HC Deb 07 December 1936 vol 318 cc1785-95

11.30 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 35, to leave out from the first "and," to the end of the Clause, and to add "forty-three."

As the Bill now stands, there is a provision in Clause 1 (5) by which the amendments of the Eleventh Schedule of the Local Government Act, 1929, dealing with freight rebates on selected traffics, are to come to an end on 31st December, 1943, unless, by the good will of the Minister of Transport, they are extended beyond that period. I think I am correct in saying that the effect of the Subsection, which we propose to amend, is that the limitation of rebates proposed in the Bill can be extended beyond 1943 at the will of the Minister. If that be so, we have to consider the precise effect of the alterations which the Bill would make in the Eleventh Schedule of the Local Government Act, 1929. Under that Schedule agricultural traffic was a selected traffic, and farmers were given rebates on certain classes of produce. I understand that, under the Bill, those rebates are to be limited for the future to milk arid live stock and that the farmer who grows potatoes is not henceforth to receive the rebates on consignments of potatoes which he has hitherto enjoyed.

I have a difficulty in regard to this Amendment which I shall explain to the Committee. The farmers who grow potatoes are, as far as one can judge from the figures, making a misuse of the powers which they have in connection with the Potato Marketing Board. As far as Scotland is concerned—and I have taken out the figures in last year's agricultural report—the farmers there have succeeded, under the provisions of the potato marketing scheme, in reducing the acreage under potatoes by something like 13 per cent. Partly as a result of that reduction of acreage they have also succeeded in causing an amazing jump in price. They have raised the price of potatoes from 69s. 8d. a ton to 111s. 6d. per ton or a jump of 60 per cent. I am told by some of my hon. Friends that there is grave fear that before this season is over, the price, through this restriction of production, may rise as high as £10 per ton. Whether that prophecy be sound or not, I do not know, but we have the records of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland showing that as a result of the restriction which the potato market has been able to impose upon potato growers, limiting the acreage, fining potato growers £5 for each extra acre upon which they grow potatoes, and restricting their products, they have been able to raise the price by no less than 60 per cent.

It may be true that the price of 69s. 8d. was not economical, and nobody wants the growers to raise crops at uneconomical prices, but what we are facing now is this, that we are handing over a monopoly in an essential foodstuff to a selected group of people, who can, at their own sweet will, jump the price against the buyer; and when this House gets a price jump of no less than 60 per cent. in an essential commodity, it is necessary that this House should look askance at any further benefit that the growers of that commodity may seek to get from this House. It may be that it is not the growers who are getting all these benefits. It may be that it is the merchants, who have now secured a firmer market, are getting away with the price jump, but when all is said and done, we have here in this Measure a limitation in railway rebates which the potato farmer has hitherto secured which are still to be continued to the milk farmer and the livestock farmer. I am torn between two desires. I want to see the potato farmer getting fair play. I know of no reason why he should be prejudiced against his brother who is raising milk or livestock, but I confess that I have very insecure ground for fighting his battle when I see him in a potato market ring which is jumping the price unconscionably against the poor people, and when I see the Government taking no steps whatever to prevent what appears to be a price ramp against the poor. We seek an explanation from the Government before we permit this Clause to pass.

The second difficulty, I think, is this, that the farmers in Scotland are cornplaining that they were never consulted about the proposed change. It is alleged by the Government, or on behalf of the Government, that the English National Farmers' Union were consulted, but why was the Scottish Office so remiss as not to consult the Scottish farmers? Why did they permit the Government to consult the English farmers on this matter and not the farmers for whose business they are supposed to be primarily responsible? I think that there again we ought to have an explanation, but I am not convinced, and even on this point of consultation I have some difficulty in pressing the matter. These people, the Scottish farmers who are growing potatoes and complain so bitterly, about not being consulted by the Government, themselves strongly refuse to permit consultation with the Scottish farm workers who cannot get into consultation on wages, hours and conditions with them. While, therefore, we want to see the consumer and the actual producer on the land get a square deal, and we do not feel that they are getting it under this Measure, we must admit that the people who are making the most vociferous complaints do not come into court with their hands clean.

This seems rather inconclusive, but my right hon. Friend put the Amendment down to limit the operation of this limitation and discrimination in trade which is taking away the rebates from the potato farmer while it is still giving them to the milk and livestock farmer. My right hon. Friend put the Amendment down in order to take away the power from the Ministry of Transport to continue this discrimination after 1943 at his own sweet will. We cannot understand why the Minister of Transport should be given these powers. We could understand the Minister of Agriculture, or even the Minister of Health, being given them, but that the Minister of Transport should be given these powers is incomprehensible. Unless we get an adequate and satisfactory reply from the Government my hon. Friends will consider the propriety of dividing the Committee.

Captain RAMSAY

On a point of Order. Will it be in order to wait for the Amendment in my name—in the Schedule, page 5, line 39, leave out from "to," to "shall," in line 41, and insert "Grains, brewers' or distillers' (or draff)" —before replying to the right hon. Gentleman.


I must leave it to the hon. Member. Both the Amendments deal with the same position, and no doubt what is in order on one is in order on the other. It may be that the Committee will not wish a long discussion on the second Amendment if there is a full discussion on the first.

11.43 p.m.

Captain RAMSAY

I would like, therefore, before dealing with my own Amendment to deal with two inconsistencies in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. As I understood him, he said that the policy of the Potato Board has, on the one hand, resulted in discouraging potato growing and, on the other hand, that they were holding the consumer up to ransom in order to make it too lucrative. These two statements are contradictory. The Board cannot be accused at one and the same time of having raised prices so high that producers are making exorbitant profits, and, at the same time be accused of driving people out of production. This could only be argued if some system of fines for reducing acreage were employed. This brings me to the second inaccuracy in the right hon. Gentleman's attack. He appears to believe that people are being driven out of production by the imposition of a fine of R.5 an acre. I am surprised that any one in his position should make wildly inaccurate statements. The fact is that £5 per acre represents one initial payment for land in excess of the basic acreage when the scheme began.


There must be some limit as to the extent to which we can go into the actions of the Potato Marketing Board. Anything which has reference to the effect on the cost of potatoes, which is the matter dealt with here, can be just referred to as another matter which may possibly affect the price, but the only thing with which we can deal at any length is the effect on the cost of the freight.

Captain RAMSAY

I only wanted before I went on to something else to clear up the misconception that the reduction in acreage of potatoes grown has anything to do with the so-called fine imposed, on the growers of potatoes. Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, the opposite has been the case. The only effect of the so-called £5 fine would be to restrain over-production on the part of those who wished to grow more potatoes. The price factor alone accounts for less potato growing. The right hon. Gentleman's own figures show that so far from prices having been so high as he made out they had not been sufficiently remunerative for 13 per cent. of the acreage on which the initial payment had already been made to be left in production. The fact is that the Potato Marketing Board have endeavoured by the adjustment and the readjustment of the size of the riddle—


The hon. and gallant Member is going far too much beyond the bounds of order. The measures taken by the Potato Marketing Board have got nothing to do with the freight.

Captain RAMSAY

But they have a great deal to do with the price. However, I will not go further into that point, except to say that in our opinion the potato industry is not at the moment in a position to stand further burdens. I have endeavoured to show that these prices are the best that can be obtained in the circumstances, and with the most careful management possible, and it is a matter for regret that the potato industry, especially in Scotland, should be subjected to the unforeseen penalties which this Bill will inflict on it. The result of researches into the value of the potato in case of emergency which will shortly be published, will show the immense importance of the potato industry, and I and those associated with the Amendment in my name hope the Minister may see his way to qualify this new burden. In view of the fact that Scotland has not benefited to the same degree as England from the agricultural measures of the Government, and as Scotland looks to potatoes to balance in large measure her agricultural budget, and as, further, the Scottish Farmers' Union has not agreed to the imposition of this burden, we hope that the Minister will recon- sider his decision and make some qualification in it.

11.50 p.m.


As the Debate is taking place on this Amendment I think perhaps I had better make now the few remarks which I propose to address to the Committee, rather than wait for the second Amendment which stands in my hon. and gallant Friend's name and in my own. Both Amendments deal with the same point.


The hon. Member has suggested that the discussion on the two Amendments should be taken together; I am quite willing for that to be done. In the circumstances, it will, of course, have to be understood that there can be no discussion on the second Amendment, which must merely be formally moved. This course will require the assent of the Committee.




That being agreeable to the Committee I shall not, at this late hour, make a long speech, but l would point out that our interests in this matter have been neglected and overlooked. The potato industry is very important, but the railway freight rates which are charged to us are particularly heavy in Scotland. A large portion of our trade is in seed potatoes, which are sent from far North in Scotland to England, a very long and expensive haulage. The question whether we are to have a rebate for our potatoes is much more important north of the Border than in England. The whole potato traffic is important. I understand that it is not easy to give figures, because potatoes are lumped together with other things in the returns, but pr.obably the value is about £1,200,000 a year. In that case, it comes above the value of the milk traffic, is by no means negligible and deserves considerable attention.

During the Debate on the Second Reading, the Parliamentary Secretary upheld his decision on the ground that the National Farmers' Union were carrying out the recommendation on the majority. It is a democratic principle that we should go by majority rule; I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider where that principle leads us. There are three bodies interested in English potatoes—the National Farmers' Union, the Potato Marketing Board and The National Farmers' Union for Scotland. Two of those three bodies, which I believe constitute a majority, the National Farmers' Union for Scotland and the Potato Marketing Board, are against the Minister. The National Farmers' Union for Scotland have protested, but apparently their protest has not been considered. We feel that our interests have not received the consideration that they should have had, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some satisfaction in his reply.

11.53 p.m.


I was in some difficulty when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling (Mr. Johnston) was speaking because I did not know what question he wanted to raise. The effect of the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) is that the concentration of these reliefs should cease in 1943, that is, in seven years, and should not be extended without legislation. The proposal in the Bill is that the concentration should not extend beyond seven years, unless the Minister continues it by order up to 16 years. We might, therefore, say that we want the same thing, namely that a review should take place at the end of seven years. It is necessary that it should take place at that time, because we cannot foresee with any degree of accuracy what the assessment of the railway companies for rating will he when the quinquennium, 1936–41 expires. We thought that the Minister should have power to extend to the full 16 years without legislation, because 16 years is the fieriod of the proposed loan. If there is no change in the assessment in that quinquennium the concentration will have to go on, and we see no necessity for the House to be put to the trouble of passing another Bill.

Coming to the point regarding potatoes, in view of the reduced sum available it was hard to decide what to do with it. We wanted to utilize it as far as we could in the best interests of agriculture, and to do the greatest good for the greatest number. We consulted the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture and the Highland Agricultural Society. We did not get the agreement among them that we had hoped. The two last named were in favour of continuing the spread of the rebates over all agricultural commodities and the National Farmers' Union were in favour of spreading it over potatoes, milk and livestock. The Government, having consulted that body, and the National Farmers' Union in England, decided that the best thing to do was to take the two commodities, milk and livestock. The potato market in Scotland as in England is now doing well. Before the alteration of the rates agriculture got 15 per cent. of the carriage chargeable. This has come down to 13 per cent. on the reduced number of commodities. If potatoes were included it would come down to nine per cent., and on the whole it is far better that we should concentrate on the two commodities and give 13 per cent. We also want to make certain that this relief goes to the producer and not to the middleman. I am informed it is comparatively easy to do so in the case of milk and livestock, but not so easy in the case of potatoes. This reduction is a regrettable necessity and 1 will only ask the Committee to reject these two Amendments and make it as workable as possible.

11.59 p.m.


Before this decision is taken it should be pointed out that the Minister said he was wishful to do the greatest good to the greatest number, but in this case we are certainly not taking care of the greatest number. The resolution passed by the National Farmers' Union in England was passed by a narrow majority. I think it would be very unfortunate if the House were to pass this Measure to-night giving to one branch of agriculture the whole of what remains of this benefit, and taking away from the arable land of the country the whole of the rebate which it has previously enjoyed. I think this matter should be carefully looked into by the Government before the Measure is passed. When it is realised that farmers producing milk and fattening bullocks are paying 15 per cent. less than those who are growing wheat and other cereals or potatoes, it will be considered by the agri- cultural community that a great injustice is being done to those who are farming arable land. I think that the Minister should give this matter more careful consideration before report, and I hope that an alteration will be made.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Claues."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 162; Noes 62.

Division No. 38.] AYES. [12.2 a.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.) Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Fleming, E. L. Nicolson, Hon. H. G.
Albery, Sir Irving Fremantle, Sir F. E. Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd) Furness, S. N. Penny, Sir G.
Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S. Fyfe, D. P. M. Perkins, W. R. D.
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.) Ganzoni, Sir J. Petherick, M.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Gledhill, G. Pickthorn. K. W. M.
Aske, Sir R. W. Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Procter, Major H. A.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Gridley, Sir A. B. Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Grimston, R. V. Ramsbotham, H.
Balniel, Lord Guy, J. C. M. Rankin, R.
Beauchamp, Sir B. C. Harbord, A. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan. Rayner, Major R. H.
Belt, Sir A. L. Hepworth, J. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Blair, Sir R. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Blindell, Sir J. Holmes, J. S. Remer, J. R.
Bossom, A. C. Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W. Hopkinson, A. Ropner, Colonel L.
Boyce, H. Leslie Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L. Rowlands, G.
Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Salt, E. W.
Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.) Hudson, R. S. (Southport) Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Bull. B. B. Hunter, T. Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.
Butler, R. A. James, Wing-Commander A. W. Scott, Lord William
Campbell, Sir E. T. Jones, H. Haydn (Merloneth) Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)
Cartland, J. R. H. Keeling, E. H. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Cary, R. A. Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Smith, L. W. (Hallam)
Castlereagh, Viscount Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Kimball. L. Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.
Christie, J. A. Latham, Sir P. Spens, W. P.
Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead) Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.) Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Leckie, J. A. Storey, S.
Colfox, Major W. P. Leech, Dr. J. W. Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Leighton, Major B. E. P. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Cooper. Rt. Hn. A. Duff(W'st'r S.G'gs) Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Sutcliffe, H.
Courtauld, Major J. S. Lloyd, G. W. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Critchley, A. Loftus, P. C. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Crooke. J. S. Lyons, A. M. Tree, A. R. L. F.
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Turton. R. H.
Cross, R. H. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Wakefield, W. W.
Crossley, A. C. Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Crowder, J. F. E. McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Ward, Irene (Wallsend)
Davies, C. (Montgomery) McKie, J. H. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Dodd, J. S. Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees) Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Donner, P. W. Magnay, T. Wells, S. R.
Dorman-Smith, Major R. H. Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)
Duggan, H J. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Eastwood, J. F. Maxwell, S. A. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Eckersley, P. T. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Wragg, H.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Emery, J. F. Moreing, A. C. Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.
Emmott, C. E. G. C. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cir'nc'str) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Errington, E Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Mr. James Stuart and Dr. Morris-Jones.
Adamson, W. M. Gibbons, J. John, W.
Alesander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.
Barr, J. Green, W. H. (Deptford) Kelly, W. T.
Bellenger, F. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Kirby, B. V.
Burke, W. A. Grenfell, D. R. Logan, D. G.
Cocks, F. S. Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Macdonald, G. (Ince)
Daggar, G. Griffith, J. (Llanelly) Mainwaring, W. H.
Dalton, H. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Marshall, F.
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Milner, Major J.
Ede, J. C. Harris, Sir P. A. Noel-Baker, P. J.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Holdsworth, H. Paling, W.
Foot, D. M. Hollins, A. Parker, J.
Garro Jones, G. M. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Potts, J. Silverman, S. S. Welsh, J. C.
Price, M. P. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe) Westwood, J.
Pritt, D. N. Smith, E. (Stoke) Wilkinson, Ellen
Ritson, J. Sorensen, R. W. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.) Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng) Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens) Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Seely, Sir H. M. Tinker, J. J. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Sexton, T. M. Watson, W. McL. Mr. Mathers and Mr. Whiteley.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.