Orders of the Day — Agriculture

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th June 1952.

Alert me about debates like this

7.35 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Peter Legh Hon. Peter Legh , Petersfield

When the debate was interrupted, I was proceeding to give the Committee some figures to show how the costs of production of horticultural produce in the county of Hampshire had gone up since before the war. I emphasise that these are figures obtaining in the county of Hampshire.

Coal has increased in price from 35s. 8d. per ton in 1939 to 113s. 5d. per ton in 1951–52. Coke has gone up from——

Photo of Hon. Peter Legh Hon. Peter Legh , Petersfield

Coke has gone up from 25s. 6d. per ton in 1939 to 140s. 4d. per ton in 1951–52.

Ordinary artificial fertilisers have increased in price from £10 per ton in 1939 to no less than £70 to £80 per ton this year, and the best artificials have gone up from £23 per ton before the war to £90 this year. Labour costs have also increased. The wages of a labourer have risen from 40s. per week to 112s. 6d. per week, and those of a charge hand from 55s. per week to 122s. 6d. per week. Tissue for packing has risen from 2s. 9d. per ream in 1939 to 21s. this year, and cord for packing has increased in price from 38s. per cwt. in 1939 to 235s. this year.

Exactly how this increased incidence of costs affects the industry I can best illustrate by saying that in 1939 the cost of producing broccoli in Hampshire was £26 0s. 6d. per acre; this year it is no less than £74 16s. 6d. per acre. That is one side of the picture. The other side is that at the beginning of this week Hampshire growers were getting for their best quality strawberries, which are the best strawberries in these islands, 1s. 6d. per lb. That represents a dead loss to them.

I was told that, so far as lower-grade quality strawberries are concerned, the minimum economic price is £110 per ton; that is to say that it does not pay the growers to pick the strawberries for a lower price than that. I was also told that last Tuesday night there would be a meeting in South Hampshire between the growers there and representatives of the manufacturers to agree on what price the lower-grade quality strawberries would be sold for making into jam. My information was that, because of the abundance of imported strawberries, the growers would have to accept a price lower than £110 per ton.

The only solution to this problem which the trade thinks would be of any advantage is an upward revision of tariffs. I believe that the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary will agree that that is so. When one talks about an upward revision of tariffs against imported horticultural products one immediately raises the whole issue of the future of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. I know what a thorny problem that is—what the difficulties are. I know, too, that the General Agreement is advantageous as well as disadvantageous even to the horticultural industry. However, I am certain—and I know that the trade is certain—that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

I would say to the President of the Board of Trade, if he were here, that the difficulties of resolving the problem presented by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade will not become easier by delaying the date on which a decision is finally made. Last Tuesday the President of the Board of Trade said, in answer to a Question, that he did not expect that he would be able to make a further statement about the future of the General Agreement before the Summer Recess.

The Deputy-Chairman:

I am afraid that what the hon. Gentleman is now discussing would involve legislation.

Photo of Hon. Peter Legh Hon. Peter Legh , Petersfield

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Hopkin Morris. I was merely going to say that that answer given by the President of the Board of Trade can only be very disappointing to the growers of fruit and vegetables in this country, because they are now already worried about next year's cropping programme.

A few days ago I had a letter—a very heartbreaking letter—from a grower in my constituency. It is typical of many letters I receive, and I should like to read to the Committee a few sentences from it. My constituent says: To prepare for increased cropping next year I must put in a large amount of capital. I am extremely hesitant to do this because of the steeply rising costs and complete absence of any encouragement regarding the control of imports. I really do feel that it may not be realised"——

The Deputy-Chairman:

I think the hon. Gentleman is using this as an illustration of his plea, which would involve legislation. That cannot be discussed.

Photo of Hon. Peter Legh Hon. Peter Legh , Petersfield

I was hoping to be able to quote from this letter in order to illustrate to the Committee the difficulties of one of the horticulturists in my constituency——

The Deputy-Chairman:

The difficulties could not be met unless there were additonal legislation.

Photo of Hon. Peter Legh Hon. Peter Legh , Petersfield

I will leave that point. Perhaps I may go on to read one or two other sentences from my constituent's letter, which, I hope, will not offend against your Ruling, Mr. Hopkin Morris. He goes on: I really do feel that it may not be realised in Government circles how this industry is bleeding. I meet small men with even less reserves than I have, and, believe me, they regard things as grim. I only ask—and this most earnestly—that some guidance may be given. If only we were told when we may expect the silence to be broken one way or the other, and possibly also whether any protection is to be expected at all. All I ask is a reasonable chance of taking out of the place per year as much as I pay any one adult. I am quite certain that the Minister of Agriculture is very familiar with the problems of the horticultural industry, and I am equally certain that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies to the debate, will be sympathetic towards the predicament of the industry. I do appeal to him to use all his influence to convince his colleagues in the Cabinet that, so far as the horticultural industry is concerned, it is most vitally urgent that something should be done to make the control of imports more effective, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give the Committee an assurance that that will be done.

7.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Legh) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the sphere with which he dealt. I particularly want to draw the Minister's attention tonight to a very important publication which I have received today. It is called "Rural Electrification and the Farming Community in Wales," and it is written by Miss Dorothy Hooper, M.A. This document is published by the Department of Agricultural Economics of the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. I do not need to remind the Minister of the important contribution that Aberystwyth University College has made to British agriculture.

Let me quote from the foreword to this document. It goes: Under modern conditions of farming, farms lacking such a supply"—? that is, a supply of electricity— are not sufficiently equipped for production. In this respect the importance of this service ranks second only to that of an adequate supply of water. It has a bearing also on the labour problem, as the availability of electric power reduces materially the time required for performing many of the routine farming processes, and further makes possible the introduction of the most up to date and efficient methods. It goes on: Finally, it is an accepted fact that the absence of amenities, of which electricity is one, has been an important factor in the depopulation of the countryside, and the future of agriculture depends a great deal on giving the rural dweller that share of urban amenities to which he has a moral right. The position in Wales in this respect, as the Minister knows, is very far from satisfactory; but the position in my own constituency of Anglesey is nothing short of critical. If the farmers of Anglesey and the farmers of other Welsh counties are to compete on equal terms with their more fortunate brethren in the wealthier parts of the south of England and of East Anglia, then rural electrification in Wales must be given top priority.

Quite reasonable progress has been made in rural electrification since electricity was nationalised in April, 1948, but it seems that far more progress has been made in connecting farms with electricity in England than in Wales, and it appears to me that in Wales, with a high percentage of marginal land, with our comparatively small farming units, with the comparative poverty—I think that this is an important point, and I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) is not here to hear what I have to say—the comparative poverty of Welsh farmers, and our lack of water, and, finally, our lack of electricity, Welsh farmers are fighting an uphill fight, and that they are performing wonders in that process.

To bring this home to the Minister, let me quote some figures. I think they are new figures which he will not have seen before. I shall confine myself to Anglesey, although I should say that the position with regard to rural electrification is almost as bad in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones). But I speak of Anglesey now.

There are 115 farms with electricity, and that is 3·5 per cent. of the total number in the island. There are 3,129 farms, or 96·5 per cent., without electricity. Again, of the 115 farms which are connected, 42, or 1·3 per cent, get electricity from a public source, and 73, or 2·2 per cent., from a private supply. That shows that Anglesey is the county with the lowest percentage of farms in the whole of Wales—and, I think, in the whole of England and Wales—with a public supply of electricity—that is, 1·3 per cent. This is a most grave disclosure.

The county in Wales with the highest number of farms connected with electricity is Glamorgan, 30 per cent. of whose farms are so supplied. This quite clearly discloses, for the first time I think, the really serious position which exists in Anglesey and in the Welsh counties. I, personally, am grateful to Miss Hooper for rendering this service. I hope that the Minister will obtain this document and give it very careful studv and consideration, because it has an important bearing on the efficiency of the Welsh farming industry and its potential for the future.

There is one other matter of paramount importance which I wish to mention. I do not know whether the Government fully appreciate the immense difficulties now overtaking the small farmer—the man, that is, with a farm of fewer than 100 acres. Taking 80 acres as the average holding in Great Britain, we must constantly bear in mind that it is the small farmer, not the big farmer —to whom, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury refers— who is the backbone of British agriculture. It is upon him that we must ultimately depend for increased production.

The crisis into which the average farmer is now running is being created by the Government's dear money policy and by the restrictions on credit. This is the fundamental difficulty which confronts the farming community today. In paragraph (d)at the top of page 6 of the White Paper we read: The sharp drop in net income in 1950–51, aggravated by rising costs, and followed by some measure of restraint applied to credit advances by bankers, created a fairly widespread temporary shortage of ready-money amongst farmers. The Government do not hold this view that credit difficulties are properly to be solved by increases in prices. In the footnote at the bottom of page 6 the Chancellor's statement of 10th March is quoted, in which he said, in effect, that banks in applying their advances policy should give full weight to the importance of agricultural production. Unfortunately the White Paper does not suggest how credit difficulties should be solved. These restrictions, coupled with the increased bank rate, make it almost impossible for the small farmer today to derive the maximum benefit from increased prices.

Furthermore, it is extremely doubtful whether banks will release money, even at 5½ per cent., on stock alone without a very sound additional security. In this context, I am thinking of the tenant farmer or the owner-occupier who happens to have a mortgage on his property. Generally, the tenant farmer and the owner-occupier with a mortgage will have a little more than their stock and their implements to offer the bank as security.

In the policies of the banks there is a marked lack of uniformity as between different parts of the country. Even in the same county one bank manager approached by a farmer will use a far wider discretion than another bank manager. This does not make for a united and concerted effort by the small farmers, anxious though they may be to play their part in our national recovery.

Many cases could be quoted of industrious farmers—I am speaking now of the small farmers in Anglesey and north-west Wales—who badly require capital for the purpose of expansion, but who are not possessed of the sort of security acceptable to the banks. The Price Review will not benefit these farmers, because to get increased prices there must be increased output, and to ensure increased output there must be available the ready-money to spend on expansion.

Take, for example, the farmer who desires to increase on sheep. He would buy the ewes this September and would then have to wait until the following summer—the following August or September, for the return of his money and his profit, but unless he can borrow the money from the bank this September he will not be able to carry out his plans. This failure—and this is the crux of the matter—on the part of countless farmers throughout the country can and will have a disastrous effect upon our national production figures. I do not wish to over-simplify the position, but I think that is the vital problem in agriculture which confronts the Minister and the Government today.

If the Government want to achieve their target of increased production they must, in my submission, do two important things, and do them now. First, they must relax restrictions on credit to farmers, subject of course, to the normal precautions that any bank would take; and secondly, they must also lower the interest rate, because even if a small farmer is fortunate enough to be able to borrow, the present rate of interest is crippling to him. In the interests of the nation, I hope that the Minister and the Government will give these matters their most urgent and careful attention.

7.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I hope the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow him in detail on the points he made. I have every sympathy with a certain amount of what he said, particularly with regard to rural electrification. I do not think we can have too much of that. In my own division there is a large number of very scattered fen farms, many of which are without electricity, which has a very deterrent effect on food production. I am certain that my right hon. and gallant Friend does bear that in mind, but I hope that it will be possible to do something more to help these people.

At the outset of this my first intervention in agricultural matters to any extent, perhaps I should declare an interest. I do not think it is customary to do so in agricultural debates, but I do not see why it should not be as relevant for a farmer to declare his interest as for the member of any other profession. I am a farmer, and as I may be referring incidentally to horticulture, I should say that I am also a member of the Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board.

I should be happier if the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) were in his place, because although I do not intend to follow him in any detail, there are one or two small comments I should like to make of some of his remarks. When listening to him, I could not help feeling that perhaps there was something a little out of the ordinary in his flamboyant outpourings against the farming community. I almost felt that he was suffering from that foot-and-mouth disease of which we have heard so much recently. Indeed, looking at the faces of some of his hon. Friends when he was speaking, I thought that some of them would subscribe very readily to the slaughter policy in his case. However, I shall not pursue that too far.

One point he made to which attention needs to be called was when he tried to play off the housewife against the farmer to an extent which I thought was wholly unjustifiable, and I take one figure to show how totally untrue is his method of putting it, and how completely wrong is the impression that he gives when he says that the farmer is holding up the housewife to ransom. After all, we must view this as though for the whole world. We cannot view it within the narrow aspect of our own economy because so much of our food has to be imported.

It is, therefore, relevant to remember that the British farmer is paid for his wheat a price substantially under the world wheat agreement price and enormously under the world's free market price. The effect of this, in terms of bread, is that every 3½ lb. loaf made from dollar wheat purchased at wheat agreement prices would cost the nation nearly 2d. a loaf more than if it were made from British wheat. That surely must have some relevance to what the hon. Member was saying. If a similar loaf were to be made from wheat at the present world free market price, it would cost just over 3¾d. more than a loaf made from British wheat. That, I think, disposes of his type of argument.

Photo of Mr William Coldrick Mr William Coldrick , Bristol North East

In fairness to the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), would the hon. Member give the price paid to the British farmer for meat compared with the price paid to the country from which we import it? It is not fair to take one particular article.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

That is a fair question. I have not the figures with me on that particular point, but the hon. Gentleman will agree, I think, that bread is one of the staple foods. I agree with him that the figure for meat is certainly not so favourable. I think, however, that bread is such an important staple food that it is quite relevant to refer to it in this connection. I do not think that it is necessary or desirable to follow the hon. Member for Wednesbury further in his remarks, because I feel that he has introduced into what was otherwise an objective debate a totally wrong approach. I would prefer to make one or two constructive points on the more general issues.

Firstly, I am concerned, as I have said on previous occasions in the House, with the need for a greater labour force if we are to get the benefit of a greater tillage acreage. We have seen in the White Paper that there is a fall of one million acres of tillage, but that steps have been taken to rectify that, and we understand that the tillage acreage is now going up once more. It is no use, however, putting the tillage acreage up if we have not the labour to utilise it. That is fundamental. I believe that the tillage acreage went down largely because of the lack of labour. I know the farming community, and I know that in many cases when the farmer has not the labour he will be forced to take the course of least resistance and put the land back to grass.

If we are to get a greater tillage acreage and the increased food that is necessary, we must have a larger labour force. I have suggested on previous occasions ways in which that could be achieved. I believe that it would be policy to fill the hostels in the countryside once more. These hostels, which housed many workers during the war and immediately after the war, are now, in many cases, standing empty.

I believe also that it would be advisable to start once more the Women's Land Army, which did such good work in the past. I am thinking particularly at the moment about the unemployment in the textile industry. There are many young women who, I think, would be glad of an opportunity of coming forward and doing useful work for agriculture. It is only by making use of that kind of extra labour that we can hope, as a short-term policy, to get sufficient people on to the land. The fundamental reason for the lack of manpower on the land is the shortage of houses in the countryside. I think that question is being tackled, but it will take some time to bring about results. That is why I say that, as an interim measure, the hostels should be refilled if we are to get the benefits from our larger tillage acreage.

I should like to say a word on a subject which several hon. Members have touched upon. That is the degree of efficiency of different types of farmers. The A farmer is the best in the world. I think that there is little doubt that that is so. Coming from a division in Lincolnshire noted for its farming, I can speak with some knowledge of the very high type of farming and the very heavy production that can be produced from a really first-class farm.

Unfortunately, even in my own constituency, and more so in the country as a whole, the quantity of A farmers is not as great as we would like to see. There are a large number of farmers who come into the category of B farmers. They are in an overwhelmingly large majority in the country as a whole. As regards C farmers, they are happily in a very small minority, and there is provision to deal with them under the 1947 Act.

With regard to the A farmer it should not be forgotten that they are a tremendous asset, not only for what they produce, which is a very substantial contribution, but because they are the men whom the hon. Member for Wednesbury talked about when speaking of large profits. Why should men really skilful and doing something well in one industry be subject to derogation like that? Men successful in other businesses and industries who make substantial sums of money do not have scorn poured upon them. There is no reason why this small minority of farmers should not make substantial profits, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer will look after them in the long run. What is important is that they are producing more food per acre, and that is what really matters at the present time.

With regard to the C farmers, as I have said, there is provision for them to be dealt with. They can be put under supervision. As we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Minister, he is looking into this whole position with a view to speeding up the decisions that are taken. What is likely to happen so often after a farmer has been put under supervision, if it should come to the need that he has to be dispossessed, and if the A.E.C. wish for him to be dispossessed is that the Agricultural Land Tribunal has the last word, and in many cases in which the A.E.C. have wanted to have a man evicted they have found that the Land Tribunal have shied away from the harsh necessity of dispossessing him, and so they have taken away the strength of the A.E.C.

If this is to be tightened up, I say that the Land Tribunals have to be looked at closely. That is a fundamental point. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear it in mind when he is going into these matters. The rest of the problem boils down to the question of the B farmers who are in the very large majority. These men have been farming up to what has until recently been considered a high standard. The trouble with the B farmer is that he has not moved quite with the times and has not taken full advantage of the improved processes which have come to light in the last 10 or 15 years. These are the people who have to be persuaded to make greater use of newer methods—better machinery, heavier yielding strains of different varieties of corn, freer use of fertilisers—and encouraged to set themselves higher targets and not be satisfied with the yields to which they have been accustomed.

These are the men through whom, because of their large number and the large acreage which they farm, should come the real increase in production, and it can only come if they make greater use of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. They have to be encouraged to make far greater use of that body and to set themselves higher targets. They have to realise that more is expected of them. That is where the N.F.U. can be of help in instilling into them a feeling that they can and must do better.

With regard to the Agricultural Advisory Service, the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) mentioned one or two alternatives which could be made in the organisation. I, too, feel that there is room for some improvement. I certainly do not agree with the provisions of the Ryan Report. Its conclusions were not greatly to the benefit of the industry, and I hope that the Report will not be implemented.

That does not mean that there is no need for some reorganisation. I favour the return of the advisory service to the county councils. I should like to see reconstituted the agricultural committees of county councils which existed before the war, and the N.A.A.S. brought under them. They could continue in the same way as the present smallholdings committees, controlling the smallholdings and, more important still, the farm institutes.

At present there is no direct liaison between the farm institutes and the N.A.A.S., which is a fundamental weakness. The farm institutes are controlled by the agricultural education committees of the county councils, which are subcommittees of the education committees and have no direct association with the agricultural industry, which is wrong. We must provide a close link between the N.A.A.S. and the farm institutes if we are to get the best results and if the ex-students of the institutes are to be imbued with the idea of consulting the N.A.A.S. at every point. I hope it will be possible for something to be done on these lines.

I have a suggestion about security of tenure which, I hope, will commend itself. It has been said that there is too much security of tenure for the tenant under the 1947 Act. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wednesbury said that. I do not draw the same conclusions as he did, but I do feel that there may be too much security of tenure at present.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I am glad to have my hon. Friend's support. The Act has given great security to the tenant farmer—at one time he had insufficient security—and it enables him to plan ahead, which is valuable, but at the same time it has removed a check on inefficiency. In the past the landlord could utter a word of warning which usually had the desired result, but at present there is no possibility whatever of getting a bad tenant out, and it is of little use any landlord attempting to do anything in that way.

I have no wish to put tenants at a disadvantage, but it would be well—it would be to their long-term benefit—if the security of tenure given under the 1947 Act were restricted to one class of farmer only, the A farmer. That would have a very real effect on production. It would give other farmers an incentive to qualify as A farmers. There would be a definite incentive to become an A fanner if that gave security, and the A farmer would be entitled to such security. That is one way in which we could improve the standard of the B farm. Every farmer would have the right to full protection provided that his standard of farming justified it. In our present straitened circumstances, the imposition of a standard such as that would not be, and should not be, resented by our farming community.

There is also the question of tenant fanners who are getting on in years and would like to retire. Often their standard of farming has declined with their energies as they approach retiring age. Many such men are unable to retire because they cannot get other accommodation. Their job is linked with their home and they cannot get another house, and so they take the only way out, which is to continue to farm at an ever-decreasing standard. There is real justification for special housing provision for such men if they are willing to get out.

Photo of Mr Percy Wells Mr Percy Wells , Faversham

Would the hon. Gentleman apply the same principle to the agricultural labourer who is evicted from a tied cottage when he leaves the job?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

Yes, I think' so. As I said earlier, I believe the solution is to build more houses in the countryside. I was looking at this with a view, not to assisting the man but to helping the nation. If he can encourage the man who is not a good farmer to go out so that his place can be taken by an energetic young man, the country as a whole will benefit.

One of the brightest aspects about agriculture at present is the large number of young men who are products of universities and the farm institutes who want farms and wish to use the latest scientific knowledge. We must do all we can to encourage them, because they will produce increased quantities of food if they can get farms.

The subject of horticulture has already been dealt at some length by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Legh). I wish to call attention to the vitally important subject of horticultural marketing. It is generally acceded that some improvement is required. A number of committees have considered the subject in the last few years, but none of them has proposed a sensible or coherent scheme.

The way to tackle the problem is for the Government to give assistance to producer co-operative marketing centres in the main producing areas. We need to get uniform grading and packing in those centres before the produce is sent to the industrial markets. The real trouble has been lack of uniformity, and if we can get uniformity we shall have done much to solve the problem of horticultural marketing. It would be worth while for the Government to give direct assistance to the promotion of such grading centres all over the country, for it would be of benefit not only to the producer but, in the long run, to the consumer.

Horticulture requires to be helped politically. The 1947 Act promised that horticulture would receive a fair deal, but nothing whatsoever has been done to implement that promise, and it is high time the horticultural producer got a fair crack of the whip. The subject of tariffs has been ruled out of order, but I hope we may have an opportunity of discussing them later, for undoubtedly the adjust- ment of tariff barriers is one way in which we can give the industry real help.

In the last two years we have seen a definite fall in the standard of fanning production, but I believe that the steps already taken by my right hon. and gallant Friend have arrested the decline and that there is now an improvement. If he will only go ahead boldly and give a strong lead to the agricultural committees in the counties and show that he not only wants to increase production but will see that he gets it, he will find a following throughout the country and will get the extra food, which is so vitally needed.

8.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Jones Mr Thomas Jones , Merionethshire

I am pleased to have caught your eye, Sir Charles, but, in fairness to other hon. Members, I hope to confine my remarks to a period of 10 minutes. I represent a constituency which is predominantly hill farming. No one, by any stretch of the imagination, could suggest that those people live luxuriously. We have heard it claimed this evening that farmers are too well cared for, and that they thrive on subsidies. I do not subscribe to that view. I am sure of one thing, that anyone with an intimate knowledge of constituencies like Merioneth will know that every halfpenny is well earned and well deserved.

We must take a realistic view of the prevailing economic circumstances, and I think everyone will agree that farming must never again be neglected in this country and be brought to the state we found it in during pre-war days. Our whole economy depends on flourishing farmlands. What are the facts? In 1951 we imported £154 million of wheat and wheat products, £33 million of barley, £90 million of butter, £40 million of cheese and £213 million of meat and meat products. A great deal of that had to be paid for in currency other than sterling. Therefore, if we hope to retain our present standard of living, we must do all we can to encourage those people who are producing our food on our own land.

According to the declared policy of the Government, to quote from the White PaperThe Government will take all possible steps to encourage and where necessary require that full productive use is made of the land. I want to dwell on the word "encourage." That statement can mean one thing in a county like Cheshire, for instance, and quite another thing in a county like Merioneth. In order to encourage full production by hill farmers something even more important than subsidies is necessary.

I am glad, therefore, to have this opportunity of bringing to the notice of the Minister the state of the unclassified roads which we find in purely agricultural and rural areas. In Merionethshire we have 300 miles of third-class roads and 300 miles of unclassified roads. How can we expect the Merionethshire County Council, with a penny rate which produces no more than £550, to provide for these roads? They could only do so by increasing the rates exorbitantly.

With your permission, Sir Charles, I want to quote from a letter which I received only this week from the Clerk of the Urban District Council of Towyn. We all know Towyn as an exceptionally delightful place in which to spend a holiday, and I can recommend it to the House. However, Towyn has its problems and here is one of them: My Council's area, as you may know, contains a very large agricultural area, in fact the agricultural area covers by far the greater part of the Urban District. This agricultural area is served by many miles of unclassified roads for which my Council is responsible, but it finds the burden of undertaking necessary maintenance to be too heavy for its resources especially when added to the miles of similar unclassified roads serving the most populous and urban parts of the Urban District. The limited resources of the Urban District with its product of a 1d. rate amounting to only just over £70 and the large mileage involved is such that the roads have in the past been of necessity somewhat neglected with the result that the task now facing them to put these roads into some shape is almost impossible. That is the problem of the local authorities in counties like Merioneth. In summing up tonight, I hope that the Government spokesman will pay attention to this problem. The curious thing is this, that the two bodies who are poaching on our agricultural land are provided with excellent roads. I am referring to the War Department and the Forestry Commission. I do not grudge them their good roads, but I ask this question, why the difference? Indeed, it is a somewhat profound and sad commentary on our civilisation that the roads to warfare are wide and even and that the roads to peace are narrow and rough.

Now 50 per cent, of the Merionethshire highland farmers have embarked on schemes of improvement under the pro- visions of the Hill Faming Act and the cost is £500,000. That Act brought great credit to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), and it is no doubt his monument. Yet that can be brought to nought if these people are unable to transport their products and their requisites to and from the farms.

I will touch for a moment on the problem of afforestation in counties like Merioneth. Today great destruction is caused to food production because of the present method of planting. In my opinion the trees should be planted, not according to the present system, but on the shelter belt system; not on the continental pattern which we have today in Merionethshire, where hundreds of acres of good agricultural land are covered by these trees.

The problem of the hill farmer is that he has three types of land; the land in the uplands for the sheep; the lowlands for the cultivation of crops and, in the middle, he has what we call the "ffridd-land," which is used in the summer-time to graze the store cattle and the weakling sheep. He cannot send them lower, because he has cultivated that part of his land to produce corn and hay and so on. During the winter this same land provides a keep for the mountain sheep. But when this middle land is taken from him, as is so often the case, he has then to go to some other farmer who has not a flock of sheep, and actually pay no less than from £1 to £1 5s. per sheep for allowing his sheep to graze on this pasture in the winter.

I would ask the Minister to keep his eye on the War Department and the Forestry Commission because these two, and particularly the War Department, are playing havoc in Merionethshire, As a matter of fact we have an old R.A. camp there, which was established years ago and which took over 8,000 acres of land. On the last year or so they have taken an additional 5,000 acres against all protest and public feeling. May I remind the Minister that those farmers whose land has been used for the purpose of a firing range have not to this day been compensated for all the inconvenience and loss which they have suffered.

I would ask the Minister, and the Government, if they are in earnest about what is contained in this White Paper, and if they are anxious to encourage the farmers to produce food to remember that we in North Wales, to speak plainly and vulgarly, are fed up with what has been done by the War Department in the last three years; and we cannot stick much more of it. I am appealing tonight for the assistance of the Minister in our fight to reclaim this good land which we love.

It is the policy of the Government to allow the tenants of council houses to buy their houses. In Merionethshire there is a large estate now owned by the Government which was taken over when a certain former wealthy person in Merioneth could not pay Death Duties. The tenant farmers on this estate are anxious to buy their farms. They were on the point of doing to when the estate was taken over by the Government. I ask the Minister if the same privilege which is to be extended to the tenants of council houses can be extended to these tenant farmers.

8.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Fraser Mr Hugh Fraser , Stafford and Stone

I hope the revivalist vigour of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) has had some effect upon the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans). I also feel sure that any representatives of the War Office present will realise that Merioneth may shortly become a very good school for guerilla fighting. I will return to that point later.

Everyone who has spoken in this debate has pointed to the unfortunate fact that at the moment the agricultural production of this country is not only temporarily halted, but at some points is in a decline. I believe that the Minister will be able to do something, and has already done something, to revive the spirit of the industry. But what is holding up the main sweep of that advance— highlighted by the statement today from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the statement yesterday by the Prime Minister—necessary to produce more in this country is something which is more than economic. I believe that in general it is a feeling that the climate of confidence in the industry is diminishing.

It is one of those intangible things upon which it is difficult to lay a finger. But, in my talks to friends in the farming industry and to individual farm workers, I gained the impression that there is spreading throughout the industry today the thought that in the 1930s, in the bad time, the people who pulled through were the people who farmed cheap, the people who went in for low farming instead of high farming. It must be the duty of this Committee to instil into industry the fact that that fear is unnecessary.

The necessity for greater production has been pointed out. If we can build up a strong agricultural industry and produce more food, we shall have the market under our own control. It is obvious from world statistics that the problem of getting food will become more serious daily and that, from the long-term point of view of defence, and so on, further agricultural expansion is necessary.

The speech made by the hon. Member for Wednesbury was not very helpful. When hon. Members ask for Royal Commissions, that almost certainly means that they do not know their own minds on the subject under discussion. I know the versatility of the hon. Gentleman. We traversed the greater part of South America together. I have seen him mounted on a bucking broncho and in debate with people all over the world. His dialectic today could have been interpreted as a speech by a most extreme right wing landlord asking for an immediate increase in rents or the speech of an extreme left winger asking for nationalisation of the land. It is a case of "penny plain, tuppence coloured." Hon. Members can pick which bit they want and build up a whole dialectic on it.

In a way, the hon. Gentleman was attacking the 1947 Act. It is far better that our farmers should be prosperous than that the farmers of the Argentine or other parts of South America should be prosperous. That the industry should be prosperous is no disadvantage whatever. There is some weight in the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the management of certain farms. But my right hon. Friend pointed out today that he is determined to see that the land is properly farmed. By giving more power to the Executive to enable them to dismiss the bad farmer, he will put right some of the defects mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

In the same way these production aids are good in that they mean that the rich farmers will not benefit to the same extent as the small farmers. The hon. Member for Wednesbury should remember that some 80 per cent. of our farms are under 100 acres. In his business he may have come across some of these rich farmers. Of course they exist, but most farmers are not extraordinarily well off. If there is to be profitability in farming, and if we compare world prices with those in this country, how much better it is that our men should do at least as well as the landlords in the Argentine and other parts of South America.

One of the problems we must face is not merely that of converting the hon. Member for Wednesbury but that of converting certain people on both sides of the House of Commons, and the House of Lords also, on the subject of the importance of agriculture. Unless we can increase our production, unless we can push up our agricultural processes inside this country, unless we can have increased efficiency in farming in this country, we are in very great peril indeed.

We have to disabuse our minds of some of the most old-fashioned economic ideas. We have to face the fact that in this country the era of cheap imported food has gone for ever, and that, if it does return, even if it means a Barmecide's Feast for a short time, it means the eventual bankruptcy of British industry. It is only by a continued process of an increase in world population and productivity that we can maintain our overseas markets.

I fear that when the Minister talked of the fact that the fundamental long-term policy for agriculture was lacking, he was being over modest. Already, he has described certain things that he is going to do, and I believe that these things can be and will be welded as time goes by into a coherent policy. Quite rightly, he is approaching this problem in a pragmatical and empirical way in order to build up the main basis of British agriculture, but, at the same time, I do believe that this fundamental agricultural policy which will emerge must be basic also to the economic policy of this country, and, from this side of the Committee, I want to say that it is necessary that we should develop a different slant on our economic policy.

Obviously, at the moment, we have to deal with the crisis, but I see a danger that, unless we are careful, we shall be following in the footsteps of the late Sir Stafford Cripps and blundering from expedient to expedient. We have to face the fact that this country's economy cannot survive and cannot work if every fluctuation and every vagary in the American market causes here an economic crisis or an economic boom.

Somehow or other, we have to build up the £ which, after the immediate crisis has been overcome, is strong, and, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have to have an economy in this country which is not constantly subject to international speculation. The basis of that economy, I believe, must be the agricultural and rural economy of this country; otherwise, the strength of the £ is very dependent on the weakness of the dollar, and they are relative one with the other in that sense.

I fear that there is a danger in all parties that our future policy may be developed by an economic outlook which may be temporary and may be described as dollar wise and pound foolish. I think the hon. Member for Wednesbury, in his rather intemperate criticism of the farming industry this afternoon, has done no good to this general project. There are certain things that can be done and which the Minister is already doing to carry out this immediate project of increasing the agricultural production by 12 or more per cent., but there are certain individual things to which I should like to call the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend.

The first is to bring home to the people of this country, and especially to the people who dwell in the towns, the importance of agricultural production. I believe that much more could be done than is now being done in pig production in the towns of this country. I know that there is trouble about the repeal of Regulation 62B, but there is a possibility of seeing that pig production is encouraged, and that the Minister might be able to help in that way. Second, I believe that there should be throughout the country and in all parties encouragement of the agricultural community in general, and, further, I should like to turn the Minister's attention to the question of land use.

I believe that the pledges the Minister has given will have to be implemented on this question of land use. The hon. Member for Merioneth talked about the Forestry Commission, and I believe that they should review their use of good agricultural land. I think there is a burning question today in the taking of nearly 3,000 acres away from farming near Swindon for the development of a new town. That is a major issue. At the moment, we are losing land at the rate of 50,000 or more acres a year.

Then there is the question of the Army. When the last Government were in power I went down to Imber to look at the question of rearing sheep on Army ground. I was told it was impossible, but I discovered that 10 gamekeepers were going over the ground every day picking up rabbits. If gamekeepers can move with comparative immunity from danger, so can sheep. The De Havilland Aircraft Company have built large grass-drying plants for their airfields. I do not see why the Army and Air Force should not co-operate in the same way.

There are many other things which could be done, but I am critical at this stage of one thing proposed by the Government, the cut in the amount of money to be spent on drainage. Any cut in catchment board expenditure must inevitably mean that the drainage on high ground becomes more difficult. Any cut in the drainage on high ground makes it more difficult for people to plough up the necessary land and thus free more land for the production of fodder crops.

I think the Minister ought to look at this problem again to see whether some improvement cannot be made. As I said earlier, one can be dollar wise and pound foolish, and here, I believe, is something which should be done. I am glad to hear that the implementation of the hill farming and the uplands schemes is going on. I think much could be done—and the Minister talked of this in his speech this afternoon—to improve the advisory services. In the same way, I think a great deal could be done and is being done regarding the question of the actual management of farms through the executive and through the exhortations and action of the Minister.

I believe there is enormous scope for developing the grassland of this country to its full bent. Faced as we are by this economic crisis and as we have now been faced for too long, I believe that what- ever Government is in power they must deal with the problem of making agriculture not only efficient, but also of expanding its production well beyond the target already set.

I think the Minister has set about his task very well, but the task which lies ahead is a very great one. As I said at the beginning of my speech, it is largely a matter of producing the right climate of feeling in this country that agricultural production is our chief mainstay for the power and safety of the £. I hope that the Minister will look at some of the points that have been raised today and will resolve not to be completely overwhelmed by those Treasury arguments which are always advanced against any Minister of Agriculture.

8.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tudor Watkins Mr Tudor Watkins , Breconshire and Radnorshire

I listened with great interest this afternoon to the views of the Minister on agriculture and I was very interested in the different topics he discussed. I want to assure him, on behalf of the Welsh farmers generally, that everything possible will be done to increase production in Wales. Wales has a very good record in agricultural production, and the latest figures show that the increase is going up.

I am very glad to find, for instance, that there has been a welcome increase in the numbers of dairy cattle. In March of this year pig production was 54 per cent. higher than it was 12 months ago, and even 7 per cent. higher than it was in 1939. A prosperous agricultural industry is the answer to rural de-population in Wales. I am exceptionally pleased to find that Wales is leading the country in schemes of hill farming and livestock rearing. It is a great compliment to the small hill farmers in Wales. They have been rather disappointed recently by credit restrictions and restrictions on investments, and I hope that that position will improve.

On the fixing of prices, I must register perhaps what is the first expression of disappointment, and that is in relation to wool. Wool is a commodity that has been bandied about for a long time and only in recent years has a guaranteed price been fixed for it. In 1938 the price was 10d. per lb. Last year it went up to 6s. 2d. and 6s. 2½d. per lb. Now, all at once, in the Price Review we have a reduction of 25 per cent.

That is not very encouraging to the forgotten army of farmers in the hill districts and not very encouraging particularly to those Welsh farmers who own 215,000 fewer sheep now than they owned before the disaster that overtook sheep rearing. Although it is anticipated that it will take 10 years to restore flocks to their previous strength, the Welsh farmers have done wonderfully well. But I repeat that this reduction in the price of wool is very discouraging.

When one examines the hill farming schemes, one finds that over 50 per cent. of the money to be spent on them will not go towards improving houses and extravagances which might come in for criticism from my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans). It will go towards the provision of water supplies, fencing and other things of real benefit to hill farming itself.

I wonder what is to happen to the huge amount of money that the Wool Marketing Board have in their coffers at the present time. I do not know exactly what the amount is, but I wonder whether some will be passed back to the producers. I have been greatly encouraged by what has been done for agriculture generally in the past by the Minister of Agriculture. If that policy can be maintained, as I am sure it will be, we shall derive a great deal of benefit.

I notice that there is a tendency not to encourage the production of milk on marginal land. I hope that in Wales, in particular, great emphasis will still be placed upon milk production, because 40 per cent, of agricultural output in Wales comes from milk and there is nothing more encouraging to any farmer than to receive a regular monthly cheque from the bank. Side by side with milk production, the breeding of store cattle is very important in Wales. I do not want to see milk production being regarded as a by-product of store cattle raising, or vice-versa. I want to see Welsh agriculture undertaking both activities as much as possible.

I regret very much that the machinery pools for hill farmers have had to be closed down. Whether they be parish pools or some other kind of pool, they should be encouraged. I hope the Minister will look into this matter and will try to encourage these people to co-operate in the provision of machinery to help them in their arduous work in the countryside.

I was glad to hear reference made to common land, though not a great deal of encouragement was given to the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) and myself, who are always asking Questions about common land. Despite the fact that nothing much has been done since 1913, I think the Minister should give serious attention to the matter and should endeavour to ensure that the use of common land, which was such an asset to us during the war, is maintained, particularly for the production of potatoes.

In my two counties of Brecon and Radnor, during the war and since, we have had a good by-product, namely, seed potatoes, and those seed potatoes and other potatoes grown on the common land in Wales are disease-free. It is a source of enjoyment to me to see the lorries from Pembrokeshire loaded up with early potatoes grown from seed potatoes from my two counties. A great deal more of this can be done on common land.

My other suggestion is this—and perhaps this is rather more controversial. Is it not time that, in the same way as the National Health Service stopped the sale of medical practices, somebody stopped the sale of farms to some of the speculators in the City of London and elsewhere? Somebody ought to look into this, because I am not satisfied that the people who are buying these farms at high prices are real farmers. People who know nothing about farming are buying them. Although I am a great internationalist, I deprecate the fact that so many Poles come to Wales and buy up farms, because they are not doing it for the real purpose of agricultural production.

There ought to be an approved list of tenants and buyers of farms so that we can get the best people in charge of the food production of the country. We would not think of looking outside our own nation for generals to run our Army. If food production is so essential, we ought to ensure that we get the best people to run our farms.

There are one or two drawbacks, and the first is the lack of agricultural labour. I suggest that there should be an extra column added to the agricultural returns Which we get in June and December, so that we, as Members of Parliament, might know how many agricultural workers have been called up, and thus have a real picture before us of what is going to happen in the long run. I know there are not many being called up, but we should know how many. In Wales there has been a reduction of 1,806 in the figures of agricultural workers for December, 1951 and 1,401 of those are regular worker. I want to know how many have gone into the Services.

Housing is another great drawback in the countryside. If the Minister of Agriculture will have a word with the Minister of Housing and Local Government, he will find that 41 rural and urban district councils in Wales have not built 10 houses each per year since the end of the war. They have built fewer than 60 houses each since the end of the war, and 21 others have built between them fewer than 100. That should be looked into.

I make this general appeal. The Government ought to try to convince the farmers of the need for a great production drive in the next few years. This is essential. We must also have a propaganda drive in the towns, and, despite what the Minister has said about long-term policies, we cannot just wait for announcements to be made. There must be—though I do not like the words—a long-term policy. We must have a long-term policy which gives security to the people of the countryside.

9.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Deedes Mr William Deedes , Ashford

I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) because, although geographically we are poles apart, we have wool in common. I support every word the hon. Member said on the subject of wool. I am glad that he was able to maintain the almost entirely harmonious language which has been struck throughout this debate, which has been harmonious, if somewhat disjointed.

We must consider the background of it against which the Minister of Agriculture found himself six months ago. He then found that there was a downward trend in tillage and cattle. He found that costs were manifestly outstripping prices. He found the Treasury and the public united —a very rare combination—in their unwillingness to find more cash for food. Against that background he has successfully produced the policy which we are discussing today. I venture to suggest that he has no reason to be depressed either with the policy or with the outcome of the debate upon it.

What has happened is that in recent months the climate of informed opinion has undergone a subtle but significant change. It is now recognised by a large number of people that the task of feeding ourselves, difficult though it has been during the last decade, may become yet more difficult in the years immediately ahead. I am not sure whether I should include in that body of informed opinion the "usual channels" which have been responsible for the rather eccentric arrangement of this all-important debate on food and agriculture.

In the result, the White Paper and the award have met with what, six months ago, we would have regarded as surprisingly little opposition. The settlement, whereby the additional cost to the farmer of £57 million is met by assistance to the tune of an extra £52½ million over the whole year, is broadly accepted. If there is any question about it, it is not in the allocation of that sum but in its application. As my right hon. and gallant Friend pointed out in his speech, we have here a new principle, a shift in emphasis from the end-price to the initial subsidy, which some people euphemistically like to call a production grant. I am inclined to quarrel with the frame of mind which calls an initial subsidy a production grant. I think that the blunter the words the better.

We should not pass over that shift in emphasis without at least some scrutiny and careful thought. The shift in emphasis, as I understand it, amounts to about 40 per cent. That is the total of the three subsidies in respect of ploughing up, fertilisers, and calf rearing, which amount to £15½ million, against a total in the Annual Price Review of £39 million. It excludes the additional cost in the year, which I calculate at about £6 million, which has to be added to the £24 million which the Minister of Food is to bear for maintaining the basic prices of feedingstuffs.

I regard the structure of those prices as all-important—perhaps decisive—in the direction which our agriculture is going to take. I am not disposed to quarrel with the shift of emphasis—in this most difficult and exceptional year— as an experimental measure. Manifestly there is a need to reduce costs rather than to raise the end-price and increase the amount of capital involved in the industry. This is undoubtedly a good anti-inflationary tactic in the short run, but I do not think we should pass it, without discussion, as good agricultural strategy in the long run.

In approving it for this year, I should not like to feel that the Committee were approving it as a long-term policy and giving it their final blessing as an agreed and approved trend. It meets the problem of the small man who is tending to produce and live on a lower scale. It meets the problem of the bigger man, who is tending to contract production. It also counteracts the tendency of prices to run a losing race with costs and it is able to deal with very diverse land resources. It also meets the end which the Minister has set himself, of roughly another 500,000 head of livestock and another million acres under plough.

In the short term, I do not question that this is a good arrangement. In the long term, very careful thought should be given to it. I am not in favour of keeping our population in blinkers over its long-term prospects of food supplies and the cost thereof. The perpetual comparison of the cost of food today with the cost pre-war is false. The only yardstick is the cost of food to this island people in a radically changed world. The sooner it is understood that the cheap food era is dead, the better.

It is easy to declare that the cheap food era is dead. It has been done many times in recent months. It is much harder to declare the corollary, which is less welcome, that our food in future will be harder to get and will cost us more, not only this year or next year, but for a long time to come, and under any Government. In the new and perilous economic circumstances in which our people find themselves, it is imperative that they should recognise that fact.

It is now accepted by all that there should be a cushion between costs and shop prices. It is imperative not to conceal that cushion from the public or from the producers. Not only will the production of food cost us more, but a higher proportion of the national income must in the future go upon food. The primary producers will have to receive more at all levels, proportionately more in relation to the rest of industry, than they have received in the past. That is a very significant change. The priority and importance of the food producers here and abroad has risen in relation to world demand for other things and so must their proportion of the reward which they are given.

Our farmers are now not only supplementing the nation's standard of living; they are providing the foundations of it. The British farmer is providing not only jam, or even butter, but he is providing the bread. While the economic consequences may seem politically delicate, I am persuaded that they will not prove socially disastrous. Let us consider that the nation last year spent in round figures £2,500 million on food and £1,500 million on tobacco and alcohol, of which £1,000 million was taxes.

I regard the prospect of such a change not as a disaster but as an essential prospective adjustment. Adjustment has got to be made in prices and our economy, but initially it has to be made in the minds of the urban population. Their frank acceptance of a higher priority for the food producers of this country and the world is, in the long run, the only sure guarantee for the farmers, although that higher priority may for a time be cunningly concealed from them by subsidies and other devices.

The decisive factor for the farmer in the long term will not lie on this side of the Committee or on that side of the Committee or in any election promises, but in the views of the urban voter. The urban vote will be decided not by what the farmer gets or does not get but on what it gets from him. It is a huge psychological task to bring this trend of thought about in the urban areas, and it transcends everything else.

I am persuaded that a system of prices which obscures rather than reveals this new situation is to be regretted. The farmer for his part should be looking not only to see that he gets value for money but that he gives value for money. The more we swaddle and conceal by subsidy, the harder it will be for the farmer to realise not only what value he is getting himself but what value he is giving. The question in the long run is: What will produce the best incentive to economic farming? It is certainly not going to be initial subsidies, even if they are called production grants.

My right hon. and gallant Friend is only at the beginning of a tremendous task, a task that is going to mean a mental revolution for the people of this country. It means nothing less than that the agriculture of this country has to fill the deficits and shortcomings in other departments of our changing world economy. My right hon. and gallant Friend's role now is not that of keeping the farmers of this country happy but that of keeping a nation of 50 million people alive. Our urban population has got to learn some harsh new facts of life which no change of Government will solve for them. They have got to revolutionise their ideas, get their food and our farming in a new perspective, and realise that what they pay for it is henceforth no more than the cost of keeping alive.

9.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

This has, I think, been an extremely useful debate. Those of us who are interested in agriculture must thank those hon. Members who were interested in the Private Business which came before us at 7 o'clock for answering so readily to the appeal made by Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), as he always does, made a thoughtful speech on this subject of agriculture, and the points he made and the questions he asked about the shifting of emphasis from end products to production subsidies constitute something which does deserve a lot of thought and very much debate. I believe that that question is not answered by this White Paper. We have to give this further consideration and decide whether this should be part of our long-term policy—this shifting of emphasis on payments from end products to production subsidies, such as we are now seeing in this White Paper.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is right, too, in saying that we have seen—and it is right that we should have seen—an end of the era of cheap food. Cheap food is not to be expected in this country again in existing world conditions. Certainly we do not want our farmers to be providing us with cheap food at the price of the sort of conditions in which they existed during all that period between the two World Wars. We do not want to see a reversion to that sort of thing, not only for the sake of the farmers themselves, but also for the sake of those who are employed by the farmers, and who are so important in this connection.

We in this Committee must face the facts, and it is certain that we have got to bring the urban population to realise what are the facts of the food situation of this country—the situation we shall be facing as time goes on when we get the increase of population that my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) spoke of when he made his interesting contribution at the beginning of this debate.

We have also, I think, to convince some of our own Members in the party which I happen to represent. Quite obviously we have got to try to convert my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), who always expresses in these debates a point of view which is worth expressing.

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

However, I do wish he would do it at a little less length. I also wish he would pay some regard to the answers which have been made to him from time to time both from his own side and elsewhere—for example, the very devastating reply of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) during the last debate but one. It is not good enough, I think, for my hon. Friend to make precisely the same speech, however entertaining, in every agricultural debate and to ignore the answers that are made to him by those who speak know-ledgeably on agricultural matters.

I am sure that this idea of a Royal Commission is not a good one. I do not believe—and here I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser)—that we ought to farm out our thinking in this matter. The Agriculture Act is now only just over four years old; we have had only four years' experience of it. True, that should have given us some time in which to begin to make up our minds on some of these problems, but I cannot agree that the time has come when we ought to give the job of our thinking in this connection over to a Royal Commission—which is, of course, in the main, a device to get others to do the work that we ought to be doing.

This is surely the place where we can from time to time submit Acts of Parliament, their operation and everything that goes on under them to closer examination. I wish that we had more opportunity here of examining agriculture, because agriculture is clearly the matter which is bound to affect the future life of this country in the increasing difficulties in which we are living.

The altering shape of world trade throughout the whole of this century, which has been moving at times steadily and at other times at a headlong pace, has been moving against us throughout the whole period, and the question we and the country as a whole must answer is: Can we successfully go on maintaining the population of this country as a factory island? Can we go on steadily draining our people away from the land in an ever flowing stream, denuding the land of its essential attendants? The land is the sort of master, which demands constant attendance or it will deteriorate, to our great disadvantage. Surely the answer to that question must be "No." We are bound to give that answer unless we close our eyes to world trends.

If that is the case, as I believe it is, we must think ourselves, and educate this nation to think, more and more in terms of more food from our own soil. Our society in its struggle for physical survival must be prepared to make the adjustments necessary to that end, and that means we must think in terms—and some of it means thinking in revolutionary terms—of devoting more and more of our resources to food production. That is essential. It is essential that our thinking, and any revolutionary thought of that sort, if it is agreed, must be backed by the necessary action by Govermnent, by our educational services, and by hon. Members on all sides of the Committee who think that way.

In the last agriculture debate my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury said that the Tory Party has been the tradi- tional custodian of the farmers' interests and that the Labour Party has always been the traditional custodian of the rights of industrial workers. I would only say to him and to others of my hon. Friends who might be thinking that way that this party can never properly govern this island, as we shall be governing it again after the next election, if we do not think in terms of the whole of our community, which includes the farming interests and not merely the industrial interests.

The 1947 Agriculture Act is surely an indication of the fact that this party, which I am representing at this Box today, ceased, in 1947 at any rate, to think purely in industrial terms, for it put on the Statute Book a great Act of Parliament which is of inestimable benefit to the farming community as a whole, and which is, I gather, being fully worked by the Minister and his hon. and right hon. Friends. This is a good Act of Parliament, but it is not of necessity the perfect instrument. It is something which must be subjected to examination, and we must not blind ourselves to its failures which must inevitably be revealed in the passing years. This is the type of debate in which we should subject Acts of Parliament of that kind to examination.

Despite the initial success, we have failed to arrest the drift from the land. Human life gravitates towards the towns as surely as apples fall towards the centre of the earth. Somehow we have to find a way to stop that drift continuing. I think that it is a fact that the treatment of labour within our economy has caused and is still causing industries upon which we depend for our survival to be seriously undermanned. Coal and agriculture, steel and transport are cases in point. Wages and other things are important factors in this.

I cannot help noticing the fact that the agricultural worker's earnings are some £2 per week less than that of his town brother. Living conditions, housing, electricity, water supplies and transport are all-important factors in the lives of the agricultural workers and other people who live in our rural areas, and we have to press on with the priorities which were given by the Labour Government to some of these things.

It is true in these matters we are far from achieving complete success, judging from the complaints of hon. Members representing Welsh divisions. Their complaints this afternoon were important ones. They are complaints of which we have to take notice and do something about. If the Minister succeeds in his hopes of getting another one million acres added to the tillage area, that will be no use unless we are left with someone to plough it. We have to do something to Stop the drift from the land and to bring about a reversal of this drift which has been going on throughout the whole of this century, and which the Agricultural Act, 1947, good though it is, has not yet succeeded in arresting.

There is, too, the question of the guarantee of markets and the stability of prices which were expected to be a stimulus to production. I think that we have to admit that much of that earlier success petered out last year. The initial impetus that was given to higher production seemed to meet with less success during the whole of last year. We know, of course, that other factors came into this.

We know that we have not reached the end of the possible productivity increase because we have not reached the limit of the capacity of our land to produce. That is quite clear. Was the carrot—to use a term to which some people object—held in front of the agricultural community not large enough and juicy enough? There are many opinions about this. Or was the stick contained in Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1947, not wielded with sufficient vigour?

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

I am in complete agreement with the hon. Member. The stick of Part II must be wielded. Somebody must grasp it and smite right and left, but we must make sure that we are smiting the right people, and they are in the main the people in the C category and the lower ranges of the B category. Those are the people who need stimulus. The people in the higher ranges of the B category are those who need assistance; assistance such as that by the N.A.A.S. which will help to raise them into the A category.

Let the Minister not be frightened of using the stick provided in Part II. Let him set about this task of ensuring that we get a proper use of our land in return for some of the benefits conferred by the 1947 Act and the Price Reviews which have followed it.

I know that the carrot is not a sufficient incentive. People with experience in industry and other fields have found that when income is raised to a certain level there is a tendency for the people receiving the additional income to take things a little easier. Some people react in that way until their living standards catch up with their new standards of income. It is largely a matter of how quickly the wives begin to use their power as a pressure group of one to force their husbands to struggle for the higher incomes which are possible of attainment.

Some farmers put back a reasonable amount of their additional income into the industry. Some prefer a Bentley. Some slack off their effort. But I believe it is natural and to be understood —my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury mentioned this—that the National Farmers' Union should always be crying out for the larger and juicier carrot, for it is a union and it would not be doing its job if it did not do something like that.

I shall say no more about the use of the stick except that I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will do something about this because, with 277,000 farmers in the country, it is wrong to suggest that there were only 70 who should have been dispossessed in 1951. It should have been a very much bigger number than that. What applies to farmers applies equally to some of the estate owners. Last year the number under supervision was 344 and only nine were subject to compulsory purchase so that the estates should pass into the hands of people who would do something about them.

Let us have a little more effort in stimulating the county agricultural executive committees. My right hon. Friend devised a first-class instrument in the county agricultural executive committees. It is an experiment in democracy which I believe is to be found only in this country. A democracy can only continue to work when those who form part of it accept responsibilities, and the county agricultural executive committees must accept their responsibilities.

During the past few months we have had much talk about the long-term agri- cultural policy. When I read the White Paper, I wondered if paragraphs 9 to 12 were in fact that long-term policy, It is true that those paragraphs contain a useful indication of what the Government thinks are the objectives, but it is singularly devoid of an indication as to how those objectives are to be reached-indeed, the statement of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman this afternoon, despite the fact that he attempted to carry us a little further, did not answer the questions which must be welling up in the minds of everyone interested in the agricultural industry.

What is meant by the words: where necessary require that full productive use is made of the land"? Is it only the circular which he has sent out to the county agricultural executive committees that he has in mind in this connection, or what does he propose that would be an addition to Part II of the 1947 Act? It is certain that the price review has not increased the size of the carrot. The carrot is being maintained at the same size as it was after the 1951 Price Review and only recoupment is provided for in the 1952 Review.

That means we cannot expect anything from that to stimulate farmers into producing the 60 per cent. over pre-war at which the Minister aims. There is no hint, either in the White Paper or in his speech this afternoon, of providing those additional resources for farmers that are necessary if they are to do their job. Certainly there is no hint of the means which the Minister will adopt to give us the additional men on the land that are necessary. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) rightly made some telling points on this aspect of it.

There is no promise in the White Paper or in the speech of the Minister of more machinery for industry. Indeed, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman stressed the fact that the job must be done with the tools which are at present available to the industry. There is no promise of sufficient financial resources, despite the request made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the banks that full weight should be given to granting credit for food production. Some of the difficulties in this connection were pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) who made a strong point of the difficulty facing the small farmer of increasing that part of his farming dependent on meat production which, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows full well, necessitates waiting for some time before getting a return.

Is the readjustment of payment from end products to production subsidies, coupled with his guarded threat of where necessary require that full productive use is made of the land, a sufficiently powerful incentive to secure the increase to 60 per cent.? And where does the horticultural section of the industry figure in all this? There is no mention of it in the White Paper, and there was nothing said about it in the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman this afternoon. We want to ensure that the horticultural industry is a prosperous one, but we must ensure that it is brought to a stage of prosperity while at the same time ensuring that a reasonable price is charged for the product to the housewife who is the consumer.

These are some of the points which spring to my mind in connection with this debate and with the White Paper before us, and they are some of the points which deserve an answer. A number of matters have been raised which I will not repeat because time will not permit. But I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply will satisfy us on those points which are exercising the minds of Members of this Committee, of the farming community as a whole and of everyone who wishes the farming industry—providing it will give us the products—the prosperity which we desire for it.

9.36 p.m.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

This has been a useful debate. It has certainly been harmonious and almost without exception constructive. We have had the usual interlude that we expect in agricultural debates from the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), who has his point of view and his entertainment value. If we had not enough moral force of our own, we made way for the City of London guild churches; and as agriculture has a tradition to pay tithes to the Church, I suppose we can feel that we have acted in the traditional way. We must be grateful to the hon. Members concerned for restraining themselves and allowing us to return to our debate so quickly.

I will deal immediately with one point made by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) regarding the intention of my right hon. and gallant Friend in the operation of Part II of the 1947 Act. My right hon. and gallant Friend alluded to the necessity for stepping up efficiency and the action he was taking to deal with that. It has been encouraging to find that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee feel that greater use of this part of the Act is needed. There is inefficiency on some farms and there is a good deal that can be done.

But I feel that the point should be made—and I am sure this is a point with which the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) would agree— that the whole conception of this Act is that the industry is a self-governing industry and that it is the industry which must use the stick. The Minister has given the lead and has told the industry what is needed, and we look to the industry to accept its share of the responsibility for bringing the laggards into line, if necessary, and dealing with those who are incapable of getting proper production out of their farms. I wish to make the point that it would not be effective, and I am sure it would not be the wish of my right hon. and gallant Friend, for him to be wielding the stick. It is up to the farmers themselves to do the job.

The hon. Members who represent constituencies in the Principality, and who spoke with great power and conviction, raised one or two points which I feel need a reply. If the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) will send me a copy of his report, I shall certainly study it with interest. It is indeed a sorry record that there should be there no more than 3 per cent. connections with the electricity supply. It is true that we cannot go ahead as fast as we should like in this field, but my right hon. and gallant Friend is well aware of the need for progress; and in spite of the stringency of the present time he was able to restore £1 million of the cut made last autumn. I should indeed be interested to read this report.

The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) spoke about the need to keep a close eye on the Forestry Commission. I assure him that my right hon. and gallant Friend is doing that. The satisfactory outcome of the situation at Towyn shows that my right hon. and gallant Friend is sensitive to the feelings of the people in that locality and is well aware of the considerations needed to keep a right balance between forestry and agriculture. On the point about the tenants at Glanllyn, if there is a general demand from the tenants to purchase their farms and evidence is brought to that effect, we shall be ready to consider it with an open mind. I cannot say more than that until I see just what the demand is.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) complained that the wool price was not high enough at 4s. 6d. a lb. I think that he was drawing rather a long bow there. It is true that there has been a substantial reduction from 6s., but it is still a pretty good price. I assure him and his hon. Friends who are Members for the Welsh constituencies that we are well aware of the hard and difficult life which farmers have in those parts of the world and of the most valuable contribution which they make towards production. We shall certainly do anything we can to assist these farmers who work in such difficult climatic and geographic conditions.

The question of horticulture was discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Legh). This is a vexed problem. The right hon. Member for Don Valley will be familiar with it. There is no complete and cast-iron answer to it. I think it is true to say that the leaders of the horticultural industry are well aware that they must adjust their production and their economy to the demands of consumers in this country, and that all that they can reasonably ask for and expect is a proper protection against unfair competition from imported produce.

If we can secure that for them, we shall have done all that can be expected. It is only fair to put in perspective the present position with regard to imported produce. At present, to some extent fortuitously for the horticultural world, the volume of imports has been substantially reduced because of our balance of payments problems. We all agree that as a long-term solution the quantitative control of imports of agricultural produce is not satisfactory, but horticulturists realise that the present quotas are small.

In the main, horticulturists now have less competition from imported produce than they have had for some time. The hon. Member mentioned the figure for the strawberry crop. The picture he gave was not entirely complete. It is true that an increased quantity of strawberries has been imported to help out the Brittany farmers to the extent of £100,000; but even then that brings the total quantity of imports up to only £165,000 compared with £492,000 last year.

Much as I sympathise with the troubles of the strawberry growers in Hampshire, it cannot be said to be mainly or entirely due to an increase in the quantity of imported produce. This brings us back to the point that, inevitably and whatever their difficulties, the horticulturists must always run the risk of adjusting their production to consumer demand.

With regard to the longer-term issue, the tariff proposals are before the Government, and they have been under consideration for some time. We are hopeful that it may be possible to bring that consideration to a conclusion in the course of the next few months. It is; good to bring it to a conclusion, but I must make it quite plain that, at this stage, I cannot commit myself to what the conclusion will be. I can assure the Committee and horticulturists generally that we are well aware of the strength of their case and of the strength of feeling amongst horticulturists, and that it is being given the best consideration that it can have.

I will now deal with one or two aspects of the general issue of the prices award and the policy which my right hon. and gallant Friend has placed before the Committee. In the course of the debate, several hon. Members have made the point that, at the end of last year, production was showing a definite decline in certain important aspects, such as tillage for corn and the rearing of calves for future beef supplies, and that there was a general feeling of a lack of confidence amongst producers as to what the future held.

The right hon. Member for Don Valley said that he saw no logic in such a thing, and I quite agree with him. It may not be logical, but nevertheless it was a matter of fact. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), in his very cogent and persuasive speech, made the point extremely well, and from the other side of the Committee, the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) made the same point. It was a matter of fact; there was that lack of confidence, combined with the decline in certain important aspects. Therefore, my right hon. and gallant Friend, in the settlement which he made, must be judged against the background of the extent to which the settlement was successful in dealing with this situation, and in getting the upward trend that is required at the present time.

Here I should like to make a comment in reply to the hon. Member for Wednesbury. I know that most hon. Members here feel that there is not a great deal of weight in his views, and that, therefore, I should not spend too much time on them, but I feel that those views can upset the confidence of the public. There is no truer word than was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), in his excellent speech this evening, that it is not the party vote which will decide what happens to agriculture in this country. At the end of the day, it is the urban vote, and it is vitally important that those people should understand the general economy of agriculture and whether or not it is giving good value. It is for that reason that I feel that I should address one or two remarks to the hon. Gentleman.

First, may I answer the specific point which he raised with regard to the value put on the production of eggs in the Departmental calculations? His point was whether there was a certain quantity of eggs which went into unconventional channels and did not reach the packing station, and whether this volume of eggs, which he thought was considerable, was taken account of in the Departmental calculations and in the Review.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that the Departmental calculation is inevitably largely estimated. It is an estimate of the revenue and expenditure of farming for the current year which is then going on, and therefore the calculation is based, not on packing station through-put, which is not known till the end of the year concerned, but, first of all, on the number of adult poultry in the country and, secondly, on the average production of adult poultry in the country which then gives the total egg production less a figure allowed for home consumption on the farms. Therefore, I think I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the global production of eggs is the one of which account is taken.

Photo of Mr Stanley Evans Mr Stanley Evans , Wednesbury

Nothing depresses mankind quite so much as the totally incomprehensible, so I will sit down and accept what the hon. Gentleman says.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman intervening on that.

Returning to the more serious part of his argument, he said that this award is too large and that by giving higher prices, far from getting greater production, we are in fact getting less production. I should like to put this point to him.

I will concede the point to him that if the price is too high, it will throw an additional burden, by raising the cost of living, on the cost of production of our manufactured goods and, therefore, on our export trade. That is obvious, but if the price is too low and fails to attract the volume of production we desire, it will then necessitate increased purchases from abroad if we are to maintain our general standards of feeding which, once again, Will throw an increased burden on our export trade.

At the present time, that will not only have a direct effect, but a secondary effect by making our increased demands probably push up world prices because of the greater competition. At the present time, with the world food position as it is, it is quite obvious that that is a direction in which we do not wish to go. The argument that lower profit will bring higher production is fallacious in this particular picture.

I will concede to the hon. Gentleman that there are forms of economy where a lower level of profit will bring out a high production because the people concerned must produce more if they are to get their living. I well remember a classic example of that among the Canadian wheat farmers in the depth of the depression in the thirties. They actually increased their production while decreasing their profit margin because that was the only way in which they could get a living. They got their living from sales off the farms.

The picture in this country is different. Our farming is by no means uniform. It is mainly diverse and complex. If all our farms were roughly the same size, with the same soil and climate, we might possibly get the sort of result about which the hon. Gentleman spoke, but in the circumstances of our farming economy, where the majority of our farms are small ones—80 per cent. below 100 acres—if the margin of profit is reduced the trend is exactly what happened in the last 18 months. The farmer concerned sees his profit margin shrinking and then decides that the safest thing for him to do is to reduce his level of production, manage with a smaller cash income and concentrate more on subsistence farming, living more off the farm and thus, by reducing his commitments, getting by in the event of bad times ahead.

That is exactly the trend that has started in the last year or so and, of course, nothing could be more damaging to our present economy at a time when never have we more wanted increased production from the farmers. Therefore, my right hon. and gallant Friend, in deciding what was the proper level at this Review, had very much in mind the need to reverse this trend on these particular farms. On the larger farms the picture is a very different one, and in the main, on those with good land, there is a higher level of production. It is on the smaller farms that production has fallen.

In the few minutes remaining, I have no time to take up the point that the right hon. Member for Don Valley made on the link between milk and beef. I think experience has shown how very sensitive the milk price is in the farming economy and it was probably the reduction of the profit margin on milk in the 1950 and 1951 Reviews that was one of the main factors in shaking the confidence of the farming community and causing the downward trend in beef and tillage which we have experienced. I have no doubt that if we want to see a big increase in beef production, which of course we do want, the greater part must come from suitable calves reared from dairy herds.

Mr. T. Williams:

The hon. Gentleman will not forget that we gave a higher incentive for beef in those Reviews.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

That brings me to a point with which I want to deal briefly, namely, the value of specific subsidies. I am certain that if we want to increase beef, the right answer is to put the greater part of the incentive in the hands of the man who will start the calf on its way. In the past that was highly successful and I have no doubt that the renewal of the subsidy will have the same result. If the same amount were put on the end-price of beef, most of it would go, not to the calf rearers but to the storekeepers, fatteners, dealers and so on, and to secure the same result one would have to give a bigger reward.

In our complex farm economy the national price structure is a very blunt weapon. If we are to have the maximum production from all our farms, I think we shall find frequently that it is good value in the national interest to give a specific subsidy. That is included in the cost of the food which the consumer must eventually pay, but unless we do that we shall be forced to give a much higher price for the end-products. I am certain that at the present time this subsidy is a good and proper value.

Finally, I should like to say a few words about the criticism that has been made that we have not set the sights high enough in our target of production. The National Farmers' Union have said that much more should be produced but that it can only be produced if there are more tools available for the job. But they are not available at the present time in the strained economy of the country. What is wanted is increased net production without extra tools and materials, or at any rate with a minimum supply, and that, I believe, is what my right hon. and gallant Friend's policy will secure.

I hope and believe that both farmers and farm workers will respond to the lead which my right hon. and gallant Friend has given with the sound economic basis he has provided for the industry and that they will respond by giving the extra food that the nation so badly wants at the present time. I ask the House to give its blessing to this policy.

To report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Kaberry.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.