§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF ERNE
My Lords, before moving the Second Reading of this Bill, may I crave your Lordships' indulgence and patience on this the first occasion on which I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships' House? It may be convenient that I should, in moving the Second Reading of this short but necessarily somewhat complex Bill, remind your Lordships quite briefly of the origin and history of railway freight rebates. I 332 shall then endeavour to state the course of the events which have rendered the Bill necessary and explain the broad lines of the solution which the Bill propounds. In 1929 Parliament decided that industry should be assisted by being relieved of three-quarters of the burden falling upon it in the form of local rates, and by the Local Government Act of that year it was enacted that the rateable values of industrial hereditaments should henceforth be taken to be one-quarter of their net annual values. At the same time freight transport hereditaments—that is, railways, canals and docks, were similarly derated, but in their case it was directed that the relief should not be given to the owners, but should be passed on to their customers in the form of reductions in or rebates from transport charges. In the case of the railways Parliament went further and prescribed a system of rebates to be allowed by the railway companies from the carriage charges for certain specified traffics called "selected traffics" of the three basic industries—coal mining, iron and steel, and agriculture.
Briefly, a Fund, known as the Railway Freight Rebates Fund, was to be established in which the rate relief of the railway companies was to be pooled and from which there was to be refunded to each of the companies the amounts of the rebates allowed by it to the selected traffics. The Railway Rates Tribunal was charged with the duty of approving a detailed scheme and of fixing the rates of the rebates to be allowed from time to time in such a way that coal selected traffics received rebates amounting to 70 per cent., agricultural selected traffics 20 per cent., and other selected traffics 10 per cent. of the net revenue of the Fund. For this purpose the Tribunal have to estimate the rate relief of the railway companies and the amounts of the railway carriage charges which will be paid on each group of selected traffics.
The scheme began to operate accordingly on October 1, 1929. In the following year there was passed the Railways (Valuation for Rating) Act, 1930, which provided for the revaluation of the railways in cumulo. This Act of if 30 involved a complete revaluation of the railways for rating purposes at quinquennial intervals beginning in the financial year 1931. The revaluation of the 333 railways has proved to be a lengthy process, and has involved legal proceedings including an appeal to your Lordships' House. Meanwhile the railway companies have been rated, and have paid into the Rebates Fund, on the basis of provisional assessments in existence prior to 1931. It is only within the last few months that the rating authorities and the railway companies have agreed upon the valuations in cumulo in respect of the last quinquennial period (1931 to 1936) and the present quinquennium (1936 to 1941).
The position which has resulted in the Railway Freight Rebates Fund is briefly this: The payments of rate relief by the railway companies under the provisional valuations have been in the neighbourhood of £4,000,000 a year, whereas on the basis of the valuations recently agreed they should have been not much more than half that amount. In the present quinquennium they are likely to be about £2,300,000. Now this means that the companies will have paid into the Rebates Fund up to the 31st December next a sum of something like £9,750,000 in excess of their actual rate relief. This sum will, as soon as the amount has been ascertained, be due for repayment by the Fund to the companies. At the same time the income or the Fund during the current quinquennium will be reduced to about £2,300,000 a year. The Fund has distributed in the form of rebates all its resources except a sum of £1,000,000. Therefore, unless steps are taken to meet, the situation, the whole of the resources of the Fund for some years will be required to repay the railway companies the sums overpaid by them in the past. There will be in the meantime nothing available for rebates, and the scheme will come temporarily to an end. I think it is only fair that I should state that the railway companies have always anticipated that their assessments were bound to be heavily reduced and that during the past five years they have repeatedly warned all concerned of the situation which would then be created in the Fund; but, apart, from the desire of traders to secure distribution by way of rebates up to the total and immediate income of the Fund, it has not been open to the Tribunal to proceed on any basis except that of the assessments actually for the time being in force.
334 There can be no question as to the legal or moral rights of the railway companies to be repaid the amount of their past overpayments to the Fund. The intention of Parliament in 1929 was clearly that the railways should pass on their rate relief to their customers, but not that they should subsidise industry at the expense of their own shareholders, and the Act provided that the difference between their estimated and actual rate relief should be adjusted as soon as ascertained. The steps which the Government propose to meet the situation are broadly twofold. Firstly, that the debt of the Fund to the railway companies shall be discharged from the proceeds of an issue of stock by the Railway Clearing House, the statutory trustees of the Fund, to be repaid over a period of sixteen years. By this means the annual charge on the future income of the Fund will be reduced to the sum required for the service of the loan—that is, the annual sum required for interest on and repayment of the principal. Secondly, a temporary reduction in the list of selected traffic so that the reduced sum available for rebates shall be concentrated on those traffics assistance to which will, in the opinion of the industries concerned, be most helpful to them.
For a period of seven years, which may be extended by the Minister of Transport to a maximum of sixteen years (the period over which redemption of the proposed stock issue will be spread) the rebates will be confined to exported coal, coke, and patent fuel. These will benefit to the extent of 80 per cent, of the sums available, and milk and live-stock traffic will receive the remaining 20 per cent. This concentration of the benefit is proposed after consultations by the Departments concerned with the coal mining, iron and steel and agricultural interests. The iron and steel trade, which is in a comparatively flourishing condition, will have temporarily to forgo its share of the rebates. The Treasury are satisfied, as a result of discussions which have taken place, that if this Bill is passed into law at an early date there is every prospect that the proposed loan can be raised on favourable terms. In the circumstances, your Lordships will not expect me to attempt to indicate what such terms are likely to be; but I am 335 able to say that we anticipate that, if Parliament approves this Bill and effect is given to the arrangements which we propose, there will be sufficient left in the Fund, after providing for its liabilities, to allow of rebates upon exported coal, coke and patent fuel of about 5½d. a ton on the average. Thus the coal export trade will retain a substantial proportion of the existing rebates on exported coal, which average about 8d. a ton. The rebates available for milk and live stock are estimated to be only slightly less than those which are at present enjoyed by those traffics—namely, 15 per cent. on their carriage charges.
I have indicated the main features of the Government's proposals as embodied in this Bill, but they do involve a number of consequential and complementary amendments in this complex scheme which will be found in the Schedule to the Bill. I do not propose to enter into a lengthy explanation of these matters of detail, though I or the noble Viscount who will reply to the debate will endeavour to explain any points upon which elucidation is desired. Your Lordships will observe in Clause 1 of the Bill that it is proposed that the Railway Rates Tribunal shall, as soon as the Bill has become law, make such alterations in the rebates scheme in operation, including, of course, the rates of rebates, as may be necessary to bring the scheme into conformity with the Act, and that such alterations shall take effect on the 1st January next. The Government attaches great importance to the passage of the Bill into law at a very early date, not only because delay in the adjustment of the scheme is increasing the indebtedness of the Fund at the rate of something like £50,000 a week, but also in order that advantage may be taken of the favourable conditions which exist to-day for the raising of the proposed loan. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Erne.)
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I desire to congratulate, if I may, the noble Earl on making his first speech in this House. I am quite sure that it will be the opinion of noble Lords present that he has so well discharged his duties to-day that we shall hope to hear him often speaking on other subjects and on other 336 occasions in our debates. I have not put down a Motion upon the Paper for the rejection of this Bill, because the coal trade realises that it is far better to take half a loaf than no bread and that it is necessary for legislation to be passed. There is, however, some difference of view as to whether Amendments should be down on this Bill, and I am going to ask the Government to postpone the Committee stage as long as they can, or at any rate until those parties which are interested in the Bill, who will meet to-morrow, have had an opportunity of expressing their views to the Government in the event of their requiring to have Amendments put down and considered by your Lordships.
The main point which I desire to raise to-day is that the relief which has been so clearly explained by the noble Earl is quite inadequate to meet the situation in connection with the export of coal from this country. Owing to the high railway rates which existed the Government thought it right in 1929 to introduce a Bill by which it was enacted that relief should be given which, as the noble Earl has explained, was equivalent to about 8d. or 8½d. a ton on all exported coal. This Bill will reduce the average relief by 3d. a ton. That reduction of 3d. will put us in a worse position to-day in competition with foreign countries who sell their coal abroad. But in many cases the reduction will be from 4d. to 6d. a ton, instead of 3d., where there is a long haulage over the railway companies' lines. Such a loss to the exporting collieries in the distressed areas means that collieries will have to close down and will be unable to continue operations, and further distress will occur. It is absolutely essential in the interests of the exporting collieries that more help should be provided by the Government in some other form if they are not prepared to continue or increase the relief which has hitherto been given them.
Whatever the necessities were in 1928–29 they are exaggerated to-day and there is very much greater need. The exports of coal in 1928 were 49,000,000 tons. This year they will not be above 31,000,000 tons. The total consumption in the competing markets of the world shared by Great Britain with all other coal-exporting countries. In 1928 our share was 10½ per cent. To-day we are 337 only supplying 6.3 per cent. Yet consumption has steadily gone up in the world. Foreign markets bought in 1928 465,700,000 tons and this year they are buying 489,400,000 tons. In other words the increase in the consumption of foreign countries buying coal has gone up by 5 per cent. and we have not shared in that. On the contrary, we have had to reduce our exports. Why? Because the help that we hoped the Government would have given the industry in connection with the export of coal has been wholly inadequate compared with the help given in other countries. If Great Britain had supplied the same percentage as in 1928 20,000,000 more tons of coal would have been exported than is being exported at present, and 50,000 more men would have been employed.
It is not due to the fact that we have neglected trying to secure markets. We have improved our production of coal, we have classified it, we have screened it, we have cleaned it, we have sized it and we have made it more marketable than it ever was before. Yet coal exported is a steadily diminishing quantity. Manufactured fuel is in much the same position, having fallen in the last two years to October 31 from 587,000 tons to 428,000 tons. The coke industry claims that it is entitled to be helped in the same way as the coal industry. There was a speech delivered in another place last week by the Member for a South Wales division who stated that if the 100,000 tons of coke now being imported into this country had been excluded by the Government it would have meant employment for an additional 660 men in South Wales. That is an indication, at any rate, that the coke industry desires the same assistance as the coal industry. But the main reason why we cannot maintain our position as exporters of coal and coke is the fact of the great subsidies which are granted by competing countries producing coal.
In Germany there is an average difference of 6s. 9d. per ton between inland coal and coal exported by the Rhenish-Westphalian Syndicate who send a great deal of their coal to Hamburg for export. The railway rate is 14s. per ton less upon coal sent to Hamburg for shipment than that charged for coal to be consumed in the City of Hamburg. There is a discount of 3s. by a release of blocked marks which form 20 per cent. of the normal 338 price. In other words, coal is being subsidised in one form or another in Germany, if it is intended for export, to the extent of 24s. per ton in some cases. I would ask your Lordships: How is it possible with a subsidy of that kind in Germany for us to compete satisfactorily and upon an equal footing? It is quite impossible. In Belgium there is a subsidy of 4s. a ton on 4,000,000 tons of coal exported and the railway rate advantage for exported coal is 2s. 3d. per ton as compared with inland carriage.
In France the rates are from 30 to 50 per cent. lower for export coal than for inland coal. If I may read a technical arrangement they have in France it is this, that subsidies are payable to mines working at a loss under the terms of a law of August 18 last. A credit of 30,000,000 francs—£300,000—has been paid for the period from July 1 to September 30 this year and on a quarterly output of approximately 10,000,000 tons that is equivalent to about 7d. per ton over the whole output. France, therefore, also subsidises export trade. Holland subsidises it to the extent of 3s. per ton, and as 40 per cent. of the export trade is from State mines, the loss on export coal in Holland is borne by the Treasury. Poland reduced by 16 per cent. their rates on inland coal last year, and still the price of the coal which goes to Danzig and Gdynia is so favourable as compared with the inland price that they give a benefit of 7s. 6d. per ton on all coal which is sent from the Polish coalfields to be exported. I must apologise for giving these statistics to your Lordships' House, but they establish the case that this country is up against keen foreign competition subsidised in a way which renders it quite impossible for us to carry on one of our great staple industries and one which is of vital importance to this country.
There is, as your Lordships are aware, a great adverse balance between our exports and imports. The adverse balance recently indicated in the Press is £276,000,000, whereas before the War it was only £134,000,000. I suggest that this deficiency is not made up by investments or by the cost of carriage in transit—what are generally called unseen items in connection with our adverse balance. The country is steadily losing by its foreign trade operations, and it is vital in the interests of the country that this 339 adverse balance should be reduced. There is no better way of doing it than by encouraging the exportation of our coal, and if we were only fairly treated by the Government as compared with the treatment which is given to coal producers in other countries, I suggest that that adverse balance would be considerably reduced. Then, again, if no further help is given we cannot expect to have anything but further distress in South Wales and in the Durham district where the export coal is produced. It is possible, of course, that we may gain a little trade back from Italy, but that is very difficult to acquire when once you have lost a market. There is bound to be considerably increased depression and there is bound to be a considerable increase in the money which must be spent on what are usually called "doles"—unemployment benefit in one form or another. I suggest to the Government that it is far better that they should face the position by a subsidy and so help industry than that they should be called upon to consider an increased "dole" in the distressed areas in South Wales and in Durham.
The other day we had rather an interesting debate, promoted by Lord Lloyd, in which Lord Essendon took a considerable part, advocating that something should be done for shipping to help the Mercantile Marine. I believe your Lordships all thought that something more ought to be done to assist shipping. We had a very pleasant answer from Lord Templemore on behalf of the Government, but he only gave what seemed to me to be very cold comfort. I suggest that a subsidy on coal would help the shipping industry. It would enable increased quantities of coal from this country to be taken overseas. It would, of course, involve freight back again from other countries, and the very fact that you had a freight outward in coal would tend to diminish the freight on the other commodities brought back into this country. It would therefore be a benefit all round. On these grounds I suggest to the Government that the time has come when they might subsidise the export of coal, I hope in the way suggested in at any rate one organ of the Sunday Press last Sunday, when it said that the Government were contemplating an export duty 340 on coal to the extent of 6d. a ton. That 6d. would be invaluable at the present time if they could not make it any more, but it is absolutely essential in the interests of the finance of the country, in the interests of the distressed areas am in the interests of the miners and the coal industry that they should receive further help than that which has been indicated by the provisions of this Bill.
§ LORD MELCHETT
My Lords, I should like to join my noble friend Lord Gainford in congratulating the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. This afternoon will pass from most of our minds as one afternoon among many spent in this House, but it will remain for ever fixed in his memory as the first occasion on which he had the opportunity of addressing your Lordships. I have no doubt that we shall often have the great pleasure of hearing him again. I rather doubt whether this Bill is the malign agent which my noble friend Lord Gainford seems to indicate. The decision which will so adversely affect the coal trade really lies rather further back. But I should like to support a great deal of what he has said about the bad condition of the coal trade, and to this effect: that what the coal trade is going to lose as a result of that decision will have to be made good by the Government in some form or other.
What I think was the most significant point among the interesting figures which the noble Lord gave us was that which emphasised the pennies for which we scramble in the coal trade of this country as compared with the shillings which are given to the coal trade abroad. In spite of that handicap we still manage to keep our end up after a fashion, but, as in the case of shipping, which we discussed the other day, there it no doubt that no industry in this country can, unassisted, stand up against heavily-subsidised industries from abroad, and that the Government have got to make up their minds either to do something of the same kind to maintain those industries which are affected by competition from foreign subsidised industries or else to let the industries in question go under. I am afraid there cannot be two ways about that. Although I know the very great reluctance of the Government to grant subsidies—and I 341 must say that it is a reluctance which I myself feel, and I do not think any of us like subsidies—the time has come when we have to realise that it is impossible for any industry in the world to stand up against a State-aided competitor without assistance.
The point in regard to this Bill to which I particularly wish to draw your Lordships' attention, however, does not concern the coal industry, but rather the agricultural industry: the artificial—or rather, synthetic—fertiliser industry. In the second paragraph of the Schedule to this Bill, where it amends Part II of the Eleventh Schedule of the Local Government Act, 1929, you will see that it proposes to leave out the words from "Manure, street, stable or farmyard, in bulk" to "Potatoes, except new potatoes as defined in the Classification of Merchandise for conveyance by railway." The effect of leaving out those words is to remove the advantages of the railway rebate from all classes of agricultural produce and from all classes of fertilisers, synthetic and natural, and to concentrate the benefits of rebate upon dairy produce and live stock. I venture to suggest that there may be grave disadvantages in this course. So far as fertilisers are concerned, the benefit of that rebate has always been passed on to the farmer, and there is no doubt that fertilisers are not only a most important part of this industry, but vital to the country as such, because only one of two things can happen if you apply less fertilisers to the soil: you either take a smaller crop or else you are going to rob the soil. It is true that the increase of price which will result from the loss of this rebate will not be great by itself, but it will fall at a time when the price of fertilisers is bound to rise, and is bound to rise because there is a tendency, a very marked tendency, on the part of the raw materials from which synthetic fertilisers are made to go up in price.
In particular there is the increase in the price of coal. Industry has agreed in many cases to increased prices for coal, even where forward contracts were made, in order to help the coal industry, and in due course that increased price is bound to be passed on to the farmer through the synthetic fertiliser industry. Apart altgether from the fact that it is a pity, perhaps, to do anything which may cause 342 the farmer to use less fertiliser, you get other agricultural industries affected, particularly the potato grower, who is going to be hit twice. He is going to lose the benefit of the rebate and is also going to pay the increased price of fertilisers. The noble Viscount who is going to reply will know very well that the potato grower uses more fertiliser in relation to his crop than any other farmer. I have no doubt that the other agricultural interests—the foodstuffs producers, for instance—who are also affected by this Bill, would ask that the rebate should be distributed over the whole of the agricultural interests instead of being segregated.
This matter has been discussed by the National Farmers' Union and they decided to recommend to the Government the form of rebate proposed by this measure, which is confining the advantage to milk and live stock. But there is a very strong opinion within the Union opposed to this point of view, and I would suggest to the Government that they may be well advised to consult again with the National Farmers' Union and the interests concerned in regard to this matter—I would not say necessarily before this Bill passes through this House, but before the final stages in another place. I would like to ask the noble Viscount to see that this is done before we are finally committed to the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, it is with unusual pleasure that I associate myself with the two noble Lords who have just spoken in congratulating the noble Earl opposite on his maiden effort in your Lordships' House. I think it will be generally granted that he has had quite exceptional obstacles to overcome in making his first contribution to your Lordships' debates, and that he has surmounted them with conspicuous success. Whatever the merits or demerits of the particular Bill may be, I think it will be generally agreed that it is an exceedingly complicated and technical measure, and it must have required considerable patience and concentration to master its elaborate contents.
It is my duty to say a very few words indeed on behalf of the Party that I have the honour to represent in your Lordships' House. In spite of the two speeches to which we have just listened 343 I am inclined to think that this Bill will not give rise to any considerable volume of political controversy. We regard it as being essentially, in its general outline, a perfectly sensible arrangement for meeting a perfectly legitimate grievance on the part of the railway companies. It seems to us that in view of the fact that they have paid, during the past five years, a considerable amount that they did not really owe, the Railway Clearing House, acting as trustee for the Fund in question, was perfectly entitled to ask the Government to obtain for it through Parliament the power to raise a loan, by means of which the excess payments should be refunded, and that, I take it, is the fundamental purpose of the present measure.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
And to redistribute what is left in a rather different way. While expressing our agreement with the main purpose of the present measure we naturally reserve our right to table Amendments, if we think fit, at a later stage during the progress of the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, I would like, if I may, to associate myself with the compliments which have been paid to my noble friend. I think it is rather bad luck that the first time he has to pilot a Bill through this House, and at the same time to make, a maiden speech, my noble friend should have been called upon to explain what is probably the most complicated Bill of its short length any of us have ever seen. His exposition was a model of making it possible that he who runs may read what nobody, except perhaps the most expert draftsman, could possibly have understood. I am left with no further exposition to make, but with merely the duty of replying to some relevant points which have been raised in the debate.
As to the need of this Bill, and the general good sense of it, there is no question. Speakers from all sides of the House have agreed upon that. It is, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, think said, a very practical and businesslike way of dealing with an extremely difficult situation. We all contemplated that the railway companies would be liable to pay rates on a much higher 344 scale than in fact it has turned out they were liable to pay. There is no doubt that they were owed something between £9,000,000 and £10,000,000 from the Fund, and a very practical arrangement has been made for liquidating that debt on terms which are fair to the railway companies, but certainly not unduly generous to them, for the railway companies have forgone any claim to interest in respect of past payments. It then remains to divide what is left in the most convenient way possible. My noble friend Lord Gainford said that he certainly was not, going to reject the Bill which gave him half a loaf. He might more truly have said three-quarters of a loaf, because actually the benefit which coal, coke and patent fuel will continue to receive under this Bill is not on the average one-half but three-quarters, or very nearly. The average has been hitherto about 8d.; the average in future will be something better than 5½d.
We have very carefully considered the relative claims of the different industries which benefited before under this Bill and, while keeping for agriculture the one-fifth of the Fund to which it was previously entitled—and I do not think anybody would quarrel with us for doing that—we have concentrated the whole of the remaining four-fifths upon export coal, coke and patent fuel. We therefore have done as much as we possibly could for that section of the coal industry which we thought made the greatest demand. It actually works out most favourably for the most depressed areas, because my noble friend knows—no one better than he—that South Wales and Durham, both of which he quoted, are the areas with the shorter hauls to their ports of shipment; and I believe I am right in saying that the actual loss in freight rebate which will come to South Wales and Durham (I must of course take an average figure) is not the 2½d. which is the average over all, but something much nearer 1½d. Therefore we have not merely concentrated on giving coal the benefit, but that kind of coal which we thought most deserving, and it will so work out that the depressed areas get the largest measure of the benefit.
I may, in passing, answer a point raised as to whether coke was included. I think it is perfectly plain that coke is included, because my noble friend will 345 see that the first words of Part III of the Eleventh Schedule of the original Act of 1929 are "Exported coal, coke or patent fuel." If my noble friend turns to paragraph 3 of the Schedule of the present Bill he will see that no alteration is made in that, but the words that are cut out are:Coal, coke or patent fuel delivered to and used in iron and steel works.It cuts out the coal, coke or patent fuel which goes to the steel works, but it preserves intact the three classes of fuel which are exported. I think that answers the point of detail which my noble friend raised.
But I do not think he is asking for anything to be inserted in the present Bill. He is rather using this Bill as an occasion (and I do not blame him) to stake out a claim, if I may so put it, for some form of subsidy to be paid either to the whole or some select part of the coal industry. I am sure he will agree with me that if that were ever to be considered, the worst possible way to do it would be to put it into this Bill. I am not promising him a subsidy at all, but I think he will remember this—I certainly remember it very definitely from days when I was President of the Board of Trade—that we always contended most emphatically, and I think with conviction, to other countries as well as to ourselves, that this was not a subsidy at all; that when the Local Government Act was passed giving the relief of industrial rates all round, that was not a subsidy, it was merely an alteration of the incidence of local and national taxation; and that the passing on by the railway companies to some of their customers of the relief which they got under that Act was not at all a subsidy, but was merely a convenient and proper way of giving effect to the general rating relief.
We always maintained that—and I think we were quite right—in international negotiations. My noble friend will remember that we maintained that thesis with success. But if we were now to make this Fund a sort of composite fund, consisting partly of the rate relief which the railway companies receive and partly of a direct subsidy from the Government, then obviously we could no longer, in any of these cases where it is, important that we should establish a claim, contend that this was not a subsidy. There may or 346 there may not be a case for claim for a subsidy for some part of the coal industry. I am not going to argue that case one way or another to-day. Appetite grows with eating, and respectable Liberals like my noble friend, who a few years ago would have been shocked, and indeed horrified, at the idea of receiving anything so iniquitious as a subsidy—I remember my noble friend's virtuous indignation about the beet subsidies in old days—when they get into bad company feel that they also should be among the sinners if there is something going.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I have objected to subsidies, I have objected to tariffs, and I have objected to artificially raising duties against the consumer. But when other nations by their policy deprive us of the means of carrying on an industry, with a view to destroying it, I feel that other steps have to be taken, even though they are regrettable in principle, because we cannot as a nation allow our industries to perish in that way.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Like my noble friend I also have been guilty of every heresy, and am not in the least ashamed of it. Indeed, the noble Lord has shown to-day that he can advance both a moral and an economic case with a wealth of argument and illustration. But I do not think he really expects me to deal with the merits of that to-day. I would only say that, apart from this being technically an obviously inappropriate measure on which to consider it, if we are to consider, as we must, any claim put forward by the coal industry, we have to consider it on a wide front. We have to take any claim that may be made for a subsidy or for assistance in conjunction with all those other measures which we are trying to concert, and hope to accomplish for the improvement of that industry.
