this country all the feeding stuffs, including oats, that we require for our livestock and dairy industry. Beyond that, the growing of wheat and sugar, except in the comparatively small area in the Eastern Counties where they can easily and often profitably be grown, is not in the long run an economic proposition, especially when we shall have the West Indies coming back into production after the war. As Lord Astor truly pointed out the other day in an interesting article in the "Observer," every extra subsidy paid to wheat and beet compels the community to pay a higher price for milk, in order to bribe the farmers to stick to cows and not to produce wheat. It is no use pretending that we are a great wheat and sugar producing country; and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree that we ought to confine them to those areas where they can be produced well, and as an economic proposition.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) put me in an embarrassing situation just now by saying that after travelling the whole world over he had come to the conclusion that the farming in Midlothian was the best in the world. I am in a slight difficulty because I live in Midlothian, and represent East Aberdeenshire. I would say, therefore, that the farming in Midlothian and Aberdeenshire is probably the best in the whole world.
We ought to let the land of this country, which varies greatly, produce what it can produce best. Do not try to force, except as an emergency war measure, Aberdeenshire, for example, to produce milk, when obviously beef and oats is what it can produce best. Do not try to force Ayrshire and the West of Scotland to produce corn in unnecessary quantities, when we know that that is a great dairying country. Let us be sensible in building up our balanced agriculture, and encourage each district to produce what it is best qualified to produce. And never let us forget that the foundation of British agriculture is, and always must be, arable farming. The plough must be taken round the farm. That has been done in Scotland to a much greater extent than in England. If we are to keep the fertility of the soil, it is vital to go on taking the plough round the farm, and to go in for livestock and leys. Our long-term objective must surely be the production of the highest quality of beef cattle and the highest quality of dairy cattle in the world. We must avoid the production of second grade animals with no pedigree, which produce inferior milk in inadequate quantities, and are finally converted into cow-beef of poor quality. That is not going to do our agriculture any good in the long run.
I would like now to say a word on the machinery which we must envisage. Most hon. Members will agree that the Ministry of Food, in some form or another, and I hope as a separate entity, should be retained after the war. The work it has done for the health and welfare of this country is its own justification for retention. On a long-term view, it is essential that under the Ministry of Food commodity boards should be established which will, in conformity with the general policy laid down by the Government, first, control imports, and make bulk purchases of food abroad; second, purchase produce from home producers on a contract basis at prices to cover the cost of production, plus a reasonable profit; and, third, exercise a general control over marketing, and in particular over the key points of food distribution such as abattoirs, milk depots, processing centres, canning factories, and so on. These commodity boards would be the main wholesalers for the produce they handle, responsible for accepting it in the first instance from the farms, and for seeing that it is fed to the market in an orderly manner and in good condition.
For example, in the case of meat, about which I know best, being the commodity which my constituency produces above all others, the board must have powers to establish centralised slaughterhouses, to pay producers on dead weight and dead grade according to the quality of the carcase, and to organise the flow of properly graded and well-packed meat to the markets. It is essential if the gap between the price paid to the producer and the price paid by the consumer is to be closed, that the producers should establish a far greater control over the marketing processes than they have ever done in the past, especially on the wholesale side. These commodity boards should release their produce to the home market at prices to be decided by the Ministry of Food, designed to maintain the health of the community at the highest level. But even if we close the gap to a considerable extent by more efficient marketing methods, there may still be a gap between the price which ought to be paid to the producer, if he is to get a reasonable profit, and the price which the consumer may reasonably be asked to pay, especially among the poorer sections of the community. That gap must be filled by the State; and can be filled only by a direct grant from the Treasury, or by the principle of levy-subsidy, which operated with great success in certain cases before the war.
I want in conclusion to refer to the main theme of the Minister's speech, which was the Hot Springs Conference. I would like to join in the tributes that have been paid to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for the part he played at the Conference. He did a fine job, and made a tremendous impression. Every report that has come to this country shows that he was a dominating figure at the Conference, and that he represented this country with the greatest credit. In proposing the creation of an internationally-held food pool to act as a buffer against surplus and scarcity, the British delegation pointed the way to a big advance. Nothing is more certain than that for a considerable period after the war there will be a world shortage of food supplies on a big scale. The setting up of some international authority with the funds necessary to purchase large quantities of raw commodities, to establish buffer stocks, and to give—I emphasise the word "give"—these commodities to the starving populations in Europe and other parts of the world would be an achievement of great magnitude. I believe that in advocating that, the Hot Springs Conference envisaged a great piece of salvage work which will have to be done after the war. And it may have further implications, because it is inconceivable that such an organisation would be confined entirely to foodstuffs if it were set up; or that it would be terminated the moment the emergency was over. It might well be extended to cover certain other primary basic commodities; and that might in turn lead to the end of the long nightmare of glut, and the conversion of surpluses from the menace we have made them between the two wars into the blessing they ought to be; because surpluses with a world population half-clothed and half-starving are a ludicrous economic proposition. If we could get rid of the bogy of surpluses, and turn them from the menace we have made them to the blessing they ought to be, the Hot Springs Conference will have achieved something by comparison with which an international currency agreement is of negligible importance. It would inevitably fit itself in as the logical development of a major theme.
Nevertheless, although the Hot Springs Conference was a large international gathering which put forward a number of admirable aspirations, we have no certainty that any of the things laid down in what is called the "final act" are going to be translated into action. The Minister is not going to get away with the Hot Springs Conference as a substitute for a British agricultural policy. There is, I think, a growing realisation on the part of the public that a healthy agricultural industry is the essential foundation of national prosperity. And there is in truth no fundamental antagonism between town and countryside; for a well-found agriculture not only provides the industrial worker with the food which we now know to be necessary for his own health and that of his family, but also with a most valuable market for the products of his hand. The roots of the new Britain must be planted in a prosperous countryside. There may be a struggle—I think there will be—between those of us who believe that the future Britain will fundamentally be an agrarian and industrial society rather than a mercantile society.
Quite a lot of people in this country will want to return to laissez faire capitalism, Free Trade, the gold standard, and to the mercantile society. A great many people are forcibly putting this view forward at the present time. I think that this is a political issue much more fundamental and far more important, than the issue of Socialism as such. Those of us who sit for agricultural constituencies at any rate know where we stand. We have had our lesson. We have had our warning from the Minister of Agriculture to-day. Why is he not in a position to announce the long-term agricultural policy? I suspect it is because of the forces that are opposed to agriculture in this country, that want to carry us back to laissez faire capitalism, free trade, and the rest of it; and that they are still very powerful in the innermost circles of the Government. This is a real issue, and we shall have to fight it, and to fight it very hard. We lost last time. This time I think we are going to win. The first battle on which the House is engaged today, is one to get a long-term agricultural policy out of His Majesty's Government.
I have listened to the larger part of the Debate to-day, and though I have little to add to what has been already said, I wish to emphasise one or two points. As regards the short-term policy of the Government, there has not been very much criticism, but I believe the Minister's statement that he is prevented from discussing post-war policy for agriculture will make farmers and the farming community as a whole firmly convinced that the suspicions they hold against the Government are fully justified. When this information gets out into the newspapers there will be a good deal of consternation among farmers, and even among farm workers, who will feel that once again they are to be let down as they were after the last war. During this war period they are spoken of as being the first line of defence, as the heroes of Britain, as having come to the rescue of the people of the country; but immediately anyone tries to put forward a post-war policy the Government are strangely silent and in fact refuse the Minister permission to discuss policy. Like my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), I suggest that the best thing the Government can do is to produce a White Paper as soon as they can in order to allay these suspicions which are already very firmly fixed in the minds of agricultural England. As regards postwar policy, I am sure that in my constituency, which is one of the largest agricultural constituencies in the country, they are ready to accept proper controls, though not Ministerially-appointed controls. They will accept them willingly if the Government will say that they mean business this time. Farmers are asking that they shall have guaranteed markets. They do not mind who buys their products so long as markets for them exist. They do not mind whether their products are bought by some Department like the Ministry of Food or bought by private enterprise, as long as there is sufficient control to guarantee that a market exists.
Another point which should be raised but has not been put forward to-day, so far as I have heard, is the question of the wages of the workers. When war broke out munition factories sprang up all over the country, and in 1939 we found skilled agricultural workers dashing into those factories to work as unskilled labourers at 1s. 5d. an hour, because at that rate, with overtime, they made £5 a week, as against 50s. or £3 in agriculture. The post-war policy of the Government should take account of what it is proper to pay to farmers to enable them to ensure that their farm workers shall have a wage which is comparable with that of town workers. The agricultural worker is a skilled man, he is just as skilled on the farm as is the highly skilled tool man in the finest engineering shops, and perhaps even more skilled. One hon. Member suggested that there should be more understanding between the town workers and the agricultural workers, but we shall not get that unless there are comparable wages, so that the farm workers have a comparable standard of living. I urge that the Government should bring forward a White Paper which will take all these factors into consideration, and that we may work for once as a big, happy community, not fighting each other, but co-operating with each other, for our collective benefit.
First, I should like to assure the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) that Suffolk will be only too glad to produce all the beef and wheat which cannot be produced in his part of the country. Agriculture to-day is as full of confidence in the Minister and in the Ministry of Agriculture as it is lacking in confidence in the future. Nothing that has been said to-day will inspire very much more confidence. We want a food policy for Britain as well as a food policy for the world. I believe that the Hot Springs Conference was an epoch-making event, provided it is followed up quickly. For that reason I am grateful to the Government for the speed with which they have accepted the Resolutions of that Conference, and grateful to them for their intentions to send a representative to the interim conference. I have the highest admiration for the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and for the part he played in the Hot Springs Conference, but I did notice that the agricultural representation was singularly lacking. It was a Conference upon food and agriculture, but only one representative of the Ministry of Agriculture was present, and he, I believe, was principally a statistician. I would ask my right hon. Friend to say whether the Ministry of Agriculture will have adequate representation at the interim conference. The Report of the Conference is a wonderful revelation, but I am a little afraid that the Conference got lost in the exuberance of its own Resolutions, and that there is nothing at present to convert those pious Resolutions into concrete facts. We have heard the Minister say there are likely to be two years of great stringency. After the Armistice at the end of the last war I found myself in Beyrout, and there on the beach, when we entered the town, was half a mile of incapable people suffering from staring, stark starvation, and at the end of this war we shall in all probability need to divert a portion of our own food to meet the needs of the occupied territories. Passing Resolutions in Hot Springs will not make food grow in cold climates, and we must get down to a practical policy of what part we are to play in the agriculture of the world.
