§ The Chairman
The Amendment in the name of the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) is one about which I have some doubt, but I shall call it and reserve my right to stop it if I find that it is out of order.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Sir Francis Acland
I beg to move, in page 1, line 15, after "slag," to insert:or of sea-sand containing not less than two tons of lime.This is mainly a local matter, and I shall deal with it as briefly as possible. Cornwall has no limestone in it, except that which is imported by the Atlantic rollers from the sea-bottom, and therefore the limestone which is available by land is very dear. If one tries to get quotations for lime supplied anywhere to a Cornish railway station, one finds that the price for hydrated lime, which is midway between that of lump lime and ground lime, ranges from about 40s. to 48s. a ton, and on top of that there are haulage charges from the railway station. Therefore, this imported lime works out at a price of about £2 10s. a ton, or 2S. 6d. a cwt., which is a very high charge compared with the cost in any other county in England or Wales where limestone is available much closer. Against that the import from the Atlantic, if I may put it so, is available much more cheaply, and in many cases what is available is of a very high quality in the form of sea-sand. There are seven beaches along the north coast of Cornwall where you get sea-sand containing limestone carbonate, in percentages varying from 68 to 84, which means that in terms of calcium oxide the farmer can get a ton of calcium oxide from two to three tons of sand. There are places with not quite as high a percentage but where three to four tons of sand will provide a ton of calcium oxide.
592 This lime obtainable from the sea beaches should not be ruled out of the lime scheme under this Clause. A fertiliser scheme is to be framed under the Clause, and if I could be told that consideration would be given to including in it this sea-sand lime, which is the Cornish farmers' main supply, my point would be met. I am told that it would be quite possible, with the help of the Farmers' Union, to work out a scheme which would prevent the subsidy going in the wrong direction, and that is of course essential. There is, I know, the very important question of not spoiling the beaches by taking away too much sand. That can be and ought to be dealt with, although it is difficult and it differs in different places. In some cases it is possible for local authorities to make by-laws for preserving their beaches, and there is the fact that the owners of the foreshore have certain rights in the matter. I hope that the Government will not rule out the possibility of getting the lime where it is reasonably available on the sea coast.
§ 4.7 P.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Mr. Ramsbotham)
I am glad to be able to give the right hon. Baronet the assurance that he requires. It is our intention that sea-sand shall be included in this scheme under Clause 3, sub-section (i) (g). That will enable us to bring sea-sand into the definition of lime. As I have given that assurance perhaps the right hon. Baronet will not press his Amendment.
§ The Chairman
If the hon. and gallant Member speaks, the right hon. Baronet cannot withdraw his Amendment.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Agnew
No other hon. Member has had an opportunity of saying a word on the Amendment. I should like to reinforce what the right hon. Baronet said. It has been an old custom, dating from the time of James I, for Cornish farmers to cart sand from the shores. I am very glad to say that, some days ago, after I had been in communication with the Minister of 593 Agriculture on the subject, he gave me a most favourable reply and said that before the Committee stage of the Bill he would be able to give us what he hoped would be a positive assurances that Cornish sea-sand would not be ruled out. I am very glad that the right hon. Baronot has to-day had the confirmation which I was led to expect.
§ 4.9 P.m.
§ Mr. Petherick
I do not want to delay the proceedings. In the course of a speech the other day on the Financial Resolution the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) referred to the absence from the discussions of the three Conservative Members for Cornwall. This is what he said:This point has been raised by the Farmers' Union, and I am bound to put it here to-night because my colleagues who represent Cornwall have not been present during this debate.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1937; col. 1898, Vol. 325.]He referred to the fact that we were absent at a by-election.
§ The Chairman
I cannot see that the attendance of hon. Members in Committee on the Financial Resolution has anything to do with this Amendment.
§ Mr. Petherick
The discussion on the Financial Resolution, which was raised by the right hon. Baronet, was on the subject of sea-sand and the object of this Amendment is to include sea-sand in the Bill. Am I not therefore right, when reproached by the right hon. Baronet, to explain the reason why we were absent and the measures that we have taken to raise this subject?
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
I beg to move, in page 2, line 22, to leave out "each," and to insert "the Commons."
I make no claim to being a constitutional lawyer, nor have I a great knowledge of procedure in this House, but hon. Members will notice that this Clause makes a charge upon public funds, and 594 I have understood for some time that this House has always held that we have control over finance without any interference from another place. If hon. Members look at the last part of Sub-section (3) they will see that the prescribed date may be postponed by orders made by the Ministers and confirmed by a resolution "of each House of Parliament." I wish to know from the Minister why "each House of Parliament" has been inserted there, whether the other House has any control at all of public finance, and whether this does not raise a question of privilege.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
The hon. Member very honestly said that he was not a constitutional lawyer. Had it been solely a question of the taxation of the subject which was involved in this Clause no constitutional lawyer could have been more correct than the hon. Member, but as it happens it is not merely a question of taxation which is involved but also a question of policy, namely, whether after the first three years the contribution ought to be continued or not. It is not entirely a question of taxation but also a question of policy. Therefore, I understand, it is not a subject of privilege in the strict sense that the hon. Member suggested, and it requires a resolution by both Houses of Parliament. I might add that it would be rather illogical to confine the extension of these two periods to this House when in point of fact during the passage of the Bill we required a vote of both Houses to the original three-year period under which the assistance may be given. But I base my argument mainly on the fact that it is not entirely a question of taxation but also one of policy.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
Is the Minister stating the opinion of the Board of Agriculture or the considered opinion of the Cabinet on what is potentially a very important matter?
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I am stating what I have been told by my advisers. Every Department has advisers of great skill and judgment.
§ Mr. T. Smith
On a point of Order. A perusal of Erskine May shows that this question of privilege is not limited to taxation. In an important question like this we ought to have a Law Officer present.
§ The Chairman
The point of Order has been put to me. The sole guardian of Privilege in this House is Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Benn
Is it not a fact that we cannot put this as a question of privilege unless it had come from another place? Inasmuch as it is not an invasion from another place but a surrender by this House, we have to debate with a Minister who comes from the Ministry of Agriculture a question of high constitutional procedure.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
I think it will be agreed in all parts of the Committee that the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) has raised a considerable Constitutional point, and the Minister has not met the point in any way. This is not a question of the whole scheme. If hon. Members will look at Sub-section (3) they will see that it simply deals with the time limit within which money may be paid. The substantive part of the Clause says that contributions shall not be made under this Section after the prescribed date, which is fixed as 31st July, 1940, and it goes on to say:Provided that the prescribed date may be postponed for not more than two successive periods of one year each by orders made by the Ministers with the consent of the Treasury and confirmed by a resolution of each House of Parliament.That is to say, that in order to extend the time during which an unlimited sum of public money may be paid out of funds provided by Parliament the consent of each House of Parliament is specifically made necessary. In this House we may want this money to continue to be paid for another year, but under this proviso the other place may refuse to pass the Order and may, therefore, defeat the in- 596 tentions of this House on a matter which is purely one of finance. Therefore, this part of the Clause does not deal with the whole scheme but with the time within which money is to be paid out.
I make two submissions. I submit that this is a matter of considerable importance from the point of view of the Privileges of this House, and also with regard to what this House has done in the past as to the control of finance. My first submission is, that this proviso makes an exception to the terms of the Parliament Act. Under Section 1 of the Parliament Act it is provided, first, that a Money Bill must receive the Royal Assent if the Peers fail to pass it without Amendment within the space of one month. The same Section goes on to say that a Money Bill means a Public Bill which contains only provisions dealing with:the imposition for the payment of debt or other financial purposes of charges on the Consolidated Fund, or on money provided by Parliament, or the variation or repeal of any such charges.To select from those words the relevant words, the Act reads like this:A Money Bill means a Public Bill the purpose of which is the imposition of charges on money provided by Parliament.The purpose of the Parliament Act, or that Section of it, was to make it quite certain in the future that where a charge was to be imposed in that way, the other place should not have any power of interference. In the present case we are giving them back the power to intervene in a matter of finance. It ought to be made perfectly clear that we are here dealing with a Constitutional question. I would ask hon. Members to imagine what might happen under the machinery of this Clause. It is provided earlier in the Clause that the Minister may make payments for these particular purposes, but he is not bound to make payments before 1940. Let us suppose that by the appointed day, 31st July, 1940, no payments have been made. Then, in order for there to be any charge at all upon public funds provided by this House, there would have to be a Resolution of each House of Parliament. It is clear that we are making the assent of the other place necessary to the imposition of a charge. That is not only contrary to the purpose of the Parliament Act, but it is contrary to the stand that we have always taken for many centuries on matters of 597 finance. I would remind the Committee of the terms of a very famous Resolution passed by this House on this matter as long ago as 3rd July, 1678. [Laughter.] It is easy for hon. Members to laugh, but this Resolution is still quoted as one of the guides of this House in matters of finance. It is a Resolution which has stood the test for hundreds of years. Is says:That all aids and supplies, and aids to His Majesty in Parliament, are the sole gift of the Commons; and all bills for the granting of any such aids and supplies ought to begin with the Commons; and that it is the undoubted and sole right of the Commons to direct, limit and appoint in such bills the ends, purposes, considerations, conditions, limitations and qualifications of such grants, which ought not to be changed or altered by the House of LordsThat was the opinion of this House then, and, as far as I know, the opinion of this House has never altered on that question. Under the provisions of this Sub-section we may decide to impose a charge, and it will then be possible for that charge to be changed or altered by the House of Lords. In these circumstances the Committee ought not to be satisfied with the brief and perfunctory reply which we have received from the Minister, and I hope that on this matter, which concerns the Privileges of this House, we shall have support from both sides.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
In view of the obvious Constitutional issue involved, I am moving to report Progress so that we may at least have present with us either the Minister of Agriculture or a Law Officer of the Crown, who can reply to the very cogent arguments submitted by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) and the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). It is clear that there are
§ divisions on this issue not only of 1678 but of 1910, and it is clear that the Minister of Pensions, who on every occasion does his best to reply to the arguments advanced, finds himself in a great difficulty. Therefore, I think that hon. Members sitting in all parts of the Committee, in view of the obvious possibilities arising out of this surrender of power by this House, ought to support the Motion to report Progress, so that we may have the Minister of Agriculture with us, who is himself a legal luminary, or a Law Officer of the Crown, in case the Minister of Agriculture is involved in preparing further subsidies for agriculture. As the hon. Member has said, should a Socialist Government come into office within the next three years a consummation devoutly to be wished by most decent people—and they desire to manifest their real sympathy with and desire to help agriculture, it would be within the power of Noble Lords in another place to defeat the objects of that Socialist Government. Clearly this is a point that ought to be cleared up to the satisfaction of hon. Members in all parts of the Committee. I am sure that the Minister of Pensions himself feels the force of the arguments that have been advanced.
§ The Chairman
I must remind the hon. Member that he is moving to report Progress. Therefore, he cannot debate the question involved.
§ Mr. Williams
I readily fall in with your wishes, and repeat that I am moving to report Progress so that we may have a Law Officer of the Crown present, or the Minister of Agriculture, who can reply on this Constitutional issue.
§ Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 124; Noes, 228.601
|Division No. 270.]||AYES.||[4.25 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke||Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Buchanan, G.||Ede, J. C.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Burke, W. A.||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)|
|Adamson, W. M.||Chater, D.||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Cluse, W. S.||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Cocks, F. S.||Foot, D. M.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Cove, W. G.||Gallacher, W.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Garro Jones, G. M.|
|Barr, J.||Dagger, G.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)|
|Batey, J.||Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Green, W. H. (Deptford)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Debbie, W.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Grenfell, D. R.||McGhee, H. G.||Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||MacLaren, A.||Sanders, W. S.|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Maclean, N.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)||Shinwell, E.|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||MacNeill, Weir, L.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Hayday, A.||Mander, G. le M.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Marshall, F.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Mathers, G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Maxton, J.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees (K'ly)|
|Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Messer, F.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Holdsworth, H.||Milner, Major J.||Stephen, C.|
|Hopkin, D.||Montague, F.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-1e-Sp'ng)|
|Jagger, J.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Strauss, G. F. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Muff, G.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Thorne, W.|
|John, W.||Oliver, G. H.||Thurtle, E.|
|Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Paling, W.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Parkinson, J. A.||Viant, S. P.|
|Kelly, W. T.||Pritt, D. N.||Walker, J.|
|Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)||Watkins, F. C.|
|Kirby, B. V.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Lathan, G.||Ridley, G.||Westwood, J.|
|Lawson, J. J.||Riley, B.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Leach, W.||Ritson, J.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Leonard, W.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Leslie, J. R.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Logan, D. G.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Lunn, W.||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Rowson, G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Charleton and Mr. Groves.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Culverwell, C. T.||Hulbert, N. J.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Davison, Sir W. H.||Hurd, Sir P. A.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||De Chair, S. S.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||De la Bère, R.||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Joel, D. J. B.|
|Assheton, R.||Donner, P. W.||Keeling, E. H.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Dower, Major A. V. G.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)|
|Balniel, Lord||Drewe, C.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Kimball, L.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Duggan, H. J.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Beaumont, Hon. F. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Dunglass, Lord||Latham, Sir P.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Leckie, J. A.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Elmley, Viscount||Lees-Jones, J.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Emery, J. F.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Bird, Sir F. B.||Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Levy, T.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Lewis, O.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Errington, E.||Liddell, W. S.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Furness, S. N.||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Lloyd, G. W.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Ganzoni, Sir J.||Locker-Lampson, Comdr. 0. S.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Gledhill, G.||McKie, J. H.|
|Bull, B. B.||Gluckstein, L. H.||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Magnay, T.|
|Butler, R. A.||Goodman, Col. A. W.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.|
|Caine, G. R. Hall-||Granville, E. L.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Marsden, Commander A.|
|Cary, R. A.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Maxwell, Hon. S. A.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)|
|Channon, H.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Chorlton, A. E. L.||Hannah, I. C.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Christie, J. A.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Hartington, Marquess of||Morgan, R. H.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Harvey, Sir G.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S.G'gs)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Munro, P.|
|Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Hepburn, P. C. T. Buchan-||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Hepworth, J.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)|
|Crooke, J. S.||Higgs, W. F.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.|
|Cross, R. H.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Crossley, A. C.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. 0. J.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Patrick, C. M.|
|Peake, O.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Peat, C. U.||Salmon, Sir I.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Perkins, W. R. D.||Salt, E. W.||Turton, R. H.|
|Petherick, M.||Samuel, M. R. A.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Pilkington, R.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Plugge, Capt. L. F.||Savery, Sir Servington||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Procter, Major H. A.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Radford, E. A.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Watt, G. S. H.|
|Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Ramsbotham, H.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Wells, S. R.|
|Ramsden, Sir E.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Rankin, Sir R.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Rayner, Major R. H.||Storey, S.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Reid, Captain A. Cunningham||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Remer, J. R.||Sutcliffe, H.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Tasker, Sir R. I.||Withers, Sir J. J.|
|Ropner, Colonel L.||Tate, Mavis C.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Royds, Admiral P. M. R.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Russell, Sir Alexander||Touche, G. C.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Tree, A. R. L. F.||Major Sir George Davies and|
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'each' stand part of the Clause."
§ 4.35 P.m.
§ Mr. Benn
I hope the Minister will realise that no disrespect is intended to him personally by raising the question whether this is properly a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture. It is rather a wider point than that, and one which is of great interest to hon. Members in all parts of the Committee. If anyone reads Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice they will find many instances of recent Rulings on this matter by the Chair, and we can remember many ourselves. There was the Licensing Bill in 1904, the Unemployment Bill, and the Police Pensions Bill. There are many cases which have declared that the Resolution of 1678—that the considerations, conditions, limitations, and qualifications of such grants ought not to be changed or altered by the House of Lords"—is still the existing practice of Parliament. I do not want to pursue the matter if the Minister of Agriculture can give us an assurance that he will accept the Amendment. It will not in any way affect his policy, and if he can give us an assurance that he is prepared to insert the Amendment in some form at a later stage I have no doubt my hon. Friend will be satisfied. If such an assurance is not forthcoming we must discuss the matter further.
§ 4.37 P.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
I do not resent in any way the point being raised, because I understand the importance which the House most properly attaches to a matter which affects 602 its privileges on a question of finance. I must apologise for being absent during the first part of the Debate, but I had an engagement which I could not very well avoid. The view I took of the Amendment when I saw it on the Order Paper was that it proceeded on a misapprehension. I quite appreciate the motive which induced the hon. Member to put it down. The fact is that this House must retain control over money matters, but at the same time we must try to distinguish beween money matters pure and simple per se and those question which not infrequently occur when matters of general policy are of necessity combined with the expenditure of money. In this Bill we are asking this House and the other place to agree to expenditure for the first three years, so that policy and money are mixed, and it seems to me a little incongruous that we should require the assent of both Houses of Parliament to a policy for the first three years and then require that an extension should be sanctified by the expression of one House alone. It would be hard if we were to draw the line too tightly, and we must be careful, on both sides of this constitutional matter, to avoid cases in which questions of policy may be withdrawn from the other place because money is involved.
It is hard to imagine any major Measure which is entirely divorced from the expenditure of public money. I have given at short notice my view on the matter. I have not heard the arguments which have been advanced by hon. Members opposite, but I hope they will realise that my view is not one which has 603 been hastily formed or without some grounds for it. I should like to have an opportunity of considering the matter afresh between now and the Report stage, a request which I do not think is unreasonable in the circumstances.
§ Mr. Benn
Does the Minister suggest that my hon. Friend should withdraw the Amendment on condition that the matter is reconsidered by the Government between now and Report? May I ask whether there is anything in the Rules which would prevent us from moving the Amendment again on the Report stage, having an effective discussion and a Division if necessary?
§ The Chairman
I have not the least objection to the right hon. Member asking the question, but I am afraid that I cannot answer it, as what can be done on Report does not rest with me.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Can you give us some guidance as to whether in your judgment this Amendment would in fact be regarded as increasing the charge? It would have the effect of postponing or not postponing the extension, which is virtually imposing a charge.
§ Mr. T. Williams
If my hon. Friend offers to withdraw the Amendment in order that the right hon. Gentleman should re-examine the problem between now and Report, will the Minister, if he feels that the Amendment is justified, himself put down an appropriate Amendment for consideration on Report?
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I am in a slight difficulty as I have not had the advantage of hearing the arguments which have been adduced in support of the Amendment, but what I am perfectly prepared to undertake, and I shall be glad of the opportunity, is to read the arguments in the OFFICIAL REPORT and consider carefully the views advanced on both sides between now and the Report stage. If the arguments are well-founded—I cannot, of course, do it against my own conviction, and hon. Members would not expect me to do so—I shall be prepared to propose appropriate words on the Report stage.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
In the event of the right hon. Gentleman coming to a different decision would it preclude us from putting down the Amendment for Report and discussing it?
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not think there is any difficulty about the Opposition putting down any Amendment they like, although I cannot answer for the Chair. I do not want to take advantage of the Opposition in this matter, and if what I am saying will satisfy the Committee, I hope they will take it from me that the matter will be adequately considered on its merits before the Report stage.
§ Mr. Morrison
I shall be glad to give an assurance on those two points. I have on the Order Paper certain Amendments, and I cherish the hope that they will ensure a Report stage. I gladly accede to the reasonable request that the hon. Member who has put down the Amendment shall have as long notice as I can give of the intentions of the Government.
§ Mr. T. Smith
I think the discussion has been worth while as the point involved is an important one. In view of the undertaking given by the Minister I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ 4.43 P.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
The provision of lime and basic slag is perhaps more commendable than many of the other proposals of the Government. There is one thing to be said for this subsidy, and that is that the farmer himself will have to spend money before he can derive any benefit, and to that extent we may be forgiven for partially supporting the proposal. One is bound to say that all too frequently over a period of years money has been provided in one form and another for agriculture, and incidentally for those who own the land, without any condition whatever so far as the taxpayer and the general consumer are concerned. I am not sure whether on future occasions we should not be more than justified in demanding a quid pro quo 605 from agriculturists before further taxpayers' money is made available for the industry. It is a fundamental part of Labour policy that if they had the power they would not hesitate to take over agricultural land as a national estate, and then there would be no difficulty in fertilising a national estate. At the moment we are fertilising somebody else's estate, and that kind of thing has gone far enough.
I want to ask one or two questions as to the prices which may be paid for lime and basic slag, and whether any further guarantees have been given by those who provide lime and basic slag as to the prices they are likely to charge. notice that in the "Fertiliser, Feeding Stuffs and Farm Supplies Journal" for 30th June, various prices are given for basic slag and it is stated in a footnote:It should be noted that a rebate of 2S. 6d. per ton is allowed on deliveries during July and August.I wonder whether after August, when the sales are increased, the same rebate will be given for all basic slag purchased by farmers and partially paid for by the Treasury. We are at least entitled to know whether the rebate which is given during July and August is to be made available in subsequent periods. The right hon. Gentleman could not give any price for lime or basic slag because of the varying qualities. I have here a list of prices for lime and basic slag, and I am rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, when he spoke on one or two previous occasions, did not give some indication of how prices on 1st May compared with prices on 30th June. I know that there is a price for lime as low as 7s. 6d. for June delivery, and there is a price as high as 32s. Does the Ministry intend to recommend either one quality or another? Are all qualities to be purchased throughout the country according to the will of the individual farmer?
I think we ought to have heard more from the right hon. Gentleman concerning prices than we have heard. Hon. Members on this side are particularly anxious that while the Treasury is subsiding fertilisers for agriculture, no third party shall take undue advantage of the opportunity which the Treasury alone is providing. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether this rebate which is given during July and August will con- 606 tinue during the subsidy period, and whether the prices recorded in the "Fertiliser, Feeding Stuffs and Farm Supplies Journal" are comparable with the prices on 1st May, the date fixed upon for the ruling price for lime and basic slag to be purchased by farmers.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross
The hon. Gentleman for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), despite his great acquaintance with agriculture, made a fundamental mistake in the first few words which he said about this Clause. Evidently he looks upon this as a subsidy to farmers, but I look upon it as a subsidy to land. There is a very great distinction between this assistance and any other assistance which has been given to agriculture. In this case, such assistance as is given must go into the land, and the farmer himself must contribute. Land is a potential reserve for the food supplies of the whole people, and I look upon this as an admirable step in our agricultural policy.
I remember that in my grandfather's time, every small farm in the North of Ireland had its own lime kiln and burnt its own lime. In those days they had only the lime and such manure as was on the farms to improve the land, and I think they grew much better crops than are grown now. This is a new principle, and one which, I think, should commend itself to every hon. Member on all sides of the Committee. I have a little difficulty in seeing what peculiar charm nationalisation would have on this problem, because the same thing would have to be provided by the same people and put on the land for the same purpose, but no doubt in due course I shall receive instruction from the hon. Member and his friends on that, although I shall be surprised if I am won over. This is an admirable Clause, representing one of the most noteworthy steps in the agricultural policy of the Government.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Sir Stafford Cripps
Perhaps I may attempt to elucidate the position which the hon. Baronet the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) has just said is not clear. Let us assume that he is a large landowner in some part of the country and has a large landowner as a neighbour, and let us suppose that the neighbouring landowner says to him, "Will you provide enough money for my tenants 607 to manure my land? Of course, you will get no benefit out of it, but still, I shall hereafter, because the letting value of my land will be increased." I imagine that the hon. Baronet would say, "That does not seem to be a very good deal for me; I am to provide the money, but I am to get nothing out of it." I think that would be the hon. Baronet's answer.
§ Sir S. Cripps
It is really the same answer put in another form. That is exactly what is happening in this case. The ownership of the land remains in the various individuals, but the community as a whole undertakes the expenditure upon that land, through the tenant or whoever is working the land, and gets no benefit itself, as regards the value of the land, from the increased expenditure. Exactly the same thing applies to the whole of this system of subsidies. If the Government, by means of this system are going to make what is called a prosperous agriculture, the result will be that rents will go up for farmers in the countryside, and the increased rent, which is the return to the community on its expenditure on making agricultural prosperous, will go for the benefit of the individual landowners and not for the benefit of the community as a whole. If it came back in the form of taxation, if there were a tax which took 100 per cent. of any increased rental, there might be some argument for the subsidy.
§ Sir R. Ross
I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument is directed primarily to me, but if it is, I would remind him that the question of rents does not affect my constituents owing to their being bought out under the Land Acts.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am not dealing only with the constituents of the hon. Baronet, but with the ambit of this Bill, which goes rather wider than the constituents of the hon. Baronet, I understand. He will appreciate that the effect of paying these subsidies, if it is to increase the prosperity of agriculture—and if it is not, it is obviously useless—will be necessarily to raise the letting value of the land. That increased letting value which will arise out of these payments by the community will not come back to the community, but 608 will go to the individuals who have taken no special part in the expenditure of the money. I should have thought that that would have been enough to convince the hon. Baronet that this is not a fair deal for the community. It might be that one could devise a method of subsidy, with a 100 per cent. tax on all increased rents, which might be fair, but as here all the benefit is passing to the individual in respect of community expenditure, it inevitably makes people turn their minds to the contemplation to a state of affairs in which the community owns the land upon which it expends its money.
§ The Chairman
The hon. and gallant Gentleman's reference to Clause 5 shows that we are getting far beyond Clause 1. I must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that not only are we not discussing the nationalisation of land, but there is a rule against having a Second Reading Debate on the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I appreciate your Ruling, but I was charitably attempting to answer the question put by the hon. Baronet.
§ Sir R. Ross
And signally failing. May I also say, further to your Ruling, Sir Dennis, that when I said I expected to have lectures on this subject, I did not expect them to follow immediately afterwards? I did not suggest that they would be appropriate on this occasion, but said that I had not quite appreciated the point which the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) had made, and that no doubt in the course of years I should understand it perfectly.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I thought that the sooner the hon. Baronet had an opportunity of being enlightened, the better. Let me now return to the Clause, which directly bears on the point that I was stressing, because, in my submission, the chief objection to this Clause is that it is providing this subsidy, by way of part of the price of manures, which is increasing the value of the land upon which the manures are used, and indeed it is out of that that the community will rot derive any benefit as a community. It may be that some special class will derive a benefit, but I certainly object to this form of subsidy 609 which is merely for the benefit of a particular class in the community, when it is being expended not on public property, but upon private property.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Assheton
I cannot believe that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) knows very much about the tenure of agricultural land. Although he lives in the country and takes an interest in agriculture, he does not seem to have familiarised himself with the methods by which land is let. A farmer who rents a farm from a landlord does not have his rent put up from time to time; he takes the farm, and when he dies or retires the farm is re-let.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Only on Friday of last week, a farmer told me that he took a farm at 7s. 6d. an acre, that the next year it was raised to 10s. an acre, and that in the following year it was also raised.
§ Mr. Assheton
I should be interested to hear more about that transaction, because it certainly is not in accordance with the general practice throughout the country, and I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will bear me out in that. No doubt the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol also knows that when a farmer gives up his farm, the fanner who takes it over, or the landlord, has to pay for unexpired manurial values in the ordinary way. The Bill which is now before us would not make any difference in that respect. It is impossible to see how the landlords will get anything out of this. The land will be temporarily improved, and the improvement will result in a very well-merited improvement in the business of the farmers.
§ 4.54 P.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I agree that this is not a Clause on which we can have Second Reading speeches on general policy, and I shall avoid, as far as I can, attempting to make one. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Assheton) questioned whether the landowners would raise the rents because of any encouragement given to them by way of bounties from the State, and he said that he had never heard of anything of the kind. I think it will be within the recollection of most hon. Members that the Corn Production Act enhanced the value of land and that 610 under the operation of that Act landowners went, practically with pistol in hand, to farmers and told them either to buy the land at the higher values or to get out. The result is that the farmers to-day are trying to pay off heavy mortgages incurred in those circumstances. When the Corn Production Act was repealed, they were left with these high mortgages on their hand, and the House again had to come to the rescue.
§ Mr. Assheton
The hon. Member, I am afraid, did not hear the speech made yesterday afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), who pointed out that in spite of subsidies rents are now only 90 per cent. of what they were in pre-War years.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I presume that if this Bill were not passed and if this productivity campaign were not proceeded with, rents would fall still further. If that is so, then it is clear that by the expenditure of this money for the specific purpose of creating greater productivity in the soil, we are maintaining rents at a given point. If this Bill means anything at all, it means that we are going to make the land more productive than it is. Is there any charitable landowner in the House of Commons or outside who will then look out on his estate and see it flourishing more than it ever flourished before, as a result of this State expenditure, and who will say to his tenants, "Here you are, take advantage of this; I will not increase the rent." Such a landlord has not yet come from Heaven or from Hell. There is no use in wasting time talking about it. Expenditure on the soil, whether by the individual landowner, the tenant or the State, will ultimately accrue to the advantage of the rental value of that land when it is let.
During the earlier proceedings on this Bill there was in these discussions a recurrent phrase which had a very tantalising effect. That was the phrase "our land." There were constant references to the necessity for this fertilising scheme because it would help "our land." I hope that in the further Debates on the Bill that phrase will not be used. The land is not our land at all, and if hon. Members will, in future, refer simply to the land and leave out the word "our" I shall be much more peaceable in my mind in listening to these discussions. It 611 is one of those subtle little terms which we hear from time to time when we are asked to do something for "our land" or "our agriculture." Whose land is it, and whose agriculture is it? You will find that out when the rent collector comes round. Let us, therefore, drop this cant about "cur land" and speak about the land directly without this kind of sentimental patriotic humbug which does not mean anything. I would be willing to spend millions on fertilising the land if it were, in fact, the land of the people of this country. I would support this Clause and almost every Clause in the Bill if I knew that the land would be enhanced in productivity thereby, and that the advantage would redound, not to individual owners, but to the general commonwealth of the State.
§ 5.4 P.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
The Committee will not expect me, in replying to the Debate upon this Clause, to deal with the larger question of the ownership of land.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think if I attempted to do so there would be an indication from the Chair that this was hardly the occasion for a Debate of such far-reaching importance. But I ask the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) to forgive some of my hon. Friends and myself if in the course of the discussions on these proposals we have occasionally been guilty of what he considers to be a verbal infelicity in using the term "our land." I think the phrase has been used only in a general sense, in the same way as we speak occasionally of "our railways" and "our coal mines" and other national institutions in which, although we do not possess any legal right of property in them, we take a natural interest, being proud of their success or concerned about the possibility of their failure as the case may be.
I think the mind of man is so peculiarly constituted that he frequently considers these matters apart from merely possessive considerations and the narrow property aspect, and it is legitimate, even for an hon. Member like myself who does not own any land to take a certain amount of interest in the land of the country and to take pains, as far as he can, to improve it. The 612 real broad commonsense point in this discussion, it appears to me, is this: No one can say that the objects of this Clause are not of public importance. It is true that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) did not appear to see very much to the advantage of the public in these proposals, but let me remind him of the Defence aspect of the question. There was a campaign in favour of greater cultivation of the land during the War but although that campaign was initiated fairly early in the War it did not yield results of value until the War was nearly over. The reason was that the land had been in such a poor condition to start with. I am sure no one is so pacifically inclined that he would not like to see the native resources of our land for the production of food in a better condition than that, and surely it is to the public advantage, if some result of that kind can be achieved.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) asked one or two specific questions to which I shall endeavour to reply. I cannot give him any further information about the prices of lime and slag beyond the particulars which I have already given to the Committee and to the House. With regard to the rebate for sales in the months of July and August, I think the position is that some of the trade, in fixing prices, give such a rebate, very much in the way that a coal merchant gives a rebate during the summer months so as to spread the trade more evenly over the year and induce people to buy at a time when normally they would not buy. The public announcement of these proposals for the assistance of purchasers has naturally upset the normal routine of the trade in these two commodities. Potential buyers are naturally holding off the market until this Bill becomes law and its advantages to them become accessible, but as far as I know this rebate—the only one which will matter—will probably be allowed as before. As regards the question of slag, we have a 12 months arrangement, and the position will be reviewed at the end of that time. Judging by the course of the proceedings on the Bill so far, July and August are not likely to be affected, and I think the position will be the same.
A question has also been asked about the quality of the lime to be used on 613 the soil. That is a matter of some importance and some detail. There is no doubt that to secure the best results from the lime it must be applied with the help of scientific knowledge and advice. Various grades and qualities of lime and various combinations of calcium are suitable for various conditions, and it is our hope and intention that the scientific information which is available through county agricultural organisers will be drawn upon largely by the farming community so as to ensure that the lime is applied to the best advantage and that the appropriate grades and qualities are used in every case. I hope I have said enough to commend the Clause to the Committee. It is the foundation of the Government's proposals on this aspect of the matter and I think it will be abundantly justified by its results.