HC Deb 14 February 1940 vol 357 cc800-2

4.22 p.m.

Brigadier-General Clifton Brown

I beg to move, in page 5, line 41, to leave out "two years," and to insert "one year." I do so to find out why the Bill, in Clause 7, reads:

ending on such date as His Majesty may by Order in Council appoint, being a date not later than the end of the two years beginning with the end of the war period. It seems to me that the sooner we get back to the Wheat Commission the better, and I do not know why we have to wait two years. It is one of the good things to which everybody connected with agriculture would like to get back. There is another reason. What is wanted at the present time, and in peace-time, is to give farmers confidence that they can grow wheat and not be messed about. They know that the Wheat Commission treated them very fairly, and they were satisfied with it. The farmers do not know what a Government after the next election may put forward for the price of wheat, but they remember that after war the farmer is let down and is thrown to the wolves. If the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) could not stop the abolition of the Corn Production Act, what Prime Minister is going to be stronger than he? After a war the Government are always faced with the cry of cheap food and this has always destroyed the agricultural industry. It is not until one is in a situation like to-day that one can approve the value of the Wheat Commission. The farmer would have much more confidence if he knew that, as soon as the war was over, and D.O.R.A. was done away with, he could go back to one of the things that has been working well, and that is the Wheat Commission. I would like to know what is in the mind of the Government in this Sub-section when a period of two years is included.

4.25 p.m.

Mr. Colville

Perhaps I might answer in this way, for I understand that the Amendment is put down for clarification. When the period of suspension ends, the provisions of the Wheat Act come into force again. It will be impracticable to bring into operation the Wheat Act procedure for the collection of quota payments and making of deficiency payments in the middle of the cereal year, since the whole machinery functions on the basis of estimates made for the cereal year as a whole. It is essential that the period of suspension should end with the close of the cereal year, that is, 31st July. Before the Wheat Act procedure can begin to function time will have to be allowed for the committee referred to earlier in the Sub-section to report whether any operation of the standard price is desirable. The committee is brought back into being and given time to report on the alterations of the standard price which will revert to 10s. per cwt. The Wheat Commission will also require some time before the beginning of the cereal year to revive machinery for the collection of quota payments. Suppose that the Emergency Powers Defence Act expired on 30th June. in any one year. If this Amendment were accepted, it would mean that Part I of the Bill would cease to have effect on 30th June the following year—a year later—and there would be thus a gap in that year of one month when the Wheat Act would not really function. The alternative would be to end the period of suspension on 31st July in the same year as that in which the Emergency Powers Defence Act expired. This would give no time for the committee to report on the standard price. Therefore, to be on the safe side, it is necessary to provide for two years. But that does not mean that the provisions of the Bill will remain in operation for two years if the period of suspension can be brought to an end at an earlier time. The hon. Member will be aware that the expression "war period" is used, and that does not necessarily mean a long period after hostilities. We are anxious to bring back the peace-time machinery as soon as possible, but we must, for technical reasons, have this latitude.

Brigadier-General Brown

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 to 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill