HC Deb 08 February 1971 vol 811 cc109-91

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

I would inform the House that I have decided to select the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and his right hon. and hon. Friends.

7.2 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill can be said to have its origins just over 40 years ago when Parliament enacted the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act, 1928. In that Act, an agricultural building was defined as one which is occupied together with agricultural land and used solely in connection with agricultural operations on the land.

This definition was adopted in the Local Government Act, 1929, which provided for derating of agricultural land and buildings in England and Wales. In Scotland, the same definition was adopted in the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956, which brought Scottish practice into line with that in England, as regards the method by which the derating of agricultural land and buildings was secured. Therefore, this is the main definition which has stood in rating legislation ever since that time. As regards England and Wales, it now appears in Section 26 of the General Rate Act, 1967, which was a consolidating Measure; in Scotland it is the 1956 Act which still operates. The definition was extended in 1961 for England and Wales and in 1963 for Scotland in a way to which I should like to refer later.

In the state of development of agriculture in 1929, and even in 1956, this definition of agricultural buildings was not unreasonable. Buildings which were used for agricultural purposes were generally used in connection with the farm in which they were situated, and occupied by the farmer for those purposes, and normally they were used solely for those purposes.

However, since the definition was established in the valuation code, there have been developments which explain the urgent need for the provisions of the Bill which we are now considering. In the first place, there have been developments in farming practice which have been made possible by scientific and technical advances, and this is an important point, and one which I hope that hon. Members opposite in particular will appreciate because, in the terms of the Amendment they have put down tonight, they show little sign of understanding it.

Whether it is in sheltering stock from exposure to the elements, whether it is in housing stock to one extent or another within a controlled environment, whether it is placing less reliance than in earlier days on the essentially variable quality and quantity of the feed which may be produced by a farmer on his own farm, whether it is in providing stock with the feed supplements and concentrates which scientific research and development have made available and which commercial producers of feedingstuffs are manufacturing—whether it is in these or in any other ways, there is no doubt at all that today's livestock farmer is doing no more than modernising his methods of production.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

Before the hon. Gentleman proceeds to patronise this side of the House as not appreciating what is involved in all this, perhaps he will do his homework rather better than his brief suggests he has done. Many of us know the recommendations of the Brambell Committee, and some of my hon. Friends and some hon. Gentlemen opposite have made a special study of this matter. Some of us on this side of the House also represent farmers, and we hope that we represent them honestly and say what we believe to be true.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's intervening, but I wish he would give me a little more time to develop the argument, and I also wish he would read the terms of the Amendment put down by his right hon. and hon. Friends. I hope the hon. Member will give me time to develop this, that what the livestock farmer is doing today is no more than just modernising his methods in accordance with the various developments to which I have referred. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that what the farmer is doing is attempting to get the same kind of return as other producers, whether in agriculture or industry, are seeking in following out similar processes of this nature which there have been in these different fields of activity. These include the improved utilisation of inputs, reduced labour costs per unit of production, a higher rate of turnover on working capital, and—perhaps one of the most important things—greater ability on the part of the farmer to meet changes in the patterns of consumer demand.

If the livestock farmers were not to change and modernise their methods of production, if they alone were to set their faces against this kind of development, they would be hindered and, in time, wholly prevented from making available an attractive end product at a price which is acceptable to the consumer. I believe, too, that they would be incapable of competing effectively against overseas producers and, in time, they would perhaps themselves become a liability to the Exchequer. And if agriculture as a whole had not made these changes, I believe that there would have been a failure in enterprise and innovation which would have led to soaring increases in prices and in the nation's bill for imported livestock products.

It is against this background—I hope the hon. Gentleman will give me credit for filling in this background—that producers using traditional methods are exempt from rates. As I said earlier, historically this is something which is not new and which goes back over many years. Therefore, in our view, it is entirely wrong that the rating law as it is at present should produce results which penalise livestock producers to such an extent, to cite an example from Scotland, that some have actually gone out of business due to the extent of their rating liability, and many others have decided against the use of progressive methods due to the extent of the rates liability which they would have incurred——

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

Will my hon. Friend allow me?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

If my hon. Friend would let me conclude this point, I should be grateful. They have decided against the use of progressive methods because of uncertainty about the extent of their rates liability, and that has hindered their adoption of these modern methods. Many hon. Members are familiar with the way in which this situation has developed through a series of court orders and legal precedents, and I will deal with this in a moment.

Mr. Burden

Will my hon. Friend say whether it is the traditional farmers who are already receiving rate relief who are going out of business, or new farmers who are not getting rate relief, and, if so. what type of farmers are they?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

As I said a moment ago, the farmer who is not getting rate relief is the one who has been adopting the modern methods of production which I described. The purpose of the Bill is to help those farmers who are adopting modern methods.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)rose——

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I would rather get on with my speech and develop my arguments. The hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to make a speech later.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

Give way. There is plenty of time.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I can tell the hon. Member that there is not plenty of time. I have a very long list of speakers.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I will summarise briefly by saying that these precedents established that the requirement of "sole" use in connection with agricultural operations on land has more or less to be literally complied with if the livestock building is to qualify for derating. It is not even sufficient if land is used to a significant extent in connection with operations in the buildings. This perhaps answers the point raised by my hon. Friend. By providing shelter or protection to an animal a farmer has removed himself, as the law stands, from the qualification which exempts him from rates. At the moment, the building must be used in a manner which is incidental and subordinate to the use of the land if he is to qualify for exemption. Over a considerable range of livestock production activities derating is available on buildings only if they are used in a manner which was appropriate, effective and sensible up to 20 years ago but which has been rendered obsolete by technical developments of the kind to which I have referred.

Therefore, rating law as it stands is acting as a general constraint upon livestock farmers. It also produces operational and regional anomalies of a most acute and inequitable kind. For example, buildings in which pigs are fattened to a material extent on brought-in feed are rated, whereas buildings used for breeding pigs which have perhaps limited access to land are not. Cattle courts used for housing cattle in the winter may be liable to be rated, whereas buildings used in connection with out-wintered cattle are not. Again, buildings used as deep litter houses for poultry are rateable but, on the other hand, buildings used in connection with birds reared in more traditional ways are not.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Accepting the hon. Gentleman's point about modern technological methods for poultry, does this mean that if the Bill is passed exemption will be lost for a modern battery hen production unit which covers the whole of the land?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am coming to the details of the Bill. If the building is contiguous with agricultural land the qualification will not be lost. Anyone who has had experience of the rating law and the way in which it has applied in recent years will know of the extraordinary number of anomalies which arise because of slight technical differences of production. Many laymen have expressed the view to me that in one circumstance a building will be exempt whereas, almost as a matter of chance, in another circumstance that building will not be exempt. These anomalies are not merely on the operational side, They have also applied regionally, which means that there has been an inequitable spread in the incidence of rating on buildings for livestock production.

If one takes other costs, such as the price of feeding stuffs, labour or fuel, those additional costs are spread across and added to the overhead costs for the industry as a whole. The way in which rating has been applied has varied from area to area due to differences in the speed and comprehensiveness of the assessment process, and this has led to big differences in rateable values and rate poundages.

To take a national comparison, the rates burden on Scottish livestock farmers is proportionally much more severe than it is south of the Border. One-fifth of the total rates payable on these buildings in Great Britain as a whole is paid in Scotland, despite the fact that Scotland enjoys the 50 per cent. derating on these buildings which was introduced a year ago. It is for these reasons that we on this side of the House two years ago saw the need for this Measure. During the General Election we promised the farming community that agricultural derating would be extended, and we are now proceeding to implement this promise at the earliest possible opportunity.

I turn to the more detailed provisions of the Bill. As I said earlier, the main purpose of the Bill is to extend the agricultural exemption from rates to buildings used simply, in the words of the Bill: for the keeping or breeding of livestock". For the purposes of the Bill we have adopted the meaning given to the term "livestock"—and I hope this satisfies my hon. Friend—in the Agriculture Act, 1947, and the corresponding Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948, so ensuring that, subject to the other tests which are prescribed in the provisions, only buildings used for the production of creatures which are accepted to be agricultural in character will qualify for derating. It is only logical, if we do this, to extend the exemption to buildings that are ancillary to the livestock buildings. Derating is also extended to land occupied by these livestock buildings.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that this definition extends the derating for agricultural purposes to buildings housing animals providing fur and wool—for example. mink farms?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

There is no difference from the definition in the Acts of 1947 and 1948, and to that extent there is no extension in the types of animal. Although we propose to make extensions, they do not include the specific exemption which the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) mentioned. Farming is essentially a rural activity, and the fact that it can be carried out in buildings does not make it a suitable activity for built-up areas. I hope this covers the point raised by the hon. Gentleman a moment ago. That is why we consider that it should be a condition of rate exemption that the livestock and auxiliary building must be adjacent to or located within an area of agricultural land at least five acres in extent. We believe this helps to retain the specifically rural nature which we would regard as correct for agriculture.

The other important provision in the Bill is that relating to buildings occupied by incorporated agricultural co-operatives. I mentioned a little earlier the extension of agricultural derating in 1961 and 1963. In the latter case it applied to Scotland and in the former to England and Wales. The extension was to buildings in the same kind of use as those already exempted, namely those solely used in connection with agricultural operations on agricultural land, but where the building concerned was occupied not by the occupier of the land but by an unincorporated syndicate of the occupiers of the land to which the building was ancillary.

This provision arose in much the same way as the Bill. A case came before the courts where a co-operative syndicate—and I am sure we all support co-operative developments in agriculture—was formed by a number of farmers, the object of which was to purchase and work a grain dryer to dry the grain of the members of the syndicate. The courts at that time found that the grain dryer in these circumstances did not comply with the definition of an agriculture building and was thus rateable. The purpose of the provision was to enable a limited group of farmers, joining together in a sensible agricultural undertaking of a kind we all support, to be able to claim exemption from rates in circumstances similar to those in which an individual farmer carrying out the same operation could also claim exemption.

At that time this kind of co-operative arrangement was in its infancy, but now not only has the practice of co-operation between farmers developed considerably over recent years but the agricultural industry has also recognised the advantages which come from incorporation for the purpose of carrying on joint enterprises. Thus, we now have in the industry corporate bodies which act on behalf of their members but whose agricultural buildings do not qualify for rate exemption because they do not comply with the statutory definitions. This is an anomalous situation, and Clauses 3 and 5 provide for the buildings of incorporated co-operatives, whether subsidiary to the agricultural land or to the livestock buildings of their members, to be exempt from rates. These Clauses also extend, as is clearly appropriate, the exemption of buildings occupied by the unincorporated syndicates to those which are ancillary to the livestock buildings of their members. We are applying to these co-operative bodies the same kind of advantages that would apply to their members if acting in their individual capacity.

Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)

Does this mean that a body like the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society will now be given the green light to proceed even more rapidly in the very good work in which it is already making such excellent progress?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for raising that point because in our consultations on the Bill we have discussed these matters with organisations interested in co-operation, one of which was the S.A.O.S. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that the same applies to the Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation in England and Wales and that both bodies have welcomed the proposals in the Bill. We believe that this will be an encouragement to co-operative enterprise between farmers, which, as my hon. Friend and I know, is to the advantage of the industry as a whole.

I wish to mention Clause 1(2) in regard to England and Wales and Clause 7 in regard to Scotland, which modify the law relating to the exemption of agricultural buildings of all kinds. I refer to the use of the word "solely", which, legally, has been the cause of so many complications and anomalies before the court. We felt that the introduction of this Bill was a good opportunity to look at the use of the term "solely" and have come to the conclusion that it should be somewhat relaxed.

Therefore, while we are retaining the term "solely" both in the existing legislation and in the Bill, we provide that in determining both under the present legislation and under this Bill whether the use is sole use, other uses for an insubstantial part of the total period of use will not disqualify an otherwise eligible building. In addition, provision is made by Clause 1(2) for England and Wales and by Clause 6 as regards Scotland for derating parts of buildings used for agricultural purposes.

One of the questions probably in the minds of those who benefit from the Bill is how far the exemption of ancillary buildings will go. To such questions I can give only the most general reply since at the end of the day these matters are subject to interpretation by the courts. Under the present law the phrase used in connection with agricultural operations on agricultural land has been subject to interpretation by the courts in its application to various circumstances, and we have adopted similar phraseology in the Bill in the expectation that the courts in future will interpret it on similar lines. Thus, we believe that the existing case law will give guidance on where agricultural operations end and processing begins. This is an important point. Clearly, in such cases it is difficult to be dogmatic on specific examples, but it is not intended that trading and processing buildings should be exempted and we would not expect the courts to find otherwise. In the past they have made a strict and clear division between the two different operations.

The financial effects of the Bill will be relatively small. It will not affect Government expenditure, and we estimate that, if it were not for the exemptions in the Bill, rates on the buildings covered by the Bill would not be more than £1 million in the rating year 1971–72 and might well be somewhat less. To put this figure into perspective, it compares with a total rates yield of getting on for £2,000 million. The Scottish figures within these totals are £200,000 in rates payable on agricultural buildings and over £200 million in total rates yield. Therefore, the additional burden on ratepayers will be small and, because of the effect of the resources element of the rate support grant, this burden will be well spread over the different authorities in different parts of the country.

Mr. Lawson

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that this Bill will mean no extra money whatever from the Treasury and that the entire cost is to be borne by the ratepayer?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The burden which we are exempting with regard to the farmers is redistributed across local authorities as a whole. The effect in financial terms is relatively small. At the moment agricultural rates are part of farming costs and are taken into account in the Annual Review. In so far as farmers' prices are supplemented by deficiency payments, this has the effect of leaving the status quo.

Mr. Lawson

Answer the question.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make a speech on this matter later on——

Mr. Lawsonrose——

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am not giving way. I have answered the hon. Gentleman's point.

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)


Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I have answered the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) cannot interrupt unless invited to do so.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I have answered the hon. Gentleman's point. I have given him the financial figures involved. This explains fully and clearly that one is not trying to hide anything about the effects of the Bill.

Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

As the Under-Secretary is concluding his remarks, may I ask whether he would say something about the unexpected omission from the benefits of the Bill of bee farmers, because they are a crucial part of agriculture. The bee has been included in the definition of livestock, and I understand that bee farmers have been omitted purely because the hive does not count as a fixed building and that ancillary buildings cannot be included?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will specify what kind of bee farmer he has in mind, otherwise it might cause confusion outside the House. I have kept bees, and I am horrified to think that they may have been subject to rates. I hope that I have not said too much so far, because they have not been. But if there is an anomaly in this, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing it to my attention. We can look at it during the Committee stage.

I am very disappointed that the Opposition have thought fit to table a Motion declining to give a Second Reading to the Bill. I take this opportunity to comment on two gross misconceptions contained in the Motion. These are, first, that the Bill relates—in the terms of the Opposition Motion—to non-agricultural buildings and, second, that its provisions will significantly affect other ratepayers.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

I am afraid that I cannot read the word "significantly" in the Motion.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes, I shall simply say, "penalises other ratepayers". I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for not quoting exactly. It is quite clear that that still does not get us away from the two misconceptions in the Motion, that it relates to non-agricultural buildings and that it penalises ratepayers. In tabling the Motion, hon. Members opposite have either not noticed or have chosen to ignore the requirement that in order to benefit from derating under the Bill buildings must be used for breeding or keeping livestock as defined by the Agriculture Acts of 1947 and 1948. Both these Measures were enacted under a Government formed by the party opposite. Moreover, it was the party opposite—I hope that the hon. Members will remember this—which first introduced the definition into the valuation code, in the Valuation for Rating (Scotland) Act, 1970, and Government spokesmen at that time stated that the effect they were seeking was to avoid introducing a new and untried definition of agriculture. Therefore, there is not a shred of doubt that the buildings to which the Bill relates are agricultural in character. By the action of the Opposition when they were in government, in relation to the 1970 Act, this has been acknowledged.

