§ 3.56 p.m.
§ The Chairman
The first Amendment on the Order Paper, in the name of the hon. Member, for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is not selected. The second Amendment, in the name of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and some of his hon. Friends, is rather complicated and rather difficult to understand. It seems to me that it makes payment compulsory when, under the Money Resolution, it would be contingent. If the right hon. Gentleman can show me that I am wrong, I will call the Amendment, but it is a very complicated matter and I am in some difficulty about it.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
With great respect, Sir Charles, what the Amendment seeks to do, and what I believe in fact it does do, is not to make payment compulsory where, as the Bill is at present drawn, it would be left contingent; but to add a second contingency which must be satisfied before a grant is payable. What we are seeking to do is to limit the grants to an even narrower class of people and to require that an even greater number of contingencies should be satisfied before they are paid than is at present provided. I submit that the Amendment is, therefore, within the Money Resolution and in order. I hope you will call it. Sir Charles, so that we may debate a principle of some importance.
§ The Chairman
If the right hon. Member looks at the Money Resolution, he will see that it says,(a….)in accordance with a scheme or schemes.
§ Mr. Brown
I am aware of that, and we are not proposing to leave out that payment shall be in accordance with the schemes. What we are seeking to do is to provide that the schemes must require that certain contingencies are fulfilled before payment is made. The money will still be paid only in accordance with the schemes, and that is provided in the first two lines of Clause 1 (1). What we shall 791 seek to do, further down the subsection, is to see that the money cannot be paid without a further contingency, namely, that of cropping, being satisfied. I submit, therefore, that we are within the Money Resolution.
§ Mr. Brown
I beg to move, in page 1, line 9, to leave out "if the scheme so provides."
I am well aware that all Departments, and particularly their lawyers, always want to draw everything sufficiently wide that never at any time, in the wildest bounds of imagination, would they be likely to be caught out through making a scheme which is ultra vires. I have little doubt that the Minister will tell us that he proposes always to make his schemes in accordance with what we are here suggesting.
The position is that we are providing this subsidy, or production grant, which I think is the new and favoured title, against an operation called ploughing up; but it is obviously of no value to anybody merely to have the land ploughed. Something needs to be done with the land after it is ploughed. The Parliamentary Secretary, in answering the Second Reading debate, said that of course a chap always will cultivate his land once he has ploughed it. I submit that, if that is so, it is an additional reason for making quite clear what we are paying for.
We are paying the grant to encourage the farmer to bring more land under the plough as an essential prerequisite to raising the output of food from his land. If the scheme were to be drawn in such a way that a man could get £5 merely for ploughing, without any further work being done, it would be a complete waste of £5 an acre. If the Parliamentary Secretary says again, as he said in the Second Reading debate, that the farmers will always crop once they have ploughed, I ask him to consider a further point.
Under the Bill as it is drafted, the Minister may not only require the man to carry out his operations according to the Bill, but he has the right to inspect to see that the cultivation and the work are properly done—in fact, to see that there has been a real attempt to produce 792 the food. If the scheme were to be so drafted that only the ploughing-up operation were included in it, the only operation the Minister could check, supervise and look at as to efficiency, would be the ploughing. If I plough up one of my fields under this arrangement, and the scheme under which I get money does not provide that I should sow it down with potatoes or corn, there is nothing to enable the Minister to come along, through one of his agents, to see what I have done about that cropping.
I remember that when I was an agent of the war-time Minister of Agriculture, on one of his county executive committees, we had very great trouble with people who collected the ploughing-up grant or collected the potato acreage payment and then, for instance, planted their potatoes very wide apart. Indeed, one had very good reason to suspect that another crop was being taken in between times. Anyhow, the potatoes were very wide apart indeed, and the subsequent crop of potatoes was a very small one simply because the land was not cropped properly. If the scheme were to include requirements as to cropping, then the Minister, through his agents, would have grounds on which to say to a farmer, "You have not really done this according to the requirements of good husbandry, and I am going to disallow your payment, or disallow part of it." Therefore, the purpose of this Amendment and of subsequent Amendments is to ensure that every scheme shall require both the ploughing-up and the subsequent cultivating, and cropping of the land with certain specified crops, so that we try, as far as we can, to see that we get some food for our money and not merely the carrying out of a number of operations, and to see that we get control over what is done with the land after ploughing.
I am very well aware that the Minister has said that in his first scheme he is going to do exactly this—that he will require the land to have been down to grass for a certain period and then that it should be cropped with one of a certain number of specific crops. All we are asking the Minister to do is to put into the Bill what he is going to do in his first scheme anyway—and what, I suspect, always will be done. I cannot recall off-hand any scheme where we did 793 not, over the years, have the requirement that this should be so, and I should be surprised if the Minister intended to pay merely for ploughing up and not for cropping afterwards.
The Amendment is designed to bring the Bill into line with past practice and with what I hope, and indeed feel sure, must be the future intention of the Minister.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
This Amendment does seem to be of some importance. The general principle on which we work agriculture, and have worked it since 1945, and, indeed, since before then under Defence Regulations, is to provide a final price which is guaranteed and which is an incentive to the farmer. I believe in providing for the farmer by a price, leaving to the farmer the decision how he can best use his land, and I believe that the direction of the production should, in general, be governed by variation within the price award.
Now a subsidy, which is a payment for a precise object of production, should, in my submission, be used only sparingly, and used only where we want to get a sudden change in the general picture of production which cannot be brought about by a price variation, which would be effective only some years after. The calf subsidy is a perfectly good example of that. A variation of beef prices, which the farmer would receive only some three or four years later, is not so effective as a subsidy at an earlier stage—that is to say, the calf—which is immediately payable.
But for these very reasons, where we are using a subsidy, a subsidy should be used very precisely indeed; it should be used to bring about the particular increase which the Minister has in mind, and should be strictly confined to bringing about that increase. Thus, I believe that any scheme for a ploughing subsidy should be very tightly drawn. Just what we want additional ploughing for should be considered. The subsidy, one must remember, is an advance payment on account of an ultimate product which we want to see increased, and we must be quite certain that we get the product which we are paying for on account.
We can do that only if we draw our scheme tightly, and it is for that reason that this Amendment and a number of our Amendments have been put down. 794 It is to make these conditions obligatory. It is to make a tight drawing of the scheme obligatory. We never want to drift into a situation in which we support agriculture, not by a price which the farmer earns, but by a series of subsidies, which add up to nobody knows what, the reasons for the granting of which are forgotten, and which tend to be cumulative. Subsidy policy should have particular application. It should be exceptional. It should have a precise objective, and it should be confined to that precise objective, and it should be limited to the period necessary to bring about the change before the real instrument—that is, price—can be operative.
Those are the reasons why I hope to hear that the Minister will accept this and other Amendments designed to put into the Bill things which, I think, he has probably got in mind with regard to the schemes. I hope he will put these into the Statute, so that the schemes shall, in a single word, all be tightly drawn and it shall be made clear that we never drift into a general subsidy policy.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will consider the arguments which have been addressed to him in this matter because I think I can almost hear the vicarious whisper of the Parliamentary draftsman saying to him, "These words merely mean that you have a discretion." But they mean that the Minister has a very substantial discretion about the whole expenditure under the Bill. These words are the controlling words. The Minister himself said, in the opening stage of the debate on Second Reading, that Clause 1 deals with the making of schemes. He went on:It is made clear in this Clause that the payment of the grant may depend not only on the ploughing up of land, but also upon the fulfilment of certain other requirements, such as the sowing of approved crops, the rates of grant, the kind of land covered, and the period during which the ploughing must take place will be set out in the scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 422.]The first verb is "may" but, as the Minister gathered confidence, it became "will."
There is a real difficulty in that these words really cannot be said in any way to conform to the details of Clause 3, which makes it clear that the Government's intention, which no one doubted, 795 is that detailed provisions shall be made. But the effect of the words in Clause 1 is that it would be within the power of any Minister of Agriculture, if he so wished, to make these grants subject to no control and no specified conditions. When, as the Minister has announced to the House, the grant is to be back-dated, very properly and rightly, to the cases in which land was ploughted up after 4th February, it is right that some condition should be specified, as is done in the scheme.
Another important matter concerns reduction in the figure of ploughed land this year compared with last year, which was put by my right hon. Friend at 500,000 acres, and by the Minister at 400,000 acres, so I assume a figure between those two—perhaps a little nearer 500,000 than 400,000. The Minister said that he believed that 500,000 acres of four-year leys have been ploughed up since 4th February. It seems to me that some of this might have qualified for the subsidy in 1947. The Minister may say that that is approved agricultural practice, that it is a very good thing that these four-year leys should have a period under pasture and a period under arable.
The Committee should be told whether it is the intention that land may qualify for subsidy by a normal rotation of crops and a normal method of dealing with land. There may be a question whether, if there has been a payment of £4 for ploughing up in 1947, a payment should also be made in 1952, after we have had some experience of the working of the subsidy scheme and seen how agricultural policy has worked out.
Clause 3 gives in detail the sort of conditions that may be stipulated by the Minister in the scheme. The Minister went rather wider than the Clause of the Bill in dealing with the sort of conditions which he thought fit to impose. I come from a dairy-farming part of the country, where we are proud of our pasture. In these days of shortages of cheese and milk there are questions which arise from a totally different aspect, and which I shall not emphasise now. Most of us deplore the loss of arable land over the last 12 months and would welcome sincere and determined efforts to right the balance. We on this side of the Committee welcome even more the develop- 796 ment which this Amendment is designed to aid. Even though it is a modest contribution, it should be accepted by the Minister.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)
I intervene to put forward a practical point. I hope that if any alteration is made in the Clause it will not prejudice the practice, where desirable, of a bare fallow for the summer, as that is often the best way of clearing the land, and the putting in of a crop in the autumn.
§ Colonel Clarke
I do not want to go into any technical or legal arguments with the hon. and learned Member. I put this suggestion forward to make certain that in consideration of any Amendment to this Clause we do not do anything that might be prejudicial to the practice of bare fallowing.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
As the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) supposed, it was our intention, in the drafting of this Bill, to give the Government and my right hon. and gallant Friend the greatest possible freedom in framing these schemes. It is quite true, as he observed, that in practice it is our general intention to specify in the scheme such conditions of subsequent cultivations and probably sowings as are specified in the first two schemes.
In drafting this Bill, however, we thought it not impossible that we might want to apply the ploughing subsidy in conditions in which further cultivations would possibly not follow immediately in the period of the scheme, and that it might, therefore, be undesirable to tie our hands in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
I wish to make it plain that the general intention, which I thought was clearly put by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), is that in the use of these specific subsidies we should take care to see that the result is precise and that we do get what we are aiming to get. That is the whole justification for using them, that we regard the price 797 weapon as being too blunt and that in this way we ensure that we get the increase in production that we want.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tell us what sort of circumstances he envisages in which a man would be paid for ploughing up his grassland but in which cropping operations would not follow within any reasonable time?
§ Mr. Nugent
It is possible to envisage the case in which a one-year scheme ran, for example, from 1st June to 31st May. In the form now envisaged, the scheme would require that after ploughing a field should be cropped over, let us say, for the 1953 harvest. It is quite possible that it would be desirable that that field should be bare fallowed. There I disagree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. It is quite possible that a field may be so dirty with weeds of different kinds that it is desirable that it should be bare fallowed in the year that it is ploughed up.
§ Mr. Paget
Surely only if it is ploughed up too late? If it is ploughed up, as grassland ought to be ploughed, at the proper time—a later Amendment deals with this matter—the frost gets in it, and that does the job, at the proper time, that is done by a bare fallow. If people are to be encouraged to plough in May a bare fallow will be required, but it is surely better to get out of the land what it can give from May onwards by ploughing at the back end of the year, when the frost will get into it.
§ Mr. Nugent
I must not go too far in this technical argument, fascinating though it is. I agree that it is most beneficial, especially in the case of heavier land, to get the frost into the fallow so that it breaks down to a nice condition for the spring sowing. That frost will not kill the weeds. Weeds such as buttercups and docks will come again the following summer. It is true that nowadays we have the benefit of chemical sprays, but in the old days the regular practice was to have a bare fallow in order to kill weeds in the hot sun when the weeds were thrown up with roots disconnected.
I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that it was the proper practice to start with a bare fallow where the 798 pasture was particularly dirty with weeds. I put that forward in order to justify to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who still seems to be not entirely convinced, why this year we felt it was desirable to leave the scheme as wide as possible, although we always had clearly in mind the same intention as has been put to us by hon. Members opposite.
Our intention being there, we are perfectly willing, in order to make progress, to accept the principle of the Amendments. There is one specific aspect of the Amendments which, I think, will have a slightly restrictive effect, and therefore, we would prefer not to accept the Amendments precisely as put on the Order Paper, but we would be willing to accept the principle, that is to say, that in all schemes it should be a condition that subsequent cultivation should be required, and we will put down for the Report stage the necessary Amendments to give effect to that.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The Parliamentary Secretary took some time and a rather circuitous route to arrive there, but finally he got off at the right station. It would be churlish of me not to thank him and the Minister of Agriculture for giving consideration to the Amendments and to the arguments put forward, and, on the assurance that other Amendments will cover the spirit of those which have been put down, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, to leave out "or for Northern Ireland."
It may be convenient, Sir Charles, to consider, at the same time, the Amendments in page 1, line 13, and, in Clause 5, page 3, lines 20, 25, and 27, all of which deal with the Northern Ireland position, and to regard them as forming one block.
The Bill provides that there may be separate schemes for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Strangely enough, on the Second Reading the Minister of Agriculture said that it was proposed to have two schemes, one for Scotland and one for England and Northern Ireland. This is a most unnatural partnership, and one of which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would not, I think, approve, as I will explain to the Committee in a moment.
799 We ought not in this Committee to treat with quite such disrespect the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. In 1920, we transferred certain limited powers to the Government of Northern Ireland. Of all the powers which we transferred, the most important was that concerning agriculture. The whole of the agricultural services for Northern Ireland were transferred to the Government of Northern Ireland.
I am quite certain that the Minister of Agriculture is a devoted student of the speeches of the Prime Minister. I am not going to delay the Committee by quoting from them, but if the Minister goes to those speeches he will find that the Prime Minister says time and time again that the secret of the Irish question is the land. In those days, the Prime Minister was a Liberal, and he spoke a great deal about the land. Now he leaves it to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture.
At any rate, I think it was generally recognised that the problem of farming in Ireland, both in the north and in the south, was an entirely different problem from that of farming in England and Scotland. In those circumstances, one of the reasons for having separate Parliaments was so that they could deal separately with their agricultural problems. That is one of the few problems which is left to the Government of Northern Ireland to deal with.
It is a fantastic suggestion to have a joint scheme for England and Northern Ireland. In whose interest is this scheme to be drawn up? Is it to be in the interest of the Irish farmers? It is well known that hon. Gentlemen opposite are always well prepared to sacrifice British interests when it comes to helping the Conservative Government of Northern Ireland. Are they proposing to make some sacrifices in the English scheme to assist the people of Northern Ireland, or is it the view, now that she has contributed her quota of members to the majority of the party opposite—practically the whole of the majority—that it is not really worth while even considering what are her most important interests in agriculture?
So far as Northern Ireland is concerned, while she contributes a good deal of things in terms of other industries, in fact, 800 agriculture is by far the principal interest. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 55 per cent. or 56 per cent. of the working population of Northern Ireland is connected directly or indirectly with agriculture. Therefore, it would seem to be very important that we should have—and this is the object of these Amendments-separate schemes, one devoted to England and the other to Northern Ireland.
The whole basis of farming in the two countries is entirely different. If one looks at the appendices to the Price Review which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has recently produced, in the footnote to the first appendix one gets the idea of the difference. In England we count land only above one acre. When dealing with holdings, we consider only holdings over one acre. Any smaller ones it is not considered worth while counting as holdings at all. In Ireland one counts as a holding one-quarter of an acre. The whole basis of the scheme depends on ploughing up to one acre, but we are to deal with a country where we are counting holdings of less than one acre.
If one considers the size of farms, the average size of a general farm in Northern Ireland is about 59 acres. A comparable type of farm in England is about 225 acres. That is a tremendous difference in kind. It is, of course, not only a difference in kind but a difference in the type of things which are grown. This, I should have thought, was one of the most important differences which would commend itself to the Minister.
Broadly, the scheme is designed to save foreign currency, and particularly hard currency, by cutting down imports of feedingstuffs and materials from abroad. What is the crop which is almost exclusive to Northern Ireland, which is grown hardly anywhere else, and which involves the greatest expenditure of hard currency—of Belgian francs? It is flax. One does not find anywhere that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is going to encourage the growing of flax. It is forgotten altogether.
Of all the increased costs in foreign currency, the rise in the cost of flax has been one of the most remarkable that we have faced. Flax from Belgium alone cost us about £4,800,000 in 1949, £6,800,000 in 1950 and £8,500,000 in 801 1951. Taking the hard currency areas so far as one can calulate them from the Trade and Navigation Returns, we were spending, roughly speaking, £10 million in hard currency on imports of flax last year.
The whole farming scheme in Northern Ireland was originally based on the growing of flax. That is the reason for the linen industry to this day in Northern Ireland. The forms and the division of land are too complicated a matter for me to go into now, but the whole of the so-called Ulster tenure was built up and devoted to the growing of flax, and there exists today throughout Northern Ireland all the machinery for dealing with flax.
How will the scheme deal with flax? Will the English scheme have a section dealing with flax? Will flax be one of the approved crops? Shall we equally encourage the farmers in England to grow flax as we do the farmers in Northern Ireland? Or shall we have a special section in the English scheme saying that it applies not to England but only to Northern Ireland? How shall we deal with the flax problem? This is a very important problem, for £10 million in hard currency per year is no mean amount. It is comparable to some of the cuts in imported foodstuffs from the Continent which have had to be borne by the people.
There is a further complicated problem for Northern Ireland. Within the Six Counties there is not grown anything like the amount of feedingstuffs required for the cattle and particularly the pigs and poultry bred there. As I understood the Minister's Second Reading speech, the principal object of the scheme is to secure the home growing of these rough feeding-stuffs. The figures for 1949, which are the only ones that I have, showed that the amount of feedingstuffs imported into Northern Ireland was about £3,800,000. That represents the deficit on the amount of rough feedingstuffs required for the raising of poultry, cattle and so on in Northern Ireland.
It may be all right to encourage greater production of rough feedingstuffs there, but a curious factor with which the Minister may like to deal in relation to the Northern Ireland issue is that the 26 counties comprising the Irish Republic imported £539,000 worth of feedingstuffs in the comparable period. That is the first 802 reason there should be a different scheme for Northern Ireland, preferably a scheme produced with the approval, co-operation and support of the Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland.
It is ridiculous for the House of Commons to set up a separate Parliament in Northern Ireland and, having said that we cannot debate here what takes place in Northern Ireland, then to say, in regard to agriculture, that the Minister there is not allowed to have anything to do with it and is merely a lay figure. That is not a very courteous way to treat an area which has returned the effective part of the Conservative majority.
Looking at it from another angle, it is essential before we have any scheme at all to make certain that we can control the uses to which will be put the materials produced by the scheme as a whole. There is still no system of milk rationing in Northern Ireland. There milk can be used for commercial purposes, and there are various factories for making buttons and other articles out of milk. It is highly undesirable that we should run a scheme to produce feedingstuffs to feed the animals when their product does not come back to us by way of food but is used for various commercial purposes by a Government which we cannot control. We ought to control either the whole of the economy or none of it. It is no use our pouring money in by way of subsidy and not being able to control the economy as a whole.
There is another and even more serious aspect of the question of subsidy. It is one which must be tackled sooner or later and might be tackled now in a review on the lines which the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid down as general policy in regard to all these matters. When we were dealing with food subsidies—those paid not to the producer but to the consumer—the Chancellor, in cutting them, said that people ought not to have what they cannot afford to pay for and that they ought to pay the real prices.
It is perfectly justifiable for us, as a Government, to say that within this whole taxable area we will devote some of the products of taxation to the subsidising of certain producers who are doing a particularly good job of work, but in regard to Northern Ireland we must make up our minds where we stand. Are we in favour of a general subsidy to 803 Northern Ireland or are we not? The Committee must realise that if we include Northern Ireland in the scheme, the money will be paid by the taxpayers of Great Britain to the farmers of Northern Ireland.
I am not necessarily saying that that is undesirable and that the taxpayers of Great Britain should not come to the rescue of the farmers of Northern Ireland, but it certainly makes absolute nonsense of the financial relations which are supposed to exist between the Gov-ments of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. These relations are based on the Northern Ireland Act, 1920. I do not want to weary the Committee by going into them any more than I need to demonstrate what will be the effect of including a producer subsidy in this way outside the general financial scheme which was provided for by that Act.
It was decided, roughly speaking, that Northern Ireland should pay her proper share of the total cost of defence, the National Debt, the Civil List, the Foreign Service and other things which were national matters, and that sum has been assessed at roughly 2½ per cent. of the total paid by the rest of the United Kingdom. I think that the sum may be too high and that the taxable capacity of Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the United Kingdom is too high on that basis, but the people in Northern Ireland were only about 54 per cent. ——
§ Mr. Bing
With great respect, Sir Charles, I do not think so. It is a very difficult argument and I am sorry if I have not made it clear. What we are really discussing, in considering whether or not to include Northern Ireland in the scheme, is whether or not we should subsidise a service in Northern Ireland. The financial arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland provide that the total cost of all the services ought to be borne out of transferred taxes, the amount of taxes which are transferred back to the Exchequer of Northern Ireland. The proposal here is not that the cost should come from the transferred taxes, but that it should be paid direct out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom and not the Consolidated 804 Fund of Northern Ireland. But into the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland is paid the whole of the produce of the taxes in Northern Ireland. What we are doing is paying twice over.
There is already placed at the disposal of the Government of Northern Ireland, as I was going on to show, the whole of the produce of taxation from Northern Ireland from whatever source it comes. What happens, in fact, is that the taxes as a whole from Northern Ireland are collected up to about 75 per cent. by the Imperial Government, as it is called in Northern Ireland, and they are paid back, less certain deductions, into the Northern Ireland Exchequer. The Northern Ireland Government are expected to meet out of those payments the general costs with which they are faced.
Under this Bill, it is quite a different position. Not only are we paying back the product of the taxation which we are getting from Northern Ireland, but Northern Ireland, having got its share of the money already collected, takes out of Great Britain's share a sum of money from Great Britain over and in addition to the sums which have been paid to Northern Ireland.
The point I was dealing with was the comparative wealth of the areas, which is certainly a thing which ought to be taken into account in deciding whether we ought to adopt this scheme. I wanted to make the position clear very briefly, because I do not want the thing to broaden out and go too far. All I was saying was that, roughly speaking, the income per head in Northern Ireland before the war was 54 per cent. and is now about 75 per cent, of that of Great Britain, so that in those circumstances there is a sound argument for our paying some larger sum than we would normally pay, particularly if it is going to have a good effect on Irish agriculture and the raising of stock in Ireland.
§ Mr. Hale
When my hon. and learned Friend speaks about this 2½ per cent, as being too high, has he taken into account the fact that had Northern Ireland had a Labour Government, and, therefore full employment, the income per head would have risen in proportion to the amount of that full employment?
§ Mr. Bing
I appreciate that, and I will not deal with interruptions which otherwise would be very tempting to follow. Irrespective of the political set-up in the two countries and whether either Government has made a mistake or not, when one takes the sums which have been paid back by way of subsidy in various ways to Northern Ireland over the last four years, one finds that the whole contribution which Northern Ireland should have paid towards all these services, such as the Foreign Service, the National Debt, the cost of the Armed Forces and so on, has been completely swallowed up. They have never paid more than one half of 1 per cent. of the total over the last four years, and the Imperial contribution, a sum which should have been left here——
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
What has the contribution of Northern Ireland to our Exchequer to do with this point?
§ The Chairman
I think it is rather difficult to see. I have stopped the hon. and learned Member once or twice already.
§ Mr. Bing
With great respect, this scheme is for the purpose of paying out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom a sum of money by way of subsidy. The total amount of money which is available for Irish agriculture has already been paid out as part of the transferred sum, because the whole of the product of taxation of Northern Ireland has already been transferred back to the Exchequer of Northern Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act less certain sums which are retained here. As a result of this scheme and a number of other schemes, which have already taken effect, sums which are retained here to meet these various costs, like Defence, the National Debt, the Civil List and so on, have already been eaten up.
It seems to me, therefore, highly relevant to decide whether we should put on a further burden or not. The Committee may well decide that it is desirable to do so, but we should act in the knowledge of the facts as they exist. I was going on to say that the whole of the Imperial contribution is already accounted for by way of subsidy, and in those circumstances it seems to me that the Committee 806 ought to consider whether they should undertake a new burden. In 1950, the gross contribution from Northern Ireland which appears in our own accounts is a sum of some £20 million, but against that one has to set various agency costs, and the amount paid into the Imperial Exchequer is about £16,400,000.
Against that one has also to set a producer subsidy already paid which amounts to £5 million, and food subsidies which amount to £13 million, and if one adds to these various agencies, one gets a figure of £19 million, so that already Northern Ireland's account has a hopeless deficit. We ought to have some argument why we should be prepared to undertake this extra and additional expense.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
My hon. and learned Friend is making the point that Northern Ireland is out of balance. Supposing we agree to this subsidy, can he say in terms of expense what it will amount to?
§ Mr. Bing
It is difficult for me to say that. I was hoping we should get that from the Minister, because it depends on what sort of scheme is to be produced. If it were with the idea of encouraging the growing of flax, it might mean considerable expense, but in the long run it might be a great saving because the sterling area generally would be saved hard currency expenditure. But there might equally be an argument, for example, for spending that money to encourage the growing of flax in Ireland as a whole rather than in Northern Ireland.
The difficulty is that we do not know what the producer subsidy is going to cost. All I can say is that, generally speaking—and this is a matter in which I have taken a considerable interest and I asked a Question about it, getting some detailed figures about a year ago in order to be ready for an occasion such as this— it gives the farmers an amount around £5 million in the year, but how much this subsidy would add to that would be determined by the sort of scheme we are to have.
There is a final argument that we could have separate schemes and exclude Northern Ireland from this Bill altogether. If we want to give assistance to Northern Ireland and it is proper that we should do so, then we ought to consider very carefully the terms under which we do it. 807 It should be remembered that when the Minister introduces his scheme he will have to have somebody to operate it, and the people who will operate it in Northern Ireland will be the officials of the Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture. They will undertake this scheme as an agency of this Government, and they will spend the money which we vote here, money which, in fact, has been voted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and which comes out of the pockets of the people of Great Britain.
I do not think we should be stingy about that. If Northern Ireland is in need, we ought to help her, but we cannot get away from the fact that this money will come out of the pockets of the people of Great Britain, and, if that is so, they ought to have some say in how the agency behaves. We have no say at all. If we put down a Question in this House about what is happening under the agency what we are told is that, while every penny of the grant has been voted by the House, it is quite improper to inquire how the money is spent because the agents are the officials of an independent Parliament.
I can give one example which occurred under a parallel scheme to this—the potato scheme. An official employed by the agency alleged that he was dismissed on the ground that he was a Roman Catholic. I do not know whether that was so or not, but a number of people, including Mr. Teevan, who was recently a Member of this House, advised that public servants should be employed on the basis of their religion. On the questionnaire which is sent out to those acting as agents the religion of the applicant is asked for.
§ Mr. Hale
On a point of order. This is really a very important argument which affects our relationship with Northern Ireland. It deals with the whole question whether we ought to pass a scheme here and hand it over to be administered in accordance with the rules of the agents and officers of Northern Ireland without our having any further regard to the scheme. I represent a constituency which has one of the largest Roman Catholic populations in Britain, and therefore this 808 matter is of great importance to my constituents. If we are to allow discrimination to be applied in agricultural matters as well as in religious matters, we might open the door to something very serious.
§ Mr. Bing
I do not want to enter into any religious discussion. I can put the matter on any other ground you like. I can put the matter in a very general way and I will not mention religion. It just happens that that is one of the grounds for discrimination. When we have paid money for an inspector, we ought to be able to see that he is not dismissed on grounds of which we would not approve, and we ought to be able to see that this is put right.
§ Mr. Bing
No, Sir Charles, not in this case. We cannot have a scheme and cannot administer it unless we accept the agency principle. Therefore, it seems to be undesirable to accept a principle which must involve all that I have been describing. It is only because we pass a Bill in this way that there is authority for this to take place. What you will find, if you have a chance to look at the Estimates, is a gross Imperial contribution. It is a very complicated matter. It is not until you go to the Northern Ireland Accounts that you will find the agency payments which are made on our behalf.
I will leave that aspect of the matter, with which I have dealt for rather too long. It is not only a matter of the terms upon which people will be employed but of the whole conduct of agriculture. It is no use our pouring money into an area over which we have no effective control in regard to general agricultural policy.
The areas most in need of assistance under the scheme are the counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh. [Interruption.] 809 Possibly in Armagh, too. I am glad to hear the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden), who took part in the Second Reading debate on the Bill. He is always in his place. Those are the great agricultural areas in Northern Ireland which are liable to be affected. It is no use our giving ploughing grants if there do not exist the other installations to provide for a reasonable and sensible agricultural policy. In some areas, no agricultural cottages have been built since before 1914. The fantastic agricultural policy which is pursued makes it doubtful whether we ought, without further examination, to conclude a scheme under which we are not able to inquire fully.
I hope, therefore, that when the Minister replies he will say that he is going to have a separate scheme for Northern Ireland. If he feels that Northern Ireland ought not to be excluded altogether and that something ought to be done for the agriculture of Northern Ireland, let him consider a separate scheme, and whether it ought to be in the Bill. It is absurd, when we have a Parliament in Northern Ireland charged with dealing with, agriculture, for us to make a scheme without consultation with Northern Ireland and without giving Northern Ireland an opportunity to discuss it. The scheme will come up here subject to an affirmative Resolution, and it will not be discussed by the very Parliament which we have seen fit to entrust with control of agriculture in Northern Ireland.
If the Minister prepares a scheme for Northern Ireland, I hope it will be one which can be discussed by the Northern Ireland Parliament. Why is that Parliament there if it is not able to discuss one of the matters which has been entrusted to it? Secondly, when the scheme comes into effect it will have to take into account the special conditions in Northern Ireland, the first of which is the size of the holdings. The size is entirely different; the whole nature of the holding is different. Another matter is the deficit which exists in the supply of rough feeding materials in Northern Ireland.
The third point we must take into consideration is the whole problem of flax growing. We need a statement on that matter. Is it not our policy to encourage flax growing, and if so, where do we 810 propose to encourage it? In Northern Ireland? Are we to import it from abroad, or are we to try to grow flax here?
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
The hon. and learned Member should be aware that flax is also grown in my constituency.
§ Mr. Bing
Flax is a great industrial crop in Northern Ireland. I am glad that it is also grown in the constituency of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber). I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with this very important point. There is no mention in the scheme of any industrial crop. Flax is the principal industrial crop grown in Northern Ireland. It is concentrated in a very small area but there is no reason why we should not deal with it in the scheme.
I think I am right in saying that there was a very considerable acreage under flax at the end of the war, when we were successful in securing a very large acreage of flax. There may be a number of technical reasons why it is undesirable to try to build up anything like the same amount of flax-growing as then existed. We ought to hear something about the general flax position.
I am sorry to have detained the Committee for longer than I originally intended, but I have tried to deal as fairly as possible with the position in Northern Ireland. I hope we shall have a comprehensive report from the Minister upon Northern Ireland's agriculture.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget
There are two aspects which we have to consider under this Amendment. The first is the broad, financial aspect. When Northern Ireland was given local autonomy a financial 811 agreement was come to with that country, as is always the case on these occasions. Northern Ireland agreed to pay a contribution towards the Army and Navy which would defend her, towards the National Debt which had been incurred partly on her behalf and towards certain other matters which were referred to as Imperial charges.
Her contribution was to be a percentage worked out upon her taxable capacity which then came to 2½per cent. Since the war the production of England has expanded much more than that of Northern Ireland. Perhaps 2½ per cent, is too high a contribution now but, as things have worked out, not only is Northern Ireland paying today absolutely nothing for being defended, absolutely nothing towards the National Debt, absolutely nothing towards any Imperial defence, but she is actually being subsidised by the English taxpayer.
§ Mr. J. R. E. Harden (Armagh) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Paget
I will give the hon. Gentleman the figures. The cost of the food subsidies and of the producer subsidies which we pay out to Northern Ireland exceeds the total contribution which Northern Ireland makes for all these matters. So, although she contributes with one hand, she is taking more with the other and we ought to bear that in mind.
Apart altogether from the general financial question, there is the purely practical problem which comes from the proposition to which the Parliamentary Secretary indicated assent a few minutes ago. It is that, within our agricultural scheme, subsidy is a payment on account for a final product and, within the scheme of the 1945 Act, within the general scheme and principle which is profoundly important to the agricultural industry, subsidy is only justified as a payment on account for a product.
