Agriculture

Civil Estimates, 1956–57 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th April 1956.

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3.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

I beg to move,

That this House is of the opinion that the Annual Review and Determination of Guarantees, 1956, Command Paper No. 9721, together with the Government's continued failure to formulate a long-term plan for agriculture, undermines the confidence of the industry in its future, fails to halt the decline in the numbers of skilled farm workers, and makes it impossible for the industry to assist the nation in its balance of payments problem to the full extent of which agriculture is capable.

I hope that the Government will not think that we have been harsh in our choice of language for the Motion. Indeed, I think that it will readily be appreciated by hon. Members on both sides of the House that if the Motion were put to a meeting of farmers in any part of the country it would be accepted only if the language were rather stronger. During the course of the debate I expect that hon. Members opposite will make speeches in opposition to this very reasonable Motion, but I have before me a large number of resolutions passed by county branches of the National Farmers' Union in England and Wales in support of it.

Starting alphabetically, I notice that Anglesey condemns the Government for removal of individual guaranteed price for fatstock", and says that the Union should ensure that fertiliser prices remain at the existing level for at least the next 12 months; that Headquarters should raise a fighting fund ' and, on a national basis, a one or two—day ' token milk strike ' to demonstrate our strong disapproval—only such drastic action will make the Government take notice. I have here about 48 resolutions from county branches, most of which say, in effect, that they have no confidence in the agricultural policy of the Government. It it were not for the fact that I should be wasting the time of the House I could tell hon. Members who represent different parts of the country what their county branch of the N.F.U. has said about the Government—and in all cases they have used very much stronger language than we have used in the Motion.

The determinations that have given rise to the wave of anger among farmers are, first, the continuing under-recoupment of the increases in costs; secondly, the reduction at this time of 6d. per score deadweight for pigs; thirdly, the decision to make no change in the support price for some eggs, and a reduction of 5d. per dozen for others; fourthly, the reduction of 2d. per lb. for fleece wool; fifthly, the increase of only ½d. per gallon for milk, despite the very great increase in feeding stuff costs, and, sixthly, the removal of the individual price guarantee for fatstock.

All those who are concerned in agriculture are agreed that these decisions will bear most heavily upon the small farmers; that they will further reduce their already reduced incomes, will make new investment impossible on small farms, and so reduce production. I have no doubt that the big farmers on the lush lands near the big markets will not be seriously affected by the withdrawal of the individual price guarantee for fatstock, but the small farmers in the remoter areas of England and Wales—and most certainly in Scotland—will be adversely affected, and I should think that the farmers of Northern Ireland will be very annoyed with the treatment which they are getting from the Government which they normally support.

I read in the agricultural press of representations made by the small farmers to their Members of Parliament about these matters, and I hope that in the course of today we shall find—as we did in another place—that, irrespective of where they sit in the House, hon. Members will be free to express themselves upon these decisions which have been arrived at so recently by the Government.

Added to all these obstacles to progress and production there are the credit squeeze and the Government's "dear money" policy. Many large and prosperous farmers can carry these impositions, but the small man is going to the wall and we find that the number of bankruptcies among small farmers is growing month by month. It is small wonder that these resolutions of "no confidence" in the Government have been passed by farmers' meetings everywhere.

The clearest evidence of "no confidence" over the years is obtained not from studying resolutions but from an examination of the progress made in expanding output. At the 1952 Review the Government's target for production was an increase to 60 per cent. above pre-war by 1956–that is, now. In 1952–53, we were 52 per cent. above pre—war; in 1953–54, we were 55 per cent. above; in 1954–55, we were 51 per cent. above, and the Minister has been pleased to say that there has been a 4 per cent. increase in production this year which, incidentally, takes us back to where we were two years ago—55 per cent. above pre-war.

What is the target now? Is more production wanted? Is more production being planned? Are we now looking for an increase in net production or in gross production? We gather from the Annual Review that the Minister is now more concerned with an increase in net production, but a very short time ago the party opposite—when it was in opposition—was much more concerned with an increase in gross production.

I well remember that when we were calling attention to the difficulty of getting feeding stuffs from overseas, especially from the dollar area, hon. Members now sitting on that side of the House, some of whom now sit on the Government benches, sought to convince the farmers that there was no real difficulty about getting feeding stuffs from overseas. If vast quantities of feeding stuffs are obtained from overseas, and we are enabled to feed a few more animals in this country, we do, of course, increase gross output; but, at the end of the day, net output may not have been increased at all. The balance of payments position of the country may have been worsened and not bettered as a consequence of the operations carried through.

Against that background, it is worth looking at some very important and, I think, very impressive farming figures. The Government have been telling us—indeed, they have been saying it for two years now—that we must produce more feeding stuffs at home and be less dependent upon overseas supplies. We have the ploughing grants to encourage farmers to put more land under the plough, and so forth. Let us look at the figures of tillage area. According to the June returns, 1953, the area was 12,304,000 acres; 1954, 11,832,000; that is, a drop of 472,000. June, 1955, at 11,301,000 acres, showed a further drop of 531,000 acres. There was in two years a drop of rather more than 1 million acres in tillage, a drop of 8 per cent. Yet the Government still talk about expanding agricultural production.

I know that some farmers and some supporters of the Government tell us we should look at the whole picture and suggest we should consider also the increase in cattle. According to the June returns, we find that during 1953, 1954 and 1955 the figure has gone from 10,444,000 head of cattle in 1953 to 10,670,000 in 1955, a gain of 226,000, or an increase of 2 per cent. But in the Annual Price Review the Government have made it quite dear that the increase in the area under grass has outstripped the increase in grass-eating animals.

What are we to do? Are we to increase further the area under grass or increase the number of grass-eating animals? Some hon. Members will say we should increase the number of grass-eating animals, but anyone who pays any attention whatsoever to the farming journals and the statements made by the National Farmers' Union in England, Wales and Scotland—and, no doubt, in Northern Ireland, too—will have seen the great difference since this Government came to power. Although they talk globally about production and a target, as they said in 1952, of 60 per cent. above pre-war, the one thing that they will not do is give farmers any advice whatsoever as to what is expected of them in the production of different commodities. The Government seem to believe that that is a matter to be determined by the farmers themselves.

Turning to pigs, we find in the June returns that between 1953 and 1954 the pig population went up by 20 per cent. Everyone was very happy about that, until the bottom fell out of the market; then the pig population started running down, until in 1954–55 it ran down by 7 per cent. I do not know what has happened since June, 1955, but no doubt the decline has continued. This is a big subject on its own, and I have no doubt many of my hon. Friends will have more to say about the well-known pig muddle during the course of the debate.

Turning to the farm labour force, I take the Great Britain figures given in Government publications. In June, 1953, the labour force, all workers on the farm, was 779,500. The June returns for 1954 showed a figure of 755,100, a drop of 24,400. In June, 1955, the figure was 731,500. Thus, in two years, there has been a fall of 48,000 men, a decline in the skilled labour force in agriculture of 6 per cent. Yet we hear talk about an increase in agricultural production. It would seem from the December figures that the situation has very much deteriorated since June of last year.

If we look for a reason for the decline in the agricultural labour force, it would, of course, be wrong not to compare the wages earned in agriculture with the wages earned in other industries. According to the latest figures I can obtain, the position is this. The agricultural worker's average earnings—not wage—for a 52-hour week are £7 10s. 5d. The industrial worker's average earnings for a 49-hour week are £10 17s. 5d., a disparity of £3 7s. 0d. Farm workers would need an increase of 44 per cent. in their wages to give them parity with industrial workers.

One has only to look at those figures of earnings to recognise that there will continue to be, so long as that situation obtains, a falling off in the labour force in agriculture, and farm workers will continue to be attracted to more remunerative jobs elsewhere. But, of course, if farmers are to let their acreage go out of tillage at the rate they are doing, we shall not need the same number of workers. As so often happens, we find these things seem to run very much together.

The White Paper shows that farmers' net income has declined from£306 million in 1949–50 to £285½ million in 1954–55, and there is a forecast figure of £229½ million in 1955–56. When one takes into account the fall in the value of money over the same period, it is clear that farmers generally have suffered a severe cut in real income. This bas happened under a Government which, )t is reputed, the farmers always vote for.

Confirmation of this situation is to be got from a study of the Index of Agricultural Prices, which shows a steady decline in commodity prices during the last two years, except in the case of potatoes, where the increase in price since last July would seem to have more than compensated for the low crop yield last year. I say that because I have been told by farmers that although the housewife is paying a high price for potatoes, the farmers' price does not compensate them for the low yield last year. However, if one looks at the figures published in the Digest of Statistics, one sees that since July last year potato prices to the producer have been running at about 50 per cent. above the level for the corresponding months of the previous year.

There is still more disturbing information in the Economic Survey, published last month. Bearing in mind the importance of agriculture in the national economy, one would expect it to have a fair share of new capital investment. The table in page 8 of the Economic Survey shows the level of gross fixed investment, and the figures are conveniently given at 1948 prices lest we should be a little confused comparing one year with another.

If one takes the whole of industry, the gross fixed equipment has gone up from £1,500 million in 1951 to£2,000 million in 1955, an increase of approximately 33⅓ per cent., that is to say, at 1948 prices. For agriculture—forestry and fishing are lumped with agriculture, but they account for only quite a small part of the bill—the corresponding figures for fixed equipment were £74 million in 1951 and £72 in 1955. In between, the figure fell as low as £61 million.

There is something wrong in an industry as important as agriculture when the amount of new fixed equipment grows less while in other industries it goes up and down. I take the view that a great deal of the money ostensibly put into agriculture is not going to the farmers at all, but to the distributors. If one looks at distribution and other services, one finds that the gross fixed equipment has gone up from £132 million to £209 million, a most substantial increase, but it was on the distribution side. All these figures make very disturbing reading and makes one wonder whether we should not look back to words that were written in the White Paper which followed the Annual Review of 1954.

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire East

The hon. Member is referring to the costs of production; can he break them down a little? He said that there had been a rise in the costs of distribution, but he did not indicate what had caused the rise.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

I am sorry if I have misled the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) and other hon. Members. I was about to refer to the table in page 8 of the Economic Survey published last month, which seeks to give the amount of gross fixed investment in different industries.

I gave the total figure for agriculture, forestry and fishing and also what had been spent on distribution and other services. They seem to suggest that there had been much more activity in the provision of more fixed equipment in distribution than in production. I should have thought in the present condition of the country it was much more important to have new investments in the sphere of production.

It may be interesting to read the important and portentous words in the White Paper for 1954. I quote from page 2. paragraph 10: During the first phase of long-term agricultural development the primary aim has been the physical expansion of output. But under free market conditions the appropriate pattern and scope of home production in accordance with Section 1 of the Agriculture Act must be related, not only to considerations of production, but also to market prospects. These too must closely affect the determination of guarantees. That seems a guarantee that if we could get things more cheaply wholesale the amount of support for British agriculture could be adjusted accordingly.

However, I turn to page 3 where, in paragraph 13, I read: It is evident that home agriculture cannot be completely insulated from world market conditions and that in determining the level of guarantees account must be taken of long-term trends in market price … The present cost to the taxpayer of the support given to British agriculture is very high—of the order of £200 million. Further consideration will be given to means of limiting the dependence of the industry on Exchequer assistance. A great many farmers were of the opinion, in 1954–55, that that did not mean that the assurances given in the 1947 Agriculture Act would be frittered away, but the longer they have to live under the present Government the clearer it is becoming to them that such assurances, guarantees and protections as were given to the producer under the 1947 Act will not be given effect to by the present Government.

No industry in the United Kingdom enjoys such a generous measure of support as agriculture. I have said this many times before. For example, according to the Civil Estimates for the current year, if one adds the Estimates for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to those for the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, one finds that the agricultural and food subsidies are estimated to cost £261 million, against £289 million for 1955–56. So there will be a reduction of £28 million—quite a lot of money—but it has been much more than made up for by the withdrawal of the subsidies on bread and milk.

Since some of the money is still intended to benefit the consumers, let us deduct the "other subsidies" listed in page 32 of the Estimates to see what assistance is given to the producers. Let us take the annual farming grants and subsidies at £54½ million and the implementation of price guarantees at £140¾ million. With the agricultural and food grants and subsidies paid by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland amounting to £23¾ million we get a total of £219,206,380. That money is intended to go to the food producer.

It is difficult to understand how some hon. Members can accept this expenditure as being right and justifiable. They say, in a rather tired voice, that subsidies are not inefficient, yet they find great difficulty in agreeing to a proposition that the Government should underwrite a smaller amount for the development of nationalised industries. We are not asking for the money for nothing, but in order to give the farmers a guarantee.

My complaint is not that the amount of money is too small or too large, but that it is too badly spent and is not getting results. Some of the figures which I have read out show that that is so. Take, for example, the ploughing grants. We have lost 1 million acres of tillage in the last two years. An increase was recently given in the ploughing grant, and the Estimate for next year represents over £1 million increase on the previous year. I doubt whether the increased ploughing grants will have the results which the Government want. I said at the beginning of the scheme that it would fail, and I have been proved right.

The vast majority of those who have received the subsidy would have tilled exactly the same area if there had been no subsidy. It would be far better to use this money to assist the small farmers in the remoter parts of the country on marginal land instead of squandering it, as it is being squandered, among farmers who are more prosperous on the richer arable land. Indeed, I have heard this subsidy—given to those who do not need it—justified on the ground that most of it comes back to the Government in the form of Surtax.

The Minister of Agriculture, only half an hour or so ago, was defending the withdrawal of the milk subsidy on the ground that it was wrong, so he said, to give it indiscriminately to consumers whether they need it or not, but he gives the ploughing grant indiscriminately to farmers whether they ask for it or not. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head but, of course, that is the fact. He says that it gets results, but he has lost 1 million acres of tillage in the last two years. That is the result he has got from this particular subsidy.

The Minister will not disagree that the food subsidies to protect the consumers were scrapped because they failed to discriminate between those who needed help and those who did not. Housing subsidies have been severely cut for the same reason. But he will find it impossible—although I hope that he will try when he speaks—to show that farm subsidies have not become even less discriminatory than they were, and that they go to farmers irrespective of whether there is any need for them or not. One has the impression that the biggest and most prosperous farmers on the best land appear to come best out of every new scheme, and that the small farmers, and the farmers on marginal and hill land, find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet—and have hopelessly inadequate resources to plan any expansion of production.

But whereas the Minister makes a pretence of protecting the producer against low prices, he does not even pretend to protect the consumer against high prices.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

The hon. Gentleman has referred to decreases in production, but he has not said how he would deal with increases in milk production. Perhaps he will enlighten us.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

There has been an increase in milk production. The hon. and gallant Member does not seem to appreciate that the Government's awkward position arises from the fact that there has been a decrease in the consumption of milk, and yet they are doing their best to hasten a further decline in consumption by putting up the price of milk. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to realise those simple economic facts of life. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will, I hope, have the good fortune to catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker, and will then be able to tell the House how, by putting up the price, one gives an inducement to the consumers to buy more of the milk which the industry now finds it so difficult to get rid of.

The point is that the Government make a pretence of protecting the producer, but do not even make a pretence of protecting the consumer. Consumer subsidies have almost all gone. The housewives pay 25 per cent. more since this Government came into power, and yet the farmers get less. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tory efficiency."] Of course it is. The housewife pays what the Tories like to call "realistic prices," and I regret to say that some leading farmers have gone on record as saying that it would be a good thing if the housewives were to pay realistic prices. But what are realistic prices? Are they market prices? If they are market prices it is quite clear that the farmers could not live on those prices. Realistic prices, therefore, are obviously not market prices.

What are realistic prices? Are they the prices sufficient to give the farmer and the farm worker a reasonable return for their labours, plus a reasonable return on capital invested? Would these be realistic prices? If they are, then they are not prices which will be yielded by the market gamble—by the present system of market gamble and support prices. We have to consider whether we can afford the market gamble in agriculture any longer. Farmers' net incomes have fallen while all other incomes have gone up, yet the total Exchequer subsidy on home-produced food has remained about the same as it was six years ago.

Where does the money go? The housewife no longer benefits. The farmer does not get it—that is made absolutely clear. Indeed, he gets less. The housewife pays more; the farmer gets less, and the Exchequer subsidies remain the same. It can only be the middlemen who get the money, and if hon. Gentlemen in any part of the House know who else it is who gets the money we shall be delighted to hear their speeches. It is the middlemen who have been prospering since this Government returned to power and substituted support prices and the market gamble for the fixed market prices given under the previous Administration. In any case, if hon. Gentlemen opposite think that I am wrong, or if the Minister thinks I am wrong, I hope that they or he will show me where I am wrong. I hope that the Minister will tell us where the Exchequer money is going.

The support price policy was introduced as a sort of gamble in which the farmer could not lose—rather like the Chancellor's Premium Bond. The Government said, "The producer cannot lose. He sells his goods in the best market. If he does not get a price that comes up to a certain minimum the Government will make it up." So we have a restoration to free market conditions so long as they benefit the producer, but whenever they benefit the consumer they are to be scrapped. Whenever they operate to the advantage of the community as a whole they cannot be tolerated.

I do not think that this is any way at all to operate the law of supply and demand. If that law is to be operated, let it be operated, but if not, if we want the producer to get a fair return for his labour and that of his workers, and if we really want a fair return for the person who puts his money into agriculture, the obvious thing to do is to give a fixed guaranteed price for the produce of their farms. I know that some hon. Gentlemen would like to say that that would lead us to rationing again. That is absolute nonsense—let me say that at once. But, in any case, if they are not willing to do that, let them look once again at the 1947 Act and make up their minds whether or not they are giving effect to the promise given to the farmers and to the country by that Act.

Our farmers should be able, and should be encouraged, to concentrate on production rather than waste their time selling their produce on the open market. They are beginning to realise that the present system will lead to the ruin of their industry. In the slightest recession, farmers would be the first to suffer. In point of fact, in the difficulties we have had in recent years it is already clear that the farmers have been the first to suffer.

There can be no doubt that the case is made out for the Motion. It was made out even before I rose to initiate the debate. The confidence of the industry is being undermined. The decline in the skilled labour force is not being halted, and the industry is not being enabled to assist the nation in its balance-of-payments problems to the full extent of which it is capable. A great amount of money is being paid ostensibly to agriculture for production, but most of it is going to assist the racketeers, the middlemen—those whom the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East has described as the "wolves of Smithfield." It is they who benefit from the present agricultural policy.

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

I beg formally to second the Motion.

4.10 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr, D. Heathcoat Amory):

I beg to move, to leave out from "9721" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: provides fair and just guarantees in accordance with the Agriculture Act, 1947, with due regard to the present economic situation and the efficient use of national resources; and that Her Majesty's Government's policy affords a solid basis for confidence to producers with freedom of choice for consumers and is effectively enabling agriculture to play its full part in improving the balance of overseas payments. I should like to say at the very outset of the debate how sorry I know we all are at the absence of the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). We all hope that he will be quickly restored to his usual health and vigour.

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) brandished his sword—or claymore, which I think is the technical term—in a very alarming way, but I must say that we find ourselves unintimidated and unscathed. The picture which the hon. Gentleman presented of British agriculture seemed to me to be one of melancholy and unrelieved gloom. He laid himself out to try to portray an industry which, since the heyday of 1951, when the Labour Government threw in their hand, has languished into decrepitude and decay.

His own attitude seemed to me to be charged pretty heavily with defeatism and lack of confidence in the ability of the farmers to achieve anything unless directed, controlled or mollycoddled by the Government. He gave us what I fancy in bagpipe circles is called a "lament." But that picture is, I suggest, widely remote from the truth, as I shall show.

Indeed, the progress and achievements of the industry during the past four years speak for themselves, and they cause my hon. and right hon. Friends and myself to feel more robust confidence in the enterprise and abilities of our farmers and farm workers than apparently is felt by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The industry has been doing a first-class job: Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman, while he displayed great energy in criticising the Government's policies, seemed to me to be strangely diffident about disclosing those of his own party.

The Motion before the House seeks to censure the Government on two points. First of all, on the Annual Price Review, and, secondly, on the Government's general agricultural policies. Before I deal with these criticisms, I want to recall three things on which I laid stress last winter before the Price Review was held. First, I said that in view of the paramount need of economy in national expenditure, every pound of subsidy would have to be justified up to the hilt. Secondly, I said that there would be no slashing of guarantees or subsidies. Thirdly, I said that there would be no unsettling changes in the Government's production policy for agriculture.

The Review award has made good these three statements. In it, we reaffirmed—in fact, we intensified—the production policies that have been consistently followed by the Government in the past four years. We made increases in those items where, on economic grounds, increases are justified, and I really must remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that the object of agricultural subsidies is to encourage economic production in the national interest.

The award amounted to an increase of about£25 million in the value of the guarantees and subsidies. That is no small sum at any time, but, particularly in a time of national economy and restraint, I think it bears fair comparison with the award of approximately £28 million made in 1955 against a background then of exceptionally bad weather. The estimate for the agricultural subsidies this year is £225 million, which represents about 20 per cent. of the gross output of agricultural review commodities. In these circumstances, surely, such an award is a practical testimony to the importance that we attach to the continuous support of agriculture. I can also assure the House that this award will not be affected by the economy cuts of £100 million in Government expenditure which were mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the recent Budget debate.

I have referred to the award this year as being just and fair to the farmer, to the taxpayer and to the consumer. It is an award which is economically sound. There can be no question whatever about that. These views have been shared by the national Press. It is true that the leaders of the National Farmers' Unions could not give their agreement to all the determinations which we made. I was sorry about this, and the Government were sorry, though, of course, under the Agriculture Act, agreement is not in any sense an obligation.

In the final result, disagreement was not on the total amount of the award, but about its allocation among the various commodities. The National Farmers' Unions wanted more on several of the commodities, and, if they had got it, would have been content with less on others. The leaders told us that while in the prevailing circumstances they would not have wished to dissent from the total increase in the guarantees, they felt unable to agree to the price determinations or to the abolition of the individual guarantee for livestock. That means that if we had felt able to accept their schedule of changes to give effect to the £25 million increase, then there would have been an agreed settlement. I want the House to be perfectly clear about that, because it has not been fully understood by everyone.

The hon. Member for Hamilton attempted to make our blood run cold by reminding us of the strongly-worded resolutions that have emanated from branch meetings of the National Farmers' Unions during recent weeks, and he implied that the Government ought to feel abashed, remorseful and dismayed. I am sorry about the attitude which branches of the N.F.U. have felt it necessary to take up. We feel none of the things which the hon. Member implied we ought to feel because we are still completely satisfied that the determinations which have been made were right and fair.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

Surely, all I have asked the House to do is to take note of the resolutions of "no confidence" in the Government which have been passed by branches of the N.F.U. all over the country. That is all that the Motion now before the House does. It repeats this feeling of no confidence in the Govern ment, but we do not expect the Government to say that they have no confidence in themselves.

Mr. Amory:

I was only pointing out that the hon. Gentleman's legitimate attempt to make our blood run cold has not succeeded. My blood has not run cold.

The relatively small points of difference between the Government and the farmers' leaders at the end of the Review discussions ought to help to keep the extent of our disagreement in reasonable perspective. I have farmed myself, and I always have respected and I always shall respect the right of the farmer to grumble—I used to do so myself—against the Government of the day.

I can well understand county branches passing resolutions in the belief that by doing so they would be supporting the actions of their leaders. But apart from the generally favourable comments of the national Press on the Review, I have received sound evidence from many parts of the country that among thoughtful, practical farmers the reasons for the various changes which we have made are well understood, and that the settlement as a whole is considered sound. I will only say that we have listened carefully to everything that has been said by everybody since the Review, but in the result, if we had to make a Review again tomorrow, it would be the same one as we have already made.

Now I want to consider the Review in somewhat greater detail. The net output for the current year has been estimated to be four points up, at 155 per cent., on the pre-war figure. The net income, as the hon. Member for Hamilton has said, is estimated to amount to £299,500,000—£14 million higher than the year before, in spite of some increase in production costs having been absorbed. There is a further increase in costs of about £25 million which has not yet been absorbed, and the increase in the guarantees of £25 million in this Price Review should take care of that further increase in costs during the forthcoming year, so that the award covers that increase.

Then there are the benefits of the continuing increase in productivity and of the higher prices of crops which will be payable in this coming harvest compared with last year. Those things together ought to lead to a further rise in the net income of the industry during the forthcoming year. I shall be disappointed if they do not do so.

The changes in the guarantees were made with two objects: first, to encourage the increased production of those products which are needed; and, secondly, to help the balance of payments. Accordingly, the prices for beef, mutton, barley and oats were increased. The fertiliser and calf subsidies were increased and a new capital grant has been started towards the provision of grass silos.

When we came to consider the determinations on milk, pigs and eggs, the stern realities of the situation prevented us from being as sympathetic as we would have wished. We particularly wished to be sympathetic because we realise that these three products are of primary interest to the small farmer. We entirely recognise the vital part in British farming and the whole British national life which the small farmer plays, economically and socially. I assure the House that the very last thing we want is to see him squeezed out or roughly treated. What we want to do is to help the small farmer to become stronger.

There are three grounds for the attitude which we take up about these three products. The three grounds are supplies, balance of payments and subsidy costs. Had we not had special concern for the small farmer, we might have felt justified in making less favourable determinations on milk, pigs and eggs. At present prices, supplies of these three commodities are such that we cannot afford, and we must not stimulate, further expansion in production until markets expand.

It is sometimes suggested that any increase in home food production must be to the benefit of the balance of payments, but unfortunately the matter is not as simple as that. Agriculture is making a big contribution to our balance of payments, and all honour and congratulations to it for what it is doing. With encouragement, we believe that it might make a still bigger contribution, and we have provided for that in the award. But what we have to do is to select the right products for encouragement.

Milk, pigs and eggs, unfortunately, at present are heavy users of imported feeding stuffs: there is no getting away from that. Extra production will almost certainly at present increase our already heavy bill for imports of feeding stuffs amounting to over £100 million a year. I am afraid that any net import saving resulting from the encouragement in the production of these three products would be very precarious indeed. One has to remember that only about 10 per cent. of our egg supplies are now imported. The imports of pork are negligible. As regards bacon, as I have often said, it is very difficult indeed to justify further expansion until we can get our costs a bit nearer to those of our overseas suppliers. That is happening, I am glad to say. Our costs, relatively, are beginning to come nearer and, therefore, one hopes that in the future that limitation will no longer have to obtain.

Last year the subsidy on pigs amounted to more than one-third of the market value of the pigs; our first objective there must be to reduce that differential still further and thereby reduce the subsidy cost. The subsidy cost of these three products—milk, pigs and eggs—is running now at over £100 million a year. One is bound to admit that the case against a bigger award on milk, pigs and eggs is very strong indeed, both on the ground of balance of payments and in relation to supplies and demand. If we ignore those three considerations, what realistic ground have we to stand on?

The increase of ½d. a gallon on milk has been most heavily criticised, and so I should like to look at that determination in greater detail. Milk production, apart from fluctuations due to unfavourable seasons, has been steadily expanding, as I mentioned in answer to a Question this afternoon, and it is still continuing to expand. In 1949–50, the production of milk in England and Wales was 1,520 million gallons, and I know that the Government of the day were scared stiff about what they could do with the probable surplus. The estimate for 1955–56 amounts to 1,670 million gallons. In other words, there has been an increase of 10 per cent., despite the gloomy forebodings of disasters that would result because the costs at various Price Reviews had not been recouped in full.

The fact is that while more and more milk has been produced, consumption of milk is to all intents and purposes stationary—there has been just a slight tendency to rise during the past six months, I am glad to say. Production is rising far faster than consumption. The production this spring has been an all time record, and that, I suggest, is scarcely the sign of a stagnant and decrepit industry. The Milk Marketing Boards are at present very hard put to it indeed to find outlets, including outlets for manufacture, to deal with the milk which is flooding in, and I am very much afraid that if we do not look out there may well be some temporary waste.

Photo of Mr Julian Snow Mr Julian Snow , Lichfield and Tamworth

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, would he comment on the tendency for schools not to be provided with liquid milk but to be provided with milk in tabloid form?

Mr. Amory:

I know that there are such cases, but I hope that the situation has now been dealt with. I am certain that none of us likes the idea that children should be eating tabloid milk if there is any practical way in which they can be given fresh milk.

We must remember that each gallon of milk costs about I s. in foreign exchange. That is a fact which we must keep in mind. How, in all these circumstances, can we defend a higher rate of payment for milk which at present is not wanted? I find that very few milk producers seem to be aware of these facts, which I believe to be facts which they all ought to know, and I very much hope that the Milk Marketing Boards, which have the responsibility for marketing milk, will feel it their duty, as some already have done, to explain these matters and these figures fully and frankly to their members.

The truth is that, much as we should have liked to do so, it would have been wrong, I think to the point of irresponsibility, for the Government further to encourage the production of milk until the consumption of liquid milk can be increased. We have said that consistently in the White Papers during the last three years. The stern economics of milk production and the milk position simply cannot be ignored.

May I next say one or two words about the small farmer? I am told by some critics that we ought to have ignored all these economic considerations and to have given a bigger award on milk, pigs and eggs because they are the commodities of the small man and form a substantial part of his income. Naturally, we should have very much liked to have done that if possible. Because we know how much the small farmer depends on these commodities, we gave very weighty consideration to what we ought to do about them. As a result, as hon. Members know, we increased the milk price by ½d. a gallon, reduced the price of pigs by 6d. and left the price of eggs unchanged. Incidentally, the decision to taper off the small producer's milk bonus was a decision taken by the Milk Marketing Board, completely within its powers, and not a decision of the Government.

The available figures do not bear out the assumption that there is a steady trend downwards in the incomes of small farmers. / will illustrate that from the trend of incomes of small dairy farmers, who are particularly the class of small farmer whom we are now considering. The small upland farmer probably gets some benefit from the increases which we have given in the prices of beef and mutton.

The incomes of small dairy farmers remained about the same between 1950–51 and 1951–52, but in the next two years they rose by no less than 60 per cent. In 1954–55, the year of exceptionally bad weather, the small farmer lost most of his hay crops and his income suffered a sharp relapse. But even in that bad year the average net income of the small dairy farmer was 10 per cent. higher than it had been three years earlier. There are now indications that we are seeing a further recovery in the incomes of the small farmers during the current year.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about these very substantial increases in the incomes of small dairy farmers, will he tell us how that assertion can be reconciled with the figures which he publishes in the White Paper and which show that the net income of all farmers has fallen from £306 million in 1949–50 to an estimated £299 million this year?

Mr. Amory:

It can be reconciled perfectly easily. I have said that the small farmer suffered a severe relapse in his income through the bad weather in 1954–55. That is where the relapse in the average income occurred, too. The point I am making here is that the small dairy farmer, exceptionally, had a big increase in his income during the two years preceding 1954–55.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of a 10 per cent. increase, does he mean a 10 per cent. increase in money or in terms of 1951?

Mr. Amory:

A 10 per cent. increase in money.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Rugby

Is the Minister telling the House that these are figures which he has obtained from the Ministry's Farm Management Survey Department? These figures do not tally with those from the department. Will he kindly give us the net income for a dairy farmer, farming from 80 to 100 acres, from his own farm management survey figures?

Mr. Amory:

I will try to look them up. The figures which I have given were obtained by the Agricultural Economic Service and then aggregated. The figures are made up from a large number of samples and come from two or three different sources.

Photo of Mr George Drayson Mr George Drayson , Skipton

Can my right hon. Friend say what he means by a small farmer, because a man in my constituency, at any rate, who farms from 80 to 100 acres is a large farmer?

Mr. Amory:

I am afraid that is a very difficult question. I think the figures are for small dairy farms between 15 and 100 acres, and they cover all kinds of grades.

The point which I wish to make is that we want the income of the small farmer to increase further, and we believe it should increase. The great difficulty is that while many small farmers are economic producers in every way, there are some who are not, and those are the people who constitute the really formidable problem. There are also tremendous variations in unit costs between one small farmer and another, amounting, for milk, to as much as 1s. 8d. per gallon. With that kind of variation, the difference of ½d. per gallon will not make the difference between keeping a small farmer going and his bankruptcy. Each case has to be taken on its merits. I think that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may have something to say about that later.

Farmers often say that they are tired of being lectured and criticised on grounds of efficiency or inefficiency. Because I am sure that many British farmers can hold the candle to any other industry in any country for efficiency, I have always made a point in my speeches of paying a sincere tribute to them for their impressive record in improving productivity in recent years. If that encouraging trend can continue it will be the key to rising prosperity and the solution to most of our pressing problems.

In the Review, we estimate that the trend of increasing productivity is about 2 per cent. of gross output per year. The farmers' representatives and our officials do not agree exactly about the percentage, but they both agree that a steady increase is taking place.

I will quote one or two examples of what I mean by increasing efficiency. Over the five years from 1951 to 1955, the average wheat yields per acre were up by 20 per cent. over the average for the previous five years. Yields per hen are increasing at the rate of about five eggs per year—so the hens are doing well. The British sow is pulling up her socks—I cannot help feeling that that is not quite the right analogy—and her output has risen by about 10 per cent. during the past three years. She is soon, I hope, going to reach the position where she can look her opposite number in Denmark in the face.

There is an impression about that agricultural prices have gone down while other prices have gone up. That is not so. Between 1951 and 1955, farmers' prices have risen 11 per cent. It may be said that that is not very much in a period in which there has been intermittent inflation. But when we compare it with the prices of manufacturers, we find that agricultural prices have gone up more and not less than manufacturing prices. A broad sample of the manufacturing industry in this country shows that wholesale manufacturing prices have gone up only 4 per cent. in the same period.

I know that farmers sometimes compare their lot unfavourably with certain industries that are enjoying boom conditions, but one has to remember that the object of agricultural subsidies is to encourage stability. Subsidies cannot follow profits, as it were, to the peak of the boom. If they did so they would have to follow them down again to the bottom of the slump.

I want to say one word about manpower to which hon. Members opposite referred. The hon. Member for Hamilton referred to the drift from the land. Before we generalise on that subject, we must be clear that there are two very different forces at work. There is no particular number of workers which is right for any industry at all times. The first point to be borne in mind is the increased production per worker, resulting from mechanisation, better farm management and all kinds of things. The second is the strong pull from other industries. Agriculture must compete with other industries for its manpower. There is no short cut or magic there. We must see that the job is attractive, and that conditions for workers and their families are as good as they can be made.

The Government are playing their part there with energy. Rural housing, water supplies, electricity and schools in rural areas have all gone ahead faster during the past four years than at any previous time in our history. If we are to keep this problem in perspective we must remember that it is encouraging that although the total number of full-time workers in agriculture has been falling by about 5 per cent. per year, the total net output of the industry has been rising. Higher productivity per worker is something that we must all rejoice in. It is surely the key to higher remuneration and greater prosperity for all concerned. I hope that the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Bill, now going through the House, will make a useful contribution in that field.

I want now to look at the prospects for the immediate future. As regards the volume of output, we shall shortly be publishing the results of the March census. I have only just received them myself. I am sorry that they could not be published before the debate, but we had only two or three days' notice of the debate. The results will, I think, fortify the House against the smog of pessimism in which the hon. Member for Hamilton has tried to envelop us.

Here are some of the figures for the March returns. Concerning cattle, the total of herd cows and heifers is up by 2½ per cent. on last March. Dairy type numbers have gone up while the beef type, which were previously increasing, have come down 3 per cent.; and that, I think, is confirmation of the rightness of the Government's decision, in this year's Price Review, to increase the profitability of beef as against milk. There has been, incidentally, an increase of 10 per cent. of heifers-in-calf.

I now come to the figures relating to pigs. Breeding herd pigs are up 4 per cent. on last September, which is still 6 per cent. below the figures of the previous March; but gilts-in-pig, which are the key indicator, show an increase of 27 per cent. as against December, which begins to make one feel almost anxious.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Shoreditch and Finsbury

Would the right hon. Gentleman give not only the figures between September and March but compare like with like by giving the figures for last March compared with the previous March?

Mr. Amory:

That is what I said. Pigs are still 6 per cent. below March of last year.

Mr. Amory:

Gilts are up as against March of last year.

Photo of Mr Stanley Evans Mr Stanley Evans , Wednesbury

Would the right hon. Gentleman say how much this 27 per cent. increase is likely to cost the taxpayer in subsidies?

Mr. Amory:

I wish I knew. Any forecast that the hon. Gentleman can give will fall on very receptive ears.

To turn to the figures for sheep, ewes with lamb are up 3½ per cent.; other sheep are down, owing to heavy slaughtering at early weights. With regard to poultry—another alleged victim of Governmental parsimony—fowls under six months are up 11 per cent. on March last year.

I now turn to crops. A rise in the tillage area of 100,000 acres since last year is forecast. Wheat is up 12 per cent., barley 1½ per cent., main crop potatoes 2 per cent., sugar beet and oats about the same, fodder roots and mixed corn are down, but there is no change in green fodder crops. That points to a satisfactory check to the downward trend in the tillage area. I suggest that those returns rather make nonsense of the Motion which hon. Members opposite have put forward. I am surprised that hon. and right hon. Members opposite, with their long experience, did not wait the publication of the March returns, which have not been held up, before they put down a Motion of censure which is so blatantly out of accord with those returns.

The figures which I have given for both crops and livestock little betoken either an undermining of confidence, a reduced contribution to the balance of payments or an unsatisfactory trend in farm incomes. I have high hopes that if the weather continues reasonable, the net output for 1956–57 will exceed the 155 per cent. of pre-war estimated for the current year, itself the highest level ever recorded in this country.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

The 155 per cent. is only equal to what it was previously.

Mr. Amory:

It has never been surpassed. The hon. Gentleman will agree that no higher figure has been achieved. I am not going to count any chickens before they are hatched but I am not going to let hon. Members opposite pretend that some very promising looking eggs are not there. The March census is confirmation of the economic considerations and also evidence that recovery from the setback of 1954 is taking place, upon which the Review was based.

I have now the figures for gilts which was asked for. Gilts-in-pig are up 28 per cent. On March, 1955.

I want finally to turn to the criticism that we have no long-term policy for agriculture. Our critics very rarely say what they mean by that, and I doubt whether most of them know. I think that hon. Members opposite mean that there should be a return to controls and Government trading. Most other critics want the Government to resume some kind of practice of setting long-term production targets, such as was done under controls, linked with long-term guarantees. There are many also who ask for guarantees on a cost-plus basis. I cannot think that hon. Members opposite can associate themselves with a demand for a cost-plus basis, because when they were in office they generally declined to give full recoupment of cost increases.

In view of the increase in productivity, recoupment on a cost-plus basis would clearly be impracticable and unjustified. Hon. Members opposite did give a cost-plus recoupment or something more on, I think, two occasions. As a result, gross output increased but the subsidy bill went up so alramingly that the late Sir Stafford Cripps was forced to call a halt and start a process of reduction to bring the subsidy down nearer the level which the nation could afford.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

What was the subsidy then on home-produced food?

Mr. Amory:

It went up from under £400 million to £485 million, and the bigger part of that rise was due to the increased loss on home food production.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

The right hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House. If he is talking about the subsidy on home-produced food, he must give the figure and not talk about the total food subsidies, which cover imported and home-produced food together. Let us have a figure of the subsidy on home-produced food. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that it was about £250 million, and that kept prices down. Now that we are paying the same amount of money we are not keeping prices down at all.

Mr. Amory:

I tried to get the figure exactly but, owing to the extraordinary way that right hon. Gentlemen opposite ran our affairs, things were so tangled up that it was impossible to find out what the loss was on home-produced food and on imported food. In some cases big profits were taken on imported food to cover up and cancel out big losses on the other side.

We agree that continuity of policy is absolutely essential. The Government have followed a consistent production policy since they assumed office in 1951, as a study of our successive White Papers will show. I should like to refer, particularly, to paragraphs 8 to 14 of this year's White Paper on the Annual Review and Determination of Guarantees.

The hon. Member for Hamilton asked me what we wanted. Our long-term objective is the highest level of net output that can be produced economically and efficiently. By that I mean that we must pay some regard to the cost of producing compared with the prices at which we can import and to what production is most appropriate and suited to the land in this country.

It is interesting that in the commodity emphasis there is really not much between the Government's statement on production policy in the White Paper and the policies announced by the National Farmers' Union in the April issue of the British Farmer. The five major items which the Union lists are, replacing imported cereal feeding stuffs by additional home production; expanding beef production; expanding the production of mutton and lamb; instituting a stable milk production policy to go hand in hand with intensive efforts to develop the consumer market; adopting a stable production and price policy for pigs and eggs. These are exactly our objectives too.

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire East

How will my right hon. Friend replace imported feeding-stuffs by home production if he allows completely free imports of cheaper feeding-stuffs from abroad?

Mr. Amory:

Because we believe that the encouragement which we have given in the Annual Price Review will lead the farmer to grow more feeding-stuffs. They may not be the feeding-stuffs which will be consumed on his own farm but those which his neighbours will consume on their farms.

The National Farmers 'Union concludes: Producers would then have the confidence to undertake the necessary investment designed to reduce unit costs and to increase efficiency. I am quite satisfied that there is nothing in the Government's policy that need deter them from that, and that the policy matches the reality of the situation.

I should like to refer to the future development of our present policies. We have a strong desire—I feel this intensely—to move forward in two directions. First, in the last paragraph of this year's White Paper, we recognise the limitations of any Annual Price Review, because in itself it cart give only relatively short-term assurance. We intend to work out during the next few months some scheme whereby we hope that effective assurance can be given in the long term. We shall then discuss those proposals with the National Farmers' Union.

That will be a difficult exercise. It will be a variation of the present theme resulting from the Agriculture Act, 1947. [Interruption.] I ask hon. Gentlemen to wait and see. I do not deny that this will be a difficult exercise but we shall tackle it with a sincere resolve to find a successful outcome, if we can.

Secondly, we realise the importance of adequate capital for permanent equipment for efficient production, and we are conscious of and sympathetic about the difficulties of the small farmer in particular in this respect. We are helping with grants for permanent improvements in a limited field, under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts, At present, with the paramount need to restrict capital expenditure, the extension of that scheme to a wider sphere cannot be contemplated, but in the longer term much advantage would, I feel sure, result if the bigger part of the Government's financial support to agriculture could be channelled to grants towards permanent improvement. When the existing temporary restrictions are relaxed, I can assure the House that a possible development on those lines will be considered most carefully, because I believe it will be something of special benefit to the small farmer.

I have spoken for much longer than I intended. There are other points with which I should have liked to deal but which I leave with the greatest confidence to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. These transitional years following the end of Government control and Government buying are bound to be an anxious and perplexing period, but things are settling down and assuming a shape and pattern. Agriculture is not in the doldrums, and not even on the downgrade.

Let hon. Members consider what happens when a farm comes into the market or when a tenancy becomes vacant. The list of applicants is not shorter, it is longer than ever before. The price of land has not slumped, it is stable.

Farming bankruptcies are at an extremely low level. The latest figure that I have seen is about 150 to 170 for last year, and this year the number is running at rather less. Out of a total of about 300,000 farms that figure is really insignificant. An industry which has no bankruptcies at all cannot be in a healthy state. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, I stick to that absolutely. It is the price of efficiency. If hon. Members want a system under which nobody is ever squeezed out of business they will not have an efficient industry.

Lastly, rents are rising slightly from a low average level, but without hardship or protest at all. These are not signs of a languishing industry but, I believe, of a buoyant and robust one.

Sympathising, as I do, with the anxieties of the farmers, I confess that I find their criticism rather easier to sustain than the criticism of hon. Gentlemen opposite. We all know that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have no clue as to what policies they would pursue on agriculture were they, as the result of mental aberration on the part of the electorate, ever to find themselves, to their embarrassment, back in power.

During the last four years they have from time to time promulgated what might be called new articles of faith about argiculture, only instantly to have them shot down by a united discharge from all possible quarters. That must be a most discouraging experience. On our side we are confident that our basic policies are sound. The figures and the facts which I have quoted show that agriculture, greatly to its credit, is successfully surmounting the difficulties of the inevitable period of readjustment following the restoration of freedom. Given reasonable weather and stable world conditions, I hope that we shall see a further improvement in net output and in net income during the forthcoming year. Therefore, I ask the House, with confidence, to support the Amendment.

5.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Shoreditch and Finsbury

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food began his speech by suggesting that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) was indulging in a Border lament. Had he looked, as I did, at the faces of his supporters the right hon. Gentleman would have thought that he was presiding at a wake. To a large extent that is true, because we have been witnessing the funeral of the 1947 Act.

I would remind the Minister of the occasion when he and I took part in a debate in his own constituency. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman was attacking the then Labour Government for its 1947 Agriculture Act. Of course, he and his hon. and right hon. Friends have been doing it ever since and they have now accomplished what they set out to do, to carry their opposition to the extent of destroying that Act under which British agriculture made major progress. In all that the Minister said, and in spite of the last-minute figures he quoted—which we have not had time to examine—the picture under the Tory Government has been one of stagnation and frustration. We have made nothing like the progress on the land that we would have made had there been a settled policy.

I ask the Minister to realise that no farmer today can say with certainty in advance what he will get for any product. I defy anyone to deny that. I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to say if that is not true. Particularly, no farmer can say that at the important time when he is ploughing his land. In regard to fat stock prices, he does not know from week to week what he will get.

By destroying the firm prices under the 1947 Act the Government have put in their place a completely uncertain floor on which the farmer has to stand, but does not know if he will drop through it, and, if so, how far he will drop. On the other hand, there is no ceiling, for example on potatoes, and neither the farmer nor the consumer knows what he will receive or pay for them.

My experience in these matters may not be as great as that of the Minister, but I assert that never, under such circumstances as now exist, have I seen anything so manifestly absurd as this Amendment. It refers to the efficient use of national resources and yet the Government must admit that there has been a decline in tillage acreage of over a million acres. The Amendment says that there is "…a solid basis for confidence to producers.…" We have had some evidence of the solidity of that basis for confidence from the farmers themselves.

The President of the National Farmers' Union has been instructed by his council to seek an immediate interview with the Minister to express the dissatisfaction felt by farmers throughout the country. The Welsh Committee of the union has sent a resolution expressing complete lack of confidence in the agricultural policy of the Government.

The Minister himself sits for a Devonshire constituency. I know that his native modesty will prevent the right hon. Gentleman from telling the House the extent of the confidence which the farmers of Devonshire have in the Government's policy, and therefore I will quote it myself. The farmers of Devonshire deplore the removal of individual guarantees for fat stock. They say that the Price Review will have a serious effect on the small West Country farmers' economy. They say that the union should formulate a long-term policy, to test the sincerity of the statement in paragraph 5 (6) of the White Paper. Obviously they have no confidence in the Government's policy, and, indeed, many resolutions from different farming counties say the same thing. The right hon. Gentleman is well known to the farmers of Somerset. They go further and express disgust. They call upon the union to make the industry's feeling of frustration known to the Government and the nation.

The second leg of the Amendment speaks about freedom of choice for consumers. We have had one example recently of the freedom of choice of the housewife to pay 6d. a pound for old potatoes or to go without. As I told the Minister in the House last week, in a few weeks' time she will have to exercise further freedom of choice, namely, of paying 1s. 6d. a lb. for new potatoes or of going without. That is the kind of freedom of choice with which the people are now confronted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton put forward an extremely important point about subsidies to which I hope we shall have an answer from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when he replies. The Minister seems to be uncertain about his figures. I would remind him that in the Estimates for 1950–51 we had a firm figure. That was the last full year for which the Labour Government were responsible. There was a total of £385 million in subsidies on the Ministry of Food Vote, every penny of which went into the reduction of prices to the consumer. That is a clear figure of subsidies on both home-grown and imported food.

As I see it, the future level of subsidies will be around £150 million after the elimination of the bread and milk subsidies, which have either gone or will do so. I submit to the Minister that not one penny of benefit from that £150 million will go to the housewife in reduced prices. I should be interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friend prove that statement to be wrong. Certainly nobody can deny that food prices under the Tory Administration have gone up by 6s. in the £, so the housewife is worse off.

One would imagine that the farmers were getting the full benefit of the £150 million. Yet, despite what the Minister said about £100 million going in subsidies to pig producers, milk producers and egg producers, I know, as a small farmer, that I now get only £20 for the highest grade pigs, for which I was getting £24 eighteen months ago. I am sure that hon. Members opposite will be able to support me in that. Nobody will tell any farmer that he is getting as much as he did when subsidies amounted to £385 million.

The charge—if it is denied, I hope it will be denied with facts—is that the housewives are not a penny better off as a result of the payment of £150 million in subsidies. Indeed, they are worse off than they were under the Labour Government. Farmers also are not merely no better off but are worse off than they were under the Labour Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton asked who got the benefit. There is only one other section of the community which can get it and that consists of the middlemen. Before the debate closes we are entitled to expect a firm answer to our questions which, so far as agricultural and food prices are concerned, are 64,000-dollar questions.

Photo of Commander Sir John Maitland Commander Sir John Maitland , Horncastle

This seems to be the same point as the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) developed in his Budget speech. I imagine he is advocating the same policy as was in existence when Sir Stafford Cripps devoted £385 million to subsidies. I see the hon. Member nodding, and I take it that he agrees. Can he say how much it would cost the country today with present consumption?

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Shoreditch and Finsbury

I advocate a similar policy, but I do not by any means advocate that all the commodities then subsidised should again be subsidised. Consequently, the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point does not really arise. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not evading anything, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will not evade anything. This is an important question, as the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) will agree. We want an answer. We want to know where the money is going. The Government have destroyed the confidence of the farmers, and, because of that, production is less than it would have been, and the Government are squandering £150 million of the taxpayers' money.

The story about potatoes is a scandal. The right hon. Gentleman succeeded cleverly today and on one or two occasions last week in evading certain questions which were put to him. He cannot evade the questions I am now going to put to him, and we want answers to them. It is no good hon. Members asking us, as one asked this afternoon, to say how many acres would have to be planted to satisfy all the demands in a bad year. It is incumbent on the Minister to arrange for a sufficient acreage to be planted in a bad growing year so that there will not be a shortage. It is not beyond the wit of experienced people to do this. If the Minister does not know how to do it, we can tell him how it was done under far worse conditions in the year 1947–48 when we had 1,330,000 acres under potatoes and, although we had a very bad winter and there was a shortage, no one went without and no one had to pay fantastic prices.

I would remind hon. Members that the guaranteed price for potatoes last year was between £13 and £13 12s. 6d. a ton according to the area in which they were grown. That price was estimated to show a fair profit to the farmers. The potatoes could be sold at about 2½d. per lb. retail. It was known that the 1955–56 potato acreage was 874,000 against 945,000 in the previous year, and also that the average crop was six tons per acre compared with seven tons per acre the previous year. That meant that at the end of the year the crop would be 20 per cent., or 1½ million tons, less than that of the previous year, and in the previous year we only just got through, allowing for the demands late in the season of the fish friers and the crisp manufacturers, who need old potatoes long after the general public have gone over to the new ones.

So it was certain in the autumn that there would be a potato shortage. The Minister did nothing whatever about it. The Potato Marketing Board, which admits that it neither bought nor sold potatoes, nor controlled the price, told the country in September that supplies would be short and urged the public to buy small potatoes. It also urged this on the Minister, but he declined to accept its advice and increased the size of the riddle from 1¼ to I½ inches.

Mr. Amory:

I am not aware of having refused to accept any advice on that matter from the Potato Marketing Board.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Shoreditch and Finsbury

Then I will send the Minister a copy of the letter which the general manager of the Board sent to the News Chronicle. Perhaps that will enable him to find out.

The general manager went on to quote further details to the effect that 400,000 tons of potatoes for domestic consumption went to waste simply because of the Minister's action. It is most curious that the Minister does not recall such a statement being made by a responsible official of the Board. There seems to be an extraordinary lack of liaison in this matter between the Minister and the Board.

The Minister did nothing about imports to make good the shortage, about which he must have known because I knew about it. I happen to be a director of a firm of wholesale fruit and vegetable merchants, and I knew about it and said so in the House. Everyone who thought about it for a few moments must have known that there would be a shortage. Nevertheless, the Minister did not do anything about imports. It is only in comparatively recent weeks that potato imports have been put on open general licence. Now the European countries have banned further exports because of their own shortages. I would remind the House that the total import of old potatoes is only about half the 400,000 tons which we could have had of our own potatoes for human consumption but for the increase in the size of the riddle.

Mr. Amory:

I wonder whether I misheard the hon. Member. I thought he said that it was only during recent weeks that we had allowed imports of potatoes.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Shoreditch and Finsbury

I said that it was only during comparatively recent weeks that there had been open general licences for potatoes.

Mr. Amory:

We removed the restrictions on imports at the beginning of December.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Shoreditch and Finsbury

I suggest that that was not very swift when the Board told the Ministry in September that there would be a shortage.

Mr. Amory:

I am afraid that that was an occasion when I did not carry the Board with me. It was my view, and not the Board's view, at that time that the restrictions on imports should be removed.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Shoreditch and Finsbury

Was that the right hon. Gentleman's view at the beginning of December?

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Shoreditch and Finsbury

The total imports of potatoes amount to 200,000 tons, which is only half the quantity that we could have had if the size of the riddle had not been altered. I do not think there is any virtue in excluding the small potatoes. The curious thing is that no handicap in relation to the size of the riddle was imposed on imported potatoes, of which we have both large and small ones.

Another curious thing arises. In its letter to the News Chronicle the Board said that at the present level of demand present supplies would last until the first fortnight in June. That gives rise to a number of questions. I should like to ask how the Board can say that old potatoes will last to the middle of June unless it knows the tonnage at present in clamp. If it does know, why is it that the Minister does not know? He has not been able to tell us and in fact he admitted only this afternoon that he did not know and could not know. Last week he was urging his hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) to spend his week-end searching for spare potatoes and to bring them up to market.

Thirdly, if the present stocks are sufficient to last until mid-June, what possible justification is there for a whole sale price of £42 per ton and a retail price of 6d. per lb. in the shops? We are entitled to clear answers to those questions. We are entitled to point out that the present exorbitant prices are due to another major defect in the Government's support price policy, as opposed to the former guaranteed fixed price. if we had had a guaranteed fixed price, this overcharging could not have happened. For potatoes, as with other things, we have an uncertain floor and no ceiling.

The House should note the advance in prices. In April last year old potatoes were £17 a ton. Today, they are £42 a ton. In December, 1955, when knowledge of the shortage was general, the price was £20 a ton. Then we had bad weather, as we often have, in January and February, when the clamps could not be opened and there was an artificial shortage so tha, prices went up to £29 a ton, at which level they stood at the beginning of this month. Three weeks later they had gone up another £13 a ton.

On 10th April the Department reported little frost damage and said that the potatoes in the clamps were in excellent condition. With consumption at normal levels, and stocks moving out at the expected rate, why the panic, why the shortage and why the high prices? The Minister cannot have it both ways. Either there is a shortage—and I believe that there is—and that is the reason for the high prices, or, as the Board said, there is no shortage and stocks will last until the middle of June and there is no reason for the high prices. We want to know which is right.

If the supplies are there, let the Minister get them to the market and sell them at reasonable prices and see that housewives get them at reasonable prices. I believe that the potatoes are not on the farms. I cannot believe that any farmer in his right mind would leave them in the clamps when he can get £42 a ton for them. That is why I prophesied last week that there would be no old potatoes for sale within two weeks and that it would be next August before housewives were able to buy potatoes at less than 6d. per lb. If we have them in the country, let us have them in the shops.

The Minister should take three important steps. He should say to the Potato Marketing Board, "Produce your evidence for saying that we have enough supplies to last until mid-June." If the Board brings that evidence, he should instruct it to buy remaining stocks at £20, which allows farmers 50 per cent. above the guaranteed price, which will allow farmers a fine profit. He could then sell them to the public, or see that they were sold to the public, at 3½d. a lb. Secondly, he should arrange for adequate representation on the Potato Marketing Board of both consumers and distributors. If that cannot be agreed, he should scrap the Board altogether. A board composed exclusively of producers, where public money is concerned, is indefensible and demonstrably against the public interest.

Thirdly, through the Price Review and other means, he should organise the planting of a sufficient acreage of potatoes to afford a sufficiency in a bad growing season. It can be done. We did it before and it can be done again. The surplus in good growing years can be sold for stock feed as we did before. It is not good enough to follow the policy set out by the Minister last week of aiming at a sufficient acreage in a normal growing season. He has already announced that there will be only 2 per cent. more acreage next year—17,000 more acres. Then there will be 891,000 acres which we already know is not enough in a poor growing season. It is no good going on in that way and having no defence in a national shortage. One season in three is below normal and we shall get a recurrence of the difficulties if we go on like that.

It would be far better to lose some money on stockfeed potatoes in a good year than to import hundreds of thousands of tons at high prices and hold housewives to ransom. This potato scandal illustrates the complete bankruptcy of the Government's agricultural policy and the utter folly of their ideas on distribution. Our only hope is a change of policy, or, better still, a change of Government.

5.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Pott Mr Henry Pott , Devizes

I crave the indulgence of the House on this, the first occasion on which I have taken part in a debate. I represent a constituency well known for its farming ability and in which we have holdings of all sizes from the very small horticultural holding to the large2,000-acre mechanised holding. No area in the country did more to help the war effort. As I must not be controversial on this occasion, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) and the hon. Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) will not expect me to follow their arguments.

Many like myself—and I must here declare my interest—who depend on British agriculture for their living believe that it is the large and ever-increasing demand on the Exchequer to maintain price support and the failure to increase consumer demand for our products that really give concern to the British farmer. The solution to both those problems is to lower the unit cost of production by increasing the output per acre, the output per man-hour and the output per £ invested in the industry.

Low costs are nearly always associated with high production. By that means alone can we assure the long-term stability of British agriculture and guarantee a fair profit to farmers and fair wages to their employees. Any capital available at present should be used to increase production on efficient farms and not used for the reclamation of land which at present is not in high production.

During the period of expansion from 1938 onwards, the industry has succeeded in lowering, in real terms, the unit cost of production. However, the time is rapidly approaching when many holdings will be unable to continue that improvement and will be unable to make full use of new techniques and new information from our research scientists, unless more capital is available. There are already signs on some British farms which, as a result of good husbandry and aided by production grants, have increased grass production, but which unless they have more livestock and more suitable buildings to hold that livestock, will not make an economic use of that increased production.

Those who have studied the implication of the National Farm Survey of England and Wales have no doubt about the size of the problem with which we are faced. To anyone used only to industrial finance, it is amazing that an industry in which the ratio between the capital assets and the debts outstanding is four to one is unable to raise all the capital which it requires. Of course, those of us connected with agriculture are fully aware of the reason. Our great industry is split into about 370,000 holdings, many of them quite small, so that we find ourselves in the position that although the industry in toto is great, we have individual units which cannot raise the capital they need, even though the reason for that capital is in the national interest.

I suggest that ways and means must be found to enable us to obtain the capital necessary to make full use of the new techniques from which we are benefiting. I am making no plea for a land and agriculture bank or for cheap money. The history of land and agriculture banks in those countries where they have been founded has not been very happy, and cheap credit is merely another subsidy. I suggest that, owing to the peculiarity of the set-up of British agriculture, the Government should consider whether or not they can come to some arrangement to make more capital available, not in the form of grants but merely in the form of credits to the producer. I do not believe that that would be too difficult.

There are many ways; I suggest only one. I should have thought that it would be possible for the Government, in agreement with the banks, to come to an arrangement by which the banks would advance a sum of money on receipt of a certificate from the Minister, through the county agricultural executive committees, and that the Government should guarantee the banks against loss on the excess between what the banks would have loaned if no certificate had been issued and the figure on the certificate. This would be a simple way to do what I suggest, because we have the whole machinery set up and working at the moment.

The county agricultural executive committees make assessments of this nature on many occasions in order to carry out Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1947. They would be the only people who would be able to give an opinion whether the capital required would improve the holding and enable more efficient production and whether the tenant would be a suitable person to make use of the new equipment. We know that there are means for farmers to draw credit—the banks, the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and many other sources—but all the sources at present at our service merely touch the fringe of the problem with which we are faced.

No precedent would be created by the suggestion that loans to farmers should be supported or backed by public moneys, because, as we all know, under the 1947 Act, the smallholders on our local government smallholdings are in the very privileged position of being able to raise capital largely on their reputation far more than on their stock.

Today we have heard a very familiar phrase across the Floor of the House. That phrase is, "A long-term agricultural policy". I have been hearing it, and using it, for the last thirty years, and the leaders of the industry, the economists; and politicians on both sides of the House have been searching conscientiously for such a policy—a practical long-term policy for agriculture.

It appears to me that that is as elusive a quarry as the Abominable Snowman. Many people have divergent views on both, and nobody has yet produced either. Although I hope that the Minister and all concerned will continue their efforts to find that elusive beast—the long-term policy, not the Abominable Snowman—I press the Minister not to wait for a successful conclusion to that search but, as a matter of very great urgency, to devise some method that will enable the farmers to raise capital.

That will enable full use to be made of the great experience and ability of our farmers, the great skill of our agricultural workers, the wonderful climatic conditions and the fine soil conditions from which we benefit, so that they can play a great part in the economic battle in which we are engaged. Agriculture, like all other industries, must be given the opportunity to retool. If it is given that opportunity its efficiency will be much greater.

5.35 p.m.

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

This is the first occasion on which I have had the pleasure of congratulating an hon. Member on his maiden speech. I think that I am expressing the view of the House when I say most sincerely that it is very rare indeed to hear a maiden speech as informative and eloquent as that which has just been made by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott). We sincerely hope that on many future occasions, especially on the controversial subject of agriculture, we shall have the pleasure of listening to his views.

I join with those who are prepared to condemn the Government on this issue, but, at the same time, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not in the slightest degree influenced by all the resolutions passed by the branches of the National Farmers' Union. My experience has been, even when we had our own Administration, that it is exceedingly difficult to satisfy the insatiable appetite of certain sections of that organisation. It always amazes me to find the difference in attitude of hon. Members to the National Farmers' Union as compared with any other trade union organisation. If other trade unions representing organised workers came to this House and asked for the powers that we are prepared to confer upon the National Farmers' Union, I am sure that hon. Members opposite would turn purple with indignation. For that reason, I am not at all influenced by the resolutions.

I think that there would be general agreement about the aim of an agricultural policy. We all want to see the maximum amount of production effected in the most economic and efficient way. That, I think, is an agreed aim. It is upon the methods to be employed to effect that purpose that we have differences of opinion. I agree with those who say that in measuring that efficiency we must have regard to what would be the effect if the men and materials employed in agriculture were employed in some other industry, because the industry must not be judged by itself, but in relation to the whole national economy.

It is from that angle that the Government are totally incompetent in setting up a policy which would give guidance to the industry and, at the same time, confer benefits upon the consumers. What are the methods that are employed by them? We in the Socialist Government believed in the policy of guaranteed prices and assured markets. Now we have a policy, presumably, of attempting in a rather nebulous way to fix certain standard prices and then, if the average price does not come up to the standard, a deficiency payment is made. Consequently, there is very great doubt what price the individual will realise in the market.

When they were effecting the change in marketing, the Government decided that, in addition to the standard price for fat-stock, and so forth, they would give an individual guaranteed price. Then, apparently, the farmers, conforming to human nature, discovered—and this is mentioned in euphemistic language in the White Paper—that if they got the guaranteed price, they need not go to the trouble of getting the best price so far as the market was concerned. The result is, as the Minister says, that as they did not get the best price they could from the consumer, he is taking away the individual guarantees for fatstock.

In order to implement the policy we have this Annual Price Review. Judging from speeches delivered in another place and from what I have read, it would appear that this Price Review is in favour of the large-scale farmer and very much against the small-scale farmer. I think it is generally agreed that the large-scale farmer has been doing remarkably well, and it follows logically that we have to analyse the problem from that angle. I presume that if the large-scale farmer is doing well, it is because he is producing more efficiently and has greater resources at his command.

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

My hon. Friend interjects "better soil," but I have heard it argued on a thousand occasions that very often the large-scale farmer has to work with soil which is vastly inferior when compared with soil to be found on some small farms. That has been the test for maintaining the subsidy for the large-scale farmer. Therefore, soil has little to do with the matter.

The fact is that the small-scale farmer has smaller resources, and here I agree with the hon. Member for Devizes. As long as I have been able to read books on history I have noticed that one of the laments of British agriculture has been the deficiency of capital investment. Almost as a child I read Theobold Rogers' "600 Years of Work and Wages." That was the basis or foundation underlying the whole matter. It seems to me that if small-scale farmers are to farm efficiently, the only method they can adopt is, as was said by Lord Bledisloe, to combine into agricultural co-operatives in order to pool their resources and be able to farm as efficiently as the large-scale farmer.

It is here that I come into conflict primarily with the National Farmer's Union. Everyone knows that the union, instead of addressing itself to improvements through agricultural co-operation, has found it much easier to bring pressure to bear on the Minister in order to secure advantages more easily. I venture to say that before these subsidies are paid to small-scale farmers, the Ministry should impose the condition that these farmers should enter into an association so that they may farm efficiently. Lord Bledisloe illustrates that by saying that, on an average, small-scale farmers in this country keep cows which yield about five hundred gallons of milk a year.

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

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) is himself a farmer and he will be able to speak for himself, if he secures the opportunity. I am quoting from what was said by Lord Bledisloe, and what I have read.

On the other hand, to use the language of Lord Bledisloe, a "well-behaved cow" in any civilised country ought to give eight hundred gallons of milk a year. Obviously, if we are working on the principle that we have to import costly feeding stuffs to feed cows which are yielding the minimum quantity of milk, we are bound to be inefficient compared with the standards established by large-scale farmers, and on co-operative farms in Denmark and other places. I am therefore persuaded, as a matter of economics, that if the small-scale farmer is to secure the advantages of an agriculture policy, he must be prepared to do something himself by associating with other small-scale farmers, rather than by constantly appealing through the National Farmers' Union for advances to be made at the expense of the taxpayer and the consumer.

I have heard a great deal about potatoes. I do not propose to weary the House with that subject. Producers ask for powers which we would never be prepared to offer to anyone else and that is why I addressed a Question to the Minister at Question Time. I believe that the policy of the Government of removing responsibility for direct control from themselves to various marketing boards is a reactionary policy and detrimental to the consumer.

If we take the Potato Marketing Board as an example, what virtually is happening is that it is stated that if producers are prepared to take a poll among themselves and secure a favourable majority, they can establish a board. That board would have the power to decide what quantity of potatoes will be produced. It would have the power to place a levy upon anyone who grew potatoes without the sanction of the board. It would have the right to decide the channels through which potatoes would be sold. I merely use the Potato Marketing Board as an example.

Is it not obvious that if, as a Parliament, we are prepared to surrender those powers to another organisation which gains advantages out of its own decisions, it will restrict production in order to secure the greatest benefits for itself through high prices?

Mr. Amory:

The hon. Gentleman is making a most interesting speech, but I would remind him that a particular marketing scheme must receive the approval of Parliament as well as the approval of 66 per cent, of the producers voting.

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

I agree, but the effect of the guarantee is that it is a support price which is intended to protect the producer against a loss of returns in years of high yield.

We talk all the time about increased production, but the mentality behind it is that we must give guarantees so that if, in fact, there is increased production, producers will not lose their returns. Suppose we went to workers in other industries and said to them, "We want you to increase production, but if you do, there is a possibility that the bottom will fall out of the market and so we wish to give you a guarantee"? I suggest that that is a restrictive rather than an expansive mentality.

I am in favour of reducing the price in order that the consumer may gain an advantage. Whether it be potatoes or milk, surely it is better that the ordinary consumer should pay the market price, and drink the milk or eat the potatoes, than that these products should be processed or sold to manufacturers at far lower prices?

I submit that to the extent that people support a potato marketing board or a milk marketing board and transfer power from the Minister, they are contributing to a policy of scarcity. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not expect any farmer to agree with me. I believe that if a board is to be set up to deal with any agricultural commodity, it should be representative not merely of the farmer or producer, but of the producer, distributor and consumer, in order to command the confidence of the people of this country and not merely of those few people who have secured sufficient power to determine the nature of the board itself.

I do not want to speak any longer upon this matter, other than to say that, despite all that has been done, and despite all the figures which have been bandied about, grave discontent exists in the agricultural industry. Although the Government have been in power now for almost five years, they are still chasing this elusive long-term policy. They can offer no guarantee to satisfy the producers. Their policy has been one of increasing prices and of creating the maximum degree of dissatisfaction among consumers, and a Government which can please neither producers nor consumers is one which certainly deserves to suffer a Motion of censure.

Looking at all the facts, the first thing which should be done is to appoint an independent Royal Commission to investigate all the activities of the industry, in order to see if it can find a policy which will commend itself to the people employed in the industry and, at the same time, be beneficial to the country. Secondly, I suggest that these boards should be completely reorganised in order to command the confidence of the people generally, and not merely the producers. Thirdly, if we are going to pour out public money to small farmers or anybody else, we should lay down the condition that they should help themselves by co-operating and creating efficient organisations in order to increase their own production.

5.52 p.m.

Photo of Lord Robert Grosvenor Lord Robert Grosvenor , Fermanagh and South Tyrone

As this is the first occasion upon which I have been privileged to address this House, I trust that hon. and right hon. Members will again extend to me their consideration and sympathy. I had intended to delay addressing the House until I was more conversant with its moods and procedures, but this question of agricultural policy is of such vital importance to the North of Ireland in general, and my constituency in particular, that I felt that I would have to break my habitual silence. I shall try to abide by the rules attaching to maiden speeches by not being controversial, and I can assure hon. Members that I shall be very brief.

The House may recollect that some time ago my constituents were not entirely united in their choice of a Member. I can assure hon. Members that they are now entirely unanimous in their appeals to me upon the question of the removal of the independent price guarantee. I do not represent the large farmer—the man who has some capital behind him; who may or may not farm good land, but whose farm is highly mechanised. I represent the very small farmer—the man who, generally speaking, is spread over the whole of the North of Ireland, and who depends for his very existence upon his smallholding. The position in Ireland is very different from that in the rest of Great Britain. We have no large estates; we have virtually no tenanted farms, and the owner-occupier, or the small farmer, is the backbone of that part of the British Isles.

It may surprise hon. Members to know that the size of the average farm in Northern Ireland is only 38 acres, and on the west side those 38 acres are of very bad soil. I know that to my cost. It is sour, limeless, boulder clay, with not very good drainage, and an unfortunate predilection for growing rushes. The number of people engaged in that industry in the north of Ireland is really rather remarkable. There are 148,000 people directly concerned in farming. If my mathematics are correct, that represents almost exactly 10 per cent. of the whole population of that country—not 10 per cent. of the working population, but 10 per cent. of the whole population.

It can be argued very freely that a type and size of farm of that kind is not economic. In a great many cases that is so, but even so it seems curious that these farms are very productive. Farming in that country is a virile and extremely independent way of life, and I feel that it should be encouraged rather than discouraged. We have our linen and shipping industries, and I am very pleased to see that other industries are increasing. Nevertheless, farming is easily the largest single industry in the whole province.

We are very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his assistance, resulting in the increase in the headage payment, but I know that he will appreciate that although this may have slightly softened the blow to the small farmer, it in no way takes the place of the individual guaranteed payments. The pity of it is that it was only in operation for three months, and was then withdrawn at a fortnight's notice. I do not want to weary the House with figures, but I have some rather significant ones which I should like to mention. I do not want to spread any further gloom, but I would point out that in 1954, Northern Ireland exported 202,000 fat cattle, of an approximate value of £12,900,000. In 1955, that figure fell very sharply to 106,000 head of cattle, of a value of £6½ million.

As a small producer of fat cattle myself, I cannot say that I am very optimistic about 1956. The House must always realise that prices in the North of Ireland are usually between 15s. and £1 per cent. less than they are in the rest of Great Britain, which is a very good thing for the farmers here, but not very good for us.

Although a periodical Price Review is necessary, I think that a yearly one is too frequent. If the period could be extended so that the farmer had more time to plan and to put his plan into operation, it would be better. My right hon. Friend might consider that possibility. I hope that he will be able to make a statement in the near future which will restore the confidence of the small farmer who, although he is not heard of so often as the big man, is really the backbone of the industry.

.6.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Percy Wells Mr Percy Wells , Faversham

To every hon. Member of this House at some time or other there comes the ordeal of making his maiden speech. As we approach that ordeal I am sure that we all take comfort in the fact that, by the tradition of the House, we shall receive a sympathetic and uninterrupted hearing. Of course, I do not know how the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) felt this evening, but, judging by the confident manner in which he addressed the House, I should imagine that he had fewer butterflies in his stomach than I had when I underwent a similar ordeal. I am sure that all Members of the House would wish me to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman upon a very successful maiden speech. We all look forward to his interventions on future occasions during debates in the House.

As the Minister was addressing us this afternoon, I thought of the story of the boy who had to go through a dark cemetery at night and who whistled to give himself some assurance. Whatever may be said from the other side of the House, it is a fact that every one of us who has any contact with the agricultural community in these days knows only too well that there is dissatisfaction, disappointment and a feeling of insecurity. People in agriculture believe that they are moving towards another 1921 betrayal. The Minister did his best this afternoon to disabuse them of that fear, but I wonder how far he has succeeded.

In the branches of the Agricultural Workers' Union and the agricultural section of the Transport and General Workers' Union, as well as in the branches of the National Farmers' Union, there is this dread that something is going to happen in the not-too-distant future that will mean we shall once again have a depression similar to those which we have experienced in the past.

It is always a bad sign, as I thought was generally accepted, when the tillage acreage begins to drop. It is true that the Minister has been able this afternoon to tell us that there has been an upward turn quite recently, and that instead of a loss of just over 1 million acres it will be something like 902,000 acres that will go out of tillage this year as compared with the years 1953–54. But that is still 902,000 acres down, and it is a tendency which we on this side of the House deplore.

If one takes the prediction in the White Paper in regard to potato acreage, it is surprising to find it estimated that there will be a reduction in potato acreage of no less than 71,000 acres this year. That is rather serious in view of the present potato shortage.

Mr. Amory:

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells), but the March returns show there is an increase of 2 per cent., I think it was, in the main potato acreage this year. In fact, though it is only forecast and we do not know what the final figures will be, the indication is that the acreage will be a little up. On the question of tillage in general, I will say that I should be rather horrified if I thought that we were going to make good the whole of that loss in tillage area, because there is a good deal of evidence to show that some of the production which we were getting from the war-time and immediately post-war tillage area was inefficient production. I do not, therefore, want to see the whole of that loss restored.

Photo of Mr Percy Wells Mr Percy Wells , Faversham

The Minister will appreciate that we on this side of the House at least had to work from the White Paper, and the figures that he has given us this afternoon were not available to us.

I was rather surprised that the Minister had almost nothing to say about the credit squeeze and the increased Bank Rate. My information is that that is in no small measure responsible for the fall in the tillage which is referred to in the White Paper. I am quite certain that the Minister does not appreciate how serious that aspect is, or he would not treat it so lightly as he has done. The position of many small farmers is extremely serious. I understand that farmers owe their merchants and suppliers about £200 million, and they owe the banks a similar amount, much of which, of course, could be called in at very short notice—which is what they fear will happen—so that the complexion of the industry could be changed very quickly indeed.

One constituent of mine told me that he had a very unfortunate interview with his bank manager as a result of the credit squeeze.

Photo of Mr Percy Wells Mr Percy Wells , Faversham

I hope the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) did not have his experience in connection with agricultural activities.

In one case, a constituent of mine, after a fruitless interview with a bank manager, begged me to contact the Chancellor of the Exchequer on her behalf. I did so, and I received the reply which I anticipated, that it was a matter to be arranged between the bank and its client. Unfortunately, in this case my constituent felt so hopeless about everything that she committed suicide.

There does not appear to be much "feather-bedding" in a situation like this, and I sometimes wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), realises that he harmed more than he knew when he coined that expression and attached it to the agricultural industry. As things are turning out, it would at any rate appear that he has partially convinced the Government that they were being a little too generous or it may have been that he convinced effective pressure groups, who have been able to bring pressure to bear upon the Government to put the screw on in this way in a determination to show that they are not as generous as it was in some quarters thought they were. Whatever the cause more hard words against this Government are being heard in the villages than I have heard levelled at any Government since 1921.

I will not ask right hon. and hon. Members opposite to take my word for that. Extracts from the agricultural Press have been read this afternoon already. I will take the agricultural and county Press, which is certainly not anti-Government, but which is publishing weekly reports on meetings of the National Farmers' Union and Agricultural Workers' Union branches condemning the Government for their treatment and lack of agricultural policy.

I have here an extract from a current issue of the Southern Farmer. In a leading article, headed "The Tory Betrayal," it says: Trust the Tory Government to take advantage of all the loopholes and tricks which will enable them to reduce the farming industry once more to penury and depression. We have warned our readers all along that this is exactly what would happen sooner or later after the Tories had been elected to office. They pay lip service to the importance of maintaining a prosperous agriculture. But their smooth tongues conceal the same outlook and cover up the same policy that more than once in the past has brought the farming industry to ruin and disaster. It goes on to say: Note the cunning way in which certain sections only of the industry are singled out for the Amory Austerity Axe.

Mr. Amory:

rose

Photo of Mr Percy Wells Mr Percy Wells , Faversham

Just a moment. It goes on: The pretence is made that this is done in order to encourage the most economic expansion of net output. But in fact, of course, the Tories are so completely out of touch with conditions of food supply and demand that this is purely hot air. In the same paper appears a report of a meeting of the West Sussex Branch of the National Farmers' Union. Mr. M. Carter, chairman, is reported as saying that he had completely lost confidence in the Conservative Government and was certain they had far less intentions than the Socialists of doing anything for agriculture. A former chairman backed him up by saying that present Tory policy was following exactly the same pattern as that of previous Tory Governments, and although the road was slower it was exactly the same one which"—

Mr. Amory:

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, I am sure there is some more good stuff in that newspaper. It is, however, difficult to reconcile all that with the fact that current output is an all-time record.

Photo of Mr Percy Wells Mr Percy Wells , Faversham

We are considering not only the present but the future.

Mr. Amory:

The figures that I gave just now give every hope that output in the future will he higher still.

Photo of Mr Percy Wells Mr Percy Wells , Faversham

No wonder the Minister has had to grant an interview to Sir James Turner. I wonder what took place at that interview. Will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tell us when he replies?

It is abundantly clear that the Motion is not aimed at the agricultural industry but directly at the Government, which is, of course, the correct target. The industry, in spite of what has been said by hon. Members on this side of the House from time to time, has done a good job. To have increased production 55 per cent. above pre-war, in view of the difficulties which have had to be overcome, is a good performance. It has been achieved with less labour, and amply justifies the capital that has been injected into the industry in recent years.

I do not want to say too much about milk. Something has been said already. We are producing 760 million gallons of milk more today than in pre-war days. The average output per cow—we are not talking only about dairy cows because general-purpose cows are included—has been increased by 110 gallons per cow; not a mean achievement.

I shall not stand by and allow the agricultural industry to be decried unjustly in the way that is sometimes done. The increases in the yields of potatoes and cereals have already been mentioned, and I pass over them and refer again to milk production. It is a pity that producing what the Minister has referred to as a "surplus" has not brought a feeling of security and prosperity to milk producers, but has left them concerned about what is to happen in the future.

I would call attention to a speech made recently at Kirkham by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, in which he said, referring to milk: We really are in a sticky position, a dangerous position, of having over-production and stimulating it by the use of public money. Farmers are asking what is to happen in regard to the other products the production of which they are asked to increase. They say, "When we have increased their production are we to be faced with further reductions in subsidy?"

At present, 20 per cent. of the milk produced is sold to manufacturers at a price which is less than half the cost of production. That is unfortunate. It seems rather ridiculous that we should increase the price of milk to the consumer while letting the manufacturers have milk at lower than the cost of production. After all, milk products are fantastically expensive. It would be much better to attempt to increase milk production by giving the benefit of low prices to the consumers rather than to—

Photo of Mr Robert Crouch Mr Robert Crouch , North Dorset

Is the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) aware that long before the war agriculture was self-supporting in butter and cheese? Should we not congratulate the industry upon having raised the consumption of liquid milk to such a figure that it can afford to sell it cheaply to manufacturers?

Photo of Mr Percy Wells Mr Percy Wells , Faversham

I should be more satisfied if the surplus were sold to manufacturers at not less than the cost of production.

This industry produced goods to the value of £1,247 million in 1945–46. That was a considerable achievement, and was more than twice the value of all motor vehicles, including commercial vehicles and motor cycles, produced by the motor car industry in that year. It was nearly three times as much as British Railways earned and more than twice as much as the value of the whole output of the coal industry. Included in the agricultural figure was £126,500,000 produced by the horticultural industry, which does not enjoy guaranteed prices or assured markets. That was a good record, and no country in Europe has been able to beat it. I am pleased to be able to put the figures on record. The industry deserves to be encouraged to carry on in that way.

What agriculture has done in saving imports can be realised when we remember that in 1954 it took nearly half of all our exports to pay for the food and drink that we imported. As the Government put it in their booklet, "Britain's Way Ahead": Suppose agricultural production had not risen 50 per cent. but was still at pre-war level; then last year we should either have gone seriously short of food, or we should have had to spend at least an extra £400 million on food imports from abroad, completely wiping out all our important balance of payments surplus and putting us back on the wrong side again. To put it another way, the £400 million saved in imports was equal to the currency earned that year by the following export industries: shipping, £50 million; private cars, £100 million; commercial vehicles, £77 million; cycles, £18 million; aircraft, £31 million; cotton yarns, etc., £112 million. That is not bad for an industry confronted with its present difficulties and uncertainties. In this achievement the farm workers have played a great part.

How have they been rewarded? Because the farm workers have neither struck nor even threatened to do so their just claim for a reasonable wage is refused time and time again. Their basic wage of £6 15s. 0d. for a 47-hour week is lower than that paid to any other skilled workers in the country. Their average earnings are now about £3 a week less than those of unskilled and semi-skilled workers in other trades, even including overtime. Speaking of overtime, it is rather regrettable that the National Farmers' Union representatives on the Wages Board continually argue on earnings that include overtime rates—which means two men doing three men's work.

Farm workers are leaving the land by the thousand. As we have already been told this afternoon, 100,000 have left since 1949. Many others, living in tied cottages, are looking for alternative accommodation. If they find it, they will go too. They are advising their sons to have nothing to do with agriculture. The time will come when we shall need these men and they will not be there, and the country will suffer in consequence. Any Government incapable of stopping that rot, or at least of convincing farmers and farm workers that they really intend to try to stop it, have no business to retain office. The Government deserve censure, and for that reason I shall go into the Lobby in support of this Motion with the greatest pleasure.

6.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire East

I do not agree with very much of what the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) has said, or, indeed, with what anyone else has said. I do not agree with the Motion on the Order Paper, and I think that the Amendment makes almost equal nonsense. I therefore propose to vote for the Government tonight on the ground that I approve of the Budget.

I do not think that the position is really as satisfactory as the hon. Member for Faversham tried to make out, nor do I think that agriculture is playing anything like the part that it ought to play to help the balance of payments position. Since the war, up to last year, we have spent 9,800 million dollars more than we have earned. We have been able to do this only because during that period, by way of grants and loans from the United States and Canada, we have been given 9,500 million dollars. It is a staggering sum. The process is now coming to an end, and therefore I am anxious, because I do not think that either the people or any Government have yet braced themselves to the fact that we can no longer go on importing from the dollar areas anything like the quantities we have been importing during the last ten years. It is really rather frightening.

This is the magnitude of the problem, and it is riot due primarily to our failure to export. Our exports since the war have increased by 70 per cent. in volume, so the present precarious position of our balance of payments can only be put down to excessive imports. That is what I am always trying to get over, because I am sure that that is the main cause of our economic difficulties.

Photo of Mr Percy Wells Mr Percy Wells , Faversham

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the 55 per cent. increase in production by the agricutural industry would, if equalled by other industries, have got us out of our difficulties?

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire East

But other industries have done as well, and exports have risen in volume by 70 per cent. I say that a 55 per cent. increase in agricultural production is not enough. We have to do more because, as a matter of fact, the agricultural industry, instead of helping us out of our balance of payments problem, is an additional burden on the national economy; and in my submission, it ought not to be. Even the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture admitted the other day that a 10 per cent. reduction in imports of feeding stuffs alone would cut the deficit in the national balance of payments by 25 per cent.—and that is a pretty considerable amount.

Actually, I believe that we could, with a sustained drive, achieve a much greater increase in agricultural production than is contemplated at the present time in any quarter. We could cut the existing deficit in our balance of payments by at least half; and we could, and should, aim at an increase in the next two or three years of not less than £100 million a year in home-grown food. I believe that that can be done.

Let us look for a moment at the facts. They are not all rosy. I agree that there are some satisfactory features; but our tillage acreage has gone down by a million at a time when it should not have gone down. There is also an awful lot of poor grass. In fact, we carry millions of acres of poor grazing on potentially good land; and this at a time when the management of grass has become almost an exact science. If we take the quality of our grazing and compare it with that of Holland, where climatic conditions are generally no better—and in some respects worse—there is just no comparison to be made.

Then, in the last year or two, the small farmers have been rather badly knocked about. They are worried about their future. In part, this is nobody's fault—at least to the extent that so many of them are dependent on a few low-yield cows to produce milk, and others are dependent on pigs and poultry, both of which have been affected by the fall in prices due to more abundant supplies. The fact remains that last year 34,000 farm workers left the industry. Even if production has increased, that is not a good or encouraging thing and not a tendency which we want to see.

We have to look for the causes. One cause stands out a mile, and that is that there has been too much chopping and changing in agricultural policy since the war by successive Governments. I was delighted to hear the Minister of Agriculture say he was looking into this question, and was not intending to have agricultural policy decided by annual bouts of horse-trading every February between Sir James Turner and whoever may be the Minister of Agriculture at the time. Sir James Turner is jolly good; but I am sure that he would be the first to say that this is not the best way to decide agricultural policy. We must have continuity.

There is another reason for changing our present methods. We are beginning to see much more clearly the long-term pattern of post-war agriculture. Nevertheless the farmers are uncertain—and this goes for big and small farmers alike—as to where they stand in the markets. Naturally, they are more uncertain than they were in the days of fixed prices. But I have a notion that we could do more than we are doing to close the gap between prices realised in the market and the guaranteed or national average price. The ordinary farmer taking store cattle or fat cattle to market does not know what he will get for them. The price may vary by £20 in ten days. What can he do? He does not know which day to take the beasts to market. All he can do is to say to himself or to his cattle-man that if he does not get the price he thinks he ought to get he will take them back again, and that is a difficult business and very often he does not do it. We, who represent agricultural constituencies, have all had experience of farmers who have recently missed the boat by as much as £20 a beast by delaying or advancing their sale by a week.

I come to another point, which I think is of considerable importance. As we all know, we are spending a lot of money on deficiency payments—or, as I prefer to call them, subsidies, because that is what they are. Are we making the best use of the money? I am not convinced that we are. Only about a quarter of the subsidies go for what we now most need to produce in this country; and of this too much goes to farmers in the top income group. It has been estimated that one-third of the farmers get two-thirds of the subsidies on wheat, milk, pigs and eggs; and that of the remaining subsidies the highest income group, earning about £2,000 a year, get more than half of the total subsidy paid, which makes the average for the rest about £330 or £340.

I am not saying this in criticism of the larger farmers. I think we have some of the best in the world, and that they are doing a very good job. I am merely making the point that, as the scheme is at present administered, I think that on balance too much public money is being spent on those who need it least, and on commodities which the nation now requiries to a lesser degree than was the case during the war. I think the balance is out. There is a tendency for too much money to go to the big farmers and too little to the small.

There has been much talk about a long-term policy, and, in the admirable maiden speech we heard a short time ago from my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott), he suggested that it was as elusive as "The Abominable Snowman", because nobody had ever found it and nobody ever would. I am not convinced about that. I think there should be a comprehensive long-term agricultural policy and, unlike the Opposition, I have got one, which I can produce in a moment, not exactly like a rabbit from a hat, but at least as quickly.

It must be based on two things which I do not think are really palatable to either Front Bench. The first is a more positive direction than we have got at present of production and investment in agriculture; and the second is a positive but flexible control over imports of food. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may like some of it, but the party opposite do not like anything to be too flexible; they like it to be rigid. While the production of liquid milk should be retained at a level sufficient to meet all our requirements—and it can easily be retained at that level—it is manifestly uneconomic to subsidise the marginal, high-cost production today of milk, pigs or eggs; and I think that the farmers and the agricultural industry generally should face up to that fact There must be a shift of emphasis away from those things and on to the production of meat, fodder crops and horticultural produce, which will save us more imports than anything else that we can do. I think that the Government are now proceeding, rather too cautiously and too slowly for my liking, in this direction.

Fortunately, arable stock farming is the basis of British agriculture; and I believe that we can get a great increase in the production of livestock in this country, first of all, by spending money, and especially Government money, on improving our grasslands and pastures. Perhaps that is the most important of all; and where it cannot be done, farmers should be taking the plough round the farm, which is what we in Scotland have always done to a greater extent than some of our English friends.

Further, I suggest that we ought to do something to encourage the growing of fodder crops on hilly land, especially oats. There is a direct connection between the amount of oats grown and the amount of cattle that will be reared and fattened. Having mentioned store cattle, I should like the Minister to consider what he can do to satisfy the farmer that he will be paid for rearing store cattle. At the present moment, no farmer has any assurance that, if he buys store cattle and fattens them during the winter, he will get a remunerative price when he comes to sell them. In fact, he is quite likely to make a loss.

Mr. Amory:

I understand the point which my hon. Friend is making, but he will surely agree that we have made a substantial increase in the price of the end product this year in the guaranteed price.

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire East

I do agree with that, but I thick the farmers are still looking for a further explanation, and until they understand how the new price scheme works they are not likely to be satisfied. Farmers can still go to market and not get the price they want. The farmer does not work out complicated sums about what will happen in 1958. What worries him is whether, when he goes to the market, he will get a price which will cover his cost of production. Too often he gets less than that, and he does not like it, and I do not blame him. Here is the short and simple answer to that point; and I hope that the Minister will give some explanation showing precisely how the scheme works—especially the "three-day average."

Photo of Captain James Duncan Captain James Duncan , South Angus

If the hon. Gentleman has had contact with his constituency recently, has he seen any lack of confidence in the prices of store cattle in the local markets?

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire East

I have seen great variations: and, when there has been a burst of confidence in store cattle I have also seen fat cattle put into the store markets, and I do not like that very much.

I simply want to say what I think will be agreed by everybody, that the more stability we give to breeders and rearers of livestock the better it will be, because it is a long-term job. It may take three or four years before one knows the facts of life, and it requires a lot of capital.

I now want to ask my right hon. Friend about something that has not been mentioned in the debate so far. I think that if he is to satisfy the breeders of livestock and those who fatten store cattle about their prospects, he must have a comprehensive slaughterhouse policy. I do not know what the Government's plans are, and I am blessed if I know what a "moderate concentration" is. I do not know whether the Minister knows, or whether anybody knows. However many small slaughterhouses may survive, I am certain that we must also have a basic network of slaughterhouses in big centres in this country, with adequate storage and refrigeration facilities, capable of keeping cattle in hot weather, which cannot be done now. We all know that this prevents farmers who have reared cattle from obtaining good prices in the summer months, because it forces them into the market; whereas if refrigeration facilities were there, it would make a great deal of difference to them. I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the other day and made a special plea for an up-to-date slaughterhouse in Maud, which is the centre of a great producing area in my constituency. There are comparable centres in other production areas of this country, and I should say that these at least deserve urgent consideration by the Government.

Photo of Mr Stanley Evans Mr Stanley Evans , Wednesbury

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that if the people are to get frozen meat they will expect to pay the frozen meat price for it?

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire East

I do not want to freeze the meat at all; I want to keep it nice and cool.

Mr. Amory:

My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire is quite right in regarding this question as a most important aspect of the problem we are considering. I should like to say to him that I hope I shall be making a statement on this subject within a week or two.

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire East

I am delighted to hear it, and I hope the statement will include a slaughterhouse in Maud.

On the question of investment, do not let us delude ourselves. Increased production at any time means increased expenditure, and in a period of inflation there are limits to the amount of capital available. It is disturbing that the proportion of the national resources devoted to fixed capital investment in agriculture, as against investment in industry, has steadily declined. It has been going up rapidly in industry and declining in agriculture, and that is a great pity. It is a million or two down over the last few years, whereas investment in industry has gone up by £500 million.

There are two remedies for this. First of all, direct production grants to replace any reductions that may be made in certain deficiency payments or subsidies. Amongst these I include grants for the equipment of farms, including buildings; and for the improvement of the fertility of our soil, including grass. I think the grants in respect of silos and fertilisers which have been announced in the Price Review are a first but definite step in the right direction. Direct production grants are in themselves preferable to deficiency payments, because they increase efficiency and lower production costs. This should be an integral part of our long-term agricultural policy.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Devizes, who made such a good maiden speech, does not agree with me when I say that as part of our long-term policy we should have some kind of agricultural credit scheme for the smaller farmers. I do not care whether it is called an Agricultural Credit Corporation, or whether it is operated through the banks, as might easily be done. What I am after is some kind of credit scheme, with the backing of the Government behind it, for the small farmer, and especially for the small farmer who cannot now get credit at the bank, and could not even get it before the credit squeeze.

I would make it a condition of advancing credits to these small farmers that they should form themselves into associations; they should have collective marketing organisations, and organise themselves properly on co-operative lines, because I believe that in the long run the small farmer in the modern world cannot hope to survive without co-operation. This is almost the only country in the world where effective agricultural cooperation does not exist. I have in my constituency some farmers who have formed an association for collective marketing, and that is all to the good. I would add that these arrangements should not be confined to small farmers. Some very useful arrangements might be made between big farmers and, shall I say, "satellite" farmers who would find them extremely beneficial. This would enable a greater degree of specialisation in production to take place, and better use to be made of machinery which is at present used too little.

Finally I should like to say a word about imports. We must limit our dollar imports to the level of our dollar earnings. If we do not like to accept this now, we shall be compelled to accept it by the force of events, which may be unpleasant, in the years that lie immediately ahead. How we do it does not concern me greatly. I would adopt any practical method, without being hide-bound by the dogmas either of Socialism or of laissez faire. I would go in for tariffs on imported luxury foods. I would certainly have a levy-subsidy on imported feeding stuffs, and would use the money for production grants at home. I have never been afraid of long-term contracts, and I am not afraid of them today. They have been useful in the past and can be as useful in the future.

Of one thing I am certain. There must be some direct limitation of imports of meat if our farmers are going to do what it asked of them. The unlimited import of every kind of food into this country from all over the world, accompanied by subsidies for the end product, can only lead to the ruin of the nation. As the representative of a great meat producing area, I have seen what unlimited imports of chilled meat from the Argentine can do to the farmers of Aberdeenshire. I remember the old days when the vested—or should I say Vestey—interests settled the prices each week in Smithfield Market, and sent my farmers down the drain. Those were the days of the wolves, and I do not want to see them back again.

I repeat that I believe we can save £100 million worth of food imports if we can only increase the right kind of production in this country. I further believe that agriculture should make a far greater contribution than it is at present doing to the solution of our balance of payments problem.

6.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

I am glad to say that I agree with a large part of the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby). Certainly we on this side of the House agree that this country cannot afford during the coming years to import foodstuffs on the scale that we have done in the last ten years. We also agree that our agricultural production must, therefore, be substantially increased.

Before agricultural production can be increased, however, surely we must first have complete understanding and cooperation between the Government on the one hand and the farmer and farmworker on the other. Accordingly, we must not consider the annual price review in isolation. We must look at it against the general pattern of agriculture and the needs of the countryside. We must remember also that this annual review is only one of a series of blows which the Government has during the last few months struck at the agricultural community.

Let us consider some of the actions of the Government and the effects of the Government's economic policy upon the rural community. When he spoke at the commencement of this debate the Minister said that it was important that the countryside should have its modern amenities. What is the position with regard to the provision of those amenities? What about rural electrification? What about the provision of proper rural roads, piped water supplies, rural housing and sanitation? We know perfectly well that the Autumn Budget and the overall percentage cut that was imposed by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Lord Privy Seal, called a halt almost to all those schemes. We know that there has been a substantial slowing down in rural electrification. We know that highway authorities are slowing down their schemes for rural roads, and we also know that the work of the river boards throughout the country is being seriously curtailed.

I should like to pay a tribute to the work that is being carried out by the river boards because I think their contribution to agricultural production during the last few years has been substantial. The Minister has been approached on several occasions about the implementation of the Report of the Heneage Committee. The Heneage Report was published about five years ago and the Minister has been asked several times what the Government intend to do about it. He has stood at the Box and has said that consultations are still going on. We have had no definite reply from him. We know perfectly well that if the Heneage Report, in part or in whole, were implemented by the Government it would in the long term mean a substantial increase in agricultural production.

Mr. Amory:

I have not only said that consultations are going on. I have said that unfortunately I have not yet succeeded in finding sufficient common ground to justify action. I am as sorry as anybody about that, but until I can get a fairly wide measure of agreement it would be a mistake to embark on quite so substantial a change.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

I agree that there are complications in this matter. We all know that there are difficulties; it is not an easy Report to implement, but at least the Government could say what are their intentions in the matter.

Far from implementing the decision of the Heneage Report, what the Government are now doing is curtailing the existing works of the river boards. Let me give an example from my own area, where the Gwynedd River Board operates throughout three counties. The situation, I understand, is that when present work has been completed two-thirds of the labour force will be discharged. That means that fifty experienced, hand-picked men who know this job of agricultural drainage well will be put off work, and that is in an area where there is already a high incidence of unemployment and where the drift from the land is most grave.

This river board has performed admirable work since it was formed a few years ago and undoubtedly has improved very many thousands of acres of land which were fast becoming valueless. Now, because of the Government's action, this beneficial work has to come to a standstill. In case there is any doubt about this, I will read from a copy of a letter which the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry sent to the river boards on 21st February this year: For your guidance I am to inform you that in the circumstances it is intended drastically to restrict capital expenditure on new land drainage works, except where immediate considerations of health, safety or other public interest render such a course impracticable. Except, therefore, in such cases, the Minister does not propose for the time being to approve formally any further schemes of drainage improvement, or loans to finance the execution of such improvement schemes. This discloses an extremely serious situation which will retard the expansion of agricultural production during the next few years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) referred to the credit squeeze. We should also consider the very high rate of interest at present levied on loans. As the House knows, this has the effect of putting many thousands of farmers, especially small farmers, and more particularly young farmers who have just started farming, in a strait-jacket. The luckier farmer will play safe and cease to exercise any initiative. The possibility is that he will slide back to the sort of "dog-and-stick" farming which we knew before the war. The unluckier farmer is already seeing the bankruptcy court looming ahead of him.

