§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, to leave out "with the approval of the Treasury."
This Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) and myself is, in a sense, an exploratory one. I know it may be argued against me in this matter that the words to which exception is now being taken are words which do, in the normal course, appear not infrequently in Bills which direct the expenditure of public money.
The House was left in no doubt whatever on Second Reading that, on the whole, there is a considerable body of opinion supporting the intention of the Bill, even if my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), in his very able speech, pointed out that there were some other methods by which the same object might very well be properly and more economically secured. I am very sorry, but I understand that my remarks have not been audible. That is certainly through no fault of mine, so I will recapitulate. I shall make my points succinctly and clearly. I am told that I cannot be heard throughout the Chamber because of the noise that is going on round the doors. I will do my best.
In Clause 1 there is, of course, the reference to which exception is taken—about the approval of the Treasury to the action of the appropriate Minister. In Clause 2 a scheme is to be dealt with exclusively by the appropriate Minister. Then I find that so far as England, Wales and Northern Ireland are concerned he is to be the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries; but in Clause 5 we find that indemnities are given against expenditure by a Minister of the Crown. I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is taking a careful note of this because I believe it to be an important point. The result is that there is complete un- 1275 certainty on who has the directive powers; who is the responsible Minister; who should be questioned about this matter; who should deal with this matter and who should organise it.
That is not the principal difficulty. In his speech on the Second Reading the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said—and I hope he will correct me if I am wrong—that there was a review of this matter in November, the subsidies were determined in July and then there was a later review when it was found that, due to a wholly unexpected rise in the cost of fertilisers, particularly phosphatic fertilisers, the agricultural community would have to bear an additional and unforeseen burden of about £9 million.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
It is difficult to hear what the hon. Member is saying. We cannot hear his very important observations owing to the noise from the doorway.
§ Mr. Hale
The doors have been continuously open for the last 10 minutes. I do not think anyone can say I am whispering to the Committee or responsible for any lack of audibility. It may be that I am responsible for my lack of clarity, but that is another point. It is rather like talking in a tube station at the present time, and it is not quite what one is accustomed to in a Committee of the House of Commons.
It was said that the sum of £9 million had arisen in respect of the increased costs of fertilisers and it was necessary to consider how to deal with this—whether to take it in in a full price review and withdraw the subsidy or introduce a special Bill for the purpose—and it was decided to introduce a special Bill. A little later on the right hon. Gentleman said that prices went up again and £1 million suddenly popped in and it was decided to slap on another £1 million and make it £10 million, which is a useful round sum.
§ The Chairman
I think the hon. Member is going beyond his Amendment. It is simply to leave out "with the approval of the Treasury," which is quite narrow. I hope he will confine his remarks to that point.
§ Mr. Hale
I am trying to keep the issue narrow, but this is the first Amendment before the Committee tonight and there must be some hon. Members here who were not present on Second Reading. I am trying to make the initial point quite clear in a few sentences, because hon. Members want to know what it is the Treasury may have to approve.
This is quite a serious point on which I shall respectfully press you, Sir Charles. The whole point about the Amendment concerning the Treasury is that there is nothing at any stage in the Bill which implements what the Minister told us was his intention, and nowhere is there any limit put upon the amount to be expended, except a fantastically wide limit of up to half the total cost of fertilisers, both nitrogenous and phosphatic.
Perhaps I may explain, because I respectfully suggest that there can be no doubt about this once the facts are clear. The Minister referred to phosphatic fertilisers only and made it quite clear that the scheme would relate only to them. He made it quite clear that although the Bill refers to a half, he is giving only a third for the time being, He said "approximately a third" and gave the figures. He is giving nothing on nitrogenous fertilisers at all for the time being.
We have a Bill before the Committee which quite clearly gives a general authority for an expenditure which could conceivably amount to not less than £30 million, of which the Minister says he is contemplating using £10 million. The Explanatory Memorandum suggests that the cost in the next financial year will be in the order of £13 million, but that will be due to the fact that certain payments are to be ante-dated. This is the point: of what are the Treasury to approve? Where do the Treasury come in? What does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest about this? Who makes the claim? At what stage do the Treasury have to approve the matter? How do they signify that approval? What happens if they do not agree?
In the Bill as drafted the Minister is entitled to come here and say at any stage, first, "I now propose to give £10 million for phosphatic fertilisers." 1277 He can come later and say, secondly, "I now think there is a case for nitrogenous fertilisers." Do the Treasury have to approve that? If they do, that is a complete surrender of the functions of the Minister of Agriculture. Surely it cannot be argued that the question of a decision about what fertilisers have to be subsidised is a matter for the Treasury.
There is a much more serious point. Now that the Budget has, like Easter, become a movable feast—[Laughter]—I am sorry that my hon. Friends are treating the matter with some levity. There is nothing in the Bill to provide any low limit on the amount of the subsidy. If the Treasury has to approve they can stop the subsidy being paid at all. There is no minimum limit in the Bill. There is merely a power on somebody's part, with somebody's approval, either in collaboration or otherwise, to give a sum which is not specified in the Bill, which we have no method of computing and on which no figures were given by the Minister on Second Reading—no figures at all.
At no stage in the Second Reading debate did anyone say to the House what it might cost if this Clause were fully implemented and a subsidy given on half the cost of all the fertilisers consumed by the farming community. This is indeed a matter of real importance, because late in the debate we were suddenly told that subsidies would be given on 10 cwt. sacks and—
§ The Chairman
The Amendment merely deals with whether the approval of the Treasury shall be included or not.
§ Mr. Hale
I will limit myself to that point, Sir Charles. At what stage do the Treasury have to approve. Do they approve each batch of 10 cwt. sacks, or do they approve the whole scheme, or at what stage do the Treasury come in? This question of the cost of administering the service is involved in the Amendment. May I tell you what is to happen, Sir Charles?
We have got a position in which groups of farmers, groups of allotments holders, or individuals make application for subsidy and, furthermore, we have got a position in which the Minister, before the House of Commons gives its consent, is telling people to keep their receipts in case the House gives its consent, and so is going back on the 1278 principle he and his party talked about so much before, and is introducing retroactive legislation whose effect dates back to July.
§ The Chairman
I have warned the hon. Member several times that he is going wide of the Amendment. If he continues to do so I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. Hale
I am obliged, Sir Charles, but I thought that I was making my point legitimately within the terms of the Amendment. I beg to submit it to you. You know the respect I bear you, and that I would not argue unduly about any Ruling of yours, but surely we are entitled to ask at what stage the Treasury comes in? Does it handle this? Does the Treasury have to approve a scheme? How does it come in? I think that if I read the Clause to you, Sir Charles, you will agree that I have not been irregular in this matter. The last thing I wish to do, anyway, is to take an unnecessary time about a Bill which has received a fair measure of support.
The Clause says:Contributions out of moneys provided by Parliament may be made, in accordance with a scheme or schemes made by the appropriate Minister with the approval of the Treasury…So my point is this. The Minister has fairly said, "I am going to allocate £10 million." That £10 million, as I understand it—and I will sit down and let him intervene at any moment he chooses, for an explanation now may shorten the the debate—will be notionally allocated by the Treasury for this purpose. Economically speaking, it will be notionally allocated. Under the present laws of economics somewhere there will be ripples—on a metaphysical basis—or there will be physically created some slight mental disturbance, about the effect on a block of gold in Fort Knox, but it will not be paid out then. When will it be paid out? This is a serious point, and, I think, an important point.
Has the Minister surrendered the whole of his discretion in the matter to the Treasury? Does he submit all applications to the Treasury? Does the Treasury say, "We approve of this. You cannot go on with that?" At what stage does the Treasury come in?
In view of what you have said, Sir Charles, and in view of my anxiety not 1279 to delay the Committee, I shall sit down and give way to the Minister, reserving the right to make further observations later if the Minister's remarks are not satisfactory, having in the meanwhile roughly to start with covered the position in general.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Major Sir Thomas Dugdale)
The Committee always listens with the greatest attention to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), but as I listened to his remarks on this occasion it seemed to me that he was arguing against his own Amendment throughout the greater part of his speech, because he was arguing that the Minister of Agriculture should in fact spend large sums of money without reference to the Treasury, and yet in the terms of the Amendment it is proposed to leave out the words "with the approval of the Treasury"—
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Yes, but at the moment we are considering this Amendment, and I think that the hon. Gentleman's confusion arises really in regard to the two functions that this Bill is actually designed to implement, and which I tried to explain to the House on Second Reading in the last part of my speech. I said:To sum up, the Bill is designed, first, to implement the undertaking which I gave to the House on behalf of the Government on 29th November, 1951, to ask for the necessary legislative authority for the subsidy on phosphates…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 249.]That is the first point. The second point is, that we should put on to the Statute Book an enabling Bill to enable schemes made for a period of five years to be carried through. It seems from the wording of the Amendment that the hon. Gentleman was confused on the one hand by schemes which can be made under the Bill as an enabling Bill, and on the other by the first scheme which I announced as far back as November, and which this Bill is designed to implement by providing the legislative authority. As soon as we have the Royal Assent to this Bill, 1280 then immediately the first scheme will be laid before Parliament. It is not at this stage or this evening that we shall discuss what is actually in the first scheme.
On the specific and detailed point, the hon. Member will agree that, since the expenditure of public money is involved, the Minister of Agriculture, whoever he may be, must obviously consult with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because it is the invariable practice for this form of words to appear in the appropriate sections of Bills giving power to make schemes for subsidies and contributions. If these words were not in the Bill the Treasury would lose financial control of expenditure generally. I am certain the hon. Member will agree that one of the main functions of the House is to see to it that public expenditure is safeguarded in the best possible way in our legislation.
§ Mr. Hale
I am grateful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way; I am interrupting only for a moment. That is the point on which I want some information. It may very well be true that there is Treasury control of public expenditure, but if Parliament authorises specific expenditure, why is it necessary for someone at the Treasury to have final control of any kind? What becomes of our powers? Is it really, as has been submitted, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, through his senior civil servant there, can now say, "It is all very well Parliament deciding to spend money, but we are not going to allow you to spend it now—figures have gone against us in the last few weeks"?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I will not go so far as that, but it is absolutely right that any Minister introducing legislation, when financial considerations are concerned, should have the approval of the Treasury in putting forward particular definite proposals.
To return to this Amendment, the hon. Gentleman asked me at what stage approval was required by the Treasury. The stage is when any particular scheme is introduced. That was the confusion in the hon. Gentleman's mind; he was confusing the schemes, and we are thinking about only one scheme that will be introduced after this Bill receives the Royal Assent, and the enabling part of 1281 the Bill that enables Parliament, in their wisdom, to pass further schemes during the next five years. I hope that with this explanation the hon. Gentleman will see fit—
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I pursue a point to which I made reference a few days ago about the relationship between Departments and the Treasury? It is certainly perfectly appropriate, indeed it is common form, that the words "with the approval of the Treasury" should appear in the Bill, but that approval is usually sought in connection with the amount of money which the Treasury has to find. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, it is a scheme itself which lies within the province of the Departmental Minister that is going to be vetted and approved or disapproved by the Treasury and not only the amount of money.
The contributions out of moneys provided by Parliament may be made, with the approval of the Treasury, in accordance with the scheme or schemes made by the appropriate Minister. The point at which the approval of the Treasury occurs—the Subsection is italicised because it is part of the Money Resolution—means that it is the particular scheme or schemes, which ought to fall entirely within the control of the Department of Agriculture, and which some junior official will first of all [Interruption.] The right hon. and gallant Gentleman can shake his head as much as he likes, but I have had too much experience of this. The fact of the matter is that the relationship between the Treasury and the administrative Departments has become wholly archaic.
If the Government wanted to save money, they could sack hundreds of officials of the Treasury who are now doing the same job twice. First it is done inside the Department by the people who know all about it, almost invariably within the Estimates approved by the House of Commons or within the powers conferred by Statute. And then, before the poor Departmental Minister can move hand or foot, the schemes themselves—not only the amount of money but the actual concrete, physical schemes—have to be considered by some obscure person in the Treasury; examined not only as to their financial implications but as to their technical merits. When that is 1282 done, if the official in the administrative Department agrees, then all goes through. If it does not go through, it has to come up to the Minister and the Minister has to go cap in hand to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in nine cases out of 10 the Chancellor does not understand it and stands by his own officials.
Here is a situation in which a common form use of language will give the Treasury complete administrative control over the schemes which the Minister of Agriculture ought to make.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)
On a point of order, Sir Charles. Is the right hon. Gentleman speaking on this Amendment or merely giving an explanation?
§ The Chairman
It is quite in order. The right hon. Gentleman is trying to show why the approval of the Treasury should not be required.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Gentleman poses as an authority on China, but about Britain he knows very little indeed. I am now speaking specifically about the Amendment, and as the hon. Member has not even got the Bill before him, he is speaking with even more blankness than usual. I am asking that the language should be so amended that the Minister should be under the jurisdiction of the Treasury only in respect of the amount of money involved, and not in respect of the schemes for which he himself ought to accept direct administrative responsibility.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
May I reply to the right hon. Gentleman? One is always surprised at different revelations that are made in the House of Commons but, whatever else the right hon. Gentleman may be, I think we all agree that he was a most forceful Minister during the period he was in office. It is a most curious argument to hear him use, that he would accept the ruling of some very junior member of the Treasury with regard to any scheme he might put forward.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am absolutely satisfied that I have complete control over the scheme and the only part for 1283 which I want the approval of the Treasury is for the amount of money which is involved.
§ Mr. Paget
Perhaps I might put it rather differently from my right hon. Friend. It may be that the present Minister is so strong and knowledgeable that he will be able to dominate the Treasury, but we are not passing this Bill simply for this Minister. I appeal to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to tell us that he will reconsider the wording of this Clause and confine the Treasury to what is their business, the expenditure, leaving it to the Minister of Agriculture to have the final word as to the form in which the scheme is to be made. After all, it is only in a very indirect manner that this scheme calls for the expenditure of public money.
This is not the scheme, and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) should realise this, which involves any additional payment to the farmers whatever. It is merely that instead of their receiving this amount of money when the prices are settled, they receive the same money, in a different form, as a part-payment of the price of a fertiliser. As to the total amount of money which the Treasury pay or which the farmer receives, it makes no difference. It is an adjustment between farmers, but it is not an adjustment of any money which the Treasury have to find. Since they are not affected in their pocket by how much is to be in a scheme and how much is to put in a price review, their interest in this is very indirect, to say the least.
Surely, the Minister should keep control, on behalf of agriculture, of these schemes which he is putting forward. The whole basis of the Act of 1945 is financially a bulk purchase arrangement. The nation arranges to buy the products of the farmers on an agreed basis, based on costs. Here is one of the costs. The costs are being paid at one point instead of another point. Surely that is the Minister's business and not the Treasury's business, which is what we consider important and which the farmers in the country regard as important. It should be under the control 1284 of the Minister of Agriculture, who, I think, the farmers trust to understand their problems, and who was brought up against their problems.
§ Mr. Hale
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) made a concrete suggestion, which I wish he would put to the Minister of Agriculture. If the words, "with the approval of the Treasury," were put back one line and came after the words "may be made," the Subsection would read:Contributions out of moneys provided by Parliament may be made, with the approval of the Treasury, in accordance with a scheme or schemes made by the appropriate Minister…That clearly meets the point and clearly falls within what the Minister says comes within his duties.
§ Mr. Paget
I feel that is an admirable suggestion. I do not think any of us would ask the Minister immediately to commit himself to a matter of drafting. I would ask the Minister to tell us that he will consider the Amendment and on Report bringing forward an Amendment which gives effect to what, I think, is his intention and which he will feel is the sense of the Committee regarding this matter. We are not wishing to waste time or spend our time on many Divisions. Cannot the Minister meet us to that extent and say he will consider moving the position of these words which will entirely effect what we desire? Surely, that is a reasonable thing to ask?
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sorry, but I must resist because right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen will recollect this is not merely a matter I am raising in connection with this particular Bill. I have in mind the whole relationship between the Treasury and administrative Departments. I consider, as I have said, that this is entirely archaic and Ministers ought not to be in bondage on this matter all the time.
Hon. Members will see from Clause 4 precisely what this power of the Treasury is. The Clause states:(1) A scheme under this Act may restrict the amounts of contributions in any manner and make the payment of contributions subject to any conditions,…About the amount I agree at once. One cannot have the spending Departments roving at large spending sums of money 1285 without consulting the Treasury. I accept that as a very necessary financial discipline.
§ Mr. Bevan
The answer is that the hon. Member who has made more than one speech allegedly in defence of agricultural interests is now going to put these schemes under the control of Treasury officials. Let him read what the Clause says:(1) A scheme…may…(a) specify the kinds of fertilisers in respect of which contributions may be made;Does the Committee seriously suggest the Treasury should itself investigate what kind of fertilisers are to be used? Is that reasonable? The amount of money to be spent on fertilisers, yes.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) knows it is silly.
§ Mr. Bevan
The Clause goes to to say,(d) provide for requiring applicants to give facilities for the inspection of fertilisers to which applications relate, to give information required to verify applications, and to produce documents required for that purpose;All the schemes, in their specific physical details can, under the statute, be reviewed by the Treasury and prohibited. Surely that is Bedlam. It is an excuse for the proliferation of vast numbers of busy little people at the Treasury; and indeed that is exactly what happens. And there is no bigger piece of political humbug than for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to demand economies by the spending Departments when he himself is the biggest spendthrift in Whitehall because he is continually employing people to do the jobs the administrative Departments themselves are already trying to do.
Therefore, I suggest the Amendment I have proposed gives the Treasury all the powers it needs to control the amount of money and gives the Minister all the elbow-room he needs to get on with the job.
§ Mr. I. Mikardo (Reading, South)
It appeared to me that the Minister had been impressed by the arguments put to him. We all know him to be a reasonable man, and I had the impression he was feeling in his heart of hearts that 1286 the argument put so cogently and moderately was in fact a valid argument. I thought he had revealed himself when be ended his last observations by saying very fervently that, "I am satisfied the schemes will he under my control." It is generally a fair rule that if a man replies to an argument not with an argument but with a decision, he is not very sure of himself.
I have the feeling that the failure—I do not say this in any unkind sense—of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to make a specific reply to the arguments which have been put to him about the difference between Treasury control over expenditure and Treasury control over the technical details of the scheme and instead to say that he was quite happy about the situation indicated that he might not be altogether happy with the situation.
Of course, as other hon. Members have pointed out, even if he has some agreement with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer which covers him in this matter, that could only be an agreement in which he said to his right hon. Friend, "Never mind what the Bill says, you and I have agreed to behave differently from what it says." Even if he has that agreement, it is not binding unless it is written into the statute.
There can be no question at all that as the Bill is drafted a situation could arise in which the Minister of Agriculture had virtually no control over a scheme made under this Bill, and that, in fact, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, a less accommodating, more dogmatic and more narrow-minded Chancellor than we have at the moment, and one less well disposed than the present one to the present Minister of Agriculture, might well come along and say to the Minister, "I am not going to allow you to decide whether the scheme shall apply to nitrogenous or phosphatic fertilisers, or vice versa. I will decide that, and you will be no more than the office boy in the administration of the scheme."
I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider between now and the next stage of the Bill what can possibly be lost by his taking the wordswith the approval of the Treasuryfrom their present place—not eliminating 1287 them—and putting them one line and two words earlier, with the result, as has already been pointed out, that the Treasury will have, as it is entitled to have, full control over the monies that are spent and the Minister himself will have, as he is entitled to have, full control over the technical details of the scheme.
What could possibly be lost by such a change? Will he not say, as my hon. Friends have appealed to him to say, that between now and the next stage of the Bill he will discuss the matter with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor and see if he cannot come some way to meet us in this matter?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I think the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) really misunderstood what I said on the first occasion, because there is nothing at all alarming about this particular subsection. It is in common form for this kind of legislation and does no more than provide that proper consultation shall take place, that approval for money shall be given by the Chancellor and that any money that is spent under the Bill must appear in the Departmental Estimates at the end of the year.
I perfectly understand the wider issue raised by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), because I know his serious and anxious concern about the powers of the Treasury as far as other Government Departments are concerned. There may be occasions on which I shall appeal to him from this side for his earnest support if I have any doubt at all that my Department, the Ministry of Agriculture, is finding itself in any way under the thumb of the Treasury.
I am satisfied that under subsection (1) we can administer the schemes in what we think are the best interests of the agricultural communities, and that the only approval the Treasury gives us is in the amount of money to be spent on a particular scheme.
§ Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)
I know that subsection (1) is in common form. It has been so in every agricultural miscellaneous Bill I have been responsible for introducing since 1945. It may very well be, as some of my hon. and right hon. Friends have said, that perhaps we place too much power in the 1288 hands of the Treasury. I am not at all sure that if we transfer the words "with the approval of the Treasury" back to line 2 instead of line 3 it will make a lot of difference.
May I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman whether, between now and the Bill finding its way into another place—because if we are to complete all stages it cannot be done automatically—he will undertake to examine the possibility of transferring the words in the Amendment to the second line of subsection (1), as was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)? If he would undertake to examine that possibility perhaps we could make some progress.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
Before the Minister replies to my right hon. Friend, may I say that if the Bill had been brought in in a reasonable way we would have had a chance of dealing with it in that way? This Bill is brought in for all its stages with only three Parliamentary days—two of them by accident —between Second Reading and the other stages. There is no good reason why we should be asked to take all the stages tonight, with an undertaking to examine this matter between now and the Bill being dealt with in another place. If it is not dealt with there we shall have no opportunity of returning to the point. There is no good reason why the Minister should not halt the progress of the Bill at the conclusion of the Committee stage tonight.
There is no representative of the Treasury here at the moment, and the Minister says he is sure that he is not under the thumb of that Department. He thinks he has full control over the schemes. We should be entitled to ask the Treasury whether that is so. In addition to the Chancellor, there is a Financial Secretary, and a Minister of State. I do not know what he is doing, but we ought to have one of them here if the Government are anxious to push this Bill through. The Minister told my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that if he did not find things were working out and he found himself under the thumb of the Treasury he would ask him to help. But the Minister will not. We have had experience of it, and we do not do it.
The Minister does not meet the case, and I feel that the words "with the ap- 1289 proval of the Treasury" should be made to apply clearly to the money. It is a valid point, and we ought not to have it refused. The Minister has given no answer to it at all, and has not shown at any stage that he sees an answer to it. We now have the Treasury with us, but the Financial Secretary cannot pick up this point in a whispered conversation with the Minister. That being so, I wonder if it would be in order for me to move to report progress to enable the right hon. Gentleman to brief his colleague, because I think we ought to press for consideration of this point now and not leave it to another place.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin
It is quite obvious that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to give his approval for the spending of money he must know what that money is. I think the wording is as it should be for the Treasury is going to limit the expenditure.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
I do not think any hon. or right hon. Gentleman on this side would accept that view. I would suggest that even the Minister would argue that the Treasury would have to have a close examination of what the money is going to be spent on. Really the Minister must go half way to meet us on this point. I would support what my hon. Friend has suggested, that if the Minister cannot accept the Amendment he has got to be able to say, "I will look at it again."
This is a financial matter. We have a right and a duty to settle it in this Chamber. I should have thought there would be no harm in this Bill in leaving out the words "with the approval of the Treasury." After all, the money that is to be spent under the Bill is going to be negotiated with the farmers in the spring of each year. At the annual price review there are long discussions between representatives of the Government and the farming industry and at the end of these discussions the Government have got to take a decision, and up to now it has always been an agreed decision, as to the money to be put in the pockets of the farmers in the ensuing year.
If the amount of money to be spent under this Bill should remain at £10 million per year, that will mean £10 million less that the farmers will get under the prices for their scheduled com- 1290 modities. The Minister will agree with me in that. If it is £10 million, it is £10 million less the farmers will get under the guaranteed prices for the commodities listed in the schedule to the Act of 1947.
§ The Chairman
Very likely that is true, but it is going far beyond the Amendment we are discussing.
§ Mr. Fraser
With the greatest respect, Sir Charles, I am trying to demonstrate to the Committee that the amount of money to be spent under this scheme cannot be fiddled about by the Treasury from time to time throughout the year. Parliament is asked to approve each year the amount of money the Minister will seek to have filtered through to the pockets of the farmers, and whatever money is spent under this Bill will be deducted from what the farmers get under the Schedule to the 1947 Act.
What I am suggesting is that in this case there is no justification for the inclusion of the words "with the approval of the Treasury"; but if we are going to have the words at all, it makes no difference where they are at the present time. The Treasury should not have to come into the Ministry with technical proposals on what will be done in this scheme. It is not for the Treasury to decide whether phosphatic or nitrogenous fertilisers will be subsidised. Surely that is a decision which can be taken only by the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland—the two Ministers of Agriculture. Surely that is a decision which can be taken only by these two Ministers with the advice which they can get from their advisors who are skilled in giving advice of this kind. These are not matters to be decided by the Treasury.
I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been convinced. Indeed, it is obvious that he, personally, has been convinced by the arguments which have been adduced in the discussion. I appeal to him to tell us that he is not happy about the wording of the Subsection and that he will think about it again and will defer the Report stage, if necessary, in order that he may reach a different decision.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I hope the Minister has been impressed by the arguments which have been put 1291 to him on this point. I urge him to reconsider the matter, because I do not think he was treating the Committee with respect when he said what he did say just now. Now that the Financial Secretary is present, I hope we shall have a clear statement from the Government about what is their intention if they persist in leaving these words in their present place.
I think the situation is even more serious than was indicated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and my hon. Friends. They pointed out that if these words were left in their position in line 3, the Treasury would be able to control every detail of every scheme put forward under the Bill by the Minister of Agriculture, a system which would lead, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, to quite unnecessary duplication. The situation is, however, even worse than that. The Treasury will not only have the power to do that; if these words are left in their present place they will have the duty to do it.
§ Mr. Fletcher
That is why I hope the Financial Secretary will tell us what is the intention, because if the Government persist in their determination to leave the words in their present place, it can only mean that they not only intend the Treasury to have the power to check every detail of every scheme but to have that duty and to be compelled to carry it out. There will thus be Parliamentary justification for the hordes of officials about which my right hon. Friend complained and which is so inconsistent with the Government's protestations of economies.
We are entitled to know exactly where the Government stand on this. Do they desire these words to remain in order that the Treasury shall have this control and in order that the Treasury shall duplicate everything which the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland do in their Departments? Unless that is the deliberate intention of the Government, there can be no justification for the Minister's refusal to accept the Amendment.
As has been said, it is no use the Minister saying this is a common form. 1292 It would equally be common form if the words "with the approval of the Treasury" were re-inserted in line 2 and taken out of line 3. If that were done, the Treasury would have perfectly proper financial control over the amount of the contribution, but they would not have the duty or the right to criticise and duplicate all the detailed work which will have to be done under the Bill in dealing with all the technical details of the schemes.
I think my hon. Friends have raised a serious matter of principle. I hope the Government have been impressed by the reasonableness of the arguments which have been adduced and, now that the Minister is fortified by the assistance of the Treasury representative, that he will be able to tell us what is the Treasury view and what is the purpose of his refusal, so far, to accept this very sensible and very reasonable Amendment.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I should like to answer straight away the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) and the appeal made to me by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). I am perfectly prepared on a matter of this sort to reconsider it if I think that we should get any progress or advance by that reconsideration but, on advice, I am assured that if we transfer these words to the second line—that is, to after "may"—the only result will be to strengthen the Treasury's powers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I shall explain why. It would mean that the Treasury would have to approve each individual payment of subsidy to each farmer. The Treasury control would be tighter than under the present form of words, which are in the recognised form.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
The Minister says he has been advised. Well, we are very grateful to him for taking advice during the discussion—advice which he thinks will be final and authoritative. But if he maintains the position that acceptance of this Amendment would strengthen the hold of the Treasury, can he meet the point of view put forward by the Committee by making his own suggestion for an Amendment to solve the difficulty in our minds? I would ask the Minister whether he has not been convinced by the argument put from this side of the Committee.
1293 I would ask him also to consider the point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin). The hon. Gentleman said something which crystallises our point of view. He said that the Treasury ought to have some knowledge—a little knowledge—of the purpose for which it was allocating money. Is not that an incredible point of view? Surely, if the Treasury is to have knowledge, it ought to have full and adequate knowledge?
What sense does it make that we should have a Departmental Minister advised by experts, a Minister responsible to the House of Commons for spending monies allocated by Parliament to the best advantage, and that then we should have also a kind of half knowledge provided by Treasury officials? There could be some conceivable sense in that relationship if the Treasury were dealing only with one Departmental Minister, but are we really seriously accepting a position in which the Treasury is to have a little bit of knowledge of agriculture, of education, of housing, of teeth and spectacles, and much more that could be mentioned, and, perhaps, with its half knowledge, do more harm than if it had no knowledge at all?
I suggest that the purpose of the Treasury is to carry out the plan decided by the entire Cabinet which allocates to the spending Departments what each is to have at its disposal. I can see no sense at all and no efficiency at all in saying the Treasury has got to come in with a little knowledge to criticise Departmental Ministers and their advisers, who, presumably, have full knowledge.
Hon. Members opposite claim to be the party of big business. I should like to see the business man who would bring in a manager, or a person with a small knowledge of his particular subject, into a position where he has to distribute his attention over a hundred different fields, and say that he believes that from that source he is going to get the best guidance or advice. If the Minister cannot accept the wording of the Amendment, and wishes to maintain the position that the change to the second line would strengthen the hold of the Treasury, he might help us by telling us how we can get a proper division of labour, and allocation by the Cabinet of the amounts to 1294 be spent by each Department, without the Departmental Minister either being worthy of his job or being got rid of and somebody else put in his place.
§ Mr. Bevan
We have made some little progress, and have got from the Minister some information from his advisers on the effect of the suggestion we have made. I view the advice with the utmost scepticism, because I have had similar advice before. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that if the words "with the approval of the Treasury" are put where I suggested it would increase the Treasury control, because the Treasury would have power to decide on which beneficiary the contribution should alight. That is complete nonsense.
If hon. Members will look at the language, it says—for relieving occupiers of agricultural land of a part of the expenditure which they would otherwise incur.In other words, the scheme itself can provide for the way in which the monies are paid out, so the Treasury would not need to indicate or identify the individual beneficiary. The scheme itself would provide the way in which the monies would be paid out, and at that stage the Treasury could divest itself of the right to determine who the particular beneficiary would be. The advice given to the right hon. Gentleman is biassed advice, probably from the Treasury itself, which still wishes to keep this ancient power. That is the whole difficulty.
What we are trying to do—and at this stage we ought to have the advice of the Financial Secretary; we do not want his presence to be entirely barren, and we assume he has come into the Committee not merely for the purpose of adorning the Government Front Bench but also of guiding the Committee. I should like to ask him whether he considers that the power conferred on the Treasury—he cannot answer me if he does not listen—by this Subsection (1) does not, as a consequence of Clause 4, enable the Treasury to tell the Minister of Agriculture what kind of fertiliser he should subsidise. I should like to know. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]
I do not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman, but I should have thought that if the Treasury regard these powers as so important they ought to be able 1295 to explain to the Committee what they are. The only interpretation we can place on them, and the only interpretation they bear, is that when a scheme is drawn up by the Minister it is submitted to the Treasury, who then proceed to vet the scheme in every particular. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has pointed out, they would be under an obligation to do so. Thus we shall have a respectable gentleman who has spent all his life reading figures acquainting himself with the quality of fertilisers in order that he may advise the Minister whether a particular kind of fertiliser ought to be subsidised for a particular purpose.
The Committee may take it from me—I speak from experience—that that is not a caricature of what happens. It happens on every Estimate, not only on Bills. The Minister comes to the House of Commons to obtain from Parliament a sanction to spend certain money for a certain purpose. He is limited by that amount. But that does not prevent the carrion crows of the Treasury picking at this bone and that. It is the most wasteful form of administration I have ever known.—[Interruption.]
Hon. Members have not got my point at all. I shall pursue this on every Bill. I shall try to secure that the Treasury shall be armed with the powers it ought to have, the powers to control the amount of money, but that the Ministers and the Departments technically trained for the purpose shall have the absolute and exclusive right of determining the technical uses of that money. It is only sensible. What has happened is that there has grown up over the last 100 years a body of interfering officials who make a living out of making a nuisance of themselves to every spending Department.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is the poor, first victim of a long campaign, but I have not selected him because I have any malevolence against him; on the contrary, I have a most benign attitude towards him. Nevertheless, he ought in fairness to the Committee to have a look at my suggestion, because it arms the Treasury with the powers it needs and gives him the freedom he ought to have.
1296 Surely, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has pointed out, it is quite unfair to expect us to go through all the stages of this Bill tonight, because in that case the Minister will not be able to redeem any promise that he may make in the Committee stage without the connivance of another Chamber; and we ought not to depend on that. I do most earnestly hope that the Minister will expedite the passage of his Bill by promising to give further consideration to the suggestions that have been made.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
As I have said, I appreciate very much the anxiety which is felt by the Opposition that we should not be tied on financial commitments by the wicked Treasury. I would be perfectly prepared to look again into this position if I were satisfied that an improvement could be made on the lines suggested by the right hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends. But the more I look into this particular sub-section, the more I come to the conclusion that the existing form of words does, in fact, meet the anxiety, so far as it is possible to do so. I hope the Committee will agree with me in my decision.
I hope the Committee will appreciate that the arguments which have been advanced this evening go far beyond this Clause and this Bill. If we cannot agree on the right form of words, then I hope we may come to a decision in the Division Lobbies. All I can say from this Box is that, as far as this Bill is concerned, I am satisfied that the anxieties of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are not realities, and I am satisfied that I as Minister of Agriculture have full powers to implement any scheme made under this Bill.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
When the Minister speaks of subsequently altering the wording of this Clause, I suppose he means when it is being dealt within another place. If so, may I point out that this would be impossible because this is a Money Resolution and is not subject to any alteration in another place.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Neither I nor my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee have any desire to keep the Committee an unduly long time. It is already clear that we are over- 1297 whelmingly in favour of this Bill and are anxious for it to reach the Statute Book. But we should be neglecting our duty if we did not do everything in our power to make it as good a Bill as possible.
The Minister has assured us that in spite of the wording of the Clause, which obviously within its plain meaning can mean no other than the gloss which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and others have put upon it, he has the power he needs. I am glad to see the Financial Secretary here, because he obviously knows the answer, although perhaps he is too coy to get up and give it to us.
I want to put one question to the Minister. Can he assure us that in spite of the wording of this Clause the Treasury do not consider, and have not the right if they are so minded to prevent, any scheme or schemes which his Ministry approves and thinks desirable from being put into operation? If he can assure us that the Treasury only look at the contribution and do not examine the scheme, then it might well be that my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee might be willing to withdraw this Amendment—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and let the Committee get on to the next one.
§ Mr. Paget
The position is this: the Minister has told the Committee that the procedure would be one which it is quite plain the words of the Clause do not provide. Another form of words has been suggested. Two very experienced ex-Ministers have put one conclusion on the effect of those words; the Minister is advised as to something else. Surely that is something which requires further consideration?
If I could have the attention of the Minister and of the Patronage Secretary for one moment, I would tell them that this is not a Bill which we wish to obstruct but, if we are to have the Report stage immediately after this stage, it means that the Government can consider no Amendments which we put forward. Here is a serious matter.
Could we not agree to have the Report stage tomorrow so that there will be time to consider what has been put forward? Otherwise it is reducing this Committee 1298 stage to a complete farce, and, believe me, it is not assisting the Government to get business through because it is forcing us to go on and on, if only to provide the Minister with the time which he would otherwise not have in which to think about our suggestion. If the Minister will agree to let us have the Report stage tomorrow or the day after, we will make our suggestions and we will let him get on. There is no point in making a suggestion because one cannot have it considered unless one spends enough time to allow the Government to think. It is really making the Committee stage a farce when there is a whole list of Amendments, not one of which the Government can even consider because there is not time. We are not considering the merits, but a matter of procedure, and the Government are not going to expedite business this way.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I am afraid we have not been very much in order while the hon. and learned Gentleman has been speaking, but I think the Committee is interested on that particular point. Do let us see how we get on. The reason we want this Bill very urgently, and I think it is apparent to right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite as well, is that we cannot introduce the schemes upon which we can have a further debate until this Bill is on the Statute Book. Parliamentary time at this period of the year is very tight, but if hon. Members opposite really believe that some Amendments are necessary—not necessarily this particular Amendment, however—we will see in the course of time how we get on, whether that is the case, and whether it would be better to defer the remaining stages to a very early date. I do hope the Committee will recollect that this Bill is, by and large, a Bill which is wanted on all sides of the Committee.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I hope right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen will realise the importance of getting the scheme before the House in order that the House can debate it and see it in detail.
May I answer the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall)? When the scheme or schemes are actually introduced in the House, it is true that, under 1299 the custom of introducing Orders, the signature will be the signature of one of the Lords of the Treasury. But that is common form. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, as far as details of the scheme are concerned, they are the responsibility of my Department and of myself as Minister of Agriculture. The Treasury only have the overriding, broad financial survey of any particular scheme.
§ Mr. I. O. Thomas
If that is the position as stated by the Minister, what is the position of the Government in including or amending the existing words in this Clause to give legislative effect to what he says is already the practice?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
If I may speak again, we believe, and I am advised, that the suggested legislation would make the position worse. On balance, the Clause, as at present drafted, gives us the result we wish to achieve.
§ Mr. G. Brown
May I follow what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has said and put this seriously to the Minister? We have a number of quite important and fundamental Amendments on the Order Paper which, in the interests of agriculture and the industry generally, ought to be discussed. We obviously must, in the interest of Parliamentary government, seek to discuss them until we get to a point where a decision can be made. As my hon. and learned Friend has said, if we can have an assurance now that we can have the Report stage on another day, thus allowing the Minister and us time to consider our action, and that the Minister will undertake to consider this Amendment between now and then, we can not only get on, but adapt our attitude to the Amendments which come afterwards.
I appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite who are as concerned in this as we are. There are agricultural constituencies represented on the benches opposite to which this is as important and as big a matter as it is to us. If we have an assurance that the Report stage will come on another day, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman undertakes to consider this point between now and then, it will make for a better discussion and a better Bill.
§ Mr. Bevan
May I add my appeal? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is making a rod for his own back. What he is saying is, "Let us see how we get on and then we can see if it is necessary to have another day for the Report stage." That means we have to keep him as long as possible in order to convince him another day is necessary. That is not good Parliamentary tactics. It seems to me he is digging a pit for himself. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is the Chief Whip."] He ought not to listen too much to the Chief Whip. They are very dangerous people.
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says now, "I will have a look at this and see whether any changes can be made" and adds, "Obviously the logical consequence of making that promise is that the Report stage will take place on another day," then we can get on. Otherwise, any promise made with no promise that the Report stage will take place on another day is a valueless promise. I think we ought to be able to extract the promise that the Report stage will be taken on another day.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
It is clear that the wish of the Committee is that we should not conclude our deliberations on this Bill tonight. But I must impress upon the Committee that there is urgency. I perfectly realise that there are points we wish to discuss, and I will certainly look at the point raised during the discussion on this Amendment. I should like the Committee to know that the further stages of the Bill will have to be taken after 10 p.m. on some night. If that is understood, I agree.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I should like to express to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman our appreciation of the response made to our appeal. I think I can assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that after that response we shall now help him to make rapid progress.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, to leave out "may," and insert "shall."
1301 I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we also discussed the following remaining three: in page 1, line 13, to leave out first "or"; in page 1, line 13, to leave out second "or" and insert "and"; and in page 1, to leave out lines 14 and 15.
We seek in these Amendments to ensure that there shall be separate schemes for England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
On Second Reading the Minister said it was the intention of the Government that for the first year there would be a joint scheme for England and Wales and for Scotland. He did not include Northern Ireland and did not say what would happen after the first year. I suggest the Government might consider even yet whether it would be desirable to have this Bill provide that there shall be established separate schemes in the three countries mentioned in the Bill.
Before the Election, the party opposite promised the electors in Scotland that if they were successful at the polls they would give Scotsmen a greater measure of control over Scottish affairs. I have heard some Conservatives boast that they have given effect to that promise. They have appointed two additional Ministers in Scotland, but that is not giving effect to their promise unless they give additional work to those Ministers in Scotland.
I wish to help the Government to fulfil at least one of their Election promises, and I am asking therefore that the Secretary of State for Scotland shall be allowed to make his own scheme for Scotland. The Joint Under-Secretary of State will, I am sure, agree that the conditions and circumstances in Scotland are in many respects very different from those in England and Wales. I know he can tell me that previous schemes have had a general application to the whole of Great Britain, but I think he would be the first to agree that in this Bill providing for the making of schemes which may be made for many years to come powers should be given to Ministers to take into account all sorts of conditions and circumstances in the framing of the scheme.
I should have thought that the Ministers might very well decide to pay a more generous fertiliser subsidy on marginal than on first-class arable land, 1302 and a more generous subsidy in certain areas producing certain crops, and that sort of thing, and that the Joint Under-Secretary would wish to have complete freedom to make a separate scheme for Scotland. The hon. Gentleman may answer and say that there is permission to have separate schemes, but I honestly think it would be better were we to provide in the Bill that there must be separate schemes.
One has to take into account the position of Northern Ireland. The Bill provides that the Minister of Agriculture may make a joint scheme for England and Wales and Northern Ireland or a separate scheme. We rather gathered from what he said during the Second Reading debate that it is his intention, for the first year at least, to have a separate scheme for Northern Ireland. Manifestly it is right and proper that the Minister should have adequate consultation with the authorities in Northern Ireland before he makes a scheme for that area.
It seems to me a regrettable thing that the Minister of Agriculture in this country should make that scheme, and it is the answer, incidentally, to our Scottish Nationalists who sometimes ask that we should have a Parliament in Scotland with comparable powers to that in Northern Ireland. If we did it would automatically mean that the Minister of Agriculture would make the scheme for Scotland. But we do not want that. We want the Secretary of State for Scotland to make the scheme for Scotland. We think it right and proper that there should be separate schemes for the three countries.
Let the Joint Under-Secretary say that he will amend the Bill. It cannot cause the inconvenience that some people have suggested. During the Second Reading debate last Wednesday the Minister said:It is hoped, in regard to England and Wales and Scotland, it will be possible, in order to avoid complications, to make joint schemes for these countries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 248–9.]When the the Conservative Party made their promise to the Scottish electors that they would give them more control over Scottish affairs, they did not say it would not be possible in some cases, and that they would only do it when it did not raise complications and difficulties and 1303 cause embarrassment to certain people in the country. They said that Scots will have more control over Scottish affairs. Let them fulfil that promise. They must have the schemes in rough draft now, and it may be that the hon. Gentleman, who is to reply, will say that they have taken the general scheme so far that it is too late to have a separate scheme. I can scarcely believe that.
I feel that the principles and the details of a scheme that is going to be generally applicable to Great Britain as a whole could so easily be embodied in two schemes—one for England and Wales and the other for Scotland. We want to ensure, not only for this year, but for all the years that may elapse during the operation of this measure when it is on the Statute Book, that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be completely free to take account of the different circumstances that obtain in the country north of the Border. The hon. Gentleman, speaking from this side of the House in the last Parliament, called attention on many occasions to the agricultural conditions in the north of Scotland, compared with the south and with agriculture throughout England and Wales. I hope that by this time the hon. Gentleman would like to get up and say that he accepts the Amendment.
§ Mr. Cahir Healy (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I hope that at this late hour the Committee will bear with me for a moment while I give some reasons why I think the Bill should apply to Northern Ireland. I do not like to see Ireland, even Northern Ireland, tied to a country where conditions are as different as they are between the six counties and England. I have another more important reason, and one which is certainly none the less urgent. One day we hope there will be a united Ireland, and it will be less disturbing to the national economy of the country when that day comes if we are to have an agricultural scheme for Ireland rather than one tied to the economy of this country.
I represent an area that consists mainly of small farms—the average size would be about 20 acres. It is comparatively poor land, and thus I hope the Committee will see that we have greater need 1304 for an increased amount of fertiliser than have farms in England of a like size. We pay into the same financial pool, but we cannot receive equal benefits. I am in a bit of a difficulty here, because the financial relations between Northern Ireland and this country are so tangled that one does not know whether we are a source of profit to this country or the reverse, and I do not think we ought to pay for the sin of partition. The need for fertiliser is urgent at the moment.
Spring is here, but there is not much sign of it tonight, and this Bill has been too long delayed. The farmers of Fermanagh feel their special needs would not be met if they had a general scheme rather than a particular one. They are further from the market than the farmers of England and Wales and have greater difficulty in disposing of their crops.
The Minister, both here and in Northern Ireland, has impressed upon farmers the necessity of cultivating more land and giving inducements for tillage, but I would suggest that he make an effort to communicate with his colleague in Northern Ireland and tell him he may expect more fertiliser and probably more labour, because at the moment there is a tendency to take men from agricultural land to industrial schemes here. If that continues it will not be possible to raise that maximum amount of food in Northern Ireland which would otherwise be obtained.
The Minister here is in no positon to offer a fair distribution of fertiliser between the six counties and England, or between the six counties and Scotland. In fact the Ministry do not know—and neither do their officials—they are entirely dependent on outside advice. Any scheme for Northern Ireland should be made in Ireland—even in Northern Ireland.
We should have a scheme for Northern Ireland separate from the other schemes made in this country, because we have separate and distinct needs. Farmers should have more freedom to work out their own problems, and these problems are both agricultural and national. In short, we want to be free to spend our own money and our own taxes in the best way we can and the way commonsense and expediency suggests. Therefore, I would urge the adoption of this Amendment.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I will not detain the Committee long. I intervene for two purposes: firstly, not to congratulate the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Healy) on his maiden speech—he made it some time ago when most of us were not in this House—but to congratulate him on his maiden speech this trip, and secondly, to impress upon the Government that those who do not share the broad political views of the hon. Member agree with him in the necessity for a separate scheme for Northern Ireland.
Without going into whether we should have a separate Parliament in Ulster, I would ask the Minister to consider the suggested scheme on technical grounds. Here is a small country of just over three million acres, with 90,000 holdings and a climate in which crops of hay, potatoes and oats but hardly any corn are grown. Surely the scheme for Northern Ireland should be different and the Government should accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I rise to strengthen the hand of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. We recollect how often he stood on this side to plead for the fair play I am now asking for. The force of our argument on the last Amendment has already given him a chance to save his face in Scotland. Any scheme, even if it is a joint scheme, is finally decided in Whitehall.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Arthur Colegate)
The hon. Member must not go back on a previous Amendment.
§ Mr. Ross
Now we are giving him a chance once again to assert the real needs of Scotland. We heard so much in the last Parliament and the one before about how Scotland was swamped in the general schemes for England and Wales and so given merely secondary or trivial consideration. I know he may plead that here we may have a separate scheme for Scotland, but we do not want just the possibility; we want the certainty of a special scheme for Scotland, and I am sure he wants that, too.
The hon. Gentleman is now the gentleman in Whitehall—and he is fighting against the same gentlemen in Whitehall about whom he had so much to say in the past. He is intimately concerned, personally, in agriculture. I can assure him that the farmers in my area will be 1306 watching to see what kind of fight he puts up to ensure that Scotland gets special consideration. No one knows better than he that conditions in Scotland are very much different from those in England. I can remember him, on one occasion from these benches, opposing the Summer Time Act, pleading special consideration for Scotland. We wait anxiously to see how far his convictions will carry him along the road of action. He is now the man at the wheel for Scottish agriculture. I hope he will accept the Amendment.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)
I will give way if hon. Members wish to speak.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
I want to detain the Committee for only a moment to ask the Government Front Bench whether they would consider, on Report stage, looking at the special position of Northern Ireland. I did not intend to intervene. I had hoped that one of the hon. Members representing Northern Ireland would have a word to say on behalf of that area.
§ Mr. Bing
I will make the point shortly. I congratulate the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Healy) on being, at the same age as the Prime Minister, prepared to sit all night in order to raise non-party points concerning Northern Ireland. Hon. Members know about the complicated financial position on which the fertiliser system is based in Northern Ireland. I have had a number of Questions down about it and could address the Committee at considerable length. I suggest that we should discuss it at a time which is more convenient and when we can give more time to it than we can now, when we must press on with the business.
1307 Members of the Government Front Bench should remember that they owe their majority in the House to the presence of Northern Ireland Members. It is a little hard, therefore, that they should never put down Northern Ireland business at a time when it can be discussed with convenience to Northern Ireland Members. I hope I am speaking on behalf of everyone and not being provocative, as I sometimes might be thought to be on Northern Ireland affairs, when I say I hope we have another chance of considering this on the Report stage.
§ Mr. J. R. E. Harden
What we are discussing is whether or not we should have a separate scheme for Northern Ireland and Scotland—separate from England and Wales. I agree with what has been said; it is easier administratively to have a separate scheme for Northern Ireland. The last scheme which was run from over here caused great administrative difficulties. Farmers met many troubles. What is important about this scheme is that money should be given to the farmers quickly, because now is the time when the farmers should be buying the fertilisers which, I hope, they will sow in about a months' time.
For that reason I say that, if it is going to be quicker and easier to get the money paid to the farmers if this first scheme is a joint scheme for the whole of the United Kingdom, I agree that it would be right that it should be a joint scheme; but that, if that is not to be so, I would ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to consider seriously whether for administrative purposes it would not be possibly better to have a separate scheme, at least for the future.
§ Mr. Snadden
I think I can put the minds of Northern Ireland Members at rest to the extent of saying that it is intended that for the first period we shall probably have a separate scheme for Northern Ireland. I understand that Northern Ireland wants it, and I think I can say that the first scheme will be a separate one.
§ Mr. G. Brown
May I put a question so that there may not be any misunderstanding? The hon. Gentleman said first of all that probably we should have a separate scheme. Later he said it will 1308 be a separate scheme. Is it decided to have a separate one?
§ Mr. Snadden
If Northern Ireland desire it, then it is our intention to give them a separate scheme. I hope that that is clear.
However, if these Amendments were carried—and I take it we are including the proposed Amendment, Clause 6, page 4, in line 3, to leave out paragraph (c)—they would remove the discretion whereby a separate scheme may be made for each of the three countries, or a joint scheme for any two countries or for all three countries. The Government would be bound to grant a separate scheme if these Amendments were carried. Well, we do not want to be tied to this. We want instead to leave the position as flexible as we possibly can, rather than introduce an undesirable rigidity into our administrative machinery.
The Clause as it stands—and I would draw the attention of the Committee to this Clause—makes it possible to make separate schemes for each country or a joint scheme for all three countries if circumstances were to arise which would make this advisable. At the same time, unless circumstances exist in favour of the production of a separate scheme, there is everything to be said, on the grounds of economy and simplicity and convenience and administrative costs in operating the scheme, for making a joint scheme if we possibly can. Similar arrangements have worked smoothly in respect of the lime scheme and in respect of the basic slag subsidy.
In regard to the first scheme to be brought in under this Bill, it is intended that there should be a separate scheme for Northern Ireland primarily for geographical reasons, and because of the conditions there. But for the first period, at any rate, a joint scheme is proposed for England, Wales and Scotland, which will be administratively convenient and economical, and the cost of which will not fall upon the Department of Agriculture for Scotland Vote.
There is no question of subordinating Scottish interests here at all. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) drew attention to what I said when I was in Opposition. I think he can take it from me that, if I felt that Scottish interests were in any way going to suffer from a 1309 joint scheme, I should be the very first to see, if I could, that that did not happen.
§ Mr. Snadden
I can assure the hon. Member that is not the case. There has been no demand from any Scottish argricultural organisation for separation for Scotland. There has been no objection from the National Farmers' Union of Scotland on this scheme. They have in mind that the agricultural lime scheme and the basic slag scheme have worked smoothly, in the same way as is being used under this Bill. There is involved a recognition of the admirable principle of co-operation where practicable and separation where desirable. I hope that hon. Members realising that Scotland is in agreement on this scheme will withdraw their Amendment.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
We on this side were glad to have the agreement of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) on the suggestions coming from us. The Joint Under-Secretary has said that if Northern Ireland wants a scheme of its own then it would have it. May I refer him to what the Minister said on Second Reading. He said:My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland may if he so desires produce a different scheme for Scotland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 248.]It is clear that the Secretary of State for Scotland does not desire a separate scheme. The Joint Under-Secretary put forward a very unusual argument. He said that between Northern Ireland and ourselves there was water. I do not know anything about the rainfall in the Eastern counties of England, but I can take him to parts of my own constituency where the rainfall is 120 inches in the year. There is therefore sufficient water not between us but actually falling on the land. The circumstances are so different that we ought to have a separate scheme for Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman is in the unfortunate position that he had to find arguments against the Labour Government on the good proposals they were bringing forward for agriculture. It is curious that a party which has gained its strength 1310 in the industrial areas should be the one that has put agriculture on its feet. The Joint Under-Secretary, when he sat on this side, used the argument about separate schemes for Scotland because he had no other arguments to advance. In fairness to him, and because if Northern Ireland wants a scheme it can get it, and because the Minister has indicated that if Scotland desires to have a scheme the Secretary of State may produce one, we in Scotland ought to have a scheme of our own.
The Joint Under-Secretary advanced another curious argument: because we are going to have one scheme, we are going to save money because administrative costs will be less. I cannot understand that argument. Farmers will have to make their applications through the Scottish Office. How can there be any administrative saving? So far as the documents are concerned, it only needs a little alteration when they are being printed. When it comes to actual administration, whether there is a joint scheme or two schemes the costs must be the same. I would like more information on that before I shall be satisfied with the hon. Gentleman's argument.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I wish the Joint Under-Secretary had told us how the cost of administering the scheme will be increased considerably if we had separate schemes in Scotland and England. If he can show us that there would be a tremendous saving to the taxpayer. we would have to think again. On the basis of the case he has put there would be an equal saving in costs if Northern Ireland were part of the one scheme.
He said that if Northern Ireland asks for a separate scheme, Northern Ireland would get it. Scotland has not been given much opportunity of deciding whether or not it wanted a separate scheme under this Bill. If the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend want a separate scheme, will they get it? We do not know; it is only a promise made to us just now by the Joint Under-Secretary. That is not enough. Tell us more about it. Tell us why there will be a saving in costs and administrative advantage.
The Joint Under-Secretary can tell us that previous fertiliser schemes applied to the whole of Great Britain, but we 1311 have had many other agricultural schemes that were separate. Was not the calf rearing subsidy a separate scheme for Scotland? A joint scheme there, so far as I know, would not have produced any saving in administrative costs. No one ever told me, when I was in office, that there would be a tremendous saving to the taxpayer if we had a joint scheme.
He said there was a lot of water between Northern Ireland and the mainland. There is a lot of water between the Scottish mainland and the Scottish islands and the Orkneys; and there are many times the width of water between Orkney and Shetland than between this country and Northern Ireland. But we are not even suggesting that there should be a separate scheme for Shetland and Orkney.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that a great deal more might be given under a separate scheme, I should like him to develop that further.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Member is amply demonstrating his Liberalism, but I am merely calling the attention of the Committee to the reason advanced for having a separate scheme for Northern Ireland. It was because of the water between us. My hon. Friend will agree that there is many times the width of water between the two parts of his constituency that there is between the mainland and Northern Ireland.
The Joint Under-Secretary said that there was no objection from the N.F.U. to this proposal. He did not say if the N.F.U. had been consulted, but I would say to him that even if the N.F.U. had been consulted and had not raised any objection, that is no reason why this Committee should accept the provision set out in the Bill. The N.F.U. are not the legislators; we are. In any case, N.F.U. members in Scotland have not had much opportunity of considering this matter.
I tried at the weekend to consult some of my constituents and some prominent farmers in Scotland, but I had to do it very quickly. We had the Second Reading on Wednesday of last week. We were informed on Thursday 1312 that we were to have the Committee and remaining stages on Monday of this week. That is not much time when I think of the time wasted during the Committee stage on the Hill Farming Bill in 1946, which provided a total expenditure of not more than £5 million over many years.
When I think that we are asked to come back three or four days after the Second Reading to complete the Committee stage and all the remaining stages of this Bill, which provides for the expenditure of unlimited millions of pounds in all and, it is reasonable to assume, of a minimum of some £50 million, I submit that we have not had an adequate opportunity of consulting our constituents. Unless there is a very strong case to the contrary, I think we should provide in the Bill that there shall be separate schemes for England and Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I wish the Joint Under-Secretary or the Minister would tell us in what way there is to be this tremendous saving in costs by virtue of having one scheme for England and Wales and Scotland. Then perhaps we could get on with the business. We do not want to delay; we want to make some progress.
§ Mr. Snadden
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have realised, having been a Minister himself in the Scottish Office, that we would not come forward with a Bill of this nature, without having had full consultations with the National Farmers Union. We have had those consultations and there was no demand at all, as I have said, for any separate scheme for our country.
The reason why we are able to save on administration costs is that it is proposed to make contributions under this Bill in the same way as is done in the agricultural lime scheme. That has a United Kingdom organisation and does not carry any Scottish Department, which would have to be set up to deal with this scheme. It will be dealt with by the Minister of Agriculture in London and we shall therefore save. I cannot state how much, but in these days we are all very keen to save anything at all. The costs are no doubt considerable and it may be that if the minimum is cut down later, as it may well be, there will be a large number of smaller claims to be 1313 met. Unless there are conditions that call for a separate scheme, we should have a joint scheme, and in this case it will be administered as the agricultural lime scheme is administered, and that scheme has worked smoothly for many years.
§ Mr. Snadden
The farmers' application will be a direct application of his own, which will go through the branch in Scotland, already existing, of the Agricultural Lime Department. It is a very small branch, but it is located in Scotland and always has been and is dealing with the lime subsidy now in operation. We want to retain the same machinery in order to save costs. I cannot make it any clearer than that. If we had a separate scheme we would require a separate organisation to cope with a large number of small payments, which would cost a great deal of money. As the farmers have not demanded a separate scheme, it seems sensible to start with a joint scheme which is economic. For that reason, we are proposing to have a joint scheme.
§ Mr. Grimond
I do not want to detain the Committee, but I would point out that it would have saved considerable time if both the Labour Party, when they were in office, and now the Conservative Party, had been willing to introduce some degree of Home Rule for Scotland. I do not want to go quite as far as the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Healy), but the Liberal Party have long advocated that a measure of Government in Scotland by the Scottish people—and not merely administrative devolution—would have been desirable. If this had been the case, we would have been saved the time tonight.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I am grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary for the further information. I think he has tried hard to meet us and to justify the provision in the Bill as it is. Let me say to him and to the Minister, and through them, to the Secretary of State for Scotland, that as these Amendments have been on the Order Paper since Friday morning of last week, the Department concerned might well have anticipated that we would ask the question as to what was the extent of this estimated saving in administrative 1314 costs. I thought I heard the Joint Under-Secretary murmur, "An impossibility." But let me say to him that although I think he has been trying very hard, I do not believe it to be impossible at all.
He tells us that this cannot be administered by the machinery agreed under the Act of 1937. I have often expressed the view that a great mistake was made in 1937 when the full responsibility was given to the Minister of Agriculture. There was no provision in the Act of 1937 for separate schemes. The responsibility was put fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of the Minister. That I very much regretted.
I do not think, in the light of what the hon. Gentleman says, that we need press this matter any further. I would ask him and the Minister to bear in mind what has been said during the debate, to have another look at this, and to see if it would not be possible in later years to have a separate scheme. After all, the Joint Under-Secretary and his right hon. Friend have appreciated the possibility and the practicability of having a separate scheme, otherwise they would not have made the provision in the Bill.
The argument adduced by the hon. Gentleman of administrative convenience and costs was one which could be made against putting this permissive power in the Bill. Let him have another look at the argument adduced in the debate to see whether, after the first year's scheme, we can have separate schemes for the three countries. Having said that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, after "land," to insert:allotment holders or smallholders.I do not know whether the Joint Parliamentary Secretary who at one remove succeeded me as chairman of the Council for Domestic Food Production is going to answer the debate on this Amendment. It may be we can dispose of it without too long discussion, but that will depend upon the tenor and tone of the reply. As it stands at the moment, two completely different descriptions or sets of words are used in this Subsection, which states:(3) The contributions to be provided for by a scheme…in respect of fertilisers acquired by occupiers of agricultural land, or 1315 by associations of farmers, allotment holders or smallholders, or other similar associations…I am afraid that the use of different phrases there may be deliberate and that whereas the occupiers of agricultural land as defined in the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, are entitled to obtain their fertilisers individually and claim individually or to obtain them collectively and claim collectively, the others, namely the allotment holders and—although I am not very clear why the word "smallholders" is used in the second description—possibly the smallholders, may get their fertiliser collectively but may not get it or claim it individually.
If I am right in believing that is the meaning of the Clause, I think it is not only an injustice to a number of people but that it is likely to have a damaging effect upon food production. I can see the claim one can make that an allotment holder or a producer of food on a small scale ought to be in his appropriate association. That is an argument which I spent some time in putting over in days gone by, but we ought not to insist that that should be so. After all, there are parts of the country where membership of an association would be difficult for a small-scale producer. If that man who cannot join or chooses not to join has to buy his fertiliser at the unsubsidised price it is a considerable injustice to him.
But there is a second argument. And here I want to say a word about the Ministry, almost without saying it about the Minister or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. As a hangover from service at No. 55, Whitehall, one cannot help the feeling that the people there have never appreciated the potential contribution of the domestic producer. In our present circumstances we could get a very considerable part of the increase in the potato acreage that we need and a reduction in the demand upon commercial supplies of potatoes if all those running allotments did their job with vigour as they once did.
I believe it is time we made an appeal in those terms to the domestic food producer. But one cannot make an appeal in those terms if at the same time one discourages him by making it difficult for him to obtain the fertiliser which the Minister on Second Reading said was so 1316 essential to adequate food production. Therefore, if I am right in my assumption that the use of the phrase is deliberate and has the meaning I attribute to it, I believe we ought to amend it before the Bill comes to the end of its journey.
The other day the right hon. Gentleman answered a Question of mine, which, because of the unfortunate habit that has now grown up of never reaching agricultural Questions on a Thursday, was a written answer, and therefore I could not tackle him about it. In his answer he said this was essentially a matter of individual self-help. I believe the wording of this Clause comes from the same stable as that description of food production. Really it is more than that. It should be more than that, and it can be more than that.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may say that this, after all, is the outcome of the Price Review, that we do not consider allotment holders and other folk in the Price Review, and that if we were to spread the money over them we would reduce what we have agreed should be recouped by the farmers. I do not believe he would be well advised to use that argument.
By this Bill we are already proposing, in effect, to give a rather larger sum of money than the strict costing arrangements in that special review by themselves justified. That was a sum of something over £9 million, and we have given £10 million, so there is some money in the kitty which we could use. Secondly, horticulturists are coming into this subsidy. They certainly were not part of the Price Review.
If it is true that by spreading the money over allotment holders and smallholders we should be eating into the farmers' just return, it is equally true in the case of the horticulturists. We should be assured tonight that the words "occupiers of agricultural land" mean the same individually as the groups of people mentioned collectively further on, and, if we are, I shall want to know why we are not using exactly the same words in both cases. I hope that if the Parliamentary Secretary is going to give me that assurance he will also tell me that he is proposing to redraft the Clause so that anybody who later on has to interpret it will do so in that sense.
1317 I hope I shall be given the assurance that he will agree to use whichever of the words or both the words "allotment holders" and "smallholders" is necessary in line 18 in order to make it clear that the people who may buy or claim collectively may, if they choose, buy and claim individually. In view of all the wealth of material I left behind for him at the Ministry, I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to let us have this Amendment or something like it.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
I think I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks, that "occupiers" does have the same meaning in both contexts. There is no concealed subtlety about this Subsection. The reason why it is drafted in the way it appears is because it is essential, as the Committee already knows from the Second Reading debate, to fix some minimum quantity on which a claim could be made. A quantity of 10 cwt. was in fact mentioned in the Second Reading debate.
Whether that will finally be the minimum quantity on which a claim can be made, I should not like to say at this stage. It may be possible to put it lower. Quite obviously it cannot go lower than perhaps 5 cwt. or some such figure. If there was no minimum there would be claims for 1 1b. or 7 1b., which would be administratively impossible.
§ Mr. Nugent
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to complete the point I may be able to answer the question he wishes to put.
The reason the Clause is drafted in this way is because we realise that people such as allotments holders may not require as much as the minimum amount, but we have made provision for associations of allotment holders, smallholders or farmers so that together they can reach the minimum figure and make their claim and share the subsidy.
I trust that with that explanation the Committee will be satisfied that this does express what is our general intention, not only for farmers as a whole or for horticulturists who are in a commercial way of business to get the benefit but for allotment holders and smallholders who are doing what they can to contribute to 1318 the food of the nation. I am not going to bring in the argument about the Price Review, because I think I would be ruled out of order, and also because I do not think it is a good argument. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now be prepared to accept the Clause.
§ Mr. Paget
Surely the difficulty which has led to misunderstanding could be overcome simply by saying "occupiers of agricultural land" or "by associations of occupiers of agricultural land ". Where in a Clause there is one description in one place and another description in another place it is a rule of construction applied in the courts that it is presumed that Parliament intends to mean something different when it uses a different description of two things immediately adjacent.
That point might be considered, because all ambiguity would disappear if it were made to read "occupiers or associations of occupiers". Further, it would save a certain amount of printing because a number of words would be saved. It is said that this cannot be paid on small amounts, but why cannot it be paid at the manufacturing level? Instead of putting farmers to the trouble of making out forms for application, why not let the manufacturer who has an office make the application and then put the commodity on the market at the subsidised price?
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
There is one matter I should like to have cleared up, because it might affect people living in my constituency. In the Forest of Dean there are smallholders—men who work in the mines or in industry—who work plots varying from a half to one acre in upland valleys. They are not persons who can be helped because of the isolation of their places, but it is important that that type of smallholding should have an opportunity of benefitting, because, as the Minister knows, it is for that type of upland we must get in the future that increase in livestock to provide the animals we want for the lowlands for fattening and making beef. I want to be quite sure therefore that that type of person will be included. It will not be possible in many cases for joint societies because of their isolation. Therefore, I want to be quite sure they are covered under the words "acquired by occupiers of agricultural land".
§ Mr. T. Fraser
In my part of the country we have a great concentration of market gardeners in quite a small way of business—a great number of them in the Clyde Valley of Lanarkshire. They have half an acre, possibly, three-quarters of an acre, or perhaps an acre of land with 300 feet for growing tomatoes. The rest of that land is most extensively cultivated for the growing of vegetables.
I had understood that many of these people were not in fact occupiers of agricultural land. I understand they are not recognised as such in previous statutes. The Minister in his reply said all allotment holders were occupiers of agricultural land. Is that so? Do previous statutes define agricultural land or occupiers of agricultural land in such a way as to include allotment holders and those men who rent or buy half an acre of land which they cultivate extensively for the production of vegetables?
If such a man is operating on agricultural land and gets that subsidy provided he takes the minimum quantity, I think my right hon. Friend will be happy—I certainly would be happy—to withdraw the Amendment. We put it down because these people could not very conveniently be members of an association of smallholders or allotment holders and we wish them to be provided for. If they are in fact occupiers of agricultural land, we are perfectly happy to leave the Bill as it is.
§ Mr. Nugent
The definition of agricultural land for that purpose of course will be in the scheme and we are in a difficulty because the Committee does not have the scheme before it at this moment. Before the scheme comes into operation the House will have had the scheme before it when, if it wishes, it will be able to make such amendment or otherwise—
§ Mr. Nugent
If I can just answer I will give way. Occupiers of horticultural land of a small acreage will be able to come into the scheme. The necessity of belonging to an association is not a practical necessity—"association," as the hon. Member will notice, is not written with a capital A. Therefore, any cultivator of land of any size who wanted less 1320 than the minimum specified in the scheme can associate himself with two or three others to make up together to qualify for the subsidy. In that way I think there should be no practical difficulty for a man or woman who is cultivating any sized plot of land in any circumstances.
§ 12.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Hale
I had not intended to intervene and I have not taken part in the discussion, but I must say the Court of Appeal may take rather a curious view of the proposal that the size of the initial letter of a word shall control its meaning. When the hon. Gentleman says the definition will be in the scheme, I ask him to bear in mind that that definition is bound by the definition in the Act. It must be either the same as in the Act or something less. He cannot extend what the Act says by a definition under the scheme.
With great respect, to say that the definition will be in the scheme is not only insufficient but is also rather a distressing answer. The hon. Gentleman cannot put in the scheme anything wider than that which is in the Act. I agree with my right hon. Friend and, as far as I am concerned, the next Amendment would be met on the precise lines which he has suggested.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), I am sorry about the form of the answer. I should like to withdraw the Amendment and to move on but, quite frankly, if I and those for whom I speak are to be satisfied, the matter cannot be left where it is. May I ask the Minister this—and I do so from no sense of dissatisfaction with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary? Is not the term "occupiers of agricultural land" a term with a specific and well-known meaning? That meaning does not include allotment holders in the sense in which I used the word just now. I remember many discussions on this and that we had to define allotment holders specially if they were to be included in schemes.
If that is so, then the advice tendered to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is not correct. I do not think we should waste time on this now, and if the Minister would say that between now and the Report stage he will make quite sure that he is right, I should be satisfied. The 1321 Joint Parliamentary Secretary has stated that it is the intention to include allotment holders and small-holders. If the Minister can make quite sure that they are covered by these words, I shall be satisfied.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The term "occupiers of agricultural land" is defined in the statute. The Attorney-General, who is present, could tell the Committee what the definition is. It is defined in the statute for different reasons; in the Agricultural Act, for instance, it is contained for an agricultural purpose, and in the De-rating Act it is defined because a person has to have a certain acreage in order to get the benefit of de-rating under the 1925 Act.
There are many people, I submit, whom the Minister wishes to include in the scheme, and who are excluded by the definition of "occupiers of agricultural land." Consultations are taking place on the Government Front Bench and information is being conveyed to the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I hope they can help us, for we want to get this quite clear before we pass on.
Although I am not a lawyer, I am absolutely certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is right. If the Bill does not provide in its terms that the subsidy shall be paid to allotment holders, and an endeavour is made in drafting the scheme to include them, and to include people who are excluded by the definition of "occupiers of agricultural land", then I am certain the Minister will have to bring his scheme to the House and to say, "I am sorry; I wanted to include these small people, but they cannot be included unless they are members of an Association and are included under the next line "—that is, the line next to that which we are seeking to amend. Can the Minister give us any further assurance on the matter?
§ Mr. Nugent
I cannot give a further assurance. I can only repeat the assurance I have already given. The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his interpretation of this Clause. It is quite specific. The words are…occupiers of agricultural land, or by associations of farmers, allotment holders or smallholders.…It really could not go wider than that—
§ Mr. Nugent
I am not giving way—to cover every type of cultivation of land that we wish to cover in this respect, and the definition of agricultural land which may appear in the 1947 Act or other Acts does not refer to this Bill. This Bill can make its own definition, and is quite independent of any other definition. However, I can certainly give the assurance that the subsidy which is provided here will be available to the classes of cultivators of land the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am sorry to press this, but I must. Incidentally, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not persist in doing what he has now already done to me and to an hon. Friend of mine—saying in an angry tone that he will not give way. We are only trying to help a group of people who really must be looked after. The hon. Gentleman says it could not be wider than it is, but he has not answered my point. Why was the phrase "occupiers of agricultural land", if it means farmers, allotment holders and smallholders, not used twice, as it easily could have been?
I know that some advice has been passed along the traditional channels, but there are rather greater legal authorities in the Ministry than could possibly be here at one o'clock in the morning, and it would do no harm to anybody, to the Bill, or to the hon. Gentleman's prestige, were he to say he will look at this again before the Report stage and consult the best legal authority available to him, to make sure that what he has said in all good faith is in fact the case. That was all I asked for earlier.
There is no need for us to get touchy with each other. We do not want to find later on that the courts say, "The Act must have been meant to mean what it says, and, no matter what was said to have been intended, the Act in fact says this." If the hon. Gentleman will give an assurance that he will look at this again, to be able to give us further assurance at the Report stage, we can pass on.
§ Mr. Nugent
We certainly give the assurance that we are satisfied that it is right as it is here. We will give it a further check, and if it is necessary, then, to give a further assurance at the next stage, we shall certainly do so.
§ Mr. G. Brown
In the light of that, for which I thank the hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I beg to move, in page 2, to leave out lines 3 to 9.
I move this Amendment purely to provide an opportunity to clear up what is meant not only by the Clause but by the form of the wording that is chosen, and to learn why the Minister chose to put it in this way.
It has been said already tonight, and it has been said to me in many communications from friends in the industry, that we are choosing, in the way the emphasis is put, the most costly and most troublesome way of paying this subsidy. Many people take the view that if the scheme is operated in such a way that the individual farmer has to claim, and to receive payment, we are calling on them to fill in a number of needless forms, and we are bound to have an administrative and a checking machinery. Later on there is provision for inspectors to see where the fertiliser is, and where it has been used —what used to be called in the last Parliament, where the language of the Opposition was not so delicate as ours, machinery for snooping.
This Clause says:Provided that, if the appropriate Minister is satisfied that there are circumstances which render it substantially more expedient that the relief should be given, in the country or countries in which a scheme under this Act is to operate, by means of contributions in respect of fertilisers manufactured, imported or distributed by persons who manufacture, import or distribute them, he may make provision thereby for such contributions.What are the circumstances which would be regarded as rendering it more expedient to do it that way round? Why not say that it would be done that way round unless there were circumstances which made it expedient to choose the longer and more cumbersome and costly method? I agree that the Minister should retain discretion to do it either way, but I think he is putting the emphasis the wrong way.
I have no strong views on this myself, but I have received strong representations from farmers and others that the way he is going to use exceptionally would in general be the better way. Maybe he 1324 will say that he intends to use this method as often as the other. If so, we shall be glad to be told.
I have seen a document issued by the N.F.U., the National Farmers' Union News Sheet, which purports to tell its members how this scheme will operate. Since that has gone out I think the Minister should tell us whether what the union is telling its members in advance of what the Minister has told the House is right. It says:A supplier of fertilisers to the farmer should apply to the Ministry of Agriculture for claim forms, on which he should record the amount of fertiliser that he has supplied to the farmer. He should then forward the claim form to the farmer, who must certify that he has received it. The farmer will then forward that to the county committee. The farmer may if he chooses ask that the contribution be paid direct to his supplier.This only came out on 26th February. I think they have got the information out on the basis of what the Minister said on Second Reading, that he was going to follow the lime scheme. If that was done, it would be a cumbersome way of doing it. I ask him whether it would not be better to do it the other way round in the first place. I would be glad to have it cleared up for the benefit of farmers whether the advice that has been sent out by the organisation is in accord with the Minister's intention.
§ 1.0 a.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
There is one point of considerable importance I want to put to supplement what has been said by my right hon. Friend. In the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum the administrative costs are estimated at £30,000 a year. We should not like to spend that considerable sum in administrative costs if we could spend it on additional fertiliser that would give a far better return. I suggest the Minister consider doing this by a less costly method.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
So far as this Amendment is concerned, it is very much a question of balance. The whole idea of this subsection is flexibility, so that we can do it either way. It is true that in the first scheme it is our intention to base the administration on the agricultural lime scheme. I do not think it would be any more costly than the other method in this case, because it will be operated by the staff who are at present running the lime scheme subsidy.
1325 I do not wish to introduce a political element, but it must be remembered that done in this way it is under the direct control of the Minister of Agriculture, whereas if it were done under the other system it would come either under the control of the Board of Trade or the Minister of Materials. I believe that if the original scheme had been under the control of the Minister of Agriculture, it would never have been taken off.
Apart from that, there are disadvantages in the subsidy being worked by the merchants. There is no doubt that when it is put on at the source by the merchants the individual farmer has no idea how much he has been helped. It was only when the original fertiliser scheme was taken off in its entirety on 1st July, 1951, that the individual farmer appreciated how much had been done for him by the Government.
Although it is our intention that the first scheme should be run on the same lines as the agricultural lime scheme—payment direct to farmer, except when he specially asks for payment to the merchant—it may be found preferable, after some experience, to run the scheme by injecting the subsidy at the factory end. If that does prove the better way, we shall not hesitate to adopt it.
As the Bill stands now, it gives power to do it either way, so that the Minister can make up his mind in any particular case which method he is going to adopt. Probably it will be found more convenient, as far as the first scheme is concerned, for the scheme for Northern Ireland to be dealt with in the way provided under this particular sub-paragraph.
§ Mr. Mikardo
One does not want to make heavy weather of this, because it is obviously sensible that the Minister should have the power to choose between alternative ways. However, I was a little perturbed when he said that the great advantage of doing it by way of direct payments to the farmers was that as a result they could see how much they were being helped. I can understand that has some value, but I should have thought its value was not so great as to justify the enormous increase in the administrative costs of the scheme.
1326 After all, the best way to administer any scheme of subsidy is at the point where there are fewest payees of largest amounts, rather than the largest number of payees in small amounts. I am sure the Minister could not persuade his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Food to pay the consumers' food subsidies direct on claims from every housewife merely in order that she should understand how much she was being helped by Her Majesty's Government.
Just imagine the situation if my wife had to send in every week to the Ministry of Food a claim for subsidies for three eggs, six ounces of bacon, eight ounces of margarine and 4½ ounces of tea, and so on. It would certainly make her realise that she was being helped by Her Majesty's Government to the extent of 8s. a week, but it would be a costly way of providing her with this education.
I am not well acquainted with the agricultural community, but I should have thought that farmers are as educable as housewives—
§ Mr. Mikardo
I agree that they are more vocal. Therefore, I think we ought not to assume that we need spend a lot of money on undue administrative costs in order to make them understand a simple point. But this is a consideration which I am sure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will have in mind.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
May I answer that straight away? There is the other side, which I am certain the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. If it is done the other way there is the danger of the vicious cost-plus system. That can be more extravagant and certainly does not encourage the manufacturer to try to bring down his costs, which is so essential at the present time.
§ Mr. Paget
I should have thought that there was a perfectly good reason for doing it in the case of the lime scheme, since lime is used for many other purposes than as a fertiliser. If we only want to subsidise it when it is put on the land, then we have to subsidise it in a manner in which the subsidy only becomes applicable when it goes to an 1327 agricultural user. But here we are dealing with fertilisers which, as far as I know, have no use other than to fertilise land. There is no need to distinguish between a subsidy for one user and a subsidy for another user when there is only one.
As to the question of cost-plus, I fail to see how that arises. The costings have to be worked out before deciding what is the fair subsidy on each particular brand. Surely the convenient way to deal with a fertiliser which has no alternative usage is to say, "Well, these are the brands, this is the subsidy per bag," and to pay it at the point of largest concentration, which is at the manufacturers. I speak as a farmer to a farmer, and I think we shall both be grateful for any form which we have not got to fill up.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am seeking to help the Minister. I was relieved to hear that between the introduction of the first scheme, which is already in arrears, and the introduction of the next scheme he is going to think about this. My only fear is that he will have to be strong when thinking about it because this is not as flexible as he would have the Committee understand. But as he is going to think about this point it is open, so that we need not make heavy weather of it.
Before I formally ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, I must say that I was glad to find that the longish argument we had on the first Amendment has had its effect. The Minister was sure earlier on that he could not be trodden on by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now, he says one reason regarding this matter is there is the risk that he may be trodden on by those dreadful colleagues, the Minister of Materials or the President of the Board of Trade. I am glad he realises that when speaking two hours after the discussion on the first Amendment he runs a risk, and I hope he is grateful to the Opposition for keeping him out of as much trouble as they can. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."1328
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am sorry to keep getting up at this time of the morning, although it is difficult to know what else to do. It is a good reason why the Patronage Secretary should consider if we ought to go on with these important Amendments at this hour. The point I want to put, and which perhaps can be shortly answered, arises out of something said by one of my hon. Friends. I raised the question, during the Second Reading debate, about how closely the Minister or somebody is watching the prices at which these fertilisers are being sold to the farmers.
I have with me, but I will not at this time of the morning trouble the Committee with them, a list of financial returns issued by a number of companies who are substantially in this field of fertiliser manufacture. One has the impression from these figures that there is a good deal of slack here which they could take up and that, in fact, some part of the price increases in recent time have been unnecessary and that the permission recently given to raise the margin of these people was, to say the least, a little without need. Since we do not want this money ostensibly going into the farmers' pockets or the pockets of manufacturers, and having the sort of attack we experienced the other night, we must be careful in checking the price of these fertilisers.
That raises the point whether the people to operate the price control, and therefore do the checking of the level of prices, ought not to be operating on the same point as the subsidy is paid. We are going to have a subsidy at one end of the scheme, involving the Minister of Agriculture, but he is not the chap charged with the job of operating the prices of the price control machinery. That is another Minister, so that we have two Ministers involved in operating part of the same scheme. I have a feeling they are not correlated as much as they can be.
§ Mr. Grimond
During the Second Reading debate I expressed some fear that the very small users of fertilizers, like crofters, would be denied the subsidy because of the minimum. Part of the answer was given by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who said:It should be remembered that under the Bill the small people are looked after by a special provision—that is to say, they can, 1329 through the various associations which buy fertilisers in bulk, take advantage of the provisions in the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 300–301.]That was certainly useful, but during the discussion on this Clause I thought we had something further than that. If I understood him rightly, the Minister who replied to the point said that two or three users could get together entirely informally and could agree to buy an amount of fertiliser which could be more than the minimum and draw a subsidy. I should like to have that confirmed, because I think it would be of great assistance in my constituency.
If that is the case, I ask the Minister to do his best when he draws up the scheme to ensure that the forms to be filled up to secure the subsidy are made as simple as possible. If two or three people are to be allowed to get together and draw a subsidy in the name of one man that man will only be willing to act if he has not a lot of papers to fill up in the names of his neighbours. I understand the minimum quantity of fertiliser is to be reduced from 10 cwt. to 5 cwt. I ask the Minister to make the minimum as small as possible in the case of the crofters.
As to the cost, is it the case that there is still an Import Duty on some fertilisers? If possible I should like to have that question answered, because it would be absurd to pay a subsidy to an importer on one hand and then to place a duty on the very fertilisers he is importing.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I think this is the point at which we ought to ask the Minister to take what steps he can himself and with his colleagues to control the price of fertilisers and to have a look at the very substantial profits made by the manufacturers or importers. We must endeavour to ensure that the monies which under this Clause, are to be paid out of taxation are paid to farmers who are paying a justifiable and reasonable price and no more for the fertilisers. We know that some of the industrial organisations who manufacture and import and handle these fertilisers make tremendous profits. I know, of course, that they have many activities other than the manufacture or importation of fertilisers, but we want to make sure they 1330 do not make unjustifiably high profits, and we want an assurance that there will not be any "cost-plus."
I must tell the Minister it will be equally difficult to ensure that manufacturers and importers are not getting away with it, whether the subsidy is paid directly to the farmer or whether it is paid to the manufacturer and importer, or at some point along the chain of distribution. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has said that the Minister who looks at the profit margin of these firms when he determines the controlled price at which fertiliser is sold to the farmer is not the Minister of Agriculture but the Minister who is at present responsible for the supply of raw materials. And it is because the controlled price has risen to such a very high figure since July of last year that we have found it necessary to introduce this subsidy.
In the circumstances, we ask the Minister to take all possible steps to ensure that the price of fertiliser is not allowed to go too high and so make a quite unjustifiable drain on the taxpayer of this country.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and his hon. Friends have raised a very important point. It was raised in debate on Second Reading, since when I have had the opportunity to see exactly what is the position. The prices of fertilisers are fixed by Order and these Orders are made by the Ministry of Materials with whom we are in very close touch. The prices are only agreed after the closest examination by accountants employed by the Ministry of Materials.
An assurance can be given, and I give it deliberately, that the closest possible attention is being paid and will be paid generally to the prices of fertilisers and to the extra charge for compounding where that becomes necessary. In amplifying that statement, I would also inform the right hon. Gentleman that when an increase is made in the price of fertilisers under the authority of the Ministry of Materials a consequential Order is made by the Treasury which prevents manufacturers of fertilisers taking advantage of any increase in price in 1331 respect of stocks held by them when the price is raised. I hope with that assurance the right hon. Gentleman will realise that we are watching this matter very carefully.
Regarding the point raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). The answer is yes; two or three can get together if they so desire and buy a sack of fertiliser, but I must ask the hon. Gentleman to wait until the first scheme is published before I give him definitely the minimum weight which an individual or a group of people can buy. The point is very much in mind and is being discussed between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Scottish Office, and we hope to meet the particular case of the crofters in his part of the country.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the care and courtesy with which he has approached this point and for the very full statement which he has deliberately made for the record.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Now that we have reached the end of this very important Clause and before we go on to Clause 2, I wonder whether this would be a good opportunity to inquire, either from the Minister or from the Patronage Secretary, the intentions of the Government. I think the Committee is fully seized of the fact that up to now there has been no obstruction from this side. I have listened to most of the debate, and I think it can be said without fear of contradiction that all the speeches that have been made and all the Amendments that have been moved have been substantial ones.
On looking at the Order Paper I see that there are at least six more Amendments which I understand are likely to be called, three of them substantial ones. If the Committee is to do justice to them they will take some considerable time. That being so, and as up to now with perhaps one or two exceptions when things did not go quite so sweetly we have had a most interesting and amicable debate, I venture to suggest that this might be an appropriate time at which to stop our deliberations so that we may 1332 continue them at another time when we shall not only be fresher, but when more people will be present to help us in our deliberations on this important Bill.
§ The Chairman
In that case the right hon. Gentleman must move to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The House will recollect that we deliberately said that we would not ask it to take the remaining stages of this Bill if we could obtain the Committee stage, and it was the general view of the House to complete that stage. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that we did not, as we could have done, take the Committee stage of this Bill at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, and we are now trying to make progress. This is a very important Bill, the timetable is extremely tight and I hope the House will agree to continue. There are not many points of substance left, and I hope I may be of assistance in those which may be raised.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, for the guidance of the Committee, how far the Government are intending to continue. Is it intended to proceed today, not only with the Bill now under consideration, but also with the Export Credit Guarantees Bill which is down for consideration?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Buchan-Hepburn)
It is the intention to proceed with the Export Credit Guarantees Bill and the rest of the business down for consideration today.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
In those circumstances, I have no other option but to withdraw. I must say that the right hon. Gentleman has not been very accommodating. I remember that when we were sitting on that side of the House we were much more helpful to the Opposition. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.