Turning from the law to farming practice, I have taken the chance of checking on the proportion of currently rated livestock buildings which are found on farms. There is a tiny class of landless or virtually landless buildings in urban areas which are arguably, in terms of what I said earlier, non-agricultural in character. But it is precisely those buildings which we have in mind to exclude from derating by the provisions of the Bill in that we require that they should have five acres of agricultural land contiguous to them.

On the figures for Scotland available to me, there are some 1,300 holdings in Scotland on which at least one livestock building is rated. Of these, 1,100 exceed 10 acres in extent and the majority are much larger. Therefore, this shows the barrenness of the Opposition's suggestion that we are dealing with non-agricultural activities in practical terms. As to the effect on other ratepayers, I need say no more than what I said earlier—I hope that the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) will take note of this—that the rates payable on buildings to which the Bill applies account for one-twentieth of 1 per cent. of the total rates yield.

The Opposition Motion is clearly nonsensical, but I should like to commend hon. Members opposite for tabling it. It has served one purpose at least. It is right that the farming industry should know how it is regarded by the main parties which are represented in the House. The motion clearly demonstrates a failure on the part of right hon. and hon. Members opposite to comprehend the realities of modern farming and shows their ignorance of its practices and the extent to which the Opposition lack sympathy for its aims and objectives.

Even for this, if for nothing else, I know that the Bill will be of great benefit, not only to the agriculture industry but to our food production generally. I hope that the House will regard the Bill as a useful and constructive Measure.

7.38 p.m.

Dr. J. Dickson Mahon (Greenock)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to a measure which, in rewarding those engaged in intensive animal production of a kind which can in no sense be called agricultural, penalises the ratepapers as a whole. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) on joining in our debates on rating, even though, from what he said, one would think it was an Agriculture Bill. We are discussing a Rating Bill, and the long title makes it clear that we are discussing an alteration in the rating system.

The hon. Gentleman founded his case for the Bill on two very substantial arguments. I dismiss for the moment his third argument about fulfilling an election promise. One can hardly look at the election promises given in the Conservative manifesto and say that this is a fulfilment of those promises. I have no doubt that there are many farmers who feel uncomfortable about the Bill and that the Tory Party has gone far too far in this case. I shall return to that third argument shortly, since the Minister of Agriculture dissents from this comment.

The hon. Gentleman devoted most of his speech to justifying the Bill on two fundamental points and simply dragged in the reference to the Tory Party in the middle of his speech, a section which lasted but one minute. Whether the hon. Gentleman is fulfilling his pledge or not, I shall come to later. I want to comment an his two principal arguments. First he argued that this particular section of the agricultural industry was penalised—that was his own word. At the end of his speech he made clear that the word "penalised" was a pretty hefty word. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that sections of the industry were going out of business and that there were bankruptcies all over agriculture because of the absence of a Bill of this kind.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

He did not say that at all.

Dr. Mabon

What is going out of business if it is not a near bankruptcy or bankruptcy? He said that this section of the industry was failing to expand and that, in consequence, there was a soaring import bill which would be even greater if something was not done quickly.

This mountain of argument is used in relation to £1 million. The industry is embarrassed by additional taxation of £1 million, albeit one-fifth of it in Scotland. That is said to be the reason why people are going out of business, failing to expand and causing a soaring import bill. In suggesting that, the hon. Gentleman is guilty of collosal hyperbole.

We are not debating a crisis in agriculture. We are debating a certain change in industrial rating, which is claimed to be an anomaly. We are not debating the fortunes of sections of a great industry about to crash. It is sheer exaggeration to suggest that that is the position.

The hon. Gentleman lectured us towards the end of his speech and said that the £1 million that is involved represents half of 1 per cent. of the total rateable income and, in the case of Scotland, about £172,000 out of the total rating resources of about £200 million. But surely the obverse is also true. It cannot affect Scottish agriculture signicantly, and it is ridiculous to argue that this is a magnificent economic reform.

The hon. Gentleman has tried to make a case on behalf of the Government that this Measure is designed to rectify a state of affairs in the industry, to save it from perishing or going into a decline, or at least to help it to expand.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not exaggerate. He is putting his own words into my mouth. I said that it had the effect of hindering the adoption of modern methods, and it would lead to the necessity to import replacement livestock.

Dr. Mahon

I will look at the hon. Gentleman's speech again, and no doubt he will do the same.

The hon. Gentleman promised to give us the names of the bankruptcies in Scotland——

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I did not.

Dr. Mabon

He said that he could mention a number of examples of bankruptcies in Scotland. No doubt we shall have some examples in Committee, But, names apart, can we have some figures about the development of intensive animal production units in Great Britain? We have been given no figures tonight. One would imagine that the industry which had improved and expanded considerably since 1956 had suddenly fallen upon evil days in 1963, when the first case came before a court, and that there had been a series of calamitous judicial decisions thereafter which had caused sections of the industry to go out of business or fail to expand. Surely we can be given some figures showing the position of the industry.

My figures do not suggest that this section of the industry has failed to expand. It appears to be doing quite well. It may be true that it will do better with the passing of this Bill. But surely it cannot be suggested that the industry needs saving and that this Bill is the way to do it.

I realise that it is difficult for a Minister in charge of agriculture to make a speech about rating. No doubt the Minister for Local Government and Development, who is not a farmer, will be good enough to give us an agricultural appreciation of this section of the industry and its development over the last 10 years. However, the Under-Secretary has described the state of the industry and the evil influence of this part of our rating law. Is it true that this Bill will suddenly let free the forces of expansion and dynamism and save us from a soaring import Bill? I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's dissertation. I for one will appreciate even five minutes, and will appreciate some figures even more than his eloquence. Can we be given some figures about the development of intensive factory farming and its importance in relation to this Bill?

From time to time, the Under-Secretary of State has spoken about anomalies in the rating system as they affect agriculture. The hon. Gentleman gave us three examples tonight, of which the third was the whole point of the Bill. At other times, in Committee, he has given us different examples. This Bill is not just an economic measure to rescue a section of industry which is now in distress. It is to rectify anomalies. The justification for the Bill is that it brings us closed to equity as between one section of agriculture and another.

When the Scottish Grand Committee was considering the Valuation for Rating (Scotland) Bill which later became the 1970 Act, the hon. Gentleman for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Anthony Stodart) said: A pig is an agricultural subject until four months old. Then, with the shadow of the bacon factory lengthening across its path it becomes industrial."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Grand Committee, 11th November, 1969; c. 12.] That is the hon. Gentleman's claim of an anomaly. He is entitled on that Bill or any other to maintain that it is an anomaly.

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns later asked, "But what about agricultural research buildings? They are an anomaly and should not be rated, either." Then there is the argument that premises where food is prepared should not be rated. Finally, we have the one about the building in which allegedly well off agricultural workers leave their cars——

Mr. Mills

Why should not they have cars?

Dr. Mabon

Of course, they should. I am merely quoting anomalies cited by the Under-Secretary. When he was in Opposition he said that all these anomalies should be rectified. In this Bill, I wonder whether we are trying to rectify all the anomalies in agriculture as he promised.

If this industry needs help, we do not turn to the rating system to secure it. We turn to the farm price review. If the industry needs help, the first question must be how much help it needs. Is £1 million enough? Is that the last demand that the industry will make to get on its feet? If that is the case that it needs £1 million, is this the right way of doing it? There are subsidies for fertilisers, lime, ploughing. field beans, field drainage, calves, beef cows, hill cattle, hill sheep, winter keep, silo, small farms, and business records. I am told that lame ducks are not on the list. It is perfectly legitimate, since we introduced the 1946 and 1948 Acts for Scotland, for us to say that if agriculture needs assistance, we will give it and that there are ways and means by which it can be done. This is not fairly one of these.

The hon. Gentleman said that farmers would judge from a Bill of this kind the attitudes of the two parties. My party can be proud of what it has done over the years for the agricultural community. This tiny little Bill does not add very much to the agricultural industry or to the position of the industry vis-àvis its competitors overseas.

Mr. Brewis

Was not the hon. Gentleman's Bill exactly half this tiny Bill? Did not it give only 50 per cent.?

Dr. Mabon

Yes. We accepted that since these buildings were classed as industrial, they should be put on all fours with all other industrial buildings in Scotland. Our Bill was founded on the principle of equity.

This Bill is unprincipled. There is obviously no principle behind it. I shall come to the Tory Party's promise later. I wish at the moment to stick to the anomalies.

There are many anomalies in the rating system. I have mentioned some minor anomalies in agriculture. There is the substantial anomaly, no doubt endemic in the valuation system, that if one improves one's house one is penalised. Perhaps this is too much to swallow in one Bill. I certainly agree that this is the wrong Bill.

District valuers of the Inland Revenue in England and Wales provide one method of valuation in England and Wales; Scotland has local assessors under Government control. Has anybody ever studied the two systems to see which is the better, if they are both the same, or if there is a correlation between them which is adverse to England and Wales or to Scotland? This is possibly a big anomaly in itself.

There is the anomaly often referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) as the synchronisation, or rather the lack of it, between the two systems whereby rating and valuation Bills and more important valuation reviews affecting Scotland are often out of time with those of England and Wales. Indeed, sometimes it is to our distinct disadvantage, and perhaps in others to our advantage, though I doubt it. This is a Rating Bill, not an Agriculture Bill. Surely that is a big anomaly. Is not that worth a lot of votes? Is it not worth a Tory promise? Is not that worthy of rectification?

What about commercial derating? Where is the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education who used to make those lurid violent speeches—that is the only description one can give of them—about the wickedness of the Labour Government in maintaining the present commercial system of rating in Glasgow and other great Scottish cities. The hon. Gentleman demanded, with many many others, the setting un of a special committee to deal with commercial rating in Scotland—the Anderson Committee.

That Committee reported last October. It was hoped that its recommendations would be considered by the Government and put into a new Rating Bill. But there is no mention in the Bill of the effects of the recommendations of the Anderson Committee. Are all those speeches about commercial derating in Glasgow to melt like snow off a dyke in summer and the great claims of the House of Fraser to have equity disappear also? What ingratitude is here when one thinks of the money raised by the House of Fraser in the past for the Tory Party in Scotland?

Then there is domestic derating. The Tory Party has halved the amount of the domestic derating coming from the reform of local government finance which we instituted in our years in office and provided for in the last rate support grant order.

Mr. Martin Maddan (Hove)

It has not been halved. It has increased this year as in previous years, but not by as much. It has not been halved.

Dr. Mabon

The hon. Gentleman has missed my point. In England regularly it was 5d. increase. I believe that it is now less than 2½d., or slightly more—[An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] When we debate the Rate Support Grant Order for Scotland we shall expect to have the same treatment meted out. My information is that the regular increase has been halved from 10d. to 5d. in Scotland. I am interested in Scotland as well as England. I am advised that it has been changed in the Rate Support Grant Order.

My point is that here are a number of other subjects which ought to have been considered in a Rating Bill. The local government associations all over the country tell us that this constant nibbling away at the system is narrowing the base of our rating system and, with the need for fresh sources of revenue, they are becoming alarmed at this process.

I find it incredible that the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Angus and Mearns could touch on the Bill without touching on local government finance as a whole. It is incredible to think that we are to have a paper on Wednesday or Thursday of this week announcing a reform of local government in Scotland—at least the Government's thinking on the Wheatley Report—to be accompanied, we understand, by a White Paper on Redcliffe-Maud by the Ministry over which the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) presides. This very week we shall, therefore, be looking at the Government's proposed changes in the structure of local government. I should have great joy—but I shall not detain the House much longer—in quoting sections of speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite demanding that, with the White Paper on local government reform, there had to be—not there ought to be or there should be or please may there be, but there must be—a Green Paper or a White Paper on local government finance. If it is the case that there should be a White Paper on local government finance, why is it necessary to make changes in the Rating Bill, however minor in practice but substantial in principle, at this time?

Redcliffe-Maud on this subject, in paragraph 539, says: An important reform, and one obviously desirable from the local authorities' point of view, is the re-rating of agricultural land and buildings, whose exemption from liability to rates will seem even more anomalous when authorities uniting town and country are set up. This Bill is really one in the eye for Redcliffe-Maud. The Government do not even wait for any of these matters to be published or discussed they just precipitately introduce a Bill of this nature.

If the hon. Gentleman is unmoved by that reference to an English Committee, may I appeal to him, on nationalistic grounds, to consider the Anderson Committee, Cmnd, 4366, which, in paragraph 62, on commercial derating—it looks at a wider compass than its own remit—says: Having regard to the financial support which agriculture now receives from the Government and in view of the need, with steadily rising local expenditure, to maintain the widest possible rating base, we feel that a review of the provisions of section 7 of the 1956 Act is required. Even if it endorsed the continuance of agricultural de-rating, it would serve as a reminder that such de-rating was not necessarily a permanent feature of the rating system. Therefore, these two Committees—no doubt much of the evidence can be adduced in support of the argument—point to the fact that we are on the brink, or ought to be, of a substantial reform of local government structure and finance. So why are we introducing a Bill of this nature restricted in its nature and inequitable to ratepayers as a whole?

The answer is given in the hon. Gentleman's speech in the section dealing with the Tory Party promise. The hon. Gentleman spent only one minute on this The Tory Party manifesto says: We will free from rates all buildings which a farmer uses for producing food from his land. Why all intensive livestock production buildings? Why is it so sweeping in the Bill? The Bill goes substantially further than the Tory Party's promise. It is very good that a party should fulfil its promise, but why to the point of distortion so that the very promise hurts the people that it was meant to serve? Are all these units owned by bona fide farmers? Will the agricultural community stand up for all these producers? I am told that not even a majority of those concerned are genuine bona fide farmers. The Tory Party, therefore, to fulfil a promise, is bringing in with precipitate haste a Bill which substantially deals with a section of the community which is not within the true definition of the word "agriculture". In time farmers are bound to see that this is not a good Bill. Certainly it is of limited benefit for the present to farmers. But it is a bad Bill in principle. I hope, therefore, that the House will see it that way and oppose it.

7.59 p.m.

Mr. John Stradling Thomas (Monmouth)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this debate and for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this House. I seek the traditional indulgence and tolerance for which the House is renowned towards maiden speakers.

Although I am often referred to as the hon. Member for Monmouthshire, I have formally to decline the distinction, because I am in fact the Member for Monmouth, and I might say that no man could ever represent a more beautiful, varied and interesting constituency. To the east we look to the Forest of Dean and the rich lush meadows of England, and to the west to the soft green hills of Wales. It is from this position as a border county that we derive our sense of pride in our unique position which is best summed up in the words England, Wales and Monmouthshire. Small wonder that the county's motto Utrique fidelis, Faithful to both, should illustrate our double allegiance to both England and Wales.

It is with great pleasure that I should now like to refer to my two predecessors as Members for Monmouth. My immediate predecessor was a yonng man who gained the highest regard and affection of all those who met him, and who represented the Monmouth constituency well during the period from 1966 until June last year. I know that there are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who will join me in wishing him well in his new career.

But for over 20 years the Monmouth constituency was served by, in fact the name of the constituency was almost synonymous with that of, Peter Thorneycroft, who now, as Lord Thorneycroft, sits in another place, and I am glad to say still makes a contribution to the public life of this country. I am very proud to follow a man who has made such a significant contribution to public affairs.

I should now like to turn to the Bill that we are discussing and to the Amendment which has been tabled in the names of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and his hon. Friends on the Front Bench opposite. I listened with admiration to the eloquence of the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon). His quotation about the little pig going to the bacon factory almost drew a tear from my eyes. But despite his strictures—and they were hard on my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Warns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith)—I still look upon the Bill, which the hon. Gentleman seemed to castigate severely for being inadequate, as fulfilling a pledge. The hon. Gentleman is obviously an all out derating man—that was the implication of his speech, which I found most interesting—but I nevertheless look upon this Measure as a welcome example of the way in which the Conservative Party honours pledges given when in opposition. I gave this pledge on the faith that I had in our leadership. I therefore welcome the Bill, because it honours a pledge that was given by me on behalf of my party, and I like to see pledges honoured in this era when so much of political affairs is looked upon with cynicism by so much of the electorate.

If there were no other justification for the Bill, it would undoubtedly be justified on the ground put forward by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, that the law on this subject has got into a quite incomprehensible tangle. I assure the House that I wish no disrespect to it when I say that at one time noble Law Lords—and I hasten to add that I wish no disrespect to another place—were sinking deeper and deeper into the fertiliser. Those who are familiar with the earlier cases will appreciate the point that I am making. They extricated themselves with some difficulty, but there is still undoubted confusion, and on those grounds alone the Bill is deserving of support.

But there are other grounds. The present state of the law is frustrating the intention of the 1928 legislation which derated agricultural buildings in England, Wales and Monmouthshire, and it is important to note, as has been referred to briefly, but not taken up by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that in the present state of the law it is not only the intensive farming buildings which they dislike so much, but many of the traditional forms of agriculture, which are in peril of becoming rated, and I point out that although when we are talking about the global total of the effect of this on the total of rate revenues this seems a miniscule amount, when the point is made that £1 million is a small sum to return to the industry, what is important, and it cannot be denied, is that many farmers are making miniscule profits at the present time, and have been for some years.

Under these circumstances, the full pressure of technology has had to be brought in aid under economic stress, and it does not need very much to topple the small man. My heart does not bleed for the big man, but I certainly think that many hon. Members, on both sides of the House, with agricultural constituencies will know of many people who are in peril of having to bear a rate burden which was never intended, and who cannot afford it.

It seems to me that the Amendment attacks the problem in the wrong way. It tries to make out that intensive animal production is not agricultural. This seems to me to be indefensible. Animal production for the purpose of providing food must, by definition, whatever adjective one uses, be an agricultural process, and when one appreciates how small the number of people in this country who are now engaged in agriculture is, and who meet so well the tremendous requirements of urban and industrial populations, it seems entirely wrong to set about attacking a rating Bill which sets out to relieve this sector by bringing in questions of farming practice which are described so often as factory farming.

I yield to no one on either side of the House in my views on factory farming, but let us get this clear. Under the previous Government—and I pay tribute to them—codes of practice for animal welfare were introduced. It is our duty, therefore, not to confuse the issue by bringing in arguments about derating. It is our duty to look to those codes to see that they are properly carried out, strengthened as time will permit, and ultimately brought up to a standard of animal production of which we, the public and the farmers can be proud.

I conclude by making two brief points to my hon. Friends. The first is about the loss of revenue. We know that the loss of rate revenue throughout the country is relatively small, but—and this is the difficulty—this loss will fall in the main on the poorer, smaller rural authorities, and I therefore ask my hon. Friends—they will be bringing in measures on local government finance—to look at this matter with a view to helping those authorities out of the difficulty, because I remind them that a little fertiliser spread around does a lot of good, and this help is needed by these authorities.

Finally, I would draw attention to the problem over the word "solely" in Clause I, which refers to a "substantial part of the time". Trying to take the House into Committee would not be permitted, but I believe that this definition should be carefully looked into, because there is a possible misunderstanding which could throw the courts and the law back into confusion. I hope that we will look at this line very carefully in Committee.

I thank the House for its courtesy and the attention with which it has listened to me and I urge hon. Members on both sides to support the Bill.

8.11 p.m.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

I first have the very happy duty of congratulating the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. John Stradling Thomas) on an extraordinarily good maiden speech. In a small compass, he showed a picture of Monmouth which was far better than the most florid poster put out by the Western Region of British Rail. He has convinced me that I must go to Monmouth some time.

Secondly, he gave his speech with a fluency which is extraordinary for maiden speakers. He made a telling speech, and I envy him. One hears hon. Members halting in their speeches and one has sympathy with them. I have no sympathy with the hon. Gentleman at all. He made a wonderful speech, and I think that we all hope to hear many more speeches in that vein from him—although I do not say that I agree with what he said.

The part of the Bill to which I object is Clause 2, which would have the effect of freeing intensive livestock buildings from rates. It exempts buildings used for keeping and breeding livestock provided that they are surrounded by or adjoin an area of not less than five acres of agricultural land. This is a direct incentive to factory farming at the expense of the community, which will have to make up the saving in rates, and it will force the ratepayer to subsidise factory farming by an estimated £1 million a year.

Broiler chickens and eggs are already being over-produced in Western Europe and America, and this results in hundreds of millions of £s being spent annually in trying to get people to eat more. Furthermore, in America there are many other ways of using eggs. The demand for eggs may be, and very often is, the demand for free range or semi-intensive systems. This Bill will free the giant units from rates, and this will put more and more farmers out of business.

I do not know whether the House has read Ruth Harrison's book, Animal Machines. Since it was written, conditions in intensive units have become considerably worse. The House may remember that the Brambell Committee made certain urgent recommendations, including a statutory prohibition of debeaking, spectacles and blinkers for laying hens, a prohibition of the docking of pigs' tails, a prohibition of the keeping of pregnant sows without exercise, of yoking and close tethering of calves.

The Committee did not like the diet for calves, which was iron-deficient. It did not like depriving animals of bedding or the overcrowding of livestock. Not one of these recommendations for statutory control has been implemented. In addition to the white veal industry, there are units today containing hundreds or thousands of sow stalls, where these animals are kept and where they spend virtually the whole of their lives without even being able to turn around. We are threatened today with the battery-caged pigs and the Unicar system for cows, which keeps the animals immobilised on a wheeled contrivance which takes them to the milking mechanism and back again.

These intensive units are a reservoir of disease. The Houghton Poultry Research Station did a flock survey, which revealed that 90 to 95 per cent. of birds had been infected with Marek's Disease, a form of cancer precipitated by stress. Also, of course, fowlpest casualties are very high; in January 1971, they topped 25 million.

The hon. Member for Monmouth referred to the House of Lords in its judicial capacity. It held, in the case of Eastwood and Herrod—Herrod being the valuation officer—in February, 1970, that the 1928 Rating Act was intended to benefit agriculturists but not those conducting commercial enterprises where the use of agricultural land played only a small part in the enterprise. The buildings in question, which were broiler units, were held to be far outside its scope. Their use, said the House of Lords, was in no way ancillary to the agricultural operations on the land.

The intention of Clause 2 is to reverse this decision and enable giant producers to take over more and more of the agricultural industry and turn firms into nothing more than biological factories. I do not know whether the House knows that Belgian producers are threatening to burn down poultry units which these giants succeed in erecting in Belgium.

I believe that the British people should be protected from this proliferation of factory farms. Many of them—including myself—detest them. In addition to being ethically indefensible, they are now producing a surplus of food. They are a threat to the health of the community and to the physical and moral welfare of those who work in them. This has been made clear by a report of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, which has given instances of lumps and chest and skin infection in workers. The report talks of a dehumanised outlook, especially among girls and married women.

I am of the opinion that this Clause, far from offering protection, will force the general public to encourage this system. I would ask hon. Members opposite to consider amending the Bill so as to exclude from derating any buildings in which animals or birds are confined with no access to outside runs.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. John Stradling Thomas) on a brilliant maiden speech. The commendation of the Bill which he gave was excellent, but when he sought to rescue the Law Lords from the midden, that was something of which we should take note and which would be a commendation in itself for passing the Bill.

I should like to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office, to the exclusive society of those who speak on rating Bills. There seems to be a tremendously wide interest in this Bill. Of all the Rating Bills on which I have taken part, this is one of the few which shows some consistency, which I commend in that what it seeks to do is bring all agriculture, including intensive production of livestock, within the ambit of derating, so that, for once in a way, we shall as far as possible be free of court decisions, just because the Bill is so all-inclusive.

Perhaps I should declare my interest, because I am a farmer. I am not a particularly intensive farmer. I have been visited by the Animal Welfare Society and I believe that my farm passed their inspection. I am also a member of the National Farmers' Union. In case the House should think that I am overbalanced in one direction, I may say that I am a Vice-President of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and of the Rural District Councils Association and I normally find myself speaking for the County Councils Association! I hope that in this debate I shall be able to maintain my equilibrium.

Agricultural derating goes back to the depression times of the 1920s, and I can assure the House that things have moved on at a tremendous rate since those days. In the 1920s, we had horse and steam ploughs. Dairy maids sat on three-legged stools under the cows, pulling the teats, and the farmer's wife went round the farm with a bucket full of corn to feed the hens and came back with the same bucket full of eggs! We have moved into a different era, with the multi-furrow tractor plough, machine milking, and now the automated hen from which the egg emerges and disappears direct to the packing station.

What the Government are doing is to acknowledge this step forward in the intensive production of livestock. The Government need not be at all afraid of that. I do not think this is a debate into which animal welfare should enter. There will be a time for discussion of animal welfare and the intensive keeping of livestock. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) has now left the Chamber because he was responsible for the codes of practice relating to the keeping of animals under intensive conditions. Those codes are under review at the present time. I have given evidence to the Hewer Committee, and no doubt in due course those codes will be brought up to date.

The intensive keeping of livestock is something which we have got to live with. Anybody engaged in agriculture knows that farm buildings today are constructed with the idea of multi-purpose usage. At one time a building may be used for keeping cows, and on other occasions it may be used for pigs, sheep and fodder. I commend this flexibility. This outlook is endorsed in the Bill. The Bill provides for ancillary use of these buildings. I am sure that nobody would wish agriculture to be hamstrung by having one use attached to a particular building. It is important that these buildings should be utilised for 365 days in the year. They must be adaptable to the varying conditions of agriculture.

It is for that reason, knowing that it is impossible to draw the line with regard to derating, that I accept what the Government have proposed. There is no need to draw a line. We must make this Measure all-inclusive.

I am aware of the local authority association's views. Representations have been made to me and I shall refer to them in a moment.

Last night I read something rather interesting in "Country Life". I always use "Country Life" instead of a sedative before I go to sleep. I was looking at a picture which showed a new oyster hatchery on Loch Creran, Argyllshire. A caption under the picture states: The hatchery has a high export potential in processed oysters and oyster seed. No reference has been made to the fishing industry, but an oyster is livestock, and if hon. Members opposite press their Amendment they will lift from derating a rural industry which has been set up in Scotland in order that oysters may be bred on the banks of Loch Creran. I should think that when the news gets to Scotland that hon. Members opposite are against derating of that kind of building, there will be very severe criticism.

Dr. Dickson Mahon

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us what is the rateable value of that oyster fishery and how much is paid in rates?

Mr. Temple

I cannot say how much is being paid in rates, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the grant to that factory by the Highlands and Islands Development Board was £180,000. [Interruption.] I do not regard the production of oysters in a small establishment on Loch Creran as having anything to do with factory farming.

Mr. Burden

It is not livestock.

Mr. Temple

It is livestock.

Mr. Burden

Not under the definition.

Mr. Temple

My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development, who is the high priest in these matters, will soon clear up this matter, and we shall know whether I am right or wrong. The Rural District Councils Association informs me that fish hatcheries are within the ambit of this Bill for derating. Therefore, an oyster production unit certainly is.

I said that I wanted to be fair in this matter and, having spoken for agriculture, I should now like to say something about the position of the local authorities. It is true that the contribution in the form of rates to the local authorities through the present rating of agriculture is very minimal. I use the word "present" because there is no doubt that there is "creeping rating" at present in agriculture. No one can say where the word "intensive" finishes and the word "extensive" starts. That is what this Bill is all about.

Nevertheless, in some of the rural districts the impact of derating will be considerable. Whilst it has not been possible to get in touch with many rural district councils, the Southwell Rural District Council, which is in Nottinghamshire, will suffer a diminution of the order of a 4d. rate as a result of the Bill. I reaffirm what has been said from the Opposition Front Bench, that the local authorities are anxious about the erosion of the rate base. I share their anxieties.

I would have wished that this Bill and previous rating Bills had been more extensive in character. There are many other anomalies, some of which have been referred to. I should like to mention one or two cases in which these anomalies should be picked up. No doubt, they can be picked up by my hon. Friend in his Green Paper. There should be no distinction between the rating of fixed and moveable plant in industry. That is an outdated distinction. Equally, I do not think that if charities are to be helped, they need be helped by all other ratepayers. In other words, the rating of charities should be reconsidered. Again, the nationalised industries are rated on a formula basis, and I do not believe that the formula really takes into account the true earning power or worth of the nationalised industries.

Mr. English

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Southwell, in Nottinghamshire. Is he aware that the point he makes is highly relevant because South-well has a cathedral of ancient vintage, which is part of the reason for its low rateability.

Mr. Temple

I was not aware of that, but the 4d. off the rates is entirely in respect of the derating of agriculture.

We must face up to the consequences of this total derating of agriculture. Agriculture is not, and I hope never will be, the depressed industry that it was in 1928, but significantly in 1929 there was a direct contribution by the Treasury in lieu of rates to the rating authorities. This only persisted for a few years and was allied to the contribution in respect of the derating of industry which took place at that time. We are now facing a moment in time when the whole of the support system in agriculture is being changed, and we should take this into account.

It is significant that we may be joining the European Economic Community, and that the Irish Republic also has an application to join. In the Irish Republic, agriculture and all that goes with it, is rated. I believe that on the Continent of Europe there are property taxes—they are not called rates but property taxes—so it behoves us to look at the consequences of the Bill in the context of possible entry into the European Economic Community.

Having taken part in rating debates over quite a number of years, I well remember my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Housing and Local Government—now Lord Brooke of Cumnor—in 1958 or 1960 giving as the reason for the non-rating of agriculture that it would take eight years to value all the hereditaments in the agricultural sphere. That was then a fact, and it was never contraverted.

I think that my right hon. Friend was correct at that time, but no Government since then have ever sought to do away with agricultural derating nor would I myself seek to do it. On the other hand, I believe that there is an urgent need for local authorities to have further rate revenue, and what I would like looked at by my hon. Friend the Minister is whether in lieu of the derating of agriculture some support could be given by direct means to the local authorities.

We have examples of this in the Central Electricity Generating Board, the gas grid and the water undertakings, whereby these vast undertakings, which cover the whole of the country, are for rating purposes assessed on a formula basis and another formula takes care of the redistribution of the money gathered in over the whole country. Local Government finance experts are considerable wizards when it comes to formulation and formulæ, and it cannot be beyond their wit to suggest both the global sum and the distribution of that sum.

I believe that that sum of money could perfectly well be obtained through an addition to the import levies, because it is at this present time that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is looking at the whole system of agricultural support. Therefore, it seems to me to be a "natural" when the whole system of agricultural support and the whole system of local government finance are being looked at, that this proposal should be closely examined.

I do not suggest that agriculture should be rerated, but that there should be a contribution in lieu of agricultural de-rating which should be made from the agricultural support system spread over, particularly, the county district councils—that is, the rural and urban district councils, which are now the greatest losers in respect of agricultural derating. A very much more equitable state of affairs would be arrived at for the ratepayers and also for the industry, because as we enter the E.E.C. there will be no suspicion whatever that agriculture was being given a hidden support through derating which has operated down the years.

I hope that in a brief speech I have managed to retain my balance. I am wholly in support of the Bill, but I feel that this is an appropriate moment to look rather more widely at and take into consideration the fact that ratepayers are entitled to a contribution in lieu of rates as a quid pro quo for agricultural derating.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)

Like the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple), I have to declare an interest. I, too, am a farmer. I do not have the interests that he has in local authority associations but I pay quite a lot of rates so that I have an interest there as well.

I must emphasise that this is not a debate on intensive farming. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck) and many hon. Members on both sides have ideas on that subject, but this is not the place for arguing the pros and cons of intensive farming, and I hope that the debate will, as I think it should, be directed at what the Government are doing.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

With respect, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) has made a statement which cannot be borne out by the facts. This is a debate on intensive farming, because it is those very intensive farmers who, under the Bill, will be derated. Intensive farming is, therefore, obviously relevant.

Mr. Mackie

Very well. If my hon. Friend will exercise a little patience, I will come to that point in due course.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. John Stradling Thomas) on his maiden speech. He was very cool, calm and collected. I am sure that the whole House will look forward to hearing him again, although most hon. Members like other hon. Gentlemen to sit down as quickly as possible so that they can have a chance to speak.

On the matter of interpretation, the hon. Gentleman mentioned "intensive" and "factory" farming. I call myself an intensive farmer but by no manner of means a factory farmer, because I produce more food than I need to feed all the animals that I have although I keep them intensely.

I call a factory farm one where animals are kept with practically no land. The animals live in buildings on an area of concrete. All the food they eat is brought from abroad or elsewhere. The farmer does not produce any food. That is what I call factory farming. There is a possibility that factory farming could be non-intensive, although I can hardly think of an occasion when it could be non-intensive, unless one could look to the old milking sheds in Glasgow and Edinburgh in which they kept the cows: they kept them in the normal way and they brought in all their food. Any number of what I call "normal farmers" growing all their own food are intensive farmers, but I cannot imagine any such farmer, unless he is on a very small scale, being a factory farmer. I think that this distinction should be borne closely in mind in this discussion.

The next thing that this debate is not about is whether agricultural land and building should be derated. There is an Act that says that they should be. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) thinks that agricultural land should not be derated; but this debate is not about that question. If there is to be an argument about that, it should not be conducted tonight on this Bill; it should be conducted at some other time.

The argument tonight arises on the attempt to put right the various anomalies which were mentioned by the Under-Secretary for State. I will not go over all those anomalies again. Suffice it to say that they exist. There are all the different interpretations which have been placed on the wording of the derating Acts. This debate is about the Government's plan to iron out these anomalies and the different interpretations.

These differences arose from the development of intensive livestock keeping and the use made of such methods in starting factory farms. The Under-Secretary mentioned the word "solely". That word cost me about £100 a year in Scotland. Nevertheless, "solely" was put in, and livestock in buildings had to be husbanded along with the land attached to the farm. Many intensely-kept animals are never out at all; it was argued that they were nothing to do with land and were, therefore, rated.

Factory farmers were used as an example, and more and more "normal" farmers had their stock buildings rated. As the Under-Secretary says, from then on it became obvious that some non-intensive stock keeping could also become rated. I could mention people buying bullocks in the back end, keeping them all winter, and selling them before they go out in the summer: that could become rated, as could normal pig-keeping. So quite a lot of this happened and was happening, and I agree that something had to be done about it.

The Under-Secretary was taken to task by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) about his depressing tale of people going bankrupt and their being no increase as a result of rating these methods of production. The sections which are mostly concerned are chicken meat, egg production, pigs and beef. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has just conducted a census, and we find that the production of all four of those categories is increasing. As the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), the Under-Secretary of State, must know, in Scotland, as in his own constituency, intensive beef raising has increased greatly. He may have a point if he suggests that it might have increased more—I do not know—but he certainly cannot say that it has not increased, and neither can one argue that farmers have gone out of it.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Anthony Stodart)

The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) has said, as did his hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said that farmers were going bankrupt. He did not say that. He said that they were going out of business because of rating. The hon. Gentleman must know of the well known and widely reported case of the calf unit in Midlothian which could not afford to carry on; there was an on-cost of £1 per head on every calf because the unit was rated, and it went out of business. That is a typical example.

Mr. Mackie

There may be examples among farmers who are, perhaps, a little timid. I wonder whether that unit was making full use of its buildings. From my experience, it seems a very high figure for what the rating might have been. I know that the word "bankrupt" has been used, and the Under-Secretary of State certainly spoke of people not coming into intensive livestock rearing and of a lack of growth in production by such methods. That is the point I was on when I said that the figures showed that there has been an increase, particularly among stock generally kept by intensive methods.

I agree that something has to be done to remove the anomalies. I see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) is in his place. He will recall that when we were at the Ministry of Agriculture we were sympathetic and we were discussing the matter with the rating authorities. There is an argument about who should be responsible, whether agriculture or the rating authorities, but we felt—my right hon. Friend made this point—that, with the reorganisation of local government and the whole rating system coming under review, it would be a mistake to tackle the matter piecemeal. Whether hon. Members agree with that or not, it was a perfectly reasonable view to take.

Most of my fellow farmers were a little impatient, however, and the Conservative Party in its election manifesto promised, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock pointed out, We will free from rates all buildings which a farmer uses for producing food from his land. Like my hon. Friend, I am all for keeping promises, but, as I see it, the Government have gone far wider than that promise, and they have left the door wide open for factory farming to escape rates altogether.

The Under-Secretary of State pointed out that there is a definition of farm buildings and farms. Of course there is; but every building which holds livestock is a farm building under that definition, as far as I can see, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can escape from that. The Bill says that any such building will qualify if it is surrounded by or is contiguous to—I leave out the reference to roads and ditches and so on—five acres of land. Everybody who wants to come in under this can get hold of five acres of land, put tin his buildings alongside it, and have nothing but factory farming. I regard that as absolutely wrong. The Government have gone much further than they said, and they will now let in what are without question industrial buildings and factory farms to qualify for derating.

I am glad to see present one of the Ministers from the Department of the Environment. I am coming now to the crux of the matter and what I consider to be a major mistake by the Government. As the Minister for Local Government and Development knows, we have fantastic problems in the environment now. Everyone knows of the factory farming now going on in the countryside, with intensive units which have not sufficient land to get rid of the farmyard manure. whatever it may be—hen dung, pig dung, cattle dung—and everyone knows of the troubles this is creating in the countryside. Many Ministers have been tackled about it already. All hon. Members must have had letters from constituents complaining about the smell, the spreading, and everything else. It has been a major problem for the last 10 years, and all because of too-intensive methods on too little land. I cannot emphasise that too much.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, knows perfectly well that there should be in the Estimates—I hope that it will be the top Estimate, though I am not sure whether it is still there—a sum of £350,000 for research into ways of getting rid of farm slurry and so forth. He pressed for such research time and time again when he was in opposition. Yet he and his Department are doing something now which will increase the difficulty, not help to solve it. I am convinced that the problem will now increase as a result of what the Government are doing. I appeal to the Government to think again about this.

Some minimum figure far above that mentioned ought to be used. An area of building sufficient to allow a reasonable living to be made with enough land to take all the farmyard manure made by the stock on that land should be determined. I think that 25 acres is the minimum, going up pro rata from that. It could be reduced with larger acreages. Some such system could help prevent what has been happening in the last 10 years when there has been great difficulty in getting rid of farmyard manure.

I can give some figures of the areas required. On my farm in Scotland on 700 acres we have 75,000 square feet of buildings, which gives room for a broiler house, a herd of beef cattle, 240 feeding cattle, 120 sows and all progeny, grain and straw storage, 100 acres of potatoes and tractor and implement storage. On my Essex farm we have about 57.000 square feet, which takes an intensive beef unit of 500 head, 40 sows and followers, grain storage, food processing, straw and hay storage and tractor and implement storage.

It might be necessary to vary this in different parts of the country but I do not believe that it would be difficult to administer such a scheme. Both hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench are farmers, and they want to get stock back on the land and they want the farmyard manure to increase the fertility of the land. The method outlined in the Bill will simply exacerbate our problems, and I appeal to the Government to look at this carefully before Committee to see whether they cannot bring forward some other system.

8.48 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

There has been an awful lot of double-talk in the Chamber tonight about factory farming, intensive farming and the fact that this Bill is a rating Bill and nothing to do with factory farming. I was surprised at the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), who said that he did not style himself a factory farmer. He has a broiler-house, and I think many people would consider him to be a factory farmer.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in opening the debate, said the Bill would help our balance of payments by reducing our food imports of agricultural produce such as cattle and pigs. He will recall a debate in another place a few days ago about exporting live animals for slaughter abroad. It was said then that there were considerable exports of farm animals from this country for slaughter on the Continent. It seems that there is plenty of room for retaining exports of meat in this country instead of importing such produce.

Whatever we may call the Bill, its effect is to implement a promise made in the last Conservative manifesto, namely, to free from rates all buildings which a farmer uses for producing food from his land. Those were the exact words. There was no mention of factory farming, or intensive farming; but the Bill will assist factory farmers. In answer to an intervention of mine, my hon. Friend has already agreed that the Bill in no way affects the traditional farmer. In 1967 the party opposite produced a rating Bill that prescribed, as the condition of eligibility for derating, that farm buildings had to form an integral part of a farm unit that included agricultural land. Only three years ago the last Government either did not accept the need for derating these buildings on economic grounds, or considered that on ethical and other grounds we should not open the floodgates to intensive farming that derating would help to release.

My hon. Friend, who was one of the spokesmen on agricultural matters when in opposition and who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, constantly pressed for these buildings to be derated. As recently as 12th March, 1969, he urged the Labour Government, in the strongest possible terms, to take action. Whatever hon. Members who are farmers may say, the Bill is a Bill to derate intensive farming units. Whatever may be said about it, it is clear that the question of the welfare of animals must be a subject for debate tonight.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckingham, South)rose——

Mr. Burden

I shall give way later to my hon. and learned Friend. He has only recently come into the Chamber—[Interruption.] He came in during the last speech.

The intention of the Bill is to afford special financial assistance to people engaged in carrying on farming practices that are causing increasing concern to many members of the public. Some of the practices are abhorrent to those members of the public. The Bill removes entirely the previous requirement that farm buildings should be eligible for de-rating only if they are part of a farming establishment that includes land and are situated on that land.

The intention of the Bill seems to be that any building used for the keeping and/or breeding of livestock will be eligible for derating provided that the definition of livestock, as laid down previously, is conformed to. There is already a considerable burden of rates in this respect—I believe that it is now £1 million —and if there is a considerable intensification and growth of factory farming and new buildings are set up there will be an increasing burden on the rates.

When in 1947 it was provided that in order to qualify for derating a building should be an integral part of a farm concept that included land, factory farming was no more than an idea.

Mr. Ronald Bell

What I was going to say was that surely one of the purposes of the Bill is to get rid of the artificiality of that definition. May I put this to my hon. Friend—on the question of the building being an integral part of the farm land? He may remember that there was an hilarious moment at the end of the last war when it paid, for the moment, to buy fatstock at a controlled price, starve them, and then sell them as store cattle at the free market price. If one put these cattle into one of these buildings——

Mr. Burden

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman put his question, please?

Mr. Ronald Bell

How would my hon. Friend say that that is an integral part of the land, since all that happened was that the cattle were not being fed?

Mr. Burden

That is all history. The hon. and learned Gentleman may or may not be right, but my main concern at the end of the war was at the fact that the war had come to an end. I was not engaged in manoeuvring the markets at that or any other stage, and we are dealing now with the present and the future, and not the past.

In 1947, under the Act as it then stood, there was no control of the type, standard, size or condition of farm buildings in so far as they were within that area of land required by the Act. My hon. Friend says that there is none now, and that is one of the points I want to come to in a moment, because I think that this is utterly wrong. Surprisingly, this Bill, despite the fact that the name of the Secretary of State for the Environment heads the list of Ministers presenting it, appears to me to lay down no standards whatsoever for the buildings, but extends the derating to any building provided that it is used for the purpose of the keeping and breeding of livestock. As I interpret the intention, the only restriction on these buildings is that they shall adjoin an area of not less that five acres of agricultural land or are contiguous with or surrounded by an area of agricultural land.

In my view, this is very loose wording and capable of very wide interpretation, because "contiguous" means "adjoining" or "near", and "adjoin" means "near" or "contiguous". It does not mean that it is actually alongside. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture smiles. I hope he has done his homework, because if he has he will know, as one of my hon. and learned Friends has said, that this is the definition, and it has been subject to a court case. What is "near"? Two anthills would be near if they were two feet apart; two villages would be near if they were two miles apart. It is capable of very wide interpretation.

Surely a better definition, and a more concise definition, and one which would be much more easily understood and less capable of misunderstanding, would be "abutting". I would ask my hon. Friend, in all seriousness, to go into this matter, because it really should be looked at from the point of view of definition and clarification.

Mr. Maddan

While I do not go along with all my hon. Friend is saying, I think he has raised a very important point. Do these five acres have to be in the same ownership as the building itself?

Mr. Burden

I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me because I am coming to that point.

If the building is surrounded by agricultural land, five acres of agricultural land, it is possible that there would be no objection on environmental grounds, but the terms "adjoin" or "contiguous" are utterly inadequate. Firstly, there is no requirement that the land to which the building is adjoining or with which it is contiguous shall be owned or leased by the operator of the building. Secondly, my hon. Friend should look carefully at the wide interpretation. There should be close control over this.

The real purpose of the Bill is to provide further financial benefits for factory farming establishments. It is inevitable that stimulation and extension of this trade will continue, and, as my hon. Friend knows, there is great concern by members of the public and by many farmers about the lack of supervision over the treatment of the animals which will be used in these factory farms.

My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. John Stradling Thomas), in his interesting and fluent maiden speech, referred to the codes of practice. Those codes of practice were strongly criticised in October, 1969, when they were introduced by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes). Had he not undertaken to take them back and look at them again, there would have been serious danger of the Government of the day being defeated on them. Certain slight improvements have been made, and the codes are under consideration now. I hope that my hon. Friend will realise that feeling still runs high about this, and that he will ensure that considerable improvements are made.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

The hon. Gentleman tends slightly to distort the welcome which the codes of practice received when they were published. They received considerable welcome in the House and throughout the country. There was criticism from several hon. Members on both sides of the House on three or four out of a large number of points. As a result, I undertook to have further studies made, and this is what the hon. Member is referring to. It would be wrong to say that there was great criticism and no welcome.

Mr. Burden

I did not say that there was no welcome. On that occasion I said that they were better than nothing and that I had consulted Professor Brambell, who said that he would prefer to see the introduction of codes which went much further, but that the proposed codes represented some advance.

Let us not live in a fool's paradise about these codes of practice. They are advisory only; there is nothing mandatory about them. The codes of practice connected with the Industrial Relations Bill are to be mandatory, enforceable by law. For animals the codes are to be advisory only. Animals surely need as much, if not more, protection than human beings, who can express their views vociferously, and loudly and leave no doubt about their feelings. If there is to be a considerable extension of factory farming, how will it be possible, with advisory powers only, to supervise the activities within the factory farms? Factory farms are now to have the advantage of de-rating. It is necessary that the codes of practice should be looked at again. Certain activities should be banned. This should be made mandatory.

Is the Secretary of State for the Environment prepared to accept responsibility for the large increase in the number of battery hens kept in this country—a practice which has ceased in Denmark because the Danes consider it to be cruel? Is my right hon. Friend prepared to accept responsibility for the extension of the treatment of sows now being practised by some factory farms in this country? They are put into metal cages where they live the whole of their farrowing life, unable to walk or turn round. The only time they are able to leave these cages is when they become barren. The boar is put to them about a week after they have their piglets and then the piglets are taken away and artificially weaned. An article in the Farmers Weekly for 24th July, 1970, stated that this was a new break-through, and that sows put to the boar more quickly could produce more piglets and thus lead to better economics for the farmer.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

What has this to do with the Bill?

Mr. Burden

This has a lot to do with the Bill since the Bill seeks to allow derating for factory farms. Is my hon. Friend prepared to give an undertaking tonight that if the Unicar unit comes to this country—it is, I understand, being experimented with in Sweden—it will be banned here? [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) keeps saying from a recumbent position that this has nothing to do with the Bill. It has a tremendous amount to do with the Bill, which will enable factory farming to continue and expand.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins


Mr. Burden

It may be nonsense, but I am prepared to be judged by what I know is going on. Unless my right hon. and hon. Friends are prepared to ensure that decent, humane conditions are laid down in regard to factory farming and its extension in this country, there will be a continuing rise in the public revulsion and abhorrence which is already felt by a great many people. Because I feel so strongly about this matter, unless I am given some undertaking that some control will be introduced to stop abuse taking place in these buildings which are to be derated, I shall not be able to support the Government in the Lobby tonight.

9.8 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

We all recognise the sincerity of the point of view expressed by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) but I have some sympathy with one hon. Member opposite who earlier said that the rather select band of people who usually talk about rating tonight seem to have been invaded by agricultural and animal welfare interests. However, I trust that the Minister for Local Government and Development in his reply will put us back on an even keel.

I want to stick to the question of rating for one simple reason. When the Under-Secretary introduced the debate, he made great play—he was trying to ride two horses at once—of the assistance being given to the agricultural industry. He then made the rather inconsistent statement that the sum amounted to only £1 million and would not affect the ratepayer.

I can see why he had to make the latter point. It is estimated that the average increase in rate poundages in the forthcoming financial year will be 15 per cent. It is believed that some of the increases will be 25 per cent., and those are on every other ratepayer in that area. Whilst it may be laudable for the Government Front Bench to claim that a promise is being carried out, I should have thought some consideration might have been given to whether this was an appropriate year to caary it out and whether it was appropriate to talk about the need to suppress inflation and other things, for example wage claims, and to introduce this directly inflationary measure in a year when the increase in rate poundage is likely to be higher than for many years.

Carrying out this promise is likely to throw out of the window one or two items of Conservative Party policy. Let me try to name a few. Possibly both Front Benches are inhibited from saying so, but I am a total disbeliever in derating agricultural and, for that matter, various other properties. However, I do not wish the farmer to suffer. I do not believe in the derating of agriculture, and I do believe in the rerating not only of agricultural buildings but agricultural land but I am not suggesting for a moment that the farmer should thereby suffer.

I suggest that a normal rating system which did not have these provisions would have certain great advantages. The first advantage is that any level of subsidy would be known. It is one thing to levy a tax and to use some of that money to assist people. One then knows the amount by which one is assisting them. But the Minister for Local Government and Development well knows that if I asked him the total extent of the subsidy to agriculture which the present derating provisions make—let alone the additions under the Bill—he could not tell me, because there has been no valuation. This means that we have a concealed subsidy to an industry.

I should much prefer that the farmer, through deficiency payments or otherwise, was given amounts which can be known rather than amounts hidden away. Let us not forget that it was mentioned by an hon. Gentleman opposite that these provisions were introduced long before the present system of subsidies to agriculture, and they were introduced in order to avoid admitting that agriculture was being subsidised. When we arrived at the principle that agriculture can be subsidised, it seems that this provision could and should have been swept away. The Government are being very archaic in extending these provisions in any way. They ought to consider abolishing them. Why is it not done? For the old reason that it is the Treasury which is affected and not the farmer. It is the poor old local authority which is adversely affected to help the central Exchequer.

Some items of Conservative Party policy have been thrown out of the window to implement their election pledge. What on earth has the whole idea of selectivity of subsidies gone? Is not this one of those subsidies which has been criticised? Is not this given to everybody, to the man who has a few hens in a small building and to the great farmer who can produce 25 per cent. of the egg production of the United Kingdom? Is not there some element of unselectivity in this sort of subsidy?

I should have thought that many members of the Conservative Party genuinely have a good case very often for saying that some subsidies should not be given out as blank cheques to rich and poor, but they can hardly be consistent in giving out another to this industry.

For one reason or another every hon. Member who has spoken so far has asked why on earth, when carrying out a promise, do the Government have to put it forward in a way which is much greater than the original promise. The original promise related to the production of food. I do not eat leather. I have never eaten a mink.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

The hon. Gentleman should try.

Mr. English

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) suggests that I should try. It might be rather expensive and unpleasant. However, is not it ridiculous to extend the promise quite unnecessarily?

I could go on to make a series of Committee points. However, that would be undesirable in a Second Reading debate. But there is one which arose earlier in an intervention by me to the Under-Secretary, and I think that he should look at it. So far everyone has referred to this patch of five acres of agricultural land which is necessary to qualify. However, I am advised that the man who covers that five-acre patch with buildings will not get the exemption in the Bill, whereas, if he covers only four and a half acres with buildings, he will. That is what I mean by "the whole of the land". This may be the effect of one of the provisions in the Bill, and I should like the hon. Gentleman to look at the wording, which is a little odd in certain parts.

He might also consider whether his Explanatory Memorandum is completely truthful. It says that there will be a slight saving in manpower. But there will be a need to inspect premises under Clause 1(2), which says: … 'building' includes a separate part of a building; and in determining … whether a building used in any way is solely so used no account shall be taken of any time during which it is used in any other way, if that time does not amount to a substantial part of the time during which the building is used. I fail to see how that provision can be enforced without an adequate degree of inspection which, incidentally, local authorities have not the power to do, although the valuation officers have. It will be very interesting in Committee to hear the Minister explain how he proposes to enforce this provision when the local authority cannot inspect and needs to inspect in order to do it.

I promised not to get on to Committee points. But I should very much like the Minister to say whether he believes that, when we come to reform local government finance, we should extend the basis of local authority taxation for the benefit of all ratepayers, knowing clearly what our subsidies are, rather than diminish it and put more of the burden on fewer and fewer people.

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

I hone that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) will forgive me if I do not take up his points. We have not much time available to us, and I want to raise a new matter which has not been touched on so far.

I welcome the Bill because it removes an anomaly which has increased farming costs and acted as a disincentive to the adoption of modern agricultural techniques.

While we are removing one anomaly, I hope that the House will consider extending the terms of the Bill so that we can remove another which is beginning to affect farmers in Scotland and may spread to England. It is that some farms in Scotland have been rated because the farmers keep ponies on their farmland. I believe that so far the problem has arisen only in the South-West of Scotland, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis), whom I am glad to see in his place, has constituents who have been affected severely. I am concerned about the problem, not yet for constituency reasons but because I am interested in riding as a sport. Perhaps I might remind the House that it is a growth sport and a popular one. It has been estimated that 600,000 people go riding every week, and I understand that the figure is thought to be increasing by about 10 per cent. a year. If the law remains unchanged I have no doubt that the development of riding, show-jumping, showing, pony trekking and much else will be hampered and that many people, particularly children, will be obliged to give up this healthy and desirable sport.

For example, many children are allowed to graze their ponies in farmers' fields, but the present interpretation of the law—at least in Scotland—is such that the farmer who lets out even a small corner of his farm for this purpose may find that he is thereby jeopardising the rating position of the whole farm. In consequence, grazing will no longer be available, and in a great many cases it will mean the end of the child's sport.

I must declare a personal interest. My wife and I keep ponies on our land. That land might be rated if decisions reached in the South-West were to spread to Perthshire. But this personal circumstance is of little relevance. I am concerned about the harm which an extension of this ruling would do to equestrian sport in general and to the development of horse and pony breeding in Britain.

The problem has arisen in Scotland because of the definition of "agricultural lands and heritages" in Section 7(2) of the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956, which states: 'Agricultural lands and heritages' means any lands and heritages used for agricultural or pastoral purposes only". The subsection goes on to provide other definitions, such as, woodlands, market gardens, orchards, allotments or allotment gardens and any lands exceeding one quarter of an acre used for the purpose of poultry farming". In recent cases, however, it has been held that the grazing of horses or ponies is not an agricultural or pastoral purpose within the meaning of the Act. The effect of the decision has been very serious, although so far on a small scale, particularly for the farmer who breeds native ponies as an adjunct to his main farming enterprise.

For example, I have details of one farm which has been rated. This farm is stocked to the extent of one-third with hill sheep, one-third with hill cattle and one-third with Shetland ponies. It was held that because of the ponies the farm could not be regarded as being used exclusively for the purposes stated in the Act, and the whole of the farm was therefore rated—sheep, cattle, and all.

This and similar cases are extremely worrying to all those who want to encourage riding. I have already mentioned the popularity of the sport, but any extension of this rating anomaly would put riding beyond the reach of many, either because their farmland might be rated because of the presence on it of a horse or pony—I accept that this is taking the matter to the extreme—or because they will lose access to grazing facilities because of the apprehension of the farmer owning the land. Further, pony club activities would be severely restricted—and it is the pony clubs which produce so many of our great young international show jumpers and horsemen generally. Indeed, the farmer who allows a cross-country event on his land, or opens tracks across his farm to pony trekking, will be most reluctant to do so for fear of the possible rating consequences.

I promised to be brief. I hope that my hon. Friend who is to reply will be able to give some favourable reaction to the case which I have advanced. It is a real problem, particularly in Scotland, and if it persists and spreads, as it will unless we do something about it, I believe that it will do great harm to a sport which all in this House ought to encourage, and it will also do great harm to the breeding of native ponies, which is making a growing contribution to our export trade.

I welcome the Bill, and I shall welcome it even more if this further anomaly can also be removed.

9.24 p.m.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow, West)

This is a debate on agriculture as well as on rating. I should, therefore, begin by declaring an interest. I am not a farmer, but for the past 15 years I have been employed by the largest agricultural marketing firm in the country, and I am currently employed by that firm part-time until the end of this financial year. Thereafter, I may retain some kind of financial connection with it. I hope that it will not be necessary for me to repeat my interest every time I get up to speak, should I chance to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, in future debates on agricultural matters.

I regret this occasion, because I regret having to speak against the opinion of the National Farmers Union, an organisation with which I worked very closely over many years, and for which I have a great and healthy respect. I also regret that, although I support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend, I am not happy about part of the wording of it, as it seems to me that my right hon. Friends who drafted it know far more about rating than about agriculture.

The Bill is an attempt to restore the status quo, and the question to which I want to address myself in my brief remarks is whether the Bill is going in the right direction. In seeking to find a solution to this question I went back to the early history of why agriculture was derated in the first place. I am sure it is well known to every hon. Member that in 1896 agriculture was given a 50 per cent. derating in the Agriculture Rates Act of that year. That was extended by 25 per cent. in 1923, and there was complete derating in 1928.

I did not have to go back very far. In fact, the first speech that I read, that of Neville Chamberlain, then Minister of Health in 1923, gave succinctly the reasons for there being derating of agriculture, and I mention these to the House because I do not think that they are any longer relevant today. He said then: The purpose of the Bill is to give assistance to agriculture … agriculture is in a desperate situation. Profits in many cases have vanished altogether. Wages have come down to a level which can only be characterised as deplorably low, and, indeed, unless something be done to assist the industry, it is clear that much land which is now arable must either go out of cultivation altogether or else go down to grass … A little later on he went on to emphasise that the Bill was one to relieve agricultural land, not at the expense of other ratepapers in the district, but at the expense of the general tax payer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th June, 1923; Vol.: 64, c. 1787–91.] The reason why he was able to say that was that in those days there was as annual grant from the Government to make up the short-fall in rates to local authorities.

I have three points to make about Neville Chamberlain's remarks in 1923, because I do not think that any of them are relevant to the subject of today's debate. First, in 1923 derating was the only means of giving assistance to agriculture. Second, that assistance was given entirely out of central Government taxation. Third, in those days agriculture did not enjoy the support, prestige or prosperity that it does today.

The position today is that under the Agriculture Acts of 1947 and 1957 agriculture enjoys a large measure of prosperity. In spite of the undoubted shortcomings of the current system, I submit that since 1947 it has enjoyed the longest period of prosperity, if not in British agricultural history, at least since the abolition of the Corn Laws, and, therefore, I do not think that anyone in his right mind could claim that agriculture today is in the situation that it was when it was given derating in 1896 and again in 1923. The reasons for agricultural derating no longer apply.

It is said that farmers are going out of production. This may well be so. Indeed, I know that this is happening on a rather small scale in livestock and pigs, but if farmers are going out of production, it is not because their intensive livestock units are rated. It is because of uncertainty about the future under the Government's import levy system, under the Common Market, and so on. Agriculture is now in a period of flux, and until we know exactly what is involved in the import levy system, and in our going into the Common Market, many farmers will be reluctant to invest more money, and, indeed, perhaps some of the weaker brethren of them will get out of production altogether.

There is one other difference between the position in 1896 and 1923 and the position today. In those days, agriculture was supported out of central Government taxation in the form of this rating relief and a grant from the Ministry of Health. Today the general taxpayer still supports agriculture through the medium of the Annual Review to a great extent, a support which I and most of my hon. Friends fully endorse, but, in addition, the farmer is supported very much by the ratepayer. This is mainly because the rising costs and the increasing scope of local government since 1923 have imposed an increasingly heavy burden on ratepayers in general. In 1923 the rates in Great Britain realised £175 million. In 1969 they realised about £1,650 million, or nearly 10 times as much. That is a very big burden on ratepayers. The extent of rate relief support to agriculture is not known. When I asked the Chancellor a week or so ago for an estimate he could not give me one, for the very good reason mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), that agriculture has not been valued for many years.

I now come to the wording of my right hon. Friend's Amendment, and there are a few words in it which I confess I do not follow. The Motion talks of … intensive animal production of a kind which can in no sense be called agricultural …". I want to address myself to those three words "of a kind". If the English language means anything, these must mean that my right hon. Friends have in mind the fact that there are two sorts of intensive agricultural production, one which justifies derating and one which does not.

I suggest that if agriculture should be derated virtually all intensive farming is agricultural production, whether it takes place in an urban area or in the country, because the intensive producer or factory farmer—whatever one calls him—has exactly the same problems whether he has five acres or two hundred. He has problems of effluent disposal, disease control, management techniques, feeding and so on.

Why should agriculture continue to be derated, and, therefore, why should the Bill take us in the wrong direction? As our largest and most efficient industry, agriculture should be capable of standing on its own feet. It uses industrial methods of production, and there is no reason why it should not be treated as the industry which it has long claimed to be. The whole of agriculture should be rated, except, I propose, in special areas like hill areas, where this could be the means of giving support from the surrounding ratepayers as well as from general taxation.

It may be asked what effect this will have on agriculture. Of course there would be the vast extra costs. But so long as we continue to have an Annual Review and determination of guarantees, I hope that those extra costs, like all others in farming, would be taken into account in determining the level of those guarantees. If agriculture is to stand on its own feet as the Government want it to do, it cannot claim any special privileges with regard to being derated. At the moment it is standing on the feet of ratepayers. If it is to be subsidised—I fully support the subsidisation of agriculture—under the present system, the fairest way of doing it is not through the rates of other people but through central Government taxation.

9.34 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)

Since time is at a premium, I would ask the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) to excuse me for not following him closely.

In my opinion, two of the fundamental characteristics of any legislation are first, it should be realistic, that is, in keeping with the conditions and situation existing at the present time and, second, that there should be the minimum opportunity inherent in the terms of that legislation for inconsistencies and anomalies to occur in its interpretation and implementation. These are but two of the features that should be apparent in any legislation.

It is my intention to draw the attention of the House to a limited number of examples, all taken from my own Bodmin parliamentary division, that highlight the ludicrous situation that can result from the present law as applied to the rating of buildings used for certain types of farm activity. I should add that in my constituency agriculture has always been one of the basic economic pursuits, and I think it will be clear to hon. Members on both sides of the House that the current unsatisfactory position is, in effect, penalising many of those farmers who have simply moved with the times and have adopted new, more advanced and more efficient methods.

My first illustration concerns the rearing of pigs for bacon. We have a situation in which two farmers live within a short distance of one another. Both farms are farmed by genuine farmers, long employed in agriculture, and their fathers before them. Both farmers, as part of their overall farming pattern, are involved in the intensive rearing of weaners for bacon. The intensive unit of one farmer is rated while that of his colleague is not. The only difference between the two in the context of liability for rating is the fact that one of them keeps a couple of sows grazing in the field while the other one does not. This is the basis for one farmer having to incur an additional financial burden through the incidence of the rating premium.

As a second example, I bring to the notice of hon. Members the case of two farmers both of whom include the intensive rearing of poultry as an integral part of their farm programme. Again, the building of one of them is rated while his neighbour's unit is not. The reason is that one of them keeps a few chickens out in the farmyard, which his wife looks after for pin money, and, therefore, he is exempt from rating, but his neighbour is not.

A third case, brought to my notice only this morning, is that of a building used in a farm system for most of the year for storage purposes. For a few months of the year it is used for the fattening of turkeys. That building is not only rated; it is rated on an annual basis and not on a proportion of the year basis.

One could go on giving these illustrations. Mine is a part of the world which has been hit by these various anomalies and somewhat artificial distinctions. I hope it is clear to all hon. Members that the present legislation is most unsatisfactory; that the wide range of interpretation places what I can only describe as an intolerable burden on local district valuers; it can, and certainly does, reduce a farmer's competitiveness in relation to his neighbour's because of this additional overhead through rating. Above all, it acts as a deterrent to the progressive farmer to modernise his methods of production. This must have an adverse effect on the efficiency of those sections of the farming industry thus affected, and in turn must reflect in an unfavourable manner on the final price paid by the consumer for those farm products involved.

For these various reasons, I hope highlighted from my constituency, I certainly welcome this Bill and all that it. stands for.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) on the admirable way in which he demolished the arguments of the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office— —

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

There were not any.

Mr. Molloy

The few there were my hon. Friend demolished quite splendidly.

I was rather disappointed at the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins), who went into the semantics of our Amendment, not realising that although we appreciate his knowledge of agricultural economics some of us are also interested in and have seen some of the appalling behaviour of those using factory farm methods. I pay tribute to the courageous speech of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and, as he has said a good deal that I had intended to say, it will enable me to speak a good deal more briefly. Some of his hon. Friends chivvied and criticised him. They seemed to think that the reasons for the Government relieving people of paying rates, and their methods of doing so, should not be looked into too closely. That is a most amazing doctrine. We may wish to look into all sorts of other practices which the House may discover are not particularly healthy, when, no doubt, some hon. Members will adopt that same attitude.

Some hon. Members opposite asked whether there could arise in this debate any great interest in factory farming, and whether it had any relationship to the Bill. The answer to that must be an unequivocal "Yes", because hon. Members on both sides have earlier referred to the Brambell Report, from which I want to quote. I hope that the quotation will show beyond a scintilla of doubt that people are concerned about factory farming.

In Chapter I of a Report which has now become quite famous, the Brambell Committee stated: We were aware of the extent of public disquiet concerning the welfare of animals kept intensively and consider it incumbent upon us to report as early as possible. Great concern has been shown in the country about intensive and factory farming, so much so that the organisation of which I am President, the National Society for the Abolition of Factory Farming, which represents a reasonable cross-section of British society, has had considerable support from various parts of the House.

Mr. Peter Mills

I am following with great interest what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and ask him a simple question. Does he check carefully all the food he eats, particularly that coming from abroad, where intensive methods are used far more than they are here, and where birds and animals are kept in conditions we would not allow?

Mr. Molloy

That was not just a simple question, but a daft question. Does any hon. Member believe that everyone before sitting down to a meal, whether it be fish and chips or a great banquet, carefully examines the details of what went into it? In this debate the hon. Gentleman's intervention must be the highlight of utter stupidity, and I will now seek to restore the debate to the level at which it had been kept until the hon. Gentleman intervened.

Many eminent men and women assisted Professor Brambell in his Report, and as another exhaustive report, that on the subject of local government, has also condemned any further action in regard to derating I am rather surprised that the Government should so promptly have dived in with this Bill. On the other hand, one can perhaps understand it in that the Government have completely ignored practically every other pledge they have given—whether it was at a stroke or at two strokes. In this modern age, we are talking about a two-stroke Government.

The Government spokesman complimented himself and the Government on redeeming their pledge by introducing a Bill which is designed to give nearly £1 million to people who can well do without it. Even if they are entitled to some form of aid, as some parts of the farming community certainly are, there should be a way of giving them aid without punishing ratepayers.

What the Under-Secretary said reminded me of last Thursday's episode. The same Government who are now to relieve a certain section of the farming industry of having to pay rates to the tune of nearly £1 million pleaded with us and shed crocodile tears while explaining to us why they could not give old age pensioners another 2s. The Under-Secretary should have omitted that part of his argument.

The argument as to whether certain sections of agriculture should be subsidised is outside the scope of the Bill. Some hon. Members opposite believe, as we do, that there must be a constant re-examination of how this great industry is to be aided. I, like the hon. Member for Gillingham, think that in presenting the Bill the Government have helped neither themselves nor the genuine farming community.

Many members of what I call the genuine farming community find the activities of factory farming just as distasteful as some of us in the House of Commons do, and they condemn it. I therefore greatly regret that the Bill has been introduced in this manner. I believe that the Amendment, even though its wording may not be quite correct, is to be commended in spirit. It is an odious thought that factory farming is now to be encouraged in its loathsome activities. There should be more than one hon. Member opposite prepared to join us in the Lobby tonight against the Bill.

9.48 p.m.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

I support the Bill, but for only one reason; namely, that I am against the kind of snooping that has to go on to enforce the rating of intensive agriculture and the kind of snooping that the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) defined when he drew attention to the anomalies in the Bill.

Cases that I have seen in my constituency lead me to believe that it is impossible easily to distinguish between one building and another as to whether they are used for intensive or non-intensive purposes. An extraordinary degree of bitterness is whipped up between farmers and local authority representatives—I was about to say "paid informers". Somebody arrives on a farm and says, "We understand that the barn at the top of your cowshed is being used for chickens." The farmer says, "How did you know?" His visitor says, "I am not going to tell you" Such incidents are causing much bitterness.

The Bill will get rid of that. I know that, unfortunately, it will help people like Eastwood, although I do not think that it will help them much either way.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The hon. Gentleman may or may not be right there, but is not he aware that in our industrial cities people are very annoyed when they are reported as having had central heating put in and they then find not that they are derated but that their rates go up?

Mr. Pardoe

I entirely accept that. It is just as mad to rate radiators as it is to rate five-month-old baconers. The Bill would get rid of one insanity, and I should like to get rid of the others as well.

I come now to the basic question whether agriculture should be derated or not. It has already been said that it was derated originally because it was held to be a depressed industry. The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) quoted some words of Chamberlain, but he quoted them rather derisively, almost suggesting that that situation was a long way back and could never return. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) said that agriculture is not the depressed industry it was in the 1920s. I am bound to say that, if it is not, it is only a question of a fine balance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is only just a question of a fine balance, and more and more people in the far South-West whose views on agriculture I respect are beginning to detect the smell of the 1920s all over again.

The Minister of Agriculture came down to Cornwall and Devon recently and told us that this was not so. I do not think that he had then read the speech of Mr. Plumb, the President of the National Farmers Union, when he spoke of the real danger of a rural slump. My experience—I am sure that it is the experience of many hon. Members in the South-West—is that that is only just round the round the corner. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is no good hon. Members thinking that because farmers have cried "Wolf" for so long we need not believe them. In fact, the wolf is really at the door. Injecting a few million "quid" of taxpayers' money every year at the Price Review will not change the situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is easy for some hon. Members to write the problem off and think that agriculture is doing well enough. It is not doing well enough, and the return on capital is ludicrously small. No one is earning anything like even 2 or 3 per cent. on the value of his agricultural land, let alone a fair wage for his labour and management.

While I accept that agriculture, therefore, has to be derated in its present situation, I realise that the effect in the rural areas will be serious. It will remove from the rural areas the rate income from one of their major industries. I accept the argument that it might be better to rate agriculture and bring money into the industry to pay the increased rates through the mechanism of the Price Review, but farmers are wary about that and do not believe that they will get the money. Indeed, I reckon that they would be on a pretty good hiding to nothing that they would not get it.

I am sad that the Government have introduced the Bill at this stage, only a week or less before the announcement of their proposals for the reform of local government. To my way of thinking, the whole lot should be derated, not just a few intensive agricultural buildings. It is madness to retain the present rating system in our taxation system. If we are to have any kind of rating system, it would be far better simply to rate the value of the land, not the value of the developed buildings, and we could then argue about an exemption for agriculture in that context. However, on the basic issue of removing the anomalies in respect of agricultural buildings, I consider that the Bill ought to be supported, and I shall certainly vote for it.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

I agree with the closing words of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), but I must say that there have been occasions—part of his speech was an example—when there has been exaggeration. One of the dangers we face in agriculture is that people exaggerate the problems, to the point of talking about the 1920s and approaching disaster. There are problems in farming, there is a lack of return on capital, but it is wrong to talk in terms of disaster and a return to the situation in the 1920s.

I agree with the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) when he says that no matter what one's views may be about factory farming or intensive farming, the Bill is not the vehicle for that argument. This Bill relieves a certain proportion of people from rates, and it is correcting an inequality, an injustice, which has gone on over the years. It does not matter what one's feelings are about factory farming, whether one is for or against it. I respect the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), who made a very courageous speech, but I disagree with him. That is neither here nor there. It is not on this Bill that we should have the main debate about whether factory farming should be controlled and how it should be controlled. What we are discussing is the adjusting of an anomaly which has grown up over the years. For many years rating has crept into agricultural buildings, starting with the obvious one of intensive buildings in the South and South-East. Gradually it has spread to the whole of the country.

I welcome the Bill. Now we are in the position of saying that all agricultural buildings shall be derated. I understand the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins), who said that there is a case for rating all agricultural land. There is, of course, and I disagree with it. I believe that it is right that it should not be so rated. That is the honest case to argue on the Bill, either for or against. Here we are bringing all agricultural buildings up to the state when they are derated, no matter to what type of farming use they are put.

The only thing that causes me anxiety is this figure of five acres. Is there any point in having it here? Does it have to be in the same ownership as the person owning the building which is being derated? This can be dealt with in Committee, but I would suggest that it must be in the same ownership or must certainly be rented by that person or else we would get into a difficult position.

The only argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham with which I had some sympathy dealt with the point about "adjacent or contiguous" and how nearly contiguous and adjacent must they be. That is perhaps another Committee point, but it is something that ought to be cleared up now in broad principle. It is true that we are reaching a time when there will be a complete review of the rating system and this is an ideal time for the whole agricultural rating situation to be reviewed. That does not mean that now is not the time to honour our several election pledges and to put right an injustice which undoubtedly affects people. I do not believe that it has bankrupted anyone but it has certainly had an effect. This is why I fully support the Bill.

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

This Bill is fundamentally about agricultural derating and it is significant that virtually no hon. Members opposite have faced up to this. Many people are under the impression that this principle of agricultural derating grew up between the two wars. The Times carried an editorial on the Bill which implied this. The Bill foreshadowed in Churchill's Budget of 1928 had nothing to do with this principle. It related to the derating of productive industries as well as agriculture.

We have to go back to the last century to find any discussion on the question of agricultural derating. During the Second Reading of the Agricultural Rates Congested Districts, and Burgh Land Tax Relief (Scotland) Bill on 11th August, 1896, the Secretary for Scotland said that the purpose of the Bill was to relieve agriculture from the present injustice by lightening the burden of taxation which it had to bear and to that extent mitigating the depression under which agriculture was suffering.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) pointed out, the principle of agricultural derating makes sense only if we regard agriculture as a "poor sister" industry. Surely this is an appropriate time to consider the whole principle of agricultural derating. Hon. Members opposite talk about reforming local government. They have always insisted that the reform of the finance of local government must go hand in hand——

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Proceedings on the Rating Bill may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour during a period of one hour after Ten o'clock, though opposed.—[Mr. Pym.]

Question again proposed, That the Amendment be made.

Mr. Strang

We know that the Government are thinking about the reform of local government finance, but we also know that they are introducing the most radical change in agricultural support since 1947. This is an ideal time to consider the question of derating. The Minister tells us that agriculture should stand on its own feet. That is impossible; our agriculture will always have to be supported. The question is whether it should be done through an agricultural support or a levy system.

Why have the Government brought forward this Measure in such haste? I suggest that it is an attempt to buy popularity with the farmers. If so, it is a cheap attempt. We know why the Government want to buy popularity. Their proposals for agriculture will have serious effects on the industry, and they must try very hard to convince the industry that they are its friends. I have never understood why some people argue that Conservatives are the friends of the agriculture industry. They are certainly the friends of the landlords, but they are not the friends of the farmers—and they are certainly not the friends of the agricultural workers. After the Under-Secretary's role in closing the sugar beet factory at Coupar, I can understand why he should be anxious to improve his standing with the agriculture industry in Scotland.

I agree that the Bill removes some anomalies in respect of the derating of agriculture. I agree that there is no reason why we should inhibit the development of intensive and more efficient farming. I also submit that it is not relevant to talk about animal welfare. Brambell did not advocate the derating of agriculture; it argued that the problem of animal welfare should be tackled. If the Bill had been presented as a trivial agricultural measure to tidy up some anomalies we might have accepted it, although it is badly drafted. On the contrary, it has been presented as an important advance in agriculture.

We have even been told that it will help our balance of payments. The Under-Secretary knows that the question of rating is trivial in terms of the extension of intensive livestock farming. A much more important factor is the price of barley.

The Bill is not a serious attempt to help the agriculture industry; it is brought forward with highly dubious motives, and we must wait to see what the Government really are going to do for the industry.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

I take a totally different view from that of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang). I do not think that this is what might be called a doctrinaire Bill at all. To my way of thinking, it is clearing up some very definite anomalies which have recently occurred in agriculture and its rating. Also, as my hon. Friends have said, it redeems a pledge which we made to the electorate in 1970. I think that is a perfectly reasonable thesis on which to bring forward a Bill of this nature, and I support it. Certainly, there are one or two questions I should like to put to my hon. Friend, and I hope that, at the end of the debate, he will be able to satisfy my curiosity.

This Bill really has its genesis in the Act of 1956. Does the hon. Gentleman want to interrupt?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

An hon. Friend of mine asked me a question and I said did not know but that I would ask the hon. Gentleman. It is this. Is the hon. Gentleman a farmer?

Mr. Baker

Yes. I thought the House was aware of that fact. I apologise for not declaring an interest at the start.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Hear, hear.

Mr. Baker

As I was saying, this Bill has its genesis in the Act of 1956, and if any further justification for bringing forward the Bill were needed it is to be found in the words of the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) in speaking to the Valuation for Rating (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Grand Committee on 11th November, 1969, when he said that the 1956 Act provided explicitly, from the quinquennial revaluation in 1961, for the rating of the dwellinghouse, and fully derated agricultural lands and heritages"— which, in Scotland, means buildings— which were defined as including agricultural buildings, but to qualify for full agricultural derating, a building on agricultural land is required to be used for agricultural purposes only, and also has to be used solely in connection with operations on agricultural land in the same occupation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Grand Committee, 11th November, 1969; c. 3.] That, as I say, seems to me full justification for bringing forward the Bill, and it is really an indictment of the Opposition in moving their Amendment tonight.

The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) mentioned tonight a figure of £172,000, which was the amount of money received from rates on agricultural land. He may look at his notes, but I can assure him that I took that point down. That is, surely, an extraordinarily small sum in relation to the total amount of rates which are collected in Scotland—an extremely small sum. It highlights the anomaly which we have. In my constituency I have had complaints from farmers in one parish that they have been rated on a type of intensive unit while others in other parishes have not been rated on the same type of building when carrying out exactly the same job in exactly the same circumstances and not very far away. It is this kind of anomaly that we wish to get rid of. It also seems anomalous to me that one type of agricultural building should be rated and others should not. Again, that is an anomaly we want to be rid of.

There are three questions I would ask my hon. Friend. Two of them refer speci fically to Scotland, and one is a general question. The first question concerns lotted lands. That, I assume, is a purely Scottish question, but, nevertheless, it is of great importance. I do not know, to be perfectly frank, whether it is a major or a minor question. Certainly, in my constituency it will be a problem in relation to the buildings covered by the Bill. It refers to the case where a steading has become built upon by ordinary commercial buildings or ordinary dwellinghouses and the land on which the animals feed is some way away. This raises the question, what is contiguous and what is adjacent. It also occurs where, by right, certain farmers whose farm buildings are within a village or a small township have the right by law to use certain common grazings out-with the burgh or village boundary. Will these people be protected under the terms of the Bill? It may be that they will to a larger or a lesser extent, and I am a little worried about the 5-acre provision—perhaps it should be enlarged.

Then there is the case where, again through the growth of urban development, a steading has been left behind within the village or town and the land is outwith the burgh or village boundary where other building has crept on to the agricultural land. Again, is this in the same category as lotted lands?

Finally, as there is a possibility—of which I personally am not altogether in favour—of us joining the Common Market, what is the position in the E.E.C. on the rating of farm buildings? Are we merely passing a law which will have to be scrapped if we should go into the Common Market?

I welcome the Bill because it will iron out a number of anomalies. Without doubt, the effect of rating of the intensive unit has acted as a disincentive to increased production, and for that additional reason I welcome the Bill.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

If I were to follow the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) into his explorations of the Common Market I might get intrigued by the subject and be all too soon ruled out of order. So the best contribution I can make is to point out how wide-ranging the debate has been and how wide-ranging have been the views. I do not say this in a derogatory sense, but there have been differing views on the same side of the House, whether on the Government or the Opposition side.

The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. John Stradling Thomas) in an elegant and pleasing maiden speech which I know the House was delighted to hear, talked about farmers making miniscule profits, but that view was not shared by his hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), and there have been similar divergences on my side of the House.

The questions which we have to decide tonight fall under three main headings. The Under-Secretary of State in his closing remarks waved the flag of war rather too proudly. He gave the impression that on the Government side every hon. Member was bursting to help the farmers and that on the Opposition side every hon. Member was bursting to destroy them. Like most exaggerations, it is pleasant to listen to, but it does not mean much. We are really discussing a much more serious question: whether the basis that is being chosen to assess agriculture is the correct one. That is all.

Shall agriculture be derated? That was a question put by many hon. Members on both sides. The hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple), wearing his local government hat rather than his farmer's hat, was the first to ask it. My hon. Friends the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) asked whether derating was the best way in which we could help farmers. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) reminded us that the Minister of Agriculture believed that the best way to help farmers is to have them stand on their own feet, as he would put it. and my hon. Friend the Member for aWlthamstow, West, talked about agriculture being forced to stand on its own feet——

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Lame duck.

Mr. Silkin

—webbed feet or not, on its own feet at any rate.

This is a vital question. One of my hon. Friends pointed out that this is a rating Bill. For that reason, I do not feel, any more than the Minister does, I am sure, quite so alarmed at the stricture that neither he nor I is a practising farmer. We know a little about rates, and perhaps that is not inappropriate.

We are bound to be very interested in the thoughts and opinions of the Association of Municipal Corporations and to be influenced by the near-probability that there will be a Green Paper or a White Paper—or whatever colour it may be—on local government finance in the relatively near future. It seems extraordinary that we should be going through the Second Reading of this Bill, to be followed by all the remaining stages, at a time when the House is rather pressed for time, when tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, in the sense used in the House, we shall have the Green Paper on local government finance.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

Instant Government.

Mr. Silkin

This is rather on a par with the impetuous nature of the Minister. [Interruption.] Oh, thoroughly. In general, he is well able to argue his case, but I wonder whether this impetuosity has not come a little too speedily. I do not say that the local authorities are complaining about not being consulted, but in their briefing they have said that they had consultations with the Minister in, I think, December, and that does not seem to give much time for consideration and for suggesting Amendments, which the local authorities are perfectly capable of doing and should be allowed to do.

The Green Paper will presumably say that rating is to continue to be the principal source of revenue. One of the points the local authorities have raised is this: if that is so, should not all the exemptions to rating go? In that way, all of the community will be brought within the rating system, which will be fair to the ratepayers as a whole. Our saying that we must consider the question of rating in this Bill, or in any other, does not mean that we on this side are unwilling to help agriculture. On the contrary, it means that we want to help in the most sensible way, and we do not think that this is the most sensible way to do it.

The first question which must be asked is: is derating the answer in any event? The second question that one would need to ask is: if the answer is, "Yes, the most effective way to assist agriculture is to derate", is the practice which we have heard described today in fact agriculture?

I freely admit that I am not a farmer. I am a former lawyer, with some knowledge of Latin, whose Latin taught him that agriculture meant the cultivation of fields. This is a point of view which, as I have been told by the Under-Secretary, is obviously 20 years out of date, as technology has come along, and I must be prepared for its advance. Nevertheless, I am mildly reassured that my point of view was shared by the highest judicial authority in the country, in Eastwood v. Herod, which took a very simple criterion in the law as it is today. Their Lordships said that the real test was whether the building put up was necessary to the cultivation of the land. If it was, it was part of agriculture. In that case, if agriculture was to be derated, it was to be derated. Or was it the other way round, as they said in this case, "Is the land merely used to assist the building?", because in the case of Eastwood v. Herod the land was used to provide barley for the feeding of hens, cockerels and chickens, and for no other purpose whatsoever? The feeding stuff might just as well have been imported, not from the farms around, not from five or 50 acres around, but from across the seas.

Is a building in which animals are produced intensively necessarily agricultural? The Under-Secretary did us an injustice here. It is not necessarily an agricultural process. It is not even necessarily a natural process connected with the land. For these reasons, even if one accepts that agriculture has to be derated, it does not necessarily follow that the buildings in which these animals eke out their lives are also agricultural. Indeed, the Under-Secretary's own country, in its wisdom—because the Scots have a great deal more common sense than the English, and I did not mention the Welsh as you will realise, Mr. Speaker—gave a 50 per cent. derating to these buildings because they rightly regarded them as industrial, and industrial buildings were 50 per cent. derated. Full marks to them for their sense and logic. I am sorry that at this moment his Scottish sense and logic have deserted the Under-Secretary, because otherwise he could see that this is really an industrial process.

I appreciate that the present Bill originated from a promise in the Conservative Party election manifesto. I am never certain about instant election promises, any more than I am about instant government. After all—[Interruption]—today of all days we know that, because the Conservative Party's election manifesto also said that the party was against further nationalisation. I nearly said "ill thought out" instant promises are not very good politics. What the Conservative manifesto said which led to the Bill was: We will free from rates all buildings which a farmer uses for producing food from his land. But, as we have just discovered, and as their lordships pointed out in Eastwood v. Herrod, this is not the case of an intensive farming building of the sort that we are discussing.

As certain of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) have pointed out, the expression "food" receives rather a wide meaning in the Bill. The definition which comes in Clause 1(3) refers us straight back to Section 109(3) of the Agriculture Act, 1947. In one of those splendid definitions which the Minister dislikes as much as I do because it is merely an inclusive definition saying that something "shall include" the thing, it defines "livestock" as including any creature kept for the production of food, wool, skins or fur". It means that in this Bill, enabling the derating of an industrial building which can produce not only food but wool, skins and fur—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Rabbits and minks.

Mr. Silkin

—one cannot help feeling that the Minister, in his impetuosity, has gone a little further than the Conservative election manifesto.

The right hon. Gentleman has great goodness of heart. Probably the thought of people suffering from an insufficiency of food was dominant in his mind and made him bring forward the Bill so quickly. The thought that they might be freezing in our climate also prompted him to extend derating to buildings used for the rearing of mink, chinchilla and silver fox, the well known clothing of the people of this country.

However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) pointed out, the Bill goes too far, anyway. In Clause 2(4) a building is described as one that is contiguous to five acres of agricultural land and, what is more, five acres of agricultural land which need not necessarily belong to the person who has the building. The Bill is even more helpful to the man who has the industrial building in which these practices take place because it says in Clause 2(4) that, in calculating the five acres of contiguous land, there shall be disregarded any road, railway or water course". One could have the extraordinary situation where it would be possible to get agricultural derating on an intensive factory farm building situated in the East End of London and separated by first a road, then a railway, and then the River Thames from five acres of farmland on the other side of the river.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

Would not that sort of construction be governed by planning controls?

Mr. Silkin

No. If it was in an industrial area, it would be very likely if not certain that planning permission would be granted.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Prior)

Highly unlikely.

Mr. Silkin

The Minister, that well known planning expert, disagrees with me. However, I take the opposite view.

The other interesting feature is that if all or part of the five acres on the other side of the Thames were to be built upon—let us say that one acre had houses built upon it quite suddenly—the poor intensive farmer whom the Minister is trying to derate would find himself rated again.

Several hon. Members have talked about anomalies, but a great number of anomalies will be created if this legisla- tion ever reaches the Statute Book. One has to face some anomalies in this life. They are the anomalies which come from dividing lines and limits. But we should be most anxious to avoid the anomalies that we ourselves make.

The third basis of discussion today was concerned with the treatment of the animals inside these industrialised factory buildings. Certain hon. Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East was one—said that this had nothing to do with the subject. The hon. Member for the City of Chester said that, after all, there are ways and means of dealing with cruelty to animals and we do not therefore need to regard them when we consider the Bill. But we must take things into account, and this is one factor which must be considered.

The effect of the Bill must be to extend the factory farming. I am no expert on this matter and do not claim to be. The hon. Member for Gillingham and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) know far more about it than I ever shall. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck) made a very moving speech about the subject. But if they are right and if, as the local authorities say, there is no violent hurry for the Bill, because we have a Green Paper coming, we should be wise to drag our feet a little and say to ourselves, "If we are really going to intensify, increase, a system which is cruel to animals, let us have another look at it in the meantime."

The Bill is not essential for anybody's sake. I have tried to show that it is not essential for the farmer's sake, and it is certainly not essential for the community's sake. We have a chance today to consider it. Nothing will be lost. Even the Under-Secretary, in his passionate party polemical speech, was unable really to get hold of any great enthusiasm for a division across the line. It is not a very important Measure. It is, however, a Measure which contains a number of principles which we should be unwise to throw away too easily.

My hon. Friends and I have moved an Amendment. The Under-Secretary thought that we were being extravagant in our use of language. I think that was possibly because the hon. Gentleman had not read the Amendment and, therefore, thought that the word "significantly" was included in it. We never said that the ratepayers as a whole would be "significantly" penalised, only that they would be penalised. Indeed, they will be penalised. If the Under-Secretary will permit a little research of my own in an area which he knows well—the north-eastern counties of Scotland and Angus—the difference in rateable value is over £50,000. I do not think that the lion. Gentleman will be telling the electors of Angus and Mearns that this is unimportant and that I am using extravagant language.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I fought the election in that area, and it was in my election address; so there is no question of trying to hide anything, as I said earlier.

Mr. Silkin

I think that what was in the hon. Gentleman's election address was, We will free from rates all buildings which a farmer uses for producing food from his land. That, as I have been endeavouring to point out to the hon. Gentleman, is very different from what the Bill is trying to provide.

I call upon my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Amendment.

10.34 p.m.

The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)

I first offer my congratulations, very sincerely, to my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. John Stradling Thomas) on his maiden speech, which was given with confidence, with eloquence, with some humour, and certainly with great knowledge of subject. His knowledge has been recognised outside the House by his membership of the N.F.U. committees, and it will now be recognised inside the House. It was very pleasant to listen to my hon. Friend's pinpointing of detail and yet very apt statements of principle. He said that as a result of the Bill loss may fall on rural authorities, and I promise him that this fact will not be overlooked when we come to the extensive review of local government revenue as a whole, which I shall mention later.

I do not intend to pretend that the Bill is anything other than a Measure to bring buildings used for intensive livestock farming into the area of agricultural derating. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) said this, and I accept what he said. The man-in-the-street will probably be amazed to learn that buildings where 99 per cent. of the broilers sold in this country are reared and the buildings in which 90 per cent. of the pork and bacon sold in this country spend their pig life are not in law agricultural buildings. I am sure that this sort of anomaly will come as something of a shock to the ordinary man.

Hon. Members have spoken of that kind of anomaly from their practical experience from one end of Great Britain to the other. In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), in a short and effective speech, showed some of the anomalies, and at the other end of the country my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker), from his practical knowledge, gave us some other examples, but I regret that his reference to lotted land does not give me the chance to give away anything to him because, as I understand it, lotted land is land within a village, and will not have the necessary five acres of agricultural land round it to qualify under the Bill. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), too, gave some examples from his experience, and I think he was right in thinking that there would be less snooping—I use his word—under the Bill, and, therefore, a reduction in manpower.

It is right that a Bill of this kind should give rise to discussions upon wider subjects than the narrow subject of the Bill, and we have had discussions on the incidence of rates, on the justification for derating, on the welfare of animals, even upon the Common Market and the law of rating going back to 1896. But the Bill itself is a modest Measure. It does not seek to embark on any great reform of the law of rating or, indeed, of the law relating to animal welfare. It is based upon the straightforward provisions of Section 26(1) of the General Rate Act, 1967, which says clearly: No agricultural land or agricultural buildings shall be liable to be rated or to be included in any valuation list or in any rate. One would think that any building in which poultry, pigs or cattle were reared would be an agricultural building, but under the existing law an agricultural building is not an agricultural building unless it is occupied together with agricultural land and is used solely in connection with agricultural operations thereon, or unless it is used solely in connection with agricultural operations carried on on agricultural land in the same occupation as the building. So, to be exempt under the present law from rating. buildings must be used for a purpose which is subsidiary to, or complementary to, the use of the agricultural land. It is not sufficient, as it was held in the Eastwood case, that the land produces one-eighth of the barley used in the broiler house, or that cockerels strut about on the land. That is insufficient under the present law. The use of the building must be subsidiary to the agricultural use of the land. It seems no more than common sense to provide, as the Bill does, that any building used for keeping or breeding livestock shall be an agricultural building and enjoy exemption from rating.

Of course, one has to qualify that so that one is defining in a recognisable and reasonable and practical way. In order to qualify for this derating, the building must not be used for any other purpose for more than an insubstantial period of the year. I am not sure that this would cover the multi-purpose uses to which my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) referred, but at least it overcomes some of the anomalies of a de minimis use of the land for some other purpose during the year.

In order to qualify for this exemption, a building must also stand in five acres of agricultural land. I do not justify that by the fact that it is the nearest figure to two hectares when we convert to metrication, but it is justifiable as perhaps an arbitrary figure which is sufficient to exclude urban buildings. I can see that there will be many Committee points on this definition, but we have made a first shot at it. and we shall be only too open to consider constructive suggestions in Committee.

I can dispose at once of the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). The area of the buildings does not count towards the five acres. It is a well-established principle of agricultural law that agricultural land does not include the area covered by buildings.

What is the alternative to the Bill? Are we to let the law continue——

Mr. Loughlin

If there is an extensive farm project in the rural district of Newent in my constituency, which is paying rates, does the Bill provide for that intensive farming unit to be excluded from rates, and will the other ratepayers in the area have to find the money to give that exemption?

Mr. Page

I can answer that briefly now, and probably in more detail later. A building qualifies under the Bill as an agricultural building if it is for intensive farming, and if it has five acres around it, it will enjoy the benefit of derating. The area within which it is situated may receive a benefit from the resources element in return for any loss which it may suffer. It may be one of those which are not receiving the resources element, but on the whole the loss of rates—I will come to the figure in a moment—will be spread so that it does not affect each area to any great extent.

Mr. Mackie

The hon. Gentleman continually uses the phrase "surrounded by", but the Bill also refers to land "contiguous to" the building. The building to which my hon. Friend refers could be in an urban area; so long as it had five acres next to it, it would be covered.

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. It could be on the edge of five acres. It need not have any land surrounding it, so long as the five acres were contiguous to it. What we are saying under the existing law is that if one farms by the inefficient method of letting one's hens or pigs run around in the fields, rates are not payable, but that a farmer who farms in the efficient way pays full rates. Some producers are rated and some are not.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

This is a serious point. The hon. Gentleman says that if a farmer is using industrial or high production methods within an area of 5 acres, he can be derated. He then ex- plains the necessity for getting higher production. If there is in my constituency, which is purely industrial, a person who wants to set up a building to do exactly the same as a farmer in a country area, he has to pay a very high rate. Even though he probably has the same number of hens and carries on the same work, he pays a high rate.

Mr. Page

That is true. The hon. Gentleman has stated the purport of the Bill correctly. The point is that we do not want this form of agricultural industry in the urban areas. It is as simple as that. We have given this rather arbitrary figure of 5 acres to make certain that this sort of business will not be carried on in an urban area.

The present law—and I understand the Opposition case today—is that we shall derate only the farmer who has mud on his boots; that we shall not derate the fellow who is carrying out efficient farming. The fact is that because this livestock husbandry is most efficiently carried out by bought-in food, it has lost its direct connection with the neighbouring land. Therefore, we do not require the land to be in the occupation of the person who is operating the building. It is an agricultural operation—intensive livestock farming standing on its own as an agricultural operation. The real purpose of tying it to 5 acres of land is to refuse relief where those operations are not wanted and would be harmful.

The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) asked what has been the development of intensive livestock husbandry over the year. I cannot give him a graph of how it has increased. I can only tell him where it has reached at the moment. In England and Wales there are 2,700 buildings of this type rated. That is 1 per cent. of the total agricultural buildings which are rated. In Scotland there are 1,300 units rated. I cannot say that they are all separate buildings, because sometimes they are grouped. That is just over 2 per cent. of the total agricultural buildings. The range of rateable values of these buildings is very wide. We had the example of the Eastwood case, which was a fantastically large building, where the rateable value was about £30,000. But the smallest case which is now before the courts is a pig farrowing unit at Warrington with a suggested gross value of £50.

There are no statistics by rating area of assessments of these livestock units, but I give some examples from those who have written complaining to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the rating of their buildings: in Kent, 8 acres of land, a pig fattening unit, £69 per annum; one from my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, a 22,000 broiler chicken house, £380 per annum; Wiltshire, 2,000 laying hens in a building, £698 per annum; Suffolk, 3,000 hens and 35 sows, building rated at £317 per annum; Yorkshire, 2,500 laying hens, £150 per annum.

These are the sort of figures. We are not talking about relieving the big boys of farming all the way through. It is also the reasonable-sized farmer who will benefit from this derating.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Can we have the figures for the industry as such—its annual turnover? The hon. Gentleman has told us that 99 per cent. of broilers come from these units and 90 per cent. or so of bacon. But please may we have the annual turnover of intensive animal production units?

Mr. Page

If one of those mysterious little notes arrives in the next 10 minutes the hon. Gentleman may get the figures. I am not sure that we have them, though, but if I am unable to give them to him now I shall write to him with the information.

If this Measure would mean rewarding cruelty to animals I can assure the House that we would not undertake it, but I cannot understand how the use of these buildings as being subsidiary to the agricultural use of the land means the welfare of the animals. All we do here is to say that these buildings need not be subsidiary to agricultural purposes of the land in order to enjoy derating.

I have very great respect for the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham—I know that those views are very sincerely held—but I can assure him that the new definition of "agricultural building" can have no effect one way or the other on the welfare of animals. He will know that the Brambell Committee which was set up as long ago as 1964 and reported in 1965, found that the use of intensive systems of husbandry would not in themselves be regarded as objectionable, and might even benefit the animals themselves, but that certain practices were contrary to animal welfare and needed to be controlled.

My hon. Friend will remember that a number of major recommendations were made by the Brambell Committee and were put into the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1968, that the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee was established in 1967, and that the codes which were prepared came before both Houses of Parliament, and received an overwhelming majority in another place and passed this House without a Division.

But, as my hon. Friend said, everyone is not satisfied with the contents of these codes and a further report has been received from the advisory committee. On the results of its re-examination and advice from all the important bodies concerned, the proposed changes were circulated by the Government for further observations from those bodies on 25th November last. We are now awaiting the result of that consultation. I cannot give my hon. Friend any undertaking as to what might come out, except that the Government will certainly abide by the good advice which they may receive from the advisory committee and all the interested bodies.

The Opposition's case as set out in the Amendment is twofold. It is, first, that intensive animal production is in no sense agricultural and, secondly, that we are penalising the ratepayers as a whole. I cannot believe that the first point is seriously put forward. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) said that the real test was: is this operation necessary to the cultivation of the land? Of course that is the real test under the present Statute, and that is why the House of Lords decided as it did at the time. It is this award that we are altering, and we believe that in common sense anyone would believe that these were agricultural operations.

The point about penalising the ratepayers is very important. This is, after all the Rating Bill, and we have to consider to what extent we are moving the burden of the rates. It can be argued that agricultural derating in general penalises the ratepayer, but this remained throughout the term of office of the Labour Government and the Labour Party, now in opposition, is committed to the Acts of 1947 and 1948. It is committed even to derating mink farms. I am not so sure that I am so keen on passing on the derating in this case. Certainly when I drafted the Bill I did not have in mind the young lady who said she would do anything for a mink coat and who, now that she has got it, cannot button it up.

All these subjects are worthy of public debate. We hope to stimulate a public debate on this as soon as possible, a public debate not only on derating but on the whole matter of local government revenue. Later this year we shall issue a Green Paper on this subject, and we can debate in full the sorts of problem which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Greenock, by my hon Friend the Member for the City of Chester and, in an interesting speech about subsidies to agriculture, by the Member for Nottingham, West.

So for the present all we are doing is removing an anomaly in rating and bringing in a measure of justice. The anomaly appeared as a result of the Eastwood case only a year ago, and the present law makes no more sense than it would, for example, to say to a farmer, "If you use fertilisers on your crops we will rate you." There will still be some anomalies. My hon Friend the Member for the City of Chester seemed to imagine that oysters would be derated. I regret to say that oysters are not agricultural creatures and that whatever buildings they are housed in will not be derated. Nor, I regret to say, will bees.

I can hold out a hope to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) that we can do something about the ponies he mentioned. We do it better in England, and I think we can amend the law slightly in Scotland on this point.

Finally, I take very seriously the comment by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) concerning the effect on the environment. In the course of the passage of the Bill I hope that we shall be able to study this point. It may not be the right Bill in which to bring in any amendment of this sort, but I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members have had complaints from constituents about the seriousness of these buildings to the environment. It is not necessarily the right Bill for that, but we can study it on this Bill.

Government is a matter of balancing desirable objectives, but in this case it is

balancing the desirable objective of the efficient production of food against animal welfare and conservation of the environment, and we shall try to achieve that balance.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 218, Noes 282.

Division No. 126.] AYES [10.59 p.m.
Albu, Austen Fraser, John (Norwood) Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Freeson, Reginald Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Allen, Scholefield Galpern, Sir Myer Mayhew, Christopher
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Garrett, W. E. Meacher, Michael
Armstrong, Ernest Gilbert, Dr. John Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Ashton, Joe Ginsburg, David Mendelson, John
Atkinson, Norman Golding, John Mikardo, Ian
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Gourlay, Harry Millan, Bruce
Barnes, Michael Grant, George (Morpeth) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Barnett, Joel Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Beaney, Alan Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Molloy, William
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Bishop, E. S. Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hamling, William Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Booth, Albert Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Bradley, Tom Hardy, Peter Moyle, Roland
Broughton, Sir Alfred Harrison, Waiter (Wakefield) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Hattersley, Roy Murray, Ronald King
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Heffer, Eric S. Ogden, Eric
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Horam, John O'Halloran, Michael
Buchan, Norman Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas O'Malley, Brian
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Huckfield, Leslie Oram, Bert
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Orbach, Maurice
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Orme, Stanley
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Oswald, Thomas
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Hunter, Adam Palmer, Arthur
Cohen, Stanley Janner, Greville Pavitt, Laurie
Coleman, Donald Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Pendry, Tom
Concannon, J. D. Jeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.) Perry, Ernest C.
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Prescott, John
Crawshaw, Richard Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Cronin, John John, Brynmor Rankin, John
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Grossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Richard, Ivor
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Dan (Burnley) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W.Ham,S.) Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Davidson, Arthur Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Judd, Frank Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Br'c'n&R'elnor)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Kaufman, Gerald Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kinnock, Neil Roper, John
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Latham, Arthur Rose, Paul B.
Deakins, Eric Lawson, George Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Leadbitter, Ted Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Dell, Rt Hn. Edmund Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Short,Rt.Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Doig, Peter Leonard, Dick Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton,N.E.)
Dormand, J. D. Lestor, Miss Joan Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Sillars, James
Driberg, Tom Lomas, Kenneth Silverman, Julius
Duffy, A. E. P. Loughlin, Charles Skinner, Dennis
Dunnett, Jack Mahon, Dr. J. Dickson Small, William
Eadie, Alex McBride, Neil Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Edelman, Maurice McCartney, Hugh Spearing, Nigel
Ellis, Tom McElhone, Frank Stallard, A. W.
English, Michael McGuire, Michael Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Evans, Fred Mackenzie, Gregor Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Fernyhough, E. Mackie, John Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Fisher,Mrs.Doris(B'ham,Ladywood) Mackintosh, John P. Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Strang, Gavin
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) McNamara, J. Kevin Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) MacPherson, Malcolm Swain, Thomas
Foley, Maurice Mallalieu, J. P. W.(Huddersfield, E.) Taverne, Dick
Foot, Michael Marks, Kenneth Thomas,Rt.Hn.George(Cardiff,W.)
Ford, Ben Marquand, David Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Torney, Tom Watkins, David Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Tuck, Raphael Weitzman, David Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Urwin, T. W. Wellbeloved, James Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Varley, Eric G. Wells, William (Walsall, N.) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Wainwright, Edwin White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints) Whitehead, Phillip TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Whitlock, William Mr. Joseph Harper and
Wallace, George Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.) Mr. James Hamilton.
Adley, Robert Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Knox, David
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Fidler, Michael Lambton, Anthony
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Lane, David
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Le Marchant, Spencer
Astor, John Fookes, Miss Janet Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Atkins, Humphrey Fortescue, Tim Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey(Sut'nC'dfield)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Foster, Sir John Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Fowler, Norman Longden, Gilbert
Balniel, Lord Fox, Marcus Loveridge, John
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Fry, Peter McAdden, Sir Stephen
Batsford, Brian Galbraith, Hn. T. C. MacArthur, Ian
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Gibson-Watt, David McCrindle, R. A.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) McLaren, Martin
Benyon, W. Glyn, Dr. Alan Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
Berry, Hn. Anthony Goodhart, Philip Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Biffen, John Goodhew, Victor McNair-Wilson, Michael
Biggs-Davison, John Gorst, John NcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Blaker, Peter Gower, Raymond Maddan, Martin
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Gray, Hamish Madel, David
Body, Richard Green, Alan Maginnis, John E.
Boscawen, Robert Grieve, Percy Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest
Bosom, Sir Clive Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Marten, Neil
Bowden, Andrew Gummer, Selwyn Mather, Carol
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Gurden, Harold Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
Braine, Bernard Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Mawby, Ray
Bray, Ronald Hall, John (Wycombe) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Brewis, John Hall-Davis, A. C. F. Meyer, Sir Anthony
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Hannam, John (Exeter) Miscampbell, Norman
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Moate, Roger
Bryan, Paul Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Molyneaux, James
Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus,N&M) Haselhurst, Alan Monks, Mrs. Connie
Buck, Antony Hastings, Stephen Monro, Hector
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Havers, Michael Montgomery, Fergus
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Hawkins, Paul Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Carlisle, Mark Hayhoe, Barney Morgan-Giles, Rear Adm.
Channon, Paul Heseltine, Michael Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Chapman, Sydney Hicks, Robert Mudd, David
Chataway, Rt. Hn. James Higgins, Terence L. Murton, Oscar
Chichester-Clark, R. Hiley, Joseph Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Churchill, W. S. Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Neave, Airey
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Hill James (Southampton, Test) Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Holland, Philip Nobel, Rt. Hn. Michael
Clegg, Walter Holt, Miss Mary Normanton, Tom
Cockeram, Eric Hordern, Peter Nott, John
Cooke, Robert Hornby, Richard Onslow, Cranley
Coombs, Derek Hornsby-Smith,Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Cooper, A. E. Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Osborn, John
Cornell, Rt. Hn. Frederick Howell, David (Guildford) Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Cormack, Patrick Howell, Ralph Page, Graham (Crosby)
Costain, A. P. Hunt, John Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Crouch, David Hutchison, Michael Clark Pardoe, John
Crowder, F. P. Iremonger, T. L. Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.)
Curran, Charles Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Percival, Ian
Dalkeith, Earl of James, David Peyton, Rt. Hn. John
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Jenkin, Patrick Pike, Miss Mervyn
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Pink, R. Bonner
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. Jack Jessel, Toby Pounder, Rafton
Dighy, Simon Wingfield Johnson, Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Dixon, Piers Jopling, Michael Price, David (Eastleigh)
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec Kaberry, Sir Donald Proudfoot, Wilfred
Drayson, G. B. Kellett, Mrs. Elaine Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Dykes, Hugh Kershaw, Anthony Quennell, Miss J. M.
Eden, Sir John Kilfedder, James Raison, Timothy
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Kimball, Marcus Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Emery, Peter King Tom (Bridgewater) Redmond, Robert
Farr, John Kinsey, J. R. Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Fell, Anthony Kirk, Peter Rees, Peter (Dover)
Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Stainton, Keith Vickers, Dame Joan
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Stanbrook, Ivor Waddington, David
Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Steel, David Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Ridsdale, Julian Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper) Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.) Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. Wall, Patrick
Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Stuttatord, Dr. Tom Walters, Dennis
Rost, Peter Sutcliffe, John Ward, Dame Irene
Russell, Sir Ronald Tapsell, Peter Warren, Kenneth
St. John-Stevas, Norman Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Weatherill, Bernard
Sandys, Rt Hn. D. Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Scott, Nicholas Taylor, Frank (Moss Side) White, Roger (Gravesend)
Scott-Hopkins, James Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Sharples, Richard Tebbit, Norman Wiggin, Jerry
Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Temple, John M. Wilkinson, John
Shelton, William (Clapham) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Simeons, Charles Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth) Worsley, Marcus
Skeet, T. H. H. Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.) Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.) Younger, Hn. George
Soref, Harold Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Speed, Keith Tilney, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Spence, John Trew, Peter Mr. Reginald Eyre and
Sproat, Iain Tugendhat, Christopher Mr. Jasper More.

Main Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 39 (Amendment on second or third reading), and agreed to.