HC Deb 09 August 1920 vol 133 cc139-43

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [16th June], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." Debate resumed.


Are we not going to have any further explanation? I think we ought to have some further statement from the Government. The matter was debated on 16th June. Since that time we have had the Nauru Island Agreement Bill, which has very considerably increased the supply—at all events, the possible supply—of phosphates to this country, and I think we might be told by the Minister in charge of the Bill at the present time whether the position remains unaffected by that fact. As far as I can see, the effect of this Bill is going to be two-fold. It is going to increase the supply of fertilisers to this country and cheapen them, and so far that is quite right; but, on the other hand, we are going to diminish the supply of fertilisers to the outside world, which is going to increase their cost there. Therefore, the effect of this Bill should be to lessen the cost of production in this country, and to force up the cost of world production. We have been having measures brought forward the effect of which is to enable the agricultural industry in this country to get the advantage of world prices. Therefore, the effect of this Bill ultimately is to make the margin between the cost of production in this country and the general world price greater. That is bound to operate, of course, to the advantage of the agricultural community. Has that fact been calculated? If that is the case, is it still the intention of the Government to maintain the policy of giving the agricultural industry of this country the world price, because I am sure the Minister will see that that must result in a burden on the general consumer? I cannot believe it can be the deliberate intention of the Government to pursue a policy which will have that effect.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. WARREN

There is another point on which I should like to have some expression of opinion from the Minister in charge. Does not the effect of this Bill tend to the cornering of the products of these various companies, and is not the operation of the Bill such as practically to compel producers to hand over to an association all dealings in this particular product. I believe the Minister has had strong representations made to him in that direction, because there is a feeling of very great chagrin on the part of certain of the companies who produce sulphate of ammonia at the action of the Ministry of Agriculture in practically handing the business over to a combination or association of persons forbidding or prohibiting the producers from dealing direct. Will not the effect of that be in a sense to curtail their product? I am told that they are compelled to reveal certain of their business procedure and to make known to others the places to which they send their products. I should like the Minister to make it clear what the effect of the Bill will be in relation to these companies.

Captain LOSEBY

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will be kind enough to explain rather more fully the conditions under which these licences will be granted under paragraph (b) of Clause 2. I hope he will be able to make some concession in regard to the attitude his Department has previously taken up and to alleviate the fears of some of us in regard to the conditions upon which these licences are being granted. These are very extraordinary powers that may be made by Orders in Council. Licences may be issued restricting entirely, I understand, the export of these fertilisers, or allowing it on certain conditions. The Department has been perfectly open in the matter, but I understand—I hope I have not been misinformed—that a private firm, a maker of these fertilisers, will only get an export licence if it becomes a member of what is called the Equalisation Committee. This is very strongly objected to by some of the greatest producers in the country. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman give us some assurance that the licences will be granted under the same conditions to private producers, who are not members of this committee because they are unwilling to submit their affairs to the Committee, as are granted to members? I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the fears of some of us on the question of policy are very considerable, and we should be most grateful if he could make us some kind of concession. I think we all understand the obvious convenience of the course that is being adopted by the right, hon. Gentleman, but I think he might be able to get out of his difficulty in some way by making some such rule as that a certain proportion of export shall be allowed to produce that is made for use in this country. We want the assurance that a firm that is unable for any reason to become a member of this Equalisation Committee shall not be met with a point-blank refusal to export.


I wish to support the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down and to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to put a stop to what has been a very unfair procedure for many years past in connection with the sale of these fertilisers Unless the producer was a, member of this Equalisation Committee or its corresponding committee during the period of the War, he could not obtain an export licence, and I take it that all we are trying to do at the present time is to increase our export of everything possible that we produce in this country. We ask that common fairness should be handed out to one and all. I have given notice of an Amendment when the Bill comes into Committee, which I trust will be acceptable to the Minister, to the effect that any individual producer shall be entitled to have a licence, when he applies for it, for any sulphate of ammonia produced by him over and above the amount which the Government may decide shall be the proportionate quantity of all producers to be supplied to the home market. If persons have been in a particular trade and have got a trade mark, and a name, and a good character for their product, surely it is only common business that they should be entitled to retain their export facilities in that commodity in the future rather than have to go through the Equalisation Committee, which is practically handing over their private business arrangements to others.


I am quite aware that I have exhausted my right to address the House on the Second Reading of this Bill, but several Members have asked me to reply, which I therefore do by leave of the House. Nothing has happened since 16th June, when this Bill was last before the House, to alter the attitude of the Government in regard to it.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

War with Russia.


That has got nothing whatever to do with it, as the hon. and gallant Member knows quite well. This is a Bill simply to prevent a large exportation of necessary fertilisers taking place. Inasmuch as the price of sulphate of ammonia agreed between the Government and the trade is £23 10s. for the home market, and on export something like £40 or £50 can be obtained, it is quite clear that unless the export is prohibited or regulated, practically the whole of the amount in this country would be exported, or else the price here would go up to a very high figure. That is the case for the Bill, and nothing whatever has happened since I spoke before to alter that position. With regard to the question of licences, the principal matter concerned is the question of sulphate of ammonia. The Government had to consider how they could best arrange for the exportation of the surplus over and above what is required here. Of course, we do not want to stop the exportation of any surplus over and above what is necessary here. In order to do this, a Committee of the trade was formed, representing 86 per cent. of the output. Practically every firm came in, and an arrangement was made whereby export licences should be granted on the advice of this Committee, and the profits of the export will be divided equally among the firms constituting the equalisation scheme, in accordance with their output. Nothing more convenient from the point of view of railways and shipping could be devised; nothing more economical and nothing more fair. That scheme has worked so well that we do not propose for a single moment to depart from it. This very honourable agreement, for which we are very much obliged to the trade, has been made with the great bulk of the trade, and I think it is a little unreasonable that we should be asked to upset it for the sake of a few who have refused to come into this arrangement, which has been made in the national interest. Of course, if my hon. Friend moves an Amendment in Committee, I will give it my full consideration. I cannot say more at the present time, and I hope the House will allow, without any further delay, the Second Reading of the Bill.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Sir A. Boscawen.]