HC Deb 20 July 1950 vol 477 cc2652-78

12.8 a.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

I beg to move, That the Agriculture Act (Extension of First Schedule) (Wool) Order, 1950, dated 10th July, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th July, be approved. This Order is made by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for the Home Department under Section 6 of the Agriculture Act, 1947. Its purpose is to add wool to the produce, listed in the First Schedule to the Act, to which Part I thereof—relating to guaranteed prices and assured markets—applies.

His Majesty's Government have made it a condition, precedent to the adding of wool to the list of commodities for which prices are guaranteed, that producers should devise some suitable cooperative organisation of their own for the efficient marketing of wool and for the administration of the guarantee. The United Kingdom Wool Marketing Scheme was framed on that understanding, and, in addition, it has been agreed with the Farmers' Unions in the United Kingdom, who are sponsoring the scheme, that the following financial arrangements relating to the wool clip shall apply.

At the annual February review the guaranteed average price for fleece wool for the year starting 1st May following will be negotiated. The Government will guarantee this average price per lb. for all wool clipped in that year plus an allowance per lb. for marketing costs. This allowance for marketing will be based initially on the actual costs incurred by the Ministry of Agriculture in the marketing of the United Kingdom wool clip and, for the first five years, will be at the rate of 3¾d. per lb.

The Marketing Board will draw up each year a schedule of maximum prices for each type of wool which will be so calculated as to produce in the aggregate result the average price, exclusive of marketing costs, guaranteed by the Government. If the Board's calculations are inaccurate, it will be at their risk and will not affect the Government's guarantee.

The Marketing Board will maintain complete records of all transactions, including sales, and will make these available at all times to the Agricultural Departments.

If the proceeds from the sale of wool exceed the amount guaranteed by the Government, the surplus will be dealt with in the following way: if, in any year, there is a surplus, 10 per cent. of that surplus will be retained by the Board and the balance will be placed in reserve. At the end of each period of five years the annual surpluses, in excess of the 10 per cent. to be retained by the Board, and deficiencies will be aggregated and any net surplus will be retained by the Board. The provisions of Section 5 (2) of the Agriculture Act, 1947, will apply to fleece wool as for the commodities mentioned in that subsection to enable minimum prices to be guaranteed ahead.

It is proposed that this Order shall come into operation on 16th October, 1950. This allows time for the Wool Marketing Scheme to be passed through the final stages laid down in the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931–49 for the submission and approval of Schemes, and for the Board administering the Scheme to be in a position to assume its responsibilities in connection with the administration of the guaranteed price arrangements. If, for any reason, the Scheme cannot be brought into effective operation by that date, the Ministers will, of course, take such action as regards the operation of this Order as may be necessary.

For the purposes of the Order, "wool" means any wool from sheep and lambs other than skin-wool. Skin-wool is excluded because, under present arrangements, it is the property of the Minister of Food who purchases all sheep and lambs for slaughter and arranges for the subsequent disposal and treatment of the skins taken off in the process of slaughtering; moreover, it is not subject to regulation under the new Wool Marketing Scheme.

Sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 3 of the Order makes all the provisions of Part I of the Act applicable to home-produced wool as defined in the Order. Sub-paragraph (2) lays down the manner in which the provisions of Section 5 of the Act for enabling producers to "plan ahead" shall apply to this produce. The Ministers will be required to determine not only the prices and other factors for a period of one year beginning after the completion of each annual review held in accordance with Section 2 of the Act but also the "minimum terms for the relevant factors" for a period of two years beginning in the second calendar year after the year in which the review is held. This fixation of minimum terms (i.e. prices and other factors affecting the amounts payable to producers for their produce) will take place following the annual review held in 1950 and in each subsequent alternate year.

Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)

I understand that this Order will be consequential on the scheme which we are to discuss immediately after this Order is passed. If that is correct, if that scheme does not go through both Houses of Parliament and secure the necessary majority in support, will this Order be rescinded?

Mr. T. Williams

That is correct.

Sir T. Dugdale

This Order puts fleece wool into Schedule 1 of the 1947 Act in exactly the same way as other commodities in Schedule 1 of that Act.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That the Agriculture Act (Extension of First Schedule) (Wool) Order, 1950, dated 10th July, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th July, be approved.

12.15 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNeil)

I beg to move, That the Draft British Wool Marketing Scheme, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, he approved. This scheme has been prepared and submitted in accordance with the Agricultural Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1949; that is to say, it has the same parents as another subject which we discussed earlier. I have no reason to believe, however, that it will engender quite the same amount of heat, although it is always rash to make such predictions in this House.

The scheme seeks power for the regulated marketing of wool in the United Kingdom by a board elected by the producers of wool. In this connection, there is excepted from the United Kingdom the administrative county of Shetland. This is so because there is a scheme for Shet. land at present before the Ministers concerned. Fellmongers, or as we say in Scotland, skinners, are exempt from registration and so, too, are the producers of wool not having more than four sheep. The promoters of the scheme are the National Farmers' Unions of England and Wales and Scotland, as well as the Ulster Farmers' Union.

