§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.11 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
Short though this Bill is, it deals with two separate matters both of some importance. First, in Clause 1, it authorises the appropriate Ministers to prepare a scheme to carry out the undertaking which was given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Speech on 18th April, that a Measure would be introduced which would go far to offset the effect of the increased Petrol Duty on the cost of agricultural operations. The Clause does not, in terms, refer to that statement; but I am sure it will be generally understood that that is its object. Secondly, in Clause 2, it authorises the same Ministers to prepare schemes to encourage the use of fertilisers in the improvement of grassland and marginal land. The remaining clauses are ancillary and need not be dwelt upon.
With regard to the first purpose, the House will recall that the Chancellor explained that certain agricultural operations are performed by some farmers with machines using entirely taxed fuel and that others use machines with a fuel which, in the main, is not taxed. Therefore, to leave the matter where it was after the higher duty was imposed would be to discriminate against the petrol tractor or the machine wholly consuming petrol.
The other main point was that the higher fuel duty would add considerably to production costs at the very moment when the annual farm price review had just been concluded and settlement reached. The Chancellor explained that the intention was to provide for annual grants based in each case on a reasonable assumption as to the average amount of taxed fuel which each type of machine consumes. This means, of course, that each individual fanner will not be recouped for the precise amount of his additional costs. The Government regard that as impracticable, and as not the sort of course we ought to adopt.
Instead, the amount of grant payable in respect of particular machines will be fixed on the basis of the assumed average 2657 consumption, and the same grant will be payable to each farmer using one of those machines, whether he uses more or less than the estimated average of petrol. Provided that the grants are properly assessed—and there we shall have in mind the total amount of petrol used by farmers in agricultural operations as distinct from road haulage—farmers as a whole will recover as nearly as possible the additional sum paid in extra Petrol Duty following the Budget.
As between farmer and farmer it will be what we call rough justice; and we hope it will not be unreasonably rough justice. This Measure has been criticised by hon. Members opposite. I have seen references in the Press to the effect that it is clumsy, inequitable, and may encourage farmers not to use tractors, that it may militate against efficiency and that farmers may buy old tractors but never use them and continue to draw these grants.
I suggest that hon. Members opposite ought to wait until the scheme is finally produced. They may find then that these contingencies will not arise. I cannot imagine any farmer leaving work undone to save a few shillings on petrol. The amount of grant or duty will be negligible in comparison with the total value of any crop. In practice, it will be the larger farmers who will spend most on petrol because they have a wider acreage, and the smaller farmers, the near marginal men, may have a little more than their due. Looking at it broadly, hon. Members may agree that that may not be a really bad thing. In any case, it does deal with the point of discrimination between petrol consuming machines and T.V.O. machines, and with the question of recoupment since the Duty was imposed on the very morrow of the February price review.
The Clause is drawn in fairly wide terms to allow reasonable elasticity in the preparation of a scheme. We shall consult the various interests—the National Farmers' Union, manufacturers and others. Indeed they have been consulted already, and satisfactory progress has been made towards the production of a useful scheme. When the scheme is ready, it will be laid before Parliament as a Statutory Instrument, and I trust that the House, despite any misgivings they may have concerning equity between 2658 farmer and farmer, will feel that the method employed by the Government to deal with this matter of great detail and complexity is, perhaps, in the end, the most satisfactory way.
No one can say how long these grants will continue, but, at an early date, we shall consider if some alternative can be found as a long-term solution of this problem. We have to bear in mind that new machines may come into use, and there may be changes in the Petrol Duty. I ought to warn hon. Members that that is not a prophecy; it is merely a precaution. It indicates the wisdom of having all the details in a scheme rather than in an Act of Parliament, so that they can be easily reviewed and revised should the need arise.
So far, I have only referred to grants to farmers; but the Bill refers to owners of "machines used for agricultural operations." That, of course, includes agricultural contractors as well as commercial horticulturists, who can apply for a grant on the same terms as farmers. At this moment we are encouraging agricultural contractors to undertake work where the individual farmers have not the machines, or the county executive committee are not releasing machines. I think it would be unreasonable to leave out contractors, who, after all, are doing a very useful job.
The second object of the Bill is to give legislative authority to the scheme for encouraging the use of fertilisers for improving grassland and marginal land. As announced on 23rd March in this House, this was one of the items settled at the recent February price review. Hon. Members will recall that, after the feedingstuffs subsidies were disposed of, the fertiliser subsidy had to be dealt with from 1st July. All these items were discussed and finally settled at the price review. The Government have kept the price of fertilisers at a low and stable level for several years, by means of subsidies paid by the Board of Trade. It was a very complex piece of business, and it was agreed at the February review that the subsidy, as at present operating, should be removed in two stages—one half from 1st July, that is tomorrow, and the remainder a year later.
There were very strong representations made against the removal of the subsidies at this moment, lest the increased price 2659 of fertilisers might conceivably lead to reduced yields and thereby adversely affect the expansion programme. Whilst admitting there was some force in the argument, the Government felt the time had come finally to abolish the subsidy in its present form for general agriculture. Whatever the price, I think it is good fanning practice to use adequate fertilisers, and in their own interests as well as in the interest of maximum production I hope that no farmer will economise in the use of fertilisers which, I think, are a basic necessity.
On the other hand, it was felt that there was one crop where we needed to give a special fillip to encourage the use of fertilisers. I refer, of course, to grass. In spite of our good climate for the growth of grass, and sometimes weeds, and indeed perhaps because of it, we never gave the same study to the cultivation of grass as we did to arable land and to crops. Grass just "growed" like Topsy, and there were very few people, except pioneers like Sir George Stapledon, who gave any real study to it. However, during the last 25 years there have been much research and experimental work on grasses, their growth, management and control, and the translation of results of these investigations into efficient practice on the farm by an ever increasing number of farmers.
Grassland is, therefore, no longer the Topsy of agriculture, but rather the Cinderella coming into her own. We are beginning to appreciate what a substantial increase it is in our power to produce by ploughing up where practicable, the use of good strains of seed in suitable mixtures, the regular application of adequate dressings of fertilisers and, where necessary, lime, the control of grazing, and finally efficient conservation. Many farmers know of the value of this, but, taking the country as a whole, I am afraid farmers use far too little fertiliser on their grass.
In order to encourage farmers to apply fertilisers more liberally, we provide in Clause 2 for grants up to one-third of the cost of fertilisers purchased after 30th June, and applied to land under grass, including rough grazing. Also, to encourage the breaking up of old permanent grass in order to extend the tillage area, we provide for grants up to two-thirds 2660 of the cost of fertilisers applied to land ploughed up from grass. The detailed arrangements will be set out in schemes which will be laid before Parliament and which, of course, can be prayed against. In this we are following the precedent of the lime subsidy scheme. Some of the details were given in the announcement following the price review.
Thus for the first year we propose a 33⅓ per cent. grant in respect of the application of fertilisers to grass, subject to a maximum of 25s. per acre, and that grant may be paid in any one year on up to one-half of the grass on any farm including rough grazings. We are anxious that fertilisers should be applied to the best advantage, as I am sure every hon. Member is anxious, and especially on rough grazings where very often the land may need liming and perhaps surface draining before fertilisers are applied.
It will be noticed that Clause 2 (3, e) authorises the Minister to withhold contributions where, in his opinion, the fertilisers have not been used to the best advantage, or where they are used on unsuitable land or in excessive quantities in relation to the benefit that that land is likely to derive. It is obviously in the farmer's own interest that the maximum benefit should be derived from expenditure on fertilisers, and I would urge upon farmers the wisdom of seeking the advice of their district officers and particularly the grassland officers of the National Agricultural Advisory Service.
It has been suggested in one quarter that this subsidy was not necessary and that we ought to use the Advisory Service to educate farmers in using what is known to be really good practice. I think the National Agricultural Advisory Service is doing a useful job. It has been in existence for only approximately two years, and I am certain that this subsidy will help the Service to give a better service than perhaps would be the case except over much more prolonged periods.
The third grant on fertilisers applied to land after the ploughing up of grass of not less than seven years' standing will be subject to a limit of £3 per acre out of a total expenditure upon fertilisers of £4 10s. Having mentioned the figure of £4 10s., I ought also to say that it may very well be a good investment for the 2661 farmer to spend more than £4 10s. on any acreage, even though he can only receive £3 as a subsidy. We had to place a limit on the Government contribution so that the funds available could be distributed over the widest possible area and, of course, to the best advantage. We intend to review those limits and other details in 12 months' time and see whether any variations are necessary in the light of experience.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is proposing a slightly different scheme for Scotland, and the details were announced in this House on 13th June in answer to a Question. Perhaps I ought to explain that the Secretary of State is in Scotland at the moment, and his Under-Secretary is at a ministerial meeting, otherwise he would have been in his place on the Front Bench. I thought that that explanation ought to be made for the benefit of any Scottish Members who may be present.
The other conditions which may be provided in the scheme are set out in Clause 2 (3), but I think they are more or less self-explanatory, and I need not occupy the time of the House with them. The fertiliser subsidy will be paid in respect of fertilisers purchased on or after 1st July, and the necessary application forms are now with the printers.
I should like to advise those who purchase fertilisers after today and who apply them to grass or ploughed up grassland to keep a record of the Ordnance Survey number and acreage of the fields to which the fertilisers have been applied, the kind and quantity of fertiliser spread on each field, the cost per ton and the amount of any additional transport costs incurred when the fertilisers are not delivered direct to the farm by the supplier. This information will be required when application is ultimately made for the grant. This fertiliser scheme will run for a period of three years, but can be extended for a further two years, subject to the approval of the Treasury and an affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament.
To sum up, this Bill is designed to prevent any reduction in the use of agricultural machinery as a result of the new Petrol Duty; secondly, to encourage the use of fertilisers on grassland; and thirdly, to honour the decision of the February review. There may be all sorts of opinions 2662 as to the best means of carrying out our obligations to preserve the basis of the February price review, and to achieve the maximum production of food. I believe that on the whole, and in the last analysis, we have chosen the right method, and therefore I hope that the House will readily give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hurd (Newbury)
I have listened carefully to the explanation of this Bill which the Minister has given to the House. We do not doubt for a moment the good intentions behind the Bill but we consider that the proposals are ill-conceived. They perpetuate the bad old practice of giving piecemeal assistance to agriculture by subsidies and by grants. Of course, in agricultural policy before the war Governments had to do good by stealth as that was the only method open to them. But we hoped that petty subsidies for this and that would gradually disappear as we came into the full operation of the Agriculture Act of 1947 and when we had firmly established the principle and the operation of guaranteed markets and prices.
Farmers much prefer to rely on fair prices for what they produce, prices related to the costs of production as they go up or down, or as the needs of the nation may vary. They would much rather do that than depend on these odd subsidies, however well-meant they may be. We in the farming industry feel that these grants give us a bad name with the general public. They mislead many people, even such seekers after the truth as the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans). Others, too, in the country are so confused as to believe that there must be at least some truth in the allegations which he has made. We would much prefer to have fair prices and no subsidies.
This Bill, of course, has its genesis in the additional Petrol Duty, the extra 9d. per gallon, which the Chancellor imposed in the Budget, so that one evil has led to another. The Chancellor had qualms about leaving agriculture to meet the whole of the burden of £3 million which falls on it through this additional tax. For once, he was right. The tax burdens on all productive industry are much too heavy today. We argued that, 2663 of course, on the Finance Bill. In seeking to meet the particular problems which the Petrol Duty imposes on agriculture, why did not the Chancellor learn from the experience of other countries?
Other countries which have a Petrol Duty allow farmers to claim a rebate on their purchases of petrol used in their tractors and other farm machines. I referred during the Committee Stage of the Finance Bill to the practice in Canada. In some provinces of Canada the farmer is entitled to draw a petrol rebate. He makes a declaration every six months of the gallonage of petrol he has purchased and used in his farm machinery and draws a rebate on that. It is the same system as that which we adopt for recouping our fishermen; when they buy petrol they receive a rebate of tax. In other provinces of Canada the farmer obtains coloured petrol which is tax-free.
It seems to me that either of those methods would be preferable to the proposals which we see in the Bill. When I was in Canada last year, and again only last week, I was assured that the practice in Canada works smoothly and is acceptable both to Government Departments in the provinces and also to farmers. There are, of course, very heavy penalties for fraud, and that is quite right. I do not question the honesty of the Canadian farmers any more than I question the honesty of our farmers, but quite clearly if they are to be given a tax rebate, then the public purse has to be safeguarded and it is right that there should be heavy penalties for fraudulent returns or dishonest claims.
The Government propose, under the Bill, to give a flat rate grant for every petrol-driven tractor or machine which the farmer has on his farm. I must declare a personal interest here because, if this scheme is accepted on the lines which the Minister outlined, then I shall be a substantial beneficiary. On the petrol engine which I use, perhaps, ten days a year to drive an elevator at harvest I shall draw, if I understood what the Minister said, the full rate of grant, just the same rate as that which I shall draw for the petrol engine of the same type used on 365 days of the year for driving a milking machine.
Before the hon. Gentleman makes that statement, it would be better for him to await the actual scheme which will be produced. No figures are yet available to either of us.
§ Mr. Hurd
I said that this was as far as I could understand the Minister. Indeed, I wish the Minister had been a little more explicit; he might have been able to allay some of our doubts and possibly some of our misunderstandings. But it is only right, on the Second Reading of the Bill, for us to put forward what we consider to be the implications of the Bill.
The position I have described is a temptation to somebody like myself to scour the scrap merchants' dumps through the country and collect all the odd engines on which I can lay my hands if I am to receive—we do not know the figures, but, say, £3 to £5 a year on each of them. I do not know what the figures will be, but certainly the position of the taxpayer will need to be very carefully safeguarded if grants are to be given indiscriminately on all the petrol-driven tractors and machines which a farmer possesses. I hope that when the Minister works out the scheme he will watch that point.
In any event, the farmer will have to make a nice calculation to decide how many petrol-driven tractors it will pay him to possess, in relation to the work he has to do. Will it pay him to have three tractors, each drawing a grant and working on an average 120 days a year or will it pay him better to have two tractors draw the grant and work each of them 180 days a year? I do not know. We shall have to work that out when we know what grant is to be paid on the petrol-driven tractor.
I cannot imagine that either the Ministry of Agriculture or the National Farmers' Union, or indeed anybody with any practical knowledge of farming, produced this makeshift scheme. On the Committee Stage of the Finance Bill we failed to persuade the Treasury to agree to a straightforward tax rebate on farm petrol. Ministers must think again about this scheme. If this Bill is given its Second Reading today, its life should be limited to one year. We should not commit ourselves to three years, as the Bill 2665 proposes, with another two years subject only to negative resolution of this House.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
Did I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the Bill commits us to three years, with a possible extension of two further years, on the question of the petrol grant?
§ Mr. Hurd
If this time does not apply to the petrol grant, I am relieved to that extent.
I turn next to the proposed subsidy to be offered for fertilisers applied to grass land. We must all agree that the use of fertilisers could be still further increased to the great benefit not only of agriculture but of the country as a whole. Certainly there is great scope for higher standards of grassland management which means a more generous use of fertilisers. Let us be realists, however; let us have the same price for fertilisers however they are used. It is treating farmers like half-wits to bribe them to use more fertilisers on grassland in particular. The farmer knows, when he is spending his own money—and can obtain the best advice to guide him—to which crops and in what measure he should apply fertilisers. After all, he pays the fertiliser bill even if it is partly subsidised.
How much of these special grant-aided fertilisers will go on grassland rather than On tillage crops, potatoes, sugar-beet, wheat and so on? Are we to have more snoopers going round the farms to discover on which field exactly the fertiliser has been used before the farmer can qualify for this grant which the Minister offers him under the Bill? It is time that Parliament gave up treating farmers as if they were mental defectives and did not know their own business best.
I am sure that the desire behind this Bill is quite proper in seeking to encourage farmers to continue the use of fertilisers at a high rate, and I am sure that the National Agricultural Advisory Service can most usefully apply its energies to getting farmers to use more fertilisers on grassland. But I cannot see the sense or practicability of Parliament seeking to 2666 give a special payment on fertilisers used in one particular way. That should be left to the discretion of the farmer himself.
We do not question the good intentions of this Bill, but the Civil Service was set an impossible task by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is of course the Chancellor's Bill, and not a Bill either of the Minister of Agriculture or the Secretary of State for Scotland. I suppose that we must give it a Second Reading, because Parliamentary time being short in this Session, there may not be an opportunity of introducing anything better. We shall try to make some sense of it in the Committee stage before the Measure finally leaves this House.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) raised certain points of criticism of this Bill. He has introduced a note which I am sorry for, because I had hoped that this whole problem would be approached from a somewhat wider angle. I am quite certain that farmers, while they do not wish to be constantly supervised, are only too ready to accept advice and help; and that help can be given in the form of assistance and encouragement towards certain methods of farming. The Government are perfectly right to work along these lines, and I cannot see why the hon. Member for Newbury should take exception to that.
Of course, the hon. Member has more grounds for objection to the method of dealing with the rebate on the petrol Duty. As the Minister himself has admitted, it is rough justice. It is not absolutely accurate, but it seems to me taking it as a whole, that it is the best method which can be found, without burdening the administrative machinery too much. This is the simpler method, and I am certain that if a more mathematical method were attempted it would probably lead to more bureaucracy which I am sure hon. Members opposite would be only too glad to avoid.
With regard to the fertiliser side of this Bill about which I intend mainly to speak, I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Newbury object to this form of assistance and rather to suggest that the best way out would be to increase prices all round. I thought that seemed to be the 2667 line he was taking. To me it seems that the duty of the Government is to ensure that where public money is involved in assisting agriculture it should be given in the most effective and useful way; and this way of encouraging the use of fertilisers is obviously the best way. Like a certain hon. Member who is a colleague of mine, I do not wish to see farmers feather-bedded but I do not think they are feather-bedded. At the same time it is desirable that certain subsidies should be withdrawn from the farmers, particularly the subsidies on feeding stuffs which are now in fact gradually being withdrawn. It is desirable to encourage the maximum growth of feedingstuffs in this country, and by withdrawing the subsidies on feedingstuffs and by keeping them up in a certain way on fertilisers, this most desirable process will be encouraged.
I feel that at this point I ought to declare that I am to some extent an interested party, because I use fertilisers to a considerable extent on my farm and therefore I suppose I shall benefit in some way; although I do not think I shall benefit any more than hitherto, but only in a somewhat different way. Subsidies to agriculture should be like oil for a good machine and not like adding an additional auxiliary engine to a machine which is not working properly. I feel that the fertiliser subsidy is like oil to a machine which will be encouraged to be a first-class machine. The expenditure which is to be made for fertilisers under this Bill will be amply repaid. If the money is properly used, for every £1 that is spent, £2, if not £3 ought to be returned. I do not say to the Government, but the nation. What is more important, it should save us dollars.
I understand that the original plan of the Government a little while ago to increase the output of meat, cereals and dairy produce was by encouraging more home produced feeding-stuffs and by increasing our imported feeding-stuffs up to two-thirds of the prewar amount. These plans have had to be revised on account of the rise in prices of feedingstuffs throughout the world, which meant that so far from economising in the expenditure of dollars a further increase in dollar expenditure would result if we got back to the two-thirds level of prewar 2668 feeding-stuff importation. Therefore we must encourage still more the production of home-grown feeding-stuffs. I have not the slightest doubt it is quite possible to do this, and to save dollars, and at the same time to make the industry even more efficient.
Experiments which have been carried out for many years past in such agricultural research stations as Rothamsted show that over a long term of years certain grass mixtures when manured, either by farmyard manure or by a mixture of chemical manures together with straw, can bring about a very high increase in the production per acre. What is more, it has been shown that, by the judicious use of chemical manures, it is possible to increase the output without increasing the quantity of farmyard manure which is given. In other words, the farmyard manure can be supplemented by artificial fertilisers.
When I was an agricultural student at Cambridge University many years ago, none of my lecturers or instructors could tell me much about how to improve grassland. In those days, we knew practically nothing and the science of grassland cultivation was very much in its infancy. Since then there have been tremendous changes in our knowledge about it and the Tizard Committee on Industrial Productivity reported in 1949, I think with perfect justice that:Under good management the nutrient value of an acre of grass can be increased two or three times.They went on to say that an increase per acre of temporary and permanent grassland can be of the nature of 20 per cent.
That has been confirmed by research work done by the Hannah Dairy Research Institute. All this means increased use, on a big scale, of chemical fertilisers with the background, of course, of farmyard manure or of leys producing humus. But it is a fact, as the Minister said, that artificial fertilisers are not used in anything like the amount they should be used in this country today. Less than one-quarter of the 18 million acres of grassland today receive nitrogenous fertilisers, which shows there is a very large margin to work on. I think there is evidence to show that the Tizard Committee in saying that the increase can be 20 per cent. errs on the side of moderation.
2669 Other research work seems to show that it could be increased very much beyond that figure. Dr. Hamilton in a paper read recently to the Fertilisers Society went so far as to say that in his opinion the yield of grass leys treated in certain ways can be increased from 12 cwt. of starch equivalent per acre to 50 cwt. and went on to suggest that the increase per acre of grassland can be much higher than 20 per cent. and run up to 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. and even 50 per cent. Those are the views of scientists and research workers and there is no doubt that it can be increased very considerably.
Very much depends on management and methods of cropping. Therefore I am very glad that in subsection 3 of Clause 2 the Minister has introduced elastic schemes which can be applied with advice from the proper centres as to how these manures and fertilisers can be most usefully used. That is my answer to the hon. Member for Newbury who seems to want assistance to be given to the industry without conditions. I think it most important that there should be provision in the Bill to encourage the right methods. We do not of course always know the right methods and science is making improvements and discoveries year by year.
But the State is perfectly right to give public money only where the right methods as far as they are known are being used. I know well that it is very easy to waste fertilisers. I have made mistakes myself many a time and one learns by mistakes. Farmers are always making mistakes and if they are sensible they learn by them. I am certain that all the best farmers are only too glad to have the assistance and advice of those who know as far as is known.
One can very easily sour one's land by using the wrong types of fertilisers—by using too much sulphate of ammonia instead of nitrate chalk for instance—and experiments at Rothamsted show that very well. They have plots there on which certain manures have been used for many years with beneficial results or otherwise. The results seem to show that the application of artificial fertilisers ought to be made on a plan over several years.
On the other hand, we must bear in mind that it will not be easy to 2670 administer the fertiliser schemes under this Bill. I am a little fearful about the task which is to be put on the agricultural advisory service. Even now that service is over burdened with work and a lot of men who come from the universities should be doing work in the fields are kept in the office doing administrative and clerical work. If this additional burden is put upon them—I hope I am wrong—I hope they will be able to meet the task because it is a very big one. It is going to mean that in every area farmers should be encouraged to prepare special schemes for fertilising their land over a term of years.
I would put a further question to the Minister. Are we likely to get a sufficient output of these fertilisers? The Tizard Committee on Industrial Productivity doubted whether we had at the moment sufficient capacity to produce these artificial fertilisers if there was a considerable increase in demand. I hope the Minister can satisfy us on this point which is extremely important. If as we hope these schemes will be taken up there must be the means by which the fertilisers can be applied.
I see that in subsection (1) of Clause 2 subsidies will be given for fertilisers applied on grassland, or land which has been ploughed up from grass. I wonder if that includes temporary leys which go in four crop rotation? Clover and rye grass can be very much increased by artificials.
§ Mr. T. Williams indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Price
I think that is a pity. A great deal can be got through the application of the right kind of manure to short leys and if that cannot be applied in this case I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will explain why.
These criticisms are only of a constructive nature and in general I welcome the Bill as a proof that the right methods are being adopted to encourage agriculture. I am certain that farmers while not wanting to be feather-bedded will be only too glad to make use of the facilities offered and will do their duty and help to save dollars for the nation.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Baldock (Harborough)
While I find it very encouraging that the Government should realise the many advantages to our agricultural 2671 industry to be derived from a remission of duty on petrol for agricultural machinery—for it is becoming more and more a vital source of power to that industry, the greatest dollar saving industry in the country—I think it most unfortunate that they have not gone far enough, and that, in my opinion, they have not gone about making this remission of duty in the right way.
Many hon. Members have pointed out the anomalies which will occur if the remission is made in the manner suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That must act as a deterrent and in a detrimental way to the most efficient farmers, the most highly mechanised farmers, and those who use their machinery to the greatest extent. It must also act to the detriment of those on heavy land as opposed to those on light land, because those on heavy land naturally consume more fuel per acre for any particular tillage operation than those on light land. That is a small anomaly which perhaps has not been considered.
There is also the anomaly as between machines run on petrol, which was already heavily taxed before the extra duty was imposed, and those running on paraffin and diesel oil, which are not taxed. While I suppose it would be out of order to press for the total remission of the duty on petrol for agricultural machinery, I should like to make the strongest plea to the Government to consider the alternative methods of making this remission.
Two alternatives have been suggested, one being a system whereby rebates are given at regular intervals according to returns made by farmers on the petrol they consume, and the other being to have coloured petrol. The first of those alternatives is already being used in this country in the fishing industry, as is well known, and the second is used, together with the first, in the Dominions and abroad to a considerable extent. I cannot see that the Government have made any case against the introduction of one or other of these methods. If they can be used overseas in other countries, why cannot they be used here? There can be no practical difficulty. Or is it suggested that our farmers are less honest or less trustworthy than their brothers in the Dominions or in America? I 2672 cannot see that any case has been made out against remitting this duty in a more equitable way, which would lead to a smaller number of anomalies than the present method.
Finally, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the magnificent achievements of the agricultural machinery industry in the export field. Their achievements have been really astonishing, even compared with any other industry in the whole field of British enterprise. The exports of the British agricultural machinery industry in 1939 were under £1 million in value, and in 1949 they were over £6 million in value—more than a sixfold increase. I believe that the prospects for the export of agricultural machinery are unlimited; there is an immense field, because the greatest proportion of the world's population is engaged in agriculture and by far the greater proportion of that agricultural population is still working under almost inconceivably primitive conditions, with almost archeological implements to help them. That opportunity for developing an export trade should be grasped, and nothing could be of greater help to our own agricultural machinery industry than to have a really sound and large home market.
The two things upon which that depends are, first of all, a prosperous British agriculture, and, secondly, a cheap source of fuel for those machines, both of which matters are within the hands of the Government. If the Government will resist all the pressure from the disciples of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), and will maintain a prosperous and thriving British agricultural industry, and if they will also see what can be done to overcome these injustices and anomalies in the petrol position, they will really encourage a large market at home for British agricultural machinery and so build the foundations of what I believe can be one of our greatest exports in the future.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Moeran (Bedfordshire, South)
There is one point I should like to raise on Clause 2 of this Bill—a Bill which I think will be widely welcomed. Clause 2 provides for subsidies for the use of fertilisers, and it is the meaning of the word "fertilisers" that I wish to discuss, because it is not defined in the Bill. If 2673 that word bears its common meaning of chemical fertilisers to the exclusion of such organic manures as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) referred to—farmyard manure, sewage sludge, sewage waste, compost, and so on—and also to the exclusion of such mineral rocks as ground limestone, then I would plead that the meaning should be extended, and the subsidy should include such organic and mineral substances.
If it does not include them, the Bill in its present form will discriminate strongly against the use of such substances in favour of the purely chemical fertilisers. There is a special importance in that point today, because there is a growing number of food producers who believe that in the long view, and on balance, purely chemical fertilisers have a bad effect on the soil and its fertility. I do not want to be contentious on this; nor do I need to be, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West, said, the great majority of farmers would agree that where chemical fertilisers are used they should be used in conjunction with organic fertilisers if the quality of the land is to be maintained.
If this Clause were passed in its present form, and if the word "fertilisers" is to have the popular meaning—as I assume is the case—it would discriminate against that better farming and better husbandry in favour of what I might describe as the test-tube farmer. I am not asking the Government to come down for or against the more extreme view, but what I am saying is that it would be wrong for the Government in this Bill to prejudge the issue and to discriminate against the use of organic manures such as farmyard manure in favour of the purely chemical fertilisers.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that a subsidy should be given on all sales of farmyard manure?
§ Mr. Moeran
No, I am certainly not. What I am suggesting is that in any scheme which is introduced under this Clause the Minister should have power to include such organic fertilisers as may be proper in a particular case. As the Bill is drafted, if the word "fertilisers" has the meaning I am suggesting, he is precluded from including anything but the purely chemical fertilisers. He is even 2674 excluded from including such mineral substances as ground limestone or ground phosphatic rock.
§ Mr. G. Brown
My hon. Friend will remember that there is a limestone scheme, so that we would not want to cover the ground twice.
§ Mr. Moeran
I quite agree that is covered, but that is a limited scheme. What I should like to see, and what I think is desirable, is for the Minister to have flexible powers, and not to be condemned in advance to limiting his subsidy to the output of chemical fertilisers. It would be wholly wrong if the Government swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the arguments which are put up by some firms producing or importing chemical fertilisers at a handsome profit. This Clause, as drawn, with this narrow meaning of the word "fertilisers," is just the answer to a chemical combine's prayer.
There is an important issue involved here. In a changing world such as we live in, all our ideas and institutions are subject to that change. Those changes are taking place not least in agriculture, and it would be reactionary and against the national interest if the Government should come down and discriminate against these new emerging and developing ideas in favour of perhaps older ideas, which may already be on the way out. By that observation and that broad approach I do not fear the opposition of hon. Members opposite, because in these wider fields, which are quite non-political, there is a progressive and revolutionary—in the best sense of the word—spirit on the part of some hon. Members opposite, and I believe that they, too, would welcome these new ideas and practices being given a fair hearing and a fair trial.
In conclusion, I should like to quote one example in favour of the ideas for which I am pressing. It comes from Leeds, where the cleansing department has for a number of years been pioneering the use of the city's waste, instead of its destruction. Over the last ten years they have sold something like 170,000 tons of refuse dust for use in agriculture and horticulture, to the benefit of the food supply, the ratepayers and—not least—the land on which it is used.
I have here two photographs. One shows a field of cabbages grown in the 2675 heart of the industrial city of Leeds on ground treated with crude household refuse. The other shows a very abundant crop of grass grown on land treated only with refuse dust. That photograph shows a luxurious growth of grass on land so treated, after two crops of potatoes and two crops of cereals had been taken from the land. It shows the grass this year after only three weeks growth, the land having been already once eaten over earlier in the year.
I do not wish to detain the House with details of that scheme, but it is a pioneering experiment of the greatest importance to the whole country. Such experiments all over the country should receive the support of the Government. There is one immediate and practical way of supporting them, namely to extend the fertiliser subsidy referred to in this Bill to cover these wider fields of fertilisers and organic manures. All that is needed, I think, is the insertion in Clause 6, which is the interpretation Clause, a definition of "fertilisers" for the purpose of this Bill.
The effect of that would be greatly to add to the benefit which this Bill will confer on the agricultural community, and the country as a whole. It would not commit the Minister to granting the subsidy in respect of every curious compost or other substance which might be put on the market, but it would give him latitude and discrimination, in a proper case, to extend it, for example, to the combined use of chemical and organic fertilisers. That would greatly extend the benefit of the Bill to agriculture and to the land, and I hope that the Minister will find himself able to give some assurance on the point.
Mr. Henry Hapkinson (Taunton)
I share the doubts and anxieties of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) about many of the aspects of this short Bill, particularly in regard to the very wide powers given to the Minister by means of statutory instruments. Those statutory instruments should, in any case, be made by affirmative resolution and not by the procedure of annulment that is proposed in the Bill. I also feel that in regard to the petrol grant, the Bill will act unfairly as between one farmer and another in many cases.
2676 I wish, however, to deal with only one aspect of the petrol grant that is to say, its effect on one section of agriculture, namely, the willow-growing industry. That industry, which is largely located in Somerset, but is also carried on in Suffolk and elsewhere, has hitherto been the responsibility of the Forestry Commission but is now dealt with by the Ministry of Agriculture. I wish to make quite sure that this industry will be covered by this Bill, because there is great anxiety among many of the numerous small men in Somerset who grow willows and also strip them.
I presume that so far as tractors, small cultivators and sprayers are concerned, the willow growers will be covered, but there are other aspects of the industry in regard to which the position is more doubtful. I am thinking, in particular, of the willow-stripping machine. There are many hundreds of these in Somerset. Some of the bigger willow-stripping machines are driven by electricity, but in many out of the way places these machines are driven by petrol. One small willow grower told me the other day that he used as much as 2½ gallons of petrol a day in operating his willow-stripping machine. The effect on these small men, unless they are covered, will be serious.
I should also like to ask what is to be the effect of the Bill on such machinery as petrol-driven water pumps? Will they be covered by the scheme? There are also stationary pumps of other varieties. I do not suggest that this is a vital part of the Bill, or that the matter will not be covered by the scheme which the Minister will eventually bring forward. I only wish to ask him to consider this question, and, in drawing up his scheme, to make sure that the willow-growing industry is fully protected. It is an industry which has suffered severely from competition with foreign imports and this applies also to foreign baskets. When one thinks of the important part which panniers played in the history of the last war, and of the events which are going on around us, we must make quite sure that the willow growing and basket industry of this country is not in any way adversely affected by the increased petrol tax.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I must welcome this Bill in many respects. Some of us feel, of course, that 2677 the burden from which it relieves agriculture should never have been placed on the community as a whole. By that I mean to say that the Petrol Duty is not a good tax. We must welcome the Bill, however, in so far as it removes this burden from agriculture, which is of great importance, and in so far as it will improve grassland. I share the doubts which have already been expressed on both sides of the House about the administration of the Measure. It seems to me that it will be extremely difficult to administer.
As a matter of principle it does seem wrong that such wide discretion should be left to the Minister to act merely by regulation. There are certain points of detail in the Bill which it will be possible to discuss at a later stage. When the schemes under the Bill are drawn up a great deal will depend upon their form. There has been a tendency lately, in much of our agricultural administration, to attempt to draw up schemes tightly enough to catch the few people who may be inclined to abuse them. That has led to a great many honest men being penalised by having to comply with a mass of regulations which are put in because one man might try to sail too near the wind.
I hope that will not be the case in regard to this Bill. There are always ways in which we can improve grassland, but it is very important that great discretion should be left to the farmer to use fertilisers in the way which seems to him best. He knows best, in the majority of cases. I also hope that it will not mean an enormous addition to the number of officials touring the country, and to the number of forms with which farmers are troubled.
I am very glad that assistance can be given in the Bill to transport costs. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, whom I am glad to see here, has heard a great deal about transport costs and I am sure that he cannot hear too much. He will be responsible for some of the schemes under the Bill and I therefore hope that he will take full advantage of its provisions. I hope that it will be borne in mind that the vast majority of farmers are small men and that every effort will be made to help them, not to discriminate against them.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
I hesitate to intervene in the Debate, after listening to hon. Members opposite, since most of them are members of the farming community. The atmosphere has been quite bucolic, and I felt that I was back at school again, going over Virgil's Georgics. In a somewhat carping manner hon. Gentlemen have been crediting the Minister with good intentions and then criticising him. I heard the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) using words to this effect, "The Government are doing good by stealth," but I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that Governments before the war did not do much good at all to the farming community. They should be thankful for what at the moment may seem to them to be small mercies.
Like the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), on the Liberal benches, I welcome the Bill. It is a mixed "bill of fare," but it is sound and valuable. Perhaps hon. Members do not think it worthy of the farming community and perhaps I do not think it worthy of the Labour Government, but it is at least worthy of this Parliament, at this time.
Now I would like to say a few words about Clauses 2 and 3, which deal with subsidies for fertilisers. The object of this scheme as outlined is to stimulate the increased productivity of grassland by the application of regular and adequate fertilisers. The scheme has a double purpose—to apply fertilisers to grassland and to encourage the up-grading of old, permanent grassland so as to extend the tillage area. The difference in costs will be justified, although much heavier doses will be needed for newly-ploughed grassland. I am thinking particularly of my part of the world in Warwickshire and Leicestershire, where we have geological formations such as blue pias clay. Now, as a humble seeker after truth, I want to ask one or two questions of the Minister.
Conditions are specified in the Clause, and I would like to know what they are. What does the Minister visualise when he speaks of limiting the contributions? Will there be any limit to the type of fertiliser used and will all permanent and temporary grass be eligible? My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) spoke about temporary leys, but will the Bill apply to 2679 a mixture of clover and lucerne grass? I know of places where there is well-cut grassland. Will that be eligible under the Bill?
I see a term used which is somewhat vague:any agricultural unit defined by the scheme.What does "agricultural unit" mean? I should hate to think that it meant an allotment, a pleasure ground or even playing fields. After looking at the newspaper this morning I should not like to think of any of our playing fields being ploughed up, following what has happened at Lords. I also shudder also when I hear what has happened in South America, where our soccer team has lost to the United States. I should hate any ploughing up of that kind, even though of marginal land. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to enlighten us on these vague and indefinite marginal cases, where the subsidy may or may not apply.
Grass is the main crop of this island because of our latitude and our climatic conditions. We are supreme in the job of cultivating grass, and I would not yield even to New Zealand in regard to that activity. It is most pleasant to me, coming from a county division, to see the Government taking the initiative in a scheme for the agricultural community.
I believe there was a previous Miscellaneous Provisions Bill to set up cooperative grass dryers. I welcome that for my part of the world, because I had a letter recently showing that farmers are co-operating in the scheme and setting up grass driers. I have also received a copy of the farmers' magazine, and I know, as an onlooker to the farming scene for the last 12 months or more, that the National Farmers' Union have been energetically pursuing schemes of this kind and stimulating discussion on these matters through lectures and conferences on the subject of fertilisers and the ploughing up of grassland. This is one of the happiest kinds of post-war co-operation between the Labour Government and agricultural producers.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) has the Bill in rather a wrong perspective. The history of this Measure is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer 2680 put up the farmer's cost of production considerably by the imposition of the Petrol Duty and the Socialist Government put up the price of fertilisers by the withdrawal of £7,500,000 worth of fertiliser subsidy—it will eventually be a withdrawal of £15 million worth of subsidy in a year—and the Bill is an attempt to make amends for the damage which the Government have done to agriculture by those two things.
I have been surprised to find how little has so far been said about Clause 1 from the Government benches. I thought that the Minister of Agriculture was less happy than he usually is. He mumbled that it was "rough justice" and turned quickly to Clause 2. What are we really doing in Clause 1? When he raised the Petrol Duty the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, in his Budget Statement, that he would make some provision for agriculture.
When the Chancellor made that pronouncement in his Budget Statement I expected that it would be enacted in the Finance Bill, but it was not. On the Finance Bill we were told by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that new legislation would be introduced and that we should have an opportunity then of debating the specific proposals for relieving agriculture of the burden of the Petrol Duty. We now have this Bill, which says that "the appropriate Minister may" introduce a scheme, and yet we have no details at all of the scheme.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) made some suggestions about the scheme he was told by the Minister of Agriculture, "You had better wait until the scheme is introduced. You have got it all wrong. You had better reserve your criticism until the scheme is introduced." Unfortunately, as the Bill is drafted, not only shall we have no power to amend the scheme but the Minister is so unhappy about Clause 1 that he has not even stated in the Bill that he will present a scheme for the approval of Parliament. The only opportunity which Parliament will have of examining the scheme will be at the dead of night if some active Members of the Conservative or Liberal Parties put down a Prayer for the annulment of the scheme. It is a most unsatisfactory method.
I do not know whether the Government are making amends for the damage which 2681 they have done in increasing the Petrol Duty. I am suspicious that they will not make proper amends for it. If it is "rough justice", can the Parliamentary Secretary tell me exactly what the nature of the scheme will be? At this time of year a great quantity of petrol is used on farms for the cartage of the hay harvest and, later, of the corn harvest. Farmers are using mechanically propelled vehicles in conjunction with hay sweeps and in the carriage of hay from field to stack. Will farmers receive any compensation under this Measure for petrol used in those operations? In other words, are the machines which are being used for those purposes to be something on which they will get a payment? This applies equally to the corn harvest, because it represents a very large increase in the farmer's cost of production.
The Bill should be called the "Ferguson Aid Bill." As far as I can understand the Bill, it does not give any subsidy to agriculture but proposes that a firm making certain machines shall be able to tell prospective buyers, "If you buy our machines, the Government will every year pay you a certain sum of money about which you will hear when the scheme is introduced later." I do not believe that to be in the interests of agricultural production, although it may enable that firm to sell a few more machines. I noticed that the Minister was very careful to say that before the Bill was introduced he had been in full consultation with the firm which makes these machines; in other words, that he and Mr. Harry Ferguson—or is it the Chancellor and Mr. Harry Ferguson?—have been in full consultation about the Measure—
§ Mr. G. Brown
The hon. Member had better not carry that too far. It is amusing, but it ceases to be true as he goes on. What my right hon. Friend said was that we were discussing the matter with the National Farmers' Union—the representatives of the people who use the machine—and the representatives of the people who make the machines—and not only the one firm mentioned by the hon. Member makes machines which use petrol either for starting or continuously—to make sure that we got a scheme to give the kind of result for which the hon. Member is asking. It is not right to suggest that we have a special arrangement with one firm.
§ Mr. Turton
Do I understand that the Minister has been in consultation with all tractor manufacturers about the provisions of the Bill? If that is so, quite clearly, I am wrong in regarding the scheme as one which will aid the Ferguson tractor alone among tractors. Is that so?
§ Mr. Turton
I believe that this is the wrong way of attacking the problem. If the farmers' cost of production is increased they should be given some relief upon the cost of petrol used for agricultural purposes, except on the roads, or this should be taken into account either in a special price review, or at the next annual price review.
I urge upon the Parliamentary Secretary that the scheme, which will have to be issued by means of regulations, should be subject to the approval of the House of Commons by affirmative resolution procedure. I should also like him to say that Clause 1—and only Clause 1—will operate only for a year and that after that time the extra cost of the Petrol Duty shall be taken into account at the next February price review. I believe that to be the only sound Parliamentary method of dealing with the problem.
Clause 1 commits the House to an unknown sum of money. It may well be that the Minister will spend, as he said, £3 million, but he can equally well spend £100 million. This is a very dangerous thing for Parliament to do at the present time. I represent not only the industry but also some 50,000 constituents who pay rates and taxes, and I believe it to be quite wrong that Parliament should give the Minister carte blanche for a scheme which can only be considered by means of negative resolution procedure at a late hour of the night.
I regard the remainder of the Bill in a very different light. It is a good thing that the Government have had second thoughts about the removal of the subsidy on fertilisers. I have always taken the view that the one subsidy which could always be justified was the 2683 fertiliser subsidy. We must make fertilisers cheap to encourage farmers to obtain greater productivity out of their land. Last December we had a report from the Food and Agricultural Committee of O.E.E.C. on the use of fertilisers in Europe. That report remarked upon the great difference between the results of agriculture in those countries where fertilisers had been subsidised and in others where fertilisers do not receive a subsidy.
Having noted the difference, paragraph 55 reads:These considerations suggest that an increase in the consumption of fertilisers affords a valuable means of dollar saving, particularly if the fertilisers can be directed to crops imported largely from the Western Hemisphere. They suggest, further, that a subsidy to reduce the cost of fertilisers may be extremely effective. Methods of stimulating consumption seem particularly worth trying in countries where, at present, the use of fertilisers is very low.I regret, therefore, that we are reducing the amount of subsidy to fertilisers by previous action from £15 million last year to £12½ million this coming year and by a further £7½ million in the following year.
I believe the Minister, on reconsideration, may regard that as a retrograde step. I welcome the fact that we shall get some £5 million out of this fertiliser scheme for agriculture but, as has been said by the hon. Member for Rugby and by other hon. Members, it will be extremely difficult and expensive to administer this scheme. The Minister himself has said that it will cost £55,000 in a year. No doubt he has evidence for that figure but I should have thought that to administer this scheme properly it would cost a great deal more.
The grave disadvantage of giving a fertiliser subsidy for only certain types of land is that the subsidy benefit comes so much later. If it is directed generally to all crops, the producer gets the benefit when he buys the fertiliser and no administration is required. As I understood the speech of the Minister, under this method the farmer will have to make an accurate record of what fertiliser he applies to each parcel of land, then there will have to be some system of inspection by the National Advisory Service or the Agricultural Committees to see that that 2684 quantity of fertiliser has been applied to that parcel of land and, if that is approved, in due time the subsidy will be received. If the Minister really conceives of that as being an easy way of administering public money, I have a much lower opinion of him that I had before. I ask him to reconsider this method because I believe that the only way to deal with this problem is by a flat rate of subsidy on all fertilisers.
In particular, I would draw the attention of the Minister to Clause 2 (3, f), by which he will deny certain farmers the subsidy given under the Bill if, in his opinion, there is an excessive portion of land under grass on their holdings. I have always taken the view that grass is a crop and not a weed. There is nothing wrong in having a good crop of grass on a farm, and it is wrong that a man should be penalised, especially this year and really without any warning, because his proportion of grass to arable is higher than some official of the Ministry considers to be right. So I ask the Minister to think again about that provision. I do not think it should apply this year, and I believe it is unwise to have it in the Bill at all. If the Minister is satisfied that the fertilisers are not used properly, through an excessive application or if the man is not farming his land according to the rules of good husbandry, we are not wise in allowing public money for those purposes but, as far as I understand it paragraph (f) says something different.
§ Mr. G. Brown
This is an important point, so perhaps the hon. Member would like me to pursue it. The industry has accepted targets set nearly three years ago which involved the maintenance of a tillage acreage of a certain size in order to get the crops of coarse grain, of wheat and potatoes which cannot be grown if the grass is already there. The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that we ought not to take such steps as we can to encourage people to play their fair share in getting the tillage acreage that the needs of the country require, and which the industry has already accepted as necessary.
§ Mr. Turton
Generally on this Bill, as it is a small attempt by the Government to repair the damage they have done by the increased cost of production, by the petrol tax and by the elimination of the fertiliser subsidy, I cannot vote against the Second Reading. However, I ask the Government to consider it carefully during the Committee stage, when I hope they will give more Parliamentary control over the spending of money, that they will limit what I regard, rightly or wrongly, as the "Ferguson aid" part of the Measure to one year and will take that into account in the next February price review, and generally, if possible, ease the limitation on the fertiliser subsidy so that it will apply more generally to the benefit of agriculture.
§ Mr. Ian Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
I hope the hon. Member is not suggesting that any benefit under this Bill would accrue, in cash or kind, to the manufacturers of the Ferguson tractor. It would be most unfortunate if his suggestion in that respect were to go out as something which is accepted on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Turton
It is not, of course, a direct subsidy to the manufacturers, but if one is selling any article and is able to say, "If you will buy my article, you will get a present of £20 a year," that is a tremendous direct benefit to the firm in question.
§ 1.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Nugent
I thought the Minister would be glad to hear that. I am sorry that his colleague the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Moeran) is not here. The hon. Member was asking for an extension of the fertiliser section to cover the use of organic manures, and he might be interested to know that included in organic manures are feathers. It is an interesting thought that the Minister might extend the scheme to include a subsidy on feathers—for ploughing in, and not for stuffing beds, I presume!
The qualifications to my welcome, especially on the petrol tax, are similar to those made by my hon. Friend the 2686 Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). The effect of this provision is to make it appear that farming is being treated as a specially favoured industry. At the present time this is a most unfortunate impression, but as the need for this part of the Bill arises directly out of the extra 9d. petrol tax, the Government must accept full responsibility for it. The first the farmers heard of the matter was when the Chancellor announced that he would increase the petrol tax, and the rebate Was announced at the same time, because, in fact, whatever the motive was which impelled the Chancellor to take this course, it certainly was not that this action had been asked for by the farming community.
I do not doubt that great weight should be given to the considerations which have been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) that the interests of the manufacturing industry were quite properly in the front of the Chancellor's mind, as well as the need to preserve the home market for petrol-burning tractors as the proper springboard for the export market. However, I would have thought that, whatever benefits this measure would bring to the farming community in recouping additional production costs, which of course it will do, if the rebate had not been made, from the point of view of the manufacturer of petrol-burning tractors, it would have had a crippling effect. That, to my mind, is the main motive for making this provision, and I thought it was just worth while making that point, so that the whole onus of this arrangement does not hang on the peg of the farming community.
To deal with the actual method of the rebate, it is unfortunate that the House is not yet informed what the scheme is. I had asked the Minister if he could let us have the scheme in time for today, but it is not yet completely negotiated, and therefore, it is not possible for us to have it. When he talks about "rough justice" in his speech, having some knowledge of the sort of shape the scheme will probably take, I believe that the more active members of the farming community will find that the sort of rebate they will get will be far less than expected, and that they will be greatly disappointed.
I am not disputing that the industry as a whole Will be recouped, and I am satisfied that the gallonage of petrol has 2687 been correctly calculated, but, as between one farmer and another, the arrangement is a most unfair one. It is most regrettable that the Minister has not been able to put forward a scheme on a gallonage basis. We have been told that administrative difficulties make it impossible. When, however, he looks at the difficulties in administering the fertiliser scheme, he will see that the difficulties of a gallonage scheme for petrol are just nothing by comparison, and I feel that the right hon. Gentleman has sufficient grounds on which to press his case harder in his approach to the Chancellor.
There is one further point concerning the method of rebate. Whereas the Government have been persuaded of the need for a rebate of the petrol tax, I should like to ask why they have not been able to remove the lot. For years the case has been pressed of the benefits which would accrue by the removal of the petrol tax from agricultural tractors and machines. The farmers would have been only too ready to accept such a measure even if the consequences were taken into account in the next February price review. The wasteful use of fuel when T.V.O. is used, the incomplete vapourisation, dilution of lubricating oil and greater wear on the engine, are very substantial factors, and I should have thought that it would have been very well worth while going the whole hog in removing it altogether. I am certain that the farming community would have welcomed it and been quite ready to accept an adjustment in the next February price review so that there would have been no loss to the Treasury at all.
Mr. T. Williams
The hon. Member is basing his case upon a method which may turn out inequitable as between farmer and farmer. Surely, if the petrol tax were abolished, those who consume most petrol would benefit most, while those smaller farmers, and there is a multitude of them, who have no petrol-using machines at all, would get no benefit. Therefore, what he is suggesting, when worked out, would be more inequitable than the method which we are already employing.
§ Mr. Nugent
I think that is an ingenious argument which the Minister has introduced at short notice. On balance, 2688 the advantage to the farming industry of having a better design of tractor, burning only petrol, would be very substantial indeed, and the rather slight disadvantage which the right hon. Gentleman sought to mention would be far outbalanced.
On the subject of fertilisers, we are on more certain ground. The principle of trying to keep down the cost of fertilisers is obviously right, and I am only sorry that the subsidy was not retained. The Minister will have the greatest difficulty in administering this scheme. We have not got the scheme before us yet, but as it has been settled, I should have thought that it could have been placed before the House in time for the Debate. The advantages which we in this country have derived during the last 10 years or so from a cheap supply of fertilisers have been very great, and there is no doubt that even the less progressive farmers are rapidly learning the advantages of using artificial fertilisers. There is no doubt that any substantial increase in price must be a serious deterrent. But I must confess that I am not entirely happy at present as to how this scheme will work out in practice.
There are just two points on the Bill itself. One is that it seems to me unwise to define the allocation of the money in the proportion of £1 million to be devoted to land ploughed out from grassland and £4 million to fertilisers applied to land under grass. It is quite impossible to tell how these proportions will work out in practice, and I hope the Minister will consider leaving the total sum as it is, without defining the proportions of the two different applications. The right hon. Gentleman might find himself unfortunately hampered if he got a figure in respect of the ploughing up of old grassland in excess of what he expected—and I hope he will.
Secondly, I should like to emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton concerning Clause 2 (3, f). I hope that, when the Parliamentary Secretary replies, he will be able to give us some assurance about the application of this Clause.
Presumably, the farmer will normally have ordered his fertilisers and decided where he will put them before he makes his application for the grant, but he would be in an unfair position if later it 2689 was held that there was excessive grassland. I hope we can have an assurance that no grant will be withheld until a warning has been given—for instance in the obvious case where a tillage order had been served and not fulfilled.
Although the means of reaching the two objectives of the Bill are by no means free from criticism, the objectives in themselves are desirable and I shall therefore welcome the Bill.
§ 2.0 p.m.
Mr. Kenyan (Chorley)
The only thing I want to say about that part of this Bill relating to petrol is that I do not like it. I do not like the agricultural population being placed in the position of a beneficiary at the cost of the urban population. I feel that some other method should have been possible whereby the agricultural population would not be obtaining petrol cheaper than the urban population. I must agree with the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) in certain respects, and say that if the price of our commodities was given in relation to our costs, the subsidy on petrol would not be necessary.
When we come to the subsidy on fertiliser, we are dealing with something that is thoroughly justified. If there is any justification for subsidies at all in agriculture, this one is fully and absolutely justified, because in this country we must come down to the proper cultivation and the proper development of our grassland. This subsidy, it seems to me, is designed for that purpose. The fact that the subsidy can only be granted provided that the grassland has been down for seven years shows quite clearly what is in the Minister's mind—greater tillage so far as grass is concerned. We have a great deal to learn in this country about the cultivation of grass. It is our greatest crop, and in future years it will be our most important crop, for upon it we shall develop our dairy industry and our sheep and beef rearing industry. The greater the care we give to the development of our grass crop, the sounder will be our agriculture.
There are dangers, of course, in the administration of this scheme, and, like others, I just do not know how it can be properly administered. First, all land must possess a proper lime content in order to get the full value of the fertiliser. That means making full use of the 2690 advisory service, to which service I want to pay tribute. It is doing a wonderful job of work in this country today, and if farmers will only take more notice of it and use it more, it will be both to their own benefit and to that of the nation.
We need proper examination of the soil before we start to apply these fertilisers indiscriminately, and the lime content is absolutely essential. When we bear in mind that the cost of lime today, with the subsidy, is higher than the cost before the war without the subsidy, we see the tremendous expense to which a farmer is now put in keeping the lime content of his soil satisfactory. Therefore, I would emphasise that, first of all, we must have our land properly and adequately limed.
The second important point is drainage. It is useless liming or fertilising unless the drainage is right, and the advisory service must take that into account in examining and advising upon land to be fertilised. Every farmer knows that the neglect over the years of the grass mat which has grown upon large areas of land, especially marginal and hill land, makes it almost impossible to say whether the land requires drainage until it is broken up. I have seen quite large areas of land which before ploughing never grew rushes, but which, when it was broken up and ploughed, became nothing more than a bed of rushes, proving conclusively that the drainage of the land was faulty. One has to get the foundations right before one can build up on the scheme which is before us.
We have yet to learn a great deal in our grass cultivation about the development of the natural grasses. It is not just a matter of ploughing and re-seeding, because in many areas of the country this is not the success we should like it to be. After three or four years the grasses begin to fail. More and more we must develop the cultivation of the indigenous grasses if we are to bring our grassland up to its highest point. There are also certain areas of land which we cannot plough and re-seed. They are either too steep or too stony, or are unsuitable. The grass on these areas must be developed, and it must be the natural grass.
I believe that with heavy liming and slagging and the use of fertilisers, we could bring the natural grasses to a greater state of production than they are 2691 in at the present time, and I think that they would be, especially in these areas, more valuable than the re-seeded areas. Just one word on slagging. We find great difficulty in obtaining high grade slag today. There seems to be a shortage of this very valuable fertiliser, and I wonder whether the Minister could say anything today that would encourage us to hope that in the future high grade slag will be in greater production.
Another thing in the development of the grass crop is the heavy cost, not only of the re-seeding, but of the ancillary work which has to take place. Re-seeding will not be permanent, and the benefit to the land will not be permanent, unless the land is heavily followed up by stock. There we get an extra cost falling upon the farmer. The cost of draining land is in the region of £20 or £30 an acre, and the liming of the land runs to at least £5 an acre, that is, without the subsidy.
The fertilisation of this land is another heavy cost. The re-seeding runs into something like £12 per acre and, in addition, to get the full benefit from his re-seeding, he must purchase a greater number of stock. It is a very heavy cost; and one of the reasons why farmers are not pursuing the re-seeding policy perhaps as much as we would desire is because they cannot find the money, not to do the initial work, but to do work which is necessary to keep that land in good fertility over the next three to five years.
The Minister told us the administration of this scheme would run to something like £55,000. That seems to be a very heavy cost for administration. I do not know what has been taken into account in estimating that figure, but there will be the examination of the land and the examination of the crop after the fertiliser has been sown. It seems to me that, at the moment, there is in operation a sufficient number of administration officers to carry out this work.
For instance, could not the man who comes on to the land to see whether the farmer has sown his lime, at the same time see whether he has sown his fertiliser? It is the same land, and I should not like to think that we were going to follow in this scheme what we do now under the cattle scheme for cattle subsidies. Under that scheme we have an 2692 inspector who comes on to the land to see that the number of cattle entered as being kept on the land are, in fact, being kept properly and that everything is in proper order. That man walks over the whole of the land to examine the cattle. He walks over the ground where the lime has been spread. He knows the lime is there, but he is followed by a liming inspector who comes to see that the lime has been put on.
It is a duplication of administration, and I am afraid there is far too much of it. I do not want to see a man coming to examine the hill cattle, then a man coming to examine the lime, and, now, somebody coming to see that the fertilisers have been put on in the proper place. It could all be done by one man at the same time. The cost of administration is far too great and should be cut down.
I welcome the section of this Bill dealing with fertilisers. I feel it is putting agriculture on a good foundation; but I must raise one or two points now that the hon. Member for Newbury is here. They are points that he raised. I do not agree with the innuendo against the farming community in his speech. Speaking about petrol, he said that farmers would be scouring the country to buy old petrol engines—
Mr. T. Williams
Even if the hon. Member did that and he did not use the machines, he would not get any grant.
§ Mr. Kenyon
I am glad to be corrected by the hon. Member for Newbury, but even behind the correction there is an innuendo I do not like. He also pointed out that farmers might use three tractors instead of two. He said they would be using fertilisers on the tillage instead of on the grass. That is a suggestion against the farming community that I cannot accept. I hope that we shall not look upon the farming community in this way. It reminds me of a story of an inspector in a village school who was inspecting the farmers' sons and daughters. He said, "If your father had 10 cows that 2693 gave a gallon of milk each per day, how much milk would your father sell?" One of the children immediately said, "Twelve gallons." The inspector said, "You do not know much about arithmetic" and the child said "No, but you do not know much about farmers."
I hope the Minister will watch very carefully the points raised, especially with regard to the administration to this Bill. I feel that it might lead to a further duplication, and I hope that the £55,000 put down for administration can be and will be greatly reduced.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
I am glad to have an opportunity of following the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) because he and I see alike on the question of subsidies for farmers. On another occasion he was opposed to a subsidy, as I was myself. Before I pass from his speech I should like to put right a point he raised about something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd). I think that what my hon. Friend wanted to convey was that all farmers do not clothe themselves in a white sheet, and that if any malpractice took place among the farming community it, was passed on and enlarged upon and, thereby, gave the farming community as a whole a bad name. I do not think he was trying to imply that we are a bad lot, trying to dodge the column. I hope that we are not doing that any more than many other members of the community; and I hope the House will appreciate that that was not at all what my hon. Friend wished to imply.
I agree with the hon. Member for Chorley about the cost of administration. I cannot think that, with the heavy cost of the agricultural services in the country at the present time, it is necessary to increase those costs in the administration of this fertiliser subsidy. There is already in existence an administration sufficient to deal with this particular subsidy. We must watch most jealously to see that the increasing costs that are being put on the agricultural Vote are kept within limits.
Perhaps the first thing I should do is to declare my interest. I own a Ferguson tractor, and, in due course, if the Bill goes through, I shall make my application for a rebate. I wish to make it clear 2694 that I am not speaking in self-interest, because I am and always have been entirely opposed to a system of subsidies as an almost permanent form of life in this country. I spoke against food subsidies in my first speech in this House some four years ago, and although it has taken something like four years for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to realise the uneconomic system of food subsidies I am glad to know that at last it is realised that we cannot continue indefinitely to charge the taxpayer with these huge subsidies.
Although I am speaking against the Bill, I shall not vote against it, because the subsidies are only replacing something else which would have been fair to the farmer, namely, a proper price level. I hope the Minister will not think that I am one of the farmers who show a great deal of ingratitude for the action which he has taken under this Bill or any other Bill. I appreciate that he has the interest of agriculture at heart, and that he does his best to see that agriculture is recognised in our economic system, but I think that he sometimes does not go the right way about it.
The only way to do this job is to give the farmers a price at the February price review and let them settle their own economy according to that price. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) said that he regards subsidies as the oil which goes into the machine. I, as a farmer, would like to purchase my own oil. I want to purchase the type of oil that I consider best; I object to a planning authority telling me what oil I should use in my machine.
Mr. T. Williams
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves his point about giving a price at the February price review—I have heard him make a similar statement before—I would like to put this to him. If there had been no calf subsidy, for instance, is it not the case that we should have reared a quarter of a million calves fewer than we did in fact, rear? Has it not always been the case that so long as the direct price is the only settlement, the farmer who is left to do just as he likes on his farm produces what suits him best, regardless of the national requirements?
§ Mr. Baldwin
I do not accept that for a moment. If the country wants a 2695 particular article we should put a price emphasis on that article. I will give two instances of subsidies which I regard as absolutely wrong. The right hon. Gentleman has a potato subsidy which pays not on a tonnage target but on an acreage basis. The result is that in a good potato year the country loses millions of pounds on the resale of surplus potatoes for stock feeding.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The hon. Gentleman must not talk about losing millions of pounds. In the year in which we had a large supply of potatoes we not only carried out our bargain to the farmers, namely, that they did not have to pay for the glut as in the old days, but we had a lot of pigs fattened, because of the potatoes, which otherwise would not have been fattened.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I am not complaining from the farmers' point of view, but from the taxpayer's point of view. If we tackled the potato problem in the right way the taxpayer would not be called upon to pay this sum of money in years when there is a surplus of potatoes. To suggest that they can buy potatoes from the farmer—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
The hon. Member is going beyond the scope of this Bill, which relates only to fertilisers and petrol.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I agree, Sir, but I was rather led in that direction by what the Parliamentary Secretary said. I should like to develop a point in relation to another subsidy, but I know that if I did I should be called to order again. I was glad to hear that the Minister has at last realised that what some of us told him during the Committee stage was true, and that he has withdrawn a part of the subsidy which is having a completely unbalancing effect.
I agree that the rebate in respect of petrol-driven tractors will be beneficial to owners of such tractors, but I would point out that if this rebate is really given to keep down the farmer's costs of production it should be extended to commercial vehicles. The effect of this rebate is that a small producer who has no tractor will get no benefit, but will be hit by the increased cost of production in the 2696 form of the increased cost of transport which he has to pay. I suggest that the right method would have been one which would meet the increased costs so that the whole of the community could benefit.
There is a differentiation as between one farmer and another. It is impossible to do even rough justice or give a rough estimate of what should be the correct rebate on a tractor. Some farmers have a petrol tractor and two or three other tractors, and they use the petrol tractor on certain occasions. Other farmers may have only a petrol tractor which they have to use on all occasions. It is the small farmer with one tractor, who uses his tractor most, who will get the same rebate as a bigger farmer who owns two other tractors. That differentiation between the small and the big farmer is unfair to the small farmer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) said that a better method would have been to have resorted to coloured petrol, which scheme we have recently discarded. It would be more easily administered, and although it might involve snoopers I would point out that the administration of the fertiliser subsidy will involve some form of snooping. We cannot get away from that position so long as we have subsidies. I consider that an allowance should be given on coloured petrol which could be obtained at a cheaper rate. That would be a much better method than giving what the Minister called rough justice.
I object to this Bill, because it is extremely vague. I have some difficulty in appreciating what is meant in certain parts of it. Paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of Clause 1 (2) are rather difficult to understand. It says that the grant isconditional upon machines being put, or not being put, to specified uses and, in particular, prohibit grants in respect of machines used in connection with land of a specified kind;That takes some explaining. Does it mean that a man with a petrol tractor on one type of land will get a rebate and that a man on another type of land will not get one? It goes on to say that the scheme mayprovide for securing that no grant shall be made unless application therefor is made within the time and in the manner provided by the scheme.2697 I may be wrong, but I understood the Minister to say that he advised farmers to keep a record from now on of the fields upon which the fertiliser has been placed. I agree that I have rather left my point about petrol.
Turning to paragraph (d) hon. Members will see that it says that contributions…may only be made where the Minister approves of the use of fertilisers and where the fertilisers are used in the manner approved.…It seems to me that if a man uses a fertiliser before he receives the Minister's approval, then he has no claim. Incidentally there is another difficulty in the Petrol Duty arising out of the fact that the petrol-driven tractor must be used in many varying ways on different types of land. Probably on light land a tractor can complete its operation in one go, whereas on heavy land it may have to be used half-a-dozen times on the same acreage. It seems unfair, for the rebate for a tractor used on easily worked land is the same as the rebate for a tractor working on difficult land On the question of inspection, I agree with the hon. Member for Chorley that this grant should not be made unless the land is inspected and agreed before any grant is paid.
In conclusion, I think it is time that these bits and pieces of subsidies and grants to the farming industry were abolished, and the whole subject taken into account in the February price review. If there are any farmers farming today who do not know their job, then they should be replaced by some of the keen young men who are finding it difficult to get into a farm. I say that after full deliberation. This continued giving of bits and pieces to the industry is creating a wrong impression among the public. It leads to such speeches of criticism as those we have had from the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans). Farmers are beginning to resent speeches of that kind, which are doing exactly what the Minister wants to avoid—undermining the confidence of the agricultural community. If we have speeches of that sort we shall not get the increased production which the Minister wants.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I suppose there are few people outside the Ministry of Food who know less about agricultural questions in 2698 general than I do, and the only reason I seek to intervene in the Debate is because, while I am wholly ignorant of the merits of the agricultural objectives which this Bill seeks to attain, I am very much concerned at the constitutional methods by which it is sought to obtain them. I want to make it clear that the objections which I see, in particular to the first Clause, are not objections to seeking to relieve the agricultural industry of the increased incidence of the Petrol Duty but are directly solely to the dangerous precedent and the insufficiently controlled powers of the Minister which, it seems to me, Clause 1 will produce.
If hon. Members look at Clause 1 (1), the part which is for well-known reasons in italics, they will see that power is there given to what is called "the appropriate Minister"—if I may say so, in parenthesis, a somewhat charming description of the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland—to make grants, with the consent of the Treasury, the total or the type of which are entirely unlimited. There is, in fact, nowhere in this Bill any limit to the claims on the taxpayer which the right hon. Gentleman, if he has the concurrence of the Treasury, may impose; and the Financial Memorandum, though it mentions a figure is not of course in any sense binding and is in itself expressed subject to the qualification "in present circumstances."
That seems to me a very objectionable provision from the point of view of Parliamentary control and of constitutional procedure. It seems curious that when the right hon. Gentleman moved the Second Reading he sought to take credit for the fact that the Bill was, as he somewhat ingenuously put it, drafted in somewhat wide terms. Either this House must retain control over the expenditure of public money or it has very little useful function of any sort to carry out, and it seems to me utterly wrong that, subject to one safeguard, the illusory nature of which I will mention in a moment, right hon. Gentlemen opposite should be given this unlimited power over the public purse.
The only other point on that subject concerns the safeguard, the negative procedure. The negative procedure has an obvious use, but in this case its use seems particularly ineffective in that, when the rights of this House under the 2699 negative procedure come to be exercised, it may well be that the money authorised by these grants will already have been spent. As the House is aware, when a Statutory Instrument is annulled under the negative procedure that is always without prejudice to anything previously done under that Statutory Instrument.
It seems to me, therefore, that the control purported to be given to this House by the negative procedure is wholly illusory in this case and that there is nothing whatever to prevent the right hon. Gentleman from making a scheme by Statutory Instrument and spending public money under it; and, when the money has once been spent, there is no check whatsoever upon the issue of it. That is why it seems to me that if it is impossible, after two months, for the right hon. Gentleman to produce a scheme and put it in the Bill—which seems the most appropriate procedure—then the least the House is entitled to demand is that the scheme, when produced, should not come into effect until an affirmative resolution has been carried.
If I may have the Minister's attention, there is a further consideration which arises from the method which he has adopted—a consideration which I should like him carefully to consider. In the third subsection of the fourth Clause provision is made for the negative procedure to which I have referred and provision is made in what is the usual form in other Measures for the revocation of the Statutory Instrument containing the scheme by resolution of either House of Parliament. If the right hon. Gentleman will apply his mind to that he will see that he has there given to another place the right to annul a grant of money made under powers delegated by this House.
The right hon. Gentleman will see the constitutional tangle into which he has got himself by adopting the negative procedure and, although that argument is quite a different one from my main contention—that there is inadequate Parliamentary control—I think it is relevant to point out that, in addition to inadequate control by this House, a purported control over public expenditure which it should not have and has not had since 1911 is given to another place. If I am right, that emphasises the difficulties into 2700 which the right hon. Gentleman has got himself by adopting this method.
It does not seem to me, from the point of view of my contentions, to matter very much whether this expenditure of money is in a good cause or a bad cause. For what my opinion is worth, I think it is in a good cause. Nevertheless, it seems to me a constitutional outrage, that this House should be asked by the right hon. Gentleman, subject to no effective safeguards whatsoever, to confer upon him and his colleagues this unlimited power of expenditure of public funds—and I would say that whatever the Government and for whatever purpose such a proposal was introduced it is the duty of all hon. Members of this House, it seems to me, to retain control over the expenditure of public money. If they do not retain that control they are not only abandoning the rights for which their predecessors have struggled for 300 years, but they are, in the long run, condemning themselves to a state of impotent futility.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Brigadier Thorp (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I have one very grave complaint with which to open my remarks and that is the fact that the schemes referred to today were not put before the House before this Debate came up—did the Parliamentary Secretary wish to interrupt?
§ Mr. G. Brown
I was merely involuntarily observing that as we had no power to make the schemes, we could not put them before the House.
§ Brigadier Thorp
—as my hon. Friend says, as a Schedule to the Bill; so I do not think that the involuntary observation of the hon. Member is much to the point, and without these schemes the Debate has lost a great deal of its value. Remarks have been made by several hon. Members and the right hon. Gentleman has on occasion said, "That would not happen." If he knows the schemes he is in a position to say that, but it is not good for the Debate in this House.
The Bill is, of course, the result of the Petrol Duty produced by the Chan- 2701 cellor of the Exchequer. Like so many things that are bad, that bad tax has produced other bad things in its train, including this Bill. I do not believe it is a good Bill. Its object is probably right, but the method in which it is proposed to give, what might be termed help to farmers, is wrong. It will be unfair as between one farmer and another and it does not really get down to the root of the question. There is no doubt that the increase in the cost of petrol will affect farmers who use machines driven by petrol, but that is not the only way in which it will affect farmers. They will be tremendously affected by the increase in transport costs. I believe that many of the smaller men who do not use these tractors will find this increased cost put upon them, and will have nothing to offset against it.
I wish to be clear about the reason for the amount of money to be given to the farmers. It appears strange to me that the whole case, as I understand it, was not put forward to the Minister by the National Farmers' Union but was, in fact, announced at the same time as the tax on petrol was increased. The Bill will be of some help to the manufacturers of petrol-driven tractors, but it seems peculiar to help the industry which makes the tractors for home use and export by giving a certain amount of help to the farmers in another roundabout way. That seems to me to be a most curious form of administration.
I would stress what has already been said about the form in which this Bill has been produced and the form of delegated legislation which will have to be used to carry it through, although I do not wish to develop that point in any detail. I believe that this method of giving a subsidy for fertilisers is bound to cause a certain amount of irritation and perhaps ill-feeling between the farmers and the advisory committees. There is always trouble between the expert and, shall we say, the practical man as to what is the best way to use the various forms of fertilisers.
As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), there is no doubt that this £55,000 extra cost seems rather a lot. We have had no explanation why it will cost that amount. Perhaps it is not possible to give full details, but with the amount of money we are now spending on the executive committees 2702 there should not be any extra cost at all. I hope that in his reply the hon. Gentleman will deal with that point. This matter has been very badly handled. The Bill is bad, details of the schemes are not available and the Debate has not been satisfactory. I hope that in future the right hon. Gentleman will think very carefully before he does this sort of thing again.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I would reiterate the last remark of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Brigadier Thorp). It is difficult for this House to debate this Bill without having seen the schemes. The part of the Bill which I wish to mention is that relating to fertilisers.
In introducing this Bill the right hon. Gentleman said the main object was to improve the grassland of the country. It is true that we in the old age of England will have to be like Nebuchadnezzar in his old age and subsist more on a diet of grass than we have done. If we look at the figures produced by various scientific organisations, we see the immense part which grass already plays so far as protein and starch equivalents are concerned. Something like 60 per cent. of the protein production in this country comes from grassland and something like 45 per cent. of the starch equivalent production also comes from glassland.
There is still immense scope for development. I.C.I. and various other industries concerned with the production of fertilisers calculate that there can be as much as a 40 per cent. increase, using the starch equivalent figure as a measurement of value. The increase could be from something like 12 cwt. of starch equivalent per acre to nearly 20 cwt. We all know that it is the intention of the Government and of most reasonable people today to see that there is a big dollar saving, and one of the biggest saving of dollars would result from the increased production and the improvement of the grassland in this country.
Again taking the figures I have mentioned which were produced by the Fertilisers Society, Professor Hamilton has worked out that the amount of money actually expended on fertilisers for grassland as opposed to arable land is only something like 5s. 6d. to 7s. 6d. an acre. 2703 The expenditure on fertilisers for arable acres in the four counties which he chose as specimen counties was between £2 and £3 and therefore we see that there is some method in the idea of the right hon. Gentleman in applying this fertiliser subsidy only to grassland or land which has been ploughed up from grass.
That is the argument of the Minister, but we on this side of the House believe that the complexities of the scheme which he puts forward will be almost insuperable. It will be an immense burden on local administration. It will mean that the local agricultural administration will have to decide which land is suitable and which fertiliser is suitable; and will have to take into consideration a whole variety of details, which may lead to extreme ill feeling among farmers.
In addition to that, although the scheme is not laid before us, it is already quite clear that only £1 in £5 can be devoted to land which is being ploughed up. We may find there is a Dutch auction when the moment arrives in various counties to get hold of this £5 million, or the bigger proportion of it, in respect of other land to be ploughed up, or in respect of grass. We feel these figures are taken at a venture and where the Government are lacking a great deal is in their failure to push on with something which they should have pushed on with three or four years ago before the dollar crisis, and have sent people like Mr. Dudley Stamp to get out a proper survey of this country to get to know what land should be treated.
I disagree with an hon. Friend who spoke of the question of subsidy. This subsidy on fertilisers is probably the most important agricultural subsidy we can have. We hope it will lead to a permanent improvement in agriculture. I think it a much better subsidy than the calf subsidy for dairy cattle and I can think of other subsidies not as effective as this. But it would be far better if the Minister did not attempt to make a compromise with the Exchequer but went back to the old idea of subsidising the production of all fertilisers in this country. That would be more effective and better for the small farmer. I can think of small farmers in Staffordshire for whom it would be better if subsidies were on fertilisers. I do not think the expense 2704 to the Treasury would be very great. The Minister has been forced to make a concession which I believe is a bad concession. We have seen the figures of what could be saved by the improvement of grassland. They have been worked out by Professor Zuckerman at £3 million or £4 million a year in dollar content. A return to the scheme of subsidising fertilisers which existed before the war would be the best investment we could make.
Other points of detail will be better left until we get the actual schemes before the House and we can deal with them by resolution, but I think one matter needs stressing. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) said that this has to be taken into consideration. It is not good enough to approach the grass problem on one issue, the issue of fertilisers. Many other things have to be considered. There is the whole plan for marginal land, which we understood the Government were undertaking and the question of what animals should be used for grassland, and if we should not go in for a bigger production of refrigerators to hold the meat we kill in the late summer months. All these problems depend upon production. I am sorry if I have spoken rather like a Nebuchadnezzar this afternoon, but, as I think this is the biggest contribution we can make, I regret that the Government are not making it in the right way.
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
I want to go further than some hon. Members on this side of the House and express the opinion that this is a bad Bill because it should never have been necessary. It is introduced because the Chancellor in all his foolishness increased the tax on petrol in his Budget. I have always been against any tax on petrol used for farm purposes, but under this Bill I have grave suspicions that the tax on farm petrol will always remain.
Another objection I have to the Bill is the way in which it is to do its job. It will be clumsy and we do not know how the Minister will use his powers. He seems to know perfectly well what he will do, and why he cannot tell us I do not know. He gives the show away when he is sufficiently baited from this side of the House and comes forward 2705 with his replies. So obviously the Minister has a shrewd suspicion of the powers he is to take to himself. I am frightened of those powers because since the Socialist Government came in, almost weekly we have given more power to Ministers. We want to see power distributed throughout the country and more small people have small power, instead of all power being gathered together on the Government Front Bench.
I must give a welcome to the part of the Bill dealing with fertilisers because I know we are blessed with good grass in this country and its potentialities are enormous. If we can do anything to encourage better grass, that is a step in the right direction. I have seen the results of ploughing up grass and re-seeding. I have seen three tons of seed hay gathered to the acre whereas the old meadow would find it difficult to give three-quarters of a ton. This Bill however is only to last three years with a possible extension of two years more. What are we to have next? Farmers want security above everything else. The ploughing-up subsidy was stopped and other subsidies come and others go and now we feel we may have this provision for three years or perhaps five. It is a glorious uncertainty in which the farmers are having to live at present. I think the Government rather rejoice at that glorious uncertainty choosing to make the farmers think they cannot get on without the help of the Government.
On consideration it looks as though the administrative expenditure will be more than the estimated £55,000. Looking through the Bill we find that officials will have to decide whether the land is satisfactory, whether an excessive area is to be fertilised, when it was last ploughed, what are the transport costs of bringing the fertiliser there, the minimum expenditure to be used on the farm and which fields are to be treated. I do not believe this will ever be done for £55,000 per annum. I hope the Minister will bear that in mind when he decides on the form of his orders.
Will the Minister answer a question? If people bought fertilisers last year to apply to land this autumn in anticipation of a shortage of basic slag for instance—which there was last year, and I hope the Government will see that there is not this year—will they be able to claim this subsidy or do they only 2706 get the subsidy by producing a receipt showing that the fertiliser has just been bought? Some people who have been thoughtful enough to buy early may well be hit rather hard if they are not able to get the subsidy.
I would prefer to see the farmer kept with plenty of assets and allowed to make sufficient money through the ordinary price review so that he can fertilise land as he likes. The trouble with all these subsidies is that he may be encouraged to act uneconomically, simply because his fertiliser is being made cheaper. It would be better to give him a good steady market which assures him of enough capital to carry on without forcing him into special channels and perhaps upsetting the rotation by persuading him to go into something which would otherwise be uneconomic.
Lastly, I do want to add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said about the power to annul. There has been much trouble over orders being brought into force before being sanctioned by this House. Hon. Members will remember what happened about Christmas cards. An order was brought in; the House did not sit for quite a long time; a General Election intervened; but that order was there and had to be carried out, although it was eventually annulled by the House. The same thing might happen with an order under this Bill which the Minister may introduce in the future. Once the order has been brought in, the people are bound by it. In the case of the order in connection with the Christmas cards, catalogues were spoiled, a lot of new advertisements had to go out, and alterations had to be made and the order was then thrown out. A similar upset may be caused to the farming community under this Bill. I end by saying that I welcome this Bill in that it will encourage the growing of better quality grass, but I wish that the farmer could choose his own way of setting about his own grassland.
§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
I do not exactly join with those who welcome this Bill purely and simply on its merits as being of assistance to agriculture. I cannot help looking at it rather more as a sign that the Minister of Agriculture has become a sort of half-way prodigal son. It is no use 2707 having a prodigal son coming back into the house unless he comes the whole way in, and the Minister dare not come the whole way in because he would have to tell a long story if he did.
The whole reason for this Bill is that it tries to do something to put right two mistakes perpetrated by His Majesty's Government. The first mistake was on the general rule-of-thumb rough injustice of the Petrol Duty, and the second was the withdrawal of the fertiliser subsidy. I cannot agree with those of my hon. Friends who suggest that the grant for petrol was to assist the manufacturers of petrol machines and petrol tractors. I cannot see how that can very well be argued when, in fact, they are only being put back into something like the position in which they were before the duty was imposed. It does not really correct the first fault at all.
I think a lot could be said about the difficulty of applying the system which is suggested in this Bill. On the other hand, once a Bill is introduced which is so wide in its enabling powers, I cannot see how His Majesty's Government can afford to do away with the restriction which is contained in the Bill, of granting the petrol per machines of which they have some sort of record. The fundamental mistake is, therefore, in attempting to introduce a Measure of this sort with powers so wide that they have to limit their actions by some complicated machinery.
Very much the same applies on the question of the fertiliser subsidy. My hon. Friends have been saying that the cost of £55,000 to administer this scheme to subsidise the use of fertilisers is too expensive. I cannot see how a scheme which contained only some of the provisions set out in this Bill could possibly be run over the country as a whole for anything like that figure. To double it would be a moderate estimate; to treble it would be more like it. We have today the sort of limitations which are quite justifiable with that sort of mind. When I say "that sort of mind," I fear that there has been some evil influence from outside—it cannot be the Minister of Agriculture—which has misled him and his Parliamentary Secretary in this matter, just as much over petrol as over fertilisers.
2708 It is not only a question of the conditions, but also the examination that has to be undertaken by different types of officials into what goes behind those conditions. Under Clause 2 (3, a) the scheme may specify the kinds of fertilisers. Then there is the proportion of the kind of land in the unit as a whole; that is another investigation. We have got into this field of distrust, and it is quite obvious that an annual report will not be sufficient; this matter has got to be proved, and not just referred to on a piece of paper.
Then we get the "inquest" Clause, under which the Minister can withhold contributions where, in his opinion, the fertiliser is not being properly used. That is an inquest—and think of the examination it involves. Later the proportion of grass is referred to, though I should have thought that that was covered already. But then the Clause has to be much more ridiculous than that when we come to the question of whether a fair amount has been paid in transport rates. What does that mean? It means a general examination as to whether the transport rates have been fairly charged in accordance with the rate which applies for the particular area.
These meticulous points, which are difficult enough in themselves to satisfy, but which mean behind them a great deal of investigation far from the farm itself, are going much too far. I hope that when the Bill comes before us at a later stage a great deal of amendment can be made. It would be wise of the Minister to produce something in the nature of a token scheme to show how far any one or more of these stipulations will be insisted upon.
§ 3.10 p.m.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
Can the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, tell us in simple language a little more clearly what agricultural tractors are intended to be brought within this scheme? I know he will say that they have not worked it out in detail, but every Member will suppose that they have thought about it at least in general terms. In the Finance Bill we are endeavouring to define agricultural vehicles to indicate whether they are eligible for the reduced duty. I suggest that all tractors which are to be deemed eligible for the lower rate of duty should also be eligible to receive this 2709 rebate whatever it might happen to be. If that is not the idea in the Minister's mind, will he please tell us why not, because that seems to me to be putting at least an element of simplicity into a Bill which threatens to be quite extraordinarily complicated for the small amount of matter in it? I do not wish to be ungracious because I own a Ferguson tractor and shall sooner or later be given some small premium.
I wish that the Minister would recall some of his comments on agricultural Measures which were moved in this House when he sat on the Opposition Benches and my hon. Friends sat on the Government side of the House in the days before the War. In 1939, in a speech which filled columns of HANSARD, criticising a Measure introduced by the then Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was wrongly named an Agricultural Development Bill and should more rightly have been called a Subsidy Continuation and Extension Bill. He would have been a little more honest today if he had come to the House and instead of calling this Bill an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill had called it a Subsidy Continuation and Extension Bill, a title which he used in 1939 but which it would appear he has forgotten this year.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)
The Government will be aware, after listening to the Debate, of the opinion of my hon. Friends about this small Bill. They will be well aware that we are not at all happy about the provisions of the Bill. But behind the criticisms which have been made, we support the objects which it seeks to achieve. I will summarise those two objects. The first is simply to implement the proposal made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of his Budget speech of 18th April, to make a grant on petrol used for agricultural machines to meet the increase in tax from 9d. to 1s. 6d. per gallon. The second object is to implement the sentence in the price review statement made by the Minister of Agriculture himself on 23rd of March in regard to schemes for encouraging the use of fertilisers for improving grassland and marginal land.
It is right that at this stage of the Debate we should have clearly in mind 2710 what are the intentions and objects of the Bill. Having said that, it is my duty to inform the Government, as my hon. Friends have done, that we are far from satisfied with the methods by which the Government propose to achieve the objects which they have in mind. Reference has been made by various speakers to the fact that we have absolutely no scheme before us to consider in detail today. We have this very brief Bill, which tells us in broad outline what is proposed. We thought that the Minister would, in his opening speech today, have given us at least some details and, so far as the grant which is to be made in respect of agricultural vehicles is concerned, would have given us some indication of what that grant will be. We have no idea of the size of the grant.
I will sum up the criticism of Clause 1 in one sentence. This proposal may recoup the industry for the additional 9d. per gallon of overall annual consumption of petrol, other than on roads, estimated at 66,000,000 gallons a year, but it will cause hardship to farmers. As we understand the scheme, it must result in permanent inequality between one farmer and another. The Minister referred to that as rough justice, but it is very bad legislation. It is a bad state of affairs to start off a new scheme admitting that it is only rough justice and knowing there may be difficulties and that the scheme will not be fair between farmer and farmer from the moment it starts.
Examples have been given to show how the grant will be a deterrent to the full use of a tractor. Let me give another. Take a tractor running 50 days a year. It qualifies at the same rate as—now I take an extreme case—a tractor running every day except Sundays, say 300 days a year. Being extremely modest in my figures and assuming a consumption of five gallons of petrol a day, the additional cost of the first tractor would be approximately £9 and of the second about £56. There cannot be any equality in that situation, which will be magnified a thousandfold in every part of the country. Surely the right way to calculate would be upon the actual gallonage of petrol consumed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) both today and during a Debate upon the Finance Bill 2711 on 14th June, referred to a scheme which operates in some of the provinces of Canada. I know that he took particular care to find out if there was any difficulty in operating those schemes. We have had a definite assurance that there is no trouble in the administration of them. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harborough (Lieut.-Commander Baldock) also referred to this matter. Similar schemes are operating in the United States, Denmark and Sweden. I understand that the same kind of principle, although the scheme is not quite as economical, applies to our fishing vessels when they go to sea. It is simple in administration and fair in its incidence and must be the right way to recoup the industry for the additional duty which the Chancellor announced in his Budget statement.
I hope that it is still not too late and that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to inform the House that the suggestions which have been made today will be reviewed during the present year. It must be common knowledge that the Minister and his Department have on this occasion been out-argued by some other Department, probably the Treasury. It must be so, because nobody who understands the working of the agricultural industry could possibly recommend such nonsense as this Clause. Officials of the Treasury and various organisations must have argued that the Minister must accept this or nothing.
I hope that this evening the Ministry will start again. Let them say that in 12 months' time they—or, I hope, another Government—will come to the House if this kind of recoupment is then necessary—and do it in a sane and proper manner by dealing with the petrol actually used and not by means of this most unfair and inequitable scheme. I said at the beginning that I was surprised that in his speech the Minister did not disclose what the grant would be for each tractor or agricultural machine. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, although not divulging the whole scheme, will give us some idea of the sum which it is proposed to give in grant to each tractor.
I now come to the second part of the Bill, which deals with subsidies for fertilisers. With very few exceptions, we agree in principle that an increased use of 2712 fertilisers upon our grasslands should be encouraged. I go further and would like to encourage the use of fertilisers on all types of land. I should like here to refer to words which I used during the Debate on the Address when we discussed the fertilisers subsidy. I said:I suggest to him"—referring to the Minister of Agriculture—that the right way to deal with this subsidy would be to defer taking any action until 1952, after which the situation can be reviewed again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 384.]I still hold to that view and I am now supported by the Interim Report of the Sub-Committee on Agricultural Plans and Programmes of O.E.E.C. I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) quoted from paragraph 55 of the Report, because it is right that it should be on record in the Proceedings of this House. The Report emphatically points out there that the high price of fertilisers in certain countries leads directly to lower output and that, conversely, the lower price of fertilisers leads to their increased use in other countries, thereby stepping up production and saving dollars. Surely the right way to handle the fertiliser question is to have fertilisers as cheap as possible.
I agree with many of my hon. Friends that we do not like little subsidies here, there and everywhere, but this subsidy is the exception which proves the rule. It must be right to try to get cheap fertilisers and let the farmers use them as they think fit on their own holdings. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) who urged that fertilisers should be the same price however they are used. It is absurd to have a different price for the same fertiliser used on one kind of land or another. Let us make the subsidy simple. The most simple way is to operate it as it has been operated before the introduction of this Bill and before the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to remove half the subsidy as from 1st July this year.
I hope that when the Minister of Agriculture looks through the Report of this Debate tomorrow, he will take note of the paragraph from the O.E.E.C. Report quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton. I hope he will then show it to the Chancellor, because 2713 then the right hon. and learned Gentleman might be convinced that it would be a better way of dealing with this problem. Under the present proposals it will be impossible to check on the quantities of fertilisers applied to grassland as opposed to tillage land. Why introduce such a difficult piece of administration?
Has the House really studied the implication of Clause 2 (3) to which my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Ian Orr-Ewing) referred in his brief speech? Investigations and regulations, following one after the other in quick succession, make everything more difficult for the farmer to use fertilisers and also for the Government to administer this scheme.
Again, reference was made to paragraph 2 of the Financial Memorandum where it is proposed to divide this £5 million between grants to be applied to land under grass and grants to be applied to land ploughed up from grass. Such an inflexible apportionment should not be introduced. It would be better to allow the initial sum to be used as the farmers think the most appropriate way of using it. It has only complicated an already complicated scheme. I hope the Government will see the force of the arguments addressed to them today and that they will think again and perhaps revert to the old subsidy on fertilisers, the object of which was to make fertilisers cheap and to encourage the farmers to use them. By that means we shall get the best value in the national interest.
I must ask the House to consider for a moment the general lay-out of this Bill which is the worst I can remember from the point of view of delegated legislation. We were glad to have my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) taking part in our agricultural discussion in a most interesting speech. I am now embarking on a branch of work which I have never attempted before, the legal side, on which my hon. Friend is so proficient. Speaking as an amateur, I ask, has any hon. Member in any part of the House ever seen such a document as this one?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
It is a shocker, considered from the point of view of the way it has been produced. I have looked up the recommendations of the Committee on Ministers' Powers which reported in 1932, because the House will recollect that, in 1929, Viscount Sankey who was then Lord Chancellor in the second Socialist Government, appointed this Committee to survey the whole field of delegated legislation and executive powers. This Committee, which was a very strong Committee, including the late Miss Ellen Wilkinson and the late Professor Harold Laski, presented a unanimous report in 1932. One of its recommendations in regard to delegated legislation was as follows, and I ask the House to note these sentences:The precise limits of the law-making power which Parliament intends to confer on a Minister should always be expressly defined in clear language by the Statute which confers it. When discretion is conferred, its limits should be defined with equal clearness.The House will agree that it would be difficult to find any Bill which went more completely contrary to the terms of this recommendation than the Bill we are discussing today. In Clauses 1 and 2, it is stated that schemes may be authorised or varied entirely without prejudice to the authorising or providing of something quite different. In other words under the terms of the Bill, the Minister could embark upon an unlimited expenditure of public funds.
One of the main functions of this House surely is to protect the public purse from the Executive when it possibly can. We protest against this type of legislation, which we believe to be in the worst form of Parliamentary Government. Because it is drafted in this form, it is more than ever important that, under Clause 4, the power to make and alter schemes should be by means of the affirmative procedure of the House and not by motion for annulment, as is stated in the Bill. That point has been raised by several of my hon. Friends, and I hope that the Government, before the Bill becomes law, will agree that, when we have these schemes before us, they ought to be discussed at a reasonable time of the day and be passed by means of the affirmative procedure, rather than that we should have to consider them in the middle of the night only by means of a motion to annul.
2715 These things are extremely important to a very large section of the community, and particularly to the agricultural industry, and it is extremely important that this House should examine them from the point of view of the general public. I hope the Minister will consider that point during the further stages of the Bill. We agree with the purposes of the Bill, but we think that the ways in which it is intended to achieve these purposes are very muddled and very complicated, and that they have been made about as difficult as possible for the industry to carry out.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
It is nothing new to hear extravagant language from the other side of the House, but I think it is a little unusual to hear hon. Members opposite as wide of the mark as some of them, including the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) have today managed to be. I was tempted, as the language of the hon. Baronet got stronger and stronger and wilder and wilder, to intervene to say that the Government announced to the agricultural community that, in view of the violent opposition of hon. Members opposite to the Bill, we had decided that the only thing to do was to withdraw it. I could not see any other way, judging from what the hon. and gallant Gentleman was saying. The hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) spent the whole of his speech in saying much the same thing, but finished by declaring that he welcomed the Bill.
This is not the first time that we have heard this development of a great theory about the constitutional position, a theory which is quite different, when the Conservative Party are in Opposition, from what it is when they are in power. I will be dealing in a minute with the question of where we got this evil influence about which the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. I. L. Orr-Ewing) talked. He said that some evil influence had affected my right hon. Friend and the Department. I will show that that evil influence is in very many revered and hallowed precedents which the Opposition placed on the Statute Book when they were in power.
2716 But before I come to that, may I say that I could not help reflecting this afternoon that I once before sat here beside my right hon. Friend when a Measure which he introduced was attacked all day long by Opposition Members who pretend to represent agricultural interests. There was not a Member on that side of the House who had a good word to say for it, and I could not help reflecting also that that particular Measure—the calf subsidy—has probably produced more meat in 18 months or so, than was ever achieved in any period in which the Opposition were in power.
§ Mr. Turton
The hon. Gentleman will recollect that the criticism directed from this side of the House against the calf subsidy was that to give a subsidy to heifers would be unfair and would make for rough justice. I gather from what the Minister of Agriculture said yesterday that that subsidy has had to be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Brown
That is a degree of sophistry quite unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. [Laughter.] Laughter is no substitute for Debate. The point is that when that subsidy was introduced, it was attacked on exactly the same grounds as this one has been attacked today. We announced then the way in which it would run—why heifers were in the first year, how they would be in at a reduced rate in the second year, and how they would not be in at a later stage. I merely point out that hon. Gentlemen opposite have had a run on this line of country before, when they were sadly off course. Because we ignored their views, the country has the prospect of a lot more meat than it would otherwise have had. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course, if hon. Gentlemen opposite do not want their constituents to hear the reply to their case, I can quite understand them. On the other hand, I will try to give it.
§ Mr. Brown
Not at this stage.
Just as hon. Members opposite were wrong about that, so I am quite sure that, by holding to our views about this, we shall find they are hopelessly wrong about the question of the diet of grass. The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) thought we ought to pay some attention to that question, and I agree with him very much indeed.
I now come to some of the points raised. The hon. Baronet raised a number of general points. I suppose the one to which he attached most importance was the question of the constitutional procedure—the negative order procedure—and the fact that in the Bill itself there is no limit to the amount of money that may be involved in the grant. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who intervened so vigorously on behalf of the farmers of Kingston-upon-Thames, helped us with his own views.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
As the hon. Gentleman has challenged me as to those on whose behalf I intervened, and has done so with a sneer, may I say that I intervened on behalf of the taxpayers of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Brown
I have known the hon. Gentleman a long time. He must not, of course, take too wide a view of his own particular powers or of the possibility of fulfilling them.
I am, of course, no more a lawyer than the hon. Baronet, although I hope I shall be a little more successful in interpreting the law than he was. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames got himself into a tangle when he talked about the fact that my right hon. Friend had chosen the negative procedure. He referred to the awful business of the other place vetoing expenditure of public money arising out of an Act passed by this House, and said that they would be passing a veto on a matter of business which was not their function. I cannot see how that could be any different under an affirmative procedure.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If he studies financial Measures in which the affirmative procedure is provided, the hon. Gentleman will notice that, generally, there is express provision that there must 2718 be a resolution of the Commons House of Parliament.
§ Mr. Brown
The view of my right hon. Friend is much more important, but my own view is that this form of procedure is much more convenient in many ways. I think it is much simpler. It will fit the circumstances of the case and will not give rise to the fears that have been expressed on the other side. The money we shall have to spend will be very much subject to Treasury control. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had something to say about what he has set aside for that purpose. The prospect of hundreds of millions that has been held up is not a matter of practical politics at all.
On the whole, the negative procedure will be much more convenient. I remind the hon. Baronet particularly that in 1937—and I believe he was here—his party introduced the Agriculture Act. By Section 3 (2) of that Act they provided for a land fertility scheme. They provided for the payment of a lime subsidy, and they provided that that scheme should be subject to negative procedure. They did not provide any ceiling for the sum of money involved. That about which the hon. Baronet became so worked up in this Bill was in the 1937 Act, which he and his colleagues voted for quite cheerfully. There is nothing new in all the synthetic fury and strong language he used.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the proceedings of those days he will find that the House and the country did know some details of the scheme to be provided under that Act. Here we have an absolutely unknown scheme. We believe that that should be considered at the proper time, and that that should be done under positive resolution.
§ Mr. Brown
It happened not to be so. We took occasion to look it up this afternoon; and the 1937 Act was not an 2719 isolated case. We have the 1939 Agricultural Development Act which included, among other things, the provision of a sheep subsidy. That sheep subsidy scheme was also subject to the procedure of a negative resolution and, equally, that was not limited by the insertion into the Act of any ceiling figure.
The hon. Gentleman surely is not suggesting that hon. Gentlemen on those benches support the 1939 Act.
§ Mr. Brown
I am dealing with hon. Members on that side. It is their argument that has been raised.
There may well be room for discussion about which is the right procedure. I am not at the moment selecting the last ditch in which we wish to die, nor am I, necessarily, indicating that we shall die in any ditch. But, having said that, I must add that it is really a little odd for hon. Gentlemen to come here and make violent attacks on a Bill which has a very good purpose—as I shall show later—and is based on procedure they have so well hallowed by precedents.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. He will recall that he challenged my recollection as to the form of words used where the affirmative resolution procedure was followed. In Clause 2 (7) of the Finance Bill now before the House these words appear though it is a negative procedure case:The power of the Treasury to make orders under subsection (1) of this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of the Commons House of Parliament.I suggest as far as the last words are concerned that that is the proper procedure to be followed.
§ Mr. Brown
It is possible to have a very interesting discussion on this subject. I, too, have been looking up a previous Act of Parliament, and the one which I have immediately available is the Agriculture Act, 1947. In Section 96 which deals with the contribution to the lime subsidy, among other things, and therefore is very relevant to this matter, we find these words:An order made under the section shall be of no effect unless approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.2720 Therefore, the other place, in respect of the lime subsidy, had exactly the powers which the hon. Member thought would only come into effect if we adopted the negative procedure. When one adopts the negative procedure, as under this Measure, and the affirmative procedure as under that Act, in each case it is the House of Parliament which is referred to.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
All I am concerned with is to show that I was right when I said that it would be possible under the affirmative procedure to limit Parliamentary control to this House.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member succeeded in showing that he had been-fortunate in finding one case which supported his argument, while I was fortunate enough to find two cases which supported mine. Therefore, we are getting on pretty well. There has been a lot of wild and unnecessary talk about this matter, but it is not anything like as new or dangerous as has been suggested.
The hon. and gallant Member talked about the fertiliser scheme. I yield to nobody in my belief in the importance of fertilisers in improving our grassland. When I first came to this House I was concerned for a long time with the machinery by which a good deal has been done to convince farmers of this fact. But it is overdoing a sensible argument to start declaring wildly that this is the one subsidy that ought to go on for ever, and that what we want is a simple universal scheme that applies to everybody.
There is another point. "The Times" every now and again has most interesting agricultural leaders. We always regret that we are not able to shake the hand of the man who writes these articles, because we never know who he is. I saw, in a leading article which appeared only a day or two ago, the very answer to the hon. and gallant Member. It said:No doubt, the nation will gain if fertilisers are used more generously on grassland …This, however, has become a plain matter of good business for the farmer … It is hard to see why it should be necessary to provide a subsidy as well as sound advice to induce farmers to do what it is in their own interests to do.I do not carry that as far as the gentleman who wrote the article would carry it. I think he was exaggerating, but I think effect should be given to it. We 2721 have had 10 years of giving concentrated advice to persuade farmers what is good and proper in their own interests as well as that of the nation, and I do not accept the view that one must go on for ever paying subsidies to get them to do what, as "The Times" leader writer says, it is clearly in their own interests to do.
We say that perhaps the time has come when, as a general measure, we should remove the general fertiliser subsidy. That leads us to face the fact that there are still particular instances where incentive, direction, pressure, urge and persuasion are needed. Therefore, we say in this Bill that rather than continue a simple universal subsidy for everybody, even where they do not need it, we should withdraw it, save the taxpayer some money and use a smaller amount to give the special pressure, direction, encouragement and incentives in those cases where they are really needed. I believe that on the whole hon. Members opposite will agree with the writer of "The Times" leader rather than with the hon. and gallant Baronet.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not misinterpret what I said. I said "particularly up to 1952," when we are to review it again.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I cannot allow that to pass. I quoted from the speech I made on 8th March when I said it should be until 1953 or, perhaps, 1952, and I said that I hold to that view.
§ Mr. Brown
Up to 1953, then, the hon. and gallant Member thinks there should be a simple and universal subsidy. We think that the time has now come—and we are eloquently backed up in this—to reconsider this matter and to apply the subsidy to a particular item.
Next, I turn to Clause 2 and to the comments made on it. Comments have been made on what it does and the restrictions it imposes and it has been suggested that it discourages people from applying for fertiliser grants. This, too, is very near to nonsense. Clause 2 (3) 2722 does not set out all the checkings and the examinations which are to be conducted locally. It says:may restrict the amount of contributions"—This is the Clause to which the hon. and gallant Baronet referred, and is the only one which applies to the argument he used. It says:A scheme under this section may restrict the amount of contributions in any manner … (a) specify the kinds of fertilisers and the kind of agricultural land …We could not have any scheme which did not say to what it was applying grants and under what circumstances. It continues:(b) limit contributions to a specified sum to the acre.We could not have a scheme which did not say how much we intended to give. It continues:(c) provide that where, in any agricultural unit defined by the scheme, the land of a specified kind on which fertilisers are used within a specified period exceeds a specified proportion of all the land of that kind … no contribution shall be made in respect of the excess.I do not see how we could have a scheme without that. Here are all the conditions of the scheme—not the local investigations and inspections at all. It will be laid down in the scheme and, once laid down, that is the arrangement by which people know whether they are the people to claim and—
§ Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing
Is it or is it not the intention of the Government to see whether those in receipt of grants are confined to the conditions?
§ Mr. Brown
Later in the Clause we provide powers to see whether the conditions are observed. That, I think, is a different matter. I do not know whether the argument of hon. Members opposite is that the scheme should be so wide as to have no conditions and no powers to see if the conditions were observed.
§ Mr. Turton rose—
§ Mr. Turton
But the Parliamentary Secretary has not dealt with the point at all. We have asked that the subsidy should be directed to fertilisers and not to land. If that were done then the whole of subsection (3) would become unnecessary.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member still wants a simple universal scheme of subsidy. I do not believe that that is a good practical agricultural thing in these days and, if I may take up the rights of the taxpayer, I do not think it is a very good doctrine to put forward to the taxpayers, either. Nor do I think that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames will find it easy to associate himself with that argument.
Several hon. Members have asked about what tractors will be affected. It is difficult to give a specific answer. Substantially, it will be all those petrol driven machines used for agricultural purposes. Therefore what the hon. Gentleman had in mind is, on the whole, dealt with.
The argument has been raised that this will be unequal in its effect between one farmer and another. But agriculture is altogether unequal as between one farmer and another. The position of the small farmers in my constituency in Derbyshire is unequal compared with the position of, for example, the farmers who farm large areas in Yorkshire. The whole incidence of life is unequal, and as my right hon. Friend pointed out that is a special thing about agriculture. What we shall achieve here, and this I think is where we are justified in calling it a measure of rough justice, is that if there is more given than would actually be expended it will go to the small man. If there is any element of unfairness, with one man getting more, it will probably operate where we might say that a little extra would probably be very useful.
As to the argument based on a man using his tractor for 300 days in the year, I would maintain that such a man would be a very extraordinary man, farming in an extraordinary part of the country with an extraordinary tractor who found weather conditions, cultivation conditions and the hardiness of his machine all capable of standing up to that amount of use. We have come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that there are features about the Canadian scheme which was mentioned, which preclude us from adopting it in these circumstances and for this particular job. We do not think it would be sensible to adopt it and we have come to the conclusion that a scheme of the type advocated which, by and 2724 large, does what we want it to do, is the right scheme; and we hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will in due course agree with that view.
The argument was advanced that is so often advanced, "We do not like these bits of subsidies and would prefer fair prices." Hon. Gentlemen opposite who say that are really preaching to the converted, because it was we who converted hon. Gentlemen opposite to that point of view. We put guaranteed prices and market security on the Statute Book. We have heard of Satan rebuking sin but here we have the sinners rebuking the parson, and I consider that to be quite wrong. But as my right hon. Friend pointed out in the example he quoted about the calf subsidy, in addition to fair prices and assured markets, there is a need from time to time to provide special incentives and special persuasion as to this, that or the other part of agriculture.
If we started to switch agriculture about from price review to price review, it would be like a drunken man driving a motor car along an empty road. It would also be impossible to put the necessary emphasis where it was needed. No one who knows anything about the subject will suggest that it would be a good idea to change course and alter emphasis in every successive price review and, therefore, special grants and special payments of this kind are needed. Not all farmers need the same kind of incentive at the same time. They farm different kinds of land and carry out different kinds of farming and so on. An increase in the general price level affects everybody and does not give any incentive such as a special payment from time to time would achieve.
To the hon. Member who stated that we were treating farmers as half-wits I would say that that is not so, although, after listening to the speeches of some hon. Members who are farmers, I began to wonder whether there was something in what he said. Generally speaking, however, we do not believe that to be so. We are not treating farmers as half wits anywhere in this Bill. We are giving them special assistance and special help that we think is necessary, where we think it is necessary.
Hardly any hon. Member opposite talked about the price review but it is 2725 absolutely true that the justification for Clause 1 of the Bill—not for the method, but for the Clause—is the fact that we had a price review in February and that shortly after, something happened which, if we had done nothing, would have vitiated to some extent the result of that price review. Therefore, to keep faith with the farmers—it has always been a cardinal point of my right hon. Friend's practice at all times to keep faith with the industry—that Clause, to which such violent criticism and opposition has been directed, was included.
Other points which have been raised are Committee points which we can deal with in Committee. I hope I have succeeded in showing to the House that much of the language and much of the criticism have been extravagant in the extreme and quite unrelated to what the Bill does. I commend the Bill to the House with all the greater happiness in the knowledge that it has been so violently attacked from the other side.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Kenneth Robinson.]
§ Committee to sit upon Monday next.