HC Deb 27 February 1952 vol 496 cc1347-63
Mr. G. Brown

I beg to move in page 3, line 9, to leave out paragraph (b).

This has been put down to elucidate from the Minister, if we can, what his intentions are, and to express some misgivings about what has been said before. We recognise that there must be what the lawyers call a de minimus provision in this Act, and that there must be some point at which it is administratively impossible to pay the subsidy. What we would like to know from the Minister at this stage, and without going into too much detail, is what minimum he has in mind. A figure of 10 cwt. was mentioned earlier in this discussion. That figure is I believe too large. I will not go back over the previous discussion, but it will be made difficult for many people who ought to have fertiliser in the interests of food production to obtain it. They would be unable to join associations, because of their isolation, nor would they be able to get 10 cwt. or less and the whole value of the schemes would be lost.

I will not develop the argument now, but I think this is of great importance to the crofters of Scotland and in my own constituency in Derbyshire. We cannot let it go by, and I would be glad if one of the Ministers would tell us what is in mind about the minimum figure, but I hope that if it is intended to say 10 cwt. whoever is to reply will have a quick think about it, because it is a figure which I cannot agree is a minimum.

Mr. Snadden

I think I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he asks for. We will reconsider the minimum of 10 cwt. mentioned during the Second Reading debate. At that time it was our intention, but we recognise the Scottish aspect raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond).

If we accept the amendment on the Order Paper it would have the effect of removing any minimum; and we would have to pay a contribution which might be less than £1. We do agree that people who use small quantities of fertilisers, less than 10 cwt., should not all be denied the subsidy. We do not want to deny the benefits under the Bill to these people but as I say we could not possibly accept the abolition of the minimum.

I would like to inform the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that township committees will rank as associations under this Bill and the crofters will be able to take advantage of the Clause of the Bill which refers to associations. We do not have the same organisations in Scotland but township committees will rank for benefit under the Bill. I hope that the assurance I have given that we will re-examine the minimum on which contributions will be paid will remove the desire for this Amendment. I cannot say what it will be at this stage: it will be for the Order when it comes out to specify the minimum. I cannot promise that very small amounts will be taken into account but I can give an assurance that we shall examine the position very carefully with regard to the needs of the crofting areas in the North of Scotland.

Mr. G. Brown

I am grateful to the Minister for seeing that the Opposition is proceeding step by step to make this Bill a very much better Bill than when it came into the House. But before I formally ask leave to withdraw the Amendment I hope that when the hon. Gentleman reconsiders the minimum he will not link it up with the ploughing-up grant alone.

I can understand from the campaign for increased food production generally—we had an earlier discussion about allotment holders—that for increased food production it is essential to have the ploughing-up grant. I hope the minimum will be sufficiently small to bring these chaps in as well.

It would be useful on Report if this matter was referred to again but perhaps that is not possible. I would, however, hope the Minister might be able to give us some idea then as to the figure he has in mind. We only put the Amendment down for information and but for the fact that the Minister has been so forthcoming our cohorts would have gone into the Division Lobby and forced him against his will. But we are delighted not to force a Division and I have great pleasure in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. T. Fraser

I beg to move in page 3, line 24, to leave out from "fertilisers" to the end of line 25.

The reason for our moving this Amendment is that we just do not know what the words we propose be left out mean. We think the last words are very wide indeed and we are wondering why they have been added to the sub-section at all. I would like the Minister to tell us if he thinks that these words will be useful to him sometime for particular fertilisers and if he has in mind a more generous fertiliser subsidy in respect of fertilisers for a particular purpose.

I am not sure that he has that in mind. We know, for instance, the great burden imposed upon crofters in the far North whose fertilisers always cost more than they do in other parts of the country because of transport costs. Has the Minister that sort of thing in mind? It might well be taken into account. If he wants these words in order to make provision for that sort of thing, I will willingly withdraw the Amendment, which I move simply in order to get an explanation of the words.

Sir T. Dugdale

That is the point of these words. I admit, frankly, that at first sight I found difficulty in understanding what was the implication. If we accepted the Amendment it would mean that there could be no difference in the rates of subsidy except between one kind of fertiliser and another and that we could not have a selective subsidy of the kind which may be necessary in the course of the operation of the Bill.

I can give the Committee a complete assurance on this point, which will also meet the point of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale); the power to be exercised under these words can be exercised only in such a way that Parliament will have the opportunity to examine the circumstances of any selective subsidy.

Mr. Fraser

In view of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. G. Brown

I beg to move, in page 3, line 31, to leave out subsection (5), and to insert: (5) No statutory instrument making, varying, or revoking a scheme under this Act shall be made unless a draft thereof has been laid before Parliament and has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament. This raises the long-debated, time-honoured argument as to whether schemes made under an enabling Bill, with no specific details in the Bill, and with everything left to the scheme, should be subject to affirmative Resolution procedure, put down in Government time at a time when it can be properly debated, or to the negative Resolution procedure, with the consequent difficulties of having an adequate discussion.

In view of the arguments which have been made, I need not develop this at great length. I see in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's eye a gleam which warms my heart. In the past 2½ hours we have improved his Bill out of all knowledge and I do not think he is likely to spoil the good work at this stage. If I thought he was likely to do so, then, as I warned him on Second Reading, I have some excellent quotations from his own past speeches and performance on this subject. They would make interesting reading, as did the quotations which I read on the night when he spoke on the Statutory Directions Order.

I am not asking him to do what we did not do. When we introduced the petrol scheme—a pleasure which my right hon. Friend the then Minister, left to me—I conceded to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on that occasion the very thing I am asking tonight. I have looked up the proceedings on the Sea Fish Industry Bill. In that case, we did not even have to be pressed on the point; we took the step ourselves. In the HANSARD report of the discussion in Committee the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is reported as having said: We are gratified to see that the Government have adopted this attitude in Clause 6 in relation to the presentation of schemes. I presume that they thought that the schemes were principle and that it would be right to have the positive procedure."—OFFICIAL REPORT Standing Committee C, 20th February, 1951 c. 120. He went on to object to something else which we were doing by the negative Resolution procedure—the Regulations—and I mention that in case he has in mind that some things might be done under the Bill by negative Resolution procedure.

However, we certainly provided for the affirmative Resolution procedure. We thought it the right thing to do in connection with schemes. We still think it the right thing to do. We hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will have second thoughts about this. I should not like it to go forth from here that he has wholly deserted his past faith. I am glad to come to his rescue, and to be the means whereby he regains salvation. I will leave the matter there, in the confident expectation that he will concede the point.

2.30 a.m.

Sir T. Dugdale

I hope that the Committee will forgive me if, at this late hour, or early hour, I make a rather longer contribution than I have been doing during the last hour or so, because I think that this is a very important subject which we must consider. The choice between the affirmative and negative Resolution procedures in matters of this nature always does give rise to debate. I think it is right and proper that the issue should be decided in this Chamber.

It is not very easy—indeed, I think that hon. Members will agree with me that it is really impossible—to lay down definite principles to decide which procedure should be followed irrespective of the Measure. I have pressed very strongly myself on more than one occasion, as the right hon. Gentleman has reminded me, when I was on the benches opposite, for the use of the affirmative Resolution procedure I recall, as the right hon. Gentleman did, that on at least one occasion my predecessor made a concession, and altered the negative Resolution procedure to the affirmative. I equally remember other occasions on which he successfully resisted all my arguments to make the change.

I suppose that, in general, it must be expected that those who happen to sit on the Government benches will normally prefer the negative procedure, because by it business can be expedited. It takes longer to operate the affirmative procedure, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) knows from many years of experience. That is a much longer procedure—longer even before it gets to the House of Commons. Those in Opposition usually prefer the affirmative procedure because of the greater opportunities it offers to the Opposition of expressing their views about policy and administration. I should like to say at this stage that it will be my practice as long as I am responsible for the Ministry of Agriculture to judge each Bill on its merits in respect of the choice between the two procedures.

I listened to the case of the right hon. Gentleman on this occasion, and I should like to show him that I appreciate his approach to this subject. I think that a case has been made out on this Bill for the affirmative procedure, especially as, in the main, it is an enabling Bill, which enables schemes to be brought before the House of Commons for consideration and passage into law. For these reasons I am prepared to accept the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment.

But from that I would like to make this suggestion. I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will recognise that whereas it is right for these schemes to come before the House for affirmative Resolution, if every Statutory Instrument had to be laid before Parliament in draft, and approved by Resolution of each House, there would be a considerable danger of Amendments of an administrative nature and of comparatively little importance having to be subject to this procedure, and much time and labour would be involved. If it were possible I would prefer to see whether we could devise some compromise under which only Statutory Instruments concerned with matters of prime importance were subject to affirmative Resolution procedure and those of administrative detail or minor matters subject to negative Resolution.

I propose to look at that point between now and Report stage to see if it is possible to devise a procedure of that sort. Alternatively, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this, a scheme which may be made under the powers of this Bill might include a paragraph, relating, for example, to rates of contribution, similar to that included in the agricultural lime scheme made under Section 97 of the Agriculture Act 1947, to the effect that Ministers may, with the approval of the Treasury, vary the rates of contribution for various reasons. I shall took at that alternative as well, but for the moment I am prepared at this stage of the proceedings to accept the Amendment.

Mr. G. Brown

I am very grateful to the Minister. I understand that he is accepting the Amendment, and so that goes into the Bill. Therefore, if he wants to do anything about the reservations he has made he will have to come forward with fresh Amendments. That I think is satisfactory. We can reserve our discussions about those reservations until we see whether he comes forward with any Amendments.

For myself, after some experience at the Ministry, I find it difficult to conceive any alteration in a Statutory Instrument under a scheme of this kind which would fill the minor role he has described, and if he amended it on those lines he would be taking away the whole of what he is prepared to concede. Similarly, financial control depends wholly on our control over the schemes, and any proposal to be able to change the rates of contribution would seem to me to be open to the same objection. But we can reserve our discussions on these points until they are brought forward, and I am grateful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for accepting this Amendment.

Sir T. Dugdale

I should like to make it clear that if I adopted the second alternative there would be no Amendment to the Bill. It would come up under the scheme, and we could debate it when the scheme comes before the House.

Mr. P. Roberts

I should like to say how glad I am to hear what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said. I am very glad that he has expressed the views he has. Personally, I am not sure that it does depend on which side of the House one is. In principle, it is the same, whichever side one is on. I am particularly glad in this case, in view of the very wide powers under the subsection of the Clause, which could, I imagine, give the Minister power to differentiate between one farmer and another. It would be very useful to debate that again when it comes before Parliament.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I am not quite sure what the right hon. and gallant, Gentleman contemplates doing. As far as I can follow there are only two schemes—either a positive Order, which he has conceded in this Amendment, or procedure by Prayer. I felt at one time that he was going to try to make some hybrid arrangement, which he hoped he would get into the Bill. I do not know how he would do it. Now he talks about taking power in the scheme to do something. Is that to avoid having a Prayer?

Sir T. Dugdale

No, taking power in the scheme which would enable the Minister, with the approval of the Treasury, to vary the rate of contributions. There is an existing scheme where this procedure does work, and I am telling the Committee that I will examine it to see if we can get the results we want. Although in nearly every case we shall want to use the affirmative Resolution procedure, there may be some quite minor arrangements of an administrative nature which the House would readily think ought to be done but which we should want to do without going through all the affirmative Resolution procedure.

Mr. G. Brown

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is himself confusing the issue. What he has said about administrative changes and minor measures has nothing to do with the provision in the scheme, to which he referred, giving him power to vary the rates of contribution without coming to the House. I would not like it. I would think it a way of trying to get round the major concession that he has given, and I would try my hardest to withhold approval.

Mr. Ede

May I advise the right hon. Gentleman, if he tries it on, not to speak of the approval of the Treasury in so emphatic a tone if my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) happens to be present?

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and question proposed, "That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Mikardo

May I say a word about subsection (1, d), the subject of an Amendment which, doubtless for excel- lent reasons, has not been called? I am hoping to warn the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary about the danger into which they are running themselves by making provision for inspectors to go to manufacturing establishments, and presumably to farms, to inspect fertilisers that are to be the subject of subsidies. They have perhaps not been long enough in office to realise fully what intense fury is evoked in organs of the Press by any provision that allows for inspection to see that the law is carried out.

There are some organs of public opinion—without making a party point, they are usually organs that support the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite—which will stand for the introduction of almost any law so long as no measures are taken to see that the law is not evaded. But so soon as an organisation is set up to inspect what is being done, then all hell's fury is let loose upon the poor unfortunate Minister or, as more often happens, for a reason I do not pretend to know, on the head of the unfortunate Under-Secretary or Parliamentary Secretary.

2.45 a.m.

Hon. Members will recall the terrific campaign which was let loose when inspectors of the former Government were christened, in a brilliant piece of wit by one of the newspapers, "Cooper's Snoopers." I warn the Parliamentary Secretary in particular that as soon as this paragraph is put into force he may find as a headline in a morning paper the term "Nugie's Stooges" or something of that sort. I beg them to look at this for their own sakes, because they will be represented as being Stalinesque operators of a totalitarian State if at any time an inspector goes to a farm to see that the provisions of the law are being properly carried out.

Mr. G. Brown

I think this is positively my last appearance tonight and I hope that I may be forgiven for raising a point which I made twice during the course of the Second Reading and which I then gave notice that I would raise again tonight unless somebody said something about it. The Minister repeatedly, both in his original announcement last November and again on Second Reading, said that it was his intention in the first scheme to limit the contribution to one form of fertiliser only, namely, phosphatic fertilisers.

I asked him on Second Reading to specify to which kind of fertilisers the subsidies would apply. I then asked why he was choosing to specify phosphatic fertilisers in the first scheme because it was my impression, and that of some folk to whom I had spoken and that of some authorities I had read, that this class of fertiliser is in short supply.

I said that if we set out specially to subsidise this class of fertiliser we might do harm because it would lead to a run on it and the smaller man, slower off the mark with less money, would get less and not more. I interrupted the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to make this point when he was speaking, and he repeated that he thought there would be enough. I made the point again in my speech and hoped that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland would give us the figures, but he did not and we had nothing more than this from the hon. Gentleman: We believe that our resources will be sufficient to meet any foreseeable increase in the demand for phosphatics of any kind arising out of the subsidy. We could not say that in regard to nitrogenous fertilisers. Then I asked the Under-Secretary to give the figures on which his belief was based. He went on: I do not think that it would be possible for anyone to produce the figures. I certainly have not got them here, and I do not think that they can be got."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 302.] I do not emphasise the obvious debating point there that if nobody has the figures it is difficult to know on what anybody can base the belief that there will be enough, and, therefore, my belief remains as good as his. He might say, "You are on that side and I am on this. I will take a chance on my belief. If I am wrong, so be it; if you are wrong, it does not matter." But we cannot leave it there. I do not believe, from my knowledge of the Department and of those who operate this section of the Department, that we cannot make a close estimate of the current supplies of phosphatic fertilisers.

I just do not believe that the manufacturers of these various fertilisers, which come under the heading, do not know within reasonable limits what they are turning out and putting on the market. If we have the figure of supplies, that is half the figure the hon. Gentleman told me could not be obtained. That leaves the most difficult side, which is the demand. It ought to be possible to make an estimate with all the resources available to the Department what the current consumption is. I ask him—because I believe we may be making a mistake—to give us some evidence on which he bases his belief that when he has cheapened phosphatic fertilisers, he will still have enough to go round.

I am still doubtful whether the Minister would be doing the right thing if he were to select this class of fertilisers alone. I quoted to him, when I spoke during the Second Reading debate, from the National Farmers' Union Information Service document of July, 1951, which, at the end of a very interesting and long article on fertiliser supplies and prospects, said: There is no immediate threat to supplies of nitrogenous fertilisers"— to which the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland says there is a threat— The superphosphate position is serious."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 280.] Potash imports are expected to be adequate, provided there is no increase in demand. The only one they are prepared to give an assurance there is enough of, is nitrogenous fertilisers. Today, I was looking in a journal and came across a report of a paper by a Ministry official, Dr. Pizer, Eastern Province Soil Chemist. He was talking of fertiliser policy and of fertiliser husbandry and said that the build up of phosphates in some areas in this country was causing trouble. So, we have the Minister going out specially to pep up the use of a fertiliser, which some experts, including the N.F.U., think is in short supply and his own officer, at the same time, declaring that in some areas we are using rather too much of it.

There are other authorities on the same matter. In the "Farmer and Stockbreeder" of 29th January, 1952, there is an article by Mr. R. Trow-Smith criticising very heavily the Minister's decision to concentrate on phosphatic fertilisers and emphasising again what Dr. Pizer said, that in some soils in England we have been using too much of it and that what was needed was the use of nitrogenous fertilisers. Then, there is the writing of Dr. D. H. Robinson, Crop Husbandry Officer, West Midland Province, who, in "The Farmer's Weekly," of 4th January, 1952, develops the general argument that really the need is for nitrogenous fertilisers. Again, there is this complete confusion between what the Minister's own officers are saying and what he is saying. Dr. Robinson says: Today, nitrogen is plentiful. The Under-Secretary of State says it is not. I suggest we have jumped into a decision to choose only phosphatics which many authorities think may give us a more unbalanced use of fertilisers when we want a more balanced use. The Minister justified the decision to do it on the grounds the other fertilisers are too short, and yet his own officers, two of whom I have quoted—the Crop Husbandry Officer for the West Midland Province and the soil chemist for the Eastern Province—have both said in the last four weeks, and one as recently as yesterday, that nitrogenous fertilisers are plentiful. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity tonight to give us the figures which make him so sure that there is sufficient phosphatic fertiliser and to comment on this obvious difference between what he has told us and what his officials are telling the farmers.

Mr. Nugent

I will reply first, if I may, to the point raised by the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) on the provision for inspection in this Clause. I recognise with him that there are many sections of public opinion which do not take readily to provision for inspection, and indeed none of us wants it when it can be dispensed with. But the provision that is here is the simple provision that has been in the lime scheme for 15 years or more. It gives the Ministry power to make inspection where suspicion is aroused and the Ministry think it necessary to inspect. In practice it has not proved onerous, nor has it given rise to headlines.

On supply, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) made two points: first, why phosphates at all, and, second, are there enough? The right hon. Gentleman will know from his considerable experience as a Parliamentary Secretary and a Minister that whatever action he took in a Government Department, and however good it was, there would be somebody to criticise it. Therefore, he will not be surprised if he finds independent experts criticising even as good a measure as my right hon. and gallant Friend has announced he will take.

Mr. G. Brown

Even the Ministry's own officers criticise.

Mr. Nugent

Our officers are free to criticise if they so wish, but I do not think that should necessarily influence the mind of my right hon. and gallant Friend who has a very good grasp of this problem. The reason why a subsidy was put on phosphates was because, during the last year, there was an exceptional rise in the price of phosphates, very much more than in the price of other fertilisers, and a rise which could never have been anticipated at the February Price Review, 1951. When he was considering how best to restore the position as negotiated at the February Price Review my right hon. and gallant Friend considered it could be best done by giving this subsidy on the phosphate fertilisers.

The right hon. Member for Belper will recognise that the various technical views he has cited do not by any means prove there is a general over-application of phosphates in this country. I think everybody would agree that throughout the country there is still a really severe need for additional phosphates on most of our grassland. But leaving aside this technical point—with which I am sure the Committee do not wish to occupy their minds at this early hour of the morning—I am sure that the very steep rise in the price of phosphates proportionately to all other fertilisers was a justification for the subsidy.

The accumulation of phosphatic manures that occurred in the late part of last year and the beginning of this year was more than confirmation that this move that my right hon. and gallant Friend took to revive the demand for this fertiliser was the right one to take. The estimated supply position for the current year, that is 1951–52, is 316,000 tons. That is for the United Kingdom. The easiest way to get some idea of what the demand might be is to consider the actual use in the previous year, 1950–51, which was 423,000 tons, about 100,000 tons more than in the current year.

In comparing these figures I am sure the Committee will have in mind the fact that there were very heavy purchases of all fertilisers and particularly phosphates in the summer of last year in anticipation of the price rise. All farmers knew that prices were about to go up steeply, and therefore every farmer who could raise the cash or credit proceeded to lay in all the fertilisers he could.

3.0 a.m.

That means that quite a large proportion—the actual figure can only be guessed at—of the figure in 1950–51 was stock carried by the farmers on their farms for use in the year 1951–52. I think that if allowance is made for that stock at which we can only guess, and if at the same time we take into account the rather serious falling off in demand in the last few months, which has only just started to revive again, we are safe in reckoning that with this supply coming forward we shall have sufficient to meet any reasonable demand that we can anticipate in the next four months until June this year.

Mr. G. Brown

Can the hon. Gentleman give us, either for the last three months or the last year, the rate at which the offtake has been running so that we can see what the decline is?

Mr. Nugent

I have not that figure. I can only tell the right hon. Gentleman in general terms that in the first two months of this year and the last month of last year the offtake from the factories was so small that the manufacturers were obliged to reduce their manufacturing capacity because all their stores were full and the farmers were not taking delivery of it. It is quite evident, therefore, that the demand fell to an abnormally low level. I am sorry that it is not possible to give the right hon. Gentleman the actual figures.

I think the Committee can be satisfied from the figures I have given that the phosphates available in the present year, that is, the year ending 30th June next, will be sufficient to meet the demand. Indeed, the subsidy which has been put in has been a timely necessity in order to get the farmers to take up the manures available.

There is another point very much related to this, and that is that my right hon. and gallant Friend will, naturally, be considering his scheme for the next fertiliser year which begins on 1st July this year in the light of the supply and demand position which occurs over the next few months, and the price, and so, on. In the light of these factors he will then be able to decide what, if any, is the appropriate rate of subsidy on one fertiliser or another in order to ensure that the farmers take up all the available fertilisers.

I think that on the figures I have given I can assure the Committee that there are enough phosphatic fertilisers to meet the demands of the farmers as stimulated by the subsidy which we now ask the Committee to approve.

Mr. Hale

There are one or two points that arise from what the Parliamentary Secretary has just said. He said he based his estimate of the amount of phosphatic fertiliser available on the fact that farmers had bought up large stocks before 1st July in anticipation of prices increasing, and that in estimating the amount to be required they have not taken into account the substantial stocks carried by the farmers. If it is true why is his estimate of the cost of contributions the same, not only for this year, but for every year? We have an elaborate statement of figures introductory to this Bill suggesting that in the current year there will be expenditure of £13 million, £3 million of which will be back dated. The estimate is based on the solid cost of £10 million for 12 months, and if I am correct in this the hon. Gentleman cannot have taken into account the stocks carried by the farmers. I gather that I am wrong.

Mr. Nugent

I am not sure whether I have understood the hon. Gentleman's point. The fertiliser year is from 1st July to 30th June, but the financial year is the ordinary financial year, which does not coincide with the fertiliser year. In the coming financial year, 1952–53, sufficient funds must be provided to meet the subsidy on fertilisers purchased since 1st July last and before 31st March this year. I am not sure if I have completely covered the hon. Gentleman's point.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

Will the hon. Gentleman also read the words before the figures he quoted from the Financial Memorandum: On the assumption that contributions on this basis continue for more than one year…?

Mr. Hale

I realise that it is dealing with a carry-back from Budget to Bud-bet. If I am told the words are ambiguous I have nothing more to say.

Mr. Nugent

That is the estimate for the current year. It is proposed that it should be at the rate of £10 million.

Mr. Hale

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. It is the point I was making that in the first £10 million there has been no allowance for the huge stocks farmers are carrying. I have the greatest of respect for the agricultural industry and those who are bearing this burden, but it is a remarkable statement to come at the end of this debate that huge stocks are being carried. I do not want to say one word out of place about any worthy industry, but it is remarkable that apparently large stocks were transferred on the day preceding that to which this order is to be back-dated.

Mr. Nugent

I wonder if I could help to make the point clear to the hon. Gentleman. The announcement that fertiliser prices were going up was made a month or two before the date on which they did rise. During that period farmers who had the cash or credit proceeded to lay in large stocks. For the purposes of this Bill the first purchases of fertiliser to qualify for the subsidy will be those purchased after July 1, last year, and that was after the prices had risen.

Mr. Hale

Of course, and may I make it clear from the relevant figures which I have turned up. These figures varied for high content fertiliser as much as this —June, 44.4 in thousands of tons July, 13. That is a difference of 31,000 tons, and if the hon. Gentleman takes the average figures he will see that the average has also dropped. In other words 31,000 tons changed hands in this relevant period. I do not know how a check is to be made on the date of delivery and how the Regulations will provide for the possibility of mis-statement in this matter.

If the money is paid in advance and delivery takes place after 30th June I understand that the man will qualify for the subsidy. That is a point the hon. Gentleman may think worthy of consideration when the Minister has the scheme. We cannot usefully discuss it now. I heard the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement about "statutory" with genuine joy because I think it appropriate. We wanted to see these figures for a good many years. I do not know who is going to carry out these transactions. Will it be inspectors, or will the Ministry use the normal police force for their inquiries?

In our experience the village bobby knows what is happening in the village a good deal better than an inspector—who is, in many cases, a retired police officer—and there is sometimes a great deal of jealousy between the two. It is very rare that the village policeman is not very much better for these investigations and to bring the facts to light than someone who has come 30 or 40 miles on a travelling allowance from the Ministry. I hope he will look into that.

Mr. G. Brown

Before we finally part with the Bill I should like to make a comment on what has just been said by the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). I am glad we have got these figures at last from a particularly reluctant Ministry. They show that consumption is running at the rate of 100,000 tons per year more than supply. I must say the conclusions I draw are not those which the Ministry of Agriculture is, in fact, drawing from them. They reinforce the argument that the Minister is assuming, much to much, that there is a sufficient supply of phosphate fertilisers to meet the increased demand the scheme is expected to bring.

When we come to the scheme the Minister should be prepared for quite a considerable discussion on it and at a time of day when a discussion can be both useful and understood outside. I will not pursue this point any further. We have had a very useful discussion and I again give my personal thanks to the Minister for the way in which he has met our points.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 and 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported with an Amendment; as amended, to be considered this day and to be printed [Bill 61].