I want to ask the Minister two questions. First of all, does he know how many farmers have had to sell a substantial part of their stock in order to meet the demands of the banks following the Chancellor's message to bank managers a few months ago? At a time when the Minister was calling upon farmers for increased production, the Chancellor was forcing the small farmer to sell his stock. The two things are quite contradictory.

Secondly, how many farmers have had the machinery which they were buying on hire-purchase taken away from them because they could not keep up their payments? I know of several cases. The long-term effect of this will be that the adoption of new techniques and the purchase of new machinery, which the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire has agreed is so important, will be retarded in the next few years as a direct result of Government policy.

Mr. Amory:

It may be for the convenience of the hon. Member if I answer those two questions now. I have extremely little evidence indeed that the banks have pressed the credit squeeze to the point of forcing an otherwise creditworthy farmer to reduce his stock. On the contrary, the heads of the banks have assured me that that has not been and is not their policy. In support of that one can look at the total lendings from the banks. Last August, before the credit squeeze, the figure was an all-time record of £242 million. The last figure which I saw was the February figure, where there had been a reduction to £229 million—about 5 per cent. reduction. That is by no means excessive, as it covers all lendings to agriculture, including some of the long-term lending for improvements which the Chancellor wishes to see cut down.

Turning to the second question about machinery, it may well be that the hire-purchase restrictions and the credit squeeze art resulting in a restriction of the purchases of new machinery, but that is the kind of capital expenditure, falling on the engineering industries, which we want to restrict, temporarily, at present. It is one of those expenditures which is very desirable in the long term but which we wish to restrict in the short term. I think the credit squeeze is working exactly as was intended in that respect.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

The danger is that the industry will be equipped to a large extent with obsolescent machinery, and that is bound to have a bad effect on agricultural production.

Mr. Amory:

The purchase of agricultural machinery has been proceeding at a very rapid rate indeed. An O.E.E.C. Committee commented on this the other day, saying that we had so much agricultural machinery in use in this country, compared with any other country, that there was what seemed to them an excess of agricultural machinery. They thought we were not using it fully. I do not think that, temporarily, there will be any serious damage from a slight slowing down in the purchases of new machinery, provided that that restriction does not go on for too long.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

I know of the report to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but the point which I am making is that, during the next two or three years, the impact of Government policy in this sphere will be felt by the agricultural industry, and there is no doubt in my mind that it will result in a great deal of obsolescent machinery in the industry.

As for his reply about the banks, there is no doubt at all that all farmers who had overdrafts at the bank received letters from their bank managers telling them that their overdrafts were to be reduced by 10 per cent. at once and that this had a very serious effect upon small farmers and their sense of security and will to produce. I take a far more gloomy view of the situation than does the Minister.

I should like now to turn to the position in Wales. There is no need for me to remind the House that the position in the Principality is more serious than in the country as a whole. We know that agricultural production in Wales during the last year fell substantially and that this is causing very great concern. Rural depopulation continues unabated, and the Government have on more than one occasion accepted that the position in Wales is very serious. We have had a number of reports and inquiries. For example, in the White Paper on Rural Wales, published in 1953, the Government accepted that the position was extremely serious and said they would take action to ameliorate it. So far nothing has been done to remedy the position.

Recently, we have had the Mid-Wales Investigation Report, which no doubt the Minister has studied. He has also visited Wales once or twice recently, and I know that he is aware of the situation existing there. I hope that in due course we shall have an opportunity to debate the Mid-Wales Report, which disclosed an extremely serious position, especially in the uplands of Wales.

Grave as the situation is, I see no hope under the policies of the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends have talked a lot about a policy for Wales during the last few years, but so far they have done nothing constructive. I will tell them that Welsh farmers do not want Premium Bonds. They want the implementation of the 1947 Agriculture Act. I can tell the Government that the Welsh farmers are looking back to the years when the Labour Government were in power and when we had undoubtedly the finest Minister of Agriculture this country has ever had, in my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams).

In conclusion, I would say that the Annual Review itself has shocked the farmers of Wales; it certainly shocked the farmers in my county. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) mentioned in his opening speech, the Government's decision on eggs, milk and pigs will undoubtedly have serious results and be bound to bring about a decline in production. Is that what the right hon. Gentleman wants? He says that he does not want expansion in these three commodities. Does he want a decline? Because clearly that is what will happen. Producers of fatstock will be placed in a precarious position, especially the small farmers who market stock only occasionally, because the safety net of individual guaranteed prices has been removed by the Government in this Review.

Anglesey is far from the consumer areas and is primarily an exporting county of fatstock. The farmers who make their living by producing fatstock in that area will run into severe trouble as a result of this Review. All in all, I say that the future is very bleak for the farmers of this country.

I appeal to the Government to recast their policy. Let us have long-term guarantees and special borrowing facilities at reasonable terms, and let us have an urgent effort on the part of the Government to bring to the countryside the amenities which it so greatly needs. Without these advances, the state of our agricultural industry will deteriorate with disastrous results to our national economy.

7.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Hurd Mr Anthony Hurd , Newbury

After hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), I am indeed glad that I do not farm in Wales. It all sounds very gloomy. Of course the Opposition are fully entitled to make the most politically of farmers' doubts and difficulties.

There are doubts and difficulties inevitably as we move away from the rigid war economy, which in farming consisted so much in directions and Government buying—a type of siege economy which had to continue during the days of the Labour Government—into the freer economy in which we still want a high output of food but have to have more regard to the cost of producing food in this country.

We can no longer say to the farmer, "Produce every possible gallon of milk and bushel of grain and we, the Government, guarantee to buy all of it from you, even though the cost is high." We are moving into a freer economy. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) has said, "Perhaps too free an economy", and I am not sure that on some counts I do not agree with him. Anyway we have moved forward into this freer economy.

High output is still wanted but with more regard to cost, because part of that cost has to be met by the British taxpayer. In these new circumstances it is no wonder that 1956 has been the first year in which the National Farmers' Union leaders have not been able to persuade the Government of the day to provide just the prices and guarantees which would suit and please all farmers. That is not surprising.

I have the greatest admiration and respect for the leaders of the National Farmers' Union. Indeed, I was once a county chairman of the N.F.U. and I then served on its council in London. I do not think that any man could serve any industry better than Sir James Turner has served the farming industry. I have great admiration for his ability and that of his team, and I am sure that we feel the same about the farmers' leaders in Scotland and Northern Ireland. But this time the National Farmers' Union leaders have not been able to persuade the Government to give just those terms in the Price Review which they thought right and proper, so they have naturally enough told their county branches, "You have a go at your Tory M.P.s". That is quite right—that is democracy; but it can work both ways.

I am told that my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) met a gathering of 500 or more Cornish farmers, who came to "give him the works". But he started off with an address lasting no less than 55 minutes, in which he so powerfully marshalled all the facts that he had them quite stupified. So these contacts between Tory M.P.s and their farming constituents can work both ways.

Photo of Mr Frank Hayman Mr Frank Hayman , Falmouth and Camborne

Since the hon. Member has referred to the Bodmin constituency, may I ask if he is aware that at least one of the farmers' branches has said, "Get on or get out"?

Photo of Mr Anthony Hurd Mr Anthony Hurd , Newbury

That again is democracy. It would no doubt say the same about hon. Members opposite. My opinion is that the prices as determined by this year's Review are fair enough in total to the farmers and fair enough to the public, the taxpayers.

We need all the food that can be produced economically and I think that we shall get it. I was encouraged by the preliminary figures which my right hon. Friend gave about the March returns. Some farmers will be still harder pressed to make a decent living for themselves and to pay a decent wage to their men. But let us be frank about it. I cannot see that the British farmer can expect any better level of prices than now in relation to costs. That is my view, whatever the political complexion of the Government in office at the time.

We are still incurring a big subsidy bill, although not as big as it was. My right hon. Friend told us that it was £255 million this year. That is a reduction on previous years, and we want to see this commitment of the taxpayer progressively reduced. We must help the farmers and their families and the farm workers to earn a good living. We want as good a living for the man engaged in agriculture as for the skilled man in engineering or any other industry that happens to be protected by tariffs. I need not repeat the argument as to why agriculture has to have subsidies whereas most urban industries have tariffs, but the effective cover for the men employed in those industries, whether under subsidy rule or under tariff rule, must surely be equitable between the two. Otherwise we shall have agriculture continuing to lose key men who are vital to its efficiency and progress.

I agree with the National Farmers' Union when it says that a good many of its members who are small farmers will be hard pressed. These small farmers are vital to Britain and the values that count in our economic and social life. I am not one of those, although I am a big farmer myself, who wants to see everybody pressed into large-scale units of ten thousand acres or so, as on the collective farms in Russia or China. I am sure that that is not the answer for us.

Now for the problem of the small dairy farmer who is hard hit today and who will, I think, be hit still harder. I want to quote one set of figures which make this point for Berkshire from the agricultural economists at the University of Reading. These small dairy farms in the southern counties—average area 62 acres. keeping 15 cows—in order to produce £100 net farm output use resources which cost them £87 10s. as against the bigger dairy farms which use resources costing £74. The difference between £87 10s. and £74 is mainly in the use of labour and purchased feed for the cows. Feeding-stuffs have risen more than any other item in farmers' costs of production in the last eight years. They have risen by no less than 123 per cent.

Two-thirds of the labour employed on small dairy farms is family labour, but the farmer and his family have to live, as do other people, and it is right, in the Ministry's calculations, that their labour should be given at least the same value as that of a skilled cowman or any other skilled farm worker. It is no argument to say that on the small farms the labour is all family labour and that their labour does not matter. Full regard must be had to the fact that the small farmers and their families have to live, and that their costs of production are higher because the labour content is higher than on bigger farms. We must ascertain why they have to devote more of their family labour to achieving the same net farm output that the bigger farms do.

I want to interpolate a word about what was said by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells). My view is that the small farmer and farm worker are both adversely affected by the low basic level of earnings in agriculture that we have allowed to continue. I have referred to the small farmer whose time is reckoned in terms of the wages of cowmen and other skilled farm workers. I shall be happier when agriculture provides a basic wage of at least £7 a week in today's conditions. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see whether there is any action that he can properly take to bring the standard wage for agriculture nearer that of other industries employing skilled men.

How can we temper the chill wind of this freer economy to the small farmer, with his higher cost of production? Today his farm is barely providing a living for him and his family. He cannot stand any further paring of the guaranteed price for milk. It is not really practicable to talk about differential prices to be paid to the small man as against the big man. A system of that kind would not work satisfactorily in practice and could never be sustained.

I hope that the Government will continue to help the small farmer to make better use of his holding so that his costs of production move nearer those of the bigger farmer in this country and nearer those of the Dutch and the Danes. I believe that that can be done. In fact, it must be done.

I would urge the Government to extend the various improvement schemes, such as the hill farming, livestock rearing and marginal land schemes, to cover all farms where, in the opinion of county agricultural executive committees, improvements to the buildings and the equipment would be worth while in terms of reduced costs of production and would lead to the farms becoming stronger economic units. It would be a sound investment for the nation to extend the 50 per cent. grant given to upland farmers under the schemes which I have mentioned to the small dairy farmers in the vales, provided that the county agricultural executive committees considered that thereby costs of production on their farms would be reduced.

We ought to go further than that. We should tell the small farmers that not only would they get the 50 per cent. improvement grant but that the Government would arrange for credit for at least half of their share. We could have a revolving credit fund of, say, £50 million and the loans might be paid back over ten years. That would have a stimulating effect in bringing about desirable improvements to buildings and equipment on small farms, always with the object of reducing production costs. That is a matter of psychology as well as finance, and I believe much could be done in that way.

Moreover, we should give the small farmers every opportunity to learn how to make the fullest possible use of their grassland. Feeding stuffs are very costly today. We must try to bring about a revolution in the appreciation of these farmers of grassland management. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire said how much better the farmers of Holland use their grass than we do. What he says is true. If we can get that over to our small farmers, help them with their buildings and equipment, and help them to make better use of their summer grass for silage and hay, we shall have done much to solve one of the most urgent problems in the development on economic lines of our farming policy.

If, when given such help and guidance, the small farmer cannot succeed at the level of prices which is likely to rule whatever Government is in power, he will have to make way for another more enterprising man who can do so. There are large numbers of enterprising young farmers today who have confidence in the Government's agricultural policy and are only too ready to take over any farms that may become available.

We have the capacity in our agriculture to increase the output of food by at least the equivalent of £100 million a year. Finally, I would say that we on these benches recognise my right hon. Friend as one of the statesmen of our Parliamentary generation. Whatever may be said at N.F.U. branch meetings and elsewhere in the country, I am constantly impressed as I go around to learn of the reputation which the Minister has earned for himself among farmers, farm workers and land owners. One very rarely hears an unkind word about my right hon. Friend. The N.F.U. may disagree with him about the Price Review, but it respects his integrity, and that is a great thing for agriculture and the nation. That is why I deplore the terms of the Motion.

We used to try to keep agriculture out of party politics, especially when we had a Minister of Agriculture whom we could all respect. In this context I bracket with my right hon. Friend the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) whom we are very sorry not to have with us this evening. We might not always like the politics of the right hon. Member for Don Valley but we could respect him. We tried to keep agriculture out of party politics, and I regret that the Opposition have played up the doubts of small farmers and not held to that understanding.

7.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

I am sure we were all delighted to hear the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) question the economy. He said that he believed in a free economy, but there were moments when he thought that this economy was a little too free. The trouble at the moment is that the economy is too free with one of the most fundamental factors in the civilisation, life and prosperity of the country. Let me at this stage assure hon. Members opposite that I shall be as brief as possible, if I am not interrupted, so that as many as possible can take part in the debate. Therefore, if I am boring, at least I shall be briefly boring.

The House should direct its attention to the real subject under discussion. Let me first immediately dissociate myself from any bitterness towards the right hon. Gentleman opposite; but since he has decided to become a scion of the Front Bench opposite and its representative for agriculture he must take the raps, despite his kindness and benign look and the way he gives answers. I hope that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) will go with us into the Division Lobby tonight.

The Motion reads: That this House is of the opinion that the Annual Review and Determination of Guarantees, 1956, Command Paper No. 9721, together with the Government's continued failure to formulate a long-term plan for agriculture, undermines the confidence of the industry in its future— there is no doubt that the industry is worried about its future— fails to halt the decline in the numbers of skilled farm workers— the statistics prove that— and makes it impossible for the industry to assist the nation in its balance of payments problem to the full extent of which agriculture is capable. The last sentence is the most important in the whole of the indictment of the policy of the party opposite.

I am sure that we all agree with the constructive suggestions which were made by the hon. Member for Newbury towards getting the maximum of efficiency, and for investment and for some kind of credit policy for the small farmer. I vividly remember in March, 1955, sitting on the front bench below the Gangway when, after having been lucky in the Ballot, I was able to move a Motion about agriculture. It was the last time we had a debate on agriculture before the General Election. It may sound a little pompous, but I am very proud of the speech I then made, because it is as accurate now as it was then. I assured the small farmers in my constituency that we were very soon to have an election, and I said that all kinds of promises would be made to them.

The speeches which we have heard today from the party opposite have been an attempt to woo the small farmer. In my speech in March, 1955, I accused the party opposite of wooing the City of London rather than the small farmer and of playing off agriculture against high finance. That was one of the cries of British agriculture for 40 years from 1914. The war record of British agriculture was one of the finest in the world. I recommend hon. Members on both sides of the House to read Sir Keith Murray's verdict in "Agriculture," which was published as one of the civil histories of the Second World War. Hon. Members will see the magnificent effort which British agriculture made to save dollars and to lift our standard of life.

Sir Keith rightly gives the background of the two decades before 1939 when the cultivated area of grassland fell by two and a half million acres, rough grazings increased and livestock numbers rose to a high level, but were dependent on 8,750,000 tons of imported feeding stuffs, and on many farms, fences and hedges and everything else were going to rack and ruin. The nation suddenly discovered agriculture, and all parties were saying that we must galvanise and regenerate British agriculture.

It is as fundamentally important today as during the war, in order to save foreign currency, restore our balance of payments position and to keep our high standard of living, that we should keep a high standard of British agriculture. We may not agree about the methods to be used. British agriculture has no right to expect money to be poured into it if it does not show an efficient return. However, we must be fair.

Government policy from 1951 to 1956 has failed. The Government promised the British housewife—and they cannot get away from it and they will be doing it again on the eve of the next General Election—that there would be stable prices; their promise failed. Lower taxes were promised, as can be read in their election addresses; that promise failed. More investment was promised—I will not give the figures because I promised to be brief, but they are available—that promise has failed—as can be seen from the Economic Survey. They promised a large export of capital to sterling areas to revitalise the British standard of life; that promise has failed.

The party opposite is a party without priorities, a party with no idea of what it wants to do with two of the most important factors in British life today, power and food. There is no power policy and no agricultural policy. If hon. Members opposite think that they are the party of the bankers, they have only to read the speech of Mr. Tuke, chairman of Barclays Bank. His comment on the "Butler Budget" was to refer to it as "these two mangy mice." When the bankers begin to talk like that, there must be something wrong with the party of the bankers.

Hon. Members opposite are falling out not only with the bankers, but with the farmers as well. What does the National Farmers' Union think? The union criticised the Government's policy because of its lack of boldness. Without asking for a statement of production targets, it urged the Government to give a clearer indication of the production levels that could be achieved through more intensive use of resources. In the union's view, net output could be increased by approximately £100 million over the next few years. That could be done, the union believed, by replacing imported cereal feeds by additional home production; expanding beef production by at least 200,000 tons; expanding production of mutton and lamb; instituting a stable milk production policy which would go hand-in-hand with intensive efforts to develop the consumer market, and adopting a stable production and price policy for pigs and eggs.

Is it possible for us to have more sheep on our mountainsides? Some hon. Members are experts in this subject and might be able to tell me. I cannot argue about this too much, because I am not an expert. However, I have been to the hills of England, Scotland, and Wales, and I am told that more sheep could be kept on the mountainsides. Is it worth doing and, if it is, why is it not being encouraged? What progress with British sheep farming is being made?

As civilisation spreads deeper and deeper into the hill country, sheep farming in some parts of Britain will become completely hopeless because of dogs, and because of the nearness of the local population. As that process continues, we shall increasingly limit the parts of Britain where intensive sheep farming can be carried on.

That brings me to the third point of policy on sheep farming, and it links with forestry. Have the Government a real forestry problem? Are they really financing forestry shelter belts in the marginal and hill regions which would help hill farmers to protect their flocks in the winter periods? Is there real encouragement given here? So far as I can see, there is a need to encourage some type of shelter belt forestry side by side with sheep farming.

We have had many quotations—and we will take it for granted that they are true—saying that the National Farmers' Union feel that they have had a rough deal from the Government. I will not bore the House by giving quotations which might suit my political point of view. Let us face reality. There is something seriously wrong with the Government's policy towards agriculture. I am certain that I am right when I say that when, for the first time in history, the National Farmers' Union suggested that a Motion of censure should be moved, it was against this Government.

The Farmer and Stock Breeder said on 10th–11th January of this year that prosperity is now an illusion in British agriculture. Britain's trade gap, while it grows wider month by month, is being made wider by a lack of an agricultural policy on the part of the Government. The hon. Member for Newbury said that we need a finance and credit policy. Twenty years ago a tenant farmer needed to invest roughly £15 for each acre he possessed. The estimate is that today the tenant farmer must invest £60 for each acre. On both sides of the House there is common agreement now, and the Government should do something about it.

I come to the credit issue. On both sides of the House there is a belief that some form of credit, perhaps guarantees from the Government just as guarantees are made to exporters, should be given to the small farmer. Preliminary consideration has been given by the Economic Committee of the N.F.U. and by others to this problem, but our trouble in the hill farming districts is that from 1st January, 1956, the rate of interest for loans from the Agricultural Revolving Loan Fund was raised from 4 per cent. to 5 per cent. Recently it was pushed up again. Under the Mutual Aid (Machinery) section of the Revolving Loan Fund, the initial deposit, because of the Government's credit squeeze and hire-purchase regulations, has been raised to 50 per cent. of the cost of the machine, and the maximum period of payment fixed at two years. The very farmer on whom that burden falls is the small farmer in the hill regions.

I sincerely hope that the Minister of Agriculture will stand up to the Treasury. It is penny wise and pound foolish to limit this section of Britain's food production and not to give it the facilities for the most efficient development. There cannot be efficient development without the opportunity to mechanise, and many small farmers are now finding that suitable machines are being put on the market.

The net income of the farmer today is at its lowest point for five years. In agriculture alone, the trend is going down while production is going up. Those who accuse farmers of feather-bedding should remember that this is the only industry in Britain where the income graph is going down and the production graph is steadily moving up. The Price Review has upset the farmers this time. Producer costs have gone up, and the net normal income has fallen by £30 million. With the £ worth only about 14s. 10d. as compared with 20s. in 1950, the small farmer is suffering as a result of the Price Review.

When we talk about the drift from the land we often forget the statements made at the Dispatch Box and the Statutory Instruments approved by the House which may have an effect in this respect. By cutting subsidies for rural housing from £15 to £10 a house, have the Government affected rural life? Does that make the amenities of rural Britain less than those of the towns? In fact, does not it tend to increase the drift from the land?

I wish to mention two local issues. The National Coal Board has been carrying on opencast mining in many parts of the country. Last Sunday I drove many miles in my constituency to see opencast mining. For 300 years there has been a farm in the village of Dilhorne, near Cheadle, and the water supply never failed. Then there were opencast mining operations, and the water supply failed. A geologist is supposed to have reported that that failure had nothing to do with the opencast mining. That is a story which nobody really believes, but the tragedy is that the National Coal Board has been paying £60 a month to carry water to that farm to feed the beasts. The Coal Board stopped doing that four weeks ago, and nobody worries how the farmer is keeping going. The farmer is losing pounds every week and his farm is deteriorating.

We cannot find a key man in the Ministry of Agriculture, the N.C.B., or anywhere else who will accept responsibility for putting a water supply back to the farm; yet for years the Coal Board has spent £60 a month to transport water to the farm. I intend to make a fuss about this at the first opportunity. I warn the Minister that there will be a real row about it, because somebody should accept responsibility.

Secondly, I have a report about rural water supplies. Is the Minister of Agriculture fighting the Treasury to see that grants are made for rural water supplies. There are about 15 villages in my constituency, and I have here a report by the sanitary inspector on water supplies. Half the villages have none at all. Some people have to carry hundreds of gallons of water for miles to keep the farms going. How can we expect farming—how we can we talk of featherbed farming—when people like this have to spend hour after hour carrying water? I do not care where the phrase about featherbedding came from; all I say is that there is no feather-bed farming among the hill farmers of rural Britain where water supplies are lacking.

In a little village called Berkhamstych, there are 40 children, and there is no water supply at the school. Through the kindness of a dairy that supplies milk to the school, a churn of water is supplied every other day. Some of the children travel four or five miles to school and they have to eat their meals there. Is the credit squeeze to stop the intelligent distribution of water supplies to villages like that? These are matters where action should have been taken. Water supplies are necessary for efficient and maximum production.

Let us take this question of milk gallonage. I am not sure about it. Do we want gallonage or quality? Is it not true to say that we must be careful about this? In England and Wales the average yield is 650 gallons per cow. The pre-war figure was 540 gallons. Are we always sure when we are pushing up the gallonage that it would not be better to concentrate on quality? Would it not be better to make the payment on quality rather than on gallonage?

One of the greatest fantasias of British agriculture was the "pig-and-whistle" policy of the Minister over pig produc tion. It was whimsical, capricious, grotesque, fickle and extravagant. In 1947 the pig population was about 11 million. By 1954 we had pushed it up to 6 million, and then suddenly the bottom fell out of the market; the Government said, "We do not want pigs any more." We cannot call that a longterm policy for agriculture—it only lasted for two years. That is not a long-term policy.

Who is accepting responsibility for a policy which led the small-scale pig producer up the garden path? Is it this kind, benign Minister? Is it the men behind him? Is it the 1922 Committee? Or is it the people in the Conservative Party Central Office who turn out foolish pamphlets at the General Election? In any case, that is not the way to mess about with British agriculture. It is not a long-term policy. It cost £60 million in subsidies to reach peak production, and then, suddenly, we find that the policy is completely wrong.

It is estimated that in England we are losing £135 a minute through vermin. We did very well with the rabbit, but I understand that the ravages of rats and mice cost British agriculture somewhere in the neighbourhood of £65 million a year in waste. That amounts to £135 a minute for last year. If we made the same sort of attack on that kind of vermin as was carried out on the rabbit we could show very much better production figures than are now revealed.

A number of hon. Gentlemen opposite praised the small farmer and agreed that the small farmer has been neglected. They said that credit is needed by the small farmer. Having heard their speeches, I suggest that when we proceed to a Division they should either abstain from voting or come into the Lobby with hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. Surely, if this Government stay in office for another two years, we shall find that British agriculture has reverted to its pre-war condition.

7.43 p.m.

