§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Christopher Soames)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The responsibilities of my Department cover a wide field, and from time to time matters accumulate which call for the attention of this House. The greater part of the present Bill deals with direct Government assistance to the agricultural industry, designed to improve its structure and its general competitiveness. Some well-tried schemes we wish to see continued or extended, and we are proposing to bring in some new ones as well.
The first two Clauses of the Bill deal with hill farming, which accounts for about one-third of our agricultural land and produces much of our breeding and store livestock. Clause 1 provides for a further £3 million for improvement grants. Since the Hill Farming Act, 1946, the House has voted £27 million in all to enable us to pay half the cost of comprehensive rehabilitation schemes for hill and upland farms. Of this £27 million, only £15 million has been paid out so far, but a further £11 million has been committed in work which has already been approved, so unless more money is provided we ought now to stop accepting applications. The additional £3 million which we are asking for will allow farmers to apply until 5th November, 1963, which is the closing date for applications announced when this matter was last before the House in 1956. The actual work need not be completed by that date, but the applications will have to be in by that date.
Clause 2 would give us an extra four years in which to make schemes for paying hill cow and sheep subsidies, now running at about £6 million a year. These subsidies have been paid in one form or another since the war years. Payment for hill sheep helps to maintain the basic foundation stocks of hardy ewes from which moist of the national flock derives, and that for hill cows has 1236 encouraged the improvement of rough upland grazing and the establishment there of regular herds of beef breeding cows; and I am sure that the House would wish us to continue to give help of this character to the hill areas. We shall be discussing the details with the farmers' representatives and will be laying schemes before the House in due course.
I regard the next Clause, which deals with the Farm Improvement Scheme, as the most important in the Bill. It is also what calls for the biggest sum of money, for we are proposing to pay an extra £35 million into the Farm Improvement Scheme, which, with the money already available, will mean a total Exchequer contribution to the capital development of the industry of £90 million. When Lord Amory introduced the scheme for a 10-year period in 1957, the Act provided for funds of up to £55 million, of which £50 million was voted outright, and the final £5 million would be subject to an Order, which is also before the House today.
The original estimate was in 1957 and, of course, had to be a speculative figure. There were a lot of arrears of building and improvements, both as the result of the war years and the difficulties of building, and the like, after the war, and it was necessarily speculative what the extent of the call on this money was to be. In fact, in the first five years £31 million was paid and a further £15 million was committed on approved applications, making a total of £46 million. Taking account of recent applications the time has came to call for the final £5 million of the original allocation, and that is why we are seeking the approval of the House for this in tonight's Order.
The response to the scheme has certainly exceeded our expectations. In each of the past five years there have been some 40,000 to 50,000 applications for farm improvement schemes, and up to now nearly 200,000 schemes have been approved. When one remembers that the Government's contributions have been matched by owners' contributions——
§ Mr. Soames
Of course, some individual holdings have had more than one scheme, but there have been nearly 200,000 schemes altogether.
When one remembers that the Government's contributions have been matched by the owners' contributions of two-thirds of the cost of the improvements, it means that, through this channel alone, there has been an injection of £140 million of capital investment into the industry since 1957, of which one-third has been found in grant and two-thirds by the owners.
The House will want to know how the money has been spent. Rather more than 80 per cent. has been invested in now or improved buildings. The rest has been taken up with improvements to farm roads and bridges, the provision of electricity, and a variety of minor items like fencing and sewage disposal. Of the 80 per cent. which has gone on buildings one-third has been for grain and fodder storage, one-quarter for milking parlours and other dairy buildings, and one-fifth on buildings for the rearing and fattening of cattle. Indeed, wherever one may travel in the countryside one sees the benefits which this scheme has brought.
The White Paper of November, 1956, on long-term assurances for agriculture said:The industry must seek progressively to reduce its working costs and so require less support against the effects of low market prices if it is to make its full contribution to the national economy.That must remain our purpose and intention. More, perhaps, than any other single Measure this scheme has helped farmers in this country to put themselves into a stronger competitive position, and that is why the Government have thought it right to make a further substantial provision for the scheme to continue.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
Before the right hon. Gentleman goes into detail, will he say whether his Ministry has any record of the number of farms which change hands and are sold at inflated prices after the Government money has been injected into 1238 them? I am not saying this critically, in the sense that I disapprove of the money going to improve our farms. I do not. However, I should like to know what record is kept of the capital appreciation, created by public money, of farm buildings and farm hereditaments which are then sold at inflated prices to new buyers. If that is the case—and I believe that it is going on to a considerable extent—these private individuals are actually creaming off the value created by public money which has been injected into the industry.
§ Mr. Soames
We do not keep any records—we have no power to keep records—of exchanges of property, but I think that what the hon. Gentleman suggests is not the case. I do not know, but it is hard to see that this scheme would have the effect that he says, in as much as an individual can buy a farm, if he wishes, which has not received grant, and still get the grant to do the improvement himself. So I do not think that it has the effect of raising to any undue extent the value of the land. What it has done, I think, is to improve very considerably the abilities of our farms to be more competitive.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
In supporting the contention of my hon. Friend the Member of Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), if a person, having received his grant, has built up an efficient farm, then it has got a better marketable value, with the assistance of Government money, for the owner if he sells it.
§ Mr. Soames
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that if one spends capital on putting up buildings on a farm one can get the whole of that in return if one sells the land—just adding the full capital value of the buildings on to the value of the land—he is much mistaken. That is not the way transactions in land turn out.
There are two proposals in the Bill relating to fertiliser subsidies. The Agriculture (Fertiliser) Act, 1952, allows us to pay subsidy only to persons occupying agricultural land who apply the fertiliser to the soil. This cuts out, first, some commercial mushroom growers and, second, producers of orchard crops and others who use foliar sprays, which is a relatively new technique in which 1239 the nutrient is absorbed through the leaves rather than through the soil. We do not want to see technicalities of this kind deprive either class of producer of the benefits of these subsidies, and Clause 4 will bring them within the scheme.
Clause 5 fulfils pledges which have been given to the House and to the Public Accounts Committee to strengthen our financial controls in relation to fertilisers. It will give us power to register merchants who deal in fertilisers and to inspect their books so as to check on subsidy transcations. Payment of subsidy will then be limited to fertilisers bought from merchants who are duly registered.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
Will the right hon. Gentleman amplify Clause 5 a little? Is it true that this is introduced because of various loopholes which were discovered through a recent case in Yorkshire?
§ Mr. Soames
No, it is not because of any recent case. This arises directly out of an examination carried out by the Public Accounts Committee some while ago and our undertaking that this should be included in agricultural legislation when the moment was opportune.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
Is Clause 5 intended to relate to supplying merchants only, or to manufacturers as well?
§ Mr. Soames
It is concerned with merchants who deal directly with farmers.
Clauses 6 to 9 make statutory provision for grants previously paid under the annual Appropriation Act. They include the help we have given for some time to the Agricultural Central Co-operative Association and the Welsh Agricultural Organisation Society in their efforts to promote agricultural co-operation, and also the grants which we decided after the 1961 Price Review to make in respect of buildings used by farmers' machinery syndicates, which had previously been excluded.
There is also included the £1½ million fund for research and development in marketing announced in this year's Review, and the Bill gives statutory provision for that as against resting on the 1240 Appropriations Act. This scheme represents a new departure in Exchequer support, switching to marketing as distinct from production. The initiative here lies, as it must, with the industry itself. The scheme is being administered by an executive committee of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) is chairman. It is our hope that the Committee will have plenty of worth-while projects put to it by the industry which it can sponsor as suitable for Government grant.
In the White Paper which followed this year's Price Review, the Government also announced their intention of introducing two new schemes, one designed to encourage the production of winter keep in the livestock rearing areas and the other for the renovation of permanent grass. Clauses 10 to 12 of the Bill give the broad outlines of the schemes which we have in mind but provide for them to be introduced by Order. The House will, however, want to know, on the Second Reading of the Bill, what it is that we have in mind.
We intend to offer the new winter keep grant on an acreage basis as an alternative to the ploughing grant in upland areas which satisfy the test in Section 1 (1) of the Livestock Rearing Act, 1951. It would be paid annually on approved crops grown for winter keep for consumption on the farm, and all the normal fodder crops, such as oats, roots, kale, hay and silage, would be eligible. The rate would be settled at the Annual Review, but we have in mind about £2 per acre. The first crops to be covered by the scheme would be those grown to provide winter keep for the winter of 1964.
Then there is the grassland renovation scheme. There has been substantial improvement in our temporary grass in the post-war years and the ploughing grants have contributed to this. We now want to give greater encouragement to the possibilities which certainly exist of getting equally striking results from our permanent grass. What needs to be done on different farms obviously depends on many factors. The scheme that we have in mind will provide that the farmer should have technical advice, as an essential feature of the scheme, on the most appropriate form of treatment for his grassland, and this will come from the 1241 local advisory officer. In a typical case it might be agreed that the treatment should include applying lime and fertilisers, control of weeds and rushes, heavy harrowing or, possibly, even killing the existing sward by new techniques and then over-seeding.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor would all the items necessarily feature in any individual programme. We have in mind paying a fiat rate grant of, say, £4 per acre towards the cost of a thorough-going programme which would cost the farmer at least £6 an acre, not counting the cost of lime and fertilisers which, of course, would have to be added on top of that, and which would probably form an integral part of the scheme. Decisions on the rate of grant will be taken in the context of next year's Price Review.
In the meantime, we shall be having further discussions with the National Farmers' Union on this and other details of the scheme. The autumn of 1963 is the earliest that we could begin to operate a scheme of this kind, and before this an Order will be laid giving all the details.
Grass is the most important of our farm crops. Hitherto, direct Government encouragement has been directed at ley farming through the ploughing grants. These two new schemes will extend the range by giving grants towards the improvement of our permanent grass and, in the hill areas, for grass crops and other fodder for winter keep.
I now come to the four Clauses which deal with land and land tenure. It has, as the House knows, been the policy of the Government for some years to dispose of land in State ownership. The result is that. whereas at one time the Agricultural Land Commission and its Welsh Sub-Commission were looking after nearly ¼million acres, they now have little more than 100,000 acres, and more than two-thirds of that is in actual course of disposal, either by transfer to the Forestry Commission or by sale. This includes the Glanllyn Estate, of 36,000 acres, which is being sold to a consortium of tenants.
§ Mr. Soames
I cannot say what will be the position over the full period in respect of the 100,000 acres left. We are transferring the land to the Forestry Commission as and when the Commission wishes to take it over for planting. Thus, the land remains in the hands of the Land Commission until it is near the time when it can be included in the Forestry Commission's planting programme. Consequently, I cannot give an estimate of the yearly transfer of land from the Land Commission to the Forestry Commission.
§ Mr. Soames
Yes, a considerable acreage has been transferred from the Land Commission to the Forestry Commission, and there will be more in the future. As I was saying, of the 100,000 acres remaining in the possession of the Land Commission, 36,000 acres are in the Glanllyn Estate, and this land is being sold to a consortium of tenants.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Member thinks that it is a shame that this land should be sold to the consortium of tenants rather than owned by the State. But we do not regard it as a duty of the State to farm land. We think it better that the land should be owned by these tenants. We hope that the deal will go through and be of benefit to them.
§ Mr. Price
We understand the difference of approach between the two sides of the House, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will try to justify the fact that, when more and more public money is being poured into the agricultural industry, for reasons which seem good and sufficient to the Government—I believe that the figure is £4,000 million !since 1947—he is selling this public property. I do not see how these two propositions can be squared. We do not do it in any other nationalised industry.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Gentleman said "any other nationalised industry." I dare say that he would like to see a great deal of Britain as nationalised land.
§ Mr. Soames
This is the fundamental difference between the two sides of the House. We do not think that it is right for the State to own land which it is not necessary for it to own.
This process of the sale of agricultural land has been going on for a long time. My predecessors have followed this policy and have announced sales of land held by the Commission from time to time. Now the process has reached the point when, having started with about 250,000 acres, we are down to 100,000, two-thirds of which is in the course of disposal, so the time is near when there will no longer be need for these high level and independent commissions.
Indeed, the Estimates Committee took the view that, once the Glanllyn Estate had been disposed of, there would be insufficient justification for carrying the cost of retaining the Welsh SubCommision, and even, it thought, the Land Commission itself. I have, therefore, thought it right to take powers in the Bill to wind up both these bodies by Order when the time comes. The Bill does not wind up these bodies, but gives power to the Government to do so when, in their view, the amount of land held is small enough not to warrant their continuance.
Since 1948, when they were set up, both the Commission and the Welsh Sub-Commission have done a splendid job of managing this considerable acreage and have earned our gratitude and that of the tenants of the estate. I am sure that the House would like to join in paying tribute to the work done by the members of the Commission, and especially to the chairman, Sir Frederick Burrows, and to his deputy, Colonel J. C. Wynne Finch, who is chairman of the Welsh Sub-Commission.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
The right hon. Gentleman said that there were now 100,000 acres left, two-thirds of which are in process of disposal. He referred to 36,000 acres being disposed of to a consortium. To whom is the rest being disposed of?
§ Mr. Soames
Part of it will go to the Forestry Commission. It is land that is being held for the Commission, being farmed at the moment by tenants under the aegis of the Land Commission, but 1244 earmarked for forestry planting. It will be kept under farming until the Forestry Commission is ready to take it over.
§ Mr. Loughlin
The right hon. Gentleman says that one-third of the 100,000 acres is to be disposed of to the Forestry Commission and one-third is to be disposed of to the consortium of tenants. What is the intention in relation to the final one-third?
§ Mr. Soames
I cannot go into details now, but, for instance, on the South Coast, one stretch of land is divided into a number of small plots. The titles to the land are hidden behind a veil of obscurity and we do not feel able to dispose of it because we do not know who were the original owners. There are other examples of acreages of land which we do not feel able to dispose of and these will remain in the Government's hands and be administered by the Agricultural Land Service of my Department. But the amount will not be sufficient to warrant continuance of these high level commissions.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
What will happen to the sitting tenants who are farming land held by the Land Commission when that land is transferred to the Forestry Commission? Will they be protected?
§ Mr. Soames
When the land is handed over to the Forestry Commission, and trees are planted, it will no longer be farmed. But that is nothing new. It has happened before and the situation is known by the tenants.
Clause 17 will help a tenant to know where he stands with any alleged breach of his tenancy agreement which might form the basis for a notice to quit. The broad effect is to prevent a landlord from exploiting loopholes in the present legislation and thus using it, not for its intended purpose of getting repairs done, but as a means of bringing about the eviction of his tenants. The proposals have the agreement and, indeed, support, of both the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union.
Clause 18 is a specifically Scottish point. It offers a fairer formula for valuing any "bound" sheep stocks which an outgoing tenant must leave behind for 1245 the landlord or the incoming tenant. I understand that, because of the way in which the money values were fixed in 1946, they now give about half the scope for adjustment which was then intended by Parliament. The Clause therefore replaces cash figures with percentages equivalent to their original value.
Clause 19 covers the whole United Kingdom and puts farmers on the same footing as other business occupiers in the matter of compensation when displaced from land purchased under compulsory powers. This fulfils the undertaking given by my predecessor in May, 1960, when my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) withdrew his Private Member's Bill which was designed to have a similar effect.
Hon. Members will recall that I announced the Government's new policy on fowl pest to the House on 18th July last. At the end of the financial year we shall be dropping the present system of slaughter and compensation in England and Wales and will depend on the use of dead vaccine to control the disease. We intend to distribute subsidised vaccine at a cost of up to £1 million a year for a period of two years after the vaccine has become available in all areas, and we hope that during that time all producers will come to use and rely on vaccine. Clause 14 makes the statutory provision for this.
As I told the House in answer to a Question on Monday, we have made a start in the areas worst hit by this scourge and hope to have covered the whole of England and Wales by the turn of the year. While Scotland remains virtually free from this disease, we shall continue to rely there on the slaughter policy.
Clause 13, dealing with the control of animal diseases, will enable us to deal more effectively with carcasses and other materials—including fodder—which might be carriers of disease like foot-and-mouth and swine fever and will give permanent statutory backing for the compensation for infected carcasses and other carriers which has hitherto been carried under the Appropriation Acts.
Clause 15 deals with fee-charging powers for agricultural services, many of which have become quite out of line with 1246 present practices and costs, but which, as we explained to the Public Accounts Committee, need legislation to put matters right. I am proposing to give up a general fee-charging power which dates back to an Act of 1868. The result will be that the Minister of Agriculture will no longer be obliged to charge for services like appointing arbitrators or regulating commons which we would nowadays regard as a normal public charge, in the same way, for example, as planning consent. On the other hand, the Clause will remove the statutory limits on fees for work such as sire licensing where present charges are quite out of line with modern costs. This will enable us to put up the charges to those who use this licensing to a cost which is more in line with modern times.
Clause 20 will deal with an anomaly which has arisen because of technical developments in the cooling and storage of eggs. The Clause is necessary to let producers and distributors take advantage of these improvements so as to market fresh eggs in the best condition without risk of falling foul of the law and without, at the same time, in any way weakening the protection which the consumer has against eggs which have been kept in a cold store being sold as fresh.
Clause 21 deals with sugar. At the end of 1961, we made a change in the pricing arrangements for sugar in the United Kingdom in order to discourage the import of foreign refined sugar and so to help British refiners and their Commonwealth suppliers. As a result, we increased the Sugar Board's surcharge. The action was aimed at foreign sugar, and it fell also on sugar from the Irish Republic. The members of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement have been compensated for the increased surcharge, but the increased surcharge on sugar from the Irish Republic, largely in manufactured foodstuffs, amounting to at least £150,000 a year, has been accruing to the Sugar Board. Consequently, Irish receipts from sales of sugar in Britain were reduced by a similar amount. The proposed agreement will broadly restore the balance by a purchase of Irish sugar at a fixed price, and on its resale the Sugar Board will incur a loss of about £150,000 a year.
1247 The purpose of the Clause is to empower the Board to undertake these transactions. The Sugar Agreement with the Irish Republic contains other provisons of benefit to both sides. We shall secure a new outlet for Commonwealth sugar in the Irish Republic, and supplies of sugar to the United Kingdom from the Irish Republic will be restricted to a somewhat lower level than in recent years. At the same time, we have been able to arrange for the Irish Sugar Co. to handle the produce from a field trial of sugar beet production in Northern Ireland.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that this will not mean a reduction in the production and shipping of sugar from Great Britain to Ireland, either North or South?
§ Mr. Soames
It is difficult for me to give an assurance about what will happen to the movement of trade in sugar in specific quantities as between one country and another. What the agreement does is to limit the amount of refined sugar which will be sent from Southern Ireland into the United Kingdom, an amount which has been running at 12,000 or 13,000 tons over the last two or three years, to 10,000 tons. It also ensures that the Irish Republic will be buying Commonwealth sugar in future instead of foreign sugar for its needs over and above its own crop, except where it is exporting to countries other than ourselves.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
If the right hon. Gentleman can clear my mind absolutely on this issue, I shall be very happy about it. On Monday, he said:Irish sugar has been coming in at the rate of about 12,000 tons recently and under this agreement it is limited to 10,000 tons"[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1962; Vol. 667, c. 802.]Is that in reference to the whole of the United Kingdom, which includes Northern Ireland, or is it strictly confined to Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Soames
It will be coming into Northern Ireland, but this is a figure for the whole of the United Kingdom and is for refined sugar as opposed to manufactured goods with a content of sugar.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
Will my right hon. Friend comment on 1248 that part of the agreement which encourages sugar beet production in Northern Ireland and which may eventually lead to full-scale sugar beet production in Northern Ireland with no necessity for imports from Scotland?
§ Mr. Soames
Far be it from me to interfere between Ulster and Scotland, but there has long been a strong feeling in Ulster that the land there is capable of producing sugar beet. It is not certain by any means, but, as a result of this agreement, there is to be an experimental field trial and the sugar will be taken by the Irish Republic. We will have to see how the trials go.
§ Mr. Soames
Let us jump our hurdles as they come. Arranging trials is a move forward, but it would be premature to give any assurance until the results of the trials are known.
I have set out to give the House an indication of the scope of the Bill which, over the next five years, will involve Government expenditure totalling some £78 million. Plainly, hon. Members will want to give it close examination in Committee but, looking at the Bill as a whole, I hope that the House will agree that its provisions will help the industry and that it is a worthwhile addition to our agricultural legislation.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The Minister has dealt fully with many of the Bill's details. It was obviously right and proper that he should inform the House of the financial and administrative effects of many of the matters which have been raised and which will have to be carefully scrutinised in Committee. I can assure him that the Opposition will examine carefully the effects of each Clause and will put forward necessary criticisms constructively.
I want to deal with the purpose of the Bill. On a Second Reading, we can become too involved with the minutae of a Bill, but one wants to know what are the principles behind Government policy, why they have introduced the 1249 Bill, its full effect and how it plays its part in the structure of Government support for agriculture.
The Bill's purpose is obviously to continue aid to agriculture and to lengthen the period of aid. The Minister has mentioned the figure of £78 million which will be covered by the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts, 1946 to 1956. The most important part of the aid, as he rightly emphasised, is the £35 million under the Agriculture Act, 1957, Part II of Which relates to farm improvements. There is then the aid given for the use of fertilisers which is covered by the 1952 legislation.
I do not want to become too involved in arguments about mushroom growers, or why fertiliser grants should be improved, or whether we should give aid to the use of foliage sprays so that certain people can benefit. The Minister made his case, and in any event those are matters which can be examined in detail in Committee. I wish to examine the Government's general approach. We are here concerned with the principle of giving subsidies and grants of various kinds.
I support this principle. Obviously, promises have been made by the Government; indeed, the grants in aid for marketing research, and the aid for farming syndicates, which has not been fully dealt with by the Minister today, were all foreshadowed in previous White Papers. Obviously, the country is concerned about the size of the Exchequer contribution, and there may be many hon. Members in the House today who may comment on this.
This Bill increases the size of this aid. We have only to look at the White Paper (Cmnd. 1658)—the Annual Review and Determination of Guarantees for 1962–63—to see in detail the aid which is to be given by grants and subsidies mentioned in this legislation by the Government. Looking at the last White Paper for 1961–62 as compared with 1960–61, we can see that there has been an increase. I am not going into the details, but the grants and subsidies are now running, or are estimated to run, for 1961–62 at over £107 million, as against a figure of £104.5 million for 1960–61. This will cover the fertiliser subsidies, which we shall be discussing in detail 1250 later, ploughing grants, grants for the improvement of livestock rearing land, the hill cattle and sheep subsidies, grants for farm improvements and so on.
This is a formidable figure and, therefore, it is right and proper when we are discussing a Bill of this kind that we should examine the main principles of the policy of the Government. We can spend too much time in a Second Reading debate discussing the minutiae of this Bill, which provides £78 million of new capital to be injected into the industry. This is a large amount of money to be added to the support which is already given, and, inevitably, we must consider the principles of the Government's policy.
I know that there has been considerable controversy over the deficiency payments, which are not affected by this legislation, and over the production grants, which are affected by this legislation. The argument has gone on time and time again throughout all our agricultural debates, ever since the passing of the 1947 Act, and of those Acts which have been mentioned by the Minister today. Indeed, even today, by extending the effect of this legislation, this argument will still go on, and I am certain that the arguments will be heard again in our discussion today.
I want to know what is the Government's policy. Who is helped by these grants? Is it the producer, the consumer or the nation? I myself accept them in principle. I have always argued, even against some of my hon. Friends from time to time, that in the end production grants, by improving the efficiency of British agriculture, as I trust this legislation will do, helps not only the producer but the consumer.
I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) shakes his head, but I believe this to be fundamental. I know that this was a fundamental principle of the policy which my right hon. Friends on this side of the House pursued when they had responsibility, and, indeed, it has been a fundamental principle of the policy of the party for which I have the honour to speak. We have always argued in principle that, by benefiting the producer and helping him to increase his efficiency, by creating a prosperous 1251 and viable British agriculture, it will, in the end, help the consumer. I emphasise that, and, therefore, when examining the details of this legislation, as we must, Clause by Clause— and I am not going into too much detail, because this is a matter for Committee—we must bear in mind this major principle.
How does this Bill now presented by the Minister help agriculture generally? How does it improve its efficiency? Will it help, in particular, the small farmer, who is an important person in our agricultural community, and also the hill farmer? I am rather prejudiced here, because in my own constituency in Cumberland there are many hill farmers. These people will look carefully at this Bill and its effect, and therefore we have to ask ourselves this question. Will they be helped, and will they be able to make their own units viable, to improve their efficiency, and, in turn, by their efforts produce more efficiently and in the end help the nation? I think it is right and proper that we should ask this question.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Would my hon. Friend also accept that it might be a good idea to see how far the large farmers will benefit?
§ Mr. Peart
Actually, I think my hon. Friend has anticipated my thoughts, and I hope that he will give me support for what I am going to say. We must scrutinise very carefully how these grants are administered. Much has been made of the improvements in the operation of the fertiliser payments. Obviously, we are anxious to know how the further payments to be made under this Bill are to be administered. I only say to my hon. Friend that I accept his view. We must scrutinise the Bill carefully, and it will be his job as well as mine in Committee to examine the incidence of the payments made not only to the small farmers, but to the medium and larger farmers, and see how they are affected.
If I may remind my hon. Friend, we have over 523,000 farmers in this country—316,000 in England, 55,000 in Wales, 71,000 in Scotland and 81,000 in Northern Ireland—and the majority have farms of under 50 acres. The majority of the farmers in this country are actually small farmers, and if my hon. Friend will bear 1252 this in mind he will see that, when we are discussing, in the main, aid of this kind, we should consider generally the small farmer.
§ Mr. Tomney
My hon. Friend is deploying his 0argument with great clarity, and I understand the position he is trying to establish, but his argument would be valid were it not for the existence of guaranteed prices and deficiency payments. This is where he goes wrong.
§ Mr. Peart
I will come to that point. My hon. Friend is an enthusiast for the European Economic Community, and, if we go into the Common Market under a common agricultural policy, under Dr. Mansholt's regime, which he approves so much and is so enthusiastic about, hill farming can be subsidised, so I hope that he will bear in mind that the argument for further aid has been supported in principle by the party which he supports, and that it is right and proper that we should examine in detail, and, indeed, critically if necessary, though in a constructive way, the incidence of the subsidy and also its present administration.
My hon. Friend will also remember that he and I took part in a debate on agriculture two or three years ago, when I argued that there should be a special Select Committee, such as we have for the nationalised industries, which would examine constructively expenditure in the sphere of agriculture and the problems of the industry. I think that he and I are in agreement, and that he appreciates that we are not disagreeing on the principle of support, but merely arguing about its administration, and certainly its scope.
The Bill seeks to continue these payments for a considerable time. I believe that this legislation could be affected by decisions at Brussels. I want to know from the Minister how this Bill will be affected by decisions at Brussels, or by an acceptance of the existing regulations of the Common Market in the sphere of agricultural policy. In other words, what I am trying to say is that I understand, from what I have read and heard in discussions with those individuals who support the Economic Community, there is still uncertainty about the use of State aid, despite what I said about the views of Dr. Mansholt.
1253 I do not wish to embarrass the Minister. I merely want to stiffen his back. Unlike the Tory conference, I want him to negotiate from strength and not from weakness. The administration of the Bill can be affected by the common Market negotiations. We merely hide away from the problem if we do not recognise that. I am suspicious of the Minister. He is as enthusiastic about the Common Market as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North. He talks of a managed market for agriculture. When he welcomed the cereal regulations he said that a managed market gave certain guarantees.
Will the production grants contained in this Bill and which will he extended, such as the farm improvement grants and hill farming subsidies, be affected by entry into the Common Market? These form a major part of State aid. They are running at over £100 million a year and make a very important contribution to British agriculture. Will the Minister insist—I have used that word before in another sphere of agriculture—in the Common Market negotiations that this legislation, which I admit merely extends other legislation, should not be affected by the negotiations in Brussels? We should have an answer to that.
I wish to quote from an interview given by Dr. Mansholt which was published in the Daily Telegraph. He said:There are, of course, problems for hill farmers and others in similar categories, but these can be dealt with by subsidies.Dr. Mansholt also talked about subsidies in another sphere of agriculture. There is, therefore, some sympathy from the man at Brussels who has a major responsibility for the Common Market.
Let my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North and others who talk about State aid remember that in the six countries—in West Germany, Italy, France—considerable State aid is given to agriculture which competes against our own agriculture. These principles of State aid which have been under attack and which could be attacked later and which we on this side support have given a measure of security and have helped to build up efficiency in the agricultural industry. There are countries in the European Economic Community which have given considerable State aid to their agricultural industry over a long time. We should bear this in mind.
1254 Another important matter is the use of production grants in the Bill. What is the Government's policy? Have they a policy? Does the Bill show a switch of policy? I do not want to appear too pedantic, but I hope that hon. Members and the Minister have read an excellent book produced by the University of Glasgow Social and Economic Studies and published by Allen and Unwin called "The Economics of Subsidising Agriculture". The author is Mr. Gavin McGrowe. This book has received a very good Press in all agricultural journals. One chapter of it deals with the cost of agricultural support. The author examines a statement made in this House recently concerning the incidence of price guarantees, production grants, improvement grants and all State aid from 1954–55 up to 1961. Since 1954 price guarantees have risen from £139.6 million to £150.5 million and production grants from £50.4 million to £103.4 million. Improvement grants have risen since 1957–58 from £0.2 million to £7.9 million. In other words, there has been a change of emphasis during this period. Support is growing, and it seems to be part of deliberate Government policy.
Are the Government working to a deliberate policy? Have they got a policy on production grants? Is this increase accidental or fortuitous, or have the Minister and the Treasury a purpose in mind? This question has been asked by many responsible agricultural journalists in our leading farming journals. Are the Government seeking to switch State aid from the form of deficiency payments to the form of production grants that I have mentioned? That is the conclusion of the author of this stimulating book on agriculture. He says:This change in emphasis appears to be deliberate policy.The Government's policy may be right, but we should know what their policy is and how they seek to support agriculture in future.
This is the background to the Bill. These are the principles which we should be debating rather than getting too involved in minor detail which should be discussed in Committee.
I accept the Bill in principle, although I am critical of it here and there. I 1255 hope that its purpose is to increase efficiency. We are now in National Productivity Year. It has been argued that we must have increased productivity and more production in agriculture. Will the Bill improve the efficiency of British agriculture? Will it give a fair return to the producer? Will it benefit the consumer and the nation? These are three important questions.
Does the Bill give a glimmer of the Government's long-term policy? I am not sure what is the Government's policy. Right hon. Members opposite who often spoke in opposition when a Labour Government were in power administering agricultural policy chided the Government for not having a long-term policy. What is the present Government's long-term policy on production grants, marketing and all the other spheres of agricultural activity dealt with in the Bill? Does the Bill give a glimmer of the Government's long-term policy especially in relation to production? We ask the farmer to produce more and be more efficient, but under the present system there are disincentives to produce.
I remember spokesmen from the Front Bench opposite asking a Labour Minister, "What is the size of our agricultural industry? What security is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to offer? What will be the production in the years to come?" These are questions which spokesmen from the party opposite used to put to Labour Ministers, and perhaps today we can have answers to them.
Clause 1 of the Bill increases the hill farming subsidy from £27 million to £30 million. Do the Government intend to extend the grant to develop hill farms comprehensively? I know that this question has been put to the Minister by the industry, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will deal with this when he winds up the debate. If these schemes are essential for the development of the hill farming areas, it may well be that the time limit should be extended, and we want to know the Government's policy in this respect. Is it the intention to extend grants to redevelop hill farms comprehensively?
I do not quarrel with Clauses 2 and 3. This part of the Bill, which deals with the improvement of agricultural land, and 1256 makes special provisions for building, and so on, is the most important financial aspect of this Measure. What is the Government's long-term policy in relation to farm improvements and amalgamations?
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
What does the hon. Gentleman mean when he talks about developing hill farms "comprehensively"? I have asked my hon. Friends from Scotland about this, and we have hill farming in Shropshire. What does the hon. Gentleman mean by "comprehensively"? I do not comprehend.
§ Mr. Peart
I am sorry if I have not made it clear. A subsidy may be paid to a farmer to carry not only one improvement scheme which he has in mind, but several schemes concurrently. Also, a scheme for, say, the improvement of drainage may affect more than one farm. Would such a scheme be covered by this part of the Bill? I hope that the Minister will reply to this point, and I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates).
§ Mr. Peart
Clause 4 deals with fertiliser subsidies. I do not quarrel with this proposal, but will it be administered properly? Select Committees have considered the fertiliser industry, and the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) has asked Questions about it, and no doubt if he catches the eye of the Chair he will have something to say about this Clause. We shall, of course, scrutinise it carefully in Committee.
I regard Clause 6 as extremely important, because here, in relation to farm syndicates, we are to have an extension of co-operation.
I also regard Clauses 8 and 9 as important because grants are to be given to such bodies as the Agricultural Central Co-operative Association for England and the Welsh Agricultural Organisation Society. These are fine bodies, and I support this form of producer co-operation. In Cumberland we have one of the largest producer cooperatives in Europe, and I am anxious that bodies of this kind should be encouraged in the work they do. I 1257 therefore welcome this part of the Bill because it fulfils a promise that was made at the time of the Price Review, but I come back to my original question. What is the Government's long-term policy in relation to marketing? What do the Government intend to do about horticulture. Do they intend to adopt a policy to deal with this extremely important industry? It represents 9 per cent. of our total agricultural production. In 1960–61 farm gate horticultural production was in the region of £133 million. It is therefore right and proper that we should ask the Government what they intend to do in relation to this Clause which deals with horticultural marketing.
If we go into the Common Market, our horticultural industry may have to face the full blast of European competition. Is it the intention of the Government to be serious about marketing? Does this Clause go far enough? Are the grants to the bodies which I have mentioned and the grants for research sufficient? I do not think that they are, especially when one remembers that we are facing a major crisis in the horticulture industry.
The Minister will soon be presenting an Order dealing with the Horticultural Marketing Council. This body has failed in the sense that it has not been supported, and the Minister has made a public pronouncement on this subject. What do the Government intend to do in the future? There has been a breakdown in marketing. Do the Government intend to take the initiative to improve the position? Is it the Government's intention to give some new body some executive authority on the lines for which we asked when we discussed the Horticulture Bill?
When we discuss Clauses 8 and 9 in detail, we shall no doubt be told by the Minister that we should leave questions of efficient marketing and co-operation in agriculture and horticulture to the industries. He has said this on many occasions when dealing with marketing issues. Is that his view today? Is that the reply we shall receive from the Secretary of State for Scotland, or does the Minister really intend to take the initiative in this matter?
It is not sufficient to say that a few thousand pounds have been given to various 1258 organisations for research. The Minister knows we do not need research to tell us that something is wrong. There is a crisis in the industry and the Government must act to deal with it. This crisis exists not only in the horticultural industry but in meat marketing and other spheres. Indeed, the producers have already submitted positive proposals for dealing with the present situation. Can we have an assurance that the Government will take the marketing side of the industry seriously? What is the Government's policy with regard to horticulture? In France, under the Monnet Plan, the State is doing a great deal to help the horticultural industry, by creating new markets for it. Our system is out of date. Do we need research to discover this? What is the purpose of this Clause? Is it merely a polite sop to the industry, or does the Minister seriously intend to do something about this? I have a feeling that at present he is really a Minister of quiescence or acquiescence.
It is no good the Minister chuntering to himself. He must appreciate that the industry is extremely concerned about the present position, and, whether we go into the Common Market or not, I suggest that this problem should have priority No. 1. Although I appreciate that this Bill is important, I would still like to know what is the Government's long-term policy with regard to this problem.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman said about horticulture, but surely a transformation has taken place in this industry in recent years by the development of the frozen food industry which takes massive supplies of all kinds of vegetables, and some fruits, off the market? I remember when I was a youngster coming to London during the glut periods and seeing headlines in the papers about farmers getting less than what it cost them to produce their goods. But this is a thing of the past. I do not see why this system of preserving goods should not be extended to other commodities, but the responsibility rests on the horticultural industry to put its own house in order.
§ Mr. Peart
I agree that the industry itself should do something. I am not arguing that it should take no action. Nevertheless, there is a crisis. I have 1259 mentioned markets which are out of date. I do not want to go too far on this point; that is something that we shall deal with in Committee. It may be that this research will enable the Ministry and other bodies to conduct a proper survey of existing markets. I am sure that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) agrees with me that our markets, with a few exceptions—Sheffield is one—are out of date. Their arrangements are higgledy-piggledy. They are obsolete, and need drastic overhaul.
I was trying to point out how much was happening in this context in France. Recently, a very powerful producer delegation from this country visited France and Western Europe in order to study European marketing arrangements. Those who were concerned with horticulture have come back agreeing with my view that we are lagging behind. I point that out merely because of the possibility of this Government making a decision as a result of which European horticultural regulations would apply to this country. The effects could be disastrous if we were not prepared. It is important for the House to probe the Government in order to ascertain what is to happen. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland was with me on this point. I have had him with me on fishing problems, when we have argued constructively on certain points, and I would have thought that he would support me in saying that we need improved marketing.
Practically everybody accepts the need for it, but the Minister says that it is a job for the industry, and that he is not going to do anything about it.
§ Mr. W. Yates indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Peart
Not today—of course not. But that is why I want the Secretary of State to tell us something about this.
I do not want to monopolise the time of the House. I will leave the question of winter keep to the many other hon. Members who will wish to refer to it. I think that Clause 10 will be accepted 1260 in principle, together with Clause 11, which deals with grassland renovation—although both Clauses will be examined carefully in Committee. Clause 13 is acceptable, as is Clause 14, dealing with fowl pest vaccine. We support the policy introduced by this Clause. It was inevitable, because of the breakdown in the previous policy, which resulted in excessive compensation. The Clause follows the recommendation of the Plant Committee. This is a part of the Bill which we certainly support.
I now come to a controversial matter —the dissolution of the Agricultural Land Commission, under Clause 16. Here the Government are being doctrinaire. The Land Commission was set up in 1947 by the then Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Tom Williams. I remember his speech in the Second Reading debate on the Agriculture Bill on 27th January, 1947. It was the view of the Government in those days that we should create some instrument to bring into efficient agricultural production land which could not be efficiently farmed by private individuals. We had in mind Romney Marshes and large areas in the Fens, and we argued that there was need for a body such as the Land Commission.
Throughout our discussions on the 1947 Bill some hon. Members opposite attacked the creation of the Commission. The then Government gave the Opposition an opportunity to argue the matter in detail and, broadly speaking, even the Opposition came to the conclusion that, in principle, the Land Commission could serve a useful purpose. I believe that, over a long period, this Government have sought to restrict the activities of the Commission. They have never liked it and now, as shown by the reply to the question raised by my hon. Friend earlier, they are seeking to shed off land to farmers, either in a consortium or individually. They are also going to give land to the Forestry Commission.
I am sorry that the Commission is to go. It is a useful body, which could have served a useful purpose in the future. At one period it farmed nearly 250,000 acres, but it now farms approximately only 100,000 acres. I still believe that in many ways a body of this kind could do much good in England and Wales. For instance, there is some land 1261 which private individuals could not possibly bring into agricultural production but which could be farmed by a body of this kind, at least acting as an agency. I strongly criticise the Minister for his action in this matter, and I can assure him that we shall have much more to say about it in Committee.
§ Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)
The hon. Member says that the Government are being doctrinaire in this case, and he instances as one of the reasons for his believing this the fact that the Government are selling land to tenants. Is he against selling land to tenants in principle?
§ Mr. Peart
I am not against it in principle. I am saying that this body was created to bring into use land which could not be farmed by individual or private tenants. I am not arguing the principle. When the 1947 Bill was introduced we argued that it was a good thing to set up a public body of this kind, and even hon. Members who spoke from the then Opposition Front Bench agreed.
Many doctrinaire speeches were made by Conservative back benchers who did not like this idea. They talked about its being the thin end of the wedge of nationalisation. That was absurd. The Forestry Commission owns land on behalf of the State. Why should not the Land Commission? Why should we not have experimental farms owned or controlled by such a body? Behind the action of the Minister I feel sure that there is prejudice. I am sure that he is acting for doctrinaire reasons, and I am sorry that he is doing so. However, we will argue this matter in detail in Committee.
I now turn to the question of sugar. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) raised this point yesterday, and I thought that he might have been here today. I am glad of the assurance that our Commonwealth producers will supply more sugar to the Irish Republic.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Member mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). In fairness to my hon. Friend, I must tell the hon. Member that my hon. Friend wrote me a letter telling me that he was very sorry that he would not be able to be here today as he had an important engagement outside the House that he had to fulfil.
§ Mr. Peart
That may be so. Nevertheless, I wish that he had been here. He did not send me a letter, and I did not know that he had an engagement. I referred to the fact that he asked a Question about the matter yesterday, and I thought that he was being very critical of the Minister in doing so. In this case I support the Minister. If this agreement helps Ireland—including Northern Ireland—and also our Commonwealth producers, I am all for it. If it means a better relationship between Eire and this country, that can only be to the good. We need a better relationship. I only wish Eire were back in the Commonwealth.
I apologise for having spoken for so long, but it is right that the House should discuss general principles. We have had very few opportunities to do so. In fact, this is the first major speech of the Minister on this matter. We had a debate on the increased Estimates over a year ago, but this is the first major piece of legislation that the Government have put forward. It is therefore right that hon. Members on both sides of the House should be able to discuss the effect of the Bill upon our agricultural production; whether it will increase efficiency; whether it will benefit the consumer; whether the taxpayers will get a fair return, and whether or not, in the end, the nation will benefit.
We support the Bill in principle, but we shall certainly criticise it constructively in Committee.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (King's Lynn)
I very much welcome most of the provisions in the Bill. It certainly provides us with very varied fare, as, indeed, I suppose an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is bound to do. I do not think that that indicates any defect in my right hon. Friend's policy. After all, the agriculture of this country is very varied indeed. Our soil types are perhaps more varied within a small space and our farming and our market gardening conditions more varied than in many other countries in Europe.
I think that this Bill and its predecessors indicate a very genuine desire on the part of Her Majesty's Government to cater for special needs that may arise. I want this afternoon to concentrate my 1263 remarks chiefly on the farm improvement grants provisions, because it is agreed, I believe, that they are among the most important. Here I wish to pay a tribute to the work being done already under the scheme. I think that when my then right hon. Friend, now Lord Amory, introduced this measure in 1957, he made a departure in agricultural policy which has had enormous effects throughout the country. He chose a method that would aid, abet and help on the agricultural revolution already taking place in the country. I think it is well to remember—one hon. Member opposite made reference to the fact—that this scheme was not only beneficial to the larger farmer, and I will come to that in a moment.
It is well to remember that the improvement made to farm roads, buildings and other fixed equipment on farms arising out of the scheme has not been merely of financial benefit to farmers; it has been of enormous benefit to farm workers, when one considers their conditions of work. Much of my life has been spent working in small, cramped farm buildings where everything had to be done by hand and where every item of farmyard manure had to be manhandled through a door constructed perhaps a century, or even a century and a half ago. The improvements which have come about in our farm fixed equipment have enabled mechanical handling to take place to a much larger extent and have not only allowed farm workers' conditions to be improved but have led to greatly improved safety in their work and contributed to the general comfort with which they can carry out their duties. I think that that is a side of the matter which is often overlooked.
There is one aspect of the farm improvement scheme which rather worries me. It is the question of the size of the farm which can benefit under the scheme. I think it is a fact that when one looks around the countryside at the new farm buildings, which are pretty obvious even from a distance—some, by the way, are not particularly attractive in their outward appearance—one sees that it is the farms which are already doing pretty well which have been able to make the most use of these grants. 1264 That, in a way, is perhaps inevitable, but I think it is also a drawback to the scheme.
I do not accept by any means that the small farmer is going to disappear from the British farming system. I believe that he has a job to fulfil, and I very much want to see farms of all sizes in our countryside. I should like to think that the smaller farmers can participate in equal measure in these improvements outlined in the Bill.
I wish to mention to my right hon. Friend two classes of relatively small producers who, I think, are at a disadvantage. In the 1957 Act there is a provision concerning what a prudent landlord would provide. I think that this is a very necessary provision, because I do not want to see buildings put up which might prove to be white elephants because of the size of the holding involved.
There is also a provision about the minimum area of land that must go with the farm buildings, because, clearly, it is not desirable that an owner's factory units should be built up with virtually no land round them at all, and grant-aided into the bargain. There is a class of holding above that, I think, which is covered by the Small Farmers' Scheme itself, but which is below the minimum required by the Regulations and which under some circumstances—I do not say under all circumstances—ought really to have a grant for the improvement of its buildings. I say this because I think that the matter arises from the point of view of equity. It is very hard for the small man who wants to put up a building but who may be under the limit of acreage required when he sees a larger neighbour getting a grant which he cannot get. I ask my right hon. Friend to be kind enough to look at this side of the matter further, and I hope that we shall discuss it in Committee.
Quite apart from this very small but still whole-time category of farmers, I think that the small unit as a whole is under a drawback in making use of the farm improvement grants. I suppose that the larger farmer is in a better position to take advantage of these provisions. On top of that, of course, he obtains a considerable remission of taxation by way of the allowances over ten years in respect of the buildings which he puts up. I know that, equally, the small farmer can get the tax allowances if he is 1265 making a profit, but very often his profit is not very much and, therefore, in order to bring him on a level with his larger counterpart I believe that he should receive a higher rate of grant on his improvements than that received by his larger neighbour. There may be those who violently disagree with this contention because they may think that the small unit is uneconomic anyhow. As I say, I am not always convinced of that and I am anxious that the man farming the smaller acreage of land shall not feel that he is being unfairly treated in this vital matter of improvement which he needs as much as anyone else, and perhaps rather more.
I do not want that criticism to outweigh the general praise that I wish to give to this part of the scheme in general. It is certainly not my intention to exaggerate the matter and to say that it is unduly weighted in favour of the larger farmer, but I think that there is some element of this to be seen in the way the scheme has worked up to now.
I wish to say a word or two about notices to quit and the special provisions made in the Bill to deal with the attaining of possession by a landlord in cases where bad husbandry is alleged. I am glad that there is to be a tightening of the procedure and the form in which the notice is given originally, and so on. I find myself a little disturbed about this matter. It is the wish of Parliament that reasonable security should be given to tenants, and there are landlords who watch these provisions about the conditions of husbandry very carefully so that they may be able to obtain possession of holdings by the strict application of the provisions relating to farming which is against the principles of good husbandry. I hope that I have understood aright the conditions contained in the Bill, and that it is not proposed that the task of deciding such cases shall be undertaken by arbitrators. I like the idea of this being a matter for the Agricultural Land Tribunal.
The Tribunal consists of a lawyer as the chairman and assessors who have had an agricultural training and are interested in agriculture. I have nothing against arbitrators, but I hope that these very delicate matters, involving a close contact with and a knowledge of agriculture, will not be decided by arbitrators in- 1266 stead of the Agricultural Land Tribunal. That again is a matter which we can discuss during the Committee stage of the Bill.
I wish to comment on a matter which was raised by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). He asked a series of complicated questions but did not attempt to provide any of the answers——
§ Mr. Bullard
Well, I do not know about that. I think it is up to anyone who asks innumerable questions about the agricultural policy of the Government to provide a suggestion now and again.
§ Mr. Peart
Certainly. But it is the role of the Opposition to probe as well. If the hon. Gentleman needs some consolation I would remind him that it was the Opposition which raised the point about the arbitrators, which he is raising now, when this matter was discussed in detail in a Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Bullard
That is fair enough. I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for his probing. But one appreciates an occasional indication of what the Opposition might consider an alternative plan. However, I do not wish to fall out with the hon. Gentleman, because I was about to follow the line which he pursued and endeavour to look at the special grants referred to in the Bill, and similar grants which were mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, in relation to the agricultural policy generally.
One must look at the whole thing together. These grants do not constitute a policy by themselves. But with the price arrangements which arise out of the February Review and so on, they provide a pretty complete policy, in my opinion, albeit a rather expensive one at the present time. I think that the improvement grants and the fertiliser grants, which are mentioned in the Bill, the hill farming grants and all the other special arrangements contribute greatly to the efficiency of farm production. One might hope that the deficiency payments bill might have been decreased because of them. But it may be said with truth that they have prevented that bill from becoming greater and so have 1267 made a significant contribution in that direction.
The grants have been useful in providing money at the start of farming operations. So many things in the farming processes yield a return only after a long period. Many of the grants are available quite early on in the operation, and I believe that that is one reason why we hear less today about the shortage of capital for agriculture. These grants have enabled work to be undertaken for which the capital was forthcoming at the start of the operation. I think that in our existing system, therefore, the grants have played a very useful role from the point of view of finance.
I do not know for sure how they would fit into the Common Market arrangements. I do not want to go into that matter in great detail because, if I did so, I might be ruled out of order. But there may be some difficulty about fitting these grants into the agricultural picture which would be created if we join the Common Market. I do not think that any dictates on the part of Dr. Mansholt or anyone else would affect the matter. There would be other reasons which I will try very shortly to define. There are people who regard these grants as a kind of insurance. They are of opinion that if there are enough of these schemes as outlined the Bill—and several of the schemes might well extend for a period which would cover our entry into the Common Market were we to decide to join—even though there were price changes which operated to the disadvantage of agriculturists because we had joined the Common Market, the schemes would be a kind of insurance to meet that situation.
There may be something in that point of view. But I should like to regard the matter from a different aspect. I do not see how the price arrangement from a long-term point of view will work out in connection with the agricultural policy of the Common Market. I know that there is talk about reasonable prices. But I am not sure that the prices which the Six have already laid down, at any rate for the first period of the operation, are reasonable at all, at any rate regarding cereals. I am a cereal grower and repre- 1268 sent a number of such growers. I consider that the continental prices are very high. I cannot visualise the taxpayer, who may have to pay increased prices for food because of the Common Market arrangements, hurrying to provide grants for cereal growers on tap of the price. It may be that I have interpreted the matter wrongly. But I have yet to be convinced that the long-term Common Market price arrangements, into which we might have to fit these grants, will result in a workable proposition. I know that our present interest is concentrated on the transitional period, and I think that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal is right to stick his toes in on this question. But quite apart from the transitional arrangements, it seems to me that we are liable, unless concessions can be obtained, to enter into price arrangements, at all events in respect of cereals, which may prove very unsuitable to our own conditions.
I hope that in looking at this matter over the long term, as we are bound to do, we shall try to envisage what might arise over price arrangements were we to go into the Common Market. I hope that my right hon. Friends the Lord Privy Seal and the Minister will be able to obtain same modification of those price arrangements. I cannot believe that they will be beneficial to the structure of British agriculture, although I know that one should not be too fixed in one's ideas. We must be prepared to face changes, as I think the agricultural industry has done in the past, and is quite willing to do now, provided that they are not only fairly gradual but also fair.
I apologise for digressing from the Bill a little to draw some picture of the way in which I think these arrangements may or may not fit into the Common Market arrangements. I conclude by welcoming the provision's of the Bill in general. I hope and believe that it will aid the continued improvement of fixed equipment of the farms of Britain for the benefit of all concerned, including the welfare of those industries which indirectly benefit from a prosperous, successful and progressive agriculture.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) has raised one of the problems which has afflicted 1269 the giving of grants for many years. It is the question of how to help agriculture on bad land without giving very large benefits to farmers on good land.
One of the problems of a debate on agriculture is that there are no general principles applying to the whole of agriculture. As the hon. Member said, there are such varieties of land. There are even varieties of land in the same area. There are varieties over different parts of the country to such an extent that it is almost impossible to devise any method which could be fair and equitable to everyone.
When I had the pleasure and honour of working with Lord Williams when the Charter for Agriculture was introduced, the purpose was to try to overcome these difficulties by making flexible arrangements. The hon. Member has raised the problem of the efficiency of agriculture. At that time we set up agricultural executive committees and put into the hands of farmers themselves in their localities, because they knew the intimate circumstances of farms, the duty of deciding whether farms were being efficiently conducted or not. It is greatly to be regretted that this Government have abolished those committees and resorted to all kinds of substitutes to achieve a proper result.
The Bill before us is not a comprehensive Bill. Very largely it is a holding operation until decisions are come to about the Common Market. The very dates in regard to the subsidies suggest that this is merely a matter of holding the field without prejudice to what might happen in the discussions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said, there are many points in the Bill which are satisfactory and to be welcomed.
When reading Clause 5 I was a little worried about the Government stipulating the kind of fertilisers to use, which might give monopoly or monopolies to certain suppliers of fertilisers. I should like to know what provision is to be made to control the price. Before the war John Morgan, who was an hon. Member of this House, used to allege that every time a subsidy was given to farmers it was immediately collected by the suppliers of feedingstuffs, who had a monopoly and put up the price to absorb the whole subsidy so that none of the 1270 money went to the farmers. This is one of the problems which must be faced in regard to Clause 5. I should like the Secretary of State to deal with it when he replies to the debate.
I am particularly interested in Clauses 10 and 11 which, I take it, are to provide a substitute for the M.A.P.s which have been abolished. Am I right in concluding that this is meant to compensate farmers on marginal land for the abolition of these agricultural grants? On the other hand, it will be contributing to a very important part of marginal land production.
In Scotland we probably have as great, if not a greater, variety of types of land as in any other part of the United Kingdom. The Balfour Commission grouped Scottish land into four types. There was the western wet land, the central Highlands, the eastern part, lowland, and a drier part which is also mountainous and highland. The Commission said that one of the problems of trying to do anything about intelligent planning in the direction suggested by the hon. Member for King's Lynn was not that there was anything wrong with the land or the possibilty of treating the land, but the fact that no one had the right to interfere with the owners or tenants. Scotland's land is so hemmed in by legal rights that nobody dare interfere with, that there is a great danger of the land and the people on it suffering unless some method could be found of breaking through the barrier separating the desire of the Government for improvement and the desire of the owner or tenant to stay put.
The West Coast particularly requires some intelligent planning. In winter there is no possibility of finding transport for winter feed for the cattle. It is therefore essential, if we are to increase the cattle population of the West Coast, to provide winter feed grown in the area. In our hills we can produce far more grass for the feeding of cattle in summer than can be kept alive over the winter. That is the first problem, but it has been shown that with the co-operation of forestry in providing shelter belts on the side of hills and preventing the swift run-off of rainfall, fertiliser can be preserved and more crops grown in the summer and preserved for winter feed.
1271 If that is to be done there must be cooperation with the people on the land. I am very glad that there is emphasis in the Bill on the preservation of grassland rather than on paying for ploughing up. As Alec Allan and the Scottish Department have shown by experiments on the Solway, much of this land can be improved without ploughing up. Indeed, Mr. Allan has proved that if it is ploughed up much of the value of fertiliser is lost and that it is far better to retain the texture of the land and to convert peat land into pasture land by a purely natural method of fertilising. I take it that stress on the importance of benefiting grassland rather than ploughing up has some reference to these Clauses. Farmers have been able to combine these things and have converted thousands of acres into good grassland by this method, which is now spreading all over the world.
The hill land is an important area in Scotland because it can provide a reservoir of stock and form a foundation of stock which can come down to the better lands. We are apt to think of the West Highlands as being blotted out in winter time, but in the middle of the West Highlands there is Lord Lovat's land. There cattle can be brought down during winter into beautiful parkland. Lord Brocket whose land was further to the West Coast had to transport all his sheep to the Black Isle to winter them there. There is no simple and easy measure for dealing with all these problems. Nearly every farmer has to deal with his problems in his own way. I would ask the Government, in view of this holding operation, what is to be the end of it. Before doing so there are one or two other questions which I should like to ask.
I was interested in the question of the vaccination of poultry. The Minister referred to poultry pest the other day and I wondered what was the evidence of the efficacy of vaccination. I gather that it is not to be adopted in Scotland, but there is still some argument going on whether vaccination would be of any use in dealing with foot and mouth disease, and whether there is any possibility of developing a vaccine against swine fever or whether there is any other method of preventing it. Is the slaughter policy the only policy for this? I gather that 1272 it is the only economic policy discovered so far, but I should be interested to hear something more about it.
Clauses 16 and 17 refer only to England and Wales. I am a little puzzled why the Land Commission is being abolished and the land sold to tenants. There may be some peculiarity about tenants in England, but I have found that tenants in Scotland do not want to own their land because, by their not owning it, the landlord is responsible for the fixed equipment. I shall be very interested to hear that English and Welsh tenants are bursting to provide their fixed equipment. I should be astonished if that was entirely the case.
I understand that Clauses 18 and 19 are concerned very largely with administrative changes, and I do not want to go into any other details in the Bill with regard to its working. I should, however, like to ask, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington did at the beginning of the debate, what is the final picture of all this? I know that it is a holding operation, but agriculture cannot be planned from year to year. When one is talking about livestock, as most of the people in the Highlands and elsewhere are doing, one has to be thinking of 7, 8 or 10 years ahead. The right hon. Gentleman said the other day that Scotland must accept change. That is a new idea for the Conservative Party, and it seems to belie its name, which is to keep things as they are. We are quite willing to accept it, and we hope to recruit him in due course to forward-looking ideas.
I gather from what I read that Captain Coutts, who is a factor for a very advanced farming concern, J. & A. Noble, I think it is called, with whom, I think, the Secretary of State has some little acquaintance, was talking about some of the very great advances made in regard to the production of better cattle and the use of science in the improvement of dairy and beef stock, and he augured a very great future for it. That is not a new thing. The Labour Government, away back in 1924, started the process of breeding better bulls and trying to get rid of scrub bulls. Now, with the advent of artificial insemination, we have the opportunity of getting rid of these bad cattle almost in the space of one cattle generation.
1273 I gather that the right hon. Gentleman, in his own farming experience, is practising efficient farming of this kind in a very big way. I do not think that if we go into the Common Market people who are doing that need have the slightest fear. I find that the efficient farmers whom I come across have no fear at all about going into the Common Market. Today, when the Minister of Agriculture was speaking to us, he was also speaking —he may not know it—to a delegation of German farmers, who were listening to him. They are here because they are interested in what they can learn from British farmers about solving the problems of agriculture on the Continent. There is no question at all that, if we are efficient, we need not fear competition from any one. The trouble is that farming ranges from the highly efficient farmer, of whom the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) is one, to the small farmer who cannot afford, as the hon. Gentleman said, even to improve his byre.
What is to be the future of agriculture? Is there any possibility that we can bring the less efficient farmers up to such a degree of efficiency that they can survive in this new world? My own view is that the Government, for some years, have been turning a wintry blast on them and allowing them to wither away. It has not been said in so many words, but there has been a gradual withering away on the fringe.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I think that this is still the Government's policy. It may be that in the long run it is an essential part of evolution.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It is easy to populate Hammersmith, but it is not so easy to populate the Highlands of Scotland. Therefore, we have to decide whether we want to maintain the population in the back lands and outposts of this country. I think that it is desirable to maintain the population on the land. It breeds healthy and virile people who have made a wonderful contribution to the world, considering that they are such a small section of the population. Therefore, it 1274 is desirable to preserve them. If we are to preserve them we cannot do so by wasteful methods of pouring in money that just goes down the drain.
The idea is to make it possible for these people to live and be efficient. Lord Williams and I were always convinced that one of the ways was to supply aid at the beginning of the process, that is, to give the money in a directional way so as to direct the efforts of the farmer to improving his land, his stock and the countryside. There was great success in that. I remember a case of a hill farmer, with a farm 3,000 ft. up. He came back from the war, started farming, and was able to produce sheep which captured all the prizes in the Perth show. This was possible because he adopted business methods, utilised plant to the best advantage, and carried on.
I should like to know what is the Government's general policy. It would help farmers if they were told what they are expected to do and what they must do if they are to survive. They would then get down to the job. If they are led to believe that they must go battling on for another sixty years, there will come a rude awakening that will damage not only them but the country as well.
I was interested in an article in the Scotsman the other week in which there was a reference to Mr. Mutch of Edinburgh University. It is very flattering that Scottish universities have been quoted to such an extent today. He pointed out that in his view an end was coming to this support. In other words, he thought that there would be a gradual tapering off in support for agriculture, so that farming would have to live on its own merits. He came to the view that much of our farming would not live on its own merits but would perish. In that event, he thought that the successor would be forestry, and he asked for an intelligent pattern of forestry to be developed.
He also pointed out that it was already becoming difficult to obtain shepherds and that the Highlands of Scotland might go back to a policy of wild herding, a form of ranging in which one gathered the stock at the end of the year. I do not think that we have yet reached that point, but undoubtedly there is a great redundancy in the land. Yesterday 1275 we had a debate on miners, and a reference was made to the number of miners who would be unemployed. Very few people realise that there are 6,000 fewer workers on the land of Scotland this year than there were last year. It is true that they were not such highly skilled workers in the past, but those people who have to leave the land must drift into the towns with their families, and they contribute to the redundancy problem. As far as I can see, farming is bound to become more mechanised and more scientific. Workers are bound to be more highly paid, and there are bound to be fewer but more highly skilled workers on the land.
There has been a great depopulation of the Welsh hills. One main reason that they were over-populated was that there was no food for these people in the towns, and in those circumstances it is better to live on a farm. When well-paid jobs were available in the towns, the workers left the farms and went to the towns. This is not a bad process, nor is it a bad process to get farming rationalised by having efficient farming with a high level of mechanisation. We need not deplore the loss of people from the land if fewer people are producing the same amount of food.
The Government ought to give us and the farming community a picture of what they are expecting. I realise that this is difficult in the middle of these negotiations on the Common Market, but one thing is certain: whether we go into the Common Market or not, farming must become more efficient, and all the Government's efforts should be directed to helping it to that end.
The Secretary of State says that we must accept change. I presume that he means to guide that change. Are the changes to take place in a haphazard way? Is the new system to grow like Topsy? Or will there be a new system of agriculture, horticulture, beef and grain production in Scotland?
We were able to achieve a considerable amount after the war. It would be difficult to institute all those controls now, but I am sure that the farming population of Scotland, which is always ready to look for scientific advance and guidance, is ready to be guided. If the Minister puts some general guidance before them, the agricultural community 1276 of Scotland will be willing to co-operate in following it. The right hon. Gentleman is a farmer, and he ought to be able to give them a professional lead as well as a political lead by giving them the necessary direction.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
In the closing stages of his speech the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) said that whether we go into Europe or not, farming must become more efficient. I am sure that it is superfluous for me to hope that he has not forgotten the increased efficiency which farming has shown over the last several years. In Scotland alone we have half as much food again being produced by half the number of hands.
I welcome the Bill primarily because I think that it pin-points the wise investment of public money. A great deal of public money has been invested in agriculture, an astronomical amount since the war, and yet I say without any hesitation that no capital investment has shown a better return, by and large, for the people of this country.
This is an important Bill applying, as it does, to the United Kingdom as a whole, and much of it is of particular importance to Scotland. We should not forget the much higher proportion of Scotland's farming economy which lies in the hills and on the high ground. My right hon. Friend referred briefly to the Clauses to do with winter keep. It is worth emphasising the fact that 72 per cent. of Scotland's land area consists of rough grazing and that the equivalent area south of the Border is only 15 per cent. Perhaps that underlines the importance of the Clauses which have to do with the rearing of livestock.
It is admirable that an extra £3 million is being devoted to improvements on hill farms. It is, however, a pity that there has not been an extension of the scheme in respect of its finality, because it is due to run out in less than twelve months' time. The date is Guy Fawkes Day next year. I do not know what is the significance of that date as applied to hill farming. But on the hills, even more than on the lowlands, it is essential to be able to make plans far ahead, and I must confess that I regret the failure to extend the time as well as the money.
1277 The powers to operate the hill cattle and hill sheep subsidies are being extended in the Bill by four years, which is good. But I hope that the Government will consider in this context, and at this juncture, taking note of a point which I have mentioned previously—as have hon. Members on both sides of the House—the importance, where possible, of concentrating help where it is most needed. This is an important point in all investment by the taxpayers. Another aim should be to provide incentives to get the greater efficiency which the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire mentioned.
This takes me back to a publication in which I played a part and which perhaps my right hon. Friend remembers. This was a booklet, "A Study of Scottish Agriculture in the Twentieth Century". In it, when we were talking of this general subject and about the general principles of differential treatment, we said,Even in such cases as the hill sheep subsidy, there are good and cogent reasons for having different rates for different areas.When we went on to talk about the hill cow subsidy we said,Nor are we entirely happy that the hill cow subsidy is being paid in the most effective manner for producing the greatest number of hill calves, which is its main objective. We would suggest that a slightly higher rate of subsidy be paid, but that it should be confined to cows rearing a calf in the current year, and not apply, as at present, to all hill cows. This would nut the emphasis on efficiency and production.This is an opportunity for such aims to be fulfilled.
I am delighted with the further encouragements towards more farm improvements. They have been referred to already by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard). The agricultural revolution which has taken place in the fields had, until the Farm Improvements Scheme was introduced, created a very tight bottleneck indeed in some very sturdy farm buildings, most of which were built in the middle of the last century. A tremendous amount of the efficiency of the new field machinery was dissipated by the antiquated fixed equipment. The Farm Improvement Grant ranks very high indeed among all the post-war Measures which have been introduced.
1278 A feature of the winter keep proposals is that assistance is being directed towards certain types of farm. Much has been said, as it often is said in debates on agriculture, about the size of farms and how difficult it is to ensure that the big farmer does not do too well if the small farmer is to make a reasonable living. I have never thought that size is the real yardstick by which to judge agricultural investment and assistance. A very large hill sheep farm may not be doing well. A very small arable farm may be doing extremely well. It is the type of farm much rather than the size which is important.
The winter keep Clause, of all Clauses in the Bill, is of especial importance to Scotland. It is, as the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire said, designed as a successor, and I hope rather more than a successor, to the marginal argicultural production scheme. In our booklet—I do not want to labour it, but there is some awfully sound stuff in it—we stressed the importance of marginal and upland farms. I want to stress a point here which has not been made so far. This is the importance of thinking ahead in food production, because of the prospects as we know them of the upward surge in world population and the consequent need to make use of every available acre. When we were thinking about hill ground we said:We should, however, face some hard facts before we allow ourselves to be carried away on a high tide of emotion. What restricts full use being made of the hill ground in Scotland is the difficulty of providing enough keep for stock during the winter months: and that particular problem cannot be solved so easily in the hills themselves as it can be in what has for some years now been described as the marginal ground, which lies lower down. If more hay could be grown on the marginal farms for use higher up, then more stock could tramp the hills and improve them—at comparatively little cost.One cannot neglect the long-term world food problem. Therefore, the maintenance of production on upland farms is of the very greatest importance.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I do not want unduly to advertise the booklet, which I understand that the hon. Gentleman wrote himself. The analysis he has made is fairly accurate, but should he not relate it to the need far the grant provisions in the Bill? He is not making a case 1279 for the grant provisions in the Bill. He is merely making a case that something ought to be done, but by the farmers. Would he now relate it to the grant provisions?
§ Mr. Stodart
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not appreciated what I was saying. Our advice—it was not mine solely; it was the advice of several authors—was that production on upland ground should be stimulated. This is exactly what has been done by the introduction of the winter keep Clauses in the Bill.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend one or two specific questions about his intentions for operating the winter keep scheme. My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), the former Secretary of State, spoke to the National Farmers' Union of Scotland at its annual general meeting last April. He is reported in the Union's journal as having said:The Secretary of State made it clear that the Winter Keep Scheme would be of United Kingdom application, although its detail might vary from country to country. He said that the Winter Keep Scheme would be confined to hill and livestock rearing areas to supplement the existing special forms of assistance such as hill cattle and hill sheep subsidy by a scheme designed to give direct encouragement to the provision of winter keep which largely determines stocking capacity … The Secretary of State recognised that there were considerable variations in the quality of land and other conditions between one farm and another … and he accepted that there were strong arguments for differential rates of grants related to these factors. The scheme would require a classification of farms and the Department of Agriculture would embark on this right away.Has classification taken place, or is it in the process of taking place? I do not think that the winter keep scheme should be limited to land which is defined in the Livestock Rearing Act. I believe that it should go wider, for three reasons.
First, there are farms which get marginal agricultural production grants but which are not eligible for the livestock rearing grants. Another reason far thinking that it must go wider is that I saw in a farming journal last week a heading which said, "Move to cut the ploughing grant". I have many times advocated that the ploughing grant should be not so widely available as it 1280 is at the moment, but I think that it would be a disaster to upland farms to lose marginal agricultural production grants and ploughing grants but yet not be eligible for the grant under the new winter keep scheme.
I hope that any intention to do away with the ploughing grants does not imply total surgery upon the £7 an acre section. It would be perfectly simple to do what nearly all hon. Members want, to extend the period from four years to seven years, and that would automatically cut out the grant being made use of for arable farms. Thirdly, in any figures which are published by the agricultural colleges in Scotland and, I have no doubt, by the agricultural advisory services in England, it will be found that the sectors of the industry described as upland stock rearing show the lowest returns. The pure hill sheep farm does better on the whole, and the low ground farms immeasurably so. It would be untenable for farmers in the upland areas to be deprived of their marginal and ploughing grants and still not be eligible for the winter keep arrangements.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will not adhere too rigidly to that definition, and, with these reservations, I welcome the Bill as being well worthwhile and for its endeavour to invest money where it will get the best possible return.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
I am afraid that, unlike the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), I do not have a book on agriculture to advertise. However, it was interesting to have a commercial from him in the course of a natural break on what undoubtedly must be a most excellent book. I hope that, in due course, the hon. Member will send me a copy so that I may study it.
I agree with many of his points, especially those regarding the size of a farm. Indeed, it is not its size alone which is the important criteria. Perhaps I might add to his remarks by saying that a farm's resources and not its size are particularly important, and I am sure that he will agree with me. Essentially this is a Committee stage Bill, a tidying-up Bill, which of necessity lacks any general theme or principle. I hope that hon. 1281 Members will pardon me if instead of dealing with the general principles involved, important though they are, I deal with some of the Clauses.
As a Welshman with a large proportion of hill-farming going on in my country I find Clause I extremely important in that it increases the amount of grant available under the Hill Farming Acts. However, is it more than a paper increase? When one realises that of the quantity of schemes approved under these Acts only a small proportion of them have been carried out and completed—I think the figures are 13 per cent. for Wales and 22 per cent. for England—one must ask whether this is more than a paper increase, for it merely authorises an increase in the number of schemes which can be approved.
I pay tribute to the work done as a result of these Acts, and in my country we have seen derelict farms transformed. To borrow and translate the words of a Welsh poet, instead of brambles we have wheat fields and instead of dereliction we have thriving industry in the hills. This has brought new life and hope to many parts of the country, but I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West about the date of 5th November—Guy Fawkes Day.
Although that date will affect the submission of new schemes for approval, I was glad of the Minister's assurance that work may continue after that date, and that is most important. I would have thought that for the Minister to justify the fact that there are no longer to be any new schemes submitted for approval after 5th November, 1963, he should have been able to tell the House that there is no longer any reservoir of farms which, had schemes been submitted, would have been able to benefit from such schemes.
Had we exhausted all the farms which might benefit from schemes of this nature the Minister would have been justified in saying that no extension would be permitted beyond 5th November. However, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there are many farms—I do not know how many but perhaps he can tell us—which would benefit if new schemes were submitted. Unless the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that such a reservoir of farms no longer exists he cannot justify the stopping of what has undoubtedly been a well-conceived 1282 scheme which has brought great benefit to this part of the industry.
§ Mr. Soames
I would remind the hon. Member that this scheme has been going for seventeen years. It has, therefore, been in existence for a long time and during all these years farmers have been able to take advantage of it. In recent years applications have been falling off considerably, and in view of the length of time the scheme has been going and the rate of applications coming in, we did not see the necessity for keeping it going beyond November, 1963.
§ Mr. Morris
I appreciate the Minister's remarks about the length of time the scheme has been running, but I hope he will give an indication that there is no longer a substantial proportion of farms which could benefit if applications were made. After all, although the scheme has been running for many years there may be other reasons why farmers have not applied for assistance. For example, some farmers may not have had sufficient capital to do so. It is interesting to note that an examination of the scheme shows that in Wales £16½ million worth of schemes were approved up to 1961—but no more than £4¼ million worth were carried out. I submit that the reason is that the hill farmers were not able to provide the capital necessary to fulfil their part of the bargain and effect these improvements.
That may be just one reason why, of the number of schemes approved, a large proportion were only partly or not carried out. For one reason or another, farmers may not have found themselves in a position to apply for assistance. For these reasons, I urge the Minister to reconsider the date of 5th November, 1963.
I was interested to hear the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) on the payment of grants if we enter the Common Market. I hope that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that protection grants will be paid. Many Clauses refer to agricultural co-operation and the payment of grants to assist co-operative effort. I feel strongly about this and I am glad to see some emphasis, though not as much as I had hoped, on co-operation.
I recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) moved a number of Amendments 1283 in Committee on the 1957 Bill. They were designed to have more money injected into the industry in an effort to achieve greater agricultural co-operation. I also recall that I moved a number of Amendments in Committee when we were considering the Horticulture Act, and I am glad to see that the Government seem to agree that agricultural co-operation is an important factor for the industry.
Considering the size and number of hill farming schemes which were approved in the past but which were not carried out, I wonder why—apart from the shortage of capital—those schemes were not executed? Was it because too grandiose schemes were conceived originally or that while the original schemes approved were thought to be right at the time, when they came to be put into operation they were no longer necessary because the farms in the hills had been amalgamated and the proposed improvements were no longer needed? I hope that in future when grants of this nature are paid out regard will be had to the need of a community or a valley. If certain facilities, such as for sheep shearing, can be used in co-operation, the argument should not be put forward by the Government that agricultural co-operatives lack permanence for receiving grants of this nature.
Clause 8 refers to organisations like the W.A.O.S. and the sister organisation in England which will be responsible for co-operation. I hope that every use will be made of these organisations which have done such a great deal to organise agricultural co-operation in England and Wales. But I was staggered to read in the Digest of Welsh Statistics that the Government grant to the W.A.O.S. has gone down year by year. In 1956 the organisation was receiving £8,000. In 1960 the grant was down to £6,500 and in 1961 it was under £6,000. Perhaps we can be told what will be the effect of Clause 8 on the organisation and why these grants have fallen year by year.
I welcome the provision in Clause 2 for a four-year extension of the period for payment of subsidies in respect of hill sheep and cattle, but is it enough? Is the farming community happy that only this period of extension has been given? We all know full well that livestock breeding is not a short-term 1284 matter. Essentially it needs long-term planning. I hope that the Minister will obtain the fullest co-operation from the farming organisations and an assurance that they are happy about this extension and are satisfied that it is for a sufficiently long period.
As the Minister said, Clause 3 is one of the most important in the Bill. It seeks to increase the amounts available for grants under Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1957. The Minister told us that utilisation of this part of the Act exceeded all possible expectations. I have always held the view that it may well be that some of these smaller farmers have not been able to benefit sufficiently from this scheme. In the same way as the hill farmers have not been able to find their capital to carry out improvements, so it may be that the smaller farmers under this Act have not been able to find their part of the capital to implement these schemes. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us who has benefited from the 1957 Act, and to give figures of the types of farms which have benefited from the large payments that have been made.
A point was made earlier about the fact that capital may be injected in this way into a farm and that the farm might be sold shortly after the improvements have been made. In reply to that intervention the Minister said—and I agree with him up to a point—that if large capital were injected into a farm by way of improvement and the farm went on to the market the following day one would not expect full recoupment of the amount invested. But I understand that there is no restriction whatsoever on an owner if he obtains a substantial grant —and some farms have benefited considerably—from selling the farm the following day after completing a scheme. Undoubtedly he would not benefit from the whole of a sum of £10,000 paid by the Exchequer on completion of a scheme of £30,000, but he might well benefit from a substantial proportion of the money obtained from the Exchequer.
There should be some restriction on the resale of these farms after substantial schemes of this nature have been completed, because the new buyer will not benefit at all from the Government money injected into the farm. He will 1285 have to pay for the whole of the improvement or as much as the seller can get from him. Possibly some restriction can be imposed in order to pass on the benefit from the speculator who may have obtained the Government grant, to the new owner-occupier.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
It is little use the hon. Member asking us to draw these inferences. This scheme has been operating for five years and if this practice has been frequent and prevalent surely the hon. Member can furnish us with concrete examples.
§ Mr. Morris
I am not saying that this is a prevalent practice, but one knows—I will not go into details—of instances where large estates have been valued on the market at an amount which includes the accretion of substantial sums of Government money injected into the estate. This has been apparent to many people and it should not be beyond the wit of the Government to transfer the benefit of Government money to the new owner-occupier.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
We ought not to be mealy-mouthed about this point. We are all men of the world and most of us are capable of keeping our eyes open. The facts are that the capital values of farmsteads today are outside the purses of most young farmers who want to buy them. They are from five to seven times 1939 values on average. This great increase in the capital values of farms has been brought about by the injection of £4,000 million of public money into farming subsidies, improvement grants and things of that kind. Whatever the ratio has been, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) is entitled to say that farm values have increased as a result of public money going into them. One has only to buy a newspaper any week and look at the estate agents' lists to find that out.
§ Mr. Morris
I am obliged to my hon. Friend and perhaps I can now get on with my speech. We may enjoy a more detailed discussion of this matter in Committee.
Clause 10 refers to winter keep grants. I cannot see why these should be limited to livestock rearing land. Many farmers who do not qualify for grants of this 1286 nature ought to benefit. Having regard to the possibility of our entry into the Common Market, and, indeed, even without that possibility, having regard to the importance of growing as much as possible of our own keep, I suggest that the Minister should either give a very liberal interpretation of the Clause or extend it altogether to provide this assistance for a far wider class of people. Some farms have qualified in the past for hill-farming grants and there are other farms in the lowlands which can look after themselves very well, but there is a class between these two. This is the class of small producers on 100–150 acres of medium land which might be regarded by many as poor land. These people can never qualify for any of these schemes. They usually find themselves between two stools. Even though there are difficulties, I would ask the Minister in due course to give the most liberal interpretation he can to this important Clause.
May I now refer to the Agricultural Land Commission, which has been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart)? I am very dissatisfied with Clause 16 and I disagree entirely with the dissolution of the Agricultural Land Commission and the Welsh Agricultural Sub-Commission for which great hopes were originally entertained. It was hoped that they would be the means of some structural reorganisation in an industry which badly needed it. The Welsh Sub-Commission has done a tremendous amount of work, and I am glad to join in the tribute which the Minister paid to that body.
The Glanllyn Estate is being sold to a consortium of tenants. I should like to know from the Minister whether that sale is complete and, if not, what stage has been reached in this transaction. Having set up the consortium of buyers of these farms, is there any restriction on the eventual breaking up of the consortium so that each farmer is able to break away from what has been managed efficiently as one estate hitherto?
I should now like to refer to the question of land which is now held by the Agricultural Land Commission and which is being transferred to the Forestry Commission. I am concerned mainly with the future. Undoubtedly a tenant 1287 of the Land Commission has his own safeguards under Sections 24 and 25 of the Agricultural Holdings Act if he is disturbed. But if land is transferred to the Forestry Commission and the Forestry Commission uses that land for forestry, even though the tenant is a sitting tenant, he will lose his protection under the Agricultural Holdings Act.
If land which is at present held by the Land Commission is intended to be transferred to the Forestry Commission I should like to know what protection is to be given to sitting tenants from the point of view of security of tenure. It seems to me that such people would lose that security as things now stand.
I welcome the amendment in Clause 17 to Section 24 of the 1948 Act. I have some exerience of the working of this provision, and I have found that, in practice, it has frequently imposed great hardship when notice has been served on a tenant to remedy breaches of the terms and conditions of his tenancy. A notice is served, containing a schedule of fifty or sixty necessary matters to be remedied. The tenant is given a certain time in which to complete. The schedule may contain references to ditching, hedging and 101 other matters.
At the end of the period an arbitration is held at which the arbitrator decides whether a tenant, having been given reasonable notice, has complied with the requirements of the notice. It may be that out of the many breaches which require remedying one has been left undone. The arbitrator will find that the tenant must leave. That is the hardship which has resulted from the operation of this provision to date.
I do not exactly follow the details of the proposed amendment, but perhaps we can go over this in greater detail later. As I understand it, the intention of the Government is to remove this hardship and uncertainty. It is essentially a Committee stage matter, and I hope we shall have a good Committee to go into this point fully. I hope also that it will assist in bringing a measure of prosperity to agriculture.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)
I am sorry that I do not see the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Pearl) in his place. I thought that he propounded 1288 principles and policies with unusual verbocity. Perhaps I could say in ten seconds that in principle I support this Bill, because I do not have to spend ten minutes convincing my hon. Friends that it is a good Bill.
Perhaps I could also suggest that the hon. Gentleman answered his own argument when he kept on asking what is the long-term policy of the Government. He suggested that we should read an extract from a certain book in which it is shown that producer subsidies have risen twofold during the past few years. I should have thought that this proved conclusively that the Government have rightly been moving in the direction of increasing producer subsidies, for obvious reasons, not only to benefit the person who is farming the small farm but with a view to the negotiations which are now going on in Brussels.
I welcome many Clauses in the Bill. I should like to make special mention of the Farm Improvements Scheme. This provision is far and away financially the biggest part of the Bill in that it involves a sum of £35 million. This scheme has enabled our holdings to be brought up to date and has enabled farmers to increase efficiency. A great deal has been said in the debate about weighting this scheme in favour of the smaller farmer and about the fact that people may do the necessary improvements and then sell their farms.
As to that second point, I should have thought there was a simple answer. I do not suggest that that eventuality does not arise occasionally, but the question is: is it in the national interest or not to improve these farms? The answer is that it is in the national interest, and, that being so, it does not matter whether the farm is sold to somebody else so long as the production of the farm is increased by the improvements which have been carried out, even if the new owner pays a little extra because the improvements were done during the occupation of a previous owner.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) who suggested that it would be a good idea if the Farm Improvements Scheme could he weighted towards the smaller unit. But I think my right hon. Friend was moving in the right direction last 1289 year when the grant for machinery syndicates was introduced in the White Paper. This is the alternative, co-operation between the smaller farmer, which many off us have been preaching for several years. This is the method which will enable the smaller unit to be viable and will enable the smaller man to remain on his own holding. It was because my right hon. Friend did not carry on with his policy in this year's Price Review that I disagree with him fundamentally, although I have never had an opportunity before to say so on the Floor of the House. I hope, therefore, that in the next Price Review he will increase all grants which will encourage co-operation.
Let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that we should have co-operatives. I want the individual farmer to remain on his own holding, farming his own land in co-operation with his neighbours, thereby decreasing the unit cost of production, particularly in the amount of machinery that he has on his holding.
I agree with much of what has been said about the hill farming and livestock rearing parts of the Bill. Whilst we welcome the fact that there is to be more money available, even if only for a short time, I should like to know from the Minister whether he is satisfied that there are not in all counties, and in Devon in particular, a large number of farms which are still in a position to take up these grants. What about the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Act, 1955? There are many lanes and roads, both unclassified and classified, in Devon and other parts of the country which will still require aid if they are to be kept up so that the milk lorries and other lorries, apart from the farmer himself, may pass up and down.
While it is very easy in places like Wales and Scotland to decide upon the line between hill land and lowland —[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—in parts of Devonshire it is not nearly so easy to differentiate.
§ Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
That is nonsense. If my hon. Friend comes to Ross he will be able to see for himself.
§ Mr. Browne
If my hon. Friend cares to ask me up there one of these days, I 1290 shall be delighted to come. I have not been there yet.
At present, the lines are drawn fairly arbitrarily by way of a road or a contour.
§ Mr. Browne
I hope that we may consider further the question of what is, in fact, hill farm land and livestock rearing land.
When the grants cease, shall we cease to succour the hill farmer? I think that this is the danger. I accept that under Clause 10 the problem is partly resolved by the special winter keep grant, yet, if the need is there, as it is, for aid for livestock rearing on the hills, there is surely a need for a continuation of help. We cannot just say, "We have given it to you, and you must get on with it". The problems will remain.
I am glad that the Minister is to give us more detail about the improvement of permanent pasture, under Clause 11, and tell us exactly what it entails. I am glad that it is to be dealt with through the local committees. Could he tell us at the end of the debate how it will affect the Small Farmer Schemes? Are we to have a grant on a grant on a grant? It rather looks as though we may under this Clause. I think I am right in saying that, under the Small Farmer Schemes at present, a man is able to get grants for the improvement of permanent pasture. While I welcome the Clause in general, I should be interested to know how it affects the Small Farmer Schemes.
Like the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), I welcome the stopping of the gap in the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948. It is of interest to note that estate agents and agents generally did not discover the loophole until fairly recently, but, since they discovered it, they have made fairly wide use of it. As the hon. Gentleman said, one is written to, time and again, by tenants who say that they have been asked to remedy a list of breaches, and the time given is hopelessly inadequate. Now, a tenant will have the opportunity to test the right of the landlord to ask him to remedy the breaches before he even starts to do so. Further, he cannot be asked to do it again within a period of six months. All this is to be welcomed.
1291 I had hoped that we should have some reference to ploughing grants in the Bill. It has always been my contention, as it has been the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), that, in order to get rid of the £7 an acre ploughing grant in general as it is given at the moment, it would be a good thing to concentrate it on a limited acreage per 100 acres basis. In this way, we should definitely weight in favour of the small farmer.
Although generally to be welcomed, the Bill raises some obvious questions. First, will it be possible to continue the producer subsidies once we go into the Common Market? When one looks at the date when some of them cease, one wonders. However, as I understand it, any producer subsidy which does not distort the terms of trade will continue when we go into the Common Market. I think that my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the way he has gradually moved our agricultural policy towards producer grants many of which do not distort the terms of trade as do others, like the fertiliser subsidy and so on, which, obviously, will eventually have to go. The Farm Improvements Scheme, the winter keep grants and so on are, I am sure, subsidies which can be kept if we go into the Common Market.
Even when all these things have been said and done, the question of producer grants in relation to the Common Market is of minor importance compared with the problem raised by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn. The question of reasonable price policies is fundamental. I received today an Answer from my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal saying that nothing has been done about this in the last round of negotiations. But this is the nub of the problem, before we start talking about producer subsidies and which we can keep and which we cannot in the Common Market.
We must have proper negotiation and decision upon the way in which the Common Market Fund is made up. We must have the right of veto during the vacuum between the initialling of the heads of agreement and ratification of the Treaty of Rome, should these things take place, during which time the Six 1292 may make up their mind on what policy they will adopt for a particular product, while we—
§ Mr. Speaker
This is so miscellaneous a Bill that I do not pose as an expert on its content. but I think there must be a limit to a discussion of the Common Market.
§ Mr. Browne
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. It has been mentioned before. These are important problems fundamental to any agriculture debate. This has been a fairly wide-ranging debate, and I hope, at least, that my right hon. Friend will take the point.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
We have now reached the stage when hon. Members opposite are quarrelling about their own priorities. I wondered how long it would be before we reached it, but we have got there at last. The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), who, I must say, I enjoy more on television than I enjoy hearing in the House, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) posed a problem regarding the size of farms. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West said that size did not matter in terms of units. The hon. Member for King's Lynn said that size did matter.
What neither hon. Member recognises is that agriculture is an industry which should operate according to ordinary commercial practice. The ordinary commercial practice is to secure an adequate and fair return upon the capital employed in the enterprise, before those concerned start receiving the benefits of hand-outs from the Government in subsidies and so on. This is the difficulty for the small farmer. He starts in business in the belief that the subsidies will keep him alive.
This is where the thing has gone all wrong. This is why the problem has been building up year after year. This is why the public are growing tired of it.
§ Mr. Tomney
Let me get started. I have not had much time yet.
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said that he was looking for a glimmer of the Government's policy in regard to agriculture 1293 and what it might be in future years. In my opinion, this is not a glimmer—it is a bonfire, a blazing bonfire of public cash. I calculate that no less than £4,300 million will have been invested since 1947 in the agricultural industry of this country. The scale of subsidies proposed in this Bill is another indication that the days of unrestricted protection for British agriculture will have to come to an end. Common Market or not.
Over the last five years, according to the best figures I can dig out, 80 per cent. of the net income of British farmers has come from direct taxation. That is a fantastic situation. A country like this, competing for world trade against our rising prices and overseas efficiency, an engineering country which has to export, cannot afford the amount of money for this industry. My hon. Friends from Scotland are complaining about unemployment and the rundown of industry in Scotland, British shipyards are becoming defunct and there are pockets of unemployment throughout the country, and yet we continue this kind of unrealistic support for an industry which ought to meet its obligations from its own capital.
We are sometimes told—we have often heard the argument in the past—that farming subsidies save the balance of payments. That is a contentious statement, and the cost of feedingstuffs and other agricultural products which have to be imported does not bear out that view. I have gone through the Bill in detail and it provides, in addition to what has already been paid, for the production of practically everything, except perhaps the growing of grapes on the top of Ben Nevis—and if somebody offered to do that, we would find a subsidy for him.
The farmers come along with special pleading for one subsidy after another, and as one runs out, they think up another. I am a great admirer of the National Farmers' Union and of its former chief negotiator, James Turner. Whatever he was paid, he was worth it. He has built into the structure of farming so many qualifying conditions and so many competing commitments that it is the hardest job in the world for the Minister to tackle the problem piecemeal. All he can do is to conduct a surgical operation and then let the farmers sort themselves out. As it is, if he cuts one thing they find another. Today it is road 1294 grants and country lanes, or the cooperatives and sharing of machinery.
Nobody doubts that our farming is efficient. Of course it is. Our farming is the most efficient and most highly mechanised in the world. But it is on the marginal land that the difficulty arises. I have said before that it is not our purpose from these benches to decry the proper place of agriculture in the community, but it is our duty to look after the taxpayers' money. This year, we had to spend £70 million in deficiency payments for beef. That was said to be due to the nice weather in the spring. The farmers said that they could not get rid of their beef, that the retailers did not want it. The result was that £70 million had to be found.
But then the potato crop failed. Housewives were paying 1s. 10d. a pound for new potatoes. I ask hon. Members to consider the difficulty of the housewife with five children and the amount of potatoes that she would have to buy. But she had to pay twice for her potatoes—once in general taxation and once in the shop. She was paying for the grant which the Government paid to bolster up this lot.
This is getting beyond a joke and it is time that hon. Members did something about it. Fluctuating prices with a guaranteed price system do not work for the benefit of the consumer. If there is a surplus, the market price drops and support prices go sky high, but if there is a shortage, supply is tightened and consumer prices soar. It is swings and roundabouts all the time and the general public are on the roundabouts and never on the swings. It is the farmers who are on the swings.
We have heard the most lavish praise from hon. Members opposite—and we shall hear it again—for the Agriculture Act, 1947, which the Labour Party introduced. But the conditions and the terms are now different and that Act has outrun its prime object and it is time to reconsider it, and to do so quickly before we run into more difficulties. What are the prime objects of agriculture? What is acceptable policy for agriculture? Its policy should be based on two objectives—and on two only. One is to get a standard of living for those employed in it equal to that of average industrial workers. That means that agriculture 1295 must secure a place in the economy as important as the factory, even if it is a specialised factory.
No matter what we pretend, agriculture is no longer a rural art. It is a specialised business. The old-fashioned picture which we like to conjure up of the farmer leaning over the farm gate when his day's labour is done, looking at the sunset and smoking his pipe, is wrong. He may be still there nowadays, but he will have the Investors' Chronicle in his pocket. There are no flies on these boys. This industry calls for efficient management and it must appreciate that it cannot have its present disorganisation.
Some years ago, when we were in Government—it seems a long time ago now—an hon. Member opposite who is now a very distinguished Minister and who lived in my part of the country, Hertfordshire, a farming county, said to me one day, "Frank, do you know whether there are any good farms going in Hertfordshire?" I asked, "How would I know that?", to which he replied, "Perhaps we could run one between us". When I looked amazed and said that I knew nothing about farming, he said, "My dear boy"—in his best Eton tones—"You do not need to know anything; all you want is a bookkeeper". Now I know that he was right. It was that which first started me thinking about this subject. I used to listen to my friend "Featherbed" Evans speaking on this subject from these benches, unhappily no longer with US. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Not because of his criticisms of farming. He had the gist of the idea then. He knew. Now we are all mesmerised with the desire to keep the farming community going when it is much too big for our national economic resources.
There is an argument for each of the Clauses. The only continuity among them is that they are supposed to end on the next Guy Fawkes night. The right hon. Gentleman ought to make it the biggest bonfire ever. Let him stoke up now. In every Clause the, pattern is the same as it has been for the last ten years, and the language of the National Farmers' Union is still the same—"We propose, the Government accept; when the Government accept, shift your ground and add another four years, another five years; consoli- 1296 date, build up, entrench, dig in, take it up another peg". We ought seriously to consider what the true position is.
I do not propose to spend long on the Common Market issue, although it was raised before you returned to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, but it is a serious proposition. However, whether we go in or not —and the present odds are that we will not—this kind of support must be reconsidered in absolutely basic terms. Our farming income is less than 5 per cent. of the total gross national product. The numbers employed in agriculture are not more than 500,000 as against a total employable force of 26 million.
Where do we have to put the onus for reinvestment in agriculture? It has to go into those areas which will produce, by virtue of their commodities, revenue which would benefit this country, or internationaly benefit sterling. But how in the world are we to sell dynamos, motor cars or capital goods to countries that need them if we cannot take their products—Polish or Danish eggs, Polish or Danish bacon, cucumbers or what we will from other countries? [Interruption.] The only farm in my constituency is that at Wormwood Scrubs, which is a model farm. Hammersmith's population is an industrial population.
If it is a question of payments on the dole versus farm subsidies, I am for avoiding payments on the dole. Various pants of the country are now facing a situation where this choice is arising, and there seems to be no ready answer. Although a fortnight ago the Chancellor injected certain measures into the economy in order to stimulate production, he knows as well as I do that these measures cannot be operative before six months. What are we to do until then? Are we to have this tightening-up process for six months, a climate of demand, a good Budget and then an election? Are these things to continue for ever? This kind of thing has to be settled here tonight. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's dilemma as a member of the Government having to get some order into agriculture and I can understand the position now facing the industry and how this thing has been built up; but, surely, it is time that the Minister and his Department did some thinking about it.
§ Mr. Bullard
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he not 1297 overlooking the trade between agriculture and local industries, especially internally? Is he not overlooking the fact that when development has taken place in agriculture, a very great deal of employment, and I would say the creation of a good deal of wealth, has taken place in other industry?
§ Mr. Tomney
I am not overlooking that, but it is not a big part of the national economy. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to such things as fertilisers and the fertiliser industry, I will tell him what is wrong with that for his own consumption.
Looking at the pattern which the Government propose for dispensing fertilisers and the methods by which the farmer is to purchase them, I can see no reason at all why the farming community should not purchase its fertilisers at source, from the wholesalers. What is the good of a policy which provides grants direct to the farmer which have to 13e spent in the retail market but which are based on wholesale prices? There are only four or five big firms in the business and they have it all! tied up between them. Why do we not do it the other way round? If we have x farms and we need x subsidies, why do we not say that they will be supplied on Government account from the source? The hon. Member knows that almost every commodity the farmer has to sell goes into the wholesale market, but he has to buy retail. This is the economics of Bedlam. Nobody else would do this. To make farming efficient, we must change to a proper system of economic accountancy. Before he left the N.F.U. Sir James Turner built so many built-in safeguards in this industry that everybody has a finger in the pie, and that is the difficulty.
We can go through this Bill Clause by Clause and see references to investment in land and the sale of land, and my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) raised a point about this earlier today, which I picked up. Marginal land and marginal farmers in the vicinity of or attached to large farms ought to have different financial arrangements. The net invested capital in farming should not produce a return of more than 6 or 7 per cent., but, in my opinion, the net farm capital investment is producing 40 per cent. What is the sense of having marginal farmers in difficulties and even going bankrupt when the State 1298 could take over the farms, or buy the freehold, for instance, and let the farmer use the money direct instead of having subsidies? I see no harm at all in building up several associated little farms in conjunction with one huge farm unit which could bring into play the farm syndicate in regard to machinery. If marginal production is to be made economic, and the Government want a return, let the Government own the farming land. If it is necessary to do this, let us have it that way, instead of doing it the way we do, and not allow people to start farms who do not have the necessary capital or expertise to make a go of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington referred with some force to the provision of marketing boards for this industry. I think we all know of the success of the Milk Marketing Board, which deals primarily with one commodity, but I am not sure what the Committee dealing with meat marketing will produce, and before the right hon. Gentleman gets to it he had better start looking at one headache which may confront him, unless he ties the terms and conditions of marketing very tightly. Is there to be competition as between pig-meat, sheep and prime beef cattle in one central marketing board, or is there to be healthy competition between all three? Is one board to take charge of all these operations, and, if so, which commodity is to suffer? How much money has the country invested in either pigs or sheep? These things have to be looked at beforehand. It may be all right in the case of eggs and milk, but where there is a range of commodities competing for the same customers, coming from the same sources and marketed under one scheme, we could run into the most grievous difficulties, which would add greatly to farming costs.
There are other hon. Members who want to speak from this side of the House, and with greater claim than I have to represent farming interests. They have put up with me very well, but I want to say something about Clause 21. I have read it and reread it, and I do not know whether there is something wrong with me or with the wording or whether I understand it or not, but it seems to me to be nothing more than a calculated attempt by the Government to purchase a net tax loss of £350,000 per annum. If it 1299 is not that, will the right hon. Gentleman tell me why it is being done? One would have thought that when the British housewife subsidises, as she does, to the extent of 3¼d. a pound the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, to keep the Caribbean area something like viable, that would have been an excessive penalty on the taxpayer, but here we find £150,000 being given away to Ireland, of all places, for sugar. This is an Irishism of the best. What is the reason for this? Is it to provide a balanced Irish agriculture, to cast a fatherly eye over Irish agriculture? I do not know what kind of thinking goes on in the Ministry, but if this is an example of it, then from now on the Minister will hear from me much more frequently in debates like this than he has done in the past.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I do not want to follow too closely the path which the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) has followed. It appeared to me that much of what he said was based on extremely inaccurate facts. I think that he said that British agriculture was fairly small and not very important. In fact, of course, it is Britain's biggest industry.
§ Mr. Tomney
On a point of order. I do not mind the hon. Gentleman not giving way to me, but deliberately to misquote me and to misrepresent what I said is another matter. Hon. Members will recall hearing me say that British agriculture was the most highly mechanised and efficient in the world; and I could not say more than that.
§ Mr. Farr
As I was saying, the hon. Gentleman was entirely inaccurate in stating that British agriculture was not very big or very important and that only half a million people were employed in association with it. He was just about half a million out in that over 1 million people in this country are engaged in 1300 agriculture or in industries directly associated with it.
Some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks were too far fetched to warrant much consideration. For instance, he asked why it was that fertilisers were not supplied to farmers direct from wholesalers. If this is the sort of remark he makes, it shows how little consideration he has given to that matter or indeed to any other matter he raised. How could a five or ten cwt. load of fertilisers be sent 50 or 60 miles from a wholesaler's factory in a ten-ton bulk lorry for one order? This shows the valuable part which retailers play in the agricultural system.
I do not want to follow too closely the remarks of hon. Members on both sides on the Common Market or on nationalisation of the land. We have had one or two advocates from the benches opposite of nationalisation of the land. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why we have been blessed by the continuous presence, for the first time in my short experience in the House, of at least one Liberal Member during a debate on agriculture. It is satisfactory to know that the Liberal Party is taking such an interest in agriculture. Perhaps this is because at its recent conference much play was made on nationalisation of the land. That may be why the Liberal Party is represented here today.
I welcome the 25 Clauses of the Bill as a whole. The Bill is a sort of patchwork quilt made up of many different provisions woven together, but I cannot help but feel that, as we consider the Bill's different provisions, we are rather like the sailors of Odysseus who manned his ship on the journey home to the Isle of Ithaca. I am sure that hon. Members opposite are familiar with this story. All the sailors were so busy repairing the sails and trying to get every shred of canvas on the ship to carry them home to this fair isle which lay ahead that they did not notice on the horizon the storm, the calamity, the tempest about to engulf them which resulted in Odysseus's, vessel being shipwrecked.
I trust that the same fate does not await the structure of our agricultural support system as we toil tonight to repair or perhaps build up a little of the edifice. I wonder whether we are fully 1301 aware of the implications of the storms which may lie ahead and of the threat to our agricultural system if we enter the Common Market.
I wish to make one or two points about same of the Clauses and about possible omissions from the Bill. I particularly welcome Clause 3, with its intention to provide an extra £35 million for the Farm Improvements Scheme. Like previous hon. Members I welcome the type of improvement which this represents. This is a form of grant which is, so to speak, put into the future. It is not a form of grant made available to farmers by way of deficiency payment. It is a real grant which the farmer gets in bricks and mortar and it helps him to became more efficient, whether or not we go into the Common Market.
I welcome Clauses 6 and 7. I cannot understand why the total of the grants to farmers' syndicates should be limited to £250,000. I should like my right hon. Friend to say why he thinks £250,000 should be the limit.
I welcome the forms of help outlined in Clauses 10 and 11 to improve winter keep. I share the thoughts of one or two hon. Members on this side. I feel that the ploughing up grants have played a very useful part in the past, but as I read the deliberations of the European Agricultural Commission, if we go into the Common Market there will be Mare incentive to cereal growers in this country to grow corn than perhaps farmers to rear livestock. The time has perhaps come when some of the money being spent on ploughing up grants should be channelled into other forms of grant to improve pastures.
Clause 19 deals with the allowances to people displaced from agricultural land. I wish to refer to an instance which occurred in my constituency recently. I wonder whether there should be included in this Clause words to the effect that should land which has been taken by a Government Department be no longer required by that Department it should be offered back to the original owner. I am aware that this is the custom of Government Departments at the moment, but what I cannot get a ruling on—and what I do not think is the custom—is whether Departments which do not wish 1302 entirely to relinquish land which they have taken over but merely to let it to a farmer again, offer it back as a tenancy to the farmer from wham they commandeered it, perhaps freehold, in the first place.
Indeed, I know of one or two cases in which quite sizeable plots of land have been taken from small farmers to extend airfield runways, and hon. Members on both sides will appreciate that if a small farmer loses 20 or 30 acres out of 50 or 60 acres it makes a mess of his whole farming plan and his whole scheme of operations.
If there is any chance of this land being released by the Government Department which has taken it over, either as freehold or as a tenancy, then it should be offered, on the district valuer's valuation, as a freehold to the original vendor, or if it is for tenancy, it should be offered back to the original owner as a tenancy in the first place. I should like to see included in this Bill some provision to that effect. I can give my right hon. Friend chapter and verse of an instance in my constituency of this nature.
I want to mention one matter—and I hope that I shall be in order in doing this which I think could well be included in this Bill. I hope, in common with many hon. Members on both sides of the House, that I shall have the pleasure of serving on the Committee upstairs when the Bill is considered there, and quite possibly we may have a chance of introducing a new Clause to deal with this point if my right hon. Friend does not see fit to deal with it himself. The matter that I wish to raise is the wood pigeon menace at the moment. Until the half-price scheme for cartridges used for killing wood pigeons was abolished about two years ago, the numbers of wood pigeons in this country were being kept in check, but coinciding with the change over to cartridges being supplied only to rabbit clearance societies there has been a big increase in the numbers of wood pigeons.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite may think that this is amusing, but I am talking of parts of the country in which there has been a tremendous increase in the wood pigeon menace during the past few years.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I understand that some farmers are experiencing difficulty with coypus. Why not advocate subsidies to enable farmers to buy rubber boots so that they can chase the coypus?
§ Mr. Farr
The hon. Gentleman shows how unfamiliar he is with the provisions of this Bill, and indeed with many agricultural matters in that he is probably not aware that at the moment a grant is made to people who kill wood pigeons which are eating crops. All I am trying to do, and I think that it would be better if the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) did not interrupt me again, is to point out to the Minister that this grant could be applied in a different manner. I think that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West starts with a great disadvantage if he is not even aware of the existing grant.
The existing scheme of giving a grant to rabbit clearance societies to enable them to buy cheap cartridges to shoot wood pigeons is not wrong. I have three reasons for criticising the present scheme. Many people have written to me complaining that until about two years ago when cheap cartridges were made available to recognised wood pigeon shots the scheme worked fairly well and the numbers of wood pigeons were kept down.
The scheme was altered, and to qualify for cheap cartridges a shot had to be a member of a rabbit clearance society. By joining this society he received cheap cartridges for the wood pigeons he killed. My point is this. In many areas there are no rabbit clearance societies and therefore by default the wood pigeon menace is increasing. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West may think this is very funny but I have had three letters from constituents of his who apparently have appealed to him for assistance. That is probably why he finds this so amusing.
§ Mr. Loughlin
If it is true that constituents of mine have appealed to the hon. Gentleman—as far as I know they have not written to me—would not it have been courteous if the hon. Gentleman had approached me before disclosing this fact in the Chamber?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. A large number of hon. Members want to take part in the debate. These tempestuous noises reduce the time available to do so.
§ Mr. Farr
I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker.
There are instances in which professional pigeon shots would have to join as many as twenty different rabbit clearance societies all over the country to enable them to qualify for cheap cartridges for shooting wood pigeons. I suggest that there is a case for compiling a register of expert shots who can receive cheap cartridges to kill wood pigeons.
Finally, I give another example of why this scheme is not working satisfactorily. I have in mind a man, who is a recognised shot and has killed about 50,000 wood pigeons over past years. He sent a claim to a rabbit clearance society for cheap cartridges for wood pigeons that he had killed in the society's area. After some time his claim was returned by the secretary of the society, marked "No funds available". I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the scheme is not working too well at the moment and I ask him to consider these points to see whether he can include in the Bill some provision to remedy matters.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has been a little free with allegations against various quarters of the House, which I shall not follow. If what he said—and I put the most favourable construction on it—about the presence of the Liberal Party throughout the debate is meant to imply that this is a new departure, I can assure him to the contrary, because I have taken part in every Price Review debate since my election, and had cause to draft a Motion deploring the failure of the Government to supply time for that purpose during the last Session. But if he deplores, as I do, the presence of only 3.13 per cent. of the Members on his side, then I agree with him.
I welcome the Bill as far as it goes, subject to certain qualifications. In so far as the Bill is a series of complicated and diverse proposals, I found the way in which the Minister introduced it, and 1305 the way in which he explained each Clause in some detail, of great assistance. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that, and I hope that it will be possible for whoever winds up the debate to deal with various other points which obviously could not be covered.
In so far as the purpose of the Bill is generally to assist the industry to be efficient—and it relates to marginal farming areas—[interruption.]—I hope that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) will not mind if I continue to interrupt him by carrying on with my speech—marketing and research, machinery sydicates, and is generally designed to stimulate co-operation—I believe that it places the right emphasis on our present agricultural policy.
During the debate on the Price Review that we normally have every year an opportunity is provided to take the pulse of the industry, and a long-term view of its prospects. Unfortunately, that debate did not take place last year, but this debate affords the same opportunities. [Interruption.] I ask the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West, with great courtesy, to be kind enough to reserve his remarks either for outside the Chamber or for a time when someone slightly further away from him is speaking.
We cannot consider the worth of the Bill save against the background of our application to join the European Economic Community. I must be careful not to digress and get out of order, but I do not think that it is possible to assess the Bill's merits unless we also consider our pending application to join. The first job of the Minister of Agriculture in the formulation of agricultural policies is to prepare the industry for entry into the Community—if we assume that there is a real prospect of our going in. But even if we are not going in—and I hope that we are—radical changes must still be brought about in our agriculture structure. I regard the Bill as the first major step in that direction, and I shall shortly give my reasons.
My only regret is that the Minister has been a late starter in this matter. So, for that matter, has his party. It is now possible to talk in this House about agriculture and the Common Market without being howled down, as was my experience about six weeks before the 1306 Prime Minister made the famous announcement that we were going into the Common Market.
We must realise that although production grants are a vital and integral part of our agricultural economy, and that should we enter the Common Market the evidence is that those grants will be able to continue—not all of them but many of them and certainly most of those that we are discussing in the Bill—by 1970 the whole of our deficiency payment system will have come to an end, and we shall have a totally different method of farm support. In my view the Government will not be suddenly faced with a situation in which deficiency payments will have to end and in which we shall have to rely simply upon production grants.
In short, I do not take the view, expressed in The Times of 31st October, that the Government may face the prospect of having suddenly to cut off these deficiency payments at one stroke if the Common Market countries decide that this is necessary in the transitional stage. In saying this I am bearing in mind the promises made during the passage of the 1957 Measure, and also the attitude adopted by the Lord Privy Seal in the negotiations. But in the light of our application we are entitled to ask two questions.
First, are these grants adequate, both in their duration and in their amount? Secondly, are there other objectives which should similarly be grant-aided? If we accept that the trend of Government policy is away from subsidies and towards production grants—and I think it is the right trend—will that shift be carried out with sufficient generosity and speed, and for a sufficient duration, under the terms of the Bill? The two major provisions—the £3 million increase under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts and the £35 million increase under Part II of the 1957 Act—go a long way. Whether they go far enough I shall consider shortly.
I regard these production grants as being akin to the grants for structural improvements that operate in the agriculture policies of the Six. If we compare the grants that we are paying with those that are being paid in Europe by our prospective competitors we find that they are not as generous as they 1307 might be. I shall not go into very great detail on this matter, because that would probably be out of order, but I would point out that Germany, under her 1961 Green Plan, is spending £65 million on structural improvements—and the experts who are reporting to the Corn-mission in Brussels at this moment recommended the expenditure of an even larger sum.
Under France's Agricultural Orientation Law "Rural Action" zones have been established which are buying up derelict estates and peripheral smallholdings and amalgamating them into larger holdings and reselling them. Up to 50 per cent. of the loss is being borne by the Exchequer. I am relating these facts all the time to what we are doing for British agriculture.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
I do not follow the hon. Member's argument about the comparison between this country and Germany. I leave aside the fact that my view of these matters is quite different from his. He says that Germany is putting more than £60 million into improvement grants this year, but he appears to forget that under the terms of the Bill we are raising the ceiling of our improvement grants to £90 million. It is not fair to make comparisons which are unfavourable to this country. I disapprove of the grant altogether, as the Minister knows, but we must be fair about this. Let us not cry "stinking fish" of our own country when we have done so much in many ways.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I take the hon. Member's point. It is not my intention to belittle our effort. But I must point out that OUT £90 million is spread over a number of years, whereas the £65 million that Germany is spending will go in one year alone. That is spending at a much higher rate. Seen in that light I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that my criticism is reasonable, as is my comparison.
If we look at the situation in Italy and the Netherlands, where structural improvement grants are continuing, we see that the emphasis is upon helping to make agriculture more efficient, and to capitalise and restock machinery, as opposed to granting consumer subsidies and other subsidies of the kind that we 1308 have. The Bill goes a long way in this direction, but there are certain valid criticisms to be made of it.
The first is the criticism that has already been made about the termination dates, under Clause 1, of the additional grants under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts. That argument has been canvassed, and I shall not repeat it. But I suggest that many farms have not yet taken advantage of the scheme. I know of certain estates which have phased plans which will tide them over for a few years to come, and we must be very careful before we end arbitrarily what has been an extremely valuable aid to the whole agriculture community.
Criticism has also been made of Clause 2. I welcome the four years' extension, but the suggestion has been made that the payment of subsidies should be prolonged by seven years. That is the view of the National Farmers' Union, and it has been the view expressed to me by many farmers with whom I have discussed the matter.
The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne), who is a much valued constituent of mine, referred to the question of the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Act, 1955. I suggest that if the Bill is intended to provide production grants where they are thought necessary to improve the whole structure of the industry, this is a cause which ought to be very high on the list. My hon. and learned friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who represents an area particularly affected by the 1955 Act, has told me that the county has already had between 80 and 90 schemes approved by the Ministry, and there are another dozen schemes at present with the Ministry for approval. There are further 30 to 40 applications before the local county council and far from the pace of the applications for grants slackening under this Act, it is in fact accelerating.
I believe this to be something vital for the future of our countryside. Although there are many improvements needed with regard to roads at present for the tourist and farming industries—again I must be careful not to be out of order—if Dr. Beeching operates his axe in rural areas, as we fear he will, the provisions in the Bill will become even more vital 1309 to the people who earn their living in our rural areas. I welcome the provisions in Clause 9. We have a long way to go before the price at the farm gate and the price charged to the housewife are brought closer together. There are still many middle-men making a "killing" out of British agriculture.
I have one suggestion to make in relation to Clauses 6 and 7. The National Farmers' Union mentioned various other processes which it would like to see grant-aided. I wish to mention only one. I have always believed that one effect of Britain joining the Common Market would be an increase of nearly 50 per cent. in the cost of cereals. This was mentioned by the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard). That would be bound to have an inflationary effect on imported feedingstuffs and compound feedingstuffs and hit the milk, pig and poultry farmers. I am told that in Europe farmers tend to buy their barley and wheat and mix it with oil cake on the farm. In this country we buy from the compounders for the most part and find it economic so to do. But were the price of cereals to rise, as I think would be inevitable were we to join the Common Market, many farmers would have to consider mixing their own feedingstuffs on the farm.
I am told that this would effect a saving of about £3 to £4 a ton, when transport costs are considered, such as the cost of sending the barley and wheat to Bristol or Liverpool where it is compounded and the oil cake added. There may well be a case for farmers to mix their own feedingstuffs in future and to buy their oil cake. The small farmers would probably have to buy their cereals. There might be a case for making a grant under the Clause for the installation of machinery, preferably on a cooperative basis, in order that this operation could be carried out.
Regarding Clause 5 I asked the Minister whether registration related only to the retailer suppliers of fertiliser and, as I feared, the right hon. Gentleman answered in the affirmative. Since large sums of public money are being expended I hope that there is some reduction in this year's Price Review, and that the Minister will try to look behind the practice of the retailers. Per 1310 haps the right hon. Gentleman may take a leaf out of the notebook of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health who tackled some of the drug manufacturers who were charging exorbitant prices and sheltering behind their monopolistic position.
I remember when the hon. Member for Torrington and I challenged a £28 million vote for fertilisers. I will not say what were the grounds upon which the vote was challenged by the hon. Member for Torrington which were somewhat different from mine, but I suggested that it was outrageous that large sums of public money should be spent to help the farmers to buy a product which had been artificially inflated in price by reason of the monopolistic tendencies in the industry, and I hope that on some occasion the Minister will take a look at the fertiliser packing firms.
§ Mr. Soames
I think that, inadvertently, I may have misled the hon. Member earlier in the debate. He will see that Clause 5 (2) states:… where any person carrying on or proposing to carry on a business of supplying fertilizers…I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member. This does not limit the matter to any particular type of trade or section of a trade. I will look at the matter between now and the next stage of the Bill. But it is the intention, by the Clause as it is drafted at present, to cover anybody who supplies a farmer direct with fertilisers.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am grateful to the Minister. I must be careful not to fall back on legal arguments in the interpretation of the Clause. I should have thought that this Clause related solely to persons, whether manufacturers or retailers, who supply farmers directly. If the manufacturer should not supply the farmer direct, but supplied a wholesaler or retailer, he would he outside the ambit of the Clause as it is drafted. This is a point which might be considered, and I am grateful to the Minister for his interjection.
Clause 19 deals with the question of compensation. The right hon. Gentleman said that this places the tenant in the same position as any other person whose property is compulsorily acquired. 1311 With respect I would say that that is not quite so. It is perfectly true that there is a great need for better compensation. At the moment it is either a year's rent or a proportion of the year's profit. But, clearly, the Government are right to have done something about this. In subsection (1, b) there appears the word "may". Instead of this being a permissive power, I think that the Government's policy should be to redraft to read "shall" so that this is mandatory. As at present drafted the Clause gives a discretion which is vested in the acquiring authority. In all the other legislation where this discretion is vested in an acquiring authority, whether it be housing or agricultural legislation, it is a discretion which is very rarely operated.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I think that the hon. Member has put his finger on an important point which is to be taken up by three hon. Members on this side of the House with the Shropshire constituencies and the National Farmers' Union. I am in sympathy with what he wants to do.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think we shall find that on this occasion, as upon many others. We are in agreement.
I suggest that the Government might look at the provisions in the Liverpool Corporation Act which, as hon. Members will recall gave power to Liverpool to take over and to flood Treweryn. In Section 42 of that Act it was mandatory on the acquiring authority to set up an assessing tribunal composed of representatives of both parties to the negotiations with an independent legal chairman. Perhaps this point might be raised more properly during the Committee stage.
Whether we go into the Common Market or not, I think it right that the emphasis in agriculture should be directed away from deficiency payments and subsidies and directed more to production grants. The 1957 Act will have to be abolished if we go into the Common Market; but were we to stay out the 1957 Act will anyway "bust". I believe this to be a useful Measure which could be strengthened in many ways, but in all I warmly welcome it.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Mahon)
I do not agree with all the remarks of the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), but I think that he put two very pertinent questions to the Minister to which I hope the Government spokesman will reply. The hon. Gentleman asked for an assurance that the production grants referred to in the Bill will continue should we center the Common Market. If they do not the whole thing would be destroyed. But I do not think that I have ever heard a clear statement from the Government during the negotiations about the future of these grants which are very important to the agricultural industry.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman about the fairness of his comparison with the German plan. The Germans are destroying small farms and amalgamating the peasant holdings, which is a very extensive operation. No doubt it is one upon which we should have to embark ourselves were we to go into the Common Market. In this Bill, which he calls a Bill of bits and pieces, my right hon. Friend is endeavouring to increase the efficiency of farmers large and small, but especially the small farmers. That is why I welcome the Measure. It is a Bill of bits and pieces, but they are very good bits and pieces.
I have always believed that Lord Williams made a very wise move when he brought in the Hill Farming Bill, opposed him on that Measure and said that he must go further down the hill to deal with marginal land and livestock rearing. Eventually that was done and it has done a tremendous lot of good in more distant parts of the country, low there are two defects to which I wish to draw the attention of the House. One is the habit in administration of always seeking alternative tenders. In a rural area there is usually one local builder. In order to get the farm improvement grant the farmer has to have a survey made and get a plan, and that is a costly business. If there has to be an alternative tender it means that someone from outside the district has to come in and tender. That involves extra expense.
I do not want to go into the details nor to cast aspersions on a very noble trade, but this does rather tend to collusion. I should have thought that now, 1313 after all the experience of thirteen or fourteen years, the Ministry should be able to tell what is the right kind of tender for a particular job. When such a tender is received the Ministry should be able to vet it without in remote areas going through all the business of having alternative tenders. I hope that that matter will be brought to the attention of the Minister and those administering the scheme because in the remote parts of my constituency it causes increasing irritation.
A second point we have to consider, especially in relation to the farm improvement schemes, is whether it is right to have a level 33½ per cent. for all improvements. It is perfectly clear in a case such as the Minister spoke about of a grain store or cattle yard that the remainder of the expenditure which the owner has to put up is a fair proportion, but that is not so in the case of farm roads. There is an unequal burden in remote areas where a man has to live at the end of a very long farm road compared with a man on a road which is repairable by the public at large. There is a case for being far more generous in this Bill and others which we may consider for the improving and making of farm roads. It would make a lot of difference to life in a rural community, and it would be a good investment for the Government, if they raised the grant on a farm road to something very much more than 33½ per cent.
Allied to roads there is another matter of great importance to many of us who represent rural constituencies. That is the terrible burden on the moorland sheep farmer which is caused through traffic on the roads. I can think of a man who says that he lost fifty ewes on the roads last year and got no recompense. A motorist going to a holiday resort dashes along the roads and kills a ewe or a lamb. That becomes such a great burden on the moorland farmer that some of them are giving up the keeping of sheep. Only 33½ per cent. can be granted for the fencing of a road.
Many of us have tried to get the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister of Transport to work together to see that the roads are properly fenced and that the slaughter of ewes and lambs is discontinued. If my hon. Friend the Parlia- 1314 mentary Secretary is to reply, I should like him to think this over. If the Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply to the debate, it is all the more important that this should be dealt with because farmers in Scotland must also be suffering in this respect.
§ Mr. Turton
I do not think the hon. Member has quite appreciated the point. The closing of a railway branch line will not stop nor increase the straying of sheep on the roads. I know that his intentions are sound, but they are directed more at Dr. Beeching than at me. Let us remain good friends and remember that moorland sheep straying on the roads through holiday traffic cause a tremendous problem. There is great cruelty, apart from the sheep which are killed outright, because often they are injured and then go away on to the moor to die. In either case there is great loss for the moorland farmers. They are not men of great substance and when fifty ewes out of a flock of 200 are killed it represents a terrible burden.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
This is a very intriguing point. The right hon. Member mentioned Scotland and naturally hon. Members from Scottish constituencies are interested. Although in the Highland areas there are many unfenced roads, I believe that in the southern counties it is an offence not to fence a road where sheep can wander on to it. Is the right hon. Member asking for a grant for the death of sheep or a grant for the fencing of roads?
§ Mr. Turton
I am speaking of farm improvements in which a 33½ per cent. grant is not enough. On a long stretch of road, probably two miles of sheep stray, far too big a burden is placed on a small farmer who has to pay 66 per cent. of the cost of fencing. I think this problem exists not only in my constituency but in many others.
I thought the Minister raised the veil a little on the winter keep grant and the grassland renovation grant. I am not yet 1315 clear, however, how the winter keep grant will operate. He has told us that £2 an acre cannot be paid, if there is a ploughing-up grant. No one would try for the £2 an acre grant if he could get £7 10s. an acre for ploughing up. Perhaps my right hon. Friend meant this to apply to grassland renovation rather than to winter keep grant.
I do not understand how the happy farmers who are to get £2 an acre for growing winter keep, oats or roots with kale, are to be selected. Will it be general that everyone will get the £2 an acre grant for providing winter keep, which is a common occupation for the whole agricultural population? I shall be grateful to whoever winds up the debate if he will explain the administration of this grant.
The grassland renovation grant is even more difficult to understand. We are told that the cost of administering the grant will be 10 per cent. That is extremely high. I realise that the cost of administration of all these grants is high, but I never heard of it being so high as 10 per cent. I find it hard to distinguish between what sort of operation I may perform on my grassland to qualify for the grant of £4 and what I may do which will not qualify.
Before we pass this considerable sum of money we should be more satisfied that the Minister has clearly in mind how he will administer these two grants; how he will "police" them and see that no fraud is involved. Before we grant public money we have to be quite satisfied that it will be directed at a selected number of people who are trying to make their farming efficient and not at the general run of the agricultural population. It is curious that we have not heard the total sum that the Minister is inviting Parliament to devote to these two grants. It is quite true that one will cost £2,700,000 in the first year, but it is a three-year grant, and I think it would have been more proper for Parliament to have been told what is the amount of money to be voted for the grassland improvement grant and also for the winter keep grant.
I would make one final plea on these two grants—I have seen in my experience far too much money wasted on land that has not been properly drained. I am told 1316 that one will not get these grants if one is also getting any other grant. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that that does not apply to a drainage grant. I have often felt that it would have been wiser never to have allowed a ploughing grant at all unless the Minister was satisfied either that the land was properly drained or that a drainage grant had been received. I have often seen land in my constituency and elsewhere that has been ploughed up at the generous grant of £7 10s. per acre and I have seen it after some three years going back to reeds and wasteland through lack of drainage.
Therefore, I hope that in this grassland renovation we shall first be quite satisfied that it is so well drained that advantage can be taken of grassland renovation. I have been critical of the Bill, but I think that it is a very good Measure. We shall want to look at it in Committee to try and make it a little bit better.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
I was very pleased to be able to listen to the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). He endeared himself to me because on a great many of the points that he elaborated I thoroughly agree with him, particularly on the grants for winter keep and grassland renovation. These were probing questions, and I hope that we shall get a reply to them by the Parliamentary Secretary.
I join with those hon. Members who have asked that the areas envisaged in the Bill should be widened. We shall have an argument about that in Committee if I am lucky enough to get on it.
It is difficult for me to select one Clause to concentrate upon when I am interested in all of the Clauses. I shall deal with one or two of the Clauses which are of terrific interest in my constituency. I was here when the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Bills came up for Second Reading and took part in both debates. Those Measures transformed the hill land in Wales. It is now a changed countryside altogether, in spite of the speech that we have had from my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney). I 1317 ask the Parliamentary Secretary why after fifteen years' experience of these Acts, and the Hill Farming Act in particular, there has not been some new comprehensive development. One would have thought that after fifteen years' experience something new would have been brought out in the list of improvements that come under that Act. I have seen nothing of the kind so far. I think that the Act should be extended for some time because we have not covered many of the areas concerned.
Recently a query was raised by the farming organisation, the N.F.U., in Brecon and Radnor as to what benefits material and social, had resulted from the money spent on hill farm improvements. The reply submitted by the headquarters of the National Farmers' Union, which I hope the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will make a note of, was:The ploughing and reseeding of large tracts of hill land has enabled more stock to be carried, thus adding to the production, turnover and profitability of hill farms.I should be very much concerned about the future livelihood of my constituents and others in mid-Wales if ever my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North became Minister of Agriculture. We can easily demonstrate the practical work that has been done under these schemes. A great deal has been done with regard to farm houses and buildings, and private roads to farms have been much improved, and I agree that there ought to be a higher grant in respect of these.
In Wales, 32 per cent. of the money already spent has been on farm buildings, 18 per cent. on housing, 13 per cent. on manuring and reseeding farm pasture, general fencing 9 per cent. and roads 4 per cent. The real test is whether those places in Wales are better off because of these Acts. Taking the three counties, two that I represent, Brecon and Radnor, and in addition Montgomery, since 1939 the number of cattle has increased from 167,907 to 239,320, The number of sheep has increased by half a million, despite the 1947 disaster, and half a million increase in sheep means something to this great nation of ours.
It may be the continuation of good Labour Party policy. I would compliment the Ministers, the officers and staff 1318 on the very efficient way in which they have dealt with these comprehensive schemes in trying to get a finality about them different from that of three years ago. Quite a number of schemes have now been completed. Incidentally, I say to the Minister that, when he suggests that there are arguments about continuing this scheme, that during 1960–61 a hundred more schemes were submitted in the three mid-Wales counties, which shows that there is still need for the scheme to be extended. The figures for Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery show an increase in the number of completed schemes of 55–60 per cent. over 1960.
I am apprehensive about the present situation because one in every three of the schemes in Wales is being rejected. I would point out that after fifteen years the farmers may be entirely different people. For example, a farmer who had little idea about hill farming schemes and little farming education may have been replaced by a young farmer, perhaps his son, with an agricultural education and a different outlook altogether. There are a number of farms which have not taken advantage of these schemes. I do not know why they were not regarded as eligible in the first place or why no application was made in respect of them. A survey should be conducted to discover why they have not been brought into the scheme.
I want an assurance that where schemes have been submitted up to 1963 and money has been allocated a reasonable period will be given for the schemes to be finished. This point was put to met last week by a hill farmer who had submitted a scheme. I gathered from the Minister, although he went over the point quickly in his opening remarks, that a reasonable period would be given. The Parliamentary Secretary nods his head, and I can tell my constituent that everything is all right and that he can go on with the scheme.
I am concerned about the future. Farmers should be allowed to amend comprehensive schemes in the light of changing circumstances. Some schemes which are on the Ministry's books were submitted ten years ago, since when circumstances have changed, and surely the comprehensive schemes ought to be changed, too. The Ministry's reply is, "We cannot change comprehensive 1319 schemes." The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but I can give him examples of this.
What is the attitude towards unfinished schemes and what is the reason for them? Are they unfinished because of the cost, or because of the difficulty of finding capital? This point has been raised before, but I shall raise it as often as possible, because I can find no practical reason for this gap between the number of schemes started and the number completed.
I do not suppose that I shall be given tonight all the answers I want, because I understand that a Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply to the debate. We never seem to have a reply from Wales. I shall be glad to get a letter in reply, for anything is better than nothing.
Does the Ministry always bring the cost up to date? I remember when both parties were not prepared to consider these schemes, but I am sure that experience has shown them to be a good thing. What is the relationship between farm improvement schemes and hill farming schemes? Is there a tendency on the part of farmers to drop the improvement schemes and to turn to the hill farming schemes? There should be a better spirit of co-operation among the people who are concerned with these schemes. Up to 31st December, 1961, 17,464 schemes had been submitted for farm improvements in Wales and over a quarter of them had been rejected. I wonder why. There is one reason why there should be an expansion in hill farming schemes. A greater mileage of roads has become the responsibility of county councils, and more roads have been adopted, providing access to farms which previously had not found it possible to apply for these schemes. That in itself should increase the number of schemes.
I want to see an extension of the period of payment of subsidies for hill sheep and cattle. Some interesting points have been made about hill cattle, and I do not want to follow them, but I would stress that these subsidies are very useful in the uplands, in particular in my constituency. But the four-year period is rather short. Surely it should be seven years or even more. Those who have 1320 specialised flocks of sheep and breeding ewes need a longer period. We must remember that we have not yet recovered all the losses of the 1947 disaster.
It is interesting to pose the question: why is reaming livestock encouraged instead of dairy farming? I do not want to go into the question of the Common Market, but if I have the opportunity I should go in for livestock and not for dairy farming. I must record that there has been consistency in the upkeep of the breeding ewes in Central Wales. The group of mid-Wales counties produced 53.9 per cent. of the breeding ewes for the whole of Wales; and Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery produced 35.1 per cent. of them. These figures are sufficient to combat any criticism on this side of the House that subsidies ought not to be given in respect of hill sheep or cattle. The more we can encourage the rearing of sheep in hill lands the more mutton and lamb will come on to the market. I say this despite what we hear about the Common Market. If I were a pro-Common Market person, I could make a powerful speech on this, because I do not see any mutton or lamb in any of the Continental countries.
The home production figures of meat for 1959–60 are very interesting. Pork production in this country was 93.4 per cent. of consumption. Beef production was 68 per cent. Mutton and lamb production was only 39.8 per cent. I am not saying that this is the case in the dining rooms of the House of Commons, but one never sees Welsh lamb on the menus of any of the London restaurants.
§ Mr. Watkins
I do not know about that. That is a matter for Scottish Members of Parliament. If any money is available for research, there should be research into the marketing of Welsh mutton and lamb with a view to getting a greater production than 39.8 per cent.
I come to Clause 16, which provides for the dissolution of the Agricultural Land Commission and the Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission. I was in the House of Commons when Lord Williams, then Mr. Tom Williams, produced sufficient argument to keep the Commission and the Sub-Commission 1321 going. I pay this tribute to the Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission. Whatever else it has done, it has produced an excellent report on agriculture in mid-Wales. The sorry part about it is that half of its recommendations have not been put into operation.
I must ask some questions. Shall we have any annual reports in the future on the administration of these lands which will now go to another Department? Each year we have had the advantage of an annual report. We have just had the 15th annual report. What branch of the Ministry will administer these lands? Despite what the Minister said, it appears from his own report issued last week that the Forestry Commission got only 796 acres of land out of 2,815 acres sold in Wales. I hope that it will not all go to the Forestry Commission, because there is good agricultural land. It would be better devoted to agriculture than to forestry. It is important that we should know what Department will administer it and be responsible to the Minister in future.
Who is to do it in Wales? Are we to be looked after from Whitehall again, or are we going to keep the staff in the Aberystwyth office? What will happen to future land? If a landlord has not got the hard cash but has land to give by way of death duties, do I understand that all the land in future will go to the Forestry Commission? Who is to administer it—not the Forestry Commission?
The same applies to land freed by the Board of Trade. What will happen to the little market gardens which the Minister of Health is now pressing regional hospital boards to get rid of? The argument is that, even if it is dearer to get vegetables outside rather than from their own market gardens, the boards should get rid of them. Who is to get all this land?
I shall not say any more because my speeches are usually very probing and succinct. I am very glad that the Bill provides opportunities. I was glad to hear my hen. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) pay tribute to what the Government are now doing in connection with co-operation in agriculture. I have previously argued that this should be done. I am very glad that what Tudor Watkins 1322 says one day the Government do afterwards. I am interested to find that this is now part of Government policy, and I very much welcome it.
I regret that we cannot get an extension so that the scheme can continue past the date when it should come to an end. I regret this very much because there is sufficient evidence available in Montgomery and elsewhere to show—and I could give figures to the Minister to prove that £1 million in grants could usefully be applied in Wales alone—that the scheme should be extended for at least another two years. However, I welcome the Bill and its proposals, and I am grateful for what is offered. I am also pleased that I have had sufficient will-power not to delve deeply into all the Clauses, which I could easily have done.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I am sure that the House will be grateful for that encouraging speech made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins). Indeed, if ever I heard a speech which absolutely justified Conservative farming policy in respect of sheep, he certainly made it. But before he runs away with the idea that sheep come only from Wales, I would remind him that in The Wrekin area of Shropshire we have some of the best sheep in the world.
§ Mr. Yates
No; but some of the most successful farmers in The Wrekin have come from Wales, and it is for me to pay tribute to their farming and the work they have done in the constituency.
I do not often speak on farming matters. For me this is somewhat of a maiden speech, so I hope the House will excuse me if I confine myself to Clause 19, which, after all, was the part of my Private Member's Bill which I withdrew in favour of the Government and for the pledges given at the time by the Minister. I listened with sympathy to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) because my father farmed in Westmorland and all the problems relating to sheep I recall as being relevant to Westmorland farming. My brother also farms in Suffolk, but I do not.
1323 I keep bees. It has not been a very good year for bees, and I have had to give them some honey of last year to make sure that they get through this winter. It was a particularly bad spell last week when we had snow. Bearing this in mind, and remembering that there have been grants for various things—and one hon. Member wanted a grant for the shooting of pheasant with wood pigeon cartridges—I am wondering whether there might be a "bee grant." I am not asking this because I consider that something tremendous might be given, but rather because it seems not unreasonable that an hon. Member should ask for a small bee grant for winter honey.
Although I did not understand all of the speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), I found myself in some sympathy with certain of his remarks. He certainly hit one great problem on the head when he said that many people are anxious about the farming price structure, our grants and the future of the farming industry. However, farmers have told me that they do not like the grant system but would prefer, if they could obtain it, the right price for their produce in the shops. I was in sympathy with the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North when he quoted facts and figures on this topic.
I have been asked to speak for the Shropshire branch of the National Farmers Union and also to follow up the intervention made by the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) in which he referred to Clause 19. In this Clause there seems to be no mandatory right or obligation on any authority taking agricultural land for Government purposes to pay compensation. I withdrew my Bill in favour of the Government bringing forward this Clause, and it would be in keeping now if I said that, for my part, I am grateful to the Minister of Agriculture and for all he has done, and I pay tribute to him for the pledge which he has honoured.
However, my farming fraternity in Shropshire—and, no doubt, the hon. Member for Devon, North—feels that the Clause does not go far enough. So, rather than have a nasty row in Committee, would the Minister look at the Clause again. Meanwhile, I will read him an extract from a letter I have received from 1324 the Shropshire branch of the National Farmers' Union.To the extent that Clause 19 removes this statutory inhibition it is welcomed by the Shropshire County Branch of the N.F.U. Yet the Clause is purely permissive and dependant upon 'the opinion' of the acquiring Authority. This is quite unsatisfactory. There is no obligation on the acquiring Authority to make any payment under the Clause, nor is there any measure of the quantum of such compensation or the basis on which it should be assessed.This is an important matter, because in The Wrekin we are to have a town of about 90,000 inhabitants and we shall all be involved in problems of compensation, land tribunals and the like. I therefore hope that the Minister understands that I take this matter very seriously.
The only other matter that I wish to mention is the question of the local authorities. In Shropshire, and no doubt in other parts of the country, there are local auhorities or county authorities who own land. They acquired ownership after the First World War to resettle soldiers. Clause 19 does not appear to cover occupiers of land already owned by local authorities. There are many cases in Shropshire and no sale or leasing of land of the type referred to in the introduction to Clause 19 (1) is involved. This might mean that a tenant occupying an agricultural holding owned by a county council might be taken over by another acquiring authority. Is his position safeguarded under Clause 19? I doubt it. Here again to save a nasty brawl in Committee, I would be grateful if the Government would now be kind enough to examine the point.
These then are the two major points I have been asked to bring to the attention of the House by the local and county N.F.U. branches. I should like to congratulate the Minister on the Bill. It is clear that he is already beginning to visualise the future and the Common Market. Although in Shropshire we are incredibly proud of our sheep, we are also incredibly proud of this Chamber and the oak which hon. Members see around them. It was all taken to Newport, Shropshire, from an area 50 miles around the town. It was prepared in Ashworth's Yard and brought here and put into this Chamber.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
I should like to follow the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) 1325 in his tributes to Shropshire. I spent many years there and it is a county that I really love.
I should like to begin my speech by referring to a personal attack made upon me by an hon. Member who is no longer in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Loughlin
The intervention by the hon. Member for The Wrekin is quite valid, but I have not had the opportunity of saying to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) that I would be replying to him. I indicated to him as he sat here that I would say something, but I have not had the opportunity of having a personal conversation with the hon. Member.
The allegation made was very serious, in that he charged me with a dereliction of my duty as a Member of Parliament. He was talking about wood pigeons and the possibility of getting additional subsidies for cartridges to shoot the poor things. This, coming on top of the demands for subsidy of one kind or another in every possible aspect of agriculture, was, of course, slightly amusing. I made a flippant intervention which seemed to upset the hon. Gentleman. He then, in defence of himself, said that three of my constituents, having written to me and having failed to get some assistance from me, had then written to him so that he could deal with their complaints. I challenge that remark because I do not believe it is true. I challenge it because I think the hon. Member for Market Harborough deliberately fabricated it as a method of replying to an intervention. I challenge the hon. Member to produce the letters within 24 hours—it is no good producing some letters in a fortnight's time—to prove that the statement he made was correct.
Indeed, I would have thought that the normal courtesies of this House would have required that if there were any element of truth in what the hon. Gentleman said, he should have approached me privately, as we all do when we get letters of this kind from 1326 other people's constituents. Until the hon. Member produces the proof or until he withdraws the allegation I shall return to this subject again and again.
Now let me turn to the Bill. I want to speak briefly because I understand that a number of Members still want to speak. Periodically we get what to me is the humiliating spectacle of so many people who are farmers in their own right coming to this House and either congratulating the Minister on an extension of farming subsidies as in this Bill, or pleading with the Minister to provide more subsidies, or opposing him because the amount is not enough.
Here we are again tonight dealing with the question of subsidies to the tune of £40 million, if I read the Bill correctly. I wish that hon. Members, particularly those on the other side of the House, would apply to agricultural subsidies the same principle that they apply to other subsidies. I wish they would be as generous in their examination of council house subsidies as they are in their examination of agricultural subsidies.
§ Mr. Stodart
May I ask the hon. Gentleman in his turn, when he talks about this "humiliating spectacle", to be as generous when he refers to agriculture as he is when he refers to industry which is protected by tariffs in nearly every case. It is very much the same thing, and, indeed, comes to the same thing in the long run.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I do not want to digress, but I suggest to the hon. Member that there is a clear distinction between a tariff and the pumping of public money into industry to the tune of £4,000 million since 1947. I would be in favour of ensuring the economic viability of agriculture, and particularly in the case of the great percentage of small farmers in this country, if the Government of the day were prepared to put subsidies into farming where they were needed. What I fear is that an enormous number of big farmers by their own efficiency do not need subsidies.
§ Mr. Loughlin
It applies equally to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), who is a very large farmer in his own right. I think it is essential that we should give subsidies to the small farmer, but we ought at least to begin to devise some mechanism whereby the large farmer who does not need a subsidy does not get it.
Now, a brief word about grants for the promotion of co-operation in agriculture and for the promotion of efficient marketing. Horticulture is one of the really difficult sides of the industry which ought to be treated with great consideration. I welcome the £l½ million out of the £40 million which is to be allocated to it. I cannot understand the attitude of the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) who spoke earlier about the joint use by farmers of agricultural implements. He spoke about co-operation in this sense and he said that he wanted to see the extension of the joint use of farm machinery through the operation of syndicates. But then he hastily haggled and remarked that he did not want to see co-operatives.
Why not co-operatives? There are many farmers' co-operatives which are not associated in any way with the Co-operative Union but which are doing a wonderful job for the farmers who are participating members of them. I see no reason why, for instance, the farming community should not get the best out of normal business practice in regard to fertilisers. I see no reason why the two main fertiliser producers in this country, which, heaven knows, on the basis of their own record have had a very good cut out of the subsidies paid to agriculture, should not supply farmers direct at wholesale prices. They can supply farmers direct at wholesale prices through co-operatives.
The farming community should get down to the job of creating co-operatives. The Shropshire Co-operative Society is an exceptionally good example. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) referred to a co-operative society in his part of the world. This is the way to overcome the problem of farmers having to pay retail prices for fertilisers through agents because of the failure of the producers to set up a wholesale organisation.
1328 I wonder whether we are tackling marketing in the right way. There has been an enormous improvement in the prepacking done by the horticultural side of the industry in this country, but it has been by no means as good as has been done by its competitors in other countries.
§ Mr. W. Yates
Does the hon. Member think that the whole farming industry is constructed wrongly, being horizontal, and should be conducted vertically right to the consumer?
§ Mr. Loughlin
I have said that I would sit down very soon. I should be prepared to discuss it on another occasion. Heaven knows, if hon. Members have the opportunity to hear me make a brief speech, they ought to take advantage of it.
In my view, we ought to tackle marketing largely at the wholesale marketing source. The wholesale markets of this country are really something out of this world. In most instances, there are more "fiddles" in the wholesale marketing of horticultural products than there are in a philharmonic orchestra. If we are to consider the efficiency of the marketing of horticultural products, we must consider the whole issue of the ownership and running of wholesale markets.
In some ways I welcome the Bill. In some senses it will help farmers, particularly hill farmers. In other ways I am somewhat disappointed that we are continuing the paying of indiscriminate subsidies to farmers. I shall have a little to say in Committee, and if the hon. Member for The Wrekin is a member of the Committee, he will enjoy my contributions.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
It is well known to the House that I am a fairly large farmer and that I get the benefit of these subsidies, which I very much appreciate. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) and with some hon. Members opposite 1329 who believe that there is considerable scope for studying the whole question of subsidies in agriculture, irrespective of the Common Market. As a farmer I would welcome such a study in many ways. However, those hon. Members who take that view should not keep using the figure of £1,000 million. They should subtract from that figure the potential loss of profit sustained by farmers who between 1945 and 1951 had to sell their produce at fixed prices which were below world prices.
Before coming to my main theme, I want to refer to unfenced roads and to higher subsidies for fencing roads in hill farming areas. I speak about this subject feelingly, because I have run into a flock of sheep and turned my car upside down when my family was in it, fortunately with no damage to the family, although with great damage to the car. Only the other day, I had a useful black bull run into by a motorist on an unfenced road. Fortunately, the motorist was not badly hurt, although the car was badly damaged, and to all appearances the bull is not too bad, except that he is not doing that job which I keep him for.
The Secretary of State for Scotland must appreciate that motoring is spreading further and further afield and that people are driving on many unfenced roads. The present state of affairs is unfair to the farmer and to the motorist and there must be some system of grant, I suggest in co-operation with the county councils or local councils, properly to fence the enormous number of unfenced roads and so save the needless slaughter of farm animals, especially sheep.
§ Mr. Manuel
I am intensely interested in this matter, but, while I want to do everything to avoid the slaughter of sheep or other animals, in the Highlands of Scotland especially there is ready access off the roads for parking cars and for picnicking and for camping, especially in Ayrshire and Inverness-shire, which I know well. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that if we have fencing we should not interfere with the facilities which are now enjoyed.
§ Mr. Mackie
There would be no difficulty about that, for the land in that area is not very valuable and the fences could 1330 be put well back from the road and leave areas for parking cars and so on.
I want to refer especially to the Clause which deals with farm buildings and improvements grants. We have spent or are spending £150 million on this item, £50 million by the Government and £100 million by the farmers. I understand from the Minister that 80 per cent. has probably been spent on buildings alone and there is to be a further grant of £31 million for the next five years, which means that farmers will be spending £62 million, because they have to spend at least two-thirds of the cost and in many cases they spend more. That means that a fairly formidable sum is being spent. I am as anxious as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North to see that the money is spent properly. The figure of 200,000 building schemes is enormous and I wonder whether that money for buildings is properly spent.
Can a farmer get the best advice on what to do and proper plans for his buildings? I doubt that very much indeed. I do not want to bore the House, but I could give a tremendous number of instances. I was in the West Country last week and I saw a set of buildings, beautifully built in every way, but the figure which the farmer received for the floor area for his cows was, I am perfectly certain, all right for an area with plenty of straw and a dry climate, as in the east of the country, but all wrong for the west. I have seen self-feed silos where there was far too small an area per cow, and where the farmer had got advice for making a different kind of silage. I have seen a yard and parlour where the New Zealand or herringbone type of construction had been used, although it was not suitable for the type of cow on that farm.
I could give other instances, but one of the most important ones, if we are to compete with the Danes, is that of a proper piggery. How many of us really give any thought to the proper floor area for pigs? We know that there are slatted floors for sheep and cattle, of which I know some hon. Members disapprove, but, nevertheless, they are corning in, and we do not know enough about them. There is also a question of the storage of potatoes and a whole host of things about which we do not know 1331 enough and into which we should have more research.
I know that there is a certain amount of research going on, but it is not coordinated in any shape or form. We may have some slight co-ordination but it is not sufficient, and the only way, I submit—I am glad to see that the Minister has returned, because he would have a lot to do with it—is to have a central research station for farm buildings. I do not mean that we should get all the work done at a central station. It would be far too expensive and clumsy, and no good, anyway, because the work would have to be done in the areas in question. For instance, if we want to build a dairy in the West Country, the research on the size and shape of the buildings should be done there. The central building research station which I am pleading for would initiate work at other stations. Buildings have a lot to do with nutrition, and nutrition centres could initiate the studies they want made, but it would have to do a certain amount on its own.
I know that the question of cost comes into this. How much would it cost for such a station as I have indicated? Surely, not more than £250,000, I am certain. It could be run at £50,000 a year—£50,000 in 10 years. Is it too much? It is a very small percentage of the total of about £240 million that we are spending on buildings, and I am certain that if the farmers realised how many mistakes are made in putting up buildings, they would agree to this coming off the grant and being used for research. It would be an asset for all time.
I know that this matter comes under the Minister for Science, so I appeal to the Minister of Agriculture to see his colleague in another place and appeal to him to have a research station set up in order to see that this enormous amount of money is spent on schemes that have already been put into operation, on others which will require to be renovated, as well as those to be done in the future, so that they are done in a proper way. I have made this appeal before through the Farm Buildings Association and in various other ways. I make it again tonight because of the position that will arise under this 1332 Bill, because of the large amount to be spent and in the hope of getting some results.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I should like to make two points. First, I wish to back up very heartily the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member from The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) about Clause 19. When we talk about compulsory acquisition of land, some people are apt to think of the whole of a farm going and a farmer's livelihood suffering, but we must not forget that if a major and busy road is cut across a farm, although the proportion of land taken may be a small proportion of the farm, the ability to work the farm properly may be almost completely destroyed. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to bear that in mind in Committee. If we say that the acquiring authoritymay pay to him such reasonable allowanceas it thinks fit, this may sound less generous than it is.
Secondly, improvement grants are more than matched by a contribution from the farmer concerned. When we talk about increased efficiency, what we generally imply, but seldom say, is increased output. That increased output is being produced at the cost of increased interest charges, so that if as a result of the increased output, speaking nationally, not only the price received by the farmer but the price guarantee is reduced the net result may be that the farmer is left with a smaller net income. We must always bear in mind that, when we exhort people to increase efficiency, in almost every case we are exhorting them to increase output. We must be prepared to accept that increase in output without having the economic justification cut from under it, principally by imports of dumped foodstuffs.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
The Bill has been described as a Bill of bits and pieces. It is made up of many bits and pieces, but, apparently, there are not enough bits and pieces for some hon. Members. I shall return to that later.
I should like to say how much we regret that on this occasion we do not have the hon. Member for Westmorland 1333 (Mr. Vane) with us. When he was Joint Parliamentary Secretary he was courtesy itself and very helpful indeed. I think that we should acknowledge the assistance which hon. Members on both sides received from him in his official capacity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
I said that many hon. Members feel that some things have been left out of the Bill. It is true that it covers a very wide range of subsidies. One hon. Gentleman asked for assistance in subsidising cartridges with which to shoot birds either on or off the wing. I thought that we had reached the limit until the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) said that he wanted some winter keep for bees. Apparently his stock ran out and he had to give them some honey to keep them going. He wants to know whether money will be provided for this purpose. Perhaps he was encouraged by some of the things which appear in the Bill.
I do not want to carry on the personal dispute which arose between my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) and the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), except to say that it would have been courteous if the hon. Member for Harborough had stayed for the rest of the debate. It is unusual for an hon. Member to make a personal attack on another and then to leave. One of the courtesies of this House is that, when an hon. Member receives a personal letter from a constituent of another, the first thing that he does is to go to the hon. Member concerned to point it out and to let the constituent know that it is not the custom of this House for one hon. Member to take personal cases from another hon. Member's constituency. Therefore, I am bound to say, even in his absence, that my hon. Friend will persist in his effort either to have him substantiate what he said or withdraw it, and I am certain that that is a reasonable proposition which commends itself to hon. Members on both sides.
Whenever we discuss agriculture and subsidies the temperature rises. It inevitably rises because there are a number of people in the community who think that the farmers are getting away with it. Large sums of money are mentioned as though they are paid right into the pockets of the farmers 1334 and the money just sticks there and nothing more happens. After a fairly long experience in the House, I am bound to say that perhaps those of us who have argued in favour of subsidies, and certainly this applies to many hon. Gentlemen opposite, have not taken the same fair balance about subsidies as applied to other things for which the Government are responsible.
We should not want to go back to the bad old days of agriculture. I know that in the area farmed by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) there was at one time considerable poverty, and on the borders of Scotland, where I lived for a few years, I saw the poverty which existed in the farming community.
Whenever we think of the Labour Government, we think of the year 1947, because it was then that the foundation was laid for a prosperous agricultural industry, not only for the farmer but for the farm worker. Indeed, we all recollect the suggestion which was made that we were so generous that for the first time for many years farmers were able to pay their annual subscriptions to the Tory Party. I recall that story because it was so common. Indeed, I recall another story, that within two years the president of the National Farmers' Union fell over his wallet and broke his leg as a result of this prosperity. But let us in all seriousness remember that time, and remember that this foundation was laid by the Labour Government.
There is another lesson to be drawn from what was done at that time. Let us not forget that the man responsible for this tremendous job was Lord Williams, the man whom we knew as Tom Williams. Let us remember also that on the Scottish side the people responsible for this policy were my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), ably assisted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). For many years they rendered signal service to the agricultural community of Scotland.
§ Mr. Stodart indicated assent.
§ Mr. Hoy
I am glad that I have the approval of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West.
I wonder whether the House realises that Lord Williams and my hon. Friend 1335 the Member for Hamilton were both miners. One can but wish that some of the generosity that was shown by them to the agricultural industry was passed back to those in the industry in which they worked.
What do agricultural subsidies do? What is their purpose? Let us consider, first, the amount that has been spent. Considerable sums have been mentioned. Some of my hon. Friends mentioned a figure of about £4,000 million since 1947. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) said that we ought to ignore the figures at least up to 1951. Therefore, for the purpose of my argument, I will take the figures from 1953–54 to the present time, including the estimated amount of the subsidies this year. They range from £246 million in 1953–54 to £339 million last year. If my information is correct, that sum is likely to be exceeded this year. In any case, even the figure of £339 million shows that since 1953–54 we have paid out about £2,690 million in subsidies. That is a considerable sum of money.
The money is being paid out to restore our agricultural industry and also to provide a decent standard of living for the agricultural worker, as well as the farmer. At the same time, by the payment of the subsidies the Government have laid a responsibility on the industry to keep down prices paid by the consumer. The agricultural industry has to accept this social responsibility, and receives compensation for it, and we argue that the same responsibility was placed on the coal mining industry, in that it was compelled to supply coal to industry at a restricted price. We feel that the Government ought to have accepted responsibility for the extra payments, in the same way as they accept responsibility in agriculture. When we are considering this subject we must try to be fair to those in other industries who have to face the same problem.
As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West said, some changes may have to be made in agricultural subsidies as a whole. In his little commercial introduction the hon. Member quoted from a pamphlet which he wrote, along with certain of his hon. and right hon. Friends who now decorate the Government Front Bench. I believe that four of them are Ministers. One of their suggestions 1336 was that considerable savings might be effected in ploughing-up grants. I have heard the hon. Member say that we have paid them out much too often.
That is the basis from which we start. In the course of today's discussion the view has been expressed that we must make certain that the money is spent economically and wisely. I was intrigued by the suggestion made about improvement grants. This question was referred to by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins). They felt that one mistake was being made in the payment of these grants, namely, that we were fixing certain sums for everything that was being done. In other words, they suggested that the Minister might take power to increase the grants made for certain improvements that had taken place, because in certain farms they would have a greater value, and would be of greater assistance. Like any other improvement grant, unless these farm improvement grants are wisely used, so that they build up and fortify the capital resources, they are failing to do their job.
I was rather surprised at some hon. Members opposite who appeared to be a little touchy about the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney). They asked who would benefit from these improvement grants if a sale took place. Some hon. Members on both sides of the House may not agree with all that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North said, but I thought that he caused a fresh breeze to blow through the debate, and I very much enjoyed it. It is an argument which we have had to face before, and if anyone should face it, it is the Secretary of State for Scotland. My hon. Friends said, "If these improvement grants are to be made and paid for by the Government, or if a considerable portion of them is to be paid, is it right that the farmer should sell out to whoever he likes the next day?" By so doing the farmer would be taking an accrued benefit provided for by public money.
This question is not new. Under the housing legislation householders who receive grants in order to modernise and 1337 improve their property are not allowed to sell the property for a period, which I think is as long as twenty years, unless they return to the Government the proportion of the money given to them to be spent on repairs. If that can be done in the case of private householders, my hon. Friends were justified in asking the Minister why something similar should not happen in respect of the millions being provided for farm improvements, because, whatever else may happen, no one should have the right to make a profit out of money paid by the Government.
Clause 4 is the short Clause which encouraged the hon. Member for The Wrekin to make a claim in respect of some winter feed scheme for bees. The Clause provides that contributions paid in respect of fertilisers should extend to fertilisers used by mushroom growers. This is on a par with the action of the late Earl Baldwin who removed the duty on broccoli. It is amazing how the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland can find a way to grant subsidies to sections of the agricultural industry. During the discussions on the fishing industry legislation we asked for a similar subsidy for the shellfish from Cornwall and elsewhere. The Minister could not find the money for that, but this issue is connected with agriculture and so there is money available.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the money spent on subsidies. I think that each bag of fertiliser carries a subsidy of up to 50 per cent., and one can weld understand that a lot of money is involved. If a similar subsidy were granted in respect of coal, what a reduction there would be in the price of a bag of coal as delivered to the consumer. It is important that the Minister should ensure that this money is wisely spent. I had to raise this issue in a previous debate on agriculture. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) and I spend many hours in this House inquiring about how Government money is spent and a lot of that time is taken up in considering the expenditure on the agricultural industry.
This legislation follows a recommendation from the Public Accounts Committee. As the Minister said, the 1338 Committee had a lot of trouble in investigating a considerable amount of fraud which was going on over this subsidy—[HON. MEMBERS: Fraud?"]—Yes, fraud. Many people were exploiting it and by doing so they were costing the taxpayers thousands of pounds. The Government promised to take action to prevent this happening.
We have to remember that not only was deliberate fraud being committed but those supplying fertilisers had to appear before the Monopolies Commission because of gross over-charging for fertilisers which was taking place. This was confined to two substantial firms. We want to be assured that the Minister, while calling for these precautions, will not again allow the supply to return to a monopoly. We have to be protected against people such as Messrs. Fisons and I.C.I., whose charges were exorbitant.
It may well be that a co-operative farming association may be the answer to the problem. I have seen that in certain parts of the country. One cannot help but be impressed by the system in the young State of Israel where farming is done in this way with great economy and good returns to all engaged in agriculture in that country. I say that to the Minister because he has to protect, not only the taxpayer and the Government, but himself in view of a further case this year in connection with lime subsidies.
The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns will remember, because he raised it in the Committee, that some farmers took lime in the form of gravel with which they laid garden paths. There was a very good argument in relation to what the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said about road grants. If we gave them road grants they might not be using lime grants for this purpose. In another case which has now finished a man has been sentenced for taking his lime grant in the form of cigars and whisky. When one reads the Treasury report to the Public Accounts Committee it is seen how important it is that Ministers responsible should exercise all the care possible. The Report with which we were presented said:The irregularities included claims for fictitious deliveries, inflated weights and ineligible 1339 materials, claims for lime not spread on agricultural land declarations of suppliers' cash charges considerably in excess of those actually made against the farmers, concealment of discounts, and false claims for spreading charges and haulage.This is a form of private enterprise which does not commend itself to those on this side of the House nor, I am sure, to hon. Members opposite. This money which is being spent is collected from the taxpayer.
I turn to another matter because this is a Bill of bits and pieces and it would be impossible to deal with everything it contains. I am highly interested, as I am sure many hon. Members are, in the scheme for dealing with fowl pest. This is another item which costs the taxpayers many millions of pounds.
I often wonder when this House is passing Estimates if it really understands what it is letting the taxpayer in for. In compensation in connection with fowl pest the following sums have been spent: 1956–57, £1,474,000; 1959–60, a record total of £4,655,000; 1960–61, £3,500,000. This is a tremendous lot of money, and I think that the House is entitled to have an assurance from the Minister about it. Does he believe that this vaccine will do the job? Only last year when we were discussing this in the Public Accounts Committee, the reply was that so far, up to last year, the Department itself had set its face against immunisation, that in fact the vaccine would not be all that cheap, and that it did not think that it would be satisfactory. In the face of that, one year later we have the proposal from the Government to institute this vaccine allowance, and we are entitled to know, before we agree to spend this sum of money on it, whether it will be efficient for doing the job.
I turn quite hurriedly to the provisions for grassland because this is important to Scotland. In addition to providing grants for fertilisers and so on, we should like to know whether the Government have any further ideas in mind. We have had two Reports from Scotland, the Balfour Report and the Duncan Report, one dealing with the size and development of the Highlands and Uplands and the other, the Duncan Report, dealing with drainage. It seems to us a considerable waste to go on spending money on fertilisers in Scotland if the basic drain- 1340 age is bad. Surely if the Government are to do this they ought to be spending money recreating the soil so that those who will occupy it can look ahead for a number of years. After all, agriculture does not live exactly from year to year. Those who live off the land or work on the land have to plan some years ahead. I ask the Government to look at this once more to see if this money could not be spent in a better way.
Then there is the problem of winter keep which is terribly important to us. If we are to keep up supply, whether sheep or cows, farmers have to be assured that there is a winter keep scheme that will allow them to maintain the cattle. I am sorry that I cannot say more on that, but I promised to raise one other point in which we are interested. That is the abolition of the Welsh Land Commission. We know that this estate is to disappear from Wales. Perhaps I should not attempt to pronounce the name, but we know which one it is in Wales. This estate of some 37,000 acres was taken by the Exchequer in lieu of death duty. I thought that it was a very acceptable form of paying death duty. The Minister has decided to get rid of it.
There is one thing on which the Minister is clear. He has always said that he did not feel that it was a duty of his Department to own land. But here surely was a very sensible way of meeting the needs of the community. There are many people who when they depart do not leave sufficient liquid cash to meet death duties, and by this very happy arrangement between the Government and those heirs and successors, the Government can take land in payment, and this is exactly what was done in this case. It was of benefit to those who succeeded to the estate and it provided ample compensation for the Government.
Before disposing of this land, surely the Government should have gone into the question a little further. If there is one complaint we have, it is that some people find it impossible in this country to get land. There was a complaint yesterday by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) that many young people in this country could not find the capital with which to start farming. Surely if we have land which is Government property, then the 1341 Government ought to be able to let it to young energetic people so that they may earn their livelihood.
Secondly, in this country we require a considerable amount more land for afforestation. Forestry has been a great boon to us, and I am certain that there is no Scottish hon. Member, especially from the Highlands, who would not pay tribute to the remarkable job done by the Forestry Commission. If any two things go together to harmonise production it is forestry and agriculture. We know that they have their little differences as to who should own which part of the land, but I am certain that the wise use of land, built about with belts of trees, can prove of immense value to agriculture.
I have tried to cover the ground as hurriedly as possible and to emphasise many points which have been made during the debate and which needed emphasis. In Committee the Minister can expect to receive some Amendments, which we hope will come from both sides of the Committee. They will be an endeavour to improve agriculture in this country, because whether we join or stay out of the Common Market, it is essential for a country which has to import 50 per cent. of its food supply that it has an efficient agricultural industry. In that way we shall tackle the problem, and I hope that we shall have the Minister's co-operation in doing so.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Noble)
As a general summing up of today's debate I can fairly say that the Bill has been generally welcomed as a useful Measure. Its aims are recognised to be modest, but the financial reinforcement for agriculture which it brings—£78 million over five years—is by no means insubstantial.
Inevitably, hon. Members have suggested improvements, and there have been representations that some of the Clauses should go further than they do. I shall try to answer many of these points, but, like the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), I find that the field is very wide indeed. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him into the coal and fish section of his speech. I should also like to spend a little time underlining some of the con- 1342 tents of the Bill which are of particular interest to Scotland.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). in a fairly long and at times a rather circuitous speech, if I may say so, kept asking whether the Bill indicated a change in Government policy, and, if it did, what the new policy was. As he talked he gradually answered the question for himself, because he came, I think quite rightly, to the conclusion that Government policy over the last period has been to change from other forms of deficiency grant to production grants —and then he welcomed this as the right sort of development.
§ Mr. Noble
The hon. Member may have come to that conclusion but he did not put it as bluntly as that. He asked a great many questions.
The main features of the Bill concern the Farm Improvements Scheme, which has been going on for five years, and the Hill Farming Act, which has been going on steadily since the war. As the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said, the Bill is essentially one for Committee discussion and not for new policy decisions. Various references have been made to the Common Market. As you detected, Mr. Speaker, the Bill has no direct connection with the, Brussels negotiations, but anxiety has been expressed during the debate lest our whole system of grants and subsidies should he at risk if we join the Common Market because we must follow exactly what is done by the other members of the Community.
I must point out that there is a special section of the Treaty of Rome, Articles 92 to 94, which sets out the conditions under which member States out of their own resources may grant-aid their own industries. It is true that there are rules to ensure that such assistance is compatible with the Common Market but there is nothing in the Community's rules to the effect that a member State may grant a particular aid only if all other members do likewise. In fact, the hon. Member for Workington, who asked about the effects of our possible entry into the European Economic Community on these grants, suggested, 1343 as he went along, the answer to his own question. France, Germany and Italy are all spending very large sums of State money on these general purposes.
The hon. Member for Workington also inquired about the horticultural marketing aspects of the Bill. I agree with him that this is an important subject. The market development scheme in Clause 9 applies equally to horticulture and agriculture and provides £1½ million over three years. It is, in our view, for the industry itself to take advantage of the grants available under the market development scheme. The hon. Member seemed to want the Government to take over a little more responsibility for these, but my right hon. Friend and I have noted with pleasure the initiative of growers, wholesalers and retailers in announcing their intention to establish a joint consultative council, which may go some way to replace the Horticultural Marketing Council. We were also very pleased and interested to learn that the N.F.U. intends to examine the possibility of establishing a development council for the horticultural industry, because we feel that in close co-operation between the Government, the growers and the N.F.U. lies the most likely chance of success.
§ Mr. Peart
I must press this. I know that the Secretary of State is in a special position, but what is the Government's policy? Why is the Minister silent? Is there to be some authority with executive powers, which is what my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) and I have pressed for? Can we have an answer?
§ Mr. Noble
All that is in the Bill—after all, that is what we are debating tonight—is the marketing scheme which 1344 has been announced to the House and for which £1½ million is available.
My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) asked in relation to the farm improvements scheme whether the farms which were the biggest and best were getting the largest slice of the cake. It is possibly of interest to them that there have been 20,000 schemes approved for farms between 50 and 100 acres. That represents about 30 per cent. by number, which my hon. Friend will agree is a very reasonable figure. I do not believe from what I am told that there is a gap, as my hon. Friend feared there might be, between the people who can benefit under this scheme and those who can benefit under the Small Farmer Scheme. Many small farmers get one or other, and quite a lot get both.
On the question that my hon. Friend raised about a larger percentage of grant for smaller farms, I cannot do better that quote what Lord Amory said when moving the Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill in 1957. He said:I may be asked why we do not restrict the improvement grants to those with limited financial means. The answer, in brief, is that the prime object of these grants is to promote the really economic improvements, and encourage efficiency, not primarily in the interests of any particular section, but in those of the nation as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1957; Vol. 567, c. 813.]The right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) raised a number of points. As the hon. Member for Leith said, the right hon. Gentleman has a special connection with these things, having been closely concerned with the 1947 legislation. The right hon. Gentleman asked, first—the hon. Member for Leith followed him in this—whether there was a danger of the Government creating a monopoly in fertilisers, which would put up the price. I can assure the House that there is nothing in the Bill which moves at all in that direction. In fact, regarding a monopoly, any merchant can be registered who is prepared to give a service and who is prepared to open his books for Government inspection. I hope that that will avoid any of the abuses to which the hon. Member referred.
The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire quoted from the report of the Balfour Committee but I think that a 1345 good deal has changed in the West Highlands and the north of Scotland since that was published. I am glad that he found himself able to welcome the idea that more winter keep should be grown at home because I am certain that this is possible, and also that there should be more forestry for shelter. I was delighted to hear that he was pleased, too, that more grassland renovation was coming into operation, because these are all important things in the part of the country which he and I know so well.
That right hon. Member, along with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith also raised the problem of poultry vaccine. I should like to combine this with the second question the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire raised about swine fever. There is a vaccine for swine fever, but it is an expensive one, and we believe that we have a very good chance of completely eradicating swine fever in the same way as we are trying to eradicate foot and mouth disease. Therefore, the vaccine, if used for that purpose, might not be the right answer.
But when it comes to the poultry vaccine we should remember that the chances of eradicating fowl pest are so slight as not to be reasonably possible. It is not, perhaps, possible to say that evidence of the efficiency of the new vaccine is yet established, but we have been doing a considerable number of experiments, both private tests and those conducted by our own veterinary officers, and the results are encouraging.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Has the Minister any idea of the cost? There are millions of fowls in the country and at a bob a time, for instance, the cost would be enormous.
§ Mr. Hoy
Before the Minister replies, we must have something better than the remarks he has so far made. The right hon. Gentleman is asking the House for at least £1 million to do this job. Surely we should be given an assurance in more precise terms than we have so far been given. I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman means by "a considerable improvement". What improvement has taken place between last year and this which has convinced the Ministry that it should undertake this task? If we 1346 are to be asked to pass a sum as large as £1 million we must be given a greater assurance than we have so far received.
§ Mr. Noble
That is quite true, and vaccination is going to cost about £1 million for two years. Considering what the Plant Committee said on this, it is a better policy and I think that we should try it out.
The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire then raised a point about the balancing of M.A.P. with the winter keep scheme. I think that this scheme is, in the expectation of most farmers, thought to be exactly that. The total cost of winter keep grants for the United Kingdom for the first full year is published in the Financial Memorandum to the Bill at about £2.7 million. Scotland is expected to take about a half of that; about £1.4 million. The response to the grassland renovation schemes is a more difficult figure to assess, but the Scottish total might probably be about £60,000.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) also referred to this problem of marginal grants and the winter keep scheme. He asked me one or two specific points. He asked whether we were adopting a differential rate for farms in Scotland. I am pleased to tell him that we are doing so, and a great deal of the work on the classification of farms has already been done. He also asked whether there were upland farmers who would perhaps lose M.A.P. and fail to get ploughing grants. I think that this will not arise, because if they fail to get the winter keep scheme, they will be able to get the ploughing grant.
There is only one point worth mentioning specifically, and that is that there will he some dairy farmers in the high country who will not qualify for winter keep. This may seem difficult, but anybody who has studied the economics of this sort of farm has agreed some time ago that these farms are not suitable for dairy production. It is all very high-cost production. Certainly correspondence which I have had from time to time in the past from the Milk Marketing Boards confirms this.
§ Mr. Stodart
If these dairy farmers turn over to beef production, will they then qualify for the livestock rearing scheme?
§ Mr. Noble
Yes, Sir, that will be so, and this might well be a method of encouraging them to do so.
The hon. Member for Aberavon has sent me a note explaining why he cannot be in his place. It is because he and his wife are taking part in the Productivity Year at this moment. I think that everybody in the House wishes them well. The hon. Member asked me whether the extra amount under the Hill Farming Act was more than a paper figure. It is difficult to give a perfectly straight and honest answer, because it is difficult to tell how much of the money not yet used by farmers will be used. But if we did not take this extra £3 million at the moment it might well be that we should have to refuse people who ask for schemes in the next 12 months.
The hon. Member also asked me whether we should not continue the scheme for a longer time in case there was a reservoir of farmers who might still want to apply. I think that it is true to say that this is unlikely. We have already covered 13,800 holdings in the United Kingdom. The Balfour Committee, when it originally suggested the scheme, said that if we had 50 per cent. of farms in the country covered by it the scheme would be a success, and we are well over that figure.
There are many categories of people who have not yet been able to use the scheme. One of the difficulties in Scotland is that the Hill Farming Act and the hill fanning schemes are very comprehensive and those people who could not produce a complete scheme are now successfully producing part schemes under the other possible methods, like the Farm Improvements Scheme. I therefore do not believe that there is this big reservoir of people after all these years have passed. The hon. Member for Aberavon also asked about the Welsh Agricultural Organisation Society and why the grant to it was falling. The reason is that the grant is related to its membership income. In England the grant is only 20 per cent. In Wales it is 80 per cent. Therefore, although it is falling, those concerned are doing extremely well out of it. He asked me 1348 to say a word about land which was being disposed of and whether the tenants on that land would have security of tenure. I am told that neither the Land Commission nor the Forestry Commission have ever asked or forced a tenant to leave, and this will continue. The hon. Gentleman also asked me whether the Glanllyn sale is complete. It is not complete, but the Government are fully committed to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) spoke about machinery syndicates. I think the Bill meets his point—that is, the point on which he disagreed with the Government and the White Paper—and I hope that he will now be able to support us without any reservations in that matter.
The problem of roads in rural areas is, in my belief, unending. One never seems to get to the end of possible improvements in farm roads, but we have done 2,220 miles under this scheme. The effective scope, in our view, is not sufficient to justify asking the House for more money at this stage.
The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) asked why the payment of the allowances in Clause 19, following compulsory acquisitions, should not be mandatory rather than permissive. In this Bill we are extending to agricultural occupiers the provisions already contained in the Land Compensation Act, 1961, and the corresponding Scottish and Northern Ireland legislation which similarly makes permissive the payment of allowances to those displaced from business premises.
In putting agricultural occupiers on the same footing as those in other walks of life we are giving effect to the objects of the Bill which was presented by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin and which was withdrawn on this understanding, namely that we put them on all fours with other business occupiers. To go further than this would mean departing in this one instance from the principle of the general law.
The hon. Member for Devon, North also asked why the Government had not given time for a debate on the Price Review—"as usual" were the words he used. The information that I have is that in the last ten years the Price 1349 Review has been debated twice only, and on both of those occasions on Supply Days, which are, as he knows, in the choice of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Perhaps for he record I should point out that the Motion which was tabled, and which certain hon. Members opposite supported, criticised both the Opposition and the Government for failing to provide time, so that the blame is apportioned. I should not like to direct it solely to the Government.
§ Mr. Noble
If I may cover one or two more points very quickly, my hon. Friend the Member for Market Harborough (Mr. Farr) asked why only £250,000 had been allocated for machinery syndicates. This is not a limit in any sense. It is merely an estimate of what we think is likely to be spent.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), in talking about the winter keep grants, seemed to me to be a little puzzled by the £7 ploughing grant and the £2 for the winter keep. I think perhaps he did not realise that the £2 winter keep is an annual payment and the £7 ploughing grant is payable only at the appropriate intervals. I have the greatest sympathy with him in his worry about the losses on upland roads—and the greatest sympathy with the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) whose bull is not as good as it was—but there is the possibility of getting either a 50 per cent. or a 33⅓ per cent. grant for this purpose, and where it is applicable farmers can have it.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) made a number of most interesting points which, as 1350 the hon. Member for Leith said, were stimulating and refreshing. The hon. Member feels, as many hon. Members opposite do, that the £4,000 million, the figure quoted on several occasions, which has been pushed into agriculture could more usefully, perhaps, gone to other places. I think that most people on this side of the House would disagree with that. We feel—I am sure that a great many hon. Members opposite feel the same—that agriculture has made a tremendous contribution to the life of the country and to the consumers in it.
§ Mr. Noble
So it should, perhaps, and so it has.
Hon. Members may well agree that the Bill lives up to its name. It does, however, serve to emphasise the great variety of work which comes the way of the Agriculture Departments. It serves also to illustrate the readiness of the Government to adapt and improve the framework of agricultural legislation as one of the factors governing the contribution which the industry can make to the national economy. Inevitably, from time to time, we accumulate a mixed bag of subjects calling for legislation. Sometimes it may be necessary to close gaps in earlier legislation or bring it into line with the times. At times there may be quite major proposals devised to reinforce schemes or to initiate new ones.
Such changes help our agriculture to achieve and maintain the pitch of efficiency which is essential in an increasingly competitive world. The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire said that no efficient farmer need fear the Common Market. The industry, which has a good record of rising productivity, has over the years shown its readiness and ability to respond to the challenge of changing circumstances and to make the fullest use of the advances of science and developments in technique.
It is only right that the Government too should be ready to adapt and innovate. The present Bill is an indication of that readiness. Although it is a small Bill, it makes, in the Government's view, a necessary and important contribution to the structure of statutory agricultural 1351 provisions. I trust, accordingly, that our proposals will commend themselves to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).