We are satisfied that the promoters, as I know the House can agree, are substantially representative of the producers of fleece wool, and a report to this effect has been laid in the terms of the statutes. It was submitted to the appropriate Ministers in October of last year and, under the procedure of the Marketing Act of 1931, the hearing of objections and representations was heard in March last. There was a public inquiry held in Edinburgh from 27th to 30th March, and I would say, in passing, that, although it was held in Edinburgh, it was a national hearing, as the Act provides. The report of the Commissioner who held the public inquiry was received last June and, in the light of that, the Minister of Agriculture and the Home Secretary and I made some minor modifications in the draft scheme.

The Act further provides for an additional safeguard and the persons nominated for the purpose by the promoters of the scheme notified us that they assented to the modifications; and, having satisfied ourselves that the draft scheme in the form now before the House would conduce to the more efficient marketing and producing of wool, we ask for the approval of the House. It is contemplated that the scheme will operate, broadly, on the arrangements for the collection and disposal of the British wool clip which, I think it will be agreed, have operated so successfully since the autumn of 1947 under the control of the Agricultural Departments.

The guaranteed average price for fleece wool for each season will be determined as between the Government and the National Farmers' Unions at the annual February review. On the basis of this guaranteed average price the Board will come to the maximum price possible for each type of wool. All wool will be required to be sold to, or through the agency of, the Board. Every clip tendered to the Board will be valued with reference to the schedule of maximum prices, and the Board will then pay the appropriate prices to the producer. Any producer not satisfied with the valuation of his wool will be able to appeal to an independent tribunal.

Finally, all wool which has been assembled for sale by the Board will be disposed of by auction as at present. There is one further stage in the proceedings. If the draft scheme is approved, the final act of approval to make the scheme effective rests with the wool producers, who, in terms of the statutes, must, on a poll, record two-thirds majority in favour of the scheme coming into force. The majority refers to those voting, but is weighted in terms of wool produced. The statutory procedure having now been completed up to this stage, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, I submit the scheme for, I hope, approval.

12.21 a.m.

Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)

The draft scheme which we are now considering, as the House will appreciate, is, in one particular respect, entirely different from the scheme we were discussing previously in that under this scheme, by an Order which this House has just passed, wool will come within the orbit of the annual price review which takes place every February. The Wool Marketing Scheme has, in fact, been born as the result of the wishes of the producers to add wool to the First Schedule of the Agriculture Act which has now been done, and also because they believe by a scheme of this nature there can be made a large and considerable improvement in the marketing of their produce.

My right hon. Friends and hon. Friends on this side of the House can welcome this scheme in general, based, as it is, upon the Agricultural Marketing Acts. We gave our support to the recent Agricultural Marketing Act of 1949. During the Debate on the Third Reading of that Act I stated that we still held the view that efficient marketing must be the complement to efficient production. It is through the medium of the Producers Marketing Board that this can be best achieved. These views have been, from time to time, further put before the country as representing our views in regard to marketing. I do not think at this hour that we need go into them again. This draft scheme follows this principle. As the Secretary of State for Scotland has explained, it is sponsored by the National Farmers' Unions of England and Wales, of Scotland, and of Ulster, and he is I think, satisfied that these organisations do represent a majority of producers and the products.

I understand however, that there are still certain outstanding points in regard to which there is not complete agreement amongst producers. It is true to say, as the result of the meeting held in Edinburgh in the spring of this year, and to which the Secretary of State for Scotland referred, that certain minor additions and modifications were made to the scheme. But there are still some outstanding points, and I hope that the Board, and indeed the Government will give careful consideration to the differences that exist so that, we hope, they can secure the necessary approval of the majority of producers. I particularly refer, of course, to the one outstanding point of freedom of choice. There are a lot of people who are most anxious about this particular provision of the scheme. On the other hand, on looking through the scheme carefully, I am perfectly satisfied myself that if the Board operates paragraph 71 (3) in the spirit of words in which it is written it will be possible in practically every case to give the consumer a choice of the producers of the wool. I am also satisfied that it would be very difficult to set a hard-and-fast rule and say that on every occasion producers must have the choice of the consumer. I hope the Minister will give this point very careful consideration.

There is another point to which I would draw the attention of the Secretary of State and that is exemptions. Under paragraph 72 of the scheme fellmongers and skinners will be exempt from registration. The wool which comes from the occupation of fellmongers and skinners, I am informed, covers nearly one-third of the total wool crop and, of course, if that were left "in the air" it might very easily jeopardise the whole scheme. At present, this wool is handled by the Ministry of Food. What happens when the Government hand over to the Board? Will th,. Ministry of Food still handle this wool or will they hand it over to the Board for disposal? If not, how do they propose to handle it?

The Minister of Agriculture explained, in outlining the Order which puts wool into the First Schedule of the Agriculture Act, how the finance will operate. What he did not say was where we start. Do we start with the 1949 crop, from which, I think, the Government enjoyed a profit of over £2 million, or do we start with the 1950 crop? If this scheme goes through the Houses of Parliament as approved by the producers then I think it is the 1950 crop. The House and the country should know where the Board start from the financial point of view because, presumably, they have nothing at all until they get some profits from the sale of wool.

In days gone by there was a very great diversity of prices and fluctuation of prices in the marketing of wool. Therefore, producers, if they are to give the best service to the country, must have stability and we believe that this Board, based upon the annual February price review, will give that necessary stability in the interests of producers and consumers of wool and of the country as a whole.

12.29 a.m.

Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

There are only two small points to raise, I hope the Government will take into consideration the point of view of some wool producers whom I know. Although it is true to say that during the war the price paid to the domestic producer was substantially in excess of the relative price paid to the Dominion producer, in the post-war period the same principle has not been applied. An organisation which dealt with the disposal of Dominion stock in the United Kingdom did, in fact, secure a very substanial profit and I should have thought it might be a good point to take into account, in future price arrangements, that profits so made should be to some extent ploughed back into this industry.

The other point is this. Although I have studied this document very carefully there does not appear to be in it any reference to the responsibility of the Board for the good husbandry side of the agricultural industry. It may well be argued that this does not come within the purview of the Board at all, but I hold that the more we can encourage the folding of sheep in the Southern Counties, the greater will be the benefit to the agricultural industry as a whole. To that extent, if it can be arranged that the Board can watch that side of the industry, it would be of great advantage to the country.

12.31 a.m.

Mr. Snadden (Kinross and West Perthshire)

Having missed my train through listening to the previous Debate, I feel it is our duty to consider very carefully indeed this very important marketing scheme. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) mentioned the word "stability," and that sums up straight away the object of this scheme. In so far as it concerns Scotland, my hon. and gallant Friend will agree that in Scotland we have a very big stock. About one-third of all the sheep in Britain are in Scotland, and because of our geographical position over one-half of its surface is devoted to sheep.

As well as being relatively far more important to Scotland than England, our sheep set-up is extremely simple. We have only two main basic breeds, the Black-faced and the Cheviots—and their cross breeds—and for that reason the problem of wool making is very much more liable to solution north of the Border than it is in England and Wales. Further, because of its relatively greater bearing on farm incomes, we in the North are particularly anxious that in any such large marketing scheme the vital interests of Scotland should be adequately protected.

This scheme has created great interest in the north and objections have been raised to certain of its provisions. Criticisms have been levelled at Scottish producers for having delayed the scheme, but it is fair to say the reason was because of our large interests. These objections were submitted to a public inquiry because the objectors believed, that by airing their opinions, the efficiency of the scheme in the United Kingdom, as a whole, would be improved. The scheme is approved in principle in Scotland by the vast majority of producers, and there is a general desire, which I personally share, to see it brought into operation at the earliest possible moment.

At the same time, and the right hon. Gentleman knows this very well, there are one or two points which require comment and clarification. I hope that he will consider them seriously and give me a reply. In the first place, I think it is wrong that in a scheme of this magnitude under the Agricultural Marketing Acts the report of the judicial commission of inquiry should be denied to the House and the country. Neither we in this House nor the objectors know what effect their representations had on the commissioner. Nor do we know what he, in turn, recommended to the Ministry. There is no indication of how far the producers influenced the commissioner, and to what extent his observations have been resisted by the Ministry. What is the objection to publication? Some explanation must be given; otherwise, future inquiries under the Act will be a farce. In any event we are asked tonight to approve this scheme, and we are penalised because of the fact that we know nothing of the report made by the commission.

Secondly, there is some disappointment in Scotland because of the refusal to concede a Scottish committee, considering that Scotland possesses one-third of the sheep population. We are to have an office in Edinburgh and the Welshmen are to have an office in Wales. I would like to ask, without unduly pressing the point, whether it is legally possible for us to have a Scottish board operating within the United Kingdom.

I want to press the next point. Under paragraph (6), one of the special members to be appointed by the Board should represent Scottish interests. Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate that that is the intention? If both these special members are to be English members. Scottish interests will not be properly represented.

I am glad to see that the regional scheme has been altered in two important respects. The basing of regional representation is obviously a far fairer method than electing members on a county basis. It would have been absurd if a county like my own, or Argyll, had been given only one member while a county with only a small number of sheep had the same representation. That concession is welcome, as is also the concession that 10 members of regional committees present will be able to demand a ballot on any topic that has created controversy.

There is considerable apprehension about the effect of paragraph 70 (2). This appears to exempt skin wool from the operations of the Board. I have nothing whatever against the skinners, but if my interpretation is right skin wool, which amounts to one-third of home wool consumption, will be free on sale, whereas fleece wool will not. This seems a strange position in view of what one of the principal witnesses for the promoters is reported to have said at the inquiry, that the success of the scheme as a whole depended on the inclusion of skin wool.

This point is of considerable importance. At the moment, the skinners are really agents for the Ministry of Food. What will be the position when this control ends? Will the Board be able to handle skin wool in terms of paragraph 70 (2)? As the Ministry of Food is the owner of skin wool, and employs the skinners merely as agents or processors, it is open to the Ministry to hand over all skin wool to the Board and thus to ensure that the Board controls all wool, both skin and fleece.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a very straight question: has the Ministry of Food given any assurance that they will hand skin wool to the Board as they have done to the Wool Control up to the present? It is essential that we should know that answer to that question to clear up all the misunderstanding.

In regard to paragraph 71 (3), there is wide disappointment in Scotland about the present system. During the recent Debate on agriculture in the Scottish Grand Committee, I ventured to draw attention to the refusal to allow freedom to the producers under a post-war peacetime marketing scheme to select the merchant to whom they wish to sell their wool. I should have thought that under this scheme the producer would have been free to select a merchant from an approved panel drawn up by the Board. Under the scheme for tomatoes which we have just discussed that right is conceded, but it is denied to wool producers. The paragraph says that due consideration will be given by the Board to this question of choice of merchant; but I do not think that means very much. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland: can 10 members of regional committees, meeting at annual general meetings, alter the scheme to such an extent as to be able to make a major change in the scheme and permit a producer to change his merchant?

Finally. I regret that Shetland has been excluded from the scheme. Probably there are reasons. If decent terms had been offered, they might have come into the scheme. Can Shetland, at any future time, still come into the wool marketing scheme? These few points requiring clearing up from the Scottish point of view. Scottish producers approve of this scheme in principle. Some of our objections have not been met, but we agree that the scheme in general will increase the efficiency of our marketing and finally bring wool into the schedule of review commodities under the 1947 Act.

12.43 a.m.

Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)

I much regret that the Debate on this scheme is taking place at such a late hour, so late apparently that neither the Minister of Agriculture nor the Parliamentary Secretary has been able to stay for it. I am sure those Ministers mean no discourtesy and have had to catch trains.

Mr. McNeil

That is not the explanation. My right hon. Friend is in the House and available, and he will be on duty tomorrow too. After a long session he is having the customary cup of tea, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will not grudge him.

Mr. Roberts

I should not like to grudge the Minister a cup of tea after his arduous session with his own so-called supporters, but the Minister of Agriculture has not heard a word of the discussion on this scheme, which I would consider even more important than the last one. I would particularly like him to be present because he recently made some disparaging and offensive references to the agricultural economy of Wales. The first point I want to make is the relation of Wales to this scheme. I would have given the Minister notice, of course, if I had known he would not be present.

Mr. McNeil

I will report to him.

Mr. Roberts

That is usually the attitude of Scottish Ministers to Welsh Members—they will report their speeches to other members of the Government.

It has been stated that Scotland is not satisfied with the position, but at least Scotland has three members on the Board, whereas Wales has only one—there are five for England and one for Northern Ireland. The sheep population in England is 11 million and in Wales it is 4i million. Had sheep population been taken as the yardstick—

Mr. McNeil

The hon. Member is not arguing for proportional representation of sheep?

Mr. Roberts

I think the right hon. Gentleman misunderstands me.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I think the hon. Member will find that representation has strict regard to fleece production.

Mr. Roberts

I agree, but sheep population has been taken as the yardstick for proportional representation in the election of members to the Board within each region, and I should prefer to see it taken as a measure for representation on the Board because of the special importance of sheep and wool production to Wales. I am pleased to see that there is a Welsh member and that his name is published, but I would point out that there is a spelling mistake. We are entitled not to have such mistakes in the production of Government schemes of this character.

My second point has already been made. I too, should like to see freedom of choice of merchants for the producers. The merchants and agents were frozen during the war, and there has been no freedom since for the farmer to make a change. The Board has power, as the scheme is drawn, to give selected merchants a monopoly of handling wool in preparation for sale, which means giving these merchants an advantage. Producer co-operative organisations should be free to deal with the organisations if they can satisfy the Board that they are capable of discharging their duties efficiently as the Board's agents. Such freedom of choice would safeguard the efficiency of the agents and merchants. Paragraph 75 (b) says that the Board may: Encourage, promote, or conduct agricultural co-operation, research and education in connection with the production and marketing of wool. I should have thought it would be better to insert the word "shall" for the word "may." Surely it should be the duty of the Board to encourage all these things?

The last point I wish to make is of a general character regarding the recovery of penalties. At this late hour I will not develop this point, which relates to substantial powers of fining producers. Whether the National Farmers' Union agrees with that or not, I think it is a bad thing. If people offend against the law, they should be dealt with by courts of law. I think producers should have the right of appeal to the courts if they are convicted by these tribunals. I will not develop that further.

All these points might have been developed at greater length, but, subject to reservations on these points, I think I can say that I welcome this wool scheme. It might be thought, because of the amount of time I have spent on criticism, that I do not welcome it; but I think that the advantage to the producers is much greater than the disadvantage of those points which I have criticised.

12.52 a.m.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I must say that I think it is an abuse of Parliament that a scheme affecting 100,000 producers should be taken as late as one o'clock in the morning. I am not at all clear whether this scheme is going to be of benefit, because the Secretary of State, when he explained it. used such ambiguous terms. I come from the county which I think has the most sheep. The sheep population of Yorkshire is greater than that of any county in Wales or Scotland.

The problem we have been facing in this country for many years is the chaotic marketing and collection of wool. I want to be satisfied, before I vote for this scheme, that it is going to be the remedy for that sort of thing. We have had a Committee presided over by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) which has examined the whole of this problem of wool marketing, and I am certain that hon. Members in all quarters of the House will pay tribute to the facts collected, and the careful analysis of the position, in that Report.

I personally do not agree with the conclusions. One of the facts brought out in that Report was that in 1939 there were 1,000 collecting agents for wool; there were 153 different merchants who merely sold the wool and did nothing else with it and there were in England, Wales and Scotland only 126 merchants who bought wool for process or manufacture. It was for this that the producer co-operatives were formed. There were in 1939 four producer co-operatives which collected wool and sold it to those who actually produced or manufactured-toppers or manufacturers. I want to ask what is to be the attitude of the Government and of the Wool Marketing Board towards these producer co-operatives? I was shocked when the Secretary of State said that, broadly speaking, this system of collection and marketing will be carried out on the basis of what happened under Wool Control.

Mr. McNeil

The successful basis.

Mr. Turton

Here are the facts. In 1939 the producer co-operatives were handling 6,750,000 lbs. of wool. That figure had dropped in 1948, the latest date for which I have figures, to 3,750,000 lbs. Today they have a capacity to handle 17 million lbs., which is one-quarter of the whole wool clip. I think it is highly uneconomic if producers are not to be allowed to sell their wool to their own producer co-operatives, who can handle that capacity. In Yorkshire, two years ago, we tried to get a wool permit. Here I must declare my interest. I am not only a sheep breeder, but also a member of a producer co-operative. In 1948, 110 members, of whom I was one, appealed against this direction to send to a merchant and asked instead to send to the producer co-operative society. A tribunal composed of five merchants and five farmers heard the appeal, and the chairman of the tribunal was a merchant from whom 50 per cent. of the applicants wished to change. That tribunal decided in 109 out of 110 cases that no change was to be allowed.

Is that part of the successful method which the Secretary of State wishes to continue? I hope that he will make it clear tonight. On appeal to the Minister in some 50 cases in 1948, they were allowed to go to their produce co-operatives, but 60 were denied what, I think it will be agreed, is elementary justice; and in 1949 and 1950 we have not been allowed that choice of change of merchant.

What is to be the system under paragraph 71 (3) in this scheme? Are we again to have a tribunal which is packed with merchants who are themselves going to decide whether producers are allowed to change from those merchants? If that is to be altered it will be a very great advantage. Furthermore, are we to have a lifting of the present ban going on through 1948, 1949, and 1950, on the direction of the Minister of Agriculture, against producer co-operatives being allowed to claim that that was a good reason for their change of merchants?

Under this scheme the Board takes power to sell, grade, and transport wool. When this scheme is in operation, we shall not I hope have the uneconomic and wasteful method which is followed at present in the collection of wool; but will have the Board arranging for one collection and grading of wool. Or is this scheme not really going to do that, but going back to the wasteful method of having different merchants collecting the wool and many not even grading it but sending it to other merchants for grading? In my own area there is a village and there are six farms; in two of those the farmers sell their wool to the co-operative and that producer co-operative collects the wool from them. In another farm, the farmer has his wool fetched by the merchant; in another, the farmer is asked to send it by rail to the merchants' town, which happens to be Bradford; and in two other cases, the farmers have their wool sent to different merchants using either their own transport, or having the merchant using his. That is the last thing which we want to continue in a marketing scheme.

If this scheme now before us is to have any value, it should cut out the waste there is at present in the collection and marketing of wool. I believe that the only way—the best way—of securing this is the encouragement, wherever possible, of the producer co-operative system of marketing. That was the origin of these producer co-operatives. In the last three years, they have been hampered in every way by the Ministry of Agriculture and by the system of wool control. That was why I was so alarmed when I heard the Secretary of State talk about the success of the present method of wool control. I do hope he will consider that.

I have only one other small point. The system in wool is unlike that of any other commodity in that after the wool is clipped there is an increase in weight and not a shrinkage. With most commodities, the longer one keeps them, the smaller they tend to become. In wool, after the clip, there is an increase. Last year we found that in my area that there was an increase of 21 per cent. What I want to find out is to whom will that increase belong? At the present time, under the system of wool control, that increase tends to go to the merchant, in some cases through the wool control, but in no case to the farmer. Will the position under this scheme be that what they call over-weight will go to the producer of the fleece and not to the merchant? After all, surely, this is something that belongs to the producer. It is a matter of some considerable importance.

Mr. McNeil indicated dissent.

Mr. Turton

I understand the Secretary of States denies that.

Mr. McNeil

I think that is one way of putting the statement. As I understand the subject—I do not put my specific experience against that of the hon. Gentleman—this has been reviewed from time to time and the explanation is that at some seasons it does appreciate and at other seasons it depreciates. It depends on the amount of moisture in the clip when it is made, and it seems dialectical to argue to whom the moisture belongs.

Mr. Turton

That is not the position. If a farmer is in a producer co-operative and if that fleece is produced and graded properly, I am informed by those who run the producer co-operatives that this increase of 2¼ per cent. means something like £25,000 to Yorkshire. If they were all allowed in Yorkshire, to join producer co-operatives and sell to them, it is clear that £25,000 would go to the Yorkshire farmers. I gather that the Secretary of State's view is that this is something in the scheme which is to be given as a present to the merchants. If so, I hope he will think about this matter again and get the Wool Marketing Board to go into the question.

I also hope that this is really a scheme for the improvement of the marketing of wool. I heard not one word in the speech of the Secretary of State to show me there was a real intention to get a more economical marketing of wool. It is not economical to have something in the region of 1,300 different merchants dealing with this wool. We have suffered far too long from that in previous years. We have had systems of small auctions where the farmers have had bad prices. I believe that the right scheme is on producer co-operative, lines, and I do hope that I shall have an assurance which will enable me to vote for this particular scheme.

1.4 a.m.

Major McCallum (Argyll)

I do not want to enter into an argument with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), as to whether Yorkshire or Argyll holds the biggest number of sheep. As I happen to have served in a Yorkshire regiment and represent Argyll perhaps I can claim credit in both. I, too, want to voice my protest at the fact that this important scheme is being taken at this late hour—it is now after one o'clock in the morning.

A great deal of the criticism of this scheme, which has emanated from Scotland, is, in my opinion, due to lack of publicity. Farmers in many parts of Scotland have not understood what the scheme really is and this Debate will not be reported in the whole of the Scottish Press tomorrow. It will be in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but not in the rural areas where the wool is produced, therefore, I feel that it is very unfair to have this Debate at this late hour.

I want to refer to the question of freedom of choice. I believe I know one of the reasons why the Government and the Board think that there should not be this freedom of choice. It has a great deal to do with transport. The Secretary of State, in his travels about the Highlands, will know, I am sure, that there are many hill sheep-farmers who used to send their wool to certain merchants, including those in the town of Greenock, among others. They have had a life-long connection with those merchants, who were not only merchants but supplied fee dingstuffs, fertilisers, and so on. They used to give quite substantial credits to those same farmers and there was a very considerable understanding between them.

As it has not been explained to the farmers why it is necessary to have this direction of merchants to whom the wool-clip should be sent, I feel that it is not to be wondered at that farmers, particularly in the Highlands, feel aggrieved in this particular respect. If more publicity had been given to this scheme and if, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) had said, the report of the commission had been made public, then farmers would have understood some of the reasons why it was necessary to prevent the freedom of choice and I do not think that there would have been anything like the criticism there has been.

We were glad to see—and the producers have welcomed it, too—this decision to appoint two representatives on the original committees from those areas and counties which are greater wool producers. There again, if these facts had been stated by the Minister to the agricultural Press in Scotland, for people to read for themselves, then they would have known the doubts and fears expressed about the scheme.

I shall certainly support the scheme and I know that the vast majority of the hill farmers in the Highlands support it. There are, it is true, certain objections but had there been enough publicity, those objections would not have been so serious as they have been. I look forward to this scheme conferring the same benefits on the hill sheep-farmers of Scotland, and of the Highlands in particular, as the milk marketing scheme has conferred on the hill farmers of Scotland.

1.10 a.m.

Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)

I intend to raise only one small point which occurred to me during the speech of the Secretary of State. As a representative of a large crofting community I am very interested in paragraph 74, which states: In exercise of the powers set out in paragraphs 70 to 73 of this Scheme, the Board shall have regard to any special conditions affecting the traditional woollen industries of the crofting Counties in Scotland. The Secretary of State mentioned that a small crofter with four sheep would be exempt from the scheme. Why this figure of four? It is a very small point, but one of great importance to the small producer who is processing his own wool right through to the manufactured tweed. The number should be increased. This is only my personal view, but there is no doubt at all that small producers in the crofting counties, and I dare say that there are some in other areas of Britain, who process their wool up to the finished state, handle a much greater quantity of sheep. I would like the Under Secretary to explain why this figure was adopted, because I, personally, feel that it is far too small.

1.12 a.m.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

As the Secretary of State said, there is a separate scheme under consideration for Shetland. Incidentally, I do not know whether Yorkshire or Argyllshire has the most sheep, but there is no question about which county produces the best wool. This scheme applies only to Orkney and some other islands to the South, but I would like to ask, like the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) what the position will be if the Shetland scheme falls through. Does it come into this scheme, or will it remain outside altogether?

Wool is rather a special agricultural product, and my feeling is that it matters very much how the scheme is administered. Its success or failure will depend on this. The official poll will be taken before the scheme is actually in operation. That seems to be an odd situation because the producers cannot make up their minds until they know how the scheme is working. I would like to emphasise the great importance of paragraph 73, which gives very wide powers to the Board. They can manufacture or acquire practically anything. It seems to me that they have the power to manufacture locomotives or motor cars, although no doubt, in practice, this will not prove to be a serious consideration.

Could we be told more of what is envisaged under the powers of paragraph 74? Will special consideration be given to sheep clubs, which are of considerable importance in some parts of the Highlands? I would also like to reinforce what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) said about the disciplinary powers of the Board. There is no safeguard for the producer. It is not even necessary for him to be present when the disciplinary board takes action.

Lastly, it has been suggested that it is unfortunate there is no committee for Scotland or for Wales. Under paragraph 84 the Board may convene general or regional meetings of registered producers. The annual meeting may be held in a place which only a small proportion of producers can reach, and some of the criticism made on the centralisation of this scheme might be removed if the Board were compelled, rather than empowered, to hold the regional meetings at stated times.

1.15 a.m.

Mr. Drayson (Skipton)

I should like to welcome the Order which added wool to the First Schedule of the 1947 Act and makes it subject, after the autumn, to the fixed price review. I should also like to know whether the profits which it is estimated will accrue from the current year's clip are to be added to the reserves of the Board, and whether they will start off their first year with the benefit of any profit the Ministry may derive from the price which has been fixed for this year's clip. I understand that the price was not fixed in agreement with the industry, that the National Farmers' Union could not agree, and that it was fixed solely by the Minister of Agriculture. I hope that under this new marketing scheme the difficulties or slight dissatisfaction experienced by producers will be overcome.

In Yorkshire, dissatisfaction was expressed over the price for Swaledale wool, and perhaps that will be one of the points that the new Board will be able to deal with to the general satisfaction. One of the factors which we in Yorkshire cannot help but be acutely conscious of, having the centre of the industry in Bradford, is that, knowing the high prices ruling in the world, farmers have felt from time to time that they have not been getting the full benefit. Under this scheme not only will they have their commodity added to the fixed schedule, which will give them some measure of guarantee, but they will ultimately benefit under the profits that will accrue to the Board.

I would add my word on this question of the choice of merchant. It is an important point, and I hope that the Minister who is to reply will be able to give us some greater assurance. I understand that existing channels of collection will be used and the present methods of appraisement maintained. Does that mean that producers will be able to select their own merchants, with whom many will have had a life-long connection? They will naturally want to maintain the continuity of service they have experienced. Those are the only two points I want to make. Generally speaking, apart from the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and other hon. Members, the farmers of Yorkshire welcome the scheme and I am glad of the added stability that it will give to their endeavours.

1.20 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

I think it is clear that hon. Members want me simply to answer the questions that have been put to me, for nearly everyone has welcomed this scheme. There seems to be no question of the scheme being opposed; indeed it looks as if there were no possibility of the scheme being opposed even if my answers should not prove to be completely satisfactory.

The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) wondered why the report of the commissioner who conducted the inquiry could not be made public. It is a strange thing that this is the first time he has wondered that. The producers of a certain agricultural commodity get together and promote a scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act. It is submitted to the appropriate Ministers, who publish the scheme. If objections are lodged, the Ministers must have a public inquiry. They must listen to all the objections, but they cannot listen in person, so they appoint a commissioner to consider the objections and submit a confidential report. On the basis of his report, they may modify the scheme.

The hon. Gentleman said that without this report the effect of the inquiry on the Government could not be known. If one looks at the scheme as first published, and at the scheme as presented to Parliament by +he Minister, one can see how the scheme has been modified since it was first made public. If one is interested, one can also keep in touch with the objectors, as no doubt the hon. Gentleman has done in this case, and can even attend the inquiry and listen to every submission made by objectors. There is no provision in the Act for the publication of the report of the commissioner and I do not think it would be a good thing to introduce such a provision. I have been asked if Shetland can come into the scheme, if Shetland producers wish. They could have opted to come into this scheme with the rest of the producers. They decided not to do so and to promote a separate scheme for Shetland, which is now before the Ministers concerned. We must not quarrel with them for taking that decision.

The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) said there had not been enough publicity for the scheme in Scotland, and that if there had been there would not have been all this uncertainty. This is a criticism not of the Government, but of the promoters of the scheme—of the producers themselves. It was up to them to publicise the scheme and get support for it, and not the Government. I do not think we should have influenced the attitude of the producers to this scheme at whatever hour we discussed the question. We are satisfied that the majority are in favour of the scheme, and every Member who has spoken has said so.

Major McCallum

If the few dissenting producers had been able to know about this Debate, they might have agreed.

Mr. Fraser

I do not think they would have read it in the Press in any case, but they can read it in HANSARD if they wish to do so. They will get to know about this scheme as a result of the propaganda campaign the promoters will carry on between now and the taking of the poll. That is how they have got to know about other schemes in the past.

I was asked why there should be this minimum of four sheep to be included in the scheme. I do not know the reason for that. The promoters of the scheme said four sheep, and we accepted it. We would have accepted it if they had said five, or six, and I hope that the House will also be prepared to leave it at that. It was also said that it was very odd that the poll should be taken before the scheme was operated. I should have thought it odd if we had operated the scheme before the poll was taken to see whether the scheme could be operated at all.

This seems to have been the co-operators night out. On the earlier Order the co-operators on this side were criticising the provisions of another marketing scheme, and during the last half hour Members opposite have been criticising this scheme on much the same grounds. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) claimed that the scheme would not be satisfactory unless the producers had freedom of choice. The hon. Member said that there were too many merchants, and that we wanted efficiency in marketing and distribution. He wanted to build up this colossus. That sounds rather strange coming from the other side. We are always being accused of wanting to eliminate the activities of the small units.

What he said seemed to me to convey a rather unfair impression of the successful applications for a change of merchants during the last two or three years. I find that in 1948 there were 278 applications for a change of merchant, of which 48 were allowed by the advisory committee. There were 98 appeals to the Agricultural Department; 55 of those appeals were allowed. In 1949, there were 144 applications of which 35 were allowed; 32 appealed and of those five were allowed. If one does a little sum on these applications and appeals, it will be found that 32.7 per cent. were successful in 1948 and 27.7 per cent. were successful in 1949. So the machinery which has operated in the last two years does not seem to have had the effect of completely stopping transfer from one merchant to another.

Mr. Turton

Is the hon. Gentleman denying my figure when I said that 110 Yorkshire producers applied in 1948; that only one application was allowed. and that on appeal the Minister quite rightly allowed another 50?

Mr. Fraser

I did not deny that, and 1 will not do so. I have not got the separate figures for Yorkshire. The figures which I gave were for the United Kingdom.

On this question of choice of merchant. it does seem to me to be clear that if the Wool Marketing Board is to do the job for which Parliament is asked to appoint it, it will of necessity require to control the agencies through which the wool shall be marketed. It is up to them to get the most efficient method of marketing the wool. Some considerations have been advanced during the discussion tonight which would weigh in determining through which agency the wool will be marketed.

One must have regard to transport con-siderations; to the ability of the merchant to handle the quantity of wool he may be asked to take, to storage accommodation, and to the merchant's ability to grade the wool, and so on. All these things will have to be taken into account and will, I feel sure, be properly taken into account by the Board. I would have thought that when the amendment of paragraph 71, on page 12, was made in consequence of what was said at the public inquiry, a fair safeguard was pro- vided. That amendment requires the Board to give due consideration to any application by a registered producer re- garding the persons to whom, or the place to which, the wool is to be delivered. Some merchants may say that that is not enough; but I believe the Board must have the ultimate and over-riding control of the agency through which the wool is to be passed.

Mr. Turton

May I ask the hon. Gentleman a specific question on that? It will help us if he will give me a reply. What I want to ask is whether the tribunal to which application is made will have merchants sitting on it, as at present under merchant control?

Mr. Fraser

The answer to that is not given in the scheme. The Board will set up this tribunal, and I cannot tell what the Board will do about the appointment of the chairman and the tribunal. I think it was the hon. Member for West Perth who asked me what would happen if a regional committee decided to give complete freedom of choice. As I under- stand it, the position then would be that the request would go to the Board, and the Board would have to modify the scheme to give this complete freedom of choice. That would mean that the Board would have to go to the Minister. So it is for the committee to make up its mind in the first place.

Mr. Macdonald (Roxburgh and Selkirk)

Would it not give far greater protection to the producers to have complete freedom of choice?

Mr. Fraser

I do not think it fair for the hon. Member to come into the Chamber at 1.30 a.m. without having heard the earlier part of the Debate, and then ask that question. I have said quite clearly that the Board must have control and that there cannot be complete freedom of choice of merchant. Otherwise, the scheme would not work.

I was asked about skin wool, and the position of the fellmongers and skinners. Skin wool has to be in this scheme because the Ministry of Food, who own it at present, desire that so long as they do own it, it shall be marketed by the Board. In paragraph 53—dealing with exemptions—fellmongers and skinners will be excluded as registered producers so that, if and when the Ministry of Food gives up its control over livestock and the skins of dead sheep, and they become once again the property of the fell-mongers, then the Board will not be able to dispose of skin wool. It will not become the property of those registered under this scheme.

The position is that skin wool is still in because the Ministry of Food owns the skins and want power to market them. If one could imagine a position obtaining in two or three years' time, when the Ministry of Food no longer owned these skins, but had once again become the property of the skinners and fellmongers—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about livestock?"] If a livestock marketing board was appointed with the approval of the House we would then have to make up our minds whether that Board owned the skins; then the fellmongers would be out of it. Then it would be for the owners of the skins to determine how they are to be marketed; if they wanted it that way, it could be done but, if not, the Board would not do it.

One has the impression that the objections to this scheme are that hon. Members do not want the skin wool to be so marketed. In the circumstances, skin wool would not be marketed, and one-third of the wool would be taken out of the control of the Board with the producer's consent. I hope that I have dealt with the position of what would happen if the Ministry of Food no longer owned the skins.

The other point about which I was asked by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, who talked about appreciation in the weight of wool while in store, was one on which I have already consulted what I think is the most expert opinion. I am told that from season to season—as implied in the interruption by him—this changes. In one year, one will get an appreciation and in another year, if the wool is kept in damp or wet condition, one will get a depreciation, a lessening of the weight while wool is in store. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, asked who was to get the financial benefit of the income derived from the price got for the moisture that is sold. I understand that from year to year the position alters.

Mr. Turton

Who gets it?

Mr. Fraser

Whoever is holding it at the time it increases in weight will,get the benefit. If it should decrease in weight the person also makes the loss. That is the position. Likewise, with grain at the present time. If grain is stored at a price per cwt., is bought out of store, loses or increases in weight, and is sold at the same price a loss or profit is made in consequence of that. I think that hon. Gentlemen, even though they have expressed some reservations about the scheme, appreciate that it cannot now be amended. It has either to be accepted or rejected, and I think it is the unanimous desire of hon. Members present that this scheme should be accepted.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That the Draft British Wool Marketing Scheme, 1950, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved.