HC Deb 11 February 1932 vol 261 cc1029-34

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Minister of Agriculture whether he is in a position to make any further Announcement in regard to agricultural policy?

88. Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

To ask the Minister of Agriculture when he proposes to make a statement on cereal, meat and poultry production in agriculture?


There are two Questions on the Order Paper, No. 85, in the name of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton), and No. 88, in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage), which, if they had been reached, I intended to have postponed until the end of Questions, as the answer to them will be a long statement. Perhaps the House will allow them to be put now.

The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir John Gilmour)

At the present time practically the whole of agriculture, like the whole of industry, is suffering from the effects of the general fall of commodity prices which has been experienced with such severity since the autumn of 1929.

The branch of agriculture which has suffered most from the fall in prices is wheat growing, and the Government propose to assist growers of this crop by means of a quota scheme which will provide them with a guaranteed market and an enhanced price for wheat of millable quality. Full details of this scheme will be available to the House shortly when the Bill dealing with the matter is introduced.

The Government attach great importance to a long-range policy, but immediate action is necessary, and accordingly, with the exception of wheat, wool and meat, all agricultural and horticultural produce will be included within the scope of the Import Duties Bill.

Under that Bill all foreign agricultural and horticultural products, with the exception of a few items and of produce already, chargeable with a Customs Duty, will be subject to the general tariff of 10 per cent. ad valorem, or its equivalent in specific duties. An additional Customs Duty may be imposed on any particular product if recommended by the Import Duties Advisory Committee provided for in this Bill, and in this connection malting barley and certain horticultural products will receive particular attention.

The administrative feasibility of levying an additional Customs Duty on malting barley is being examined with a view to this question being referred to the Import Duties Advisory Committee at the earliest possible date if a practicable scheme for differentiating at the port between malting barley and feeding barley can be evolved. The alternative method of a quota is also under consideration.

The Import Duties Advisory Committee will also be asked to recommend what duties should be imposed on the commodities at present covered by the Horticultural Products (Emergency Customs Duties) Act, 1931, when duties under that Act expire.

The foregoing proposals refer to immediate action. The Government's long-range policy is designed to facilitate economic development in those branches of the agricultural industry which are likely to be the most remunerative, and particularly those which lend themselves to most rapid development.

In regard to milk and milk products the Government aim particularly at the improvement of marketing and have decided to set up a Reorganisation Commission under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, with a view to the formulation of schemes. A corresponding scheme for the organisation of the milk industry in Scotland is already in an advanced stage of preparation. They will also investigate the means of securing a reduction of disease among dairy herds. Imports of milk and milk products are being dealt with under the Import Duties Bill.

With regard to bacon the preparation of a scheme for the organisation of the bacon industry will be undertaken forthwith, and, provided a feasible and satisfactory scheme is evolved, the Government will be prepared to promote some form of quantitative regulation of imports.

The Government also undertake to appoint a Reorganisation Commission, if desired by potato growers, with instructions to prepare a scheme for the organisation and marketing of the home potato crop and to consider such practicable complementary action as may appear to be necessary for the regulation of imports of main crop potatoes.

The Government also intend, as far as financial circumstances permit, to maintain and develop agricultural education and research and the policy of land settlement. The Government attach great importance to the better grading and identification of home-grown food supplies, including where practicable the extension of the National Mark movement.

While the Government do not propose to make any change in the present system of regulating agricultural wages they are fully alive to the necessity of securing observance of the Orders made under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, and they wish to call the attention of agricultural workers to the facilities which exist for the investigation by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of complaints that the requirements of these Orders are not being observed.

Immediate help to the Fishing Industry will be afforded by the Customs Duties proposed in the Import Duties Bill. Further action which may be necessary in connection with the Fishing Industry will be taken after full consideration has been given to the Report of the Economic Advisory Council on the Fishing Industry which has just been presented to Parliament.

Obviously the future of any industry must depend largely on its own efforts to adapt its methods of production and marketing to modern conditions, and it is believed that the Government's policy will do much to restore confidence and stimulate endeavour in the two great industries of agriculture and fisheries, which play so important a part in the economic life of the nation. It is the earnest desire of the Government to secure the good will of all those whose cooperation is necessary to effect improvements both in the production and distribution of our home-grown food supplies.


In regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said about bacon, what exactly are the necessary preliminary investigations which have to be made before a duty can possibly be placed upon it, and how long does he think the inquiry which he adumbrated will take?


Of course, it will be impossible to forecast how long it will take. A good deal of work has already been done by the various committees dealing with the pig industry, and I hope that the reorganisation commission may be established at an early date, and, if it receives the co-operation and help of those concerned in the industry, a practicable scheme of quantitative regulations may be evolved at an early period.


Is it the intention of the Government to restore the grant in regard to allotments for the unemployed persons, and to reinstate the six wage inspectors whom they dismissed when they took office?


With regard to the second part of the question, it was obvious that certain economies had to be made, and I was satisfied that the complaints which were made could be dealt with by the existing staff, and I am still of that opinion. With regard to the first part of the question of the hon. Gentleman, I am circulating an answer upon the question of allotments, which, I think, he will find will supply the information.


Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us the price which he has in his mind for wheat of millable quality under the quota scheme?


My right hon. Friend must wait until the Bill is introduced.


Will a statement be made with regard to Scotland?


This policy has been evolved after close co-operation with the Secretary of State for Scotland and covers both countries.


While thanking the Minister for his statement, may I ask him whether he has considered the need of the producers of beef and mutton in view of the increased cost of their raw material by the tax placed upon cake and oil?


Yes, I am fully alive to these problems.


Seeing that it is impossible to discuss the matter at this stage, can the right hon. Gentleman give some indication at what date he is likely to introduce the first of the proposals for the discussion of the House?


As soon as time permits. Of course, a large part of the policy of agriculture will be dealt with under the Measure which we are going to consider next week.


Will the Minister consider for the convenience of the House before any general debate takes place the issuing in tabulated form of the total number of commissions which are being appointed in connection with the policy?


The hon. Gentleman will see, if he reads the detailed answer I have given, that that has been made perfectly clear.


Is the right hon. Gentleman taking any steps to prevent the benefit going in an increased rent to the landlords?


Does the right hon. Gentlemen, in view of his announcement, propose to deal with bacan, possibly on a quantity basis, and on what date will the necessary steps be taken to denounce the three treaties involved?


Can the right hon. Gentlemen say whether the purpose will generally be to increase food prices or to lower them?


If the Government's policy is going to help the wheat growers in this country, will the right hon. Gentlemen have regard to the great Bonanza Farms of Canada, the Argentina, and Russia?


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will be kind enough to answer my question as he was interrupted?