The other point that was raised was whether we were distributing agricultural relief. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, did not put in a plea for a subsidy—perhaps I should say a further subsidy—for agriculture. What he said was that you ought not to give it all to milk and live stock; you ought to give some of it certainly to fertilisers, and perhaps you ought to give some of it to potatoes. Potatoes were to have their share because they also were users of fertilisers. Really the problem we have to face here is how to divide a rather small sum. I call it a 347 rather small sum because to-day we think in such large sums. We have to divide a sum of £300,000 to the best advantage. We can give something very substantial if we allocate it simply between milk and live stock and cut other agricultural articles out. I think it only makes a reduction to 13 per cent. of what was before 15 per cent.; the figures are of that order. If, however, we are to take in fertilisers, which are about £600,000 in traffic, and potatoes representing about £2,500,000—I am not sure I have got the figures right, but in the aggregate it is something like £3,000,000 as against £2,500,000 for live stock and milk—obviously we are going to reduce the relief which any one of these articles gets and make it much less worth while.
I base my answer really on the very practical step which the Ministry of Agriculture took. They did the practical thing, when they had something to give away or keep, of consulting the farming interests where they would best like it to go. I am informed that there was the fullest possible discussion with the National Farmers' Union, and while I have no doubt that in such a case there never could be complete agreement, the view was most emphatically expressed by the Farmers' Union that they desired to have the relief concentrated upon these two commodities, milk and live stock.
§ LORD MELCHETT
I think that actually the thing was decided by a vote, and a vote by a very narrow margin, as a matter of fact. There is a very strong body of opinion that differs from the majority view.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I do not know where the voting took place, but I am advised that when the Farmers' Union met the Ministry that view was quite definitely expressed. I do not say it was a view with which everyone agreed, but it was the view that the Farmers' Union decided and were justified in putting forward. There was no misunderstanding about it. After all, it is a very simple issue, whether the money is to go in twos or threes. Therefore the Ministry does not think any useful purpose would be served by discussing over again with the very representative body the facts that were so fully discussed before.
I have only this to add. I very much dislike on principle asking your Lordships to proceed with anything like undue 348 speed with any Bill in this House, but there is a very special case of urgency for this measure. First of all the issue has got to be made of this stock amounting to something like £8,500,000 or £8,750,000. Obviously it is very desirable that this should be issued as quickly as possible, and at the most appropriate moment from the market point of view. I am advised that it is highly desirable that the issue should be made as near to the 14th or 15th of next month as possible. Furthermore, the Railway Rates Tribunal have got to meet after this Bill becomes law in order to settle the whole of the rebates which are to come into force on January 1. The legal term ends on December 21, and though I understand that the Tribunal have generously said they will sit on, if necessary, into the Vacation, yet every trader naturally wants to know where he stands. He does not want to come to January 1 knowing only on December 30 what the railway rates are going to be.
Therefore, there is a tremendous case of practical convenience for getting this Bill through as quickly as possible. We are all in agreement generally about the Bill and the desirability of passing it. There must obviously be an opportunity for Amendments to be put down. Your Lordships will remember that there is not only the opportunity of the Committee stage but, if second thoughts come or representations are made, there is also an opportunity of putting down, in this fortunate House, Amendments on Third Reading. I am not going to ask your Lordships to pass the whole of the stages of the Bill this week. I do not think that would be fair or reasonable, but I would in the peculiar circumstances ask your Lordships to agree to take the Committee stage on Thursday. There is a meeting to-morrow morning of certain bodies, and that would give an opportunity of putting down Amendments for the Committee stage. We should then take the Third Reading on Tuesday of next week, when there would be a further opportunity, if thought necessary, of putting down further Amendments. I dislike asking for such precipitancy, but I think that in all the circumstances the House will agree that is a reasonable course to adopt.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.