§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is in furtherance of the pigs and bacon schemes which were passed by this House on 28th June and brought into operation on 5th July. The schemes were, under the terms of the Act of 1931, submitted to the whole of the pig and bacon producers. They aroused much interest, and a very large number of pig producers—well over 100,000—registered. Of those registering 99 per cent. voted for the scheme. Of bacon producers practically every firm of importance registered, and on the whole a majority of about 70 per cent. in number, and a much larger proportion in output, signified their assent. As the House may remember, the schemes provided for the sale by contract of the pigs necessary to British bacon production. The sales are by contract from the farmers to the curers. The curer was to get a known supply and the farmer was to get a known price.
The schemes came into operation on 10th September. They were operated in the first instance on the basis of an understanding between the Pig Producers' Board and the Bacon Producers' Board, two organised bodies which had resulted from the two polls of which I 1914 have just spoken. It was on the basis of an understanding between those two boards that the initial stages of the scheme were worked. The understanding was that pigs bought by curers from producers should fetch a price of 12s. per score. That price, of course, had had to be negotiated some time before, and actually it had been negotiated as early as May, that is to say some four months before the price was to come into operation. The actual task of the two boards, however, could not be defined until the actual contracts were ascertained, and clearly the number of actual contracts could not be finally ascertained until just before they began to run because it was open to anyone to make a contract up to a date just prior to the date on which the contracts were to begin to operate.
The date chosen for the beginning of the actual contracts between producer and curer was 1st November. Immediately the scheme had been accepted by the polls of course, the collection of contracts began but they were not finally collected, the contracts were not completed, the subscription lists so to speak were not closed until lath October. It then appeared that a very large number of producers had been found who were willing so to contract. The curers realised that, instead of a £3,000,000 proposal which they had been considering before, they had on their hands a £5,000,000 proposal. I am giving the figures in pounds sterling instead of in cwts. of bacon so that the House may see how large are the figures both financially and in food values with which we are dealing, and in order that it may get into scale the proposals for the advance which this Bill and this Financial Resolution enshrine.
1915 The curers, then, found that they had to handle this very large £5,000,000 proposal within the next few months. That of course included Northern Ireland because the whole United Kingdom had to be treated as one for this purpose. The contracts which had been collected were provisional only, and I want to bring this point particularly to the attention of those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have said, "Why should anybody help the curers out of the hole and particularly why should the producers have to help them in this matter? "The primary producers, they say, always have to pay. Why should the primary producers always have to come along and help? Because the contracts were not finally signed, sealed and delivered, and, faced with this very large quantity of bacon and this very large proposal, it was legally open to the curers to say, "We cannot go on under these conditions. "Clearly, that would have been most injurious to the primary producers, and therefore, quite apart from the general interest of the primary producer not to bankrupt the processor—because the processor is the funnel by which the primary product eventually reaches the public—he had here an immediate and particular interest. It was to his interest to see that these contracts were accepted, signed, sealed and delivered and that pigs began to pass between farm and factory on the contract system at the earliest possible moment.
The Bacon Board thereupon got into consultation with the Pigs Board and the two boards then consulted the Government. Here we see in operation what I think is a novel and very interesting and valuable process. For the first time producers in agriculture found their own collective credit at their disposal and were able to use it, organised as they were. They had security to offer and that security they determined to make use of, I think very soundly and with very valuable results. The organised primary producers found that they themselves could discuss the matter with the organised processors, and that the two together could bring forward a proposition which was worthy of consideration not only by the Department but by the Agricultural Marketing Facilities Committee set up under the Act of 1931, and subsequently by the Treasury.
1916 The proposal which we are making derives from the fact that under the Act of 1931 it was foreseen that the flotation of these schemes would require initial expenses. Two sections of that Act deal with the matter. Section 13 deals with short-term loans, and contains provisions as to committees, in connection with the administration of these short-term loans. Here then were two boards anxious to carry through this large piece of collective agricultural organisation and here was the machinery which Parliament as long ago as 1931 had erected for dealing with precisely such an emergency. It is true that the precise circumstances in which such difficulties would arise had not, as one might easily imagine, been foreseen in every detail. Hence the necessity for this amending legislation which I have to lay before the House. Let me say that, quite different from the Financial Resolution which we have just been discussing, this proposal meets, as far as I can make out, in every detail the demands made by the Mover of the rejection of the previous Resolution, an hour or two ago standing at that Box. It deals with helping those who are willing to help themselves. It deals with a loan which is made on good security, and is recoverable and it deals with the advantage and security of our own people who have here embarked upon a very big piece of work in which all this House wished them well only a few months ago.
The actual Bill 'is explained fairly clearly in the Memorandum and also in the Clauses themselves. It may be found convenient if I only make a short statement on it now. At a later stage in the Debate if the House so desires, I may by leave of the House intervene again, and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland or I will deal with any objections which are raised to the Bill. There are many very interesting features in these proposals and it would be of interest to those concerned with agricultural organisation to examine them very closely. The question of the adjustment of a contract price, with which agricultural organisations have struggled repeatedly and which finds its chief example M the contract price in the case of sugar-beet is here again tackled and I think not unsuccessfully. The principle of a levy which is an integral part of the Milk Marketing scheme is here again intro- 1917 duced, and I think with good reason. But I do not wish my natural Scottish interest in general principles to lead me away from what I know English Members so much desire me to deal with, namely, the practical question of how this meets the needs of the case.
The Bill, in Clause 1, empowers a board to pay compensation to their producers in respect of any loss which the board may be satisfied the producers have sustained by the operation of a marketing scheme whether administered by that board or not. That Clause will enable the Bacon Board to compensate individual bacon curers for any loss which they may have sustained by reason of the contracts recently entered into by them with the producers of pigs. To enable this to be clone the bacon scheme will have to be amended. Clause 2 enables a scheme to provide for empowering a board to lend or grant money to another board. That is to enable the primary producers' board to ensure that the processors, in whose fortunes they are as vitally interested as in their own, shall not be destroyed by reason of any miscalculation in the initial stages of the scheme.
Clause 3, in Sub-section (1) merely makes provision for a board accepting such grant. Subsection (2) enables a scheme to provide for empowering a board in any case where a loan or grant is proposed to be made to them, to agree with the lender or granter that the board may apply the money taken by them in accordance with such conditions as may be specified in the agreement. That subsection will enable the Bacon Board to agree with the Pigs Board who are guaranteeing the loan proposed to be made to them, that they will apply the money with the consent of and on the advice of a committee consisting of three persons representing the Pigs Board, three persons representing the Bacon Board, the three persons nominated by the Minister. Thus there will be on the committee three from the primary producers who are making the loan, three from the processors who are accepting the loan, and three independent persons who shall be nominated to see fair play—not an unnecessary precaution when people are buying and selling pigs or any other form of agricultural produce.
I need only say that we have provisionally appointed such a Committee.
1918 The Chairman is Sir Wyndham Portal, who was a member of the Pigs Commission, and the other two members are Mr. H. G. Howitt, of Messrs. Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., chartered accountants, and Mr. W. H. Coates, who is well known as a director and economist of Imperial Chemical Industries. Both Mr. Howitt and Mr. Coates are members of the Agricultural Marketing Facilities Committee, which investigated the soundness or otherwise of the financial proposition which was being made. Therefore these are three very knowledgeable persons and I am sure the House will be glad to know that they were accepted readily by both boards as being not merely umpires and arbitrators but persons whose advice and assistance the two boards would be very glad to have.
The effect of Clause 4 will enable the Minister, by Order, to enable the Pigs Board, if they so desire, to guarantee the proposed loan to the Bacon Board and by means of that Order to enable the Bacon Board to pay compensation to their registered producers and to require that the Bacon Board shall apply the loan on the advice of the committee which I have just sketched out, Sir Wyndham Portal's Committee. Clause 5 clarifies the provision of the Act of 1931 and lays down that any expenses incurred within the period of one year from the date at which any marketing scheme comes into force shall be deemed to be "expenses incurred in connection with the initial working of the scheme." These words in the Act of 1931 can now, I think, with advantage be clarified, and this to some extent limits the liability of the Treasury under the statute.
Clause 6 contains provisions empowering the board to buy from the board administering any corresponding scheme any product the marketing of which is regulated by that scheme; these provisions are designed to remedy defects in the 1931 Act which, as it stands, would prevent the English board buying from a Northern Irish or Scottish board or acting as agent for such a board. Clearly it is greatly to the advantage of the pig industry as a whole that the large English board should, if both boards so desire, act as agent for another board or another group, say, in Northern Ireland handling a corresponding scheme. This is desired by both pig boards and both 1919 countries, and I am sure will be acceptable to the House. That Order can only be made at the request of the board and not on the initiative of the Minister himself.
These are the provisions of the Bill. If the House should desire it, I should be very glad to elucidate any point which I may have failed to make clear or to deal with any aspect of the situation which the House might desire me to do later. I think the initial stages of the scheme have shown, first of all, that there is an unlooked for readiness in the British agriculturist to organise and to come forward under these contract provisions; secondly, that the scheme is working, not to promote inefficiency but to promote efficiency. The bacon curers report a total change of spirit among the primary producers in regard to the faults which they point out to these producers, that they all say, "We are anxious to learn; show us what we are doing wrong, and we will do our utmost to put these faults right." There has, for instance, been a very satisfactory increase in the demand for pedigree boars. The British producer is doing his utmost to grade up his pig as rapidly as possible to the pig that is necessary for the successful production of bacon in this country. It has been reported even that in their anxiety to follow out the development of their pigs, there was for the time being a shortage of pig weighing-machines, showing that there is an outlet for the manufacturers of this country even in their own country as well as elsewhere.
As for the alteration of processes among the curers a real effort is being made by the bacon industry to develop the tank curing process, which was one of the great strengths of Danish as against British bacon production. It is known that some factories have already made provision to deal with over 13,000 pigs per week by this process and that other schemes of development are in hand. I should say that the small pig producer is becoming very interested in this scheme. Small pig keepers who previously kept a pig or two for their own use are beginning to consider an extra pig or two for sale. The scheme makes special provisions in the form of group contracts for the small man, and in Wales, for instance—I am sure some of my hon. Friends opposite will he interested in this—where the small pro- 1920 ducer predominates, two-thirds of the bacon pigs for the current period were sold on group contracts, that is to say, from small men.
One last point as to the interests of the consumer. It may be said that the consumer has been unduly penalised by the restriction of bacon imports into this country and the price of bacon. I have already dealt, cursorily it may be, with the question of bacon prices, and I do not think it can be said that they are more out of reach of the small man, the man of the small purse or the housewife of the small purse, than they were two or three years ago, when hon. and right hon. Members opposite were sitting on this side and were supported by a great number of Members who have now moved a little nearer to them, though still showing spiritual dissension. But: I would ask the attention of the House to this fact that the cuts in imported bacon and the large increase in pig production in this country have the effect of creating an additional supply of cheap food in the form of byproducts such as livers, kidneys and so on, and fresh meat, which is itself a valuable food. For every bacon pig killed there are some 40 lbs. of fresh edible byproducts, which, in the case of imported bacon pigs, we do not get. The increase in the home output of bacon in Great Britain means an additional 300,000 to 400,000 cwts. of cheap fresh meat coming from our bacon factories every year. I do not wish to exaggerate that point, but it should not be lost sight of, since one of the dangers, I think, of our modern dietary in this country is an over great reliance upon tinned and preserved foods of every kind.
