HC Deb 18 July 1939 vol 350 cc278-89

7.21 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, to leave out "three-pence," and to insert "fivepence."

In discussion during the passing of the Act of 1937, the explanation which was given from the Treasury bench on this subject was that the Ministry might find themselves in the unhappy position of paying a very large number of extremely small sums to farmers while the actual cost of administration would be more than the amount which the farmers would obtain. For that reason the Ministry resisted an Amendment to reduce the margin from 5d. to 3d. The Bill is different from that which we were considering then. Under the previous Bill, persons who did not receive the wheat deficiency payments could receive only six times the difference between the standard price and the market price. In the Bill now under consideration the person who receives subsidy by way of wheat deficiency payments can receive 14 times the difference between the standard price and the market price if that price is below 17s. 7d. per cwt. I recognise that to that extent there is a difference, as the sum can be multiplied by 14, instead of by six as hitherto.

What I am wondering about— I am telling the right hon. Gentleman once again— is that in connection with all these subsidies the Government take no power to control in the slightest degree the method of selling oats, barley or even sheep. There is no encouragement for the farmer who grows oats and sells a portion of them as a cash crop, to get the best price for it, because he knows that if the market price is less than 8s. or 7s. 9d. the Government will provide him with the rest. We think that a margin of 5d. is small enough. The figure provided in the Bill for the grower of oats is actually 1s. per cwt. larger than the average for the last nine years, and, therefore, there is something upon which to work. Bearing all those things in mind we think the margin of 5d. is small enough before they start calculating 14 times. The Government have no method of control over the selling of oats and of giving any encouragement to the person who sells a cash crop to get the best price. We, therefore, think that the minimum should be 5d. instead of the margin embodied in Clause I, and we hope that the Minister will agree with us.

7.25 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)

I do not think that the question of marketing to which the hon. Gentleman referred towards the end of his observations really arises on this Amendment. He explained at the beginning of his speech that the sole purpose of having a margin of this kind was to prevent administrative expenses from being incommensurate with the amount of the subsidy. That is the only reason for having any margin at all before deficiency payments fall to be made. It was considered that 3d. was the best figure in 1937 because under that Act, as the hon. Gentleman has reminded us, the payment was actually made in respect of six cwts. an acre. That meant that the minimum payment was to be multiplied by six. Under the Bill you have to multiply the payment not by six but by 14. As 14 times three are 42, the minimum payment under the Bill is is. higher than the minimum payment under the 1937 Act; that is to say, 3s. 6d. for those who do not grow wheat instead of 2s. 6d. There is, therefore, even less chance of administrative expenses being out of proportion to the amount of subsidy paid.

If the Amendment were accepted it would mean that the minimum payment would be 5s. 10d. — five multiplied by 14 — and that would constitute a hardship to farmers in districts where the agricultural conditions which prevail result in their having to sell a great part of their oats as a cash crop. It would deprive them of sums which would be valuable to them if you raised this limit of 5s. 10d. The first year after the subsidy came in I was going round some of the Western Isles and I found one of our inspectors from the Department of Agriculture had gone there for the purpose of dealing with claims for subsidies. In that year there was only a very slight difference between the standard price and the average price, so that deficiency payments were only just over the margin. The inspector was distributing several hundred payments to the crofters, most of whom had not more than an acre or a few acres of oats, and the payment amounted in those cases to not more than a few shillings although it meant a good deal to them. I do not think, considering the great number of crofters, that the amount was incommensurate with the expenses of the supervision which had to be carried out. I hope that the hon. Member will agree that if the figure he suggests were accepted it would probably lead to a distinct hardship for a considerable number of people.

Mr. T. Williams

Is it not correct to say that the person who sells oats and who is also claiming deficiency payment for wheat will still have a multiplication of six times as in 1937?

Mr. Wedderburn

Yes, that is to say, you are putting the minimum payment a bit higher for the class of people who are non wheat. We are raising it to 3s. 6d. instead of 2s. 6d., and that involves reducing it to Is. 6d. in the case of those who are registered wheat producers, but who happen to grow oats as well.

Amendment negatived.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

I beg to move, in page 2, line 26, at the end, to insert: (3) No oats subsidy payment shall be made unless a person authorised by the appro- priate Minister certifies that the crop of oats, or the mixed crop, as the case may be, is not unduly small, and has not been prejudicially affected either because of the un-suitability of the land for growing the crop or by negligence in connection with the preparation of the land for the crop or with the sowing, tending or harvesting of the crop, and that no part of the land has been used in that year in a manner calculated to impair the fertility thereof. I do not need to argue at length the case for this Amendment, because we had a Debate on it in Committee. The objective is that we should have, within the machinery of Clause I, a sufficient and adequate check for the protection of the public funds against the payment of money in respect of inefficient or bad farming. It is bad enough to have to resort to very large payments out of public funds in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but it would be even worse if in these circumstances we were to pay money out of public, funds in respect of unsatisfactory farming. The proposed new Sub-section has been very carefully drown to cover the reasons in respect of which a decision could be made that subsidy should not be payable. Unless the reasons are set out in this way, and proper provision is made for the giving of a certificate by an authorised person, I feel that the public funds will not be protected.

In the discussion in Committee the Minister did not deny that there would be many cases of inefficient farming. I do not say that he used these words, but in his speech in reply he did not deny it. In fact, I think he supported it. The only question was as to how large the evil of inefficient or unsuitable cultivation might be. He said that they had inspected about 8 per cent. of the acreage in 1938, and that only 1 per cent. of the acreage so inspected would come within the kind of position that we want to prevent by the insertion of these words. He also said that there were some 2,500,000 acres under oats last year and to that we should have to add, in considering the principle of this Measure, the acreage under barley. If 1 per cent. of the acreage laid down to these two crops were taken into account, it might well be that something in the neighbourhood of from 35,000 to 50,000 of the total acres under these crops may be receiving the subsidy without actually showing efficient cultivation. I think that that is a quite unreasonable percentage to be dealt with in that way.

It was argued by the Minister that of course the Government have the same objective as we have, and that that is the reason for Clause 4, but, the more one looks at Clause 4, the more one sees that no provision at all is made for checking bad cultivation. If this very large sum of money is to be spent, we ought, in the interests of the taxpayer and in the interests of good farming, to see that the crops are so grown that they can be certified as satisfactory by responsible people. No wheat gets a subsidy unless it can be certified as of millable quality, and, while I recognise that there is a difference there in the method of dealing with the final accounts, and that the Government's duty of ensuring a satisfactory standard is passed on to another set of traders, the millers performing the real task of distributing the certificates of millable quality, nevertheless the same objective of good farming ought to be borne in mind in the case of a crop the greater part of which is consumed on the farm. It seems to us that there ought to be as efficient inspection and certification as we lay down in our proposed new Sub-section, and I hope we shall not receive the same kind of half-hearted answer that we had from the Minister upstairs, but that, although for the moment he is the head of an agricultural Department, he will show himself reasonably zealous in protecting the public purse while at the same time giving aid to the objective of good farming.

7.36 p.m.

Mr. Riley

I should like to emphasise a point which I hope the Minister will meet, and which is one of the reasons for the Amendment. It is that in the Clause as it stands nothing is laid down specifically as to the efficiency of the cultivation or the suitability of the land used for growing oats or barley upon which a subsidy may be paid. In our view, in order to make any producer eligible for the subsidy, there should be very definite evidence that he has earned the subsidy by efficient cultivation, and that the land he has brought into use for the purpose of growing oats or barley on which subsidy is to be paid should be land that is suitable; and there should be definite certification that that is the case. Clauses 4 and 34 refer to powers which the Minister may exercise, and Clause 34 says that the Minister may authorise an official or servant to satisfy himself that the land is properly cultivated and is suitable land, but there is nothing to say that a certificate must be issued. In view of the large sums of money which may have to be paid under the Bill, there ought to be this obligation. One has to admit that next year, when the Bill will come into operation, a maximum of something like £ 9,000,000 may have to be paid, under this one Bill, in quite new subsidies on oats, barley and wheat, and, in view of the very substantial sum which Parliament is now going to vote, there ought to be a definite arrangement for some certification that those who receive the subsidy are cultivating their land efficiently and that the land is suitable for the purpose.

7.38 p.m.

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

The right hon. Gentleman himself has pointed out some of the difficulties in accepting this Amendment. There are something like 2,500,000 acres under oats, and there are about 200,000 holdings on which oats are grown; and, in the space of time which would be available, say while dealing with harvest arrangements, it would be mighty difficult to get the inspectors actually on the farm— and of course they would have to be there— to inspect the harvest arrangements. The procedure has been that check inspections have been made. No farmer knows now whether he is going to be inspected or not, and that in itself is a great deterrent against bad fanning or the use of land which is unsuitable for the growing of oats. Never the less, during the Committee stage, fears were expressed that the staff we have at the present moment is not suitable and not sufficiently adequate for the task. I took due note of those complaints, and, in the light of the discussion, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have considered the whole problem again, in order to try to meet the views which have been expressed.

It is proposed now to arrange for an intensification of the work of inspection. In England and Wales, this will be achieved by strengthening the existing staff of the whole-time officers of the Department who are available for the work, and also by making increased calls on the services of the Ministry's crop reporters, in order to bring under inspection a larger proportion of the farms in respect of which applications for the subsidy may be received. Similar arrangements for increased inspection are contemplated in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. I intimated previously that our experience is that negligent cultivation or evasion of the obligations attaching to the receipt of subsidy is not at all prevalent, but I fully recognise that it is wise to make doubly sure, if we can, and, therefore, we propose to strengthen our staff for the purpose. From a purely practical point of view it would be physically impossible to carry out the Amendment as it is, but I think that farmers will realise that we are going to increase the inspection, and perhaps that will meet the needs of the right hon. Gentleman.

7.42 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

Would the Minister tell us a little more about what he means by increasing the inspectorate? I recall what he said in Committee, and I have listened carefully to what he has now said. I noticed that he said in Committee that there were 2,500,000 acres of land under oats, and that of that acreage rather less than 1 per cent. has come within the terms of Clause 4, that is to say, the cultivation was not what it might be. We are anxious to know that subsidies are not paid to farmers who are abusing the land. One per cent. of 2,500,000 acres means that 25,000 acres of the land under oats —

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

It is 1 per cent. of the holdings.

Mr. Williams

If it is 1 per cent. of the holdings, then there are 2,000 holdings that fail to fulfil the conditions laid down in Clauses 4 and 15. If the House of Commons provides a guaranteed price for the commodity, whether it be oats, barley, sheep, or anything else, we ought at least to know that the farmer is not abusing the privilege, and we ought to know just how the Minister is going to carry out the terms of Clauses 4 and 15. It is no use having a Clause referring to default in connection with cultivation and so on unless the machinery is there to ensure that the terms of the Clause are carried out. The Minister has told us in effect that they are going to increase their inspectorate. How many test inspectors are there at the moment? What part of their duties can be devoted to this task? How many more are to be appointed? Are these inspections to be made regularly, or irregularly, so that farmers can escape their responsibilities, in spite of the fact that the Act is on the Statute Book? This House for many years has been not ungenerous to agriculture. We want to know whether farmers receiving these gifts are cultivating on sound lines. If we can be assured that the existing inspectorate can depart from its normal functions and allocate so much time to the new functions, we shall perhaps be satisfied, and reconsider our position. We do not want to harass the farmer, but we want to insist on his cultivating the land properly.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Boothby

I hope my right hon. Friend will give us an assurance that some of the small hill farmers, working often under difficult conditions, are not to be unduly harassed by this new inspectorate. They cannot be expected to conform to the same standards as more prosperous farmers, and they should not be constantly in fear of a harassing inspectorate.

7.48 p.m.

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

At present we have 300 crop inspectors available to make inspections and 23 land commissioners and assistant commissioners. It is the whole-time land commissioners that

we intend to increase. In the ordinary district, the land commissioner knows the neighbourhood very well and probably knows better than anybody else who the bad farmers may be. Although I cannot, at this moment, say exactly how many more men we are taking on, because we are still considering that, I can say that we want to take on enough to work the Act efficiently, while at the same time there need be no question of the farmers being harassed.

Mr. Alexander

Are we to take it that these crop inspectors and land commissioners are the people who will report to the Ministry about the applications for the ploughing-up subsidy?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Alexander

Then they will have to visit nearly all these holdings in connection with the ploughing up subsidy?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

Yes, in connection with the ploughing-up subsidy But that will be nothing like as much as there is to be done under this Act. At any rate, as far as this is concerned we intend to make it effective, and to take on the necessary number of people. I am sure no hon. Member wants people to be harassed, and there will be no question of that, but I can give an assurance that we shall make this an efficient working proposition.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 129; Noes, 191.

Division No. 247.] AYES. [7.50 p.m.
Adams, D. (Consett) Dalton, H. Hayday, A.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)
Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford) Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Henderson, J. (Ardwick)
Adamson, W. M. Davies:, S. O. (Merthyr) Henderson, T. (Tradeston)
Alexander, Rt. Hen. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Day, H. Hills, A. (Pontefract)
Ammon, C. G. Dobbie, W. Isaacs, G. A.
Banfield, J. W. Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)
Barnes, A. J. Ede, J. C. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)
Barr, J. Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.) John, W.
Batey, J. Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.
Beaumont, H. (Batley) Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Jones, A. C. (Shipley)
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.
Bevan, A. Frankel, D. Kirkwood, D.
Broad, F. A. Gardner, B. W. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Gibson R. (Greenock) Lawson, J. J.
Burke, W. A. Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Leach, W.
Cape, T. Green, W. H. (Deptford) Lee, F.
Chater, D. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Leonard, W.
Cluse, W. S. Grenfell, D. R. Logan, D. G.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R. Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Lunn, W.
Cocks, F. S. Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Macdonald, G. (Ince)
Collindridge, F. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) McEntee, V. La T.
Cove, W. G. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) McGhee, H. G.
Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Hardie, Agnes MacLaren, A.
Daggar, G. Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.) Maclean, N.
Marshall, F, Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.) Thorne, W.
Mathers, G. Richards, R. (Wrexham) Thurtte, E.
Maxton, J. Ridley, G. Tinker, J. J.
Messer, F. Riley, B. Tomlinson, G.
Montague, F. Ritson, J. Viant, S. P.
Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster) Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens) Walkden, A. G.
Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.) Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey) Watkins, F. C.
Nathan, Colonel H. L. Shinwell, E. Watson, W. McL.
Naylor, T. E. Simpson, F. B. Welsh, J. C.
Noel-Baker, P. J. Sloan, A. Westwood, J.
Oliver, G. H. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe) Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Paling, W. Smith, E. (Stoke) Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Parkinson, J. A. Smith, T. (Normanton) Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Pearson, A. Sorensen, R. W. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W. Stephen, C. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Poole, C. C. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng) Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Price, M. P. Stokes, R. R.
Pritt, D. N. Summerskill, Dr. Edith TELLERS FOR THE AYES.ߞ
Quibell, D. J. K. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Mr. Charleton and Mr. Groves.
Acland, Sir R. T. D. Furness, S. N. Palmer, G. E. H.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Fyfe, D. P. M. Peake, O.
Agnew, Lieut.-Camdr. P. G. Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon Sir J. Petherick, M.
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Apsley, Lord Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral) Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton
Aske, Sir R. W. Grant-Ferris, Flight-Lieutenant R. Radford, E. A.
Balfour, G. (Hampstead) Granville, E. L. Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Gridiey, Sir A. B. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Beechman, N. A. Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)
Bernays, R. H. Gritten, W. G. Howard Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Blair, Sir R. Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.) Remer, J. R.
Boothby, R. J. G. Hambro, A. V. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Hannah, I, C. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Boyce, H. Leslie Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Ropner, Colonel L.
Brass, Sir W. Harbord, Sir A. Rosbotham, Sir T.
Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.) Harris, Sir P. A. Rothschild, J. A. de
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Rowlands, G.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. O. (Newbury) Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Burton, Col. H. W. Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Cheater) Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Salmon, Sir I.
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Hepworth, J. Salt, E. W.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Holmes, J. S. Samuel, M. R. A.
Christie, J. A. Hopkinson, A. Sandeman, Sir N. S
Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead) Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Schuster, Sir G.
Clarry, Sir Reginald Hume, Sir G. H. Scott, Lord William
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Hunter, T. Seely, Sir H. M.
Colfox, Major Sir W. P. Hurd, Sir P. A. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Colville, Rt. Hon. John Hutchinson, G. G. Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Conant, Captain R. J. E. Jennings, R. Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.) Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth) Snadden, W. McN.
Cooke, J. O. (Hammersmith, S.) Jones, L. (Swansea W.) Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald
Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.) Kellett, Major E. O. Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.
Crooke, Sir J. Smedley Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Storey, S.
Cross, R. H. Kerr, Sir John Graham (Sco'sh Univs.) Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Crossley, A. C. Kimball, L. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Crowder, J. F. E. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)
Davidson, Viscountess Lees-Jones, J. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
De la Bère, R. Leech, Sir J. W. Sutcliffe, H.
Denman, Hon. R. D. Lewis, O. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Denville, Alfred Liddall, W. S. Thomas, J. P. L.
Doland, G. F. Lindsay, K. M. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Donner, P. W. Llewellin, Colonel J. J. Thorneycroft, G. E. P.
Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir R. H. Locker-Lampion, Comdr. O. S. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Dower, Lieut.-Col. A. V, G. Loftus, P. C. Touthe, G. C.
Drewe, C. M'Connell, Sir J. Tree, A. R. L. F.
Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Turton, R. H.
Dugdale, Captain T. L. Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Wakefield, W. W.
Duncan, J. A. L. McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Walker-Smith, Sir J.
Dunglass, Lord McKie, J. H. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L- (Hull)
Eden, Rt. Hon. A. Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Markham, S. F. Warrender, Sir V.
Ellis, Sir G. Maxwell, Hon. S. A. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Emery, J. F. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Wayland, Sir W. A.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Webbe, Sir W. Harold
Entwistle, Sir C. F. Moreing, A. C. Wedderburn. H. J. S.
Erskine-Hill, A. G. Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Slam-bridge) Wells, Sir Sydney
Everard, Sir William Lindsay Morris-Jones, Sir Henry White, H. Graham
Fleming, E. L. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.) Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)
Fox, Sir W. G. Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Fremantle, Sir F. E. O'Connor, Sir Terence J. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel. G.
Womersley, Sir W. J. Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.ߞ
Wood, Hon. C. I. C. York, C. Mr. Munro and Mr. Grimston.
Wragg, H.