I should like to sketch roughly what should be done by this country. First, our agricultural policy must be built around the worker. I would advocate that we should start our policy by saying that in future the worker must be paid a wage comparable with the wage which he is receiving at present, or such a wage as would compare with it according to the cost of living. Unless we start from the workers' end and give them a decent wage, and thereby ensure that there will be labour on the land, we shall never get anywhere. And if we look after the workers, we must look after the farmers as well. In his turn the farmer should be guaranteed a fair share of his own home market. How is that to be done? If we are to make certain that the home producer does get a fair share of his own market, if we are really going to provide reasonable information for Hot Springs, the first thing to do is to call once more an Empire Producers Commodity Council —to sit round the table with Empire producers and hammer out how much they want to send into this country and when they want to send it, and then work things out with our own produce. After that we could go back to Hot Springs and tell thorn that the British Empire can fill so much of the nutrition needs of Britain with British produce. Then we could see that our Allies—America, Russia, China and the rest of the United Nations—got a fair share of what remains of the British market.
I am certain that for some time after the war we must allow the Ministry of Food to continue functioning. The only possible solution is some form of import board, and it would be of no use to put in a 'prentice hand when there is a master ready to do the job. The next point which is absolutely essential is to have an inquiry into distribution. At present the price to the consumer is two and a half times the price the producer receives. That is scandalous, and I ask the Minister of Agriculture to set up a commission to inquire into the whole question of food distribution and to set it up straight away. In return for having his distribution looked into and a fair share of his home market, the farmer will have to accept a certain measure of control, and I would advocate that the county war agricultural committees should go on in the future as they are at present, but with one proviso, that in peace time there should be an appeal to a body at the head of which was a K.C. or a judge or someone of equal eminence. Again, the farmer must be ready to co-operate in marketing his goods. Marketing organisation has been done on much too small a scale. We have to face up to the fact that it must be looked at from the national point of view, and I would advocate that we have an agricultural marketing board covering the whole country and all commodities. I suggest that the Minister of Agriculture should be chairman of that board, that there should be nominated and not elected representatives, and that all the subsidiary boards should come under the one main board, which would have a view of the needs of the country as a whole.
That is a brief picture of some of the things I think might be done in post-war agricultural England. There is a lot more which the Minister himself might do. He might and should drain the Fens and keep them drained, and I think the State should be prepared to pay a very much larger share of the cost of that drainage. I should also like him to extend greatly the quality of agricultural education and research. He should also provide a great deal more credit for the purchase of cheap machinery, because if we are to farm well and enthusiastically, we must farm mechanically. Lastly, I would ask him to urge the B.B.C. to appreciate the potentialities of agriculture to a greater extent and would appeal to them to give agriculture a better status.
My time is up, and I must conclude by saying that I think the country owes a great deal to agriculture. No country in the world is producing food on the scale that we are to-day. Had we not done so, there would not have been El Alamein, no Sicily, no landing in North Africa, because the ships would have all been engaged in bringing food to this country. Let us not forget that both the farmer and farm worker have deserved well of the people of this country, and let us therefore see that they get their due reward when the time comes.
It would be improper to speak of reinforcing a speech as strong and as constructive as that of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) but I would like to support him as warmly as I can, especially in his demand for a more clear and comprehensive policy on the future of agriculture in this country after the war. I was rather amused to notice that the hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Scottish Office pulled himself up during the last sentence of his speech. He had just said that he was endorsing "the policy which"—and I thought for a moment he was going to add, "my right hon. Friend outlined to-day," but, of course, he could not say that because his right hon. Friend had not outlined a policy at all, and so he said, "the policy which flows, if I may so put it, from the Hot Springs Conference." Let it flow. It has flowed through quite a number of speeches made to-day by various Members of various parties, but it did not flow through the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman. That speech certainly was very welcome and encouraging in many ways. It did express adherence to the general principles of the Hot Springs Conference but a principle is not the same as a policy. Most of us are agreed as to the general principles which are to be put into effect after the war; what we now need from the Government is a concrete and comprehensive policy.
But it was, as I say, encouraging to hear the right hon. Gentleman express his firm endorsement of these admirable principles and to share in the broad world picture that he sketched. I particularly liked his use of the word "mobilisation." Agriculture in this country, he said, will still be mobilised after the war. I like that word better than "control," because "mobilisation" implies the social purpose for which the process is carried on, and because it also implies controls plus benefits. If there are controls, as is inevitable after the war, we can also be pretty certain that at any rate agriculture will not be forgotten while those controls are still imposed. One small point which the right hon. Gentleman made, the explanation of which I think escaped him, was his point about the public here not having taken so much interest in the Hot Springs Conference as they did in the Beveridge Report. I think the explanation of that is quite simple. It is that the Beveridge Report was very widely publicised by all possible means, whereas the Hot Springs Conference was held, so far as the Press was concerned, in secret session. That was the decision which the American authorities in their wisdom took, and it is perhaps not for us to criticise them; but I think that is the obvious explanation of the fact that the proceedings of that Conference were less widely publicised than they might have been.
I am entirely with those various hon. Members' who have said that the Ministry of Food must continue in some form or another after the war, partly for one reason which has not, I think, been mentioned so far. It seems to me more than likely that, at any rate for a year or two years after the war, during the interim period of reconstruction, when we are feeding Europe or a very large part of Europe, our own civilian population will have to go on putting up with rationing and even possibly have to accept cuts in the present ration. It seems rather startling when you first put it like that, but if the reasons are explained to the public, I am sure they will take it with the same good spirit with which they have adapted themselves to war-time rationing, particularly as I have no doubt at all that Lord Woolton, with his homely genius, will soften the blow for the civilian population by importing millions of oranges and lemons and other minor delicacies instead.
I am also with the hon. Members who envisage what I think almost all the programmes that have been published by various parties and groups have envisaged, continuance after the war, in some form or another, of the county war agricultural executive committees. I wish they had a slightly less cumbersome name. I think that on the whole the work that these committees have done, so far as I am able to judge, has been magnificent, and they have contributed very largely—quite obviously—to the great increase in food production of which we have heard so much. Certainly, speaking for the county which I have the honour to represent part of, we were proud in Essex of our record harvest last year, and proud also that our very able executive officer was chosen to broadcast to America about Britain's harvest.
In this connection Members of Parliament can, I think, do a useful work of conciliation and interpretation. We all get complaints and grievances and sometimes most heartrending protests from the unfortunate farmers who have from time to time been dispossessed by the committees. I have had a good many of these complaints in the comparatively short time I have been a Member of this House—a little more than a year—and in pretty well all of them that I have investigated, as best I could, the committees have been justified in the regrettable action that they have had to take. I think Members of Parliament can do a great deal in the way of interpretation by explaining to local people that these individual hardships—which are inevitable when a man is dispossessed of a farm that he has cultivated for years and perhaps his family have owned for generations—must be seen in proportion to the general food shortage of this country and against the general world scene, such as was taken into consideration at Hot Springs and referred to to-day by the Minister. I sometimes try to put it to them that the Air Ministry or the War Office will requisition a farm or a house or a piece of land for strictly military purposes, to help the war effort; people may regret it, but they put up with it. Similarly, when the agricultural committee take a house or farm or piece of land it is equally, although in a different way, to assist the war effort and should be regarded as such. Having done that and acted as a one-way channel, I think the Member should also act as a two-way channel and should then do whatever he can to mitigate any undue harshness in the committee's treatment of these individual farmers and constituents, and make quite sure that justice is really being done in whatever dispossessions occur. Individuals who go about the country playing up these natural feelings of resentment, and working up a general campaign against the war agricultural committees as such, are not, to my mind, helping the cause of agriculture.
As I say, I have had a number of these cases brought to me by the unfortunate farmers concerned. There is only one of them that I have actually troubled the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture himself with, because it seemed to me a particularly hard one; and I am bound to say that I must give him credit for the keen personal interest he took in it and the very thorough investigation he had made. He sent his liaison officer, a man of the utmost eminence and integrity, to make a personal inspection and investigation on the spot, and, although the case is not yet quite concluded, the liaison officer reported in favour of the committee's action; but, unfortunately, I must add that the liaison officer, able and expert though he undoubtedly is, did not leave behind him a sense that he had gone into the case with absolutely judicial impartiality. He arrived at the farm with members of the committee. He was primed by the committee, quite naturally perhaps. He went round the farm with members of the committee and not with the farmer or his sons, and he left in some haste and some dudgeon, and left behind him a deep sense of grievance which I think is extremely unfortunate, though it may have been unavoidable in the circumstances.
I am, I must say, somewhat attracted by the suggestion which has occasionally been made—it is made, for instance, in the Liberal party's post-war proposals—that there should be appeal tribunals, to which the hardest of these cases might be taken. I agree that there might be difficulties about setting them up, and that the Minister may argue, in the first place, that the committees only act in the most extreme cases and after very patient and thorough warnings; secondly, that the National Farmers' Union in most counties have a special negotiating committee which handles these difficult cases on behalf of the farmer; and, thirdly, that the farmer concerned can always get his Member of Parliament to take it up or look into it on his behalf; but at the same time I think it might be well, if it is at all practicable, to set up some appeal machinery to remove the sense of grievance under which these men, very often perfectly well meaning and hard working, even if not the most efficient farmers, are left labouring. Further, if the war agricultural committees are to continue after the war I think there will have to be some kind of revision of their personnel and the constitution of them. Some committees I have heard of—I am not now speaking of my own county—are somewhat overloaded at the top with very large farmers and the larger landowners. Although I am sure that these men have done most valuable work during the war to further production, there is a feeling—I am not saying whether they are entirely right or not—among many of the small farmers and among agricultural workers that they are insufficiently represented on those county committees. Again, to dispel "the suspicion of anything improper, they should avoid even the appearance of nepotism; I think there should never be a case where land of which a fanner has been dispossessed by the committee, is handed over to be farmed by a relative of a member of the committee.
To turn just for a moment to one other aspect of what I may call the human and public relations side of agriculture, rather than the technical side of it, with which I am not nearly so well equipped to deal as many hon. Members who have spoken: the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) reminded us of the 250,000 men who left the land between the two wars. It obviously is a most disastrous process if you are to have the land starved of its human material, but it is a process which will certainly go on after this war unless most strenuous efforts are made to provide proper amenities in the country and above all, of course, proper housing. It is no good regretting the past. You may say it is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a fact that country people to-day have got accustomed to various urban luxuries, as they would have been called 50 years ago, and refinements of living which they will no longer be content to do without. These have come to them in various ways. I know of one village where there was previously no cinema within 10 miles, but which is now the site of an R.A.F. airfield. There is a cinema in one of the R.A.F huts for the Service personnel, and the villagers are allowed to go to it. Every evening you may see 40 or 50 villagers paying their 6d. to go to the cinema. When that is taken away at the end of the war it will certainly leave a gap in their lives. I am not saying that it is necessarily a good thing that farm workers should want to go to the cinema every week or twice a week, but in fact they are learning these urban habits now, and unless you provide them with decent amenities and more amusements after the war they will drift away from the land again.
Obviously decent housing and plenty of it is the most important of all these matters. As several Members have said, you must take an ample supply of clean water to every farm and every village; you must take electricity to every village in the country; and when you have got electricity there you must, I think, electrify the new houses which you are putting up. I can see no reason why refrigerators, for instance, should not be standard in every farm worker's cottage 20 years from now, The conservative English people are sometimes inclined to smile at the American ideal of a refrigerator in every working-class home, but if you think of it not simply as a luxury gadget but as an instrument, among other things, for preventing food waste by deterioration in hot weather, I think it is quite a reasonable thing to look forward to.
There are two points about building and housing I should like to mention briefly. One is the call-up of local builders, with its very deleterious effect on agricultural repair work, quite apart from the building of rural cottages. Again and again we hear of cases of small local builders who have been employed extensively, almost exclusively, by the agri- cultural committee doing repair work to farm buildings and barns, and who have now been called up. The war agricultural committee then has to have recourse to a pool of builders who have demands from far higher priority customers—the Service departments and so on—than the war agricultural committee. I should like to ask the Minister whether he cannot be a little tougher—with the Minister of Labour, I suppose—as regards the calling-up of local builders.
We have heard a good deal on various occasions from various hon. Members, particularly the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), about week-enders and the way they have been turning agricultural workers out of their cottages during past years. During this war there has arisen a new and not altogether undeserving type of weekender who is unfortunately having the same effect in some districts. In many districts all over the country there are Army camps, R.A.F. stations and so on, and often cottages which should be occupied by agricultural workers are now let, at a higher rent, to the wives of Service personnel, both officers and other ranks. I am sure we all have the utmost sympathy with those Service personnel and their wives, but I am not at all sure that they ought to be allowed to come and live in cottages in a purely agricultural area where there is a great shortage of cottages for agricultural workers.
I hope that the Minister, or the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to the Debate, will be able to give us a little more hope that the Government is going to produce some really comprehensive, coherent, and concrete policy for the post-war period. We really must have a concrete policy—not merely concrete floors. They are not enough. You have to give the agricultural industry and the agricultural worker something certain to look forward to. Do not just throw them a Farm Sunday occasionally. I hope, by the way, that that particular gaffe will not be repeated year after year. It had, as the Minister must know, a very mixed reception both in the agricultural community and in the Church.
I think that this has been a most useful Debate, and the unanimity among Members on all sides of the House about the main issues of post-war policy has really been very impressive and encouraging. I hope that the Government will not merely tail along behind hon. Members, but will give them a lead and announce a real post-war policy which will give British agriculture a guarantee that never again will any British Government flatter the farmer in wartime and forget him in peace-time.
This Debate is very satisfactory from many points of view, chiefly because not a single Member has spoken to-day, except in favour of a proper post-war agricultural policy. I think that the reply which the Minister gave to the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) is very significant and places a great obligation on this House. It is the business of this House to inform the Executive of what it wishes done. That is the responsibility of Parliament. For a long time I have believed that the War Cabinet are not in the least interested in agriculture. If hon. Members look at the list of members of the present War Cabinet they will see that hardly any of them know the difference between a potato and a turnip. They make speeches occasionally, they give lip service to what has been done by the farmer, but they do not treat agriculture really as a service which is helping to win this war.
The Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food have done a wonderful job, which is freely recognised by the country, by every one of our constituents. It is therefore an obligation on us, the Members here, that there shall be announced a post-war policy, because if you do not inspire agriculture with confidence, you will not have an agriculture at all. There is no industry that requires confidence as much as the agricultural industry, because it is a long-term business, and if there are those people in the country who do not believe, and there are one or two members of the War Cabinet who do not believe, in British agriculture—and that is the real fact—I think it is of great value that this Debate has taken place and that these facts of it shall be brought home to the Prime Minister and to the War Cabinet. I hope that the House will not rest content unless it sees this policy announced and carried through. This is more than politics; it is life and death. It is the children of the future who are at stake. If you do not have a successful agriculture, if you do not maintain your Ministry of Food, you cannot keep up your standards of nutrition that you have got through the war. It is essential that this House should back up the efforts of the Minister and of the agricultural committees. When farmers have said to me in my constituency, "We have been caught once, and we shall not be caught again; we do not believe what the Government say," I have always been fool enough to say, "You must believe them." After what the Minister has said, must I go back and say to them "I agree with you"? It is up to Parliament to see that we are not deceived. I do not think that we should underrate the value of the Hot Springs Conference and its policy, which is absolutely vital.
Large sums have been spent on land drainage, and this House has passed some Acts dealing with the question. The necessities of war have made it necessary for the Minister to press forward very much with land drainage. I happen to be on a catchment board, and I know something of what has been done. It would be criminal to throw away that work, and Parliament should see that the money which has been spent is not wasted. We should keep up local drainage and main drainage after the war. On the question of livestock, I would say that I do not like the Government of Eire. I should like us to pass an Act making Eire a Republic. But one thing that can be said for that Government is that they have been successful with the elimination of rotten bulls. If you want to keep up the quality of your bulls, you have to think of who their mothers were, who their grandmothers and who their great-grandmothers were. In England we think only of the father and the grandfather. The Minister has said that those engaged in pedigree breeding are to be encouraged. That will be another burden upon the agricultural committees. I wonder whether the House realises the immense amount of work done by those committees. The members have to look after their own farms, and they have to go round to their neighbours' farms. Their staffs are not reserved. I am waiting for my accounts from my local committee, and cannot get them because their clerks have been called up. It is important that the farmer should be able to get his accounts rendered more quickly. It would be a great assistance if the Minister would reinforce the agricultural committees by some accountants who would help the farmer. The farmer gets a long form to fill up from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who does not seem to know anything about agriculture—at any rate, he certainly does not behave as if he know anything about this industry, which is one of the biggest industries in the country. The farmer gets form after form, until he is almost driven mad. I get farmers in my constituency telephoning to me asking me to tell them what the forms mean. Very often they are working 18 hours a day, in all sorts of weather, and then some tax man comes along, who knows nothing whatever about their difficulties, and they have nobody to help them. It is necessary to give them some assistance, either through the local authorities or through the agricultural committees. The hon. Gentleman opposite dealt with the very difficult question of turning people out of their farms. We have all had these cases. Many of us, I expect, have nearly been turned out ourselves without knowing it. But not a soul in this country can be ousted from his cottage without being offered alternative accommodation.
In my old constituency I had pitmen, though, it is true, I have none in my present constituency. But that is the fact, that we cannot turn people out of their cottages without providing alternative accommodation. In the case of a man who is turned out under an order by a war agricultural committee, the committee, I understand, have no choice, and the people have to leave. Half the agitation is due to the fact that the land is not being farmed properly afterwards. In many cases the land could be farmed by a neighbouring farmer, and the man who occupied the farm could be employed in some capacity on his own farm. There is urgent need for an immediate survey of agricultural cottages and farm buildings. Every week more damage is done. In addition to the ordinary damage, caused by winds, gales and storms, my constituents suffer from a shower of bullets day and night. It is necessary to train the R.A.F., and the bullets have to come down somewhere, but they crack our tiles and slates. There is nobody to mend the roofs, because there is no labour available. I suggest that somebody, whether it is the Minister of Works and Buildings or whoever it is, should make a survey of farm buildings and see how long it would take to put them right. You cannot ask a man to live in an isolated farm without a cottage. My men pay nothing for their cottages, but I am told that if I get a cottage through the new scheme I have to charge 15s. a week. How can I have one man paying 15s. a week, and another paying nothing? Farmers should be allowed a little latitude.
Why is this country which we have so beautiful? Because in the days of our forefathers the houses and cottages grew out of the ground which they stood on. There were no lorries bringing materials from other parts of the country. The only real beauty is obtained by craftsmen, who work with materials quarried out of the local landscape. You may have your plans and all the things you may think of, but what matters and is wanted is the knowledge of the local men and the encouragement of craftsmen and of thatchers of the old style, and more men to trim hedges and dig ditches. The Minister has done a great deal to encourage this sort of thing. But if this country loves the land and believes in the land, with a capital L, and all it can produce, then it is the business of Parliament to see at once that there is a long-term policy before it is too late.
We have had a very good Debate, remarkable for its unanimity, and I need add very little to what has already been said by many speakers, but I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture upon his opening speech and still more upon the great achievement of his years of office. It is a remarkable achievement. If I go on to criticise one or two things which he said and one or two things which he did not say, he will not think it is through lack of appreciation either of his speech or of his achievement. Early in his speech he rightly drew marked attention to the Resolutions of the Hot Springs Conference and in particular referred to Article 15 and read out the three main objects, to which we all agree. Then there was this sentence:
These three things can best be assured by balanced mixed rotational farming.
I want particularly to call the attention of my right hon. Friend to the word "balanced." I am afraid that in the very laudable desire to get the maximum of wheat, oats and barley, a good many of our farms are getting out of balance. So large a proportion of their area has grown two and, in many cases, three consecutive white straw crops that it is going to be very difficult to restore that balance. The area requiring restoration is too great on many farms of which I know to be dealt with at once by merely sowing leys in exchange for other acres being ploughed up. I have no doubt that the difficulty will be overcome, but I want to stress the fact that it is a very great difficulty in many parts of the country if balance is to be restored. He mentioned two or three remedies which he proposes. He wants to increase horned stock, but I do not think it would suffice that the increase of horned stock should take place on the small farms. It is imperative, if there is not to be a substantial loss of production and ultimately of fertility, that we should produce a great deal more organic manure than we are doing now on the larger farms. On a great many of them the ploughing up has been so extensive that it has tended to reduce the head of stock that the farmer is able to keep, and nowadays he is no longer able to tread more than a relatively small proportion of his wheat or barley straw. There is a serious waste of straw when the arable land is crying out for dung. That wants very careful consideration. I am not going to attempt to suggest detailed remedies, but I want to call attention to that point.
I am very glad, if I am right in interpreting what my right hon. Friend said, that he is going to abandon now the deliberate policy of the past few years of producing beef in quantity rather than in quality. We must get back to quality even if it means a small sacrifice of bulk quantity. It is essential for the future, not only for our beef herds but for our dairy herds, that we should encourage quality even at the expense of quantity. It is a small matter but one that many practical farmers would endorse. He gave us to understand that his attempts to increase the sheep population would be based very largely on an increase of the short-term leys. He must not put his lambs or his ewes-in-lamb on to clover or on to other leguminous crops, the increase of which would be brought about by leys. It is a thing which wants watching very carefully. You must have pasture for your lambs, and you ought to have it for your ewes too.
I now come to a major point and something which my right hon. Friend did not say. In my opinion the Hot Springs Conference and the adopting of its recommendations by the British Government have knocked out the last excuse for delay in introducing a long-term British agricultural policy. So long as it could be said with some sort of reason that we could not produce a policy until we knew what the American countries, and Canada, and others were going to demand in the way of free entry for their wheat and so on, there was some plausible reason for delay. The Hot Springs Conference, as I understand it, has put that right out of sight, and there is no longer any excuse at all. The agricultural community to a very large extent still remembers what happened in 1920 and 1921 and the years which immediately followed. There were a few of us here—I was one of them—who went through the corn production period in this House, and perhaps in. justification of what I am going to say now, I may remind the House that I moved the rejection of the Agriculture Bill in 1920 and divided the House on it and only got three people into the Lobby. But a great many people, six months later, after the Act was repealed, came to me and said, "How right you were. We should have gone into the Lobby with you." That was merely because I was convinced, as I am still, that the country, after the immediate urgency of war was over, would not give subsidies to maintain the production of wheat, oats and barley in this country in competition with the free entry from the United States, Canada and so on.
That situation is a little different now, but I do not think the farming community as a whole realise that it is very different, and it is essential in my opinion, if farmers are to face with courage and confidence the next few years, that they should have a long-term policy very definitely placed before them which will remove once and for all the dangers which destroyed agriculture and brought it to such a pass in those few years. So I hope my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will produce a policy without delay. I have no doubt that he has it already, and, if he has not, he has much less energy than I credit him with, because he has had 'for quite a long time a number of well-thought-out policies from every sort of agricultural interest, occupying farmers, landowners and everyone else, showing a great amount of unanimity on essential things, and there is no reason whatever why a long-term policy should not be produced which would command the assent of all the organised agricultural interests, and I think urban and industrial interests as well. All these bodies recognise that the occupation of land must carry in future an obligation to maintain a reasonable standard of production, either of food or timber, and to submit to the necessary element of control that that involves.
There is one thing that is very remarkable, considering the political complexion of our past history. I think we are all agreed that there must be some continuance of the Ministry of Food or of import boards for a considerable period. But I should like to utter a word of warning. I remember the tremendous agitation there was for the repeal of the Defence of the Realm Act. The people, after all, have ample means of making their voices heard. They have a very rapid effect on the benches of the House, and it would not surprise me at all if the continuance after the war of the Ministry of Food, however admirably administered, leads to an agitation for the abolition of control of the people's food. So, I hope the Ministers concerned have some alternative already worked out and in their pigeonholes to put in the place of the Ministry of Food, if it has to yield to a mistaken popular clamour. I assume that the Minister will get his prepared long-term policy out of its pigeon-hole, and read it through once more. I want to remind him of the extraordinary extent to which farm buildings have depreciated, owing not only to enemy action but to lack of material and labour to repair them and, as things stand at present, it is going to be very difficult in the future, when labour and materials are available, to find the necessary capital. Another point is that the method in which taxation is applied, is causing great difficulties with regard to the working capital, of many farmers who are carrying out a great deal of work, and doing it well, at the request of agricultural war committees, involving the purchase of extensive additional equipment. My right hon. Friend knows these points well. I hope they will not be overlooked when the new policy is brought out, and I also hope that that will be in a very few weeks' time.
My right hon. Friend cannot complain of the course that the Debate has run. There has been, with one single exception—the question of who should administer afforestation—absolute unanimity during the whole sitting. I have heard Conservative Members pleading for the preservation of the Ministry of Food, import boards, assured markets, and contract prices—not only a revelation but a political revolution. I have heard Members of the Liberal party, National and Free, Members of the Common Wealth party, independent Members, and Members of the Labour party, all suggesting that that policy is the only means whereby we can ever hope to have a prosperous agricultural policy. All I need say is that time marches on. The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree), however, said he was sorry his particular Motion could not be moved, because he thought it might have" restored confidence in the minds of farmers throughout the country. I do not think there is a lot of need to restore confidence in the minds of farmers. I think there never was more confidence than there is at this moment, and I hope to be able to show that their confidence about the future has not been disposed of, despite this Debate. What has happened during the past three or four years has not only tended to heal any breach there may have been between farmers and the House of Commons. It has done something which is perhaps far greater, more fundamental and more important to agriculture than even the confidence that has been restored to the minds of the farmers. I think urban Britain is more keenly interested in agriculture than ever it was before, and I think it is because of the renewed interest of urban Britain, that the farmers are not lacking in confidence either for the present or for the future.
I am convinced that the drastic changes which have been brought about as the result of the war will play a large part in the future of this industry. We have sent away to the country many thousands of evacuees who had never seen the country before. Tens of thousands of volunteers, men, women and children have gone to work on the countryside at harvest and other periods because it was a patriotic duty so to do. They are acquiring not only a liking for, but a devotion to this industry. We have something like 70,000 members of the Women's Land Army drawn from hairdressers' shops, hotels, from behind the counter, from all kinds and types of occupations. They are working on the countryside for the first time in their lives. I am convinced that with the accumulation of this vast army of people who for the first time in their lives have made close contact with agriculture urban Britain will never view agriculture in future as it was viewed between 1921 and 1939.
All hon. Members who have spoken, with scarcely an exception, have been keenly interested in what the post-war agricultural policy is to be. My right hon. Friend made an interjection when the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) was speaking. I think that the hon. Member took that observation as if it was something unique; but my right hon. Friend really had merely repeated the substance of a reply given by the Deputy Prime Minister in the House a few weeks ago. May I for the benefit of those hon. Members who have spoken and who have demanded that a post-war agricultural policy be promulgated at once recall what the Deputy Prime Minister said in reply to a Question on 11th May:
His Majesty's Government have in no way altered their view as to the importance of maintaining a healthy and well balanced agriculture after the war as a permanent feature of national policy.
No hon. Members have asked for more than that to-day. He went on to say:
It has not, however, proved possible at this stage of the war for the War Cabinet to carry its consideration of the many problems involved in the formulation of a permanent post-war agricultural policy to a point at which the intentions of the Government can be made known. I am unable to say when that point will be reached.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1943; col. 471, Vol 389.]
My right hon. Friend, when he made his interjection, was merely repeating in substance what the Deputy Prime Minister had already said. Might I go one step further and say that my right hon. Friend, in the course of a comparatively short speech dealing with such a subject, set out to tell the House as far as he could what
was in the minds of the Government, certainly in the mind of my right hon. Friend, with regard to the future of this industry for at least the next four years? Many things can happen in four years. Whether my right hon. Friend has been thinking about post-war long-term policy does not seem to matter very much. If he has not, he may start thinking about it after to-day's Debate. He has certainly thought about the next four years' policy. What, in fact, did he try to say to-day? After the war the food problem will not be at an end. There will be vast areas in Europe and Asia where there will not only be shortage of food but actually hunger. It will, therefore, be necessary for those of us engaged in this industry, either here or in any one of the 44 countries represented at the Hot Springs Conference, to continue to produce to the maximum of our ability, not only between now and the day when Hitler is finally disposed of, but for one or two years afterwards, if we are to meet the needs of the hungry populations throughout the world.
How did he say we would set about this policy? He pointed out that the 44 nations represented at the Hot Springs Conference came together for a specific purpose: as far as was humanly possible to try by co-operative effort to avoid hunger, and in the second stage as quickly as was possible to move towards a higher nutritional diet. My right hon. Friend said in the course of his observations that better nutrition means better farming. He quoted Resolution 12 of the Hot Springs Conference. It is fairly comprehensive, and I would suggest that hon. Members who have not read it should do so. I suggest that they should also read Resolution 5, dealing with nutrition, and Resolution 15, dealing with long-term agricultural policy. Having stated that the Foreign Secretary on behalf of the Government had said in the House that the Government accepted the Resolutions of the Hot Springs Conference, my right hon. Friend proceeded to state that as far as we could we are going to knit closely our home agricultural policy into the decisions that were taken in America. In fact, he said that we must continue with the maximum production of foods for direct human consumption. We must also think in terms of the future; we have, as my right hon. Friend said, taken two or three straw crops from the land, and we must begin to think about restoring fertility. Therefore, re-seeding is perhaps not the final policy but certainly part of the policy of re-establishing fertility in the land of this country. Then he proceeded to deal with the question of livestock. No hon. Member would be justified in expecting in a speech of that description detailed explanations of all the meticulous issues in any livestock policy. A broad general indication was given by my right hon. Friend with regard both to beef cattle and dairy herds. The two things linked together have almost reached the stage that my right hon. Friend referred to when he said that there was available a multiplicity of straw and all too few cattle to turn it into the dung for which the soil of this country is now beginning to thirst.
As a general indication my right hon. Friend's speech to-day went just about as far in the light of the statement of the Deputy Prime Minister as any hon. Member could wish. I do not quite see why there is any need or room for large doses of suspicion in the mind of any hon. Member. I would say, however, having sat on the opposite side of the House for some 18 years and watched one Government after another striving to keep farmers alive with no sort of fundamental agricultural policy in their minds, and having noticed the results of the absence of a policy for so Many years, I can quite understand the apprehension of some hon. Members with regard to our post-war policy. But my right hon. Friend has gone as far as he can go at the moment and if they read Resolutions 7, 12 and 15 of the Hot Springs Conference, hon. Members may find an indication as to what may or may not be our home policy in the time that lies ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) obviously saw implications of a policy in my right hon. Friend's speech. I would suggest to him that he should continue with his reflections and the implications will grow as the days go by. In any case, he suggested that we were moving in the right direction. As long as we are on the march hon. Members ought not to complain too much. He did of course say, as many hon. Members said subsequently, that fluctuating prices were one of the most painful features of the agricultural industry, and that they are inimical to maximum production. I will say a word or two about that in a moment. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean say that in our milk policy, with all the diverse evidence on this or that side, we must proceed with caution. I am afraid there has been too much caution in the past, and although we need to proceed with caution now, I hope that the process will be a continuous one, and that it will not stop until we have done something substantial about dairy herds and milk supplies.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), who I am sorry to see is not in his place, threw, as usual, one or two bricks into the centre. He said, as I almost expected him to say, that he hoped the Hot Springs Resolutions would be more effective than were the resolutions of the League of Nations. All I need say—and unfortunately I could say it from the other side much better than from here —is that the effectiveness of the League of Nations or the Hot Springs Resolutions depends upon the peoples of the various nations and their Governments. If the people and their representatives in this House are watchful, there is no doubt about what will follow from the Hot Springs Resolutions. The right hon. Gentleman also made a statement, which was more or less repeated by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) with regard to buildings on farms. If we are to secure a clean milk supply, there must be a drastic change in farm buildings, water supplies, equipment and so forth, and I hope the time will come when, with a really prosperous agricultural industry, we shall be able to do the things which for a long time have been needed on our farms. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton suggested to the Minister that as there are so many members of the Women's Land Army on the land, he ought now to start to try to find them husbands. My right hon. Friend has lots of virtues, but I should hardly regard him as the likeliest person to become a matrimonial agent.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) was glad to learn that we had associated our whole agricultural policy, present and future—as he hoped and I hoped—with that of the Hot Springs Conference. He. with us, believes that it is not an idealistic conception but something which can be realised if the people of the different countries insist. He also said something about agricultural workers' wages, and all other hon. Members who have spoken with regard to workers and their wages, including my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), will accept this as my view of those statements. I agree that we never can hope to keep skilled agricultural labourers on the land unless their work and their skill are appreciated. They are as skilled as any men in this country. An agricultural worker must be two-thirds of a mechanic and three-fourths of a veterinary surgeon, he must trim a hedge and plough a field and do a thousand and one other jobs on a farm, and if modern-minded Members of Parliament or modern-minded farmers expect that they will keep skilled agricultural workers in the countryside at 36/- a week, they are in for a serious disillusionment when this war is over. I agree with what has been said with regard to wages, houses and amenities. Urban Britain must be made to realise that the agricultural labourers are as two to one compared with the farmers, and they cannot any longer try to get cheap labour on farms, such as we have known it during the whole of my lifetime. If this war achieves nothing else than making urban Britain appreciate that the agricultural labourer is a human being, and a skilled human being, and entitled to the privileges of the urban population, at least it will have done something worth while.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) asked about rations for hill-sheep farmers. All I need tell him is that a scheme has been worked out. Rations are being provided for hill-sheep farmers, and any farmer who wants to know the details has only to apply to his War Agriculture Executive Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), as I would expect, was able to wax more eloquent than most speakers on the idealistic conceptions of the Hot Springs Resolutions, and I entirely agree with ninety-nine hundredths of the observations he made. He saw, as few Members had seen before he spoke, how we can fit our own agriculture into the general conception of Hot Springs. He realises that there has not only to be a world policy—do not cheer too loudly—but a national policy also, and in any case, so long as the right conception is there, and the right people are at the helm, the doubts can be dissipated. If we are to achieve what we are all so anxious to do, we must sometime, and somehow, achieve a situation in accord with the policy of the Labour Party in 1926, 12 months before my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen got the conception of imports boards.
There never was a more pushful Minister of Agriculture than the present Minister. You could not possibly conceive a body of more whole-hearted individuals, men and women, than those who are working on the war agriculture executive committees. The district committee men have been equally good. Their efforts have been beyond praise. For all the technical staffs who have been brought on to the farms to give their advice in the middle of the fields no praise would be too high. But the major causes of the success we have achieved in agriculture during this war are, I honestly believe, that there has been an assured market, that there is a contract price, and that for the first time, in my Parliamentary experience at all events, a farmer can afford to aim at maximum production. If prices are to be like celluloid balls at a fair, bobbing up and down so that no one knows where they are, how is it possible for any farmer to plan ahead? Farming is not a day-to-day or an hour-to-hour operation but a long term business, and unless fluctuating prices can be ironed out and confidence restored, we cannot expect 350,000 farmers to be aiming at maximum production. In the days before 1939, when there was no thought of regulation or control, and it was everyone for himself, naturally the farmer aimed not at maximum production but at minimum risk, which meant minimum output. There is sufficient gambling in farming with the weather and with diseases without gambling in prices.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) was the one "sinner that repenteth" and we are glad to see him on the penitent form to-day. He had said that we could not farm from Whitehall. My right hon. Friend has never tried to do that. What has been done during the war has been to provide the plan in Whitehall, while the execution of it has been left to practical farmers, to the county executive committees and the farmers themselves; and although my right hon. Friend did not use these words —he ought to have done, for I saw them in his intended speech—the proof of the pudding is in the eating; and having travelled yesterday from Doncaster to King's Cross, I think the proof of the pudding is in the fields. At all events the plan in Whitehall and its execution in the country have proved a unique success.
The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) also saw wisely that there is an affinity between town and country. If we can eliminate the powerful influence of certain interests that he knows so well and to which the hon. Member for East Aberdeen referred—and I dare not from this box—and always see that unity is held close and tight, there will be a prosperous agricultural policy in this country. I would express my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) for the kindly speech he made and his expressions of appreciation. The hon. Member for East Aberdeem made a comprehensive speech, and I am bound to confess that I agreed with a great deal of what he said. When he said that he and some other hon. Members in 1927 adopted the idea of import boards policies but he could get nobody else in this House to agree with him, I really was staggered, because in 1926 the Labour Party published it as its official policy to the wide world that the basic principle for any form of stability was import boards. That was largely brought about by the influence of Mr. E. F. Wise, now unfortunately passed and gone. When the hon. Member for East Aberdeen adopted import boards as the only means of stabilising industry and ironing out fluctuating prices and so forth, he was, if my memory serves me correctly, P.P.S. to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am only sorry that he did not exercise more influence upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because in that case we might have had a much more successful agricultural policy between 1927 and 1939 than we did, because we had no import boards operating in this country.
I have pretty well covered all the points that have been made, that is to say, the large points, except that the hon. Member for Maldon referred to a case, and he gave me no notice that he was going to raise it. As it happens to be a rather delicate and complicated affair, I am sure that he will not mind if I do not refer further to it on this occasion.
An hon. Member suggested that the Minister of Agriculture should be adequately represented at any conference held subsequent to Hot Springs. If he knew my right hon. Friend, he would be aware that if my right hon. Friend knew of any conference which was going to discuss agriculture, he would see to it that we were adequately represented. I need say only just one word to my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). With regard to drainage, we are very anxious that none of the millions that have been spent during the war should be wasted. We want to see drainage maintained and an agricultural policy that will encourage people to maintain the drainage work that has been undertaken and carried through. With regard to accounts and forms and all the difficulties that people have had to encounter during the course of the war, we must claim that there is a war on, and unfortunately we cannot see any way out of those difficulties. So far as my right hon. Friend could knit in our whole policy in the next four years with the Hot Springs Resolutions, that has been done. And so long as we have the guarantee repeated by the Deputy Prime Minister that it is still the policy of the Government to have a healthy and well-balanced agricultural industry after the war, there are no reasons for suspicion, and even though hon. Members may press for the written word, I assure them that the Minister and myself are as anxious as any other hon. Member to see agriculture prosperous after the war.
I regret that I am by no means satisfied with what we have just heard from the Parliamentary Secretary. When this Debate was officially fixed, I felt sure that we had given the Government sufficient time in which to make up their minds what policy they were able to give to the farming industry. After an interval of two months we have listened to two Ministerial speeches and—I say this without any disrespect to my two right hon. Friends—I fear the House was treated in the first place to a smoke screen, and in the second place to a gas attack. That will not do for the agricultural industry, nor will it do for the future of the country. We cannot go on indefinitely having Debate after Debate without forcing some decision of major fundamental importance from a reluctant Government. The Parliamentary Secretary was so bold as to say that the farmers of this country had every confidence in the future. That is a gross misrepresentation of fact. I deal with and I live amongst farmers.
I am prepared to agree that the farmers on the Harrogate Stray are well satisfied with the Minister's statement because, in point of fact, the Minister was responsible for the wheat and arable acreage; but that I am afraid does not represent the case. I am sorry to say that if you go beyond the four-year period which the Minister has given to the industry, the scepticism among the farmers is almost complete, for this reason, that there is practically no farmer to-day who was not himself, or whose father, was not affected by the repeal of the Corn Production Act in 1921. When a family has once been ruined by political influences it is very unlikely that the fathers or the sons will forget it, and there is urgent need for doing a great deal more than has been indicated to-day. I believe that one of the main objects of those of us who take an interest in this subject should be to press with all our might to get the agricultural industry as far out of politics as it is possible to get any matter connected with food.
I have of course prepared a very careful speech on this subject and could speak at great length, but the points of that speech have been discussed in the House already, and therefore I do not intend to make more than a passing reference to two points. The first is that the Minister in his opening remarks, and in his speech generally, has backed up the assertion, and has proved, that it has taken a second war to get this country once more out of the soul-destroying materialism of the nineteenth century. That is something for which we ought to be grateful, but it will mean a great deal more in the future, if we can only hold on to it and make certain that the economists and materialists do not once again get hold of our Government and our political machine. There is one way in which the industry could be kept out of the political machine. That is by an all-party Government deciding that the main principle on which all agricultural policy in the future should be based, is the maintenance of fertility. The Minister has said that the Government have accepted Recommendation 15 of the Hot Springs Conference Report, and therefore we may take it that, whether policy be decided in future by a Tory Government or by a Labour Government, that will be the principle upon which the industry will be run. [Interruption.] I hope that that interruption is not an interpretation which the Minister wishes to be put upon it, because if so, he is running completely contrary to what he has said in the past on mixed farming policy. That was the main point I wished to make.
In this Debate we have got fundamentals but they are so fundamental that they have not yet been born, and we have to go a very great deal further. It is argued repeatedly that the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet are far too busy to sit down to consider post-war policy. I agree that the Prime Minister is too busy, and probably the War Cabinet too, but if the Prime Minister is too busy, then it is imperative that he should delegate authority to some person whom he trusts, and some person, moreover, who is likely to get on with the job. The situation may well arise that in the future—we do not know how distant or how near—the country may be caught without any fundamental policy having been devised. If that is the case, all the magnificent machinery and arrangements, all the brave and courageous fighting that have won the war—as they' inevitably will win it—will be smashed and thrown down the drain just as in 1918. That is not a responsibility with which the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet can, or dare, face the country.
Although my hon. Friends and myself have worked hard during the past few months to obtain from the Government some pronouncement of policy, as yet we have heard nothing. The time will come when measures far stronger and far more insistent will be necessitated, and I warn the Government that if there is nothing that we can get our teeth into in the near future, then thought will be given to the way in which the Government can be forced to declare a policy. I hope that before very much longer my right hon. Friend, in whom I have confidence, will be able to un-pigeon-hole that policy which we suspect strongly he must have. If he is able to do that in the near future, then there need be no fear as to what may come upon this country, and if this country gives a lead in agricultural products and policy, I believe that the world and all the signatories to the Hot Springs Conference Report will be likely to follow our lead.
I want to come back to the present, after all we have heard of the future. I have one or two suggestions and one or two "grouses." I agree with the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) that the condition of our cottages is becoming deplorable. Labour is being taken away, which is leaving us in a very difficult position and I wish the Minister to do something to help us. Damp is getting through. Coppers, grates, etc., together with scullery floors, are wearing out. We cannot get repairs done and we must keep all the labour we have to cope with this work.
There is a point about aerodromes. As I go about, I see a lot of land around the modern aerodromes. Traffic is confined to the runways and the land is neglected. In a certain number of cases they do cut the grass and dry it and make it into silage, but acres are wasted where we could grow crops, I feel sure, because under modern conditions the planes do not go all over the aerodrome. I see that the thatching classes which are being held up and down the country are going on well, but what we want to do is to give our young fellows on the land, who are now perhaps only interested in tractors, some other attraction. One thing I do not see going on is the old art of hedge laying. If in this policy of laying down arable land to three-year leys, we could persuade farmers to let hedges grow up and train young men to lay these hedges we should get fences for the new fields and get the young fellows interested in something worth while.
My next point is a "grouse." It has something to do with the Minister of Food. I want the Minister to see that these very hard-working men, the farmers who run their own farms, get the cheese ration which they cannot at present get. They do as much work on the farms as the average man who works for them or more. I was talking to the wife of a farmer on one of my farms the other day. She said, "I cannot get enough food for the men." It is all very well for labourers' wives who live in small towns and can go to the shops, but these women in the depths of the country can only go to the town once a week and often miss the market. If they could have that cheese ration, which their husbands earn, just as much as the men who work under them, it would help them a lot in this harvest. I beg the Minister to use his influence to obtain it.
I have been concerned for the last two years with the question of telephones for farms. I get pushed about from one Ministry to the other. I go to the Postmaster-General who talks about supply, and the Supply Department passes me back to the Postmaster-General, and I do not get any further. We have taken over a lot of land, old grazing grounds, and have ploughed them up often miles away from the main farm. I know of one case where a small farm has taken over next to 200 acres which has been ploughed up. It is nearly three miles from the headquarters farm concerned, but they cannot get a telephone. In the old days in such a case there was a motor car and plenty of petrol. Now, petrol is scarce and tyres are scarce. If we cannot get better communication with these outlying farms, efficiency will suffer. Believe me, the effect is cumulative—poor management and lack of efficiency owing to the absence of the telephone. How could Whitehall get on without telephones? Some people will say that perhaps they would get on better then than they do now. But can you imagine any other source of production operating in this war without telephones? It is ridiculous. I know of a very hard-working member of a war agricultural committee who has taken on a farm seven miles from his home. He works for the Minister free, for five days a week, but he cannot get a telephone. The Services are allowed to have them. The operational Services, of course, should have as many telephones as they want, but, even in training stations, I have seen the telephone lines together forming a thickness as great as that of my finger. Also the people there have despatch riders to run about for them, but these farmers have not. Consider the cumulative effect of this lack of efficiency. Something happens, such as a tractor breaking down, and the man on the spot is not able to communicate with anybody, and so valuable hours are lost.
I want to refer to milk production. There is a tendency not to classify dairy farms as "A" unless they are getting a certain gallonage of milk, with no reference to the acreage required to produce that gallonage and no reference to the other commodities produced on the farms. We know that the ideal is to produce winter milk; but it is quite easy to produce winter milk and keep up your gallonage, merely by selling your worst cows. Then you can get one of those silver cups which are going about the countryside. I heard a man speak the other day, who had something to do with this bolstering up of milk gallonage. He talked to our farmers, and very few knew at the end what he had said. All that he was concerned with was the extra milk, not with whether it could be produced in an economical way. I can give the Minister further details on that matter, so that he may nip the tendency in the bud.
We listened with great interest to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I always felt when he was in Opposition that he brought to his contributions on agriculture a real love of the land. He has done a great deal to assist the Government in their policy. While I would deplore deeply, and will do all I can to prevent, a Socialist Government coming into office in this country, I am bound to say that one redeeming feature of it—the only one so far as I am concerned—would be that my right hon. Friend would, inevitably, become Minister of Agriculture. But I regard some of his remarks on the future of agriculture with grave misgiving. I think that the Government could be much more forthcoming in indicating a plan for agriculture in the next few years. It is so easy, when we ask the Government for a plan for agriculture, for them to refer to this White Paper and to say, "There you are: we refer you to Resolutions X, XII, XV, and so on, and you can draw your own conclusions from them." If it is possible for the ordinary farmer to draw intelligent conclusions and to have confidence in those conclusions, why is it not possible for the Minister, with all the authority of the War Cabinet behind him, to produce his own White Paper, and to say, "Here are the conclusions we draw; on them you can mould your industry and plan your future "?
The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) referred somewhat disparagingly to Farm Sundays. In my view, they are doing a great deal to unite town and country. We had one recently in my division. We all gathered in the usual way. Presently the banners of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, a strong trade union in my area, were seen coming in from the park. The men carrying the banners were not all farm workers. The leading man was the High Sheriff of Lincoln, who farms a large acreage, and another big farmer was behind him. Farm Sundays can do a lot, and by them the Minister can realise a great deal.
The people of this country are getting awfully tired, particularly in the towns. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has told us recently of the tiredness which is affecting the mining industry. I believe that he is right. Go to an industrial centre like Birmingham, and you find that the people are carrying on, but they are tired. In a rural area you do not see the same signs of stress and strain in the carriage and even in the voices of the people.
I agree. I am paying a compliment to the people my hon. Friend represents. I say that they are tired because of the effort they are putting in. But in the countryside the life, the activity, the pleasure of producing are in themselves restorative and creative. I think that after this war this country will be faced with great problems. Perhaps many of our high hopes will be slightly tarnished. There will be a feeling of restiveness, a feeling of revolt, a feeling of the need for recuperation. This country will do well if it adpots a policy of making quite sure that its contacts with the land are safe and secure and that in health and in nature and in the production of our own food we may secure, not only an increase of food for our bodies, but also refreshment and recreation for our minds.
I would like to point out that so far as Birmingham and the Midlands are concerned there is no weakening or slackening of the war effort. The whole productive effort of Birmingham is still at the high level at which it was previously, and it would be a pity if it went out from the House of Commons that there was any talk of weakening in that effort. We are working at the top of our bent, and to suggest that there is slackness or a lagging behind in the war effort is not in accordance with the facts. Birmingham has no desire to depart from the high standard of the work it has done in the past.
I make no apology for rising at this late hour. I have listened to the Debate in full, and it would be only right that I should, if possible, intervene in this Debate, for my constituency occupies the almost unique position of being dependent wholly on agriculture. Almost every other constituency has some other consideration either of some other industry, or even a port or seaside, or some other interest than agriculture. But mine depends entirely on agriculture, and therefore it is a complete unit on which one can judge the effect upon agriculture throughout the country, because I have only to look at my own country districts. May I remind the House that we are discussing the Second Reading of a Consolidated Fund Bill and that from time immemorial that has been the occasion upon which this House, before voting on it, could discuss its grievances. It has not been for a Minister to reply before the grievances have been fully discussed and then, having completed his speech, to leave the House. I am extremely grateful to the Minister himself who has been most assiduous in his attendance here, but it would have been more in consonance with the practice of this House had the Parliamentary Secretary remained to hear what other Members had to say before he delivered his reply. He twitted Members on the other side of the House with now having reached a stage which he had reached some years ago. He even twitted my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) with having put forward a suggestion for having a purchasing board in 1927, and said that he belonged to a party which had put this forward as long ago as 1925 as their official policy. He reminded the hon. Member, who was then the Private Secretary of the present Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he hoped that he would have had some influence upon the then Leader. The retort is so easy. I hope that he has not forgotten some of the speeches which he used to make from this side of the Table to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors. If he still believes in the import board, he is now in a first-class position as a member of the Ministry to bring his influence to bear upon the subject.
We have listened to many interesting speeches, beginning with the all too brief survey made by the Minister of Agriculture. But by far and away the most important subject was the second speech he delivered, in reply to an interruption by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, when he said that he was not allowed to discuss before this House and before the country the question of a long-term agricultural policy. I would remind the House that certainly for the last 20 years Member after Member in this House has been asking for a long-term agricultural policy. Minister after Minister has been challenged, and Ministers have fallen because of their failure to produce such a policy. Now, in the middle of this war, we have had two Commissions sitting, one of them presided over by Lord Justice Scott, who pointed out in the forefront of their Report that it is difficult to make any suggestions with regard to amenities in agricultural districts unless we get a long-term agricultural policy, meaning thereby that we have not got one. Then came the Forestry Commission's Report, and they again pointed out that there is no long term agricultural policy.
To-day we have had the Minister himself, whose courage we have always recog-
nised, standing up at that Box and saying, "I am not allowed to discuss this." We know the energy which the Minister has put into his office, and, speaking for myself, I am certain that he has prepared the way for a long-term policy. Why cannot we have it now? Is it fair, otherwise, to the farmer? The Parliamentary Secretary, obviously remembering a portion of the speech which he delivered on several occasions from this side of the House during previous Debates with regard to the need for security, is saying that what is essential for farming is a long-term matter. It does not arise from day to day; it goes on from year to year, and yet you are asking the farmers of this country to proceed with the production of food at this moment, and they do not know at present what is to be the policy with regard to them in the future. To my surprise—I remembered the answer to the Question to which he referred—the Parliamentary Secretary referred to a reply given by the Deputy Prime Minister as a defence to what the Minister of Agriculture had said. He said that to-day nothing had been added by the Minister of Agriculture. When the Minister had said in reply to that interruption, "I am not allowed to discuss this; I can only discuss world policy," the Parliamentary Secretary 'referred to this answer, which was said to have been given a short time ago. It is interesting to note that it was on 11th May that this answer was given in reply to a Question put by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree):
His Majesty's Government have in no way altered their view as to the importance of maintaining a healthy and well balanced agriculture after the war as a permanent feature of national policy "—
I will come back to that in a moment—
It has not, however, proved possible at this stage of the war for the War Cabinet to carry its consideration of the many problems involved in the formulation of post-war agricultural policy to a point at which the intentions of the Government can be made known. I am unable to say when that point will be reached.
There the Parliamentary Secretary stopped. A little previous to that he contradicted other Members of the House by saying there was no anxiety whatever among the farming community with regard to this. He had cited the Deputy Prime Minister in support of one argument. He might have gone on to read the remainder of his answer, for the hon.
Member for Harborough followed it up by a supplementary:
While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his answer, may I ask whether he is aware that there is considerable anxiety among farmers at the failure of the Government so far to make known their post-war agricultural policy, particularly in view of the fact of the almost unanimous agreement In the recommendations put forward by various agricultural societies in the past few months,
The Parliamentary Secretary denies that there is anxiey, but the Deputy Prime Minister said:
I am, of course, aware of the feeling in the agricultural community and the Government are doing all they can to formulate their views with a view to making a statement as early as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1943; col. 471, Vol. 389.]
When are we going to get a concrete, definite promise? What does "as early as possible" mean? Does it mean this year, sometime or never? How long do you expect the farmers to carry on as they do? Everyone now gives praise to them for what they have done. Reference has been made to their anxieties in the past. When I first remember the anxieties of the farmer, they were in the main concerned with security of tenure. He was living a very hard life, and he is living a very hard life to-day. Little attention was given at that time to his economic position, but a great deal was towards providing him with security of tenure, hence the various Agricultural Holdings Acts, leading up to the Act of 1908. Then came the period of 1920, when we were less concerned with security of tenure than as to how we were to earn a living.
Then came tragedy after tragedy, and those matters are remembered now. Like the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), my farmers in the early days of the war, when we were imploring them to do more and more and to cultivate every inch of ground and to use all their energies for the production of food, were saying, "That is all right, but do you think the history of the last war will be repeated? We were called upon to plough more land. We were called upon to do all we could to produce food, and we did it. Like so many others, we were praised during the period of danger, but very soon afterwards we were quite forgotten, and ruin stared us in the face. Will it happen again?" I assured them that the House of Commons would never let them down. For the last 12 months they have been
expressing their doubts. The right hon. Gentleman, very rightly, paid high tribute to the results of the Conference at Hot Springs. He said that not enough had been made of it and that, while he would pay a tribute to the Beveridge Report, in his opinion this was of even greater importance. I gathered that what he means is that this deals with production, whereas the Beveridge Report really deals with distribution. It does not add to production directly. But the Beveridge Report deals with conditions in this country, with the conditions of the people as we know them. It is an attempt to even out the conditions so that the people do not fall below a certain standard, and that standard should be maintained. Can you expect to get enthusiasm about a general statement of this kind, couched in the broadest possible language, on recommendations made by the representatives of 43 or 44 countries as to what would happen? I would draw the Minister's attention to Declaration 1, Sub-paragraph 5:
The primary responsibility lies with each nation for seeing that its own people have the food needed for life and health; steps to this end are for national determination. But each nation can fully achieve its goal only if all work together.
Read that, and there you get a highly phrased general idea, but with that direction that it is for each nation to shape its own policy. You will get the same interest that you got in the Beveridge Report the moment the Minister produces his national long-term policy, and until you get that concrete proposal you will not get people enthusiastic about a matter of this kind.
The hon. Gentleman is always most useful. If he asks me what I should add to the wonderful and useful suggestion made by the Minister, I would remind him that the Minister said he was not allowed to discuss a long-term policy. Anything added to that is an addition. To come back to what the Deputy Prime Minister said:
His Majesty's Government have in no way altered their views as to the importance of
maintaining a real and well-balanced agriculture after the war as a permanent feature of national policy.
That is the general statement to which he commits himself. Is it part of the permanent policy with regard to agriculture that you should have the conditions that you get to-day on some of the holdings, especially the small hill holdings in Scotland, in Wales, in Devonshire, or in Cornwall? Before you can come to a long-term policy with regard to agriculture, you have to get settled your long-term policy with regard to the land itself. The land has for a long time been neglected. That is a trite statement that is made by everyone. What is the position to-day? Let them go, not to visit great farms with modern buildings and machinery, where you have agricultural labourers who are only concerned, as far as I can see, that there is not sufficient housing accommodation, but to the small family farm with which Scottish and Cumberland and Westmorland Members are familar.
These people live a harder life than any other people I know within the community, not even excepting the miner himself. They are, if you can use such a phrase in connection with them, really slaves, and they have been for the last four generations. They are up with the dawn, they work until night, and they cannot afford any outside help. The whole family has to turn out, and all they get is what they can earn out of the farm after having paid the rent. What are the conditions of their houses? So far as I know, within the whole of my county during the last 40 or 50 years there have not been more than 10 farm houses built except for houses built on national money under national schemes by the county council for smallholdings. The rest are all old houses, and in scores of cases they are in a worse condition than many of the slums about which this House is more familiar. The roofs are leaking, and I know of two or three farms within six miles of me where they have to move the beds according to the direction of the wind. They are proud and independent, and I have often heard it said that they would rather go hungry than go shabby. They will buy the best black clothes they can in order to attend their places of worship. It 'is an all-purposes suit for market, funerals, everything. What do they live on? In the main tea, bread and butter and bacon, and nothing at all for the young people working for them.
I will not give way. Most of the hon. Gentleman's interruptions are unhelpful to anybody. I am describing what is unfortunately true of hundreds and I believe thousands of small farm houses and smallholdings. Many of them, owing to lack of repair, have fallen in. I knew 40 years ago many a smallholding which has now disappeared, and the land has been taken into a larger farm. The families have gone away. No wonder that between the two wars I have lost one-third of my school children. No wonder that mine is the only county in England and Wales with a smaller population than there was 140 years ago. That is owing to the neglect of agriculture. I ask again, Is that part of the permanent feature of the national policy referred to by the Deputy Prime Minister? May I say what is happening now? We have three types of landholding: the landlord and tenant, the owner-occupier and the tenant under a smallholding. I can only say from my experience that the landlord has done what he could for his tenants. He never had, so long as he was dependent entirely upon his land, very much. Mast of the land in this country is on the 4 per cent. basis. That was gross. That is why we reckon, when we are purchasing land, on a 25 years' purchase. The landlord never took the 4 per cent. in the old days when I was a boy. He was content with 2 per cent. He put the other 2 per cent. back into the land in repairing buildings and houses and where necessary building new houses and buildings, Dutch barns, gates, drainage and fences. For the last 40 years, owing to our method of taxation, he has been unable to afford it.
I remember addressing the House 15 years ago pointing out that Death Duties had hit agriculture much harder than anything else, because in industry, where you have a company, Death Duties merely mean a distribution of the shares, and it does not affect the way the business is carried on. In agriculture it may be one-third, and the property is either to be sold or mortgaged in, order to meet the Death Duties. The result is that the landlords have less and less, wages are, quite rightly, going up, the expense of running their mansions increasing, and they are incapable of helping their tenants unless they have some outside means. Is it fair to allow the landlord and the tenant to go on as they are at present, not knowing anything about the future? Is the landlord to give notice to quit to his tenant with a view to selling when the tenant will have to make up his mind what is the limit to which he can bid without being ruinous to himself and his family? Is the landlord to hold on in the hope of something being returned in the shape of a Long-term policy? What is to be the position of his tenant, who still has to go on with buildings which are falling into rack and ruin? Hon. Members talk about drainage. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) spoke about large drainage schemes. One of the main reasons why agriculture has fallen so badly is that field drainage has been allowed to disappear, and old drains have become clogged. What is the position of the owner-occupier? Most of them purchased their land in the last war at the same high prices that are prevailing now, and in order to get the necessary money they borrowed from the banks, not on a 4 per cent. but on a 5 per cent. basis, and ever since they have been in tremendous difficulties. The free money which they want in order to purchase implements, and what the Minister was asking for to-day, better bulls and better stock, they have not got. They are mortgaged to the bank.
Reference has been made to the Conference at Hot Springs. Why did not the Minister refer to Resolution XVIII:
Agricultural productivity and efficiency and the well-being of the tiller of the soil depend largely upon the system of land tenure.
That is in this document, which is said to be receiving the approval of His Majesty's Government. The Resolution further said that the Conference recommends:
That each nation make a careful survey of existing Systems of land tenure and the other conditions of agriculture within its boundaries to ascertain whether changes in these systems and conditions are necessary or desirable to promote the productivity and efficiency of agriculture and the welfare of its workers, and that special attention be given to the position of the agricultural worker as compared with that of the worker in other industries.
How are the Government proposing to implement that Resolution, of which they
have approved? What is to be their policy on agricultural tenure? Will they relieve the agricultural landowner, who cannot possibly do any more? Will they relieve the owner-occupier, who is already mortgaged up to the hilt? Will they pursue the policy started in 1908 with regard to smallholdings—purchase all the land on a fair basis and let it on a secure tenancy to those who can farm it, so that the money in their hands can be used for better farming? If that is their policy, I can see in future better housing, better buildings, better drainage, the provision of water and the rest.
Only last Sunday I was walking a few miles from my home along one of our narrow old roads. Just as I reached a small homestead on the top of the hills I met the farmer coming from a field and carrying two pails of water. We hailed each other. We were at school together and were old friends, and we stood and chatted for a while. I said, "How far have you carried those?" and he told me it was from two fields away, roughly about half-a-mile. It was the only water for drinking, or cooking, or washing, or cleaning the utensils. There was that smallholding there, and the family were all at work. It was a pretty rough place; it was not easy to take even a cart there. Yet there they were, expected to plough and work day and night, producing food, and they do work day and night. There were no amenities of any kind. Can we wonder that people leave the countryside? Can we wonder that the young and vigorous go where they can earn a decent livelihood? When the Government have settled their policy on land tenure, I can begin to see proper buildings, electricity and transport.
That brings me back to another of those Resolutions, which refers to "additions to and improvement of market facilities." I think it was the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) who referred once again to a subject which has often been raised in this House. I remember the old days when the Parliamentary Secretary and I were fighting together against the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors. We were protesting against subsidies, saying they were no solution but only a temporary stop-gap to help, not all farmers, but only those with land sufficiently sound and good to take advantage of the subsidies. We were saying then, "Won't you do something to close the tremendous gap between what the producer obtains and the consumer pays?" I have recently seen a figure which I am almost afraid to quote. I think it was in a document issued by the Ministry. It said that the difference to-day between what the consumer pays and the producer gets is in the neighbourhood of £400,000,000. The figure in 1938 was over £280,000,000. The biggest subsidies we used to give were in the neighbourhood of £20,000,000 or £25,000,000. Close that gap, and we shall not be increasing the cost to the consumer and we shall be increasing the benefits to the producer. Of course, we want stable prices. Of course, we ask that the Ministry of Food should be continued.
We have also asked what is to be done in regard to marketing. Are we to allow the old 1939 system to remain? I have three main markets—at Oswestry, at Welshpool and Newtown. On a market morning nobody, no auctioneer, knows what animals are coming to market, and nobody knows what buyers want or what buyers will be there. If perchance the buyers should get a wire from their wholesalers telling them to buy come what may, prices jump up. That news spreads, and next market day the other market is just flooded out with stock, but there are few buyers. No wonder prices are fluctuating—and a difference of even 6d. a head is a tremendous difference to us. Are the Government going to do something to improve the marketing system? Are we to have convenient abattoirs, and adjacent to them hide and skin factories? Are we to have, in convenient places, milk, cheese and butter factories?
Let me end with this. Agriculture is primarily concerned with the production of food. For the producer it is one mode of earning a livelihood, but there is something deeper than that, something which we do not find in other industries —it is also a mode of life. We realise that the very lifeblood of the country, the traditions of the country, the poetry and the literature of the country, the young men of vigour and energy, come from the rural districts. We have seen the rural districts falling into decay. To-day they are struggling to do their best by the nation with such labour as they can get, with the wonderful work of the land girls and extra help obtained through various organisations. In the interests not only of agriculture but of a healthy nation, determined still to play a leading part in the world, when we meet at a round table conference, not of 44 nations, but of all the nations of the world, surely we shall go there with a settled policy of our own, one in which the farmers of this country will have faith and one which will give a new hope to those who come after us.
I do not want to detain the House at the tail-end of a long Debate, and in the few observations which I will put before hon. Members I will be very brief. I do not think we can blame the Minister of Agriculture for the situation which has been disclosed by him to-day. It is really not new. We learned from a Debate in another place only about three weeks ago, that the Cabinet had no time to make up their minds on what was to be the post-war agricultural structure. Similarly, last week the Deputy Prime Minister answered a Question in this House to the same effect. The blame does not lie with the Minister. I think rather we should praise the Minister for the heroic and successful efforts he has put into war-time agricultural production. He has transformed our countryside. He has raised standards everywhere, and he has created a broad contentment among farmers. It is not the case that the situation about planning for post-war agriculture is attributable to him; it is rather as my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) said, attributable Ito the War Cabinet. They appear to me not to be alive to the urgent need of the moment. It is rather remarkable' that there has not been a single representative of the War Cabinet on the Front Bench at any stage of the Debate to-day. That small fact alone, goes to support the hon. Baronet's contention that they are not interested in agriculture.
Agriculture is only one of the many subjects on which a lack of Government pronouncements for the future is causing serious alarm in the country. It is vital for our country's cause that we should debate reforms now and make plans at home, to keep in tune with the changing world-picture overseas. It is not enough to win battles and establish military governments abroad, if that is to mean leaving the home base scarred and denuded, exhausted both of materials and ideals. Our cause is a continuing cause, and we can only hope to see it prosper on a continuously renovated and improved structure at home. All agriculture and all industry is living on a hand-to-mouth basis to-day. We can so proceed during the worst phases of the war, but my constant fear—and here I agree with what has already been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major York)—is that because of a lack of statements on major issues, because the Government are plainly dilatory in enunciating the principles on which we are to proceed after the war, we shall be hurled by the Armistice into a welter of disputation and political strife at the very time when we should be quickly and quietly turning to peace-time tasks, which should have been settled long before.
Every soldier knows that the most critical period of the battle is the consolidation after the attack. Knowing that, he works out a drill to withstand the counter-blows which invariably come. What is the equivalent to that, in high policy, I would not presume to say. Primarily, it is, of course, a matter of timing, on which the War Cabinet only have the requisite knowledge. What are the issues in this matter of agriculture? May I give some of them briefly, and as headings: whether the British farmer is to be guaranteed for the space of at least two four-year plans, the markets he now enjoys and the prices he now receives; to what extent the necessary subsidies shall be provided from import levies or from the Exchequer itself; whether food production and consumption shall be permanently linked up by a merger of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food; how far the present bureaucratic control of farming operations can be Lightened without danger of a fall in food production; and, finally, how far a policy of improving the standard of nutrition must give place to a policy of feeding starving Europeans with the prime necessities of life.
To all those questions, and many others, the farmers want answers, and they want those answers now. What the country is going to assume from the grave omissions from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-day is that, now, with every day that passes, the Government are moving on to ever more treacherous ground, and that they are deliberately forsaking the possibility of mild controversy during the war—and it would be mild, with all efforts as they are, bent on victory—for the certainly of much more bitter dispute and far greater harm to the commonweal when the war is over. Some of my hon. Friends and myself are far from satisfied with the pace and zeal with which the Government are tackling home problems in general. We are far from satisfied with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-day. Unless some indication of a change of heart is apparent in the next two months my hon. Friends and myself will take such steps as are open to us, to bring what pressure we can to bear upon the Government. It is no use the Prime Minister saying that we must keep our eyes on the ball. At least it is only part of the truth. The game is played with many other accessories besides—bats and stumps and, most important of all, a well-cared-for pitch on the home ground.
I am inspired to rise by the speech of the hon. Member for Southern Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). He has said —and speaking as a Member who represents an entirely agricultural constituency I should like to endorse his statement—that the time may well arrive when those of us who speak for agricultural areas may have to take somewhat more stringent steps, more drastic action, than the mere protest that we have heard so far in this Chamber to-day, including even the very energetic protest of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). I want to take this opportunity of paying a tribute, in the first place, to the Minister of Agriculture. He has been criticised in many respects in the course of the Debate but I would like to pay him a tribute, both personally and on behalf of the agriculturists of my constituency, for the fact that, during his tenure of office, he has, whatever policy he was pursuing, made known to the agricultural community what that policy was, and has unswervingly pursued it. Agriculturists have known where they stood; and that is what agriculture in this country primarily needs.
Several factors ought to be borne in mind in considering the future of agriculture, after this war. I am not going to expound them. They have been dilated upon, again and again, in the course of this Debate. Judging from my own experience in my own constituency, first and foremost the agriculturist demands to know whether he is going to have a fair return for the work that he puts in. That depends on a policy longer even than the four-year policy which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, and the Government ought now to be prepared to say to the farmers of this country, "If you produce the commodities that agriculture can supply, we will guarantee you, for what you produce, a fair price and a fair return." I see no reason why the right hon. Gentleman cannot persuade his colleagues in the Government to make such a declaration. Why cannot he do so? Why cannot it be given? I know very well that these products may have to be varied according to the needs of the food policy of this country, according to the needs of the labour situation, according to the needs of feeding other countries. I know it may have to be varied, but the farming community, in the course of this war, have shown that it does not matter how you may vary the demands upon them, they will comply with those demands so long as you give them a fair return for what they produce. That is the first fundamental. I cannot see why the right hon. Gentleman or the Government cannot produce that policy and state it definitely, in set terms.
The second thing is that, having told the farming community that they are to get a fair return, we, as representing the community, are entitled to turn round to agriculture and say, "You must produce for us the things which the community requires. You shall no longer be allowed to say I will farm this place just as my father and grandfather did. I will turn out milk or corn or fat beasts' "—or whatever it may be. You are entitled to say to them, "You must produce the goods which the community requires, the food which the country needs," in conformity, as the Minister said in his opening speech, with a mixed system of farming. You can tell them that they have no right to expect a fair price return unless they comply with that condition.
I have been astounded in the course of this war at the revolution which has taken place in the psychology of the farmers in this country. I have always been told that the farmer is the most conservative person to be found anywhere. He may vote Conservative, Liberal or Labour, but he is a most conservative type. And yet, as the right hon. Gentleman knows well enough, conservative though farmers may be, the right hon. Gentleman has produced in the course of his own tenure of office, a bigger revolution in the minds of farmers than all the politics of this country have been able to do for a century. Give the farmers fair conditions and they are adaptable. Those are the two conditions, first that you should see they get a fair return, and second, that in return for that, they must comply with the conditions and terms and requirements of the policy of the country as a whole. I do beg the right hon. Gentleman and, through him the Government and the War Cabinet, to get down to the business of stating, definitely and categorically, to the farming community of this country that they have a long-term policy, and to tell us exactly what that policy is.