These are the main features of the proposals that I wish to lay before the House to-night. They present novel features, but I do not think they arc more novel than the situation demands. The House sanctioned large new departures in British agricultural organisation. The agriculturists and the processors went in whole-heartedly for their schemes, and the very success of the schemes produced difficulties. These difficulties I think had to be solved, or else we had to abandon the whole of the policy, for which I am sure I should have been roundly, and rightly, blamed by the House and by the country. We have adopted certain proposals to deal with those difficulties, which I think are defensible on their. 1921 merits; they are financially sound, they have been examined by committees which were set up not in view of this emergency but long before, and I think they have every prospect of working so as to give the schemes their initial chance, without which the whole thing would come absolutely to an end.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question to add instead thereof the words "upon this day six months."
Before making reference to the right hon. Gentleman's statement or to the Bill, I should like to make a brief reference to our late colleague Sir George Edwards, of whose death we all regretted to learn to-day. Those who knew the late Sir George will agree when I describe him as a great, noble and courageous personality, and one who devoted the whole of his life to improving the lot of the agricultural worker. We have lamented his departure, but we shall long revere the memory of a man of whom it can he said that he did his duty to the bottom dog.
This Bill is one more instrument of the Government's plan for making agriculture pay. The right hon. Gentleman has told the House a good deal about the pig and bacon marketing schemes, but, so far as I could understand, the real intention and purpose of this Bill was scarcely referred to. The right hon. Gentleman went from Clause 1 to Clause 6 in a very summary fashion and gave a brief outline of what he believes the Bill is likely to accomplish. I shall have some observations to make which will perhaps not be consistent with those of the right hon. Gentleman. We have had a good deal of regulation, control, compensation, loans and credits since the present Government have been in office. A good deal has been said about dictatorships, but I should imagine that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) blushes with shame at his modesty when he looks at some of the Measures introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever happens to agriculture as the result of the present Government, and particularly of the present Minister of Agriculture-and this is one more instrument-it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman will succeed in 1922 one thing, that is, in making this nation safe for landowners.
This Bill is described as an Agricultural Marketing Bill. I have looked at it very carefully, and have tried to visualise all its possibilities and to appreciate the desires and aspirations of the right hon. Gentleman, but I am driven to the inevitable conclusion after careful analysis that, instead of it being described as an Agricultural Marketing Bill, it ought to be described as the Landowners (Rent Guarantee) Bill. If any hon. Member should disagree with that, perhaps another description would not be out of place, and it might very well be described as the Farmers (Guarantee against Loss) Bill. The poor old consumer, as usual, remains as defenceless as hitherto.
The right hon. Gentleman has certainly given some explanation of the intentions of the Measure, and we readily concede to him that when the Act of 1931 was passed it was realised that, once these marketing schemes got under way, certain difficulties would present themselves and that they would have to be dealt with as and when they occurred. We never contemplated, however, that a National Government, or indeed any Government, would produce a Bill which for the first time in the history of Parliament seems to guarantee a considerable number of producers in this country against any kind of loss. It is perhaps not to my credit, but I have often looked round for a real certainty, one of those things on which one could bet without any shadow of doubt and no loss at all. Here is a Bill which will mean to the farmer that, whatever horse he backs, he is bound to back a winner. He is guaranteed against losses of any kind in Clause 1. Under Sec-7 (1, c) of the original Act of 1931, arrangements were made for limited compensation to ensure equity between producer and producer and to ensure equity between profit and loss for all registered producers. Under Section 16 (1) of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1933, there was a slight extension so that compensation was payable in accordance with a given scheme to such class of cases and as was specified in the scheme; that is to say, any registered producer operating within any scheme could secure compensation if he could prove that his loss was associated with the 1923 operation of that scheme. A number of hon. Members attempted to secure an extension there during the Committee stage of the 1933 Act. They failed, but this Measure in Clause 1 extends the power to provide compensation not only for the purposes of providing equity for all registered producers, but in respect of any loss.occasioned to such producers by the operation of any scheme, whether administered by that board or not.Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman is bound to appreciate that serious repercussions may occur. No longer is compensation confined to securing equity or to producers operating within one scheme. Actually Clause 1 provides for the meeting of losses accruing to farmers working under any scheme, whether they happen to be a member of that scheme or not. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he appreciates that if a producer or a number of registered producers operating under one scheme find themselves guaranteed against any losses, whatever their policy may be, such guarantee is calculated to encourage further wild policies on the part of those in charge of the board. Certainly that contingency is a possibility, and it seems to me to be an extraordinary proposal that, while there is no guarantee for the consumer or indeed for any section of the community apart from the registered producers, they are all the time guaranteed that if their scheme becomes bankrupt they can be compensated out of some other scheme.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether an action may lie by one board against another board whose policy occasions losses to registered producers. What safeguard or guarantee is there for a board operating successfully on the basis of policies that have been well thought out? They are likely to have to provide for losses which accrue as the result perhaps of some faulty policy operated by a board in charge of some other commodity.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to be under any misapprehension. That cannot happen unless the other board desires to compensate the first board. There is nothing to compel board A to find money 1924 for board B, and nothing in the Bill compels board A to find the money. This is merely an enabling Bill to enable board A to make a grant to board B, and for board B to administer that money in accordance with the scheme which obviously board A would draw up.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman up to a point, but the wording in the Bill distinctly empowers the boardto pay compensation to registered producers in respect of ally loss which, in the opinion of the board, has been occasioned to such producers by the operation of any scheme, whether administered by that board or not.It seems to me to be without any restriction whatever so long as the board are satisfied that the losses were occasioned by the operation of the scheme.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I do not wish to interrupt my hon. Friend repeatedly, but it merely empowers the board to pay and makes no provision as to where the board is to get its money. [Interruption.] The hon. Member may be more fortunate in getting money than I am. My difficulty is not what 1 am to do with the money, but how I can get it, and there is nothing to enable the board to get it unless it has made out a good case for persuading another board to find it.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
That is the very essence of my objection to this proposal. I am not concerned about a. board misjudging their policy and losses being thereby occasioned and their having power to secure a loan with which to meet those losses, what. I am concerned about is that, with al these guarantees, it is the poor old consumer who in the end is going to pay the price. The right hon. Gentleman has frequently said that he will never rest happy until imports are restricted or available supplies bear such a near relation to demand as to give economic prices. Therefore, apart from the power to secure loans with which to meet these losses, these boards will always have the power to increase prices. They can meet their losses directly by increasing prices, if they do not wish to obtain a loan, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has got over that point. There is a guarantee for any loss occasioned by the operation of any scheme, whether the loser is a registered producer under that scheme or not.
1925 It is true that the boards have power to secure loans, but they have a bigger power, that of charging a price, whether for milk or any other commodity, which will meet not only current requirements but any losses that may occur. So long as the right hon. Gentleman restricts imports and restricts supplies so that demand exceeds supply, and these boards can obtain their price, our complaint will be justified.
What is likely to happen assuming that the Potato Board increase prices to pig producers, who use potatoes for feeding pigs? The pig producers will accuse the Potato Board of having occasioned them losses in pig production, and will be able to come on the Potato Board for such losses. The Milk Board may be charged by the bacon producers with having increased the cost of feeding stuffs for pigs by raising the price of skimmed milk; and other people will perhaps be able to prove that, as a result of the operation of the milk scheme, it is more costly for them to produce cheese and butter; and they have a guarantee under Clause 1 that they will be able to secure compensation for any losses that may accrue.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I promise not to interrupt again, but I really think the hon. Member is over-stating the case. They have the power to approach the other board, but the other board has a perfect right to pay no attention to their protest.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman believes that the statement he has just made meets the case, but I am not at all sure that his view is consistent with the words in the Bill. To me the words seem perfectly clear—that registered producers are guaranteed compensation for any loss occasioned to them by the operation of any scheme. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will examine my submission and later give us the benefit of the opinion of his experts, for I am half inclined to think the matter has not been considered closely in the light of possible reactions and repercussions. We can see the possibility of difficulties cropping up. I particularly want a reply to the question as to whether any action will lie by one board against another board whose policy occasions losses, because unless that is so where does the consumer actually come in?
1926 Clause 2 seems to be designed exclusively to deal with subsidies, so that the stronger boards can help the weaker board. It may be conceivable that this is a method of camouflaging large loans required by some of the weaker boards. Clause 3, which the right hon. Gentleman skipped over very quickly, is presumably designed, among other things, to enable a board, either by grants received from individuals or by loans, to carry on research. Sub-section (3, b) of this Clause seems to give the right hon. Gentleman or the board power to dispose of the rights of the registered producer, who in ordinary circumstances has the right of appeal if he is aggrieved by any decision taken by the board. After the statement that power is given to receive grants or loans, paragraph (b) says:where such an agreement contains conditions requiring the Board to act on the advice of any specified persons, the provisions of the scheme entitling a registered producer who is aggrieved by any act or omission of the Board to refer the matter to arbitration shall not apply in relation to anything done, or omitted to he done, by the Board in pursuance of the agreement.It seems to me that the person from whom the loan or grant is received can dictate the conditions under which the money shall be expended, and the rights of the registered producer are taken away from him. In that way one can transform some moneyed person into a dictator. All the 100,000 registered producers are cast aside, as it were, by the simple process of creating a dictatorship.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The Noble Lord will surely discriminate between Clause 3 and Clause 1, which deal with two totally different things. If a dictator such as the right hon. Gentleman is in possession, and the bacon curers happen to find themselves losing money, the two things are fairly consistent, but there is no consistency between Clause 3 and Clause 1. If the Pig Board take a loan from the Milk Board and the Secretary of the Milk Board determines how the money shall be spent, the Pig Board must ignore their registered producers and spend money as the secretary of the Milk Board dictates. I suggest that is dictatorship, and takes away the right of a registered producer to go to arbitration if he should be an aggrieved person.
1927 As to Clause 4, I have no complaint against it, but even under this Clause, according to lines 14 to 16, the right hon. Gentleman has power, where he himself is granting a loan, to appoint a nominee, which is establishing himself as a form of potential dictator. Difficulties are almost inevitable with all these schemes, either small or large. We have to beware of the dictatorship of the right hon. Gentleman, if we want to carry with us every registered producer, whether of bacon, milk, potatoes or any other agricultural commodity, and we think that the right hon. Gentleman should be very careful about destroying the power of the individual producer. He may destroy would-be co-operators, who have come into the scheme after a lot of pressure from the right hon. Gentleman.