That is quite right and workable and satisfactory as long as eventually we control the product for which we are making a payment on account. That is so as long as the Ministry of Food here is a buyer of the product for which we are paying in the first place. But in Northern Ireland, although we are taking over this aspect of Northern Ireland agriculture, 812 as well as many other aspects, the Northern Ireland Ministry of Food is quite independent of ours. We have no control——
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
If my hon. and learned Friend will allow me to interrupt, may I say that I am surprised that the Government Front Bench do not know what happens in this matter. Somebody ought to intervene to tell my hon. and learned Friend that we have not got milk rationing in this country. This ignorance is appalling.
§ Mr. Harden
Could I put the hon. and learned Gentleman right? The Divisional Food Officer in Northern Ireland is directly under the Minister of Food here.
§ Mr. Paget
I am most grateful for the various pieces of information from different parts of the Committee. I was speaking on the practical level that anybody in Northern Ireland buys just as much milk, indeed just as much meat, as he wants. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not know if there is a nominal ration of meat in Northern Ireland, but it is not a ration which is apparent to anyone going into a butcher's shop in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Harden
The meat ration is exactly the same in Northern Ireland as here and it is an untrue accusation to make. I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman should try to get away with a remark like that.
§ Mr. Paget
Since when have butchers in Northern Ireland been interested in a ration book or coupons when people want to buy meat? It may be that there is a rationing system, it may be that many people do not take up their ration, but 813 let us talk sense here. As a matter of pure practice anybody in Northern Ireland buys just as much meat as he wants.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Frank Bowles)
I think I understand the point which the hon. and learned Member is making, but he must try not to go into so much detail. He is trying to say that the product should be bought by the Minister of Food.
§ Mr. Paget
I am only saying that if we are to pay for something by way of payments on account, we ought to have better control of the final product than we have in Northern Ireland. We certainly do not want to make payments on account in respect of milk which is used for manufacturing purposes, and that appears to be the case in Northern Ireland. That is the first point.
The second difficulty arises from the division of Northern Ireland from Southern Ireland with an open border between the two, across which cattle pass as is convenient to the farmers concerned. As a matter of practice, therefore, one has to take that Northern Ireland frontier as an open frontier so far as the transfer of goods is concerned.
§ Mr. Paget
I am all for taking away these barriers and I wish they were taken away in the daytime as well as at night. In practice, there is no considerable inconvenience as I remember. When we tried to put a tax on horses from Southern Ireland the transfers across the border made it absolutely unworkable.
While we pay for farming by a final price, it works out, in practice, that the price we pay for the cattle from Northern Ireland is higher than the price paid to a farmer in Southern Ireland. I believe that is still so by a very small percentage. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) can confirm that point?
§ Mr. Paget
These Ministry of Food figures are extremely difficult for the back bench Member to cover, but I think that a short time ago the figure we paid for Northern Irish cattle was rather higher than for the Southern Irish cattle. Perhaps we shall be told whether that is true today?
But, since an ever higher percentage of the value of cattle is being paid for by subsidy, the position will be reached where we pay for the whole of the cow by a final price in Southern Ireland whereas in Northern Ireland—if this subsidy system goes on—we shall be paying for about one-third of the cow in subsidy and two-thirds in price.
So a position will be reached in which the Southern Irish price, which is the price for the whole cow, must become higher than the Northern Irish price, which is a price for two-thirds of the cow, so far as the final product is concerned. I believe that in that event Northern Irish cows will take a stroll southwards so that they get paid for once by subsidy in Northern Ireland and a second time by price in Southern Ireland. It is a manoeuvre which is at least to be expected.
The Minister may very well say, "Why pick on me? This subsidy for Northern Ireland was instituted by your party." Indeed, it was instituted during the war. but we began to subsidise Northern Irish agriculture. The point is that one has to look at it somehow and to see when the point is reached that it ought to stop. I venture to say that we have reached that point now.
We ought to treat Southern Ireland as one unit, deal with their Ministry of Agriculture, and give them, under the bulk buying arrangements which we operate, a price for their cattle which would call for the production which we want of Southern Irish cattle. Make a similar bargain with the Ministry of Agriculture in Northern Ireland, give them a price which would call for the production which they want, and let the Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland use part of that price for a subsidy system if he wants to call for a special production in any direction. But let us treat those two as a unit. Do it through Southern Ireland, do it through Northern Ireland, and stop the rather slovenly system which has grown upon 815 us of getting these two problems mixed up together.
As subsidy is playing an ever larger part in the price, it becomes more and more difficult to support it. We should reach the point of saying that we have got to deal with these two things separately, realising that the Northern Ireland problem is different to the British problem; that they should be provided with a price, and that the Ministerial angle should be the Northern Ireland Ministry and not the British Ministry. I should like to see it worked on those lines.
§ Mr. Harden
I cannot agree with much of what has been said by the hon. and learned Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) and Northampton (Mr. Paget). The hon. and learned Member for Horn-church has made his usual scurrilous attack on Ulster—I did not expect anything else—in which he got down to suggesting that somebody had not got a certain appointment because of his religion. That would have been far better left out, and I say once again——
§ Mr. Bing rose——
§ Mr. Harden
Let me say this—that if there are any small pieces of discrimination, they are dying far quicker than I hoped they would. Such remarks and such things from——
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
On a point of order. Is the word "scurrilous," when applied to an hon. Member, a proper Parliamentary expression?
§ The Temporary Chairman
When it is applied not to a Member, but to an expression, I think it is all right.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Harden
Such remarks as have been made by the hon. and learned Member can only do more harm to the problem, as I have said before. In my constituency——
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
The hon. Member made a remark, in passing, which I hope he does not mean. He said that the hard feelings were dying out quicker than he hoped. That was the meaning he conveyed, but I do not think he meant it.
§ Mr. Harden
I withdraw what I said. What I meant is that I should like them not to be there at all. They are disappearing, and I assure the hon. and learned Member that they are disappearing quickly. I hope that they will continue in that way.
As regards the economic position and as to whether Northern Ireland is in credit, I do not have the figures before me but I am given to understand that Northern Ireland is in credit. I stand to be corrected, however, and I do not pretend to be an economist.
§ Mr. Bing
I can give the hon. Member the figures, which will settle the argument once and for all. The figures that Northern Ireland receives are: £3,600,000 under the Social Services Agreement Act, £92,000 under the training and rehabilitation schemes, £563,000 under the agency and administrative costs services, £13,890,000 under the food services, £5,330,000 under the producer subsidies, £651,000 for land annuities, and there are various tax refunds, making a gross total for 1950 of £20,752,000, to which must be added the £3,600,000.
§ Mr. Harden
I would not for a moment accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's figures without substantial confirmation of them from other authorities.
One of the hon. and learned Members has said that there were no agricultural cottages built since 1914. That is not true. I can quote offhand at least 25 instances where I know that they have been built. That would not, however, be a fair argument.
Next, one of the hon. and learned Members stated that we in Northern Ireland supply nothing to the defence of the United Kingdom. I do not know that that is quite fair. We all pay the same taxes, whether in Northern Ireland or Great Britain, and we supply our men for the Armed Forces, all of whom are volunteers. After the record of an Ulster regiment which has been in Korea and has served with great distinction, it would not be fair to say that we have not played our part in the defence of the United Kingdom.
During the late war, Ulster did not desert this country, and never will do in the future. Had we done so, it might not have ended up in as happy a position.
§ Mr. Paget
My remarks were confined, of course, entirely to finance; on any other basis they would have been irrelevant.
The sole point is that under the original Act of 1920, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland agreed to make certain contributions of cash to Imperial defence. In point of fact, on the balance of the contributions of which my hon. and learned Friend has given the figures, it is now a minus quantity; but in manpower and gallantry, of course, Northern Ireland did things that we all admire and for which we are all grateful.
§ Mr. Harden
The last point to be raised was that we are manufacturing milk in Northern Ireland but that we should not get the same price structure. In fact, last year some 30,000 gallons were put into condensed milk, all of which came to this country. The position is that we are over-producing as regards our own consumption of milk and we are sending it to this country, some in manufactured form, and when it is wanted in liquid form it is sent here to help when supplies are short.
I do not think that is an unsatisfactory position because in the type of holding we have in Northern Ireland it is financially sound to produce a small amount of milk in accordance with the size of holding. I think that the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch was wrong when he said that the average farm was 59 acres. I think it is much bigger and that the average is more nearly 40 acres. I have heard it put even lower.
We are producing milk and it is coming to this country. If it is not wanted in liquid form it is coming as condensed milk. Some of it is going into a cheese factory which is expanding and it is not only being used for a type of chocolate biscuit but also for what I call "mousetrap cheese," to try to increase the cheese ration which now has reached its lowest ever. Whether the small contribution will make any significant difference, I do not know.
Northern Ireland farmers welcome the £5 ploughing-up grant and the Committee may be sure that they will play their part in ploughing up their quantity of grassland. I hope that the Committee will support my right hon. Friend if we have to divide on this question.
818 It seems curious that hon. Members opposite never raised this question when they were in power. We had ploughing-up grants then and they went through without any trouble. I can only imagine that the reason they are now moving the Amendment is to try to unite themselves, but I hope that the Northern Ireland Labour Party will note very carefully the hostile attitude of hon. Members opposite when the next General Election comes.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
We have great respect for the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) and I think that when he reads his speech he will be rather sorry for the remarks with which he began and ended it. I listened to the speeches of my hon. and learned Friends and from what I heard there was no attack either on the Ulster Government or on the people of Ulster. I cannot deal with the many difficult and complicated questions they raised, but I shall have pleasure in reading them in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow.
I wish to emphasise two points which have come out of the contributions supporting the Amendment. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) said something which I thought most disturbing. It not only disturbed me that the Front Bench did not know that we have not milk rationing in this country. That is disturbing enough, but we have not to expect too high standards from the Government Front Bench. I am much obliged for their summoning of the Minister of Food because we may later require his assistance.
What my hon. and learned Friend said was not that we were getting milk in this country in the form of condensed milk, but in the form of buttons. If they are soluble, it is a development which may be of some importance and which may save transport costs and the like. But I understood him to mean ordinary buttons. Is it a fact that we are supporting milk production in Northern Ireland and they are making buttons from some of it?
I hope that the Minister of Food will be able to tell us what is happening to milk in this country. Are we making it into buttons also? I have been complaining for the past few months that the consumption of fresh milk has been falling and I am sure that this is disturbing the Ministry of Food. We are very concerned about the nutritive value of milk for our 819 people. Earlier today we were discussing, in answer to Questions, the difficulties we may be facing in the autumn. It is in the autumn that we import milk from Northern Ireland. What a shock it will be if, instead of milk, we are presented with buttons.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
The hon. Member has made suggestions about the manufacture of buttons, but when I was a boy at school I understood that they were manufactured from milk.
§ Mr. Willey
I have a great respect for the hon. Member, but he should have heard the speech of his hon. Friend before he intervened. It was not his hon. Friend who referred to buttons, but my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church.
The hon. Friend of the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) said what I hope is nearer the truth, that we get the milk in the form of condensed milk. About that I would be less disturbed, but I know from experience that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church is better informed about Northern Ireland than some of the hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland in this House. I have not the slightest doubt that the information my hon. and learned Friend has given the Committee will be found to be the fact. As we subsidise agriculture in Northern Ireland this is a matter into which we must look at once.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I do not dispute the suggestion of the hon. Member, but is it not true that milk was made into buttons under the last Labour Government?
§ Mr. Willey
That is a matter of which I am not cognisant. What I am cognisant of is that the Minister has told the House that we are on a one ounce cheese ration and that he does not think he can maintain it for the rest of the year. If, in those circumstances, we are using milk which might make cheese for making buttons, we shall be very disturbed and so also will the housewives of this country and of Northern Ireland.
Another point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is a question of real substance. He dealt with the question of producer subsidies. We all know 820 that we have had a change of policy and for the moment I am not criticising that change of policy. The producer subsidies, until a few months ago, were being eliminated. But in the new agricultural policy an emphasis has been laid upon producer subsidies. For instance, we were going to eliminate even the feeding-stuffs subsidy but, instead of elimination of that subsidy, the farmers in the next 12 months will receive £30 million over and above that given by the Farm Price Review in this form.
When we consider the question of Northern Ireland in relation to the producer subsidies we see that a substantial point has been raised. It is something upon which we are entitled to a reply from the Government Front Bench. Have they carefully considered and reviewed the effect of the new approach to farm prices through additional emphasis on producer subsidies in relation to Northern Ireland agriculture? I am not expressing a view about this. This might not be sufficient or it might be too much, but we should be informed and have the figures so that we could understand whether this is fair to Northern Ireland.
I am sorry that he is not in his place, but I remember one of the hon. Members for Belfast raising this matter in the House when I was answering a Prayer. In reply, I then said how difficult it was, although we agree that there are differences, to distinguish Northern Irish agriculture from our own, because there are differences in British agriculture between England, Scotland and Wales. It is very difficult to provide for that.
I should like to know whether the Minister has thought about this problem, as there is now this increasing emphasis on the producer subsidy, and I hope that he will at any rate take this occasion to explain his point of view on the effect of the producer subsidy on the Irish farmer, whether he feels that this is right, whether the farmer in Northern Ireland is being assisted over much, or whether on reflection, after reviewing the matter and this emphasis upon the producer subsidy, he feels that by this reversion to the producer subsidy the Northern Irish farmer may not be receiving an adequate incentive.
I do not know which view to take until we hear the facts upon which the Minister 821 bases his policy. This would be an opportune moment for him to be frank with us and to tell us how he thinks this reversion to producer subsidy will affect agricultural policy in Northern Ireland.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), blazing the trail for Northern Ireland as usual, said that we had no control over the administration of the potato guarantees in Northern Ireland. I hope I may be excused for raising this matter, because as a farmer in Eire as well as in the Isle of Ely, which is particularly affected, I do not think I could possibly be accused of having a vested interest in Northern Ireland.
The Government here have considerable power over the disposal of the potato crop in Northern Ireland, this year particularly. If Her Majesty's Government had not taken considerable action in delaying the disposal of the English crop in order to help the disposal of the Northern Ireland crop, Northern Ireland would have suffered very grievously. I do not know what motive the hon. and learned Member has, and he may have given a false impression, but I should like to make it clear that my own constituency has suffered very heavily as a result of this clamping down of the movement of the English home crop to allow the Northern Ireland crop to be disposed of in England and Wales.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
It has been mentioned in the House. I think every potato grower in the country knows it; every official in the Ministry of Food knows it; and certainly the reason given to me when I have endeavoured to get the main potato crop from the Isle of Ely moved is that the Northern Ireland crop must be disposed of because it is such a bumper one.
§ Mr. Bing
I am very sorry if I gave a wrong impression to the Committee. The point I was making was not that we had not from the House of Commons complete control of the disposal, marketing and everything else of the Northern 822 Ireland crop, but that the conduct of officials in charge of the job who are paid out of the funds we provide was not amenable to discussion in the House. That was my only point, and I am sorry if I gave the hon. and gallant Gentleman a wrong impression. I am very glad he has taken the opportunity of pointing it out.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. and learned Gentleman does his best on every possible occasion to make up any deficiency in the discussion of Northern Ireland.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made a proposal which does not seem to me to have great relevance to the Amendment, but as I have a vested interest in it I am quite prepared to debate it, because I am a breeder of fat cattle in Southern Ireland. He suggested that Southern Ireland, and Northern Ireland should be included in the same economy with ourselves; that the three should work as one in food production.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am grateful to him for clearing that up. From what he said I thought he was arguing that they should be treated in a similar manner. I do not believe that would be very conducive to bring about a solution of the eternal problem affecting any discussion of the Irish question. If such a suggestion is to be made, it would come much better from Southern Ireland.
There is a precedent for the Bill as drafted, and there is no need for the Committee to accept this Amendment. We have shown that there is a close tie up between Northern Ireland agriculture and Welsh and English agriculture, and merely because this is a ploughing grant Bill it would be wrong to exclude Northern Ireland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) said, there has been ample demonstration that Northern Ireland and Great Britain are irrevocably linked, and there is no ground for saying that Northern Ireland is endeavouring to make something out 823 of us without giving anything in return. That is a very wrong suggestion to make, and I am sorry it has been made. Although I say this at great peril to myself, as I go over to Southern Ireland quite often, the allegations made against Northern Ireland this afternoon are quite unjustified, and I hope that the Amendment will be rejected.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I have not been a Member of the House for six years without knowing the background against which the hon. and learned Member makes all his speeches affecting Northern Ireland. I may be wrong, but my impression is that when he speaks on Northern Ireland he is doing his best to make as much bad blood as he can between Northern Ireland and this country.
§ Mr. Nugent
The hon. and learned Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) and Northampton (Mr. Paget) have argued that there should be a separate provision for Northern Ireland, and during the discussion doubt has been expressed about the financial account between Her Majesty's Government here and the Government of Northern Ireland. On this narrow point on a ploughing subsidy Bill I shall not stray into the realms of cattle, even after the invitation offered.
To pursue the point I was making, the broad point which requires answering is whether or no there should be a separate scheme. I appreciate that the hon. and learned Gentleman felt concerned about this. I noted that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) in his intervention, which, I thought, started on a tone rather lower than his usual courtesy——
§ Mr. F. Willey
May I point out that I began by saying I had great respect for the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden)?
§ Mr. Nugent
I thank the hon. Gentleman, but what he said, and I took it down at the time, was that we should not 824 expect too high a standard from the Government Front Bench, and it seemed to me rather unnecessary in the circumstances.
I was following the principle of not interrupting hon. Gentlemen opposite, because I felt fairly sure that given time they would probably inform each other of what were the merits of this particular case. If I may refer them to some of the things which have gone before when they formed the Government, the Committee will see that there was some reason for what I said. I assume that this matter was discussed before on the 1946 Bill and that there was no doubt a meeting of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and the sort of discussion which has gone on this afternoon probably took place then.
§ Mr. Nugent
I do not know what goes on upstairs. In any event, their spokesman, the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who was then Minister of Agriculture said:…and I am happy to be able to inform him"—that was to inform an hon. Member opposite—that the one part of the British Isles which will benefit very materially under the terms of this Bill will be Northern Ireland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 2324.]He was replying to Major Haughton, who was the Member for Antrim at that time, and was making specifically the point that the Bill did provide for Northern Ireland, and that he, the right hon. Gentleman, was glad to find that it did.
I make that point because I feel that it is a fair one to make and that whatever the concern of the hon. and learned Gentleman may be today he was, in fact, present on that day and did vote for that Bill; as was his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). Whatever may be their concern today it evidently was not as great then as they were able to support a Bill of their own in 1946 which' did specifically include Northern Ireland for a ploughing subsidy.
§ Mr. Bing
Would the hon. Member add, this, so that the picture may be complete? In 1946 the Northern Ireland account was nearly £20 million in credit. Now, when we are giving them this extra 825 subsidy, it is £4 million in debit, before there is any account taken of the Imperial contribution. So the position is entirely different.
§ Mr. Nugent
I congratulate the hon. and learned Member on his riposte. I think it fair to say to him that if the account was becoming so serious it is a matter of comment that he took no action when the last Government was in office to see that the matter was rectified.
§ Mr, Frederick Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
Can the hon. Gentleman indicate how it was there was a Division before on this matter, and if there was a Division how many of his right hon. and hon. Friends took the view they appear to take today?
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Nugent
The hon. Gentleman is off the target. Before he makes an intervention he would be wise to read HANSARD. I was not in the House at the time. The Division was not on this point at all. It was on the point about what date the ploughing subsidy should run, so that the issue was quite irrelevant to this matter.
This has been the general practice carried on by the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Normally, Northern Ireland is included in such schemes as this, and in calf subsidy schemes, and fertiliser subsidy schemes. In fact, it has been the general practice. There are, however, one or two specific points with which I wish to deal. The first is that the inclusion of Northern Ireland in the scheme for a ploughing subsidy was part of the Price Review settlement in which Northern Ireland farmers are included as well as farmers in this country. If they are not now included they would have serious ground for complaint that they were not getting the complete settlement which they had agreed to accept.
The specific reