Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 438: debated on Monday 9 June 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Monday, 9th June, 1947

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

London And North Eastern Railway Bill

As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.

Cheshire And Lancashire County Councils (Runcorn — Widnes Bridge, Etc) Bill Lords

South Metropolitan Gas Bill Lords

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Food Supplies

British Sugar Corporation (Staff)


asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that the British Sugar Corporation are refusing to negotiate with the appropriate trade union to which many members of its staff belong; and whether he will consider withholding the subsidy until the refusal has been withdrawn.

No, Sir. I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service that there is established negotiating machinery on which the appropriate trades unions are represented. The question of the constitution of the workers' side is for the trades unions

Cakes And Pastries (Prices)


asked the Minister of Food what was the reason for the recent substantial increase in the prices charged by confectioners for cakes and pastries.

The maximum price for cakes of a defined quality was raised from 1s. 6d. per lb. to 2s. 6d. per lb. on 16th February, to enable bakers to meet recent increases in the cost of many ingredients and to make use of some of the more expensive ones, which are now becoming available again.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that housewives do not find that the increase in prices is reflected in the increased quality of the cakes; secondly, does he know that it is credibly believed that the bakers are already making higher margins of profit than most other retail traders?

In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, we only allowed this increase in prices under a defined list of ingredients which must be contained in the more expensive cakes in a defined amount. We shall certainly endeavour to enforce that. I should very much like to hear of any case where that is not being complied with. With regard to the second part of the question, this means a diminution and not an increase in confectioners' margins.

New Catering Licences, Cardiff


asked the Minister of Food how many licences have been granted to new cafés and restaurants in Cardiff in the last 12 months; and on what principles the grant of a licence is decided.

Twenty-two new licences were issued in the 12 months ended 15th April, 1947. Licences are granted on priority grounds to ex-traders who had to close businesses in Cardiff because of the war. The Food Control Committee also recommend the grant of licences where there is a public need and particularly to reduce queuing and congestion in existing catering establishments. In these cases preference is given to suitable disabled ex-Servicemen and ex-traders from other areas.

Inshore Fishermen's Catches (Prices)


asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that, owing to the price rise in all gear, particularly nets, the catching of mackerel, skate and ray at today's prices is uneconomical; and if he will consider an adjustment in the maximum price of these fish which are caught by our inshore fishermen.

I know that the cost of fishing gear has increased, and will take this into consideration together with other relevant facts if and when price schedules are revised.

When the Minister uses the expression, "if and when", can he give any indication when the "if and when" is likely to come about, and will he also take into consideration the price rise in coal apart from the question of gear?

Prices of fish have been changed in the past, I am glad to say in a downward direction. We should be reluctant to increase maximum prices in this or any other respect. Another possibility, of course, would be to take this class of fish out of price control altogether. There are some advantages but also some difficulties in that.

Is the Minister aware that this state of affairs is affecting the livelihood of all inshore fishermen, and that unless something is done, we shall lose them?

In view of what I consider to be a most unsatisfactory reply, I give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.

Imported Cheddar Cheese


asked the Minister of Food whether he will arrange, as soon as possible, for imported cheddar to be matured after importation in order to make it more palatable to those who acquired a taste for other cheeses before restrictions on their manufacture or importation began.

I am afraid that, under present scarcity conditions, the time we can hold cheese in store before distribution depends entirely on the volume of stocks and arrivals

Does not the Minister realise that it is just as important to improve the quality of cheese as to improve the quality of cakes, and that to do so would do not a little to cheer people up and stop them from calling this cheese "mousetrap"? Would he look into the matter again?

Calorie Intake


asked the Minister of Food the average calorie intake per person per day for the year 1946, including all consumption of food whether at home or outside.

Is the Minister able to say how these figures support the oft-repeated boast that we are better off than before the war?

I do not know to which boast the hon. Member refers. What I have said repeatedly is that, on the way we calculate the calorie intake—that is, per capita of the population—it is 6 per cent. less than before the war. I have added that there is now a far better distribution of foodstuffs, which means that the poorer section of the people are undoubtedly better fed.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how those figures compare with the estimates of a certain calculation given in another place the other day?

Naturally, they are the same. [Interruption.] Yes. The figure was given as 2,880, and the actual calculation comes out at 2,887, to be exact.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, obviously, the housewives of this country must think that they are fed well, hence the falling flat of the great demonstration which took place in Trafalgar Square?

Surely, it is a question of the food coming into the country, as against the total number al persons, and not in any way the individual intake of the consumers, which is what matters?

As I understand the point put by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman it is that certain individual consumers are obviously consuming less and certain others are consuming more. The figure I have given is an average, and that must be true of any average figure.

But the fact is that these high figures are given for the total intake, which, of course, takes into account every single thing brought into the country, whether eaten or not. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into the matter again? Will he agree that the result of his own dietary survey has been to show an intake of nothing like that, but a very much smaller intake?

I could not possibly agree with any of those statements. Of course, the figure is calculated on the total amount of food available, and the most careful allowances are made for wastage in distribution and other factors of that sort, and use for other than food consumption. That is always most carefully taken into account, and it is an average figure, and, of course, it must be true of any average figure that certain individuals were above that figure and certain other individuals below it. That is the only qualification.

Does not the Minister agree that the figure of 2,900 is very much higher than the figure of 2,300, which he gave as the result of the dietary survey?

I agree that 2,900 is a higher figure than 2,300. That is undoubtedly true, but the 2,300, of course, leaves out certain things, such as foodstuffs distributed to catering establishments, canteens and the like.

Fruit And Vegetables


asked the Minister of Food whether he will take steps to eliminate the profit margins on the sale of fruit and vegetables which are accruing to certain classes of middlemen who have ceased to perform any useful function.

I share my hon. Friend's anxiety to reduce the price of foodstuffs wherever possible, but I do not think that profit margins are provided under the fresh fruit and vegetable price orders for middlemen who are not performing a useful function.

Does not my right hon. Friend consider that the profit margins, indeed, any profit at all, should be determined by the functions performed today, and not those performed before the war and before the very considerable degree of bulk buying and selling was introduced?

I take my hon. Friend's point, but we believe that, on the whole, the middlemen engaged in the trade at the moment—I do not say in every instance, but by and large—are performing a useful function.

Will my right hon. Friend look into the position regarding certain commodities, where it appears that payments are made to wholesalers who are performing no function at all, even though they may have performed some function before the war? Will he look into this point, with a view to rearranging the system or bringing this pernicious system to an end?

I am not suggesting that the present system will do as a permanent basis of distribution for the long-term future. That is certainly another matter.


asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that the supply of fresh fruit in Croydon is inadequate and compares unfavourably with other areas; and what steps he proposes to take to remedy this situation.

Fruit is not plentiful anywhere at this season, but Croydon has had as many allocations of the fruits controlled by my Department as the rest of the South of England.

In view of the fact that that statement would not be agreed to by any person in Croydon, will my right hon. Friend look into this matter again, because I think there is a definite inequality now?

Condemned Meat, Croydon


asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that approximately 5,388 lb. of offal, together with 3,579 lb. of beef, 978 lb. of corned beef, 440 lb. of pork, as well as other items, were condemned by the public health department in Croydon from 17th March to 19th April last and destroyed; what were the reasons for this loss of foodstuff; and what steps he proposes to take to avoid similar wastage in future.

These condemnations were mainly due to disease which could not be detected in the live animals. The quantities condemned represented a very small proportion of the meat and offals handled. The loss of canned corned meat was due to the blowing of tins. The proportion condemned was one quarter of 1 per cent, which is not abnormal and would not indicate any undue deterioration because of the time or conditions of storage.

Linseed Oil


asked the Minister of Food whether his Department has made any attempt to secure surplus linseed oil in Holland.

Recent reports that Holland had some surplus linseed proved to be untrue when we tried to buy it for sowing. Holland is short of linseed oil herself.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the allocation, as between Holland and this country, is fair in all circumstances?

I am seldom, if ever, satisfied with an allocation, and we are always pressing to get a higher one.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a report in a newspaper this morning that bulk purchasing arrangements had enabled us to buy linseed oil much more cheaply than our competitors?

I have not seen the report to which my hon. Friend refers, but it is perfectly true that many of our competitors consider that we have purchased a very much larger share of the linseed oil available and at a very favourable price.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman always mistrust what he reads in the Press?

Special Diets Advisory Committee (Decision)


asked the Minister of Food for what reasons his Department over-ruled the recommendation of her family doctor that Mrs. Ward, 93, Turnpike Lane, N.8, shoud receive extra meat and butter by substituting milk which, in her case, was actually harmful; why this decision was taken without consultation with her medical attendant; why two months' delay took place between the issue of the certificate and its refusal by the divisional food office; and what steps he proposes to take to prevent a recurrence of such a delay with its possible harmful effects.

This case was considered twice during the two months by the Special Diets Advisory Committee, on different certificates from the family doctor, but she was unable to produce any reasons for the suggestion that the usual allowance of milk would be harmful' or that there were any special reasons for an allowance of butter and meat for this particular patient. In these circumstances, I am unable to overrule the decision of the eminent medical authorities of the Special Diets Advisory Committee.

Is the Minister denying that his Department did, in fact, overrule the recommendations of the family doctor, and did take two months before they actually gave a decision?

Yes, Sir, in the sense that my Department did it apart from the advice of the Special Diets Advisory Committee. They, of course, made the decision and the recommendation on which we acted. But they did not take two months to do it. During the two months mentioned, they twice considered recommendations from the family doctor, but these eminent medical specialists were unable to agree with her.

Did the eminent medical specialists, on whom the right hon. Gentleman relies, ever see the patient?

No, Sir, they asked the family doctor to provide reasons why this case should be treated differently from the rules laid down for cases of this condition. In their opinion, the family doctor was unable to produce any prima facie evidence why it should be treated differently.

Is not this the second occasion on which this particular Committee has bungled—the first being that on which a man died—and should not their operations be closely watched?

I distinctly resent that imputation. How does the noble Lord suppose that he can judge whether this Committee has bungled or not?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, if he were to give way in the slightest degree on this matter, 30 to 40 per cent. of the people who claim to be sick would all be producing certificates in order to get extra rations, when the whole thing would become fantastic?

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to certain rules which bind the Special Diets Advisory Committee; will he say what those rules are, and who makes them?

If the hon. Member will look up the answer I gave on Wednesday, 22nd January last, he will see a very full statement as to exactly what these rules are, that there is a right of appeal from these rules to the Special Diets Advisory Committee, and the members and composition, together with their qualifications, of that Committee.

Has the Minister made any inquiry as to whether this lady was benefited or injured by the treatment of his Committee?

The Committee did not treat the lady; the Committee made her a special allowance of milk and fats, and no doubt she benefited by that allowance.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I feel compelled to give notice that I propose to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Soap Ration (Supplies, Taunton)


asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that in the Taunton area there is an extreme shortage of white and carbolic soap for cleaning and washing, but that toilet soap is more easily obtainable; and if he will take steps to remove this inequality, so that housewives can use their soap coupons to better advantage.

I have asked manufacturers to increase the proportionate output of hard soap, but their difficulty is that they have not yet caught up with the production lost during the fuel crises. I believe they will be able to do so now, so that there should be a gradual improvement in deliveries to the shops.

Is the Minister aware that some manufacturers of toilet soap are making offers to retailers who have no entitlement, and is there not some connection between that fact and the present shortage of white and carbolic soap?

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the general shortage of soap flakes and soap powder in this regard, and will he look into that matter at the same time?

Would my right hon. Friend also make some provision for those who have not been able to get their ration during the current period?

We did, in past periods, extend the availability of the ration documents to the following period in order to meet those cases.


Selby Toll Bridge


asked the Minister of Transport if he has now received the special report on the negotiations for the purchase of Selby Toll Bridge; and whether he has a statement to make.

I have received the special report for which I called, and am satisfied that there has been no avoidable delay on the part of my Department or on that of the Valuation Department. In view of the negotiations that are taking place, I do not think it would be in the public interest for me to make a statement at present.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how long these negotiations are likely to take?

No, Sir, not exactly. They are very complicated. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, I am just as anxious as he is to expedite them.

Dismissed Roadmen, Cambridgeshire


asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware that the Cambridgeshire County Council have dismissed 30 roadmen arising out of the reduction of expenditure on Class III roads that are in need of immediate repair, owing to damage caused by the severe winter and floods and are in a dangerous condition to the users of these roads; and if he will reconsider the matter, with a view of granting to the local authorities money from the Road Fund to keep these country roads in a decent condition.

I understand that a number of men engaged on the maintenance of Class III roads in Cambridgeshire have been dismissed. The council have since been informed that the amount of grant from the Road Fund for the normal maintenance of classified roads will be increased by £8,500, which, if they so desire, may be allocated entirely to Class III roads. In accordance with the arrangements outlined in my reply to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) on 19th May, my divisional road engineer is also discussing with the council how much additional money can be made available towards the cost of repairing damage to roads caused by frost, snow and flood.

Is the Minister aware that these roadmen have given very valuable service to the county council, and does he think it fair that councils should be compelled to dismiss hundreds of roadmen throughout the country owing to these drastic cuts in expenditure; and, further, is he aware that the motorists, through the Road Fund, provide the money for the upkeep of the roads? Will he look into the matter again, because it is certainly a serious one so far as agriculture is concerned?

I would like to remind my hon. Friend that the additional grant for Class III roads was only introduced last year, which is very recent indeed. I do not think that it can be argued that these dismissals are entirely due to that.

Will the Minister consider making additional grants to other county councils who are being compelled, owing to the drastic cuts, to reduce their staffs?

I have already indicated that the discussions taking place between my divisional road engineers and county surveyors are not limited to any particular county.

Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that one of the greatest causes of hardship is that these drastic cuts were made after the start of the financial year?

I regret that it was not possible to give longer notice, but, after all, the discussions with regard to estimates cover a fairly long period.

Road Fund (Administration Statistics)


asked the Minister of Transport whether he is now in a position to publish those statistics ordinarily appearing in the Annual Report on the Administration of the Road Fund which have been omitted during the war years but of which records have been maintained.

The information has been obtained so far as it is readily available, and is at present being collated.

Will this information be published in so far as the particulars are available to the Minister?

Yes, Sir, that is what I have tried to do, but many local authorities have not replied to the requests for information.

Driving Examiners (Overtime)


asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware that his Department has instructed all driving and traffic examiners from 9th June to work overtime; that such a requirement, in some cases, will lead to severe strain; and if he will issue instructions that this order is not to be enforced where the examiner feels unable to carry out such orders.

In order to overtake the arrears of applications for tests, driving examiners have been instructed to work limited overtime, for which they will be paid, and I do not consider that an extra 1½ hours' work on five day a week for a fortnight at a time will unduly strain them. I cannot agree to leave it to an examiner's discretion whether he should carry out tests booked for him.


Holidays, Midweek Travel


asked the Minister of Transport whether, in addition to the staggering of hours of work and of holidays, he will urge, in order to relieve weekend congestion on the railways, that firms should arrange for a proportion of staff holidays to start in midweek.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) on 27th March.

Is not this weekend congestion being rapidly adjusted by the rise in railway fares?

Staff, Doncaster (Tea Facilities)


asked the Minister of Transport if he will inquire into the reasons for the delay in providing suitable arrangements for providing the railway staff at Doncaster Central stations, numbering 180 workpeople, with cups of tea during working hours, in accordance with the request made by the N.U.R., Doncaster No. 2 branch, in February last; and if he will expedite the provision of this necessary welfare facility.

The staff can obtain tea at reduced prices from the refreshment room between 7.30 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. As soon as additional refreshment room staff are available, a 24-hour service will be provided, as an experiment.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, during the war, excellent facilities were provided on the station for the troops and the Armed Forces, that these facilities could easily be transferred to the staff, and that his Department has failed to do that? What action does he propose to take to expedite the matter?

That is not a question for my Department. I cannot deal with what happened on this station during the war, but I have stated in my reply that the matter is under investigation.

If the Minister treats the staff with the same priority as he treated the troops, everything will be all right.

Staff Resignations


asked the Minister of Transport how many railway employees have left the service of the railways in 1947 up to date; and if they represent a normal or an abnormally high percentage of the total number of railway employees.

I regret that it has not been possible to collect all the information in the time available. With my hon. Friend's permission, I will circulate the answer in the OFFICIAL REPORT as soon as possible.

Is the Minister aware that on reaching the retiring age and electing to take their pensions, for some unknown reason, railway staffs are subsequently refused re-employment by the railway companies, and, in view of this very serious loss to the railways of experienced men and women, will he look into the matter to see if it is not possible to allow retired members to be re-employed?

Obviously, I cannot answer a question like that at a moment's notice. If my hon. Friend will communicate such evidence to me, I will look into the matter.

Service Breakdown, London—Southend


asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware of the chaos which existed when the London to Southend railway service broke down on Whit Monday with the result that nearly 30,000 people were stranded and many of them forced to sleep on the beach: and whether he will make a statement.


asked the Minister of Transport, if he will make a statement on the circumstances by which 10,000 persons were marooned at Southend, on Monday 26th May, consequent upon the failure of water supplies for L.M.S. locomotives; why no assistance was asked from the Southend waterworks until 6 p.m., although the trouble was known to the railway company at 3 p.m; why the suggestion to boost water supplies to the engines by hoses with the aid of the N.F.S. was turned down; and why the restaurant room at Fenchurch Street was not kept open to provide drinks for the incoming passengers.

About 36,000 people travelled on, this line to Southend on Whit Monday. A failure in the locomotive water supply at Shoeburyness depot first became evident at 2.30 p.m. and the Shoeburyness Council was immediately asked for a supply from their mains. Unfortunately, this proved ineffective owing to a defect in the tanks. Arrangements made for engines to take water at Southend also failed to produce adequate supplies and it was ultimately necessary to by-pass the meter. No suggestion to any railway official that the N.F.S. might have been able to assist can be traced. The last train left Southend at 1.48 a.m. and I am informed that there were no passengers left on the station or in nearby streets at that time. The staff serving the refreshment room at Fenchurch Street who live in the Southend neighbourhood had been on duty throughout the day and were not asked to stay after 10.30 p.m.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this water problem has been known to the railway company at Shoeburyness for a long time, and why have no steps been taken previously to deal with it?

Would my right hon. Friend indicate why his Department are responsible for incidents of this kind, as many of us are under the impression that the railway companies are responsible, at least until they are nationalised?

That is the point I have been making in my reply. In reply to the first supplementary question, I could not say, but I will make inquiries as to whether this defect was known before the incident occurred.

District Railway Trains (Lighting)


asked the Minister of Transport whether his attention has been called to the inefficient lighting in some of the District Railway trains, which becomes so much worse when the train is in motion that it is impossible to read; and if he will take steps to have it improved.

With the smaller number of lamps now in use in order to save electric current and coal, the reduction in lighting which normally occurs when a train is accelerating inevitably becomes more noticeable. The lighting in those cars in which the reduction may have been excessive is now being examined and steps have already been taken to effect an improvement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this defect is especially apparent at the ends of the compartments, because the lamps do not throw their light to that extent?

Yes, Sir. As I have indicated, any deficiency below the average is now being examined.

Locomotives (Coal Traffic)


asked the Minister of Transport what is the approximate proportion of railway company engines normally engaged in hauling coals.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the proportion will be adequate to ensure that all the coal trucks do not remain in sidings for a long period?

I do not think there is any justification for the inference that coal trucks do remain in sidings for any length of time. In any case, that is not the Question I have been asked to answer.

Charges (Increases)


asked the Minister of Transport what is the approximate annual loss on the running of the railways at present; by what percentage, approximately, railway fares and freight rates have been increased since 1939; and to what extent the loss is caused by transfer of traffic to road vehicles plying for hire.

In regard to the first part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) on 12th May last. Main line railway fares and freight rates have been increased since 1939 by 33⅓ per cent. for ordinary passengers and merchandise by passenger train; and by 25 per cent. in all other cases. I have no information on the last part of the Question.

Dock Strike, Glasgow (Undischarged Cargo)


asked the Minister of Transport, if he is aware that a U.S. ship, ss. "Eucadia," which arrived in Glasgow on 18th March, carrying tractors and spare parts, was unable to unload this cargo owing to the dockers' strike; was diverted to Avonmouth, where the dockers also refused to unload it; returned to Glasgow and, as the strike was still continuing, finally sailed for New York with the tractors and spart parts still on board: what steps were taken to ensure that this badly-needed cargo was landed, and what action he is taking to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.

I am informed by the Glasgow port authorities that this ship, carrying 8,225 tons of general cargo for Glasgow and 2,462 tons of steel for Liverpool, commenced discharge in Glasgow on 18th March. When the dockers' strike began on 24th March, there was still on board 1,306 tons of cargo for Glasgow, consisting of foodstuffs and 15 cases of machinery, including agricultural machinery. Authority had been given for the use of military labour to unload perishable and rationed foodstuffs, and I understand that in the circumstances at the time, it was considered that the use of military labour for unloading the machinery would be liable to add to the difficulty caused by the strike. Rather than delay the ship longer, the owners sailed the "Eucadia" for Liverpool on 26th April, but the Liverpool dockers refused to handle the cases of machinery. The "Eucadia," having completed discharge of the steel consigned to Liverpool, sailed to New York with the cases of machinery on board. The last part of the question envisages hypothetical circumstances upon which I am unable to comment.

Did the right hon. Gentleman's Department make any attempt to point out to the strikers that this cargo of argricultural machinery was, at least, as important as perishable foodstuffs?

My Department were in consultation with the Ministry of Labour and the War Office. These arrangements were made in co-operation with all the Departments concerned. As I have stated, this decision was taken because it was thought to be the best one in view of the gravity of the circumstances of the dispute.

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us who made the decision that the unloading of agricultural machinery would be an aggravation of the dispute?

That decision was arrived at as a result of the experience and the knowledge of the circumstances of the port officials on the spot.

How does the right hon. Gentleman explain the disparity between his treatment of the dockers on the one hand, and of those wretched driving licence examiners on the other hand?

In so far as the Scottish Transport Workers Organisation is separate and distinct to Glasgow, it was an official strike.

King George V Memorial (Unveiling Ceremony)


asked the Prime Minister what arrangements are being made for the unveiling of the Memorial to His late Majesty King George V in October next.

His Majesty The King has graciously undertaken to unveil the memorial to His late Majesty King George V on 22nd October next. Detailed arrangements are being made by the National Memorial Committee with the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works and will be announced later.

In view of the world wide affection in which the late King was held, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that representatives of the Empire will be present on this occasion?

That will be a matter for consideration and, no doubt, will be considered by the National Memorial Committee.

Inventions (Examination)


asked the Prime Minister whether he will consider the provision of an office to which persons can submit inventions, ideas and suggestions which they are desirous should be used for the benefit of their country rather than for themselves, so that these might be critically examined in that office and only referred to a Department of State should they seem promising.

The whole field of patent law and inventions is being reviewed by the Departments concerned, and my hon. Friend's suggestion will be borne in mind.

National Insurance And Health Schemes (Operation)


asked the Prime Minister when it is intended to bring the rest of the National Insurance schemes and English and Scottish National Health Service schemes into operation.

The preparatory work necessary to arrange the transition from existing schemes and agencies and to create the organisation to operate the new provisions effectively is very heavy. Considerable progress has been made with these preparations, despite great difficulties of staff and premises. The various schemes are closely linked up with each other, and with proposals for completing the break-up of the Poor Law and providing a comprehensive scheme of national assistance standing behind the insurance provisions. The Government consider that there are compelling reasons in favour of bringing all these schemes into operation on the same date. They have reached the conclusion that by giving high priority to the legislation which it is hoped to introduce next Session to complete the breakup of the Poor Law, this will be possible. On a consideration of all the factors involved, they have decided that the best date for this purpose is 5th July, 1948, which coincides with the end of the next contribution year for health, pensions and unemployment insurance.



The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. YORK:

48. To ask the Minister of Agriculture if he will obtain an increased allocation of steel for the agricultural industry for the second quarter of 1947, as he is aware that the makers of tractors, machinery equipment and spare parts and also structural engineers working on agricultural buidings are either slowed down or at a standstill through shortage of steel.

Mr. Speaker, may I draw your attention to an error in this Question? It should read "the second half of 1947" instead of "quarter."

I am well aware of the needs of the industry, but, in view of the general steel supply situation, it has not been found possible to increase the allo- cation of steel at the disposal of my Department for the second quarter of this year.

Is it not a fact that unless the Minister of Agriculture pushes this case, agriculture will not get more steel, and will he undertake to push all he can for a higher allocation?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am one of many Ministers who are pushing for steel.

Can the right hon. Gentleman at least give an assurance that when steel for agricultural machinery arrives in this country, it will not be sent back again?

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that if he wants any help in fighting his colleagues in this matter, he can count on hon. Members on this side of the House?

Does the right hon. Gentleman concur in the decision by which agricultural machinery was sent back to the United States, in view of the position which he has just mentioned?


asked the Minister of Agriculture what arrangements he has made with agricultural machinery manufacturers, in view of the much lowered output in February and March, to give priority to the urgent needs of home food producers for tractors and other farm machinery, thus implementing the undertaking given to them.

in order to assist farmers with this year's urgent tasks, agricultural machinery manufacturers have co-operated by directing a larger volume of machinery into the home market during the last two or three months. In consequence, the estimated average value of the machinery going to the home market increased from £92,000 a day in January, 1947, to £100,000 a day in March and £131,000 a day in April.

Is the Minister aware that, while the home production of agricultural machinery fell from about £3,480,000 worth in January to £2,520,000 in February, the exports of tractors in the first four months of the year increased by over 3,000 tons, as compared with those in the same period of last year, and that the exports of all farming machinery in the first four months of this year were £835,000 worth greater than in the same period of last year?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that exports of agricultural machinery fell from £24,000 day in January to £19,000 a day in April.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the need to see that there is a sufficient supply of spare parts for the existing machinery, let alone the new?

Yes, as fast as we can persuade the manufacturers to produce spare parts, we are doing so.

Does the re-export figure the right hon. Gentleman gave include the figures of the re-exports in the s.s. "Eucadia"?

Would the Minister consider making application to his colleagues to stop the exportation of all agricultural machinery as long as there is a demand for it in this country?

Milk (Regulations)


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is aware that a large number of farmers are having their milk returned from collecting centres because of deficiency in butter fat content and solids; that this trouble has been largely unavoidable owing to the hard winter and lack of feedingstuffs; and if he will take steps to modify the present regulations, and so avoid a considerable waste of milk.

I appreciate that the decline in the solids content of milk, which is a seasonal feature, has no doubt been aggravated by the poor harvest last year and, in particular, the poor quality of hay, as well as by the delayed growth of grass this spring; but I have no evidence that any significant quantity of milk is being returned to farmers on account of a deficiency of milk solids. The Sale of Milk Regulations, 1901, are designed as a guide to the authorities administering the Food and Drugs Acts, and do not govern the return of milk by a buyer, which is determined by ordinary commercial practice. I do not consider that any modification of existing regulations would be justified.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the amount of milk returned in this way is not negligible, and that in one part of Somerset in one day milk was returned to eight different farmers? Will he look into the matter to see how commercial milk depots are applying the regulations, because at present there is considerable loss of food and financial loss to the farmers for reasons beyond their control?

I can assure my hon. Friend that I have looked into this matter, and that I have found that in each case where the milk has been returned it has not been returned before the farmer has received one, two, or even three warnings of the quality of the milk, and that, despite the warnings, there has been no improvement. Hence the return, unfortunately, of some of the milk.

Pig And Poultry Rations


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is in a position to state the basic ration for poultry during the next winter period; and whether the basic ration for this period will be less than the present ration.


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will announce as soon as possible the scales of pig and poultry rations for the next period in order to enable stockkeepers to plan ahead.

No, Sir. I am not yet in a position to announce the scales of pig and poultry rations next winter, but these will be decided as soon as possible in the light of the available feeding-stuffs supplies, the national need for a steady expansion of pig and poultry breeding and of the production of pigmeat and eggs, and, in the case of poultry, the normal practice of autumn culling.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication of how soon he will be in a position to make an announcement on this subject? Could he possibly answer the last part of the Question whether the ration for the next winter will be, at least, not lower than the ration that prevails at this moment?

I am sure the noble Lord will be aware that I am entirely in the hands of the Ministry of Food, who are responsible for importing feedingstuffs; and as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food is in the hands of those who sell and transport feedingstuffs, no assurances or guarantees could be given until the feedingstuffs arrive.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the present shortage of feedingstuffs is really the biggest obstacle of all to further output in agriculture, and that stockkeepers—pig and poultry keepers—have really had a tough time?

I can assure the hon. Member that we are as fully aware of that as he is himself. The Minister of Food has done all he can to provide the maximum quantity of feedingstuffs from wherever those feedingstuffs have happended to be.

In view of the statement the right hon. Gentleman has made about the Minister of Food, will he reconsider the suggestion that I made some time ago to remove the Minister of Food from the Agriculture Committee?

Fowl Pest


asked the Minister of Agriculture the latest figures as regards the number of cases of fowl pest which have been notified, and the number of fowls which have been slaughtered.

Up to and including 4th June there have been 359 outbreaks of fowl pest in England and Wales, involving the slaughter of about 17,200 birds.

Water Supply Schemes


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware of the slow progress being made in carrying out agricultural and domestic water supply schemes; and what steps are being taken to secure bigger delivery of pipes for these purposes.

The hon. Member will appreciate that the progress of many desirable developments in agriculture, as in other fields, is affected by the over-all shortage of steel. It is hoped that supplies of pipes for farm water schemes will improve as soon as production of steel increases and it is possible to increase allocations.

Is not that a further reason for taking my advice to ask for a larger allocation of steel?

Floods (Public Inquiries)


asked the Minister of Agriculture when he proposes to set up public inquiries into the cause of the recent floods.

Reports have been received by my Department from all but a few of those Boards in whose areas abnormal flooding occurred this spring. Discussions with the individual Boards are in progress and will continue this month. It is clear, however, that in all areas substantial works of rehabilitation will need to be completed before next winter which will make heavy demands on the technical staffs and resources of the Boards. I am not satisfied that any general need exists to hold public inquiries, and would be reluctant to divert the energies of the Boards from the urgent and important works which are now in progress.

While I fully appreciate the point made by the Minister about the work begun by the catchment boards, and while not desiring to detract from it, may I ask him to bear in mind three things? The first is, that the destruction of people's houses in some of the flooded areas is appalling; secondly, that the Government, by giving £1,000,000 out of public money raised through taxes, virtually, I submit, are bound to give some account to the taxpayers who subscribed that it is necessary to give that amount; and third, that there are a great many people who are calling for these inquiries. Whether or not the catchment boards' report indicates it, I do ask him to have these inquiries as soon as possible.

I do not see what the first two questions have to do with public inquiries. As regards the last supplementary question, inquiries may or may not be held later on, but it seems to me that flood prevention work is of far greater importance at this moment than inquiries.

Baling Wire


asked the Minister of Agriculture how much baling wire has been allocated for use in Berkshire during the current quarter; and how this compares with the amounts for the previous quarter and the same period last year.

An allocation of 39½ tons of baling wire was made to Berkshire in the current quarter, as compared with 64 tons in the previous quarter, and 85 and 80 tons in the second and first quarters of 1946 respectively.

In view of that very deplorable statement that Berkshire is getting only one-third of what it had before, can the Minister give us an assurance that we shall have enough baling wire to keep pace with the coming harvest?

I am hopeful that there will be imports from Belgium at an early date, and I hope Berkshire may have part of that allocation.


asked the Minister of Agriculture why farmers who have invested in hay balers, are not allowed baling wire unless they certify that it is to be used exclusively for hay or staw to be sold and not used on their own farms.

Because the current shortage of baling wire makes it necessary for the present to conserve supplies for the most essential purposes.

Tillage Acreage, 1948


asked the Minister of Agriculture when he will notify the C.A.E.Cs. and farmers of the acreages of such essential crops as wheat and potatoes that they will be required to grow in 1948; and to what extent he intends that the total tillage acreage should be reduced next year.

County war agricultural executive committees will be notified of the target acreages at which they should aim in 1948, in the course of the next few days. I hope that the total tillage acreage in 1948 will not fall below 10 million acres in England and Wales, and I am considering measures to that end.

How does that 10 million acres compare with this present year's tillage acreage?

Hill Sheep Scheme (Order)


asked the Minister of Agriculture the date upon which the Hill Sheep Scheme Subsidy Payment (England and Wales) Order, 1947 (S.R. & O., 1947, No. 667) was made; the date upon which it was laid on the Table of the House; and the reason for the delay in this Order being laid.

The Order was signed late on 3rd April, the day before Good Friday. Nothing further could be done till after the holiday, i.e., on Tuesday, 8th April, when the Order was sent to the Ministry's Stationery Section for printing. It reached His Majesty's Stationery Office on 9th April. Some further delay was caused, I regret to say, by a misunderstanding in my Department in dealing with the printing of the Order. As it was a short Order it was intended that it should be printed immediately after signature and without a proof, but a proof was obtained. This was received on 14th April and returned approved on the same day for urgent printing. The prints were received on 21st April and forwarded to both Houses of Parliament on 22nd April.

Vegetables (Growers' Prices)


asked the Minister of Agriculture to what extent lettuces, cabbages and cauliflowers are being ploughed in by growers because they cannot obtain remunerative prices; and, in view of the present high retail prices and unsatisfied public demand, how he explains this situation.

I am not aware that any of the vegetables mentioned are being ploughed in by growers owing to unremunerative prices, but if my hon. Friend will send me particulars of any cases which have come to his notice I will make inquiries.

In view of the shortage and the extremely high retail prices of greenstuffs, has my right hon. Friend taken any action to esure that such ploughing in does not take place?

As I understand it, there is no possibility of ploughing in, because the supplies are not too good on certain vegetables at the moment.

Kew Gardens (Hours Of Opening)


asked the Minister of Agriculture if, in the presence of summer time, he will arrange to keep Kew Gardens open to the public after 7 p.m.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will arrange for Kew Gardens to remain open to the public until 10 p.m. during the months from May to September in view of British double summer time.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will revise the closing hours of Kew Gardens from 8 p.m. until dusk, so that people can take advantage of them for longer periods during double summer time and summer time; and whether he will also arrange for the various hothouses to be open to the public later than 4.30 p.m

I have again reviewed this question. The Royal Botanic Gardens are primarily a scientific institution, and adequate trained staff must be on duty whenever the gardens are open to the public in order to safeguard the invaluable scientific collections from loss or damage. Between the middle of May and the middle of August, the gardens are open until 8 p.m. This throws a heavy burden on the staff, who have to be on duty for more than 60 hours a week at this time of the year, including every Sunday and most Saturdays. Although I am anxious that the public should he able to enjoy the amenities of the gardens to the greatest possible extent consistent with their scientific purpose, I do not consider that I should be justified either in requiring the present staff to work still longer hours, or in recruiting and training the considerable number of additional staff that would be required for the sake of keeping the gardens open a little longer in the summer evenings. At this time of year the hothouses are closed at 5 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on Sundays. Certain cultural processes have to be carried out on the plants after the houses are closed, and it would not he practicable to keep them open until a later hour without endangering the plants and placing heavy burdens on the staff

Is the Minister aware that there are thousands of members of the public who derive great pleasure from their visits to Kew Gardens that that pleasure can be given to thousands by the addition of very few to the staff as extra door-keepers; and if the Minister is unable to find those few extra door-keepers, would he not transfer some people from the hothouses, or make some other arrangement for a few extra people, in order that these thousands may derive this enjoyment.

I fully agree that large numbers of people do enjoy the luxury of a visit to Kew Gardens. But since the technical employees are now working a 10-hour day, with usually an extra hour per day overtime, I do not think it would be reasonable to expect them to work extra hours. Indeed, were the gardens to be kept open it is very doubtful whether those who remain between eight and ten o'clock would be able to get transport back to their homes

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the same consideration to the farming community as he is giving to the gardening staff, because they work very long hours?

is the Minister aware that in some of the Royal Parks they had precisely this problem and managed to solve it; and if this difficulty is merely a question of staff, will he consider the possibility of getting volunteers who would undertake this work, because there are many who would want others to share their pleasure?

Coastal Fishing Area (Service Requirements)


asked the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries whether he has been consulted in regard to the proposal to close a large area off the Dorset and Devon coast to fishing; and whether he is aware of the grave concern among fishermen and among residents in these counties at the prospect of a serious reduction in the supply of fish available to them.

No, Sir. So far as I am aware there is no proposal under consideration which would involve closing a large area off this coast to fishing vessels. Any proposals involving the permanent use of sea areas for Service purposes will come before the Inter-Departmental Com- mittee on Services Land Requirements, on which my Department is represented, and the interests of the fishing industry will be fully considered.

South Africa (Development Schemes)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs what arrangements exist for the interchange of information and expert personnel between the Union of South Africa and the High Commission Territories; and whether there are any plans for development schemes in these territories, to be operated jointly with South Africa, for the improvement of agriculture, water supplies and livestock.

Close co-operation exists between the High Commission Territories and the Union of South Africa in nearly all fields of activity, and Union technical advisers are readily made available by the Union Government to visit the territories to give advice. Facilities at the Union Research Institutes are at the disposal of the territories, and the Administrations of the territories have representatives on various Union control boards. There are no special joint schemes of the kind referred to in the second part of the Question

Swaziland (Food Supplies)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he is satisfied that the food supplies of Swaziland are adequate; whether there is any evidence of malnutrition; and whether famine conditions have existed within the last 10 years.

It is expected that this year's crop will be adequate for Swaziland's food requirements. There is some evidence of malnutrition in Swaziland. Further investigation is, however, necessary before the nutritional position can be accurately assessed. A Nutrition Council has been constituted in Swaziland which maintains close contact with the National Nutrition Council in the Union. Serious conditions existed in the early part of 1945, owing to the failure of local and Union crops. In other years it has been possible to supplement Swaziland crops when necessary by importation from the Union. Grain storage facilities are being provided from the Colonial Development Funds to conserve supplies against future periods of scarcity.

Dominion Gifts To Uk


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent assistance rendered to the United Kingdom in money, food and in other ways by the Dominion members of the Commonwealth.

As regards monetary gifts, I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 28th April to the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison), in which he gave a list covering the period 1st August, 1945, to 1st April, 1947. Since the latter date gifts totalling in value some £1,500,000 have been received or promised from the Dominions for the Lord Mayor's Flood Relief Distress Fund, for use by the British Red Cross Society and the Women's Voluntary Services, and for other similar purposes. In this are included gifts both of money, and of food and clothing. I know that the House will wish to join me in expressing our sincere gratitude to the Governments, institutions and private citizens of the Dominions for their continuing generosity.

What acknowledgment are His Majesty's Government making to the Dominions for their great generosity to this country?

Suitable acknowledgment has been made to all the organisations and Governments for the gifts they have made.

Is Eire making any contribution towards these gifts? May I have an answer to a very simple question?

There are many organisations. Whether there is in Eire a similar organisation to some of the institutions which contributed from other Dominions, I could not say at this moment.

As regards the latter date which my hon. Friend has mentioned, would he intimate the nature and extent of the assistance given by each Dominion?

It is a long list, and from time to time the Press has given reports. If necessary, of course, I will circulate the information, but I would much rather leave it as it is. I think that if we acknowledged that, it would avoid missing some.

Royal Ordnance Factories (Civilian Goods)


asked the Minister of Supply whether it is the intention of the Government that Royal Ordnance factories should continue indefinitely to manufacture civilian goods.

Orders Of The Day

Agriculture Bill

Order for Third Reading read. ( King's Consent signified.)

3.30 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I do not intend to detain the House for any length of time, not because the Government regard this Bill as unimportant; on the contrary, we consider that it represents a landmark in the agricultural history of this country. This Bill is the foundation on which we can build the future prosperity and efficiency of this great basic industry. I shall not speak at length because the policy and principles embodied in the Bill have been universally accepted, not only by the representatives of the industry, but also by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I am justified in that assumption by the general support it has received from the main representative organisations and the general acceptance of its principles from all sides of the House.

Since the Bill was originally introduced, it has been subjected to very minute examination, both in Standing Committee and on Report stage. During the 25 sittings in Committee, many constructive suggestions were made, as well as other suggestions, which were not quite so constructive. I believe that the Bill has been improved as a result of the Committee and Report stages, where many useful suggestions were made, and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking hon. Members in all parts of the House for their advice and assistance. Not unnaturally, we could not accept every suggestion made by the Opposition, because there are a few points where there is a fundamental difference of opinion. Hon. Members opposite, for instance, were not over-enthusiastic about land purchase, the Land Commission, control, or even statistics. I can only deplore the fact that even my crystal-clear explanations, and those of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), failed to remove all the latent prejudices of some hon. Members, although I suppose, with a Bill of this kind, it is too much to expect absolute agreement on every conceivable point.

I should like to spend a few moments reminding the House of the basic principles of this Bill upon which the Government's agricultural policy is founded. We believe that if agriculture is to play its part fully and effectively in the national economy, we must provide for it a reasonable sense of stability and prosperity. We on this side—and I think there is general agreement on this—feel that by far the best method to ensure that stability and prosperity is by assured markets and guaranteed prices for its major products, and that is exactly what Part I sets out to accomplish. There has been some criticism and scepticism as to the intentions of the Government in relation to Part I. The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), on Second Reading, said that the Opposition accepted Part I as an act of faith. What do these criticisms amount to? They can, I think, be concentrated into two points. The first is that the assured markets and guaranteed prices will apply only to commodities in the First Schedule, and that other commodities, particularly horiticultural products, are omitted. It has been said that it is unfair to apply the efficiency measures of Part II to horticulture without providing the guarantees under Part I. On Second Reading, I explained that the method of providing stability under Part I was not considered suitable for horticultural products, and that other measures would have to be devised to achieve the same object. I believe that the representatives of that section of the industry appreciate this. Moreover, Part I of the Bill covers no less than 75 per cent. of the total produce, which is a not insignificant proportion. I must remind the House once again that there is power in the Bill to add, by order, other products if it is thought desirable. I think, therefore, there are no solid grounds for criticism on that score.

The other main criticism, which was largely levelled by Members of the Opposition, was that assured markets and guaranteed prices were meaningless because there is power in certain circumstances to limit the size of assured markets for particular commodities. On Second Reading, I explained that the national slogan for agriculture must be, for as far ahead as we can see, "A fully efficient and productive agriculture." We hope that as we gain further experience of the system of price adjustments, this will be sufficient to steer production into those channels which will best serve the national interest, but we cannot be certain that in all cases that will happen. Nevertheless, the Government, as the House would expect from a very wise Government—there have been occasions when the Government have been chastised for taking a second view in the light of apprehensions expressed here and there—have reviewed the whole problem, and they have reached the conclusion that, as far ahead as one can reasonably see, they are prepared to accept complete liability for assuring a market for the whole output of the guaranteed price commodities, with two reservations only, namely, sugar beet and oats.

In the case of sugar beet, the eligible quantity will be that which is sold under contract for delivery to factories; that is to say, the factory capacity will be the determining facor. The Government cannot be expected to guarantee a price for beet which cannot be processed. Oats constitute a special problem of their own. In the United Kingdom as a whole, only 23 per cent. of the total crop over the last five years has been sold off the farms. Normally, of course, the bulk of oats is used on the farms for feeding livestock. On some farms however, especially in Scotland, oats are just as much a cash crop as wheat and barley. The problem, therefore, is to fix a guaranteed price which will be fair to such farmers, without encouraging other farmers to sell off their farms oats which should be kept for their livestock. If the supplies of imported feeding grain become appreciably lower in price then there might be a strong temptation for the producer to sell all the oats he could. That is a contingency which we have to guard against, although I do not anticipate that for several years ahead there will he any possibility of large supplies of feeding stuffs at a price appreciably lower than oats which might make it necessary to limit the guaranteed market for oats.

Another reason for some reserve power in the Bill was that later on, based upon experience, we might feel disposed to add to the commodities in the First Schedule. Therefore, while we accept at the moment an unlimited liability for the guaranteed price commodities subject to the reservations I have made about oats and sugar beet, we cannot here and now undertake to do so for any commodity which might be added to the list. It might, in fact, cause this or any other Government to hesitate before making such additions to the list. It must be remembered that this is a long-term Bill, and that we must not by hasty action do anything that would imperil the whole system of guaranteed prices. I am sure Members will not yet have forgotten the fate of the Corn Production Act, 1921. I hope that my statement will completely remove any misapprehensions there may have been on the Second Reading or in Committee.

Now let me turn very briefly to the other twin pillar of the Bill. If we are to give the industry stability we are entitled to expect the industry to become as efficient as possible. This is important, not only from the point of view of the industry itself, but from the point of view of the nation. It must be clear to all, particularly at the present time, that with the currency difficulties we are facing it must be a prime object of any Government to raise the standard of efficiency in such an important industry as agriculture to the highest possible degree. Therefore, apart from all the arrangements we have made, and are making, to provide landowners and farmers with all the up-to-date technical advice we can, we must have power to see that the land of this country is managed and farmed efficiently. Those in the industry who are unable or unwilling to pull their weight must make way for others who will. For this purpose, the Bill provides us with powers to insist on good estate management and good husbandry, and enables the State where necessary to take over, for full and efficient use, land which would not be developed if it was left in private hands. There is nothing terrible or drastic in these provisions. Adequate safeguards are provided for the owner and the tenant, and he can and will have his case fairly dealt with. It is a perfect example of control and discipline from within by farmers, landowners, farmworkers, and technical and scientific persons. Reasonably good owners or farmers have nothing to fear from Part II of this Bill. On the contrary, most of them will welcome these powers, for the unwilling or incapable minority would otherwise always remain a menace to the majority.

The other main part of the Government's agricultural policy is to provide smallholdings for experienced agricultural workers to become farmers on their own account. This is dealt with in Part IV. We believe that everything that can be done to make a career on the land more attractive is of vital importance to the future of this industry. But it is not enough merely to provide the smallholdings. The experienced agricultural worker must have a chance of climbing the farming ladder at a reasonably early age, and for this purpose the Bill gives power to the Ministry to make loans to tenants of smallholdings for working capital. In Committee, I was asked whether I could give a broad outline of how such loans would operate. At that time, I was not in a position to give a detailed answer. I am glad to say that I am now in a position to do so. As Members will be aware, the Minister can advance up to 75 per cent. of the total working capital required for the proper working of the holding. As the maximum loans may be fairly large, we must not make repayments too heavy a burden on the borrower, and I am proposing, therefore, to lay down a general rule that the amount of a loan must always be determined by the borrower's capacity to repay, taking into account his personal qualities and the productive capacity of the holding. At the same time, we want to make sure that no applicant who is really suitable is debarred simply because he has been unable to save enough capital.

With these considerations in mind I am proposing, with the concurrence of the Treasury, to allow repayments to be spread over a fairly long period. The periods, of course, will vary with the nature of the loan. Normally, the period for repayment of a loan for seeds and fertilisers would be three years, while for fruit trees, livestock, or implements it would be six years. I hope that in most cases there will be no need to extend the period beyond 10 years, but to make doubly sure we propose to allow the period to be extended, where it is really necessary, to a maximum of 12 years.

I would suggest that as cherries take a long time to come to fruition, more than six years would be required.

I hope I have covered the point by stretching the period where necessary to 12 years. The proposed rate of interest under present conditions would range between 2½ per cent, on the short-term loan of three years, and 3 per cent. on the 12-year loan. We shall expect no repayment of principal for the first year after the loan is made. This ought to help the smallholder to establish himself without calling too heavily on his own assets, or compelling him to live from hand to mouth. Where conditions are extremely difficult, we shall allow two years before the borrower starts with his repayments of principal. Interest will, of course, accrue from the date of issue of the Joan. In a word, the Government's aim is successful smallholders rather than impoverished willing slaves. As regards administration, clearly, the best bodies to advise are the smallholding authorities. They know their tenants, and can always keep an eye on them. They will examine all requests for loans and make recommendations to the Minister. They will issue the loans from funds advanced to them on my behalf, and receive the repayments in the first instance. Lastly I am considering, in consultation with the Treasury, the question of introducing safeguards to ensure that the loans will be used for the purposes for which they were advanced, that repayments will not fall into arrears and that wherever practicable security is provided. I trust that these arrangements will commend themselves to the House, and to the industry.

During our discussions in Committee, great play was made by some Members opposite, in particular by the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York), about the question of statisticians, and their apparently insatiable appetite for information. Statisticians might, I think, be compared to ladies of easy virtue, for they are simultaneously condemned and much sought after. The statistical needs of my Department are exceedingly great, as hon. Members must appreciate. We are more or less responsible for marketing £600 million worth of food. We have to conduct an annual price review, and it would be exceedingly unfortunate, to either the farmer or the Treasury, if, for the want of essential information, we made errors in the figures varying by £5 million or £20 million. As hon. Members ought to be aware, the perpetual questioner is always seeking more facts and figures, like the old time questioner who once asked what what was the price of wheat in England and of sawdust in Winnipeg. Because so many people want so much information the various kinds of statisticians have to be available and they do a grand job.

That is a brief outline of the basic principles which underline the Government's agricultural policy, as embodied in this Bill. This is one of the most important Measures which this Government have introduced during their period of office. There has been close consultation with the chief representative bodies throughout the building up of the Measure and its passage through this House, and I am hopeful that the same kind of consultation will continue for the purposes of administration. I believe that this Bill provides an opportunity for agriculture to stand in its rightful place side by side with other major industries of this country, and through the implementation of this policy we shall, for the first time, be able to look ahead with confidence to a stable, efficient, prosperous agriculture. A good deal has been said in the past about the shortages of houses, electricity, water, and other amenities. These things were never provided because there was never any real confidence in the industry. Once this Bill is on the Statute Book and this real cornerstone is well and truly laid, I think that houses, electricity, water and the other rural amenities will automatically follow. It is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.

3.51 p.m.

I am sure that the whole House will regret the absence of the Parliamentary Secretary to-the Ministry and wish him a speedy recovery. Both he and the Minister, throughout the protracted discussions we have.had on this Bill upstairs, have shown considerable courtesy to the Opposition, and we naturally feel better disposed towards a Bill where the Ministers have been friendly and accommodating, even though there have been scarcely any Amendments in its structure, than we would have felt had the Bill been in other hands.

The right hon. Gentleman, unlike some other Ministers, has no need to say comfortable and friendly things either to the middle-class or any other class, for he has shown throughout his Parliamentary career that he cares more than a "tinker's cuss" for every section of the community, if that section is doing its best to pull its weight in our national life. None the less, we feel that the right hon. Gentleman has pitched the case for this Bill too high, and a great number of the Bill's apologists in the country have done the same. We did not oppose this Bill on Second Reading, and we do not propose to do so today, because the main part of Part I of the Bill is to continue in peacetime the policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) of guaranteed prices and guaranteed markets, and annual and special reviews.

We believe, that, apart from this, the case for the Bill has been pitched far too high. Provision is made in Part I of the Bill and in the First Schedule, for example, for fixing prices based on the cost of production. About 40 per cent; of the cost of production on the average farm is the cost of labour, and the right hon. Gentleman himself said that there is nothing in this Bill about either the provision of labour or any method of bridging the alarming gap between facilities and needs; nor is there anything about the fixing of labour costs. Prices are to be fixed by the Minister according to the cost of production, but labour and wages are still to be subject to free negotiation. It remains to be shown what difficulties may arise when these twin methods are used for arriving at costs. Again, there is nothing, as the right hon. Gentleman told us, about housing. It would be out of Order to deal with that in any detail, but we all hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use his best influence with his colleague the Minister of Health to see that something on the lines of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act is again put on the Statute Book.

Again, the right hon. Gentleman himself inferred that horticulture is to suffer all the disabilities and penalties which this Bill involves without getting any of the security of prices or markets. Horticultural production in last year's figures is valued at 100 million, and that is a pretty substantial omission. Above all, there is nothing in the Bill in Statute form about the size of the home market for which the guaranteed prices are to be given, and branches of the National Farmers' Union, after the first acceptance of the Bill, are beginning now rapidly to realise that it is on the size of the guaranteed market that everything else depends. Really all that Part I of the Bill does is to lay on the Government of the day a moral obligation to make the production of certain certified foodstuffs profitable, but in unspecified quantities. It is, I think, as well that farmers and workers alike should realise precisely what is the situation.

We were very interested in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman in which he gave still one more assurance—that everything in the First Schedule with certain exceptions—sugar beet and oats—would be bought at a fixed price by the Government. I am sure that he would be among the first to realise that Ministerial assurances are not worth a great deal in the uncertain world in which we live. We would have been happier if we could have seen something in Statute form. What is the agricultural community getting in Parts I, II and III of the Bill? On one side, it is getting a promise of a guaranteed market and a guaranteed price for an unspecified quantity of certain products, the fulfilment of which is very largely problematical; and, on the other side, it is accepting controls and penalties which are certain and definite. Once they have been imposed, will they ever be lifted or even ameliorated? Certainly not in the lifetime of the present Government.

It is on the size of the market that everything else depends. May I say, in opening this particular theme, that I think one satisfactory feature of the association of the Socialist Government with the agriculture has been the recognition by most of their responsible leaders that the food subsidies given today, to the tune of nearly £400 million, are not subsidies to the producer but subsidies to the consumer? If free prices prevailed the farmer would be getting far more than he is getting today. This recognition is valuable and will be, I think, of value for the proper conduct of agriculture in the years that lie ahead. The object of Part I of this Bill is stated to be the promotion of stable and efficient agricultural industry, capable of producing such part of the nation's food as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom.

Throughout the Committee stage of this Bill, we have tried to elicit exactly what the Government mean by the phrase—" such part of the nation's food as it it desirable to produce in the United Kingdom. Many of us fear that the Government mean, and will mean more and more in the months that lie ahead, that part of the nation's food that cannot be bought more cheaply in foreign markets. Of course, we cannot expect this Bill to contain a Schedule of prices—that is obviously unreasonable—but we think that it is reasonable to ask the Government to say how large this assured market is to be. It ought not to have been beyond the wit of man to devise some phrases in this Bill which would have given that assurance in a form more valuable than the Minister's assurance given a minute or two ago. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), in the Second Reading Debate, gave a suggestion of his own. Many of us have ideas about that and what might have been incorporated in the Bill. That something on these lines should have been incorporated in the Bill is, I think, common ground on these Opposition benches. There is nothing at the present moment to prevent the Minister from varying, as often as he likes, or, at any rate, in two years, the quantities of specified foodstuffs that the Government will buy, merely by using the phrase lately in currency, "changing the emphasis." If this should happen, then all the rosy hopes of the farming community will be falsified, and the basis of the Agricultural Wages Bill, passed through the House recently, will be completely undermined.

To amplify what I have in mind I would like to deal with two items that appear in the First Schedule, pigs and eggs. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recently given a rather definite hint that still further cuts in certain imports may be inevitable. It is not impossible that those cuts might apply to feedingstuffs, which have already been cut so drastically that we are now well below even the ration allowed at the height of the U-boat menace. We have in the First Schedule guaranteed prices and markets for fat pigs and eggs. We know that at present we are spending millions on imported bacon and eggs, at a cost, incidentally, which has been calculated to be at least four times as much as it would have cost to import the equivalent amount of raw material to produce the finished foods over here. Should there be further cuts in feedingstuffs, what possible value is attached to the guaranteed market for fat pigs or for eggs? The figures published only a little while ago show that in the last year the number of pigs in England has declined by 300,000, and the number of poultry by two million. What is the value of a guaranteed market if there are to be further inroads on those figures?

I hate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman while he is making that case, but in view of its possible reactions throughout the country I think I ought to make it transparently clear that there never has been any cutting down of possible imports of feedingstuffs, there is no suggestion of cutting down imports of feeding stuffs, and, indeed, it is our desire to purchase as many millions of tons of feedingstuffs as may be available from anywhere. I should not like it to go forth from this House, nor would the hon. Member I am sure, that there is even a vague possibility of the Government cutting down the imports of feedingstuffs.

How is it, then, that one can buy maize in France and cannot buy it here?

If the hon. Gentleman can inform the Minister of Food that maize is available outside the European Economic Council's allocation, I am quite sure the Minister of Food will be very happy to purchase it tomorrow morning.

I think the answer both to the right hon. Gentleman and to my hon. Friend behind me is that if we were allowed to restore the buying of feedingstuffs through private importers, and get away from the present bulk purchase, we should speedily find that particular difficulty ironed out. There are indeed large quantities of feedingstuffs available as the rest of the world knows well, outside the sphere of the allocation of the Combined Boards, and it has been this constant harping on the political nostrum of bulk purchase which has prevented the Government from allowing private people to go where the supplies are available.

The right hon. Gentleman said in reply to my hon. Friend behind me, that if he knew where feedingstuffs were available he should inform the Minister of Food. That leads me to the next difficulty in regard to these guaranteed prices and markets. If the Minister were himself completely in charge of the whole agricultural policy of the Government, we should be much less disturbed than we are, but we know that he is not. He is one of e number of Ministers, any we fear he is not necessarily the most powerful. I support wholeheartedly the attempts of my noble Friend behind me to get a clarification in this Bill of the rôle of the Minister of Food. We cannot forget the statement made by the Minister of Food on 11th December in this House, that we buy agricultural products at the lowest prices we can get in the world, and we very much fear the outcome of a tussle which may arise in the Cabinet between the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture We remember very well the previous difficulty over wheat in October and November, or in February of last year with the Minister of Labour over manpower or again with the Board of Trade over machinery. All these things are very relevant to guaranteed prices and markets.

Again, at the present moment, with the Geneva Conference assembled, we are very alarmed lest suddenly we may find a Government statement to the effect that in order to secure general agreement on an international plane—so it will be phrased —we have agreed to some limitation of our right of control of our home market, which will be very much to the disadvantage of agriculture here. We are afraid that this may well have been the reason why the right hon. Gentleman consistently refused to answer my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) when he asked him two or three times on the Second Reading whether the Government s policy was, first place for the home market and second place for the Empire and Colonial producers.

Lastly, on regard to this question of prices and markets, I think on the Third Reading the attention of the House should be drawn again to Clause 92, in which the Minister takes certain very sweeping powers. It now appears as Clause 95, (Special Directions to procure production). We did our best in Committee to get this Clause deleted from the Bill. We feel that under this Clause the Minister may by direction be able to carry on the work of Clause 4 and undermine the security which he is pretending or claiming the farming community will receive. When we discussed this Clause in Committee the right hon. Gentleman said that it was designed to deal exclusively with the sort of emergency which we encountered in 1914 and again in 1939, and he added that he hoped that 10 would be a very long time before we had to operate these provisions. Then came the Report stage, in which only a day or two ago the Minister moved Amendment strengthening the Clause, and announced that it was his intention to seek the approval of the House for the making of an order later this year—in advance o any emergency—after the appointed day has been settled and announced This is a clear indication of what does happen despite assurances quite genuinely given by the right hon. Gentleman and a clear indication of how it will be possible to undermine that guarantee of prices and markets which the average farmer undoubtedly believes he has obtained or will obtain by this Bill.

So much for prices and markets. In return for these problematical assurances, what is the agricultural community undertaking to do? I have not time to deal with all the various obligations with which rural Britain will now be saddled, but I would like to pick out one or two. Of course, by far the most important of all the changes is that part of the Bill which relates to land tenure. Can we really say that security of tenure has been achieved? The object of the Bill is to see that the good tenant and the good owner can have peace of mind, and can plan ahead for a period of years. First let me say that if the good owner and the good tenant are to have peace of mind, we must accept agriculture, as many of us try to do, as a partnership between the State, the landowner, the tenant, the owner-occupier and the farmworker. Partnerships involves understanding each other's difficulties and problems, and so people have to understand the point of view of the landowner. Since 1939, while prices have gone up 90 per cent, and wages 120 per cent., rents have gone up only 6 per cent. That fact must be recognised, and its consequences cannot be dodged if we are to have partnership on the land.

These new tenure proposals are based on the partnership between a good owner and a good tenant. This presupposes that there are good owners, a view which we have naturally held all our lives and which many hon. Members opposite have also held. Can it be said that under this Bill there is security for the good owner? It is known that a large proportion of the Socialist Party are determined to nationalise the land.

The hon. Gentleman says "as soon as we can." Can it then be argued that a good owner, however good he may be, is to have security under this Bill, and will be encouraged to put money into the land and to do all he possibly can to carry out the rules of good estate management, if he knows that active members on the other side are determined to take away his property as soon as they think it politically desirable to do so? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that nationalisation of the land is not, as yet, in the programme, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture said that for better or for worse it was not in the programme last time. But a recent Fabian publication "Towards Socialist Agriculture" takes this view. "Unhappily," they say in effect, "not as yet"—but they hint that all good things come in the end. Private ownership of land, is not yet, of itself, regarded as a crime, even by tenant farmers, although they appear to regard this latter fact as almost incredible.

How can one say that under this Bill an owner, however good, diligent and prudent he may be, can be said to have the peace of mind which is an essential part of a happy partnership? Apart from the undoubted and known threats of hon. Gentlemen opposite, this Bill, through Clause 81, would enable the Minister to do all that he wanted to do by way of nationalising the land without taking any further powers but merely by invoking the powers that are already in the Bill. So much for the position of the owner; what about the position of the tenant under these proposals? Undoubtedly some tenants who have been subject to bad landlords will have improved status under this Bill, but the vast majority of tenants in England have not lived like that. The average farm tenancy, as we have heard frequently in this House, has been 22 years, which hardly suggests a hectic, unhappy and frequently disrupted partnership between owner and tenant.

This Bill does certain things. It changes the relationship of confidence and mutual obligation between landlord and tenant into a list of statutory requirements, with all the rigidity and lack of humanity that that frequently involves. By the super-security that it gives to tenants it will mean that fewer farms will come into the market, and the chances of new capital and fresh blood being pumped into the land are diminished. It is very difficult to reconcile this part of the Bill with the very proper objectives of the Government in regard to smallholdings. I agree wholeheartedly with the Government's approach to the problem of smallholdings in Part IV of the Bill. I am glad we are to avoid the errors committed after the last war and to have people who are likely to make a success on the land planted there rather than people planted for social considerations. I speak as representing an agricultural division where, unhappily, every one of our special area tenants has packed up after some years of attempting to make a living out of the land. But if smallholding is to be a step in the ladder, then people must be able to climb higher up the ladder still and the super-security imposed on tenants under this Bill may well reduce the high hopes of Part IV and of many smallholders, and nullify their reasonable ambitions.

Lastly, in regard to tenure, I agree with what my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said on the Second Reading—that it may well be that many people who ought to lose their tenancies and who, under the old system, would have lost them, may continue to hold them because of the natural reluctance of their neighbours to weigh the scales against them. As he said, the cumulative effect of having tilted the balance in favour of the existing tenant may in fact lead to badly cultivated land. I think these things should be borne in mind on the occasion of the Third Reading of a Bill of this kind, for it may well result that, with the best will in the world and with every intention to do all we can to help agriculture, we may end by perpetuating, and indeed increasing, some of the very evils that the Bill is designed to remove.

There is one other evil from which this part of what was once the United Kingdom has been happily immune, or comparatively so, though that has not been the case in Ireland. It is the evil of the absentee landlord. Are we not perhaps introducing the absentee landlord into English agriculture? We are setting up a Land Commission with sweeping powers. We have little indication of what land will pass into the holding of the Land Commission, although we have heard about Romney Marsh and part of the Fenland, but with its great powers, which are not yet fully specified under this Bill, the Commission may well find itself a large landowner in England and, inevitably, a large and absentee landowner, with all the consequences to local and village life which absentee landlordism brings. So much for the tenure proposals under this Bill.

As the right hon. Gentleman must be tired of hearing, if we were fairly sure that throughout the Socialist Government he would remain Minister of Agriculture, we should be less disturbed than we now are. Over all these powers hovers the Minister of Agriculture, with a large and growing staff and his share of the 13,000 enforcement officers that now owe allegiance to the present Socialist Government. Here in this Bill in his authority if he chooses—or authority for any of his successors if he should choose—to vary the markets and the prices and to remain the permanent dictator of the British agricultural industry. In addition to all the powers I have specified, he has taken power to refuse appeals on supervision orders, to refuse appeals to the High Court on dispossession orders, and to acquire land by compulsory purchase instead of allowing it to be compulsorily sold. Though he puts in safeguards to calm the public today, these can easily be withdrawn as were the safeguards in the original Clause 82 when the solemn pledges in the 1941 Act to dispossessed owners in the war were quite casually torn up in the Second Reading speech he made some months ago. In addition, he has powers—which he is using and will continue to use—to take away much of the authority of the elected representatives of the people in the county councils, and to put in their places his own nominated servants, piling on to those servants such a burden of work that only people with nothing else to do and, therefore, presumably second-rate people, will be able in time of peace to assume the responsibility.

This seems to many of us to be a very heavy price to pay for the problematical guaranteed market and price, but the land has a gift of withstanding and outliving all Ministers and all political parties. It is older than any political party, and once this Bill becomes law we shall naturally work it loyally. Then, when the time comes, we shall work it in our own way and take the fullest advantage of some of its excellent provisions. We must work together on the land and for an agricultural policy not only because of our present desperate situation—it is not, I think, realised that a 10 per cent. increase in home agricultural production would wipe out one-fifth of our total trade deficit last year—but, even more important, because agriculture is not only a profession and a living but a way of life which must be preserved despite all the efforts of party extremists to prevent it.

4.20 p.m.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) always puts me in a dilemma. I think of all the bad points about him—and they are legion—but at the end of it all I have rather a sneaking regard for him. He began by saying that the Minister pitched the Bill too high. The hon. Gentleman will read his own speech tomorrow and he will get an idea of what he means by pitching the case too high. I heard him use such terms as "dictator," "absentee landlordism" What I cannot understand is why he is so magnanimous as not to go into the Lobby tonight and vote against the Bill. Most of his case was based on how extravagant and unnecessary was this Bill. He went to some extent with the argument as to why there should not be this power in certain circumstances of limiting the market over which a guarantee is given. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to read the leader in today's "Times." I know that "The Times" is not in great favour with hon. Gentlemen opposite these days. Nevertheless, it is excellent and it deals at some length with this point when it says:

"What is important is that the farming community should recognise explicitly the irresponsibility for adjusting production to changing needs."
It goes on to point out how any country would find it very difficult to get support from the east bulk of the people for a policy vastly different from that which the Minister is commending to the House in the Third Reading.

I will not go on very much longer to deal with what the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford said, except to say I hope he will allow me to disagree with the implication which he skilfully got into the passage about landlordism, namely that there was no fear of the questionable practices of absentee landlordism in Ireland ever arising in this country. If the hon. Gentleman meant that, some of us who have experience of the countryside would not accept the implication at all. May I say for myself how much I and other hon. Gentlemen applaud the Minister for the persistence with which he has stood by the very good parts of this Bill. We applaud the guarantees despite all that has been said about them and the courage with which the Minister has stood for the principle in them. We applaud the security of tenure. In my division there are a lot of small tenant farmers, and some of the things said by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford would ring strangely in the ears of the tenant farmers of South Derbyshire. We applaud something which the hon. Gentleman did not mention—the provision in the Bill for the advisory services. This is long overdue and it is really something which should be done in a national way and not in a cheeseparing way. We applaud the Bill because we want what the Minister called a sound and efficient agriculture.

The first point I want to make is that when the Minister talks about a sound and efficient agriculture the operative word is, in fact, "efficient." I never believed that there was much in the talk about suspicion between the town dweller and the countryman and between the urban worker and the rural worker. Sometimes that was given as the reason why it was not possible to do so much here for the agricultural worker. But from my experience as a trade union representative of both urban and rural workers, there was always enough of the suspicion that the one was trying to get a sharp bargain at the expense of the other to justify the saying that there was something in this. What is happening under this Bill suggests to me that the countryman should never give the townsman any grounds for suspecting that he is relying on the security given by this Bill and he should never in any measure rest on his oars.

"The Times," if I may refer to that leader again, makes the point that the countryman must not use out-of-date methods in respect of marketing in particular. I hope in the operation of this Bill that the farming community will not lose sight of the important obligation that rests upon them, and, unlike the hon. Gentleman for Mid-Bedford, I imagine that if the farmer is getting a privilege and a benefit he should not object to accepting the obligation. The obligation that is laid upon him is to run an efficient industry, and I think that there is one great guarantee about all this in the county executive committees. I want unashamedly to say very vigorously that I think far too little has been said in praise of the past work and in recognition of what is about to be done by the executive committees and the district committees, who are probably the Cinderellas of all. Even a member of a county executive committee recognises that the member of the district committee is the person who gets all the running around and trotting about to do.

I heard the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford use the term "nominated servant." It seems to me to be, of all terms, that most calculated to discourage a public-spirited man who is farming on his own account from giving up his time and helping in the most valuable work of trying to encourage his fellow farmers to do better. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not follow this business of down-grading public-spirited men. We have a tradition and special genius in all these matters, and British people seem prepared to give up their own time and at great expense work for the State, and do it unpaid. To talk about "bureaucrats" and "nominated servants" seems to me to be a horrible way of trying to secure that that special genius of our race goes on.

I want to pay my tribute to these executive committees. I was associated with them during the war, and I know that anyone who was a member of an executive committee claimed that his committee was the best. I think I can truthfully say that there was none better than the one I was on. The members of it were first-rate fellows. Some were very small farmers, some were large farmers, some were tenant farmers, and some were large landowners, but all did very good work indeed. I would not like to associate myself with what has been said on the other side of the House and which has been too easily said, too, by one's own' colleagues, namely, that farmers are in a class by themselves and that we cannot look with great sympathy to them or that they will not extend any great sympathy to us. Those views are entirely wrong. My fear during the war was that when it was over these fine fellows were going to give up this special work, arguing that the crisis was over and that it was time that they returned to their own farms and got on with their job. I had many talks with them about that subject, and I hope that by the passing of this Bill we will get these fellows to go on and do this work despite the fact that the war crisis has gone.

May I say a word for the staffs of the executive committees? There again, if a farmer got angry because something could not be done the person who was chosen to go and take, the full force of his ire was a member of the staff, and I should like to say how very well these people served. I hope they will continue to give the same service in the future and that the Minister will provide for them reasonable security in the jobs that they are doing.

That leads me rather easily to the point I want to make, in regard to the farmworkers themselves. It is fashionable and with much more sincerity nowadays to pay tribute in discussions on agriculture to the work the farmworker is doing. May I say for myself, because I think it is contrary to modern trends, that I have a strong predilection for the old-fashioned all-rounder, and I think we have elevated too much the tractor driver and suchlike men who are rather limited special men. The agricultural labourer, as we called him, was a first-rate man who could turn his hand to anything. I hope we will get away from this modern tendency of elevating some particular and comparatively easily picked up skill and overlook the old-time man who could do everything well.

No matter how much we talk about a ladder of security—and we have done so quite a lot—and about smallholdings as being the means by which the farm-worker can climb up the ladder, it is not every farmworker who can hope to have a smallholding. If we want to convince the farmworker that there is an avenue of opportunity for him, we have to offer something other than small holdings, something on the lines mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford by giving him a sense of partnership. It is difficult to legislate for that or to make the Bill provide for it. Farmers have to be big enough and farseeing enough to make that sense of partnership very real.

During the war we tried to do it by farmers bringing their men into demonstrations and talks, and making them feel that they were really part of the set-up. I hope that we shall go on doing that. I do not see eye to eye with many of my colleagues on the question of executive committee representation. I hope we shall not have differences of that kind in this Debate today. I hope I shall not be too provocative if I say that that is not the important point on this issue, unless unfortunate, or perhaps I may even say irresponsible, organising methods were employed which would benefit nobody. The big issue is to identify the farmworker himself with the industry and with his part in the partnership. I appeal to all who are concerned in the industry, on one side or on the other, to see that this is, in fact, done.

There is one matter I want to mention to the Minister before I finish. One finds up and down the country a concern which is expressed with various degrees of vigour about that part of the Bill which provides for the appointment of county committees. Some of the appointments are in the Minister's own hands in the special sense that they do not come from the panel nominated by any particular group of the industry. The Minister will be aware, without my going into details, that some folk have unhappy views about the nominations the Minister has made in parts of the country, in relation to the interim reconstruction arrangements pending the passing of the Bill. I hope that when the Minister winds up the Debate he will be able to give us some assurances on this matter, without hampering himself for the future. We are passing this Bill in a very different spirit from that in which Parliament used to approach matters related to the land. Today we are not thinking chiefly of agricultural interests but, in a very real sense, of the national administration of a vital national asset. My reason for commending the Bill is not because of the interests of this, that, or the other group in the agricultural indus- try, but because I believe that it will benefit all in the community it the use of a vital national asset.

4.34 p.m.

there were many remarks made by the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) with which I agreed. I should like to associate myself with the tribute he paid to the agricultural committees. If he reads HANSARD tomorrow he will find that the remarks which he attributed to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) do not quite represent what my hon. Friend said. There is a grave danger of the voluntary members being swamped by the amount of work which is being given to them and of officials having to carry it out. I agree very much with his remarks about the general agricultural labourer. It will probably interest the hon. Member to know that those views are also held by many of us in connection with the Forces, where large numbers of specialists used to receive what some of us think were exorbitant rates of pay as compared with less specialised all-round men.

I welcome a great deal of this Bill. I have always felt that agriculture like defence and foreign policy, should be removed as far as possible from party politics. It is not always possible to do so. We get, as I suppose is inevitable, little rivulets of Socialism trickling in from the other side of the House, and there are features which I personally resent in the Bill. I cannot say I like Clause 12. By not giving a tenant a right of appeal before he is put under supervision we are putting the tenant in the position where rightly or wrongly, a slur is being put upon him for inefficiency. I speak as a farmer myself. I found it rather difficult to discover during the Report stage—I was not privileged to be present during the Committee stage—why some hon. Members opposite felt that being placed under supervision did not bring a slur. I should have thought that if somebody told an hon. Member that he was not running his constituency properly and that the Patronage Secretary was to put him under supervision, he would feel that it was a very great slur, and he would want a right of appeal to a neutral tribunal. If an hon. Lady on the other side were to be put under supervision in her own kitchen—although I think he would be a very bold man who volunteered to do so—I feel she would think it was a slur. The implementation of the provisions in regard to dispossession is one of the vital points in the Bill, and will require to be very carefully handled by the Minister and by the voluntary members and officials who will be assisting him.

If the Government cannot ensure the provision of the requisite houses and machinery so that the land may be farmed efficiently, the lack of those facilities must receive consideration as I am sure they will from the present Minister. The same remarks apply to such matters as fencing and wire, which are in short supply. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) referred on the Report stage to a man whose herd of cattle strayed into contact with a tested herd. The Minister should be very careful before any reflection is cast upon such a man, and should make sure that the man has not applied for fencing material, which is very difficult to get, and has failed to obtain a permit before the farmer is regarded as having been inefficient in that respect. I believe that the question of efficiency will have to be correlated with the necessity for mechanisation in view of our shortage of manpower, especially in what were formerly chiefly grazing areas such as Leicestershire and Romney Marsh.

I view with great suspicion the shortage of machinery on the land. There was a question on the Order Paper placed by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) today and I was checking up the effect in Leicestershire over the weekend. I am gravely alarmed to see that the exports of tractors numbered 8,256 in the first four months of this year, compared with 5,406 in the first four months of last year. I hope that the Minister will get from the Board of Trade some priorities on this question of the supply of agricultural machinery to British farmers. It is equally true of threshing machines and elevators. We have doubled our exports of threshings drums, etc. If we criticise a farmer for being inefficient when he has not equipment, labour or housing, we may make a very grave mistake and inflict an injustice.

Looking at the Third Schedule of the Bill and speaking as a man of Kent, I am not happy and I should be failing in my duty if I did not say so. The Minister has taken power, no doubt rightly, to authorise the erection of wire work in hop gardens and the growing of herbage crops for seed. Both of those take a large share in Kentish agriculture as well as in other counties, but there is no guaranteed price. Part 1 of the Third Schedule allows a landlord to prevent the planting of fruit. There is no guaranteed price for fruit. It is fruit growing, and particularly the growing of soft fruits, which has always felt the first brunt of the tariff policy going wrong, allowing cheap sub-sidised imports from abroad.

I quite appreciate the difficulties of the Minister, but I hope that we shall soon have further legislation in connection with horticulture. I believe we can make another £50 million a year and save imports to that extent if we get our horticulture going properly. The people of Kent will look to the Minister to take early action as they are not happy at the failure to include a promise of fair prices for wool, fruit, grass-seed and hops. It is only on broad lines and in certain aspects that I welcome this Bill. I wish there was not so much interference and bureaucracy and I hope that at some time a future Government will amend it and give more liberty to the agricultural industry.

4.42 p.m.

The Minister has referred to the importance of this Bill in our national life, and I entirely agree with the sentiment he expressed. As a national service, agriculture will be able through this Bill to make an increasingly valuable contribution to the welfare of the State. Despite occasional outbursts outside this House from a few people who are more vocal than the rest, the Bill is in a great number of respects a very popular Measure. It is deservedly popular with the farming community generally because it conveys an assurance to them that the events that occurred in farming circles after the last war will not be repeated. I give wholehearted support to the Measure. I have done so all the way through, and I have done my best to popularise it in the countryside.

I am very sorry at this closing stage of the discussion of the Bill to have to strike a jarring note. Despite what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Belper Mr. G. Brown), I want to return to the composition of the county agriculture committees. I am extremely unhappy about the position in which this matter has been left. I raised the matter in Standing Committee and was soundly beaten by the Government and Conservative votes. I then sought to make provision to increase the number of workers' nominees from two to three, and to put them on an equality with the farmers. The decision in Standing Committee to reject my plea has been received with general dismay among farmworkers. They and others were hoping for a successful working of the Government's agriculture policy as embodied in this Bill, and they feel convinced that a mistake has been made in refusing to allow the workers to play, what I consider they were prepared to play and will still, I hope, play, a very full part in carrying out the Minister's wise policy.

The county agricultural committees to be set up under the Bill can make the Minister's policy a success or a failure. I also have seen the working of these committees from inside. I served as a member of an executive committee throughout the war. The character of the representation on these committees had a very direct bearing in more than one respect upon the success of the food production campaign during war time, and it will be so in peace time, workers' representatives will be on these committees to assist in directing the Minister's policy, and the chief objective will be the production of more food. Farmworkers will not need much urging to make a supreme effort. They have already made a supreme effort this year and have achieved a miracle. They will not need need much spurring to continue this very fine work; but the Minister's action in regard to the composition of the new committees gives these very valuable men the impression that they are wanted when there is plenty of hard work to be done, but when it comes to handing out a few honours, they are in the back row. I am sorry the Minister has seen fit deliberately to ignore the plea I have made from time to time. In his proposals for the composition of these committees, the Minister gives no guarantee that among the other members will be found any from the ranks of the workers. I wanted the representation to be equal as between farmers, workers, and landlords. Surely, there is nothing for any fair-minded person to take exception to it the representation of three parties invited to join in running a concern is upon an equal basis.

It has been argued again and again by the Minister and others that the Bill does not really concern the farmworkers, but I say that it does. The committees will be big employers of labour. While the Central Wages Board will fix the national minimum wage, the committees will be called upon to make all kinds of adjustments with regard to wages and conditions of work of the many thousands of people they employ. The committees will be in a position to deal with inefficient farmers, hut their action in the granting of cottage certificates may result in the eviction of hundreds of not inefficient, but highly efficient, farm and other workers. The Minister stated that there is not a single control measure exercised by the committees which directly affects the worker, but the whole livelihood of the man who works in agriculture is dependent completely upon the success of the Government's new policy as carried through by the county committees. These are days of working parties and joint production councils, and in this regard we can make the contribution of the farmworker more effective still if he possesses the knowledge that his contribution is regarded as a worthy one, not only on the fields, but in the councils set up to deal with the running of the new agriculture. We are all anxious that the Bill should function on a basis of good will. I do not think the Minister's proposal in this regard will make for good will. I am sorry he has taken this attitude towards the men in regard to the claim they are making, when the whole structure of agriculture in the future, as in the past, will rest upon the workers.

I call attention again to the fact that this party has for years had an agricultural policy. The Bill puts part of this Labour Party agricultural policy into effect. Some of us indulged in policy-making when the chance of translating that policy into legislation appeared to be very remote. The Minister and I were two of the individuals who indulged in that a good many years ago. At that -time we held only one agricultural seat, the constituency for which I have the honour to sit. We did not bother about landlords at that time but said that, on the new bodies to be set up under the Labour Party's agricultural policy, there should be an equal number of farmers and farmworkers. We repeated this in further declarations of policy, and now that we have reached a stage when we are able to translate that policy into action, I am sorry that the workers are to be placed in a further hopeless minority.

Before my hon. Friend resumes his seat, may I say that, while I quite expected him, as President of the Agricultural Workers' Union, to make the kind of speech he is now making, I hope he will complete the story and tell the House that in the policies to which he referred, neither he nor I, nor any other member of the Labour Party, had the faintest notion that such county executive committees as are visualised under Part 11 of this Bill w