Clause 5 is rather difficult to understand. The right hon. Gentleman told us a good deal about the origin of the pig and bacon schemes. He told us about the original possibility of a £3,000,000 proposition, which has now developed into a £5,000,000 scheme, and, because of the size of the scheme, he went on and tried to show, without showing—at least I did not notice it—that this Bill appeared to be necessary. In dealing with Clause 5 very summarily, he briefly explained that it limits Section 13 of the original Act, whereas, in point of fact, Clause 5 extends the Act by at least one year. The original Act did not cater for meeting preliminary expenses by loans from the Government, interest free, but was limited to the extent of meeting initial expenses in preparing the scheme and taking the poll, and preliminary things of that sort. Clause 5 of the Bill, according to the right hon. Gentleman, enables all the boards that are now operating to record losses, incurred in the first 12 months of the operation of every scheme, as initial expenses, presumably in preparing this scheme. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to tell the House that owing to the bacon scheme developing much more rapidly than was expected by bacon curers, bacon producers or the Ministry of Agriculture, certain credits and huge loans were necessary. I shall want to know from him in a moment exactly what has been happening during the past month or two.
1928 Clause 5 is extremely difficult to understand, and I am sure that none but a legal mind could grasp the intention of the words. The Clause states:Any expenses incurred by virtue of this Act"—and proceeds to interpret what it means. Twelve months after the operation of the scheme those expenses may be met, the maximum sum being £650,000. What expenses can be incurred in the operation of this Bill after it becomes an Act 4 It seems that what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind is that the pig producers entered into contracts with the bacon curers at contract prices for a. certain number of pigs for a certain time. The pig producers were wise in their day and generation; they withheld pigs from the market, in a period when restrictions imposed upon imports from abroad produced a comparative scarcity. The prices of bacon therefore increased, and the pig producers entered into contracts with the curers who were wanting pigs very urgently because their factories were losing money. The factory owners contracted to pay 12s. per score for 620,000 pigs, only to find, as a result of the price of bacon, that they were unable to sell, pay the pig producers the prices that were contracted for and leave themselves what the "Times "newspaper described as "replacement value. "They commenced to lose money, and they had to approach the right lion. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman has not told us anything about it, but this Bill is largely due to a set of circumstances which have never yet been explained in this House. The right hon. Gentleman wants the power to enable bacon curers to tide over a temporary period. We do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman for helping them so to do, but he ought to tell the House and the country about it. We ought to know more about it than we know at I he present time. We ought to know from exactly what fund, if any, the bacon curers are drawing today, apart from the prices received from the sale of cured pigs. They are certainly losing money very fast, and they have already intimated that the next contract prices will be lower than the last contract prices. The present loans are very small to the Pig and Bacon Marketing Boards, but does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate that under 1929 this Bill any large sum will be loaned to them? If so, will he tell us, as Section 13 (2) of the original Act of 1931 insists upon repayment within two years, what levy per pig will be required to meet the loan losses during the four months contract period? Bacon producers are already faced with a lower price during the next contract period, and they will have to bear a levy for each pig received by bacon curers, to wipe out the loss during the first four-monthly period. The House is entitled to know what calculations have been made in the Department, and what the levies upon registered producers are likely to amount to. Only when the registered producer knows the truth about the present situation, and a good way ahead, will he be able to plan accurately, and the bacon curer to plan accurately, so as to avoid any such situation as that from which they are suffering at this moment.
We are entitled to have a much more exact statement as to the significance of Clause 6 than we have had so far. The right hon. Gentleman gave us only a very partial statement of the purport of the Clause. He told us that a board operating in Great Britain may be associated with a similar board operating in Northern Ireland. Clause 6 gives substantial power to a board in Great Britain to buy from a similar board in Ireland. We should like to know whether the large powers given under Section 5 of the original Act are sufficient to cover the powers given in Clause 6 of this Bill. Will a board, under the terms of Clause 6 of this Bill be able to exercise actual control over the output and the sale of Northern Ireland produce in the British Isles? Will the Great Britain Bacon Board have power at present, or on any future occasion, to limit the output in Northern Ireland or to limit the sale of Northern Ireland produce on the British market? The reply to that question is very important, for this reason. If the British Board, having taken the power of the Northern Ireland Board, have powers to restrict, either at present or in the future, output in Northern Ireland, anyone in Northern Ireland who may desire at this moment—and I am sure that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland will appreciate this point—to start a new bacon factory will be deterred 1930 from doing so when they fear that a board in Great Britain may have the power to limit either production in Northern Ireland or the sale in England of Northern Ireland products; they will obviously hesitate before they erect another new up-to-date bacon factory which could produce bacon nearer to the need of the British market than is possible at this moment. I think the right hon. Gentleman might tell us more about' that side of Clause 6 than has been told us so far.
Further, when the Clause refers to a corresponding scheme in Northern Ireland, why should it not include a corresponding scheme in Wales or in Scotland? After all, the right hon. Gentleman has already had some experience of Scottish milk. The British milk scheme came into operation a month or so before the Scottish milk scheme, and be knows already that, because Scotland was permitted to enter into long-dated contracts for the sale of milk in Great Britain within the area of the British milk scheme, that tended to dislocate all the efforts and intentions of the British Milk Board. I do not see where in Clause 6 the point that I am putting is covered. Northern Ireland is specifically referred to, but no reference is made either to Wales or to Scotland.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
It will be found on page 4, line 13:any other scheme under that Act or any scheme under corresponding legislation enacted by the Parliament of Northern Ireland.The words:any other scheme under that Actwould cover a Scottish or a Welsh scheme, because they come under the Act of 1931.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of those words is correct, the point is invalid—
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I leave that point for further examination, but my reading of Clause 6 is that it deals exclusively with Northern Ireland, and we are anxious to see that no subsequent event comparable with the Scottish milk business shall be possible. There is one thing on which the 1931 right hon. Gentleman seems to have been educated, following marketing schemes. If this Northern Ireland-cum-Great Britain arrangement can be carried through, and the British Bacon Board can take charge of all the bacon produced in Northern Ireland, import it into this country and make itself responsible for selling it, at least we shall have one import board established, and I hope the result will satisfy the right hon. Gentleman that he might usefully extend the operation of import boards to both producers and consumers in this country. I think he will appreciate that the criticism of the Bill has been fairly legitimate, and that many substantial and fundamental points have been raised. Clause 1 is of vital importance, and, unless we are thoroughly mistaken and have wholly misread it, it is of such vital importance that we think the right hon. Gentleman himself will have to re-read and reconsider the whole thing before the Bill is allowed to proceed through its remaining stages here and up to another place. The possibilities are almost beyond explanation.
Finally, I want to say that, while we appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety to restore agricultural prosperity, the long series of Measures that have been introduced into this House recently are extremely costly. We have had rating relief, and the sugar-beet subsidy; we had agricultural credits in 1928–£750,000 for 60 years free of interest, and £10,000 for 10 years towards expenses. We had the relief of railway rates in 1928; we had the Wheat Act, we had Customs duties, we had restrictions, and we had further threats yesterday, when the right hon. Gentleman must have been as happy as a bird. He was attending a meeting of the National Council of Agriculture, and a report of that meeting states that he said to a. body of farmers-a body of producers:Do you say to me here and now that some regulation of Imperial as well as foreign supplies is essential if agriculture is to survive?The farmers replied with loud cheers, "Yes," and the right hon. Gentleman said:I take that as a unanimous finding of this meeting.That unanimous finding of farmers in favour of restricting imports either from 1932 the Dominions or from anywhere else, that sort of reasoning on the part of the right bon. Gentleman and many of his predecessors, has been extremely costly, not only to the consumer, but also to the taxpayers of this country, and, while all these rating reliefs and the rest may help the farmers, there is a good deal of ultimate doubt about it. What we are certain about is that the right hon. Gentleman is going to guarantee to landowners their rents, and we are equally certain that their rents are to be guaranteed at the expense of the consumers in this country. Some day we are hopeful that there will emerge a Minister who certainly will have dictatorial tendencies, who will follow the lead given by the present Minister of Agriculture, but who will have some real courage, and who, having seen the necessity for marketing and planning, and having realised the impossibility of this individualist system either in production or in sales, will have the courage not only to nationalise the land, so that any money expended will at least return in value to the State, but also to socialise agriculture so that. there shall be no losses and so that there shall be no profits—
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
—so that people will be paid for services rendered, without constantly pleading, as the Noble Lord is never tired of doing, for putting farmers on the dole, and without the landowners being made perpetually the biggest dole receivers in this country.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
I did not know, until the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) began to speak, that Sir George Edwards had passed away to-day. Very few people really knew him as "Sir George Edwards," but many thousands of people knew him as plain "George." Anyone who knew him, as I had the honour of doing, must feel, now that he has gone, that he has lost a personal friend. He was one of the most genuine, modest, single-minded and lovable men that I have ever known, and his passing is really a great loss to thousands of people who almost loved him, as so many did.
This is a most remarkable Bill, and the more I look at it the more remark- 1933 able I feel it to be. Apart from Clause 6, which meets a point which has arisen since the earlier Act of this year was passed, it is necessary to meet a comparatively small issue which has arisen, namely, that the contract prices which have been fixed for bacon were found to be too high to carry the amount that was actually contracted for and, therefore, payment has to be made—I do not think the Minister has ever stated how much, but it is stated outside to be something up to £500,000—to cover the anticipated loss of the curers.
One would think that could have been put right in a simpler way than three pages of a Bill—I am taking out Clause 6—which never seems to get near that simple point that has to be met. I know that the ways of draftsmen are wonderful and extraordinarily brilliant and clever, but I think the draftsman of this Bill must have had a bet with a friend that he would draft three pages of a Bill without ever remotely touching the simple point that has to be dealt with, which is that the Bacon Board has to be empowered for some period less than a year to borrow money to pay the estimated losses of bacon curers, the losses to be made up by cutting down contracts later on. Do we really need three pages of a Bill to put that right? But we have to take the Bill as it is and realise that it is not confined to that point, which is the only point that the Minister put before us, except for Clause 6. Many of these Clauses are not in any way connected with this emergency, and we have to look at them as being made for all time and to do what the hon. Member for Don Valley did, examine what the effects of them may be as regards other schemes and in their general application. We have to do that the more because the House has no control over these operations except on these occasions when we are considering these Bills.
When the actual schemes come before us we have no control at all. We have to take them or leave them. They are not the Government schemes, but the schemes of the farmers. They are brought up, as the milk one was I think, after eleven on the last day but one of a Session, and we are told it is necessary to get the thing to work and, if any objection is made, the whole scheme will have to be withdrawn, and they will not be in time for the autumn contracts. The House has 1934 no power then. Now is the only time that we have power to examine the sort of schemes that they are going to be.
I do not interpret Clause 1 in quite the same way as the hon. Member who spoke last, but it opens out rather large new possibilities. It enables a scheme to provide for empowering the board in such class of cases as may be specified in the scheme to pay compensation to producers in respect of any loss which, in the opinion of the board, has been occasioned to such producers by the operation of any scheme whether administered by that board or not, that is, loss occasioned by the operation of any other board or scheme. It is a great pity to give wide powers of that kind. You are apparently aiming at doing a perfectly simple and definite thing to meet this perfectly simple and definite emergency. The farmers are puzzled about these schemes and a. little suspicious of them. They welcome them certainly from the point of view of improving their output. That was the result that I had hoped for from the pig scheme, and I am glad it seems to be coming along. But it seems to me that you endanger soundness and you risk arousing the suspicions of people under these schemes as soon as you begin to put into them the possibility of all sorts of claims being made and all sorts of disputes and grievances arising if those claims are not met, not only claims arising under the scheme itself, but claims in respect of the effects of other schemes.
It seems to me that, although the power will rest with the people in charge of the pig schemes, this opens the door to the possibility of people who have been aggrieved and have suffered loss under a pig scheme because of something that has happened, namely, an increase in the price of their raw material, whether potatoes or buttermilk or barley meal or whatever it may be, coming not to the other scheme but to their own pig scheme and saying, "I have suffered loss because of the operation of some other scheme, and I want compensation under this scheme."I do not like bringing in this new and, I think, dangerous and rather unnecessary power simply to meet this specific case. After all, when a man has taken a contract, if it is a building contract, and the cost of bricks goes up, he does not say, "I have a claim against the people with whom I 1935 made the contract." If he has provided against a rise of price or wages, well and good. If he has not, he takes the rough with the smooth. These wide, new, general powers are giving people apparently a, claim because they may have had losses because of the operation of some other scheme. I think it is a dangerous departure.
Clause 2, it seems to me, we shall have to regard, if it is passed, as part of the general law affecting all these schemes. It gives power to boards to lend or grant one another money or to guarantee one another's loans. Again, I find it very difficult to reconcile that with the directness, the simplicity and the definiteness which is so desirable in the financial affairs of these boards. What publicity will there be when this sort of thing is done? We have not been able to get any publicity as to the amount of money involved in these operations between the Bacon Marketing Board and the Pig Marketing Board. We only know in general that something has had to be done. What publicity will there be for these loans or guarantees? There will be reports and rumours and, maybe, leakage, but no real publicity, and that is bad for a scheme. There is sure to be suspicion when big operations are taken on by the Government, but you do not want that suspicion to be any more than is necessary.
The Clause says these loans or guarantees shall only be made voluntarily by one board to help another. One can imagine what will happen. A board will get into financial difficulties, as has already happened with the first scheme that has been started for bacon, and pressure will be brought to bear by persons in authority, who will say, "If there is too much said about this, if this board goes down, it will endanger another. You will all be blown upon if you do not take care. If you do not lend this one that is in difficulties money or guarantee its loans, the whole facts will have to be brought out in some specific way before Parliament, and you will all feel a draught."
I think that is altogether a wrong sort of line of country to get into, and it is all wrong that indirect pressure should be able to be put upon boards to come to one another's rescue. I do not think 1936 it is going very far to imagine that sort of thing arising. The argument will be used that one board will make a little more or less this time, and the difficulty will blow over. That is the sort of thing I want to avoid. Sometimes if you spread your risk over several organisations you decrease it, and it is a legitimate thing to do, but once you pass this general Clause to he embodied in our permanent legislation, you will be letting each board feel in future that all the others will be almost morally bound to give grants or loans or to guarantee their liabilities. You will be tempting those boards to do what has been done by the pig, marketing, and bacon boards, namely, fix contract prices too high really to be a businesslike proposition. As soon as you let people know that other people can be relied upon to come to their rescue they will be very much less careful about their contracts with their own members and so on than otherwise they would be. The only way in which farmers can be got to trust to these schemes is that each scheme should be on an independent basis, and there should be no sort of expressed duty of one coming to the rescue of another. That sort of thing is too suggestive of the less pleasant side of business finance in which one company controls another and operates through it and is practically the equivalent of another under a different name, to the surprise, and very often to the loss, of the investing public.
I come to the more ad hoc Clauses. As to Clause 4, with regard to which there is a time limit of one year, whether there is anything in the scheme under which a board is set up to that effect or not, it means that the Minister is bringing in a new element into the matter. The Minister may empower any board to guarantee any loan which any other board has had to contract. The Minister is going to bring into these schemes, without any alteration or without resubmitting them or anything of that kind, an element and a liability about which those who had made the contracts under the schemes would know nothing at the time the contracts were made. That is not the sort of thing farmers like. They will be inclined to say: "When we made these contracts, did we know that our money was to be lent, or that our guarantee was to be given to another board? We did not. That was not in 1937 the scheme. It was not in the Act of Parliament under which the scheme was produced. It was not stated on the form of our contract, and we do not like it." That brings me again, as all these considerations do, to prefer the direct. method and to say "a certain slip—I do not like to call it a mistake—a miscalculation has occurred on the subject of bacon, let us put it right without these extensive legal procedures."
I do not intend to say anything about Clause 6, but with regard to Clause 5 I wish to ask the Minister a question which has been puzzling me a good deal. He rightly and inevitably referred to Sections 13 and 16 of the original Act of 1931—the short loan Section and the long loan Section. If he will look at the Financial Resolution which is to be moved by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury presumably later on, he will see that an entirely different Section of the Act of 1931 is referred to. The Financial Resolution refers to an increase in the expenditure authorised under Sub-section (5) of Section 11 of the main Act. That Subsection enables you to write off as irrecoverable balances of agricultural marketing boards' funds. Why is there that reference to increases in the balances irrecoverable which may have to be wiped off the funds of these boards? Why is the Financial Resolution drafted in that way? As far as we can see from the Bill itself, and from the explanation of the Minister, it is merely a question of aiding the amount which was allocated for purposes of starting schemes in Section 13 of the Act.
Let us see what is contemplated. I wish we really knew. We only have the report to go upon. It is expected, in the words of the explanation of the Bill, that pretty nearly all the money which was originally allocated to purposes under Section 13 of the original Act will be wanted to clear up the bacon difficulty. The facts as they have been told to me are that you may have to pay bacon curers up to £500,000, whereas the amount of money available under Section 13 is £625,000. Where are we? One point is clear. You are cutting to the bone already with regard to this one thing which has gone wrong—this miscalculation. You are cutting to the bone the sum provided under the Act of 1931 for starting these schemes. That money will 1938 have to be put back later presumably, and made available under Section 13, either by forcing up the prices or by lowering the contract prices later on. If you force the prices any higher you will not be able to sell the bacon, but if it is going to be done the other way by lowering contract prices, it will amount, as far as I can make out, to a lowering of about ls. a score in the next contract period, assuming that there is, as there very likely will be, a contraction in view of the fact that this money has not been paid back.
The Minister is wrong in saying, as he definitely said, that this sort of thing was contemplated when the main Act of 1931 was passed. I have been looking up what Dr. Addison said. He did not contemplate this sort of thing at all. He naturally and inevitably contemplated that money would be required as these schemes came into operation, and before they were in a position to make any levy upon the producers either for taking their offices, or for paying salaries for the first quarter, half year or year, until their contracts came in and they had been paid for the stuff which the schemes had produced. I saw the other day that the Milk Board was almost boasting of having 150,000 letters arriving every day for them to deal with. That was the sort of thing for which this money was rightly and inevitably provided. No words can be quoted by those responsible for the original Act to suggest that they had in mind the loss of £500,000 on a particular scheme which should be made up out of £625,000, which was the total amount of money to be provided for all the schemes which could be floated under the Act of 1931.
That, again, brings me back—I am sorry to repeat it so often—to the point that it would have been far better to deal with this particular emergency in a particular way without raiding the fund, which was established for quite different purposes. I should not have been so suspicious about this Bill unless we had had a rather curious background against which to consider it. The Minister visited Sadler's Wells Theatre two days ago to see a performance of Bernard Shaw's play "The Devil's Disciple." In that play the hero declares himself to be a scoundrel, devoid of any principles of morality or religion, while he is really, like the Minister, a rather fine fellow at 1939 bottom. The Minister, apparently, was so moved by the representation of a man blazoning his sins abroad to the world that he dashed on to the stage between the acts and made a profession of his evil intentions which has not yet been quoted to the House. He said:We have taken some drastic steps, but they are nothing to the steps we are going to take in the immediate future. As the road notices say, 'You have been warned.' This movement will not stop until we have had a lot of terribly nasty food at extremely high prices.This evening his phrase was very different. He was describing how much more cheap food there would be available in this country owing to the increase of the home supply of pigs as compared with the imported bacon. He put it before us in a very different way. He said that this scheme would mean cheap, fresh, edible by-products. There was no mention of "a lot of terribly nasty food at extraordinarily high prices." It was very lucky for him that the gallows which is on the stage during the third act of "The Devil's Disciple "was only a property gallows, and that therefore he was able to get away after that extraordinary declaration. But it is rather extraordinary, and we must associate this Bill with it: "Nothing to the steps we are going to take in the immediate future." He said that two days ago, and it is the immediate future we are now living in. I do not like this idea at all. If this food about which he is talking and for which he is preparing us is, as he says, to be terribly nasty, one thing is certain: it will not command very high prices. This is the essential fact which the Minister is tending to overlook in all these schemes. Unless and until he controls everyone by rations, if the food is either nasty or expensive people will turn to some other sort of food which is cheaper and nicer.
It would have been better in the long run to avoid this difficulty altogether. You could not tell how big the contracts were going to be; you expected 200,000 cwt. and you got 300,000 cwt. Your scheme is charged with a fairly heavy debt in consequence; that debt will have to be repaid by cutting the contracts later on. That will cause, I am afraid, a good deal of mistrust and a good deal of shrinking away from making the contracts at the time when this repayment 1940 has to be made. It would have been better to cut down those contracts—the contracts sent in by the small men—in order to bring them within the ambit of what was expected and planned for. It could have been done without a loss in accordance with the report of the Lane Fox Commission. One sees already that the failure to do that is causing difficulty. The meeting of the Council of Agriculture has already been referred to, and there a big pig-breeder, Mr. T. C. Ward, of Shropshire, moved a very stiff resolution of protest against the proposal to do what the Minister is now doing, namely to deduct from the next contracts the amount of loss on the first contract, believing, as he said, thatsuch deductions would directly violate a principle in the original scheme upon which pig producers so recently voted. that they would be looked upon as a definite breach of faith and have a serious effect upon the expansion of production.That shows which way the wind is blowing. I believe that in all these schemes, if they are to succeed—and I think there is a great deal of room for some of them to succeed and I should be glad if some of them did succeed—even if organisation has to be created slowly and you have to restrict supplies from abroad, you should do it gradually; do not rush into big contracts involving losses which can only be dealt with by Bills of this kind. That is not the quickest way forward, that is not really sound; and when, owing to action of that kind—making these schemes run before they have learnt to walk—this sort of thing comes along, the only protest we can make is to vote against it, so as to prevent this sort of thing being done in schemes on future occasions.
§ 9.32 p.m.
Sir WILLIAM ALLEN
Just for a moment I should like to intervene in this Debate, the more particularly as there is some reference in this Bill to Northern Ireland. I listened with more or less pleasure to the speeches of those hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate; with less pleasure to the speech that has just been delivered from the Liberal benches. It is a copy of some speeches that have been made in Northern Ireland for some time past, a kind of prophecy of all the evils which will happen if such a Bill is put through. Such prophecies of evil for the future always remind me of the old gentleman 1941 who, on his death-bed, called all his surviving relations round him and said, "I have had a great deal of trouble in my life, but most of it never happened." That is exactly the impression which the speech of the right hon. Member who has just sat down has made upon me. All kinds of prophecies of that nature were made by individuals who had no hope of any success for the pig-marketing scheme of Northern Ireland. For a little while it looked a dangerous scheme, but I should like to advise the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Argiculture not to be rushed by the scheme's apparent failure at first, but to take it quietly and to see how it works out. I have no doubt whatever that the result will be satisfactory to himself as Minister of Agriculture. In the recent election of Northern Ireland there were a number of gentlemen who said that because of the Government's marketing scheme they would oppose the Cabinet Ministers of 'Northern Ireland and more particularly the Minister of Agriculture, but, as time passed and the scheme was proved to be an excellent Measure for the people of the country, that opposition gradually subsided, and the result was that not one member of the Cabinet of the Government of Northern Ireland was opposed in the late election. I should like to throw out that hint. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman not to be disappointed if at first he does not succeed.
I listened with pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), because I always enjoy the moderation with which he delivers his speeches, although they may be entirely in disagreement with my own opinions. There is a refreshing moderation about everything he says, but, like a great many other speakers, myself included, in dealing with a subject of this kind, there are little errors into which one is inclined to fall, and the hon. Member did fall into some errors in regard to the First Clause when he frequently referred to it as a guarantee against all losses. I cannot read it in that way. I read it as enabling a scheme to provide, etc. It is purely, from beginning to end, an enabling Bill. That is the only way I can read it, although I may be wrong. I do not profess to be right, any more than the hon. Member.
With regard to the question which has been raised as to the inclusion of North- 1942 ern Ireland in the Bill by name, while Scotland and Wales are apparently left out, it seems to me very clear from the first page of the Bill that both Scotland and Wales, as well as Northern Ireland, are included. It is refreshing for a Member from Northern Ireland to see that some notice is taken of the fact that Northern Ireland is part of the British Empire. We are so often taken as aliens. [HON. MEMBERS: "No.''] Yes. Not long ago I was sending a telegram to Belfast from a Post Office in London and, as it was less than 12 words, I put down one shilling, but the attendant behind the counter said: "Sixpence more please, for the Free State." I think that goes to prove what I have said, and it is interesting to me on an occasion like this to defend the proper position of Northern Ireland as part and parcel of our great Empire. We have constantly to remind people of this country of that fact. Therefore, I am glad of this particular reference in the Bill.
Clause 6 is one of the most essential Clauses in the Bill and we appreciate the introduction of Northern Ireland as part of the scheme. Our Agricultural Board in Northern Ireland has had many interesting things said about it in regard to the grading of eggs and apples and the pig marketing scheme, all of which are working out for the benefit of the people. We have seen no evil results with regard to the price of bacon. Of course, everybody knows that Irish bacon is the best in the world. We have seen no advance in price because of our marketing scheme, and it is a fallacy to suggest that there will necessarily be advances in price because of the present Bill. It is absolutely necessary that where there is a board in Scotland, in Wales, in England or in Northern Ireland it will be essential that all those boards should work in harmony, otherwise you may have the board in Northern Ireland dumping potatoes, bacon, eggs or apples into Scotland, Wales, or England at a very much lower price than the board in those countries may fix. If, however, we have all the boards acting in concert the result must be very much more satisfactory. I congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on the Bill and I assure him that I have no doubt that, given a little time, this scheme will work satisfactorily for all concerned.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
I was one of the comparatively few representatives of industrial constituencies who was on the Standing Committee when the Minister of Agriculture's Marketing Bill was going through Committee upstairs, and I think I can say that almost on every Clause one made such criticisms as one could, and ventured to give some warnings. Of some of those warnings I reminded the House last week. Although the Minister of Agriculture was not able to be present on that occasion, perhaps he has seen what I said in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I rise as one of those who are still loyal supporters of the National Government who, with much misgiving, voted for that Act and each Clause of it upstairs. Having swallowed that camel, I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill to-night, but I should not like the Minister to be under any misapprehension that the course upon which he has set himself is not causing grave disquiet to some supporters of the Government in this House and to a great many persons who voted for the Government at the last election.
Reference has been made to a rather remarkable general statement of the Minister. The disquiet to which I have referred is not only confined to the curious views of the right hon. Gentleman and his attitude about consumers, but similar causes of disquiet arise among business men. I should like to quote the opinion of one of the greatest industrialists in the country, the chairman of United Dairies, who said, recently, of another board similar to the one we are discussing:The use of its powers will determine whether it stands or falls. Under its constitution the board has to consult the buyers before fixing prices. It would be a misuse of the word to describe our recent attendance at the hoard as consultations.What is the origin of the Bill? It takes its first parentage from that very Socialistic measure the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. That Act gave powers which at that time appeared to Conservative and Liberal Members as peculiar. It empowered boards to buy products, to produce commodities, to sell, grow, store, adapt for sale, insure, advertise and transport them—the sort of public enterprise that we have had to deal with this afternoon in connection with the New- 1944 foundland Bill. That same form of enterprise was carried forward by the Minister in his own Act of this year, almost word for word.
It is indeed a universal peculiarity of these courses that they grow more involved step by step; here they go first of all from what are called primary products, like pigs, to secondary products such as bacon. The Act of 1931, because it did not control imports, was largely a. dead letter. The Act of 1933 did; and the schemes began. With the schemes came, as usual, the losses, and we are now asked to pass an Agricultural Marketing Bill, No. 3, Clause 1, of which characteristically is to provide payment for compensation for losses, and Clause 2, equally characteristically, is to provide power to make loans towards deficits. How far is all this to go? How far it can go we can see by experience on the other side of the Atlantic. There is an active gentleman there who corresponds to the Minister of Agriculture in this country, who has piled up a little Bill of 1,000,000,000 dollars on the consumers of the United States for the benefit of the producers, by such measures as those contained in the Wheat Quota Act and other measures of the right hon. Gentleman. These schemes can go very far. Like all planning they rest upon two noble principles; squeeze the taxpayer and damn the consumer. And what is the justification?
This is the first speech I have heard from the Minister of Agriculture in which he has not used the word "glut", though it is never far from his thoughts. Whenever he is in a tight place he tells old-fashioned believers in private enterprise that they are out of date, that this is the day of glut. If that is so, why does he propose to add to the glut? We have had in operation, as our first experience in this country, one of these noble schemes to improve industry and get over the troubles of glut. The first effect has been to add to the glut. The right hon. Gentleman may say that it was not done purposely; "You must not blame me for being surrounded with this beautifully regulated but very expensive litter of Gadarene swine; it was a mistake, I did not mean it." In the old days if any private firm made a mistake of that sort the bank would have come along and put someone on the board to see that it did 1945 not happen again. Nowadays, the Government have learned a trick worth two of that. Already on the other side of the Atlantic, and from what we can know of the right hon. Gentleman's mind it may also be true here, the Government comes along and puts someone on the board of the bank to make sure that they can do it again, and borrow more money in order to make it possible. Taking a planner past a bank is like taking a dipsomaniac past a public-house; he must go in and taste the overdraft.
Within six months of the first of these magnificent new schemes being in operation a deficit has begun, loans have to be incurred, and viewing the courageous and frank public statements of the right hon. Gentleman, and also the practical experience on the other side of the Atlantic, it is about time that persons, who are only too willing to support a Government which has endeavoured to put our finances straight, should ask themselves where this is all going to lead. We had a remarkable speech from the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) the other day in which he told the Front Bench that the period of salvage was over and the period of reconstruction begun. Thoughtless hon. Members applauded that remark. It is fair to remind hon. Members that what we had to salvage two years ago was the result of 10 years of reconstruction and the last thing done by the Government upon which we had to start salvage was the Agricultural Marketing Bill of 1931 upon which all these measures are founded. I put it very seriously to representatives of agricultural constituencies whether they are well advised in basing their hopes of agricultural prosperity on measures which more and more are being shown here, and across the Atlantic, to be practically incompatible with sound finance, and with a reasonable regard for the consumers of the country, who enormously outnumber the producers of agricultural food.
Let me remind them that just as the difficulties of the wheat farmers across the water were due to a Government guarantee of a ½ dollar wheat, and we know where wheat is now, that just as the wheat farmers in this country had the Corn Production Act guarantee upon which to endeavour to base advances in agriculture, and we know how long that lasted; so they cannot hope in this 1946 country, mainly of urban and industrial constituencies, to base agricultural prosperity upon, I will not say the extraordinary words of the Minister but upon scheme which produce bacon of the kind people do not like, at prices which they cannot afford, and with the open and avowed object of reducing the opportunities for the very hard-hit industrial exporting districts to make a living, whereby they can buy anybody's bacon. On the other hand, I ask Members of the House whether they are interested in agricultural production or in any other form of production, whether they are not beginning to get a little nervous of the extent to which these socialistic interferences in agricultural economics are more and more openly about to be made a precedent for interference in other industries.
It will not be long before schemes in cotton and steel will be based upon similar Acts of Parliament, all of them producing their own little deficits, all of them calling for their own little loans, and all of them calling for an endless application of interference in private enterprise. I understood that this Government was called in in desperation to preserve private enterprise, by a, country which had too long suffered from a practical application of a philsosophy of industry which, I submit, is perfectly represented in the Agricultural Marketing Act, passed by a Socialist Government upon which all this new agricultural policy is based. The time has not yet come when I can feel at liberty to vote against the Government upon a Measure which follows logically from a major Government Measure to which this House has assented, but I submit to Members of different convictions who support the Government that the time is rapidly coming when we shall have to decide whether we have not merely substituted, or are in danger of substituting, for e pusillanimous and incompetent Socialist Government what is far more dangerous, an exceptionally active and bold Socialist Government.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
in rising to speak on this Bill I cannot say to the hon. Member who has just spoken that he is quite right in his statement that many agriculturists are somewhat fearful of what will be the ultimate result 1947 to their industry and to the country of having to submit to the various methods of control of their industry. I suggest to him that the agriculturists of the country realise that if it were not for these Measures British agriculture would go under; and it is because they feel that these Measures will save them and their industry that they support wholeheartedly the proposals that we are having brought before the House. I would like to express my sincere thanks to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) for the very clear way in which he enumerated the various Measures of benefit to agriculture that have been passed not only by the National Government but by the previous Conservative Government. We are very happy to know that we have that appreciation from him. It is for these reasons that the agriculturists of the country appreciate the present Minister of Agriculture more than they have ever appreciated any previous Minister; and I want on behalf of agriculturists to thank the Minister for his activities during the last two years.
