HC Deb 28 January 1947 vol 432 cc787-885
Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond)

I think I must leave the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. G. Jeger) to arrange his differences with his own Minister, and I do not follow him in the various criticisms he has made with regard to this Bill, other than to say that I do not think that my hon. Friends on this side of the House would agree that the size of the market is envisaged in the Measure as we have it before us today.

The greater portion of the two days' Debate on this Bill has dealt with the provisions in Part I with regard to prices and markets. I think it only right that this should have been the case since, in our view, the success of the whole Measure depends on whether or not the principles contained in Part I can in fact be carried out. As my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said, we shall not vote against the Second Reading tonight because we agree wholeheartedly on the principles described by the Minister as the "twin pillars of stability and efficiency." But for all that the Minister said yesterday in a very powerful and interesting speech, and apart altogether from what the Parliamentary Secretary said today in another interesting speech, we are not yet convinced at the end of this Debate that the provisions of Part I are anything more than an empty shell, and we are by no means satisfied that a true balance has been struck between stability and efficiency.

Right through this Measure there are the most rigorous Clauses dealing with controls. These are to be applied in order to secure effiiency, but what we still want to know, and what we are still unhappy about, is whether, in fact, the Minister will be able so rigidly to ensure stability in exchange. I have used the words "be able" in this connection because we are perfectly satisfied that it is the intention of the present Minister of Agriculture to do all in his power to establish the twin pillars and that it is his intention that stability shall be given to this industry. But we are still in great doubt as to whether he will be able to do so.

The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) and the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) made reference to the size of the market and the price which is being guaranteed to the farmer. There is no mention of the size of the market or the price in the Bill, and this is what the farmers want to know. It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary, in a very interesting passage in his speech, to make reference to the prices today having been announced in the spring of last year and being effective in certain instances as far forward as the spring of 1950, but this is not a short-term Measure. This is the Bill which, presumably, if it reaches the Statute Book, will control these matters for a large number of years to come, and whereas it is perfectly possible at this moment—as it was during last year when the Minister of Food at the end of a period of war bought the whole of the products of the agricultural industry—for the Minister of Agriculture to announce prices for a period ahead, will that be possible in the years to come? We are very doubtful whether it will be possible.

As to the size of the market, the hon. Member for Newbury referred to our changed financial position, and in view of that change, which I think was accepted by the House, surely all our efforts must be directed, from now on, towards making it possible to meet as great a proportion of our food requirements as possible from home sources. During the war the bottleneck, as far as food produce was concerned, was shipping, and because of that fact we had to import food in its most concentrated form. I will give just two examples. Boned meat was very largely imported during that time and also a very large amount of dried eggs. We believe that now and in the future, and certainly in the immediate future, the bottleneck will be foreign exchange. Therefore, we ought to pursue an exactly opposite policy to that which we pursued during the war. We ought to import only when importation is really necessary, and when we do import, we ought to import; not the finished product, but the raw material for producing the finished product here at home. That view was expressed by several of my hon. Friends during the Debate, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, who referred to an answer which he had received last week from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of frozen and dried eggs. It is not that we are in any way desirous of preventing the housewife of this country from obtaining eggs. That is the last thing we want to do. We feel very strongly, however, that it is wrong to spend our millions of money and dollars to import eggs if we could better employ that money on the importation of feeding stuffs in order to produce the eggs in this country. My hon. Friends and I agree that by concentrating on the production of finished products, and importing raw materials in the shape of feeding stuffs, we could increase our home production very materially, even over our wartime peak.

Mr. Alpass

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House where he could get those feeding stuffs now?

Sir T. Dugdalc

I think there are places in the world for which it is perfectly possible to import feeding stuffs instead of importing dried eggs.

Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

The Argentine, America.

Sir T. Dugdale

I ask the Government, who are responsible for these matters, to give this question very careful consideration. I am certain that in the interests of agriculture and our dollar exchange it would be the right policy for the nation at this time. If the House accepts that policy, surely it is clear that in the foreseeable future we need every drop of milk, every ounce of meat, every egg that the agricultural industry can produce and the farmers would be much happier if they could feel that this maximum production, guaranteed a fair price, was actually within the framework of the Bill.

My right hon Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) referred to the size of the market with regard to horticulture and kindred subjects, as did many other speakers during the Debate. There is no doubt that the position of horticulturists and producers of commodities now outside the scope of the February price review, and excluded from the First Schedule, must be carefully considered by the Minister. I would make special reference to such commodities as table poultry and wool because they are covered by the provisions of Part II and all the various controls, but are excluded from a corresponding assurance of market and guaranteed price. In passing, I would ask the Government to give urgent consideration to that point.

With regard to the International Conference en Trade and Employment, I do not wish to dwell on that very technical subject further than to express the hope that when the Solicitor-General replies, he will be able to answer the questions on this subject put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden. They are technical questions, and I would not like anything I said from this Box this evening to make the position more difficult for the Government. However, I am certain that they appreciate, as do my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House, that unless we can be perfectly clear on this matter, all the provisions of this Bill are moonshine.

I turn for a moment to the price review which is held annually each February, and which decides the whole future guaranteed price for the industry. The House will remember that the special review last July, in the light of the wage increases, was considered unsatisfactory' by the farmers, and, as a result of pressure, the Minister agreed to some reconsideration of the price-fixing machinery. But can we be sure that another Minister would take the same realistic view? I feel that a very real and difficult point must be considered. It is requested by some people that there should be, at this stage, an arbitration, if the prices which are being considered cannot be agreed between the Minister and the representatives of the industry. My hon. Friends and I are perfectly satisfied that the Minister must have the final say in these matters. But we were interested in the suggestion made by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) last night, that a special tribunal might be set up to which this agreement on prices could be referred, not to make a final decision, but to give independent advice to the Minister before he makes the final decision. I am not going further into this point this evening, other than to say that my hon. Friends will give careful consideration to this question when we come to the Committee stage.

Before passing from Part I, I wish to ask the Government a definite question. It seems that to ensure the success of this Measure we must have an answer to it. Before asking it, I will repeat a question put to the Government by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) when he asked: Does he…agree that…the home producer must come first and the Empire farme next?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 651.] I want to add to that question: Will the Government give an undertaking that, no matter what pressure there may be, in years to come, upon our markets to absorb the export surpluses from overseas countries, British agriculture will be adequately protected? It seems to me that on the answer to that question must depend whether this Measure merits the approval which it has been receiving in the House during the last two days.

The labour position has been referred to with much anxiety by hon. Members on all sides of the House. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Amory), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett), and the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) have made speeches centred on the problem of labour in the industry. As we see it, there is every likelihood of up to 100,000 workers leaving the industry during the next 12 months. They will be going, for the most part, owing to the repatriation of prisoners of war, at.the approximate rate, so we understand, of 15,000 a month. The important point here is that this labour, which the industry is losing, has for the most part been housed in camps, billets and hostels. The figure required is in doubt. The Government White Paper last week mentioned a figure of 33,000; the National Farmers Union, I understand, mentioned a figure of 100,000. Taking the real figure required as being between these two, these people whom we hope to welcome into our industry, must have accommodation. This is simply not to be found today in our rural districts—[HON. MEMBERS: "It never was."] That does not make the position any better today, when we are considering a Bill in 1947, hoping to put these things on a better footing than they have been on, in the past. The whole position breaks down unless we can get housing for a contented labour force in the industry. Labour depends upon housing.

What, today, is the position so far as housing is concerned? Very few new houses are being constructed in our rural districts, and no addition, in the form of reconditioning, is being made because the Minister of Health has seen fit to repeal the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, which was of great benefit in that connection. I ask the Government if they can give as an assurance that, once again, the Minister of Agriculture can go to the Minister of Health, and try to persuade him to change his decision in regard to 'the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, or, if he is not prepared to do that, to make other provisions in order that there may be reconditioning as well as new building in the rural districts of this country for the workers in the agricultural industry.

I pass from Part I and the general considerations of this Measure, to discuss a few points which have been raised in the Debate by my hon. Friends in regard to other parts of the Bill. We are concerned and alarmed at the volume of work that is to be thrust on the new county committees. We feel, with the Minister, that the success of the machine which is being created under this Bill must depend to a large extent upon the county committees. Right through the war period, the personnel of the war agricultural committees in all the counties gave their services voluntarily, but if we are to get the best people to serve on these committees, it would be most unwise to press them too hard and ask too much of them. Otherwise, we shall not get the best people to serve on the committees, and as a result what we so much desire to see, the efficiency of the Measure, will be much reduced. A large number of my hon. Friends take the view that too much is being put upon these committees. I hope the Government will give this matter consideration when we come to the Committee stage.

There is one point of substance in regard to appeals from this committee. If the Minister relics so largely on these committees, I am sure he will have no objection to their supervision orders and directions being subject to an appeal to the Land Tribunal. We believe that the effective moment for the farmer or landowner, is the moment when he is put under official supervision under Clause 12, and we take the view that an appeal should be allowed under Clause 12 to the Agricultural Land Tribunal, and we shall move Amendments in Committee to this effect.

As far as the landowners are concerned, we consider the measures and powers sought under Clause 15 of the Bill to be very severe, because the powers under Clause 14 particularly are so wide that the Minister could, if he did in fact happen to be ruthless—which we admit he is not—make every landowner in the country bankrupt, and then acquire his land under Clause 81. I ask the Minister to remember this fact when dealing with landlords. The long period since 1939 during which it has been practically impossible for any capital expenditure to be made on fixed assets and equipment, has left the landlord with a long programme of work to be done This must necessarily take time, and it will be' beyond the financial resources of many landlords to carry out the required improvements within the time allotted by the Bill. Very careful consideration should be given to this fact.

As far as Part III and the Agricultural Holdings Act are concerned, we welcome the announcement by the Minister that a consolidation Measure will be introduced as soon as possible. We welcome still more, the fact that after due consideration His Majesty's Government have come down quite definitely on the side of the long-established system of the partnership of landlord, tenant and farm worker. We will consider the detailed provisions in this part of the Bill during the Committee stage.

I should have liked to deal with other Clauses in this Bill, but time is getting short and the Solicitor-General must be anxious to begin his reply. I would, however, refer to Clause 82 which was mentioned by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough and by other hon. Members, particularly by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). This Clause, in our view, is most objectionable in every way, because as my right hon. and gallant Friend said, as it is now drafted the Land Tribunals have no power to set aside the Minister's proposals, and because it is a deliberate breaking of a pledge given in earlier Acts of Parliament during 1941 and 1943. It is difficult to imagine any more foolish Clause in a Bill upon which the Minister is relying to make a success of the industry.

I close, however, upon a different note. I do not think we can end the Debate without referring to the men and women who carry on the great industry of agriculture in this land. As was stated by the Minister yesterday, agriculture provides employment for approximately 1,250,000 people, while the working lives of many others in our rural areas are closely linked with it. This great community has served the nation well, and has deserved that stability which it is the intention of the Bill to give it in the future. Many points in the Bill have caused my hon. Friends some anxiety. But whether the Bill does or does not ensure that stability, we shall try, by Amendments which we hope to have an opportunity of moving in Committee to achieve, with the co-operation of the Minister, the object which we all desire. That object is a countryside populated by a prosperous, contented and efficient people, producing a greater proportion of the food of this nation than ever before. In that spirit, we propose to give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading, and in that spirit we shall approach its further stages.

9.32 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Frank Soskice)

We have had a most interesting Debate upon a most important Measure. The points of view of landlord, worker and farmer all over the country have been fully put forward. It is not from any want of respect to the many hon. Members who have spoken that I shall pass over some of the points that have been raised. A number of those points can be dealt with successfully in Committee. In the time at my disposal, having regard to the very vast subject with which the House is at the moment dealing I am, perforce, obliged to pick out what seem to me to be the salient points of principle which have been put by hon. Members in their speeches. I will endeavour to do that, but I shall have to do it fairly shortly.

Hon. Members, in particular, have expressed concern whether the guarantee which is sought to be provided in Part I of the Bill is effective or not. They have said, "Why is there nothing in the Bill which provides for at least a minimum margin?" Hon. Members who advance that argument seem to have misconceived the purpose of that Part of the Bill, which is not designed to regulate output. It is not so framed, and that is not the object of that Part of the Bill. If it were designed to enable the Minister to direct to what ends agriculture should be aimed, it would have to embody such powers as were conveyed by Defence Regulations during the war. In the Bill, the only Clause which contains such powers is Clause 92. It is the only Clause which enables the Minister to give directions with regard to the use to which agricultural land is to be put.

If hon. Members will look at the Clause, they will see that it is designed to be used only in periods of emergency, and that the duration for which the powers of the Clause may be exercised is limited to one year. It is an emergency Clause. If hon. Members desire these very rigid powers to be extended throughout the Bill, the Bill can regulate output. Hon. Members have not been slow to complain that, as the Bill stands, the Minister has taken too much power into his hands. If hon. Members wish to abandon that argument, the Bill can be recast to give him the necessary power to control output, but, as the Bill stands, that is not intended.

When hon. Members ask for some assurance as to markets they should consider the circumstances in which the Bill is proposed. As my right hon. Friend the Minister, and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, have stated in the course of their addresses to the House, present day circumstances are such that the motto for the agricultural industry of this country for forseeable time ahead must be, "All out." That is to say, the maximum amount of the products enumerated in the First Schedule will be desirable and can be consumed by the country. As was indicated yesterday by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), there are many factors in the international and national situation which bring about that result. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned three. He mentioned soil exhaustion, the "dust bowl," and also the Hot Springs Conference. He mentioned the undeniable and unfortunate fact that this country is now no longer a great creditor country.

As social progress marches forward, demand for foodstuffs in each country will increase. In our own country there is said to be a shortage of milk, but that is because there is an increased demand for milk. We are now drinking something like one and a half times the amount of milk that we drank before the war. That is a process which will expand and continue as social progress marches forward throughout the world. Since the advent of the Labour Government it is rapidly moving forward in this country and, no doubt, other countries will follow, observing the example they have before them of the Labour Government advances.

Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)

The weakening of the beer.

The Solicitor-General

The setting that must be considered is that, for years ahead, agriculture in this country will be called upon to produce its maximum. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) asked what were the international commitments of this country with regard to the negotiations for the agreement on trade. He asked for an assurance on that, and I can give an assurance. He quoted from the report and made reference to the meeting which is to take place in Geneva in the near future. I can give this assurance, and I give it willingly. In the preliminary conversations which are designed to lead up to the more detailed negotiations which will take place at Geneva, the greatest care has been taken throughout to keep full freedom for the United Kingdom to develop unhindered the home agricultural policy announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture on 15th November, 1945, and subsequently embodied in the provisions of this Bill. That was deliberately done and I readily give that assurance with which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be content.

Mr. R. A. Butler

Does that include quantitative regulation of imports?

The Solicitor-General

I cannot really embark upon a discussion as to the negotiations and conversations which have taken place. I have given that general assurance. I do not think I should be called upon to go beyond that. It is an assurance which, as I say, I give readily because it is relevant to the matters which were discussed in this Debate.

Mr. Butler

I am sorry to press the hon. and learned Gentleman, but that is the very point. I have been concerned in discussions like this myself. I feel certain that the hon. and learned Gentleman desires to give us the assurance in full. This is the crux of the matter— quantitative regulation of imports. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman give us an assurance that it is also included in the instructions to those who have conducted these negotiations?

The Solicitor-General

I am very sorry but I must decline to proceed further as to the precise nature of this discussion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why."] Because, in order to do so, one would have to embark upon a detailed investigation as to what was said and the precise effect of it. What I have said, and what I say again, is that care was taken to leave this country free to develop the policy indicated by the Minister in November, 1945, and it is a policy which has subsequently been embodied in the provisions of the Bill.

Mr. Butler


The Solicitor-General

I am afraid that I have very little time. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary indicated, or reminded the House, today in his speech as to the measure of the guarantee which has, in fact, been given by this Bill to the farmers. He mentioned the review in 1946, and he reminded the House that it would enable farmers to know what the minimum prices would be right up to July, 1950. Next year, there will be a fresh review, and they will find that, as a result of that review, they will be in a position to know the minimum prices which they can rely upon obtaining right up to July, 1952. They will know at all times at least two years in advance the minimum prices which they can rely on obtaining for their output, and British agriculture will be called upon in the foreseeable future to go all out to produce all it can. There is the answer, and, in view of that, I would ask hon. Members to agree that it is a complete misunderstanding both of the situation and of the objects and provisions of this Bill to say that the guarantee provided for farmers is not an extremely valuable one. Obviously, it is, and it is something which they have never had before.

Hon. Members may remember the provisions of the Wheat Act and the various Acts passed under Conservative administrations in the inter-war period, providing for a limited payment, and they may have the same sort of thing in mind. The figures put into those Acts were simply put in to limit the responsibilities of the Exchequer. What they ask the Government to do now is to put in minimum figures of responsibility, which is quite a different request. I say that that cannot be done unless the House is content that the Minister should have in his hands now the full power of regulation of output which he had under the Defence Regulations during the war. I am sorry that I have had to deal briefly with a most important part of the Bill, but I must now pass to other parts.

Reference has been made to horticulture, and there were other important matters which have also been mentioned. With regard to horticulture, the Parliamentary Secretary has already intimated to the House the position of horticulture, which is, at the moment, not included In the First Schedule to the Bill. It must, however, come up for consideration, and indeed, the Government have closely in mind the interests of all those, engaged in horticulture, but it is the fact that horticulture has its own problems. Its produce is perishable, it is seasonal, and anybody acquainted with the agricultural industry would accept at once the statement that the price-fixing machinery provided for a Part I of the Bill would not be suitable to be applied to horticulture.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)


The Solicitor-General

I am extremely sorry, and I do not want to be discourteous, but I have very little time.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

It is about wool.

The Solicitor-General

I have to deal with all the various subjects, and I must pass on to other matters of principle with which I have yet to deal. The next point, which is one of extreme importance, is one that was mentioned by hon. Gentlemen opposite—that there is a danger of the county committees being overloaded with work. That is a most important point and it deserves earnest consideration. I do not think these committees are going to be overloaded with work, and I would ask hon. Members, in considering whether they are or not, to reflect upon the duties imposed upon the war county committees by the Defence Regulations during the war—duties which were discharged, and admirably discharged, by the county committees, and which, for example, included, and still include, occasional priorities in the matter of feeding stuffs, machineŘ, building licences and a whole variety of topics of that sort. During the war, they discharged those duties, in addition to the giving of directions, such as are provided for in this Bill. They did the whole lot, and they did it admirably. As the supply position eases, and as machinery becomes easier to obtain and building materials are in easier supply, that work will gradually be lifted from the county committees. For the time being, however, they will have to discharge, or, rather, they will be asked to discharge, the duties imposed upon them by Parts I and II of the Bill, that is to say, the giving of directions, the making of supervision orders, and so on, and their responsibility under Clause 30, and they will also be asked to continue to discharge the duties they have hitherto discharged in the matter of allocating priorities. But, little by little, that work will come to an end.

It is true that the Bill places upon the shoulders of the county committees re- sponsibilities in the matter of land owning which they did not have before. To that extent, it is an added responsibility, a fact which I quite accept. On the other hand, their responsibility with regard to notices to quit under Clause 30 are not new. If hon. Members look at Defence Regulation 62 (2, a)—I think it is—they will see that the county war agricultural executive committees discharged very similar functions. In regard to the giving of directions, as hon. Members will know, there was nothing analogous with the supervision orders under Defence Regulations. That is new and the giving of directions, except in relation to that of fixed equipment is, under this Bill, limited to the cases where supervision orders have been made. In other words, it will be less than it was during the war when there was no such limitation.

With regard to supervision orders, hon. Members will naturally realise, and be aware of the fact, that there was an informal supervision not embodied in the terms of an order exercised under Defence Regulations during the war. While I accept that there are some added burdens in respect of land owning, there are also others which the war agricultural committees had to bear, and which will gradually be lifted from them. Taking it by and large, the responsibilities which they will have to discharge under this Bill should, in the long run, be less than those which they discharged during the war. Therefore, I beg the House to say that there is no ground for the fear that they will be overworked. It is most important that they should not, and I accept that, if they are, one will not get the best type of person on the committees, and, as the committees responsible for such a vital part of the function of this Bill, it is essential that the best shall be obtained. In that connection, I would say that, although under the terms of the Bill they have to abide by such directions as the Minister gives, it is intended that they shall be, so far as possible, completely independent.

Hon. Members will have noticed that the Bill provides that district committees and sub-committees are to be appointed. The object of that is to ensure that the services of those who are acquainted with the circumstances of particular areas of a county shall be obtained. The members of those district committees need not necessarily be members of the county committees. Also, the sub-committees will bring about the position that persons who have special knowledge of a particular aspect of the industry may he called upon for their service and advice. Therefore, I ask the House to say that, so far as that part of the Bill is concerned, it should work to bring to the service of the nation, independent persons with actual practical experience of the problems with which they will be dealing. In the case of this, Bill, there is no need for the fear that one will have a Whitehall regimented agricultural industry in the country. The Bill is deliberately designed to avoid that danger, and I ask the House to say that it does avoid it.

I pass from the question of committees, because there are one or two other matters with which I should deal. Some hon. Members used the words, "breach of faith" in connection with Clause 82, and the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), in particular, was very loud in his complaint about it. I do not think that he has accurately conceived the situation. Under Section 10 of the 1941 Act, the Minister was not bound to resell unless he thought that, if he did, the ground that he sold would be properly cultivated. His certificate was conclusive on that matter. If with regard to any land which he would otherwise have been under an obligation to sell back under Section 10 of the Act of 1941, he chose to certify that he did not think it would be so well cultivated, that was an end of the matter. He was no longer under any obligation to sell, and there was no appeal against it. Under Clause 82 what he is called upon to do is to take a wider view of the position. Under Section 10 of the Act of 1941 he could only consider whether the particular individual who claimed to be entitled to buy the land was likely to cultivate it properly. But, of course, that is a completely irrelevant way of dealing with the problem when dealing with great plots of land which have been united into a single agricultural unit, which may have had central buildings placed upon the unit, which may have had roads built through them and which may have had a great deal of money spent on them. If, in those circumstances, the Minister were called upon to dismember an agricultural unit of that sort by selling off to particular individuals portions of it, and if he were obliged so to do, unless he could certify that a particular individual would not cultivate that small portion—

Mr. Turton

The Act is perfectly clear. The Minister has to certify that, in his opinion, the result of the acceptance of such an offer would be that the land would not be properly managed and cultivated.

The Solicitor-General

In fact, of course, that is how it would work out. If the Minister had to take a single agricultural unit, substantial in size, with roads built through it, and he had to parcel it out and sell it back to the individual who has previously owned it in small plots, he would have to consider in relation to each plot whether that individual was likely to cultivate it well or not. That is what I meant. Under Clause 82 what he is called upon to do is to consider the whole agricultural unit as a unit, and that is what the national interest requires. If it is said it is bad luck on the individual who might have cultivated his little plot perfectly satisfactorily, the answer is that the national need must, in some cases, over-ride the interest of the individual, and that is the justification for it. Whereas under Section 10 of the Act of 1941, the Minister's certificate was completely conclusive, under the provisions of Clause 82 of this Bill there is a right of appeal against the Minister's decision. The decision of the appeal tribunal is final, and in arriving at its conclusion it can consider all relevant circumstances and can make a report to the Minister as to whether or not he should exercise his powers The Bill is imperative that if there is a report made by the tribunal, the Minister is bound, by the terms of the Bill, to act in accordance with the report.

Therefore, the Minister is very restricted in his powers under Clause 82. Virtually he cannot retain land which he has acquired compulsorily under the terms of the relevant Acts, unless a completely independent tribunal, presided over by a legal member and containing representatives of the land owning and farming interests, having had the matter referred to it, says that it thinks that it is in the national interest that the Minister should act as he proposes to act. In view of that fact, complaints that this is a breach of good faith are completely beside the point. In my submission, it is not a breach of good faith. It is a provision designed to serve the national interest, and nothing else.

I pass from that matter to deal briefly with the subject of appeals generally. Hon.

Members have felt as a matter of principle that there should be an extended power of appeal. Some hon. Members have said that there should be a right to appeal from the appeal tribunal to the courts. If hon. Members would think what that suggestion implies, I think they would realise that it would lead to an utterly impossible situation. It is conceivable that the tribunal will be called upon to decide all sorts of things; for example, a direction given to a particular farmer that he shall do a certain amount of ditching, or that he shall be dispossessed because he has not done the ditching. Suppose there are appeals to a tribunal about matters like that. It would be calling in an inexpert tribunal to review the decision of another tribunal which was entirely expert in that matter, which would be a matter of practical farming expediency and nothing else. Then hon. Members say, "Yes, but farmers and landowners should have the right of appeal to the tribunal in cases in which the Bill does not give that right to them." If hon. Members would look at the cases in which the right of appeal is given and in which a right of appeal is not given, they will see that the right of appeal is given in all cases which can be said to be of real importance from the point of view of the farmer or the landowner. In the case of dispossession there is a right of appeal; in the case of notice to quit under Clause 30 there is a right of appeal; in the case of directions to provide fixed equipment in certain cases there is again the right of appeal.

There is no right of appeal against a supervision order or a mere direction. I understand a direction can be simply a direction to take some practical measure of farming, upon which it would be quite idle to call an appeal tribunal to adjudicate. I ask the House to say the division between the two—and no doubt the House will want to examine this further in Committee—has been correctly drawn. Matters of importance are subject to appeal; matters which are really matters of routine are not subject to appeal. Under the Defence Regulations there was no supervision order at all, as I have already reminded the House. That is simply introduced by the Bill as a sort of breathing space, as an opportunity to the occupier or the owner who has badly managed or husbanded the land for which he is responsible to pull his socks up. It would be quite absurd to ask that there should be a right of appeal against a supervision order. In point of fact, when an order for dispossession is made, as I reminded the House, the court can, by its report, prevent the Minister from dispossessing the owner or the farmer, notwithstanding that there have been directions made against him with a supervision order, and notwithstanding that he has not complied with the direction. It is entirely within the discretion of the court, and I would ask the House to say that that is as it should be.

I must apologise to the House for having run so briefly through matters which, I concede, are of very great importance. However, the time-table made it difficult for me to spread myself further on them. I hope I have dealt with the points about which hon. Members have expressed themselves as most concerned during the course of the Debate. No doubt improvements will be effected in the Bill at a later stage by both sides. This is particularly a Bill which is suitable for detailed analysis in the Committee discussions which will no doubt ensue. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have received the Bill as being one of prime importance.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

Do the home producers come first?

The Solicitor-General

I have already answered that. I cannot go back now. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, and I am glad to hear that hon. Members opposite have expressed the intention of not dividing on it.

Captain Crookshank

In the minute that remains might I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman once again to answer the question I put to the Government? Do they or do they not accept the position that the home producer comes first and the Empire producer second?

Hon. Members


The Solicitor-General

I have already said that the Government have kept themselves free to implement the policy embodied in this Bill, and that is a sufficient answer to the question.

Captain Crookshank

That is not an answer to the question I put. I can quite see that the Government propose to carry out the policy of the Bill, but the principle that we want to have accepted, if the Government will do so, is whether or not the home producer comes first and the Empire producer second.

Hon. Members


Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.

  1. AGRICULTURE BILL 32,603 words