Photo of Wing Commander Sir Robert Grant-Ferris Wing Commander Sir Robert Grant-Ferris , Nantwich

Nothing that I have heard in the speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite has in the least affected my decision to support the Government Amendment. I wish to add my word to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) about the way in which my right hon. Friend is regarded and the esteem in which he is held in the country. Wherever he goes my right hon. Friend seems to create a spirit of approachability and understanding which it would be hard for anyone to emulate.

But the greatest of Ministers can sometimes make mistakes, and I believe that in this Price Review the Ministry has indeed made a very important mistake in detail. While I support the overall figure in the Review, I wish to protest most strongly against the cut of 2d. in the price of wool. The Government have gone against the principles of the 1947 Act and the new agreement which they have negotiated with the National Farmers' Union and the Wool Board. In that agreement the prices of the Review were supposed to be related to production and market trends. Note the difference between promise and performance.

Last year a special Review price of £53,000 was granted to wool producers to meet increased costs. That money did not come out of the Treasury. It was in fact money belonging to the wool producers. The Government allowed it to be allotted to the producers, and having done that, the Government, in this Review, have done a most anomalous thing. They have taken 2d. off the price of wool and yet they say they want to see more sheep in the country generally.

The Government say that the price of wool should follow market trends, but they certainly do not seem to stand by that. The price of British wool is buoyant. The price of wool in Australia and New Zealand is not as good, and the market there is not as good, as in this country. This Review did not fix the wool guarantee in the light of factors relevant to the 1947 Act. Nor, as I say, does it follow market trends. It would seem to add insult to injury, when we find stated in the White Paper on this Price Review …taking one year with another, the it guarantee should not require continuing Exchequer payments. In this context the question of Exchequer payments does not arise at all. There have never been Exchequer payments. Since the Wool Board was set up the money which producers have had has been entirely their own money, due to the fact that there were very heavy sales and a heavy market in 1950–51.

While undoubtedly there should be some increase in the price of mutton, I submit that it should not be at the expense of wool. The National Sheep Breeders' Association, with which I am intimately connected, has sent resolutions to my right hon. Friend and to the National Farmers' Union expressing this view in the strongest possible terms.

Let us see what happened in the past when this mistake was made before. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will remember that in the spring of 1947 we had a very cold spell. They will remember, because it was the time when the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was said to have "let the fires out." In that spring a great disaster overtook the sheep population of this country, and in his very proper anxiety to restore their numbers, the then Minister of Agriculture put a subsidy on the price of mutton.

That had a result which was exactly opposite of that hoped for and expected by the Minister. What happened will always happen in such circumstances. In the autumn, the farmers hit all the young ewes on the head and cashed in. Therefore a revival in the sheep population, which was what the Government had hoped for, did not take place; or at least it did not take place until a long time afterwards. That is exactly the situation which I consider may well arise this autumn as a result of adding 2d. to the price of mutton and taking it off the price of wool.

In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), I would say that there is an abundance of room in this country for a larger stock of sheep, especially in the hills. We can have a larger stock of sheep if we give the proper incentives to the flock masters who breed the sheep. The flock masters will not breed these sheep unless it is made worth their while to do so. A premium on mutton is a premium on death; a premium on wool is a premium on life. If the Government want to increase the sheep population they should seriously consider looking after wool and regarding it as much more important than mutton.

In 1951, the sheep population was 19·9 million. In 1954, thanks to stable prices for wool. it had risen to 22·9 million. If that is to continue it is only right that wool should receive priority of treatment. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to allay the well-founded suspicion which some wool producers have that the Government are not living up to their promises to support their product under the 1947 Act and the new agreement with the Wool Board.

7.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

The hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) has criticised the Government in very strong terms. In effect, he said that the Government's Price Review had failed to fulfil the promises given to the wool producers. I have great sympathy with the hon. Member, because I represent a constituency in Cumberland which has a special interest in the wool industry. I certainly agree with his remarks, and I hope that he will receive an answer this evening.

It is no good the hon. Member pleading with us not to criticise the Minister because he is a pleasant fellow. That is a strange doctrine in politics. I remember sitting behind a Minister who was regarded as a very agreeable person—I refer to the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who was Minister of Agriculture for a very long period. Not only was he a pleasant fellow, but he pursued a pleasant policy. That is what matters. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) suggested that we were playing politics, and also that we should not criticise the Minister of Agriculture because, as the hon. Member for Nantwich said, he was a pleasant fellow. Whatever may be the personality of the Minister of Agriculture, what matters is the policy pursued by the Government. That is something for which the Cabinet itself must take responsibility.

That is why we are quite pleased to move this Motion of censure today. It is the first one I can remember upon the subject of agriculture since I first became a Member in 1945. We have moved the Motion for certain reasons, many of which have been advanced by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Newbury gave a perfect answer to the Minister of Agriculture, who had suggested that the Price Review and his policy have not affected the small farmer. The hon. Member for Newbury, who is a specialist in agriculture—and whom we considerably respect—himself proved by argument and fact that the small dairy farmer had indeed suffered a setback. He proved by statistics and research figures from the Reading University that the small dairy farmer was facing great difficulties at present.

It is no good the Minister suggesting that all is well with the small farmer. Make no mistake about it—the Price Review has hit him. One has only to read the farming journals and the farmers' Press to realise that. I have many quotations here. I will not read them all, but the Farmer and Stock Breeder for April of this year carries on one of its main pages the main heading: The Small Man Lost. Price Review Blow Could Spell Bankruptcy For Many a Struggling Family. This type of report has been repeated all over the country, and time and time again in this debate. That is why there has been a formation of opinion against the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) quoted specific cases of various National Farmers' Union meetings in England, Wales and Scotland. Many hon. Members opposite can testify to these facts. The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) had a very stormy meeting with his farmers. I do not go so far as to suggest that they regarded him as Public Enemy No. 1; I think that he is a very agreeable person—

Photo of Mr Robert Crouch Mr Robert Crouch , North Dorset

I have the advantage over the hon. Member in that I was present at the meeting and he was not. I have no objection whatever to what the Press may have said about the meeting, but the person who made the attack upon me has been in the industry only for two or three years, and the other gentleman who followed him—Mr. Ensor—is a retired City of London solicitor, who has worked in the City for the whole of his life and is not an experienced agriculturist.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I suggest that the National Farmers' Union meeting which he addressed criticised him very strongly.

Photo of Mr Robert Crouch Mr Robert Crouch , North Dorset

I do not dispute that.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

That is what I said. The hon. Member may have a dispute with one of his constituents. I do not want to get involved in that brawl. I merely suggest that the hon. Member faced a very stormy Farmers' Union meeting. Not only that, but one of his colleagues got into very considerable hot water because he refused to meet them. This pattern has been repeated all over the country.

This criticism of Government policy was expressed before the Price Review came out. I would remind hon. Members of the resolution passed at the last annual conference of the National Farmers' Union. The actual wording of the resolution was as follows: That this annual general meeting urges the Government, with the co-operation of the industry, to evolve and declare a long-term agricultural policy framed so as to restore stability in the industry, inspire confidence in the future of British agriculture, place the industry in a comparable position to that of other sections of industry as respects income trends and enable it to make still greater contribution towards the solution of the country's balance of payments problem. I thought that that was a reasonable resolution.

The wording of that resolution implies a fundamental criticism of the lack of policy of Her Majesty's Government. I am certain that that is the view held throughout the country. The simple fact is that Her Majesty's Government have no long-term policy.

The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) strongly criticised the Government today. He put forward certain positive and constructive ideas, but he did not realise that many of them were contained in the policy of the party on this side of the House.. Many of my hon. Friends have made similar criticisms of the Government, and similar suggestions, over and over again. I only wish the hon. Member were in his place. I do not know why he remains in the Tory Party. He is too intelligent a person, and has certainly a more sensible approach to agricultural matters than his party in general.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Rugby

The Warwickshire County National Farmers' Union actually passed a resolution censuring the Minister and asking that he should give up his office to allow the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) to become the next Minister of Agriculture.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

That is no doubt a matter which the Government and back benchers will consider in due course. I hope hon. Members opposite will read the report of the debate on the Price Review which took place in another place. We are prevented here by custom from quoting from speeches in another place, but speaker after speaker—former responsible Members and leaders of the Tory Party—criticised the Government because of its failure to produce a long-term policy. I do recommend to hon. Members opposite who have not read that report in HANSARD of 11th April, 1956, that they should study and consider the criticisms made there by many of their leaders.

There has been a failure to produce a policy. This has been admitted.

Photo of Mr Robert Crouch Mr Robert Crouch , North Dorset

Can the hon. Member tell us what his party's long-term policy is?

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I am prepared to do that, and I will certainly do it. I do not want to take up too much time, but I can deal with that quite shortly. When a Labour Government was in power from 1945 to 1951—

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

—we gave the agricultural industry the main Agriculture Act of 1947. We laid down a system of assured markets and guaranteed prices. We initiated a major production drive which was successful and secured a much greater increase in agricultural production each year than has been achieved by the present Government. We gave the farm workers the Agricultural Wages Act, 1948, which put their wages on a national basis. We gave the hill farming community the Hill Farming Act, 1946. We gave the farming community the main subsidy administration schemes which are now praised by the Government. We gave farmers ploughing grants, the calf rearing subsidy scheme, and the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. I am proud of what the Labour Government did from 1945 to 1951, and I should have thought that was a very good long-term policy.

We say today that this Government have reversed that policy. The Government are destroying the confidence in the industry which my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley, as Minister of Agriculture, created by his policy. I am prepared to go on and give other details, but I think the hon. Gentleman himself, the hon. Member for Dorset, North, will agree when he examines what has been done now that at least we made a positive approach which enabled agriculture to make a very major contribution in that difficult period when we were, as we still are, confronted with a balance of payments problem.

I should like to quote from the Farmer and Stock Breeder of the 3rd–4th April, words of the responsible Minister concerned with Scottish agriculture when he was speaking to the annual general meeting of the Scottish National Farmers' Union. He was questioned about the long term policy of the Government, and he said, It was, however, being given earnest and urgent study". In other words, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland admitted that they had no long term policy, but, as he put it, the matter was being given urgent study. We have heard that before.

The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), who has been listening to this agricultural debate today, himself has pleaded time and time again that the Government should do something. I was hoping he would make his plea today for another Royal Commission. I remember in July of last year he pleaded for a Royal Commission composed not just of farmers but of people connected with industry, competent business men, who, as he put it, were capable of deciding from evidence submitted to them the right policy for agriculture. He went on to say: I hope the day will come when we shall take steps to put agriculture where it rightly belongs; to regard it as the most important industry in this country instead of the lowest form of life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 1778–79.] Those words he used, and the policy he wishes to advocate, form an indictment of the lack of policy pursued by hon. Gentlemen opposite.

I have always argued that the rate of argicultural production over the last five years has not been sufficient. Today the Minister was very pleased with himself when mentioning, in advance, some of the details of the March returns. Even if we accept these returns today—and we have not had time to study the details—the Minister admits that production is only 55 per cent. above the pre-war level. The optimism of the Government is revealed by these returns which show a figure of 155 which, after all, is only the production figure reached in the years 1953–54. As I myself said when questioning the Minister when he announced his detailed programme for the Price Review, it represents a rate of increase of only 1 per cent. over the last five years. I do not regard that as sufficient.

The Minister's predecessor, who was dismissed from the Government, himself announced in a White Paper in 1952 an objective which was later confirmed by question and answer in this House. The Minister's predecessor said that by this year this Government would achieve an increase in production of 60 per cent. above the pre-war figure. That objective has not been reached. That in itself is a criticism of the Government. That is really the criticism which responsible members of the farming community lay against the Government. They say the Government destroyed the momentum, that the rate of increase is not sufficient, that the target or objective put forward by the Minister's predecessor in 1952 has not been achieved.

It is no good the Minister coming to the House today and taking pride in the fact that his Government has increased production to a figure of 155; it is the figure for two years ago, and considerably less than the target put forward by the Government in 1952.

I argued then that we needed leadership in agriculture, that the Minister himself should consider the setting of individual crop targets in individual areas. It would not mean control, as the Minister suggests today. It would mean leadership, leadership which must filter down to the local committees and to the farmer at local level. Despite the pleasant appearance of the Minister, that leadership is not forthcoming, and it is not forthcoming because the Government have no long term policy. They have dithered here and there on specific items of policy. I can give examples.

In order to achieve an increase in production, as mentioned by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire, we certainly need much greater drive. That drive will have to come by many different means. First of all, we need improved capital facilities within the industry. It has been said time and time again today how unfortunate it is that we have seen in the industry a decline in capital investment. Figures were given by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), quoting from the Economic Survey, to show how fixed capital investment in agriculture has declined since this Government came into power. I believe there is a great opportunity to reverse that trend, which will in the end affect long term production. At the same time, we must have increased efficiency within the industry.

I am glad that the White Paper stresses increased efficiency. The need to reduce costs is mentioned, but what is being done? A specific promise has been made by the Government, and I want the Parliamentary Secretary to give me a specific reply. His Government promised that in order to improve livestock production they would introduce a series of institutes for the testing of pig progeny. Where are these progeny testing stations? I have here a quotation from the White Paper of 1954 which dealt with the Price Review, and said: In order to assist producers in improving the quality of their stock…the Government are considering proposals for the introduction of a pig-recording scheme and for the extension of the arrangements for progeny testing at present conducted by the National Pig Breeders Association". What has happened? In January last year a Parliamentary Secretary promised something in this direction. I quote his words: we are also making good progress with the scheme… for establishing five stations in Great Britain for the progeny testing of boars, at a capital cost of about £400,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 26th January, 1955; Vol. 190, c. 789.] What has been done in this direction? Have five institutions been built? After all, Parliament allocated finances for them. I have here the Estimates for those years showing that Parliament approved money for that purpose. Let me take the figures for pigs, in connection with the progeny testing stations. The details of the Civil Estimates for 1955–56 are that in 1955–56 there was an allocation of £145,000, representing an increase of £144,990 on the previous year. In the Civil Estimates for 1956–57 we have the figure of £170,000. Nevertheless, for 1955–56 we have an allocation of only £31,500, although in the previous year the figure was actually £145,000. Why was the money not spent?

Why have the Government misled pig breeders and farmers on this issue? Why have they misled the House of Commons? Ministers have made statements and have produced policies. That is true not only for pig progeny testing stations but for poultry. That shows precisely what is happening. We are not only making a general indictment of Government policy but attacking their failure to produce much more than they have already done. They have failed to give the farmer the tools to do the job. The Government have failed to improve breeding facilities for livestock production. I hope that the Government will be able to answer some of these questions.

I want the Minister to deal with the wider aspects of the National Advisory Service and, of course, agricultural education. In the White Paper on Technical Education there is, in page 5, paragraph 10, actually a special chapter on the improvement of technical efficiency within the agricultural industry. The Minister there promised that the Government would increase agricultural courses and also the number of students in agricultural institutes and colleges. I wish to know from the Parliamentary Secretary what is happening in this matter.

In Cumberland we have already suffered a cut in this direction. It is only from specific cases we can find out when a policy affects the country as a whole. We have a very fine agricultural institute run by a joint agricultural education committee of Cumberland and Westmorland. For years we have run a very successful horticultural course. What has happened this year? The Ministry has withdrawn support. I am glad that Cumberland and Westmorland are protesting against this action, and I hope that the Minister will look into the matter and will reconsider his decision.

Surely it should be our policy to extend educational facilities for the farming community. Cumberland caters for horticulture and for the farm student. Opportunities have been curtailed and its students forced to go elsewhere into neighbouring counties. It is contrary to the spirit of the policy foreshadowed and put forward in the Government's White Paper on Technical Education. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will answer these questions.

I come back to the main point which has been stressed by many hon. Members, the drift from the land. We have raised this matter over and over again. I remember when the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire used to criticise the Labour Government on this very point. I remember his speech on the post-war Budget of 1946, when he said that the drift of Labour from the two basic industries, fuel and coal, had had serious results for the nation. He criticised the Labour Government for not providing a financial policy to remedy that position.

What does he say today? He does not agree with our Motion or with the Government's Amendment, but he will support the Government because he believes in the Government's Budget. That is a strange doctrine.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

He was not even sure of that.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

That is so. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire was critical of the Labour Government. It is vital that we should arrest this trend. We can argue in detail the reasons. The previous Chancellor of the Exchequer and a previous Minister of Agriculture were not quite certain whether it was mechanisation or the competition of industry in the towns. It may be a combination of both. I suspect that the low wage rate is one of the main factors. We must give the rural worker not only the amenities of the town worker but give his wife the same purchasing power. This matter will have to be discussed by responsible bodies outside this Chamber.

There is a drift from the land, which reflects the pessimism which exists. If we attack the small farmer and destroy his confidence, we also undermine the confidence of the rural worker and we create an adverse climate of opinion. Hon. Members who seek to defend the Government policy must admit that in the last four years there has been great uncertainty in the agricultural world. The hon. Member for Dorset, North shakes his head. He speaks for his farmers, and he must surely know that many of the farmers are worried and concerned. They are afraid that the return of what has been termed by Conservative statesmen the "freer economy" will mean that they will have a repetition of their experience in the 'twenties and 'thirties. It is no good the hon. Member for Dorset, North shaking his head again -that is no answer to an argument. He must realise that there is in the world today a great accumulation of farm surpluses and dairy products, particularly in the United States. Farmers remember that the disposal of farm surpluses on the market in 1929 by American producers partly created the economic crisis of 1931; partly created an economic crisis which shook not only the industrial but the rural communities.

That is why farmers are very concerned about this, and about the failure of this Government to produce a positive long-term policy. That is why they use such strong language time and time again, and why they are critical of a Government which has depressed farm incomes. That is the paradox that farm producers have faced; that whilst production has gone up, farm incomes in that same period have decreased, and whilst farmers have been exhorted to produce more there has been a decrease in the rate of capital investment within the industry itself.

That is precisely why there is uncertainty in the industry and why it is no good the Minister being suave and polite and trying to dismiss criticism as being something which has been engineered by extravagant Labour politicians. The uncertainty, the uneasiness, exists in the countryside. The Minister knows it and so do hon. Members opposite. That is why, as I said earlier, some Tory leaders in another place were very critical of the Minister and of the Price Review.

We, on this side, believe in a positive approach to agriculture. We believe that it should have high priority—that it should certainly have priority over defence and exports, because it is, after all, one of the main industries which will contribute to our serious balance of payments problem. I go further. Agriculture is a way of life, and a nation that neglects its soil does so at its peril. That is why we indict the Government, and why we are proud to go into the Lobby, critical of a Government that has failed—believing, as we do, not in the negative approach but in a long-term policy based on the principles of the Act which we passed in 1947.

8.23 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Crouch Mr Robert Crouch , North Dorset

I have listened with interest to the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). I will admit, as I said in an interruption, that I did have criticism to meet at a meeting which was called by the National Farmers' Union in my constituency, but it should be pointed out that those who made the most noise were those who have come into the industry during the last three or four years. I was in the rather privileged position of being the senior branch chairman in my constituency present at that meeting.

The hon. Member for Workington first made mention of milk, and of the great hardship that will be caused to milk producers as a result of their not getting the extra ½d. per gallon that they wanted. On the figures—and I am using the hon. Member's figures—of average production of milk per cow in this country, the result of not getting that ½d. will be that the farmers will not receive an extra 30s. per cow during the coming year.

Is any one seriously suggesting that the loss of 30s.—or rather, not the loss, but the fact that they will not have an extra 30s. a cow—will affect the producers, when the average value—and I am speaking in terms of gross figures in each case—of milk produced by a cow is from £120 to £160 per head. And when we take the high-yielding cow, which both large and small farmers are proud to have—the 2,000-gallon cow which returns £320 a year—is that 30s. likely to make any difference? I think that it is wrong when hon. Members opposite, or my own Union, of which I am proud to be a member, suggest that the lack of that 30s. will seriously affect the producers' standard of living during the next twelve months.

The hon. Member then laid great stress on the ploughing-up grant, the fertiliser subsidy and the subsidy for rearing calves, but failed to add that the Government of which he was a member allowed those to lapse, and that we had to wait until my right hon. Friend's predecessor—the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), who was the first Minister of Agriculture in this Government—reintroduced legislation to bring back those grants and subsidies—and the hill farming subsidy as well.

Photo of Mr Robert Crouch Mr Robert Crouch , North Dorset

It is all very well for the hon. Member to say "Oh, no". We had to backdate the calf subsidy. It was made retrospective for two years. If I have made a wrong statement I appeal to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to correct me when he speaks

I was pleased that the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), to whom we always listen with very great interest—and I am sorry that he is not present—was concerned about the number of sheep we have, and how the numbers have declined. He said that there had not been a rapid increase. I have dealt with this subject before. The fact that we still have fewer sheep than we had before the war is due to the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley, who for two years—it was not entirely his fault but was the policy of his Government in 1945—deliberately depressed the prices of wool, mutton and lamb.

In 1947, I admit, the price was rapidly increased, but it was not sufficient. Had there been an increase proportionate to that of other commodities in the price of wool, mutton and lamb in 1945 we should not be as short of sheep as we are today. I hope that we shall see the full restoration of the number of sheep in this country because, had that policy been followed which was followed after the First World War we should now have had about 31 million sheep.

Photo of Mr Frank Hayman Mr Frank Hayman , Falmouth and Camborne

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the very severe frost and snow which we had in the early part of 1947, which decimated the sheep population?

Photo of Mr Robert Crouch Mr Robert Crouch , North Dorset

Yes, but the policy of which I am speaking should have started in 1945. If the hon. Gentleman will look back to see what happened in 1919, after the great sacrifice was made of sheep, for two reasons which I will not go into now, and will remember what was done by the then Minister of Agriculture, he will realise that if the step I have referred to had been taken in 1945, we should have been in a much better position in 1947. This matter goes back much further than 1947; it goes back to 1945. The price was deliberately depressed throughout the whole of the war, but immediately the war was over, encouragement should have been given for sheep production.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned pigs. I will reply to what he said. The hon. Gentleman suggested that great losses were sustained on pigs two years ago. In the case of pigs sold in the auctions—and it is no use denying this—the price was made good by my right hon. Friend through the subsidy which he gave. The hon. Member for Leek, followed that up by mentioning a £60 million subsidy. This was to make good the deficiency. Those farmers who were wise enough to continue selling their pigs to bacon factories suffered none of the losses which the hon. Gentleman suggested.

I was pleased to see during the weekend the announcement that my right hon. Friend is to meet the Presidents of the three National Farmers' Unions to discuss perhaps a better system of arriving at the Annual Price Review.

Photo of Mr Robert Crouch Mr Robert Crouch , North Dorset

The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut-Colonel Lipton) says "Too late", but we are carrying out the 1947 Act. We are, however, going forward to deal with the future, and when I asked the hon. Member for Workington what was the long-term policy of his party, he was unable to state it.

I suggest to my right hon. Friend that what the farmers of this country really want—and I have arrived at this conclusion as a result of meeting so many of them—is an assurance from the Government that during the next ten years there is no fear whatever of the present Minister or his successor allowing the free importation of food—" opening our ports," as was suggested by the Liberal Party—and letting anything in at any price. That would be the long-term policy which our farmers are now looking for.

I want to make two suggestions; the first is in regard to small farmers. The small farmer works harder than the majority of people in this country, and he often gets very little for it. He does it because he likes working hard, like Members of Parliament. My suggestion is that three-quarters of our buildings and fixed equipment should be pulled down and replaced. Most of it is useless and out-of-date.

I should like to see the Minister introduce legislation offering grants of 50 per cent. towards the cost of replacement of old and derelict farm buildings, the loans to be repaid in 20 years and issued at a very low rate of interest. If he did that, I believe he would give great encouragement to small farmers. I would also suggest that this offer should not be made to the large owner-occupiers, and that it should not apply to farms above 100 acres. If these people were able to get new and modern equipment, I believe that they could quite easily compete with some of their larger neighbours, who can afford to lay out the money on this equipment themselves.

Here is my last suggestion. It has been my fortune during the last weekend to travel from Dorset to Yorkshire and back again, and I was very impressed while making that journey when looking at fields that had received fertilisers as compared with those which had had no treatment at all. I know that it is too late now to do the proper job and apply the lime, potash and other fertilisers that are needed, but I suggest to the small farmers that they should immediately purchase £10 worth of nitrogenous fertiliser and put it on two acres of land, giving it a good dressing. [HON. MEMBERS: "They cannot afford it."] They can afford it, because any fertiliser merchant would give a farmer credit for £10 worth of fertiliser, because he would know that it would give an adequate return. I believe that if we apply much more fertiliser to our land we can solve many of our difficulties.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why his own local farmers described him as "Public Enemy No. 1"?

Photo of Mr Robert Crouch Mr Robert Crouch , North Dorset

It was not a local farmer. It was not a constituent of mine. It was Admiral Talbot, who keeps a few pigs and knows as much about farming as the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton does.

8.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I wondered for a long time when the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) was going to address himself either to the Motion or to the Amendment. For the greater part of his speech I was convinced that he thought that everything in the farming world was wonderful and that all these misguided people who heckled him were wrong. Then at the end of his speech he started to lecture the small farmer on something that I thought was elementary. He advised the small farmer to give his land a dressing of nitrogenous fertiliser.

The hon. Gentleman then told us that what the Government ought to do, and had not been doing, was to give the small farmers a grant of 50 per cent. I could not quite understand what he was talking about. He said there should be a grant of 50 per cent. of the cost of replacing old buildings, and then he said that there should be a loan at a small rate of interest. I gather that he wanted, first, a grant of 50 per cent., and then a loan of the other 50 per cent.

Photo of Mr Robert Crouch Mr Robert Crouch , North Dorset

Let me make the point clear. I suggested a loan of 50 per cent. of the cost of replacing buildings at a low rate of interest.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join us in the Lobby tonight. That is one of the things that the Government will not do anything about. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not intervene in the Minister's speech on the subject of the effect of the credit squeeze on the small farmer. If the credit squeeze were not affecting the small farmer, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not be making that point with such emphasis. Indeed, it was the only real point that he made.

We are criticising the Government for their failure to formulate a long-term plan. Since they came into power we have been asking for this long-term plan, and we have been put off. They seem to have the impression that no such plan is really needed and that the only thing that is required is for a Conservative Minister to sit on the Front Bench and confidence will spread around the whole farming industry.

Look at what we get today in the Government's latest White Paper. Listen to what they think will happen in future years: The Government expect"— not "The Government know" or "The Government are assured"— that with the assurance of continuing support the industry will be able to maintain a sound position in the national economy with diminishing calls on the Exchequer in future years. That is all they expect. They go on to refer to the question of the long-term plan. After four or five years of demands from these benches for a long-term plan, they think it would be a good thing, and so they are going to meet one or two people to see whether or not it can be worked out.

That is fundamental to the farming industry. Does the hon. Member for Dorset, North think that any small farmer who is badly off will embark upon an investment of the kind that he mentioned if the farmer has no confidence at all in his own long-term existence? There is no doubt that the cold and calculating speech that we heard from the Minister today spells doom for the countless small farmers in the country. It was an invitation to bankruptcy.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

It is not nonsense. The Minister said that he was going to encourage economic production in agriculture and a return to market prices. The marginal producers could not live without the assistance that they are getting from the Treasury.

If that is the Government's policy it will be a bad prospect for the small farmers of Wales, for the upland farmers, for the marginal farmers and for the crofters in Scotland elsewhere. I speak as a representative of a farming community, for Ayrshire is one of the main milk-producing areas of Scotland, and the Kilmarnock area is particularly fortunate in that respect. It is a mixed area; not all farmers are farming the lush acres. On the borders of Lanarkshire, around Loudon Hill, we find the farmer who is the last to get electricity, the last to get a water supply, the last to get a telephone, but the first to get a knock from this Government.

The position in milk production is pretty serious. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Nairn) will also appreciate this. I had the good fortune and pleasure to be asked, with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), to speak to the farmers of Ayrshire. They also invited the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire and the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). I was interested to note from a report in the Press a request from hon. Members that the meeting should be divided into two—Conservatives first, Labour second. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The reason was that we had had a joint meeting with the teachers previously—a very enjoyable meeting, at which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire spoke first and I had the advantage of speaking last; and I do not think the Conservative Members wanted to repeat that performance.

In that meeting with the farmers the position was made perfectly plain to us. The hon. Member for Dorset, North referred to the ½d. per gallon, but the fact is that from 1st October this year—and I hope the Minister will note the point—as a consequence of the loss of the remaining 1d. a gallon attestation bonus, milk will be produced at 1⅓d. per gallon less than in 1953. The return to the milk producers per gallon will be 1¾d. less in 1956 than in 1953.

Let us consider the changes since 1953. All dairy supplies have risen in price, feeding stuffs have risen in price—a month ago they went up by another 10s. a ton. The cost of labour has gone up by 26 per cent. But the Government now say, "We do not want so much milk and we can give you only an extra ½d. a gallon; and even with that ½d. you will be producing for less than in 1953." Can hon. Members wonder that farmers are concerned? This Government and the last Government asked the farmers for increased production. Now the Government say, "Reduce your costs."

The way to reduce costs is to increase production per cow or per acre; the cost per unit is reduced by increasing production. The logical conclusion is that the high-cost producers will go out of the industry. It is no use asking the small farmer to switch to meat production. That is costly, and there is a gap when no income is coming in at all. The small farmer cannot do it. That is why I say that the Government's policy is an invitation to bankruptcy for the smaller farmers and that there is little wonder that they are concerned.

The farmers in my area fear that the next attack will be on the standard quantity. Is it in the Minister's mind that the full guaranteed prices will be paid only for a much reduced quantity? If that is to happen, then I warn the Minister of Agriculture that there may be difficulties on the question of marketing.

It is fantastic to ask farmers to produce less milk when they see, in answer to a Question, the Minister of Education telling us that in one part of England the children cannot be supplied with fresh milk and are being supplied with tablets. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied, because he has made this part of the basis of his determination in relation to milk, that we have reached the limit of the market for fresh milk consumption in this country? I am perfectly sure that we have not. I hope that we shall be given some indication that the Milk Marketing Boards, which I think were reasonably critical when they said that putting a ½d. on does not cover the increased cost of production, are doing everything they can to increase the consumption of liquid milk in this country.

I think that the Minister today did agriculture a considerable dis-service when he said that it could look forward to stability and that there would be no further cuts. Every farmer in the country knows that the cuts were already made. They were made at the Price Review. The Minister tells us that last year was a gloriously prosperous year—the peak of production, but does he also remember that he told us that the farmers' net income is £292½ million.

Mr. Amory:

The actual income is £299½ million.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I am not talking of the actual income.

Mr. Amory:

The hon. Gentleman said that the income was—

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The net income was estimated at £292½ million for 1955–56. That is what I said.

Mr. Amory:

That is on the normal weather basis. That is not what the income was.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I wish that the Minister would keep quiet for a minute and let me finish my sentence. Surely what is relevant is whether the figure with which I am going to compare it has been drawn on the same basis. The Annual Review states: When adjusted for normal weather conditions, the net income is estimated at £292½ million for 1955–56. The comparable figure for the year before was £320½ million, so that the 1955–56 figure represented a reduction in income of £28½ million in a year which was a great prosperous peak.

That is the price of prosperity to the farmer. That is the gratitude; that is the payment; the right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways when talking about what the farmers have done. Unless we get these adequate guarantees for the future there can be no confidence in the industry. It has been slipping away since 1953, and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows that that is what Scottish farmers feel. They made this criticism to him, and he tried to justify the Government's attitude. Let him look at the whole catalogue of all the changes which have taken place in almost every single item, with the exception of sugar beet. There has been no assurance given to the farmers in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales as to what will happen next year.

In every single item except sugar beet, there has been a change every year and many of these changes have reflected major changes in policy. It is not good enough for the Government to bring forward an Amendment and to say, as they do, "There is confidence in the Government". The Minister said that his blood did not run cold. Most of the farmers of the country are not at all convinced that he has any blood at all.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the practical farmers understood the settlement and approved it. They are only the diehard Tory farmers, and there are very few of them left. The fact is, of course, that on this industry depends not only the prosperity of those who remain in it, but also of those engaged in the allied industries that have grown up in country towns—the small industries manufacturing agricultural implements. The prosperity of the farming industry has made a tremendous difference throughout the whole country. I live in a county town and I represent a large town in that county. It reflects the prosperity of the farmers and not least that of the small farmers. They have not all been feather-bedded. Many of them have had to work hard to get a reasonable living out of the land.

In six years we have lost 124,000 workers from the land. That is not an achievement of which we should boast. We cannot go on losing 20,000 workers a year. Hitherto we have been able to overcome that loss by what we have been able to spend on mechanisation, and so forth, but there is a limit to that.

Photo of Mr Edwin Gooch Mr Edwin Gooch , North Norfolk

Last year 32,000 left the land.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

My hon. Friend corrects the figure which I gave.

As I was saying, there is a limit to mechanisation, etc., and unless we can maintain efficiency and keep the workers on the land by paying them reasonable wages and giving them fair conditions, then this confidence which we have seen undermined will continue to be undermined.

A considerable contribution could be made to this problem of the balance of payments, but it will not be done by this Government in this way. The farmers in Ayrshire are very perturbed indeed and hon. Members opposite should be equally perturbed. I will read to the House what one of the leading farmers in Scotland said about the Government. He said: since the General Election, when the Conservative Party were restored to power with a substantial majority, farmers' apprehensions have steadily mounted.…Without the help of agriculture there is at least one M.P. within the county"— and it was not I who had a majority of 130— and several others, in Parliament who would not have been sitting in Westminster today, and I think it would be better for all of us if they realised now that they won't be there again unless they are going to assert themselves in the defence of their constituents engaged in an industry whose economic position will undoubtedly influence the economy of the country generally,… The Minister said that if the Price Review was made tomorrow the result would be the same. Let us hark back to the last Price Review. If there was a General Election next month the Price Review would have been very different.

8.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Hill Mr John Hill , South Norfolk

Most of the points that I might have made have already been dealt with from one side of the House or the other. I cannot follow the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) into many of his strictures, because I am afraid that he has mainly contributed to what seems to me, in my very short experience, as being the annual shudder debate following the Annual Price Review.

Many of the opposition's arguments put forward today echo those put forward in a very similar debate last year. The only difference between the debate last year and this debate is that there was a General Election shortly after last year's debate at which the policy of the Opposition was rejected. It seems to me as a farmer—and I apologise for saying this—that in any year we are much more affected by the weather than by politicians, whatever their policies may be. The really big difference between the years 1954–57 and 1945–51 is that the world has moved from conditions of scarcity and near-famine into abundance. That makes a tremendous difference to agricultural policy, not only in this country but the world over.

If there is one basic rule which the Price Review observes it is that one must not call into production food which no one is willing and ready to eat. That is the problem of the agricultural surplus. America is full of wheat and butter, and France is full of wine. They are relatively self-sufficient countries, whereas we automatically use up precious raw materials and labour in most of our agricultural production, much of which, fuel for tractors, fertilisers for the land, and other requisites, have to come in from abroad. Therefore, we do not contribute towards the solution of our balance of payments problem unless we grow food which is wanted.

The hint in the Price Review that I welcomed most was that the Minister will be ascertaining whether means can be found for longer-term assurances. I think it will be very difficult to do this because of the fact that the consumers—that means all of us at our tables—are having a say in deciding what sort of meat and other food they want. It is difficult to project forward the taste of the market. Nonetheless, it is well worth attempting if only for one reason, that we may remove the annual excitement in the period leading up to the Price Review and the anxieties and criticisms after it. Perhaps this might reduce the area of what I would describe as agricultural politics and leave the farming industry with more energy and time to devote toy some of the main technical tasks which have been mentioned, such as lowering unit costs of production and improving sales.

One of the brightest signs during the past two years has been the emergence of a voluntary Fatstock Marketing Corporation. It is two years old today. I congratulate it upon its second birthday. It started with a capital of £3,000, and in its first ten months of trading it had a turnover of £100 million. There is a chance which we can take to provide, voluntarily, from within the industry, a relatively stable means of marketing. I think it possible that a development of the F.M.C. principle may strengthen the producing, selling and grading power of the industry. It may lead to the solution of some of the difficult administrative matters, such as the detailed method of implementing the fatstock guarantees. That is certainly causing my constituents who raise bullocks a good deal of worry because they are not all great mathematicians. It may well be that within the ambit of the F.M.C. a solution for the problem of evening out the guarantee payments can be worked out. That remains to be seen.

Reference has already been made to the need to reduce costs. I believe there is great scope for improving the fixed equipment on many of our small farms and making them more workable. I mentioned that when I first spoke in this House, and subsequent experience has confirmed me in my view. I am delighted that the Minister hinted that we may make a move towards that very desirable end.

8.59 p.m.

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

I am bound to agree straight away with something that has been said on the other side of the House. We wish the Fatstock Marketing Corporation many happy returns of the day. I am sure the Government do, too. By their policy, the Government have created chaos in fatstock marketing, and it is only the Corporation which has prevented the difficulties in which the Government would otherwise have found themselves.

Certainly it has been worth while to have a debate on a great industry. In the course of the debate, we have had two maiden speeches from the Government side which have matched the scope of the debate and the magnitude of the problems facing the country. I join with my hon. Friends in congratulating those maiden speakers on their speeches. It was noteworthy that both supported the Motion, because the hon. and gallant Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) said that the Price Review had undoubtedly hit the small farmer, which is part of our case, and the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott) said that something should be done about the capital for the industry, that in fact the industry was being starved of essential capital. He went on to make suggestions to which I hope the Minister will give some thought when he comes to consider the debate.

I join with the Minister in regretting the absence of the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). If he were here, he would regret the fact that the Government are departing from some of those things which he did to put agriculture on its feet and he would be supporting the Motion of censure. I regret his absence for more than one reason. Had he been here, he would undoubtedly have opened the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) would have wound up and I should have sat in comfort all day listening instead of sweating blood over the weekend and worrying about Nine o'clock.

In his reference to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, who made a first-class case against the Government, the Minister spoke of the bagpipes and said that my hon. Friend had been guilty of playing a lament. I can only say that the Minister's speech sounded not like a great musical instrument—whether we like it or not—but a penny whistle in the dark. He seemed to be trying to keep up his spirits, and in this connection I am referring to all five speeches.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

And at considerable length.

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

Certainly, it seemed to me that he was so unsure of his policy that he had to interject in every speech delivered from this side of the House, and at considerable length. That is why I call them speeches.

We have to judge this annual agriculture Review and the Government policy in the light of the country's main problem, the balance of payments. The present position clearly demands the maximum production immediately obtainable from our limited natural resources, of which the land is so important a part. There is something else. We have to use to the full the present in the preparation for increased production from all of them in the future. Judged by that criterion the Government failed lamentably both in the Budget and in the annual review, which is part of the Government policy.

What of the present position in agriculture? It is a fact that by dint of great effort and sacrifice of only one Minister of Agriculture the Government have managed to put up agriculture output to an estimated 155 for the year 1955–56, taking pre-war as 100. I agree with those who have said today that this 155 as against the 100 of pre-war is undoubtedly an example which many other industries could very well follow. It certainly is something of which the industry might well be proud, but the Government cannot be so proud of this for, in the three years for which they can boast of being responsible, output has gone up from 153 to 155—two-thirds of one point a year. If anyone wants a comparison on this, I would point out that under my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley there was an increase of 29 points in six years, nearly five points a year and over seven times as great an increase a year as the present Government have managed to achieve.

How does this come about from a Government of a party which boasts of being the party of the countryside? The Minister's speech seemed to me to be very much like the Ministers' speeches which I have heard from that side of the House at the last four Reviews, claiming that there is behind them the country and the agricultural industry as a whole and pointing to certain things in the Review which they claim are excellent for the industry. The simple fact is that that they have failed to produce from this industry what the nation requires if it is to face up to this great problem which I posed at the start of my speech.

They have failed to halt the tragic loss of skilled workers from the land. What we as a nation must remember is that most of these skilled workers go into unskilled jobs in industry and as a result there is a considerable loss to the nation of a high degree of skill. During the period 1952–1955 no fewer than 44,000 regular male workers left the land. Why did they leave? It was partly, as has been rightly said by some of my hon. Friends, because of the lack of amenities in the countryside, but I believe that the main fact is the simple one that wages are not high enough to keep them on the land in face of the pull of the urban areas.

The differential between town and country workers in 1951 was 41s. 5d., to the benefit of the industrial worker. Today, under the present Government, that has stretched to 65s. 4d. Is it any wonder in these conditions that people are leaving the land for jobs which are less valuable to the country than those which they could very well do on the land? It must be remembered that the £6 15s. a week which is their basic wage today is of less value than the £4 10s. of 1947, so the agricultural worker, like the farmer, is seeing his standards declining under the Tory Government. This is something which the Government ought to be seriously tackling, remembering that lack of confidence in the industry helps to cause these skilled workers to leave the land.

We charge the Government and say that the main ingredients lacking in the industry today are confidence in the future and capital for essential development. It is no use for the Minister to pretend that there has been no loss of confidence. The main purpose of the Government Amendment would seem to be to ask the Tory back benchers to assure the Government about something which all of them in touch with agricul tural constituents know to be quite untrue. There is a loss of confidence among members of the industry in the future of the industry, and certainly they have no confidence in the Government's policy.

To a lesser extent that lack of confidence was apparent last year. Only the intervention of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer avoided a vote of no confidence in the Government by the N.F.U. Today the position is so much worse that even the Lord Privy Seal, with all his charm, could not "pull the chestnuts out of the fire." The right hon. Gentleman could not get away with it, and certainly the present Chancellor of the Exchequer could not do so. He would not have what I believe he would call a "cat in hell's chance"—not even at the annual dinner of the N.F.U. where I believe that strengthened perry and cider will be provided. Of course, the expression I just used was that once used by the Chancellor, and it has become a classic vulgarism.

Before putting this Amendment on the Order Paper the Minister should have been at pains to consult his hon. Friends and ascertain their experiences in their constituencies. We have heard of the experience of the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch). But the Minister should have asked the rest of them to tell him of their experiences in the last few days. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the queues of Tory M.P.s at the Ministry waiting for briefs of what they are to say to their constituents during the weekend. There has been a hurried scratching round for non-existing arguments with which to arm these hon. Gentlemen before they go off to farmers' meetings. They come back to this House on Monday morning looking completely exhausted by their efforts.

In my opinion, the Government should not put their supporters in that position. Apparently, only the Government believe that confidence still exists in the future of the industry. Surely, the most important group who should have confidence in the future of the industry and in the policy of the Government is the farmers themselves. Nothing else really matters in this connection. If the confidence of the farmers can be secured, the future of the industry is assured. But there is no confidence among farmers in the future of the industry and certainly not in the policy of the Government.

Why do I say that? One must go by the statements of people who represent the industry, the members of the N.F.U. They have said so plainly in a statement which reads: Clearly the momentum of expansion has shown a considerable slowing down, partly as a result of the difficulty of financing production in a period of cost inflation and partly as a result of the uncertainties about the future created in farmers' minds by the transition from controlled to freer markets. Those are the words of the union representing farmers, whose job it is to know what the farmers are feeling and to convey their thoughts to us, and certainly to the responsible Minister. It is certainly true that the Government are responsible for the capital difficulties and market uncertainties.

Much has been said today about the small farmer being unable to feel any confidence in his future. I hope that we all agree that the small farmer is of tremendous importance. Three-fifths of the total holdings are under 50 acres, and if we can believe or half believe the statements which are made, three-fifths of the farmers are in a condition of uncertainty today. They are afraid of their future; indeed, they are afraid that there may be a return to the inter-war conditions, in which bankruptcies hit this industry harder than any other single industry.

Why is the small farmer so hardly hit by this Price Review? It is because the Government have placed all their bias against wool, milk, pigs and eggs, all of which are of tremendous importance to the small farmer. I was specially glad to hear the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) bringing home forcefully to the Government the effect that the wool prices would have upon the rearing of sheep. He certainly left the Minister in no uncertainty as to what his policy will produce in this connection.

If I have a special fault to find with this Review it is that it will keep the big man riding in his Bentley but will tip the small man out of his Ford Popular. The big man will get through very well indeed, but the small man will be hit—and this under a Government which have told us repeatedly that they exist for the small man; that they are where they are in order to look after the small shopkeeper, and desire to bring about a property-owning democracy—by which they mean a democracy of small men.

The Price Review will hit the small man hard. I agree with those who, here and elsewhere, have said that there should be a greater degree of co-operation between the small men in the use of capital equipment. I know some of the difficulties. I have had some experience, and my experience and that of many others has always been that the other fellow has the piece of equipment when I want to use it myself. That is a fairly common sort of experience, but this difficulty has been overcome in such countries as the Netherlands and Denmark. In those countries what capital equipment is available is being used to the full, to the advantage of the nation.

We cannot continue to afford a system in which we have an average yield per cow which is 150 gallons below the average in Denmark and 200 gallons below the average in the Netherlands. Too many of our farmers—small and big—are struggling along on 500-galloners, and it is not good enough. If, as the Government appear to indicate, we do not want more milk; we do not want so many eggs, or so many pig products, and the Government are asking farmers to switch to something else-which is the point of the Price Review-the small farmer must be given the capital to enable him to make the switch. It is no good telling him to do that if nothing is done to give him the capital to enable him to make the switch, to fat stock or something else.

Despite anything which the right hon. Gentleman has said, the fact is that the credit squeeze is hitting this industry very hard indeed. The rise in the Bank Rate is in itself a serious deterrent to all small men; and, of course, immediately you cut this sort of assistance off, you hit the small man very much harder than the big man who has greater resources. It is no unrelated happening that bank advances have fallen from £242·8 million in August, 1955, to £234·1 million in November, 1955, falling again by February of this year down to £229·1 million.

All this is happening at a time when this industry seriously needs new capital. There are far too many good men in the industry trying to achieve maximum production with out-of-date equipment; and particularly I would say this applies to fixed capital, buildings and the like. In the matter of buildings, there is a need for a vast investment of capital, and any such capital expenditure is unlikely to take place unless some steps are taken about it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Devizes made a plea for capital for the industry, and he mentioned this as one of its purposes. The fact is that the gross fixed investment in the industry is not keeping pace with the needs of the industry; and we must remember that this industry is one which has been starved of such capital investment over the past 100 years.

When hon. Gentlemen who are now in Government were in Opposition, they produced a pamphlet called "The Right Road for Britain" which, when dealing with agriculture, said: Guaranteed prices and markets will give the farmers the confidence to go ahead with plans for full production—but the Government must see that these plans are not hampered by lack of finance or of farm machinery, or by antiquated buildings. The party put it very well in that pamphlet. But what have the Government done about putting into operation these aims stated in the pamphlet? Certain it is that they have discouraged investment at a time when higher investment is necessary if we are to achieve higher agricultural productivity.

The small man, about whom I am particularly concerned in this connection, is not going to be particularly attracted by livestock production when he sees the price of fat cattle falling from 180s.–190s. per live cwt. last year to 120s.–130s. this year. Any protection that he might have been afforded by the individual price guarantee has been removed by this Annual Review. If there is any group at all in farming in need of a really guaranteed price and not one which fluctuates every market day, it is the small farmer; but he is not going to give up his regular weekly milk cheque for the uncertainties of the fatstock market. We cannot expect him to. It is no good the Government exhorting him to do it. We know that he will not do it.

What does this so-called freedom of marketing amount to about which the Government boast? When I asked the right hon. Gentleman about the fall in fatstock prices last year and whether it had been reflected in retail prices, he replied: There has been some levelling out. When the wholesale price went up to its peak about a year ago, retail prices did not reflect entirely the whole of that rise. Now there has been some fall in wholesale prices, but the level of retail prices has not entirely reflected it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd April, 1956; Vol. 551, c. 1435.] From the peak of 1955 to the lowest point of 1956 there was a fall of about 27 per cent. in producers' market prices. This has certainly not been reflected in prices to the consumer.

Last year, £48 million went in subsidy on pigs. How does the Minister explain that although pigs were sold at as low as 11d. a lb dead-weight, bacon and pork remained expensive? It certainly ought to be explained in this House, and the consumer ought to be told about it. The fact is that the producer loses while the consumer does not benefit. The taxpayer bears half of the brunt of the fall in the market prices, and only the middleman is better off. It is said that we always turn our attack on the middleman, but it is absolutely essential that we should do so in this connection. We are interested in the producer at one end and the consumer at the other. Too much money is being paid out by the taxpayer which seems to go to the middleman and to neither the consumer or producer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton challenged the Government to tell us where the money goes. Up to now we have had no satisfactory answer. Certainly the Minister did not give us a satisfactory answer. There are other points and unfortunately we cannot cover them all. There is the potato muddle and the pig mess, if I can use that term, which is not a very happy choice of words. There is undoubtedly a muddle in both connections. The Government have not yet satisfactorily explained their actions.

Tillage acreage is down by one million acres since the farming year 1952–53, with serious consequences in the stepping up of the import of feedingstuffs. Recently, at Dunmow, the Lord Privy Seal spoke of the saving of £400 million in foreign currency by British agriculture; it has dropped by between £100 million and £200 million because of the Government's promise to enable further imports of feedingstuffs to that extent. What are the Government doing about this situa tion and about the import of feeding-stuffs? It is time they took drastic action, because this is using valuable foreign currency for feedingstuffs which we ought to be producing at home.

This year's Annual Review shows the failure by the Government to match up to the challenge of our time and to use to the full our natural advantages of climate, the high level quality of the soil of this land and the technical skill which resides in most, although not all, of our farmers. It is only by exploiting to the full these advantages and the other natural resources that we have that we can hope to keep alive in this island 50 million people at a rising standard of living.

It is because the Government have failed to ensure a reasonable continuance in the rise in the rate of production of this industry; destroyed the industry's stability and confidence; permitted prices to rise against the consumer whilst producers' standards have declined; failed to secure a much-needed flow of capital towards agriculture and done nothing to stop the flow of skilled workers from the land—it is because of all these things that they have brought this Motion of censure on their heads today.

9.31 p.m.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

May I also express my regret that tonight we do not have with us the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams)? The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) has, however, given us a winding-up speech due to his right hon. Friend's absence, and I think that the House can congratulate itself on having heard such a good one.

We have indeed had an interesting debate, even if it has not quite reached the heat that Motions of censure are expected to reach, but those who usually take part in our agricultural debates have done so again today and from both sides of the House we have had some admirable contributions. In particular, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott), who gave us a first-class maiden speech. I can assure him that my right hon. Friend and I will pay very careful attention to his suggestions about addi tional credit facilities, but I must warn him now that his scheme is not without difficulties.

To my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor), I should also like to extend my warm congratulations on his most moving representation of the difficulties of the small farmer in Northern Ireland. I agree with him that the small farmers throughout the country, and in particular in Northern Ireland, are the salt of the earth, and we certainly want to do all we can to help them. I know that there are particular difficulties in Northern Ireland—the remoteness of markets and the necessity for part of their produce to be sold over here do make exceptional difficulties—and my right hon. Friend and I were particularly glad to have the representations of my hon. and gallant Friend and his hon. Friends after the Annual Review so that we are fully seized of just what the problem is. As a result, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, we were able to do something to help the Northern Ireland Government to increase their headage payments, and we are now very closely considering what improved arrangements we can make for the future to deal with the difficulties of Northern Ireland.

As I have said, we have had during the debate a number of interesting speeches, and I should like to take up one or two points on which I was specifically questioned. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) was particularly concerned about the future of the pig progeny testing stations. The start on them has been delayed. As in all these things, many different interests and parties have to be brought into consultation, and there is also the difficulty of obtaining sites. Sites have now been acquired, as sites for poultry progeny testing stations have also been acquired, and we confidently expect that they will be in operation next year. The project has taken longer than we expected, but there is no doubt that it will be fulfilled.

Turning to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) about wool prices, I must remind him that the terms of the contract between the Wool Board and the Government follow exactly the principles laid down in the White Paper, and that, normally, the guaranteed price for wool, taking one year with another, should follow the market price. I had some hand in those discussions, and I am quite certain that the representatives of the farmers on the other side, that is, the National Farmers' Union and the Wool Board were fully aware of that implication. Indeed, the whole financial structure of that contract does depend on that condition.

Therefore, it can come as no surprise that the wool price should have moved down slightly this year to follow to some extent—and it is still above—the current market price, but my hon. Friend will have noticed that we have put up the prices of lamb and mutton by 2d. per lb. As the meat represents about five-sixths of the total receipts on sheep, and wool represents only one-sixth, I think he will credit us with having done the sheep producers well. There is, indeed, great scope, as I would say to the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), for a further increase in sheep production. We have had a steady increase over the last few years. I have had the figures extracted, and I find that they confirm that whereas in 1951 the figure was 19·9 million, in 1955 it was 22·95 million. These figures are still some four million below the pre-war figure. There is considerable scope today for further increases, and we certainly want to see those further increased achieved.

Unfortunately, I was not in the House to hear the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), but my right hon. Friend told me that he made a thought-provoking and moderate speech. I can only suppose that he saw his great future lying ahead of him. I believe that he had some comments to make about the limitation of imports. I know that he is interested in the export of some things, particularly kippers, but I can assure him that if we start imposing physical limitations on imports, except for balance of payments reasons, we shall soon find considerable difficulty in selling our exports.

The important fact about the importation of feedingstuffs is that they are imported today by private merchants simply and solely to meet the demands of livestock feeders in this country. Nobody is going to import grains or any other kind of feedingstuffs here, except to be consumed on the farms of livestock feeders to fill the gap between what we produce ourselves and our total needs, and not one pound more than that will be imported.

Turning to the speech of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East, I should like to make a comment on his observations about production figures. I think he will agree that that is an old argument which we have had on a number of occasions. If the hon. Gentleman will look at Table B in the current White Paper on the Price Review, he will see set out the indices of production from 1945 to 1955. I think he will find that the figures certainly do not confirm his assertion that production was going up by five points a year during the period of the Labour Government and by only two-thirds of one point per year during our term of office. In fact, I think he will find that production was going up by three points a year during the period when his party was in power, and has been going up by two points a year during our term of office.

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

Is the Parliamentary Secretary taking credit for the year 1952? If so, it is a quite wrong reading of the agricultural year.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I do not wish to weary the House with this argument, which it has heard on many occasions before, but the Price Review year, as the hon. Gentleman knows, ends at the end of May. Therefore, we will split the difference and perhaps it will make the figure a fraction different. In any event, I think the hon. Gentleman will find his figures a little over the top of the target.

The hon. Gentleman made a big point about our Price Review settlement this year, and he went on to chide us about the credit squeeze. As has already been said earlier, there is no general evidence that farmers are suffering from a lack of credit at present. There is the reduction of some £13 million or £14 million from £242 million on the total bank overdrafts, but that is a marginal decrease, and the general evidence that we have is that the credit is there for those who are creditworthy.

I feel that I do not have to add a great deal to what my right hon. Friend has already said about the Price Review. The leaders of the farmers' unions did not dissent from the total award and, there fore, as my right hon. Friend said, had the allocation been according to their liking we can assume that they would have agreed about the settlement. Therefore, the total award of £25 million seems to be, at any rate, not far from what would be called a just award.

The question that I want to put to hon. Members opposite is this. Would the Opposition, had they formed a Government, have given more than that amount of £25 million? I hear no reply. I assume that they would not. I think it is important to have that on the record. Not only the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East but many of his hon. Friends have had fun at our expense today by reading out the resolutions from the National Farmers' Union county branches and apparently identifying themselves with those sentiments, but we find that when they come to the point they would not propose to add anything to the award.

Turning to the subject on which the farmers mostly criticised us—that is the milk settlement—my right hon. Friend explained at length our difficulty about milk at the present time when production is increasing steadily year by year. Over the last five or six years there has been an increase of about 9 per cent., and that is continuing and is likely to continue into the future. Consumption, although it has increased marginally, is not increasing by anything like enough to take up production. Therefore, we have to warn farmers once again of the necessity for those who can, and those who are marginally employed in milk production, to switch their production to some other forms of livestock.

Before I ask hon. Members opposite whether they would increase the price of milk this year, I would remind them of what was said in 1951 in the last Price Review that they made. On the subject of milk they said: Having regard to the estimated requirements for liquid consumption and manufacture and to the heavy cost in subsidy, there should be a damping down of the present rate of expansion. Production for 1954–55 should not materially exceed that of 1950–51. In fact, it has gone up 9 per cent. My right hon. Friend reminds me that it has actually gone up by 10 per cent.

In the light of that very wise assertion, would the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East and his hon. Friends have increased the price of milk more than we have done this year, and, if so, by how much? I hear no reply. I assume that they would not. Those who have identified themselves with these resolutions from the county N.F.Us. must go back this weekend to their constituencies and explain that, much as they sympathise, they are very sorry but they would not be able to increase the price of milk either.

In the few minutes that remain I want to say something about the small farmer. Running through all the speeches in this debate, there has been a very genuine concern about the position of the small farmer. We all realise that the small farmer is a most valuable person in our economy, not only for the food which he produces but for his civic virtues. He forms a class of the community which is hard working, independent and stable, and all Governments throughout history have been concerned to encourage that class of the community, with its roots in the soil, which can be relied upon to give stability to the rest of the community. Indeed, we are proud of our traditions of the yeomen of England.

We have been trying to get out a few figures which might help the House to appreciate what this problem is, and we have adopted a definition of what the small farmer might be said to be. We have defined him as a full-time farmer who is farming between 15 and 100 acres, not engaged in horticulture and not employing any regular labour. I do not suggest for an instant that that is a precise or exhaustive definition. There will be full-time farmers farming less than 15 acres who are getting a living out of it and others farming more than 100 acres who are not employing anyone, but it is a broad definition for us to consider.

There are about 125,000 of these men in the industry, and a very large proportion of them in Northern Ireland. That is, about two-fifths of our total number of full-time farmers are to be found in this group of small farmers. Between them they farm about one-seventh of the acreage and produce rather more than one-seventh of the gross output but rather less than one-seventh of the net output. Their average income in 1954–55, the year from which we took the material, was between £500 and £600 a year. Hon. Members may think that is not very much, but it is enough and rather more than the higher paid farm workers in the skilled range of stockmen, for instance, who average between about £400 and £500 a year.

The point that I want to make to the House is the very wide range in this group which gives an average of £500 to £600 a year. It varies from one extreme of considerable losses of several hundred pounds a year to the other extreme of incomes running up into the thousands. There is a picture which gives no uniformity whatever, and does not suggest why one man is doing well and another is not. This wide range is confirmed when we look at the individual costs of commodities. From the last full survey we see that milk costs vary from 1s. 4d. a gallon to 3s. a gallon. When we consider that the total subsidy today on milk is under 3d. a gallon, we can see what a small part the subsidy is in the great range which determines whether or not there is profitability on the farm.

Egg costs vary from 3s. a dozen to 4s. a dozen, and pig costs from 30s. per score to 50s. per score. It is quite evident that the amounts about which we talk, and possibly fight, in Prices Review—1d. a gallon on milk, 1d. a dozen on eggs and 1s. a score on pigs—are insignificant against the other factors which determine whether or not there is profitability on the small farm.

When we look at individual farmers—and of course we all know many of these people—we find that the soil of their farms varies, the climate varies, the nature of the land varies, the buildings vary and, of course, the farmers themselves vary. The farmer varies from the skilful, industrious man who is continually working all the hours which God gives him to the man who takes things pretty easily. He varies from the man who is hard-working and thrifty to the man who is extravagant and never saves anything.

The sort of factors which are significant in this huge range of costings are those such as disease in livestock, whether there is fertility trouble or not, whether there is trouble with the crops, whether there are pests in the crops. Those are the sort of problems which determine whether or not a man will make a profit on his farm. In addition, there is the whole business of good management—whether there is good management of the farm. The point that I want to make clear to the House is that these really are the factors which determine whether these men are getting a good living or not.

It may be asked what we are doing TO help these small farmers, with all this huge range of problems which have such immense significance, in what they do on their farms? We have done a very great deal. These are things which are not in the field of conflict between us in party politics. They are the things that go on from one Government to another and from decade to decade—research services, agricultural education services, agricultural advisory services. We are constantly developing and we are greatly helped in the counties, in the actual applications to the farms, by the county agricultural committees and the devoted service given year in and year out by the men and women who inspire, lead and support our advisory services.

In many counties today—the hon. Member for Workington was inquiring about this—there are farm institutes which are there to give agricultural education to young people starting farming on their own account or starting as farm workers. On the question raised by the hon. Gentleman about horticultural courses, I must remind him that the numbers have fallen to only four in the horticultural course to which he referred. I do not know whether horticulture has only a limited application in Cumberland, but perhaps the hon. Member for Workington will consult his hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) about growing strawberries on Ben Nevis.

In the main these farm institutes are doing a very good job. We are finding fresh means of supplying advice, not only in the technical sphere but in the sphere of management as well, to help small farmers by means of pilot farms, etc.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should follow the argument of the hon. Member for Wednesbury on Cumberland, and that horticulture should not be developed? After all, West Cumberland has a very good horticultural industry. There are many market gardeners. Surely the hon. Gentleman is not going to be unsympathetic.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I am not being unsympathetic to the hon. Gentleman. I am pointing out that the demand in Cumberland is very small, and that therefore it is wiser, when the minimum course which is of useful size is for about twenty, for the few students there to go to one of the other farm institutes, and for these places to be used for general agricultural students, for which they would be much more useful.

We have also developed a considerable system of production grants. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), in his opening speech, castigated us for restoring the ploughing grants which, in his opinion, are wasted because he thinks that they go to the big farmer, who does the job anyway. In the years that I have been at the Ministry, my belief has been confirmed, rather than the reverse, that these production grants make a strong appeal to the small man, and that he should receive so much an acre for ploughed ground, so much a calf for rearing calves and so much a ton for using fertiliser. That makes a strong appeal, and has helped him particularly to follow the kind of husbandry which we are trying to encourage him to follow and which will be in his own interest.

I would say that the richest land—the Fenlands and other similar parts of England—I cannot speak with such authority for Scotland—does not go into grass rotations and so very rarely earns the ploughing subsidy at all. In any event, I have tried to make the point that we have increased the production grants from £31 million in 1951 to £64 million this year, and they are playing a very big part in helping the small farmer deal with this big range of problems.

We can roundly say that this is a comprehensive range of technical and financial aid to farmers both large and small.

Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Keighley

What about potatoes?

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I am afraid that I cannot give way now. I say to the hon. Gentleman that we have had many interchanges in the House on the subject of potatoes in recent weeks. I have not counted the number of Parliamentary Questions on potatoes, but I cannot help but feel that hon. and right hon. Members opposite must be pretty fully seized of all the information about them.

In the five minutes that remain to me I think it would be more appropriate to answer the general debate rather than to deal with the problem of potatoes. The point I am making to the House—

Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Keighley

What about potatoes?

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

—is that our policy is to urge the farmers, both large and small, along the technical path of progress. We are helping them today with our advisory and technical services, with our production grants and with the security of the price guarantees which cover the whole range of Price Review commodities.

Some hon. Members have represented today the many complaints which they have heard from the counties about low prices. The average farmer is at least as concerned to be less dependent on Government support as he is with prices. The tradition of our farmers is to be independent people, and they are deeply concerned that at present they are so dependent on Government subsidies. Therefore, any weakening of the Government's general policy and intention of urging the farmers along the path of increased technical efficiency and lower unit cost would be to defeat our whole policy, and, indeed, to play false with the farmers who wish to be less rather than more dependent on Government subsidies.

This year we have done what we have done in the interest of the farmers and with our minds on the principle that our object is not only to keep production rising, as indeed it is, but also to preserve the independent spirit of this very admirable class of the community. The figures from the March returns this year given by my right hon. Friend show a rising trend of production, and that at the present time the level of production is a record one, with every indication that production will continue to rise. We have heard no suggestions from the party opposite of an alternative policy—we have only been told that they would give no larger award—and I can confidently advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the Motion of censure and to accept the Amendment.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 253. Noes 322.

Division No. 156.]AYES[9.59 p.m
Ainsley, J. W.Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James(Llanelly)Owen, W. J.
Albu, A. H.Griffiths, William(Exchange)Paget, R. T.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Hale, LesliePaling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne valley)Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Allen, Soholefield (Crewe)Hamilton, W. W.Palmer, A. M. F.
Anderson, FrankHannan, W.Pargiter, G. A.
Awbery, S. S.Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)Parker, J.
Bacon, Miss AliceHastings, S.Parkin, B. T.
Baird, J,Hayman, F. H.Paton, J.
Balfour, A.Healey, DenisPeart, T. F.
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)Plummer, Sir Leslie
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)Herbison, Miss M.Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Benson, G.Hewitson, Capt. M.Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Beswick, F.Hobson, C. R.Probert, A. R.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Holmes, HoraceProctor, W. T.
Blackburn, F.Houghton, DouglasPryde, D, J.
Blenkinsop, A.Howell, Denis (All Saints)Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Blyton, W. R.Hubbard, T. F.Randall, H. E.
Boardman, H.Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)Rankin, John
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Redhead, E. C
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Reeves, J.
Bowles, F. G.Hunter, A. E.Reid, William
Boyd, T. C.Hynd, H. (Accrington)Rhodes, H.
Braddock, Mrs. ElizabethIrvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Brockway, A. F.Irving, S. (Dartford)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper.)Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Brown, Thomas (Ince)Jeger, George (Goole)Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Burton, Miss F. E.Jeger, Mrs.Lena(Holbn. & St. Pncs. S.)Ross, William
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)Royle, C
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Johnson, James (Rugby)Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley
Callaghan, L. J,Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Castle, Mrs. B. A.Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)Short, E. W.
Champion, A, J.Jones, David (The Hartlepools)Shurmer, P. L. E,
Chapman, W. D,Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Chetwynd, G. F.Jones, Jack (Rotherham)Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Clunie, J.Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Skeffington, A. M.
Coldrick, W.Jones, T. w. (Merioneth)Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)Kenyon, C.Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury)Key, Rt. Hon. C.W.Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Corbet, Mrs. FredaKing, Dr. H. M.Snow, J. W.
Cove, W. G.Lawson, G. M.Sorensen, R. W.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)Lee, Frederick (Newton)Sparks, J. A.
Cronin, J. D.Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)Steele, T.
Crossman, R. H. S.Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Cullen, Mrs. A,Lewis, ArthurStokes, Rt. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich)
Daines, P.Lindgren, G. S.Stones, W. (Consett)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Darling, George (Hillsborough)Logan, D. G.Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)Mabon, Dr J. DicksonSummerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Davies, Harold (Leek)MacColl, J. E.Swingler, S. T,
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)McGhee, H. G.Sylvester, G. O.
Deer, G.McInnes, J.Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
de Freitas, GeoffreyMcKay, John (Wallsend)Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Delargy, H. J.McLeavy, FrankThomas, George (Cardiff)
Dodds, N. N.MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Donnelly, D. L.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)Mahon, SimonThornton, E.
Dye, S.Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Timmons, J.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)Tomney, F.
Edelman, M.Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.Turner-Samuels, M.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)Mason, RoyUngoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)Mayhew, C P.Usborne, H. C.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Mellish, R. J.Viant, S. P.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)Messer, Sir F.Warbey, W. N.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)Mikardo, IanWatkins, T. E.
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)Mitchison, G. R.Weitzman, D.
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)Monslow, W.Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Fernyhough, E.Moody, A. S.Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Fienburgh, W.Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)West, D. G.
Finch, H. J.Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)Wheeldon, W. E.
Fletcher, EricMort, D. L.White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Forman, J, C.Moss, R.White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)Moyle, A.Wigg, George
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.Mulley, F. W.Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Gibson, C. W.Neal, Harold (Bolsover)Wilkins, W. A.
Gooch, E. G.Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)Willey, Frederick
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.O'Brien, Sir ThomasWilliams, David (Neath)
Greenwood, AnthonyOliver, G. H.Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. O. R.Oram, A. E.Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Grey, C. F.Orbach, M.Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Oswald, T.Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)Woof, R. E.Zilliacus, K.
Winterbottom, RichardYates, V. (Ladywood)
Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.Younger, Rt. Hon. K.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Popplewell and Mr. Pearson
NOES
Agnew, Cmdr. P. C.Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)
Aitken, W. T.Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.Joseph, Sir Keith
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)Emmet, Hon. Mrs. EvelynJoynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot
Alport, C. J. M.Errington, Sir EricKaberry, D.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)Farey-Jones, F. W.Keegan, D.
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)Fell, A.Kerby, Capt. H. B.
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.Finlay, GraemeKerr, H. W.
Arbuthnot, JohnFisher, NigelKershaw, J, A.
Armstrong, C. W.Fleetwood-Hesketh, R, F.Kimball, M.
Ashton, H.Fletcher-Cooke, C.Kirk, P. M.
Astor, Hon. J.J.Fort, R.Lagden, G. W.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.Foster, JohnLambert, Hon. G.
Baldwin, A. E.Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)Lambton, Viscount
Balniel, LordFreeth, D. K.Lancaster, Col. C. G.
Banks, Col. C.Gammans, Sir DavidLeather, E. H. C.
Barber, AnthonyGarner-Evans, E. H.Leavey, J. A.
Barlow, Sir JohnGeorge, J. C. (Pollok)Leburn, W. G.
Barter, JohnGibson-Watt, D.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Baxter, Sir BeverleyGlover, D.Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)
Beamish, Maj. TuftonGodber, J. B.Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir AlanLindsay, Martin (Solihull)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)Gough, C. F. H.Linstead, Sir H. N.
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)Gower, H. R.Llewellyn, D. T.
Bennett, Dr. ReginaldGraham, Sir FergusLloyd, Rt.Hon. G. (Sutton Coldfield)
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)Grant, W. (Woodside)Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)
Bidgood, J. C.Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.
Biggs-Davison, J. A.Green, A.Longden, Gilbert
Birch, Rt. Hon. NigelGresham Cooke, R.Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.
Bishop, F. P.Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)
Black, C. W.Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)Lucas, P. B.(Brentford & Chiswick)
Body, R. F.Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Boothby, Sir RobertGurden, HaroldMcAdden, S. J.
Bossom, Sir A. C.Hall, John (Wycombe)Macdonald, Sir Peter
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry
Boyle, Sir EdwardHarris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)McKibbin, A. J.
Braine, B. R.Harris, Reader (Heston)Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)Harrison, A. B. C.(Maldon)McLaughlin, Mrs. P.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Brooke, Rt. Hon. HenryHarvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd)Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)
Brooman-White, R. C.Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)McLean, Neil (Inverness)
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield. W.)
Bryan, P.Harvie-Watt, Sir GeorgeMacLeod, John (Ross Cromarty)
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.Hay, JohnMacmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.Head, Rt. Hon. A.HMacpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Burden, F. F. A.Head, Rt. Hon. Sir LionelMaddan, Martin
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)Henderson, John (Cathcart)Maitland, Cdr. J.F.W.(Horncastle)
Campbell, Sir DavidHicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)
Carr, RobertHill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Cary, Sir RobertHill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)Markham, Major Sir Frank
Channon, H.Hill, John (S. Norfolk)Marlowe, A. A. H.
Chichester-Clark, R.Hinchingbrooke, ViscountMarshall, Douglas
Clarke, Brig. Terenoe (Portsmth, W.)Hirst, GeoffreyMathew, R.
Cole, NormanHolland-Martin, C. J.Maude, Angus
Conant, Maj. Sir RogerHope, Lord JohnMaudling, Rt. Hon. R.
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. AlbertHornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.Mawby, R. L.
Cooper-key, E. M.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.Horobin, Sir IanMaydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Corfield, Capt. F. V.Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame FlorenceMedlicott, Sir Frank
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)Molson, A. H. E.
Crouch, R. F.Howard, John (Test)Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)Moore, Sir Thomas
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Cunningham, KnoxHughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.
Currie, G. B. H.Hughes-Young, M. H. C.Nabarro, G. D. N.
Dance, J. C. G.Hulbert, Sir NormanNairn, D. L. S.
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryHurd, A. R.Neave, Airey
Deedes, W. F.Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)Nicholls, Harmar
Digby, Simon WingfieldHutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.Hyde, MontgomeryNicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E & Chr'ch)
Doughty, C. J. A.Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.Nield, Basil (Chester)
Drayson, G. B.Iremonger, T. L.Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
du Cann, E. D. L.Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Nugent, G. R. H.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)Nutting, Rt. Hon. Anthony
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)Oakshott, H. D.
Duthie, W. S.Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir DavidJohnson, Eric (Blackley)Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.
Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (Warwick & L'm'tn)Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)Ropner, Col. Sir LeonardThorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)Russell, R. S.Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Osborne, C.Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Page, R. G.Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.Touche, Sir Cordon
Panned, N. A. (Kirkdale)Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.Turner, H. F. L.
Partridge, E.Sharples, R. C.Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Peyton, J. W. W.Shepherd, WilliamTweedsmuir, Lady
Pickthorn, K, W. M.Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, w.)Vane, W. M. F.
Pilkington, Capt. R. A.Smithers, Peter (Winchester)Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Pitman, I. J.Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)Vickers, Miss J. H.
Pitt, Miss E. M.Soames, Capt. C.Vosper, D.F.
Pott, H. P.Spearman, A. C. M.Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Powell, J. EnochSpeir, R. M.Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)Walker-Smith, D. C.
Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.Stanley, Capt. Hon. RichardWall, Major Patrick
Profumo, J. D.Stevens, GeoffreyWard, Hon. George (Worcester)
Raikes, Sir VictorSteward, Harold (Stockport, S.)Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Ramsden, J. E.Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Rawlinson, PeterStewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Redmayne, M.Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.Webbe, Sir H.
Rees-Davies, W. R.Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)Whitelaw, W. S. I. (Penrith & Border)
Remnant, Hon. P.Studholme, H. G.Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Renton, D. L. M.Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury)Williams, Paul (Sunderland)
Ridsdale, J. E.Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Rippon, A. G. F.Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)Wood, Hon. R.
Robertson, Sir DavidTeeling, W.Woollam, John Victor
Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Robson-Brown, W.Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Roper, Sir HaroldThompson, Lt.-Cdr. R.(Croydon, S.)Mr. Heath and Mr. Galbraith.

Proposed words there added.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House is of the opinion that the Annual Review and Determination of Guarantees. 1956. Command Paper No. 9721, provides fair and just guarantees in accordance with the Agriculture Act, 1947, with due regard to the present economic situation and the efficient use of national resources; and that Her Majesty's Government's policy affords a solid basis for confidence to producers with freedom of choice for consumers and is effectively enabling agriculture to play its full part in improving the balance of overseas payments.