I would like to add my testimony as to the benefits which this particular scheme, or these various schemes, have brought to agriculture. If one goes to-day to a market town and meets those concerned with cattle and the selling of cattle, one feels rather distressed and sad. Bat it is pleasant to proceed through the cattle market to the pig market and there find cheery smiles.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
Smiles on the faces of the farmers and squeals from the pigs. It is pleasant for us to see that amongst our constituents. We realise that it is measures of this description which have brought those smiles to the farmers' faces. We hope that it will not be long before the Minister is able to turn to smiles the rather sad look on the countenances of the farmers selling cattle. These schemes have aroused a great deal of interest in the agricultural community. The Minister has mentioned that there is a great demand for weighing scales. The farmer recognises now that he has to develop his pig production on financial and economic lines. He is 1948 also concerned with the variety of pigs that he should breed. He goes to the Minister or to the Minister's Department to discover what particular variety of pig is most suitable for bacon production. He can do as I did, that is, obtain information that a large black mother is the most essential article to breed from. The information that he gets is a very great help to him. To-day if one goes amongst a body of farmers one hears discussions as to the albuminoid ratios, the proteid equivalents and the carbohydrate equivalents in various foods. There is great interest in producing the greatest amount of live weight for the least food consumption.
I seriously support this scheme, though in doing so I must add some words of criticism. My criticism is that it is always the producer who pays. Not many days ago the Minister, in referring to the scheme for marketing bacon, said that owing to the regulation of imports the wholesale price of imported bacon had risen 26s. per cwt. In the same speech he said that the British producer of pigs had received the advantage of 2s. 6d. per score -.1n increased price. According to my calculation the producer has received an increased price of 14s. 2d. per cwt. But the price of bacon has gone up by 26s. cwt. It appears to me that there is an excessive gap between what the producer receives and the price at which the bacon is sold, and that that is quite sufficient to enable the curer rather than the producer to pay; there is sufficient in that gap to meet the cost of these schemes.
The hon. Member for Don Valley made a suggestion that possibly for the next contract period the figure would be lower. I suggest to the Minister that there is no necessity for any lower figure when bacon prices have risen 26s. per cwt. and the price of pork is only 14s. 2d. per cwt. more. There is an ample margin there for the curer still to pay the present contract price. I hope that the Minister will take what action is possible to safeguard the producer, so that he shall not get a lower price. I sincerely support the pig-marketing scheme and this Bill. It has been the one bright spot on the meat-producing side of Agriculture, and I hope it will give the right hon. Gentleman the necessary courage to afford to other forms of meat production the same help that he has given to pork.
§ 10.5 p.m.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), in moving the rejection of the Bill, alluded to the amount of Parliamentary time taken up in discussing the subject of agriculture. I am sure that all the Members in the House will agree that we have by no means consumed too much time on that subject and I do not think my friends the farmers would say that we have taken nearly enough time. In the discussion on this, the second Marketing Bill produced by the National Government, we have had, as we always have on these occasions a very interesting Debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) has made one of his characteristic interventions in an agricultural Debate. He will forgive me if I do not follow him into all the intricacies of pig production in Herefordshire or anywhere else. Before him we had the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Horobin), who gave us and the Minister a warning. In fact he was positively gloomy about the situation and even suggested that the time might shortly come when he would have to reconsider his support of the Government. He pointed to America as an example of what might happen here if we persisted in following their lead, as he suggested we were doing. I do not know how he can imagine that we are following the lead of America because not so long ago he was congratulating the Chancellor of the Exchequer on pursuing the path of financial rectitude.
I admit that we are being saved from being completely planned to death by wild Conservatives, by a few solid Members of the Government.
My hon. Friend agrees that we are not yet in the plight of America, and, as he has said he is going to vote for us to-night, he still thinks the Government fairly sound upon agricultural policy as well as upon finance. He rightly pointed out that this island is predominantly urban and industrial, but he did not go on to say that during 80 years we have been content to let the agricultural industry work out its own salvation. We have over developed the industrial and urban side, and I would suggest to the House that it is for that very reason that we are now considering 1950 all these schemes to assist agriculture. I do not share my hon. Friend's gloomy views, and I sincerely hope that in the end it will be seen that he is wrong and not the overwhelming majority of the Members of this House. I think he suggested that if industry is in a prosperous condition it necessarily follows that agriculture will also be prosperous, but in the 80 years during which our industries developed in such an extraordinary way and became the amazement and envy of the rest of the world, agriculture continued to languish until it was finally landed into the deplorable condition in which it is to-day.
The two Clauses of this Bill most discussed have been Clauses 1 and 6. On Clause 1 both the hon. Member for Don Valley and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) had some trenchant criticisms to make. The right hon. Gentleman naturally finds that his political allegiance is concerned with strict financial rectitude and he has fears, shared by the hon. Members above the Gangway, as to the advisability of voting for the Bill because of the money which we shall be asked to find under the terms of the Financial Resolution. A few hours ago we were considering the advisability of voting large sums for Newfoundland, and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall was in the Lobby with us on that occasion.
I do not suggest that there is no risk in Clause 1. There is certainly risk, but I do not think that any hon. Member has suggested that the risk might be obviated if the machinery under the Agricultural Marketing Acts was fully requisitioned. I refer, of course, to the control of imports. That point has been mentioned several times, but not from the point of view which I am advocating. I think anybody connected with agriculture would agree that no marketing scheme, whether for bacon, potatoes, milk or the all-important meat, can be a success if it does not provide for systematic careful regulation of imported products. The Milk Marketing Board have indicated in the last few days that there may be a large surplus in the early spring. That has given milk producers food for serious thought because surplus milk which cannot be disposed of as liquid will have to be turned into manufactured products.
1951 It is all right on the face of things to say you can dispose of a surplus in that way, but if the flow into this country of cheese and butter is to continue in its present unregulated or insufficiently regulated fashion, you will simply be piling up greater quantities of manufactured products in this country which cannot be disposed of at anything like remunerative prices. Therefore, I would suggest to my right hon. Friend, who spoke in very strong terms about beef a day or two ago, that he and the Government and those connected with working these marketing schemes should tackle very seriously indeed the question of the supplies of cheese, butter and milk products, which are coming into this country, not merely from foreign countries, but from inside the British Commonwealth of Nations as well. The words which my right hon. Friend used a day or two ago have already been quoted in this Debate, though they were quoted in criticism, but I would like to add my thanks to him for speaking in such strong terms as he did, and I would associate myself with what the hon. Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) said, that the Minister need have nothing to fear from the consumers if he takes the action for which we who represent pre-eminently the producers ask. I am certain that the electors of Kelvingrove will not pass any strict censure upon him at all.
Clause 6 has also been criticised by some hon. Members, and the hon. Member for Don Valley especially went rather off the rails, because he interpreted the Clause as meaning that only Northern Ireland was to be brought into co-operation with Great Britain. As the Minister rightly pointed out, both Scotland and Wales are included in the powers here given, and I am particularly glad that Scotland has been brought into this cooperative scheme, because as the hon. Member for Don Valley rightly pointed out, we had a certain amount of trouble some two or three months ago with regard to matters that required adjustment between the English and Scottish boards. In big schemes like this we cannot expect to run smoothly right away. There are minor and major points too that require -to be adjusted before the scheme can work in the way that we would wish. We 'had these points of difference, and some people possibly realised what might hap 1952 pen if we had fiscal autonomy in Scotland. I do not think hon. Members need fear to give this Bill a Second Reading. Its passage this evening is, of course, assured, and I would ask the House to sanction it, because believe that the Bill is designed to supplement the Measure that we passed in May or June of this year, that it will ensure the smoother working of the greater Act, that it will make for increased efficiency, and that it will let the producer and the consumer alike know exactly where they stand.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
If we on this side paid attention to our own advantage, we would rather welcome the appearance of this Bill. Those who sat in the Committee on the main Bill will remember how frequently we called attention to the shortcomings of that Measure and warned the Committee and the Minister over and over again of the danger of making too much haste in setting up the machinery under that Bill. We questioned the wisdom of the Minister in giving the board too much power in the initial stages of the transferring operations, and we constantly expressed the need for a vigilant survey of marketing requirements and urged the Minister to rely upon the Market Supply Committee. We never failed to press the importance of Section:3 of the Act of this year, which we then said was in danger of being neglected and which was not given the very important place in the reorganisation plans which it deserved. That Market Supply Committee is in the Act, but it was not given sufficient powers. Here is an example of the wisdom of our forecasts in the discussions upstairs when we said that any neglect of the authority and of the great usefulness of that committee would be reflected sooner or later in the confusion in our markets.
We instanced examples that can be clearly applied to the present situation. I remember that We urged that there should not be an undue restriction of imports. We pointed out the possibility of too much emphasis being given to the protection of home producers and said that it would put too much tax on our own industry to supply the short market which would follow on undue restriction.
1953 We also urged the need for the careful building up of the various protective factors of the home market in order that we should go steadily forward year after year in building up and increasing the productivity of our greatest of industries. We urged the Minister not to be too rash with overseas countries, or too heavy in the imposition of the quotas which would limit supplies in our home market. We find that to-day our forecasts have been amply fulfilled. There was an undue limitation of the supply of bacon products into this country, an excessive restriction which was reflected in the abnormally and unreasonably high prices which followed the quota first fixed under the Act. We now find that something else has happened. The supply of home bacon has become unexpectedly high.
No one can deny that this is a piece of emergency legislation. It was not contemplated when we left the Committee stage in May this year. It is due to the unexpected appearance of too many pigs. No one contemplated that the home production of pigs would reach such a high figure, but the undue restriction of foreign supplies of bacon called forth pigs which were produced by the registered producers like a conjuring trick. They produced 600,000 pigs because the prices were high, and they were given the unexpectedly high price of 12s. a score on the large number of pigs which were to be delivered in the next few months. This emergency is due to the fact that bacon prices, having been raised to a high level, havenow fallen again. This vast quantity of prospective bacon on the market has caused bacon prices to fall, and the bacon-curers, who contracted to 12s. a score En the expectation of high prices for the bacon when it was cured, now find they cannot sell the bacon at that price. Too many pigs have made their appearance, too much bacon is in prospect, and prices have fallen to a very low level. We find the very strange position that the pig-producer and the pig-producing board are to help the curers, because the curers have contracted to pay too much.
Curers find themselves in the sorry position that they cannot compel the consumer of bacon to pay those enhanced prices, and therefore they say, "We are losing money under these contracts. They were entered into in the expecta- 1954 tion of high prices, which the Minister had kindly arranged for us, but we now find those high prices are not likely to materialise and we have to disappoint our own members." Thereupon the Minister says, "I cannot allow this to happen at the beginning of my great marketing enterprises. If I allow the Bacon Board to lose all this money I can never get on with the other schemes I have in prospect. We do not know what lies behind the Minister's mind. He looks very innocent when we gaze across the Floor, but when we read his speeches the reverberations sound like thunder in the ears of all people who value freedom.
The Minister has brought this state of affairs upon this industry by his own action and is now seeking a way of escape, and he finds it in a previous Act, that of 1931. Dr. Addison has been charged in this House with many crimes and has been a very convenient whipping boy for the Government. He will be charged with all the defects of these schemes, though he is seldom given any credit for the advantages conferred by his Measure. He has conveniently placed all this machinery at the disposal of the right hon. Gentleman, who is going to use it. The right hon. Gentleman says, "It does not matter; we will meet this emergency. We have bargained to get £3,000,000 worth of bacon and we find it is £5,000,000 worth; but we will buy all this bacon and pay the price and adopt a simple arithmetical method of doing it." That is where the right hon. Gentleman shows his ingenuity.
Here I must make a reference to the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E, Shepperson), because he was the only one to-night who has urged that there is no necessity for all this to be done. He says the farmer gets Hs. 3d. per cwt. for bacon, but bacon prices are 26s. per cwt., and asks, "Why should the bacon curers be empowered to borrow money from anybody 7 Have not they got enough money to meet all reasonable expenses and profits?" That being his view, the hon. Member ought to vote with us to-night rather than permit the possibility of a great loss of public money. The proceeds of this loan are to be handed over to people who buy at 14s. 3d. and sell at 26s. per cwt.—a very large margin for converting pig into bacon. We must thank the hon. Member for giving us that 1955 information and for the definite way in which he has shown us that this loan is not necessary. The Minister says, "The Pig Board have got these contracts, and though the price is too high I cannot interfere with them; but the Pig Board, from their high prices, will lend money to the Bacon Board who pay them those prices." The Pig Board will lend money to the Bacon Board to enable the Bacon Board to pay the Pig Board's prices for the pigs supplied. That is very in genious. Only the fertile mind of a Scotsman could have thought of this method of manipulating things. After the Bacon Board have received the loan, they will pay compensation to their own members, and everything will be all right, and nobody will have lost anything.
I am still not sure that the Minister has taken us completely into his confidence. He may have a few more arithmetical mysteries up his sleeve. We are entitled to know—and I put the question to the Minister now, across the Floor of the House—if the money which is provided for in Dr. Addison's Act—I think it was in Section 11, has been drawn upon. It was a, sum of £500,000 for England and £125,000 for Scotland, making a total of £625,000, to be used as a send-off to the various boards, set them up and pay the initial expenses. If such a large sum of money is required, what are the prospects of future regulation? If the losses reach the whole of that £500,000, although we have not been told, and if the bacon curers are to be compensated to the full extent of their losses, those losses being due to bad estimates in regard to prices and market supplies, what shall we think if, on another occasion, some other board which has been badly advised by the Minister or, if properly advised, have not made full use of their knowledge of marketing requirements, should trouble this House and ask for another £500,000? Board after board will be encouraged to borrow money, in order to compensate everybody for losses.
This problem is getting beyond us. The Minister says, "All right; you can depend upon it that I will see that everything is in working order in these industries. A tribunal will be set up, on which three men will represent the Pig Board, three the Curers' Board and three will be impartial independent per- 1956 sons. "He went on to describe this, and I will picture the whole scheme operating thus:Three Pig Board men to look after prices;Three bacon curers to guard against losses;Three independents to see fair play,While 5,000,000 of us pay, pay, pay.The public will have to pay for all the nicely-balanced machinery, and for the impartial tribunal for the disputed claims of pig-producers against bacon curers. It must all end in higher prices, and the money will have to be found by the consumers, unless the Treasury is more generous than it usually is, and will foot the bill.
We protest most strongly against all this being done. I would like to know when this money is to be repaid? The Minister has not enlightened us, and we are entitled to ask for information from him. When the Pig Board has lent money to the Curers' Board, and Ole Curers' Board has compensated its members, something must come from somewhere. The money must be repaid at some point or other. How far is the circuit to go round, before it has made full circle? We should like to know something about the machinery by which repayment and recoupment is to be made to those who find the money. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) consulted the Bill, and he has helped us very much by his examination of its provisions. He asked a question, which I now with to repeat, and which was: "Will not these loans mean higher prices in the end? "We want the Minister to explain now, on the Second Reading of the Bill.
We shall oppose the Second Reading. We have not had the assurances that we seek, and which we are entitled to receive, and we are very much afraid that this reckless kind of reorganisation will, if the Minister remains in office, spread all over the country and that all our food supplies will be very strictly limited and determined, both in quantity and in quality. The Minister referred to that point in one of his recent speeches. We know that he believes that prosperity can only come to this country by a, policy of restriction. He does not apologise for that. The new economists have found in him a prophet daring enough to stand up to all public criticism, and reckless enough to adopt any measures which the 1957 present Government, with its vast majority, can pass through this House.
Those who do not share the Minister's view or agree with the policy of the National Government fear that this system will be developed to a stage at which it will be very difficult to repair w1hen it goes wrong. There are grave risks with this huge unwieldy contrivance consisting of so many parts—a board here and a board there, touching the commodities by which people live day by day, and vastly influencing the prices and supplies of those commodities, determining exactly the quantities that the nation hall eat of this and that commodity, determining exactly to a halfpenny how much the nation shall pay. The Minister may argue that he is entitled to do this. Indeed, when we discussed the last question, he said he was not asking that a loan should be made to any other country; he was not asking that a loan involving any undue risk should be made. He said that this loan was a loan on good security, and was recoverable. He did not explain what the security was, or how the loan was to be recovered, and he gave no guarantee that it is to be recovered. He said that this was a loan to our own people, a loan to people to help themselves.
My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) quoted many examples which must not be overlooked and which must be present to the minds of all of us. We are handing out money, dole after dole, to this great agricultural industry, and there is ample evidence, which I challenge any landowner in this House to deny, that already farms have been let at higher rents than were obtainable 12 months ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It is true; rents are rising; and if we continue to pour out money in this way it will ultimately find its way in large part into the pockets of the landowners. We shall vote against the Bill. We are not satisfied that it is justified by the circumstances, and in any case we say—it has been said by speaker after speaker—that it is a mistake on the part of the Government, a breaking down of their own scheme. We shall not vote for the Bill because we believe that with ordinary care and foresight this mistake need not have occurred, and it need not have been necessary for the Government to ask this of the House of Commons.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I can speak again only by the leave of the House. If that is granted, I shall be very glad to reply to the points which have been raised. I am sure that the Government have no reason to complain of the discussion that we have had to-night. It has been critical, but the remarks which have been made have all been made in a friendly spirit. We all agree that a great scheme of reorganisation is in progress, and critics from various parts of the House have rightly demanded information as to the proposal which the Government are bringing forward and have voiced fears lest. the Government should be going too far. It is, of course, not unusual that a warning against speed should come from a revolutionary party. "You are doing too much. You are going too quickly. We warned you in Committee to go slowly, but you are not going slowly enough. Go-yet slower." I apologise to them for the speed at which we have had to move. It is a thing for which we may have to apologise to them in the future also. We must try to justify our proposals on their merits, but we do not wish to defend them on the general principle that we are keying our efforts down to the year which they recommended to us in Committee and which they are now recommending on the Floor of the House.
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) delighted the House with a very sprightly and interesting speech, but I could not quite make out whether he was complaining that food was too dear or too cheap, whether pigs were tap scarce or too plentiful. At one moment he claimed that there were not enough pigs and that he had warned me upstairs in Committee that there would not be enough, and then he put on a reproving air and said, "Now there are too many pigs. The industry has responded too well. You have bought pigs that you do not know what to do with."
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) brought forward many points of reasoned criticism which demand attention. I think he started in some ways under a misapprehension as to the general purport of the Bill, a misapprehension which was cleared up in subsequent debate. He seemed to consider that it was a guaranteeing Bill, whereas, as the Bill itself says, it is an enabling Bill. He says it guarantees farmers 1959 against losses. I do not think that that is accurate. It facilitates the possibility of a board making advances to another board, but it is its own money, the money of its constituent members, and we may be sure that the constituent members of any organisation will be very careful before they advance money to any other organisation either by way of loan or grant. In fact, he inveighed against dictatorship on my part, because I was enabling one organisation to lend another money. That is a totally new definition of the word "dictatorship." If the only dictatorship that we may fear from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) is a dictatorship of an enabling or empowering kind, we shall contemplate the future with much greater complacency.
He asked the specific question: would any action lie by one board against another by reason of the Bill? The answer is that no action will lie by one board against another by reason of the Bill. He said that under Clause 3 (3, b) there may be a danger of the rights of registered producers being taken away. But that paragraph deals with decisions which have been made under a Committee such as the tribunal which I have described already, and merely says that, when cases have been determined by such a tribunal and the decision has been agreed to by both parties, it should not be subject to any further discussion.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
No reference is made to any tribunal whatever. The only reference is to a person proposing to make a grant or loan.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The Paragraph, says a scheme may provide that, where such an agreement contains conditions requiring the board to act on the advice of any specified persons, the provisions of the scheme entitling a registered producer who is aggrieved by any act or omission of the board to refer the matter to arbitration shall not apply in relation to anything done, or omitted to be done, by the Board in pursuance of the agreement. The conditions laid down are agreed beforehand by the two parties to the transaction. If the board is to be bound in advance by the determination of an arbitral tribunal, I think that it is not unreasonable to stipulate in such cases that the matter should not be raised again. That is all that Clause 3 does.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Surely, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that should any person offer either a grant or a loan to the board and the board allow the person who makes the loan or offers the grant to specify the conditions under which the money shall be spent, then the rights of the registered producers are taken away?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
It is only if the registered producers agree. The board will represent the registered producers. It is the empowering of certain persons to act on behalf of their constituents. My hon. friend may think that it goes too far. In that case there is plenty of opportunity for any shareholders to call to account their directors who have exceeded their powers or entered into a transaction by which the shareholders, so to speak, have suffered loss. It is only in conditions where the two executives have agreed to such an amount that there can be any bargain on the part of the representatives of producers under the scheme.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
If the boards give guarantees, what is the security for those guarantees, and does the guarantee imply any sort of mortgage of the revenues of the board or of the shares or properties of the constituent members?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The board can only give a guarantee against the security which is the collective credit of the board, and the collective credit of the board can only be made available by means of a levy on the members of the board entered into under the arrangement of the scheme.
§ Sir J. NALL
So that by that means the credit of the constituent members concerned with the board might be very severely prejudiced by the action of the board.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The executive of the group may pledge, if it wishes, the credit of the constituents of the group. It is surely nothing unreasonable and not an unusual thing. It has already power to do that. It only means that it is also possible for it to do so in regard to the operations of another board if it sees fit so to do. We must allow the directors of such an organisation the credit of believing that they are able to judge of the usefulness or otherwise of the transactions of their constituent members. It is inevitable and implicit in the execution of such bargains. It has, at any 1961 rate, since 1931, been in the power of all such boards to incur considerable liabilities in respect of their members, and it is in regard to their own operations and where the usefulness to their constituent members may at least be very great, that they are allowed to enter into commitments in regard to the operation of other powers as well.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I cannot discuss this matter by question and answer, but to say that constituent members have no control is really stretching the matter too far. If constituent members have no control, you might as well say that the constituents have no control over my hon. and gallant Friend on a matter of which they may strongly disapprove, such as the passing of the legislative measures of the Government. It is true that his constituents might take him by the scruff of the neck and drag him from the House of Commons. Members of the public in the constituencies have during the past exercised tremendous control over Members of this House, and no doubt will continue to do so.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I cannot enter into discussions of that nature, but it is very necessary for us to realise that this board is a responsible institution and unless it is going to live up to the height of its responsibilities the scheme will not succeed. We have already entrusted to it tremendous power, and to come here and call it objectionable because it has gone wrong in certain respects is, I submit, unreasonable. It has a responsibility analagous to that of our great railway systems. On Clause 5 my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley asked from which fund the bacon curers are drawing money? The answer is that they are drawing money from no fund to-day, nor can they draw money from any fund until this Bill is on the Statute Book and the Treasury is empowered to make the necessary advances. I am also asked whether I contemplate that any large sum will be loaned. I can go no further than the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which says quite frankly:It cannot now be stated how much money will become payable under this Clause.1962 As my hon. and right hon. Friends will realise, that depends upon the amount of loss incurred.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
It is really not sensible of my hon. Friend to make comments of that nature. If he had been present at the earlier stages of the Debate, be would have heard many most meticulous safeguards which have been inserted into these financial provisions. I merely say that it is impossible to give a total figure, because a total figure can only be determined after the conclusion of the period during which this transaction occurs. We have been given an outside limit net greater than the outside limit contemplated under the Act of 1931, which, as I remember very well, my hon. Friend supported.
My hon. Friend asked what levy would be required. Again, I do not think that it is possible to give a figure, although a levy of a relatively small sum, such as 4d. per score, would certainly pay a very large amount of the loss on such a scheme as this. I was asked specifically to answer the point: Would a board outside Great Britain have power to limit output or sale of organised produce in this country? The answer is "No." A board has only power to control produce in its own area. If a scheme would clearly be broken up by imports into a board's area from a board producing outside, it would be necessary for it to negotiate with that board and come to a satisfactory agreement, as has already been done between the Scottish and English boards in the case of milk production, to make sure that the production of milk outside a board's area did not break up production inside that area which the board was organising.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I aim sorry to ask the right hon. Gentleman another question. Under Clause 6 (1, d) a home board is entitledTo exercise, as agents for the board administering any corresponding scheme, any power of that boardspecifically referring to Northern Ireland legislation. Do we understand from the right hon. Gentleman that the English Bacon Marketing Board will act for production as well as for marketing on behalf of the Northern Ireland board?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I answered that they can, when invited by the Northern Ireland board, act as agents for the Northern Ireland board in disposing of Northern Ireland produce, but they have not power to control the production in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), in his usual careful and perfectly fair analysis of the proposals of the Bill, dealt mainly with his apprehensions. He said that this was a new proposal, that it had aroused great suspicion among the producers; that it was a proposal which caused him the gravest apprehension. He then put one or two specific questions. There is nothing that would cause as much apprehension as the collapse of this scheme in its initial stages. The curers, like my right hon. Friend, had apprehensions when they were starting off on this tremendous new scheme and, quite legitimately, they said: "We must have some insurance about the scheme before we enter into it." The Producers Board, in the exercise of its own discretion, for its own purposes and for the benefit of its own members, said: "It is reasonable that some insurance should be entered into, and we will enter into arrangements with you in the form of an insurance." That was primarily for the benefit of the pig producers themselves. Nothing could have done greater damage to the producers than the failure of the scheme to go through when it had reached the stage, as all schemes reach the stage, when it was in the balance whether they should accept the scheme and go forward whole-heartedly to make it a success.
The right hon. Gentleman said that too much money was being advanced and that no such sums had been contemplated in the Act of 1931. I would ask him to consider his own instance. He said that it was only intended for initial expenses, a little stationery, a few office premises, and so on. Does he think that £625,000 is a reasonable sum to spend on a little stationery, a few postage stamps, a little office furniture, and so on?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I say that the —625,000 voted by Parliament in 1931 indicated that Parliament was contemplating initial expenses to be met far beyond 1964 the payment of the small sums which my right hon. Friend has in mind. I say quite definitely that, although this actual emergency was not contemplated, because it had not arisen, Parliament envisaged formidable difficulties in the inception of the scheme and provided resources to cope with and overcome the formidable difficulties which might arise. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the desirability, rather than accepting this scheme, of cutting contracts, of saying: "We will break a certain number of contracts and not complete them "; but he saw the tremendous administrative difficulties that would arise, except, he said, for the small man. Imagine going over contracts for 620,000 pigs and picking out contracts for the small man, and doing that within a week, or 10 days, or half a week. Obviously, the administrative muddle and chaos which would have supervened would far have exceeded any suspicion which would have been caused in the minds of the producers by putting the scheme through and carrying it through.
My right hon. Friend mentioned a joke that I made at Sadlers Wells Theatre. I apologise to him for having made the joke. I will not do it again. It also upset my hon. Friend the Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin). He, who makes so many jokes himself, might have forgiven a little joke on my part. I beg him to consider with pity that little bantling of mine. I will do my utmost to refrain from any glimmer of humour in discussing any agricultural subject in the future. The hon. Member opposite said that the reason I was greeted with an enthusiastic "Yes "when speaking before the Council of Agriculture on restrictions was because I was speaking to a council of farmers. I suppose that the hon. Member knows Mr. George Dallas, a former respected Member of this House—he was in the Chair—and Mr. W. R. Smith, Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in the Socialist Government, he was also present, and Mr. Charles Roberts, not an unrespected member of his party. It was an audience of responsible men. I do not propose to follow the analysis of the general situation made again this evening by the hon. Member for Central Southwark. I am always interested in his analysis. I read it with interest when he delivered it on 1965 a previous occasion, and I look forward with interest to hearing it again on a future occasion. When he began his preliminary mutterings in Committee upstairs my hon. Friend objected to any organisation for any purpose whatsoever, and much as I sympathise with him I cannot go with him the whole way.
The arguments used to-night have not been against the principle, except those of the hon. Member for Central Southwark. The arguments have stressed the necessity for careful administration, for a vigilant scrutiny to see that the moneys are not wasted, because while the loan comes from the Treasury the guarantee comes from the board, and it is our business in this House to administer carefully any fund in our charge and to see that the machinery which administers a fund supplied by others is capable of close and vigilant scrutiny. I hope that I have shown that this Board, which is to administer this fund, is capable of close scrutiny. All these are matters of administration; we accept the responsibility, and I am sure that we shall not be guilty of maladministration. The test is this: would it have been better if these arrangements had not been made, if those proposals, which the House sanctioned only last June, had been allowed to lapse through want of courage on the part of the Government. I am sure that there is only one answer. The House said, "Go forward, do your utmost to make these schemes a success. They are novel, but we are willing to try novelties. They involve administration, but
§ we will put up with administration. They may involve interference, but we realise that interference may be necessary." Having got that unanimous support from the House, and from 99 percent. of the producers and over 70 per cent. of the processors, if we had sat down nervously and let the situation founder because we were afraid to bring forward proposals which might raise criticism from my hon. Friend the Member for Central Southwark, or the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), or the hon. Member for Gower, or the hon. Member for Don Valley, then these four gentlemen themselves would have been the first to condemn us, and that condemnation would have been echoed by every right hon. and hon. Gentleman in the House.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
Can the Minister deal with the small but important point which I raised? I refer to the apparent discrepancy between the Bill and the Financial Resolution. The Resolution refers to a different. Clause, to Clause 13 of the principal Act.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
That might be more properly raised on the Financial Resolution, but if my right hon. Friend wishes me to deal with it now I can do so in a sentence.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 184; Noes, 44.1967
|Division No. 13.]||AYES.||[11.7 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Colfox, Major William Philip||Fleming, Edward Lascelles|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Fraser, Captain Ian|
|Albery, Irving James||Colman, N. C. D.||Fuller, Captain A. G.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh)||Conant, R. J. E.||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Cook, Thomas A.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Copeland, Ida||Glossop, C. W. H.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsrn'th,C.)||Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Goff, Sir Park|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Craven-Ellis, William||Goldie, Noel B.|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Crooke, J. Smedley||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.|
|Blindell, James||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)|
|Borodale, Viscount||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Graves, Marjorie|
|Bossom, A. C.||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Grenfell, E. C. (City of London)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Dickie, John P.||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Drewe, Cedric||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Duggan, Hubert John||Hanley, Dennis A.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks.,Newb'y)||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Cheimsf'd)|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Hore-Belisha, Leslie|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Elmley, Viscount||Hornby, Frank|
|Burnett, John George||Ernrys-Evans, P. V.||Horobin, Ian M.|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.|
|Carver, Major William H.||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Clayton, Sir Christopher||Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Munro, Patrick||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Nall-Cain, Hon. Ronald||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Shute, Colonel J. J.|
|James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H.||Nunn, William||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Jennings, Roland||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Smith, R. W. (Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dlne, C.)|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Palmer, Francis Noel||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Ker, J. Campbell||Pearson, William G.||Somerville, Annesley A (Windsor)|
|Law, Sir Alfred||Peat, Charles U.||Soper, Richard|
|Leckie, J. A.||Penny, Sir George||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Percy, Lord Eustace||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Perkins, Walter R. D.||Spens, William Patrick|
|Lindsay, Noel Ker||Petherick, M.||Storey, Samuel|
|Llewellin, Major John J.||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Pike, Cecil F.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Pybus, Percy John||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Mabane, William||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hn. I. R. (Seaham)||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Rankin, Robert||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|McKie, John Hamilton||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Tree, Ronald|
|McLean, Major Sir Alan||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Magnay, Thomas||Rickards, George William||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour.|
|Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Ross Taylor, Waiter (Woodbridge)||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Martin, Thomas B.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Milne, Charles||Salmon, Sir Isidore||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Salt, Edward W.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Womersley, Walter James|
|Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Morrison, William Shepherd||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Lord Erskine and Dr. Morris-Jones.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||McGovern, John|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Mainwaring, William Henry|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Banfield, John William||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Batey, Joseph||Groves, Thomas E.||Price, Gabriel|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Grundy, Thomas W.||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cape, Thomas||Harris, Sir Percy||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Holdsworth, Herbert||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Daggar, George||Janner, Barnett||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||John, William||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Wilmot, John|
|Dobbie, William||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George|
|Edwards, Charles||Logan, David Gilbert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Lunn, William||Mr. D. Graham and Mr. G. Macdonald.|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||McEntee, Valentine L.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Captain Margesson.]