HC Deb 21 August 1940 vol 364 cc1423-8

9.2 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. T. Williams)

I beg to move, That the Home-grown Oats (Standard Price) Order, 1940, varying the standard price provided for in Sub-section (3) of Section 1 of the Agricultural Development Act, 5939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 13th August, be approved. This Order is made under Section 1 (3) of the Agricultural Development Act, 1939, which provides that if the average price of oats in any year is less by 3d. or more per cwt. than the standard price, the Ministers concerned may make an oats subsidy payment to the growers. The standard price at the time of the passing of that Act was 8s. per cwt., but it may be varied by any subsequent Order, after approval by the Treasury. Any such Order requires an affirmative Resolution to be passed by each House of Parliament.

After the outbreak of the war, it was known that there had been increases in farmers' costs, and the standard price was increased from 8s. per cwt. to 9s., but no subsidy became payable tor the 1939 oat crop, since the average price exceeded the standard price of 9s. per cwt. Since December last year, farmers' costs have increased very materially, largely because of the increases in wages. There have been other increases in their costs, but wages are, perhaps, the main cause. The Government have, therefore, decided to increase the standard price of oats from 9s. per cwt. to 11s. 6d. This really puts a bottom in the market. Farmers Nvill not be faced with a rapid fall, and, unless the price actually falls below 11s. 6d., no subsidy will be paid. This guarantee ought to give ample confidence to farmers to produce the maximum quantity of oats, since they are no longer exposed to the possibility of a slump.

Hon. Members know that the Ministry of Food have fixed a market price of 14s. 6d. for wheat. The guaranteed prices for wheat and for oats will bear exactly the same relationship to each other after the passing of this Order as they did at the outbreak of the war. Therefore the Order is welcomed by farmers throughout the country, and I hope the House will agree to it without demur.

9.5 P.m.

Mr. John Morgan (Doncaster)

There are numerous arguments that might be employed in speaking upon this Order, but we have gone over this ground before. The Order is being made in order to increase the general price level of oats. The interesting thing about the Order is that it maintains the structure for arranging the price that was in the original scheme. Why then has the Minister departed, in the case of wheat, from the original scheme? Why is he holding to the scheme in the case of oats? The Joint Under-Secretary says that the farmer will like to know of these prices, but what is rather uncertain is his finding a market for these products at the prices that have been fixed. In the case of oats, there is a certain amount of play as between 11s. 6d. and 14s. per cwt., but it is unlike other cereals. Wheat, which is not subject to the Order, has been related to oats in the past. Just how does it come about that wheat is no longer tied up with this structure and has no guaranteed minimum price position and a declared price without any definite market? There is no particular reason why people who can buy imported wheat at 37s. or 38s. should buy home-grown wheat at 65s. and no reason, apart from pressure, why they should buy it at 14s. 6d. a cwt.

In regard to oats, there are farmers who want to sell, yet when farmers sell it is very often to each other, and it is therefore in the interests of farmers as a whole that the price of the commodity should not go up too high. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Scottish farmers?"] Scottish farmers are great users of oats, too. The man who sells wants to make a good price and this seems a reasonable price, based upon what is happening in other directions, and in regard to costs. It is interesting to see that the Minister is sticking to the price structure in regard to oats but has broken away from it in regard to wheat. I wonder why. There is no longer any wheat pool or any guarantee, and no guarantee of a sale.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I must remind the hon. Member that he continues to discuss wheat, whereas what we have before us is an oats Order.

Mr. Morgan

The interesting thing about this, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is that the Minister should stick to the price structure in regard to oats and show a tendency to break away from it in regard to wheat.

Mr. T. Williams

My hon. Friend must be under some misapprehension. There has been no change with either of the two cereals referred to. There was a standard price for both prior to the war, and there is a standard price for both to-day.

Mr. Morgan

What is the standard price for wheat?

Mr. Williams

It is 14s. 6d., but the 11s. 6d. have almost exactly the same relationship as the 10s. and 8s. did before the war. So far as I understand the position, there has been no change whatever.

Mr. Morgan

There is no basic price of wheat but only one price; but there are two prices here.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

I should just like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the way in which he has intro- duced this Order and to say, speaking as a Scottish Member and one who is actively engaged in the farming industry, that on the whole the farming industry in Scotland welcomes the price of oats fixed by this Motion. So far as Scotland is concerned, wheat and barley are only a tiny percentage of the cereal crop. I might note in passing that the ancient prejudice is now being broken down, and a very small increase of acreage is coming under wheat. I myself intend to put a little more in next year. The farmers in Scotland, and in Great Britain too, have for a long time been labouring under very hard conditions. They welcome this price of £14 10s. per ton, not because it holds out to them any golden hopes, but because it promises just a bare chance of earning a living wage.

A point was made by the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to the increase in the cost of production through higher wages and so on. Of course, that is very true. Farmers in Scotland long before the increase in wages were finding it very hard indeed to earn a living and to pay their rent. Then came increased wages, and then the guaranteed price. They accepted it and welcomed it because they thought it was right. We are passing into a new age. This bitter war in which we are engaged is going to lead to new social conditions all round, in the agricultural structure and in the rural enonomy no less than in any other sphere of life, and the farmers, who are as patriotic as—in some cases more patriotic than—any other class of society, would wish to do their part. Therefore they want to pay their men, the toilers on the land, a proper living wage, having regard to the increased cost of living. That is why I have been emboldened to get up to-night to assure the Parliamentary Secretary that, so far as Scotland is concerned—and an Order providing a guaranteed price for home-grown oats affects Scotland far more than it does England and Wales—he has the farmers behind him. They wish to give their agricultural labourers a proper reward for their sweat and toil, provided they have an assurance that those who have sunk a great deal of hard capital and labour in the land shall not themselves be allowed to go down.

9.15 p.m.

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

It is so seldom that we are congratulated on any work that we have been doing on behalf of Scottish farmers that I cannot let this opportunity pass without saying how much I appreciate what has just been said by the hon. Member. It is perfectly true that for the Scottish farmer oats are the cereal with which he has to get in his cash and carry on his work. It is true that we have been doing well in the way of producing oats in Scotland, and it is interesting to know that, whilst in 1939 there were 770,000 acres under oats in Scotland, in 1940, as the result of the efforts of the Scottish farmers and the belief that the Government were going at least to try to give them a fair deal—and the hon. Member, I presume, spoke on behalf of the Scottish farmers—

Mr. McKie

I was not speaking on behalf of the Scottish farmers, but merely as an individual Member.

Mr. Westwood

Yes, but I am quite sure the hon. Member could accept the responsibility in the circumstances. We have, as I was going to say, increased the acreage under oats in Scotland from 770,000 acres last year to 897,000 acres in 1940. That means that the Scottish farmer at least has been doing his bit towards the production of food, and I only wish that not only the Scottish but the English people would appreciate the value of oats for human beings as well as for cattle. I should only like to add, with a certain amount of responsibility for my Department, that I at least value the appreciation which has been expressed of its work in being able to bring an Order before this House which guarantees a price of 11s. 6d. and, through the Ministry of Food's Regulations, fixes the sale price at 14s. 6d.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Home-Grown Oats (Standard Price) Order, 1940, varying the standard price provided for in Sub-section (3) of Section of the Agricultural Development Act, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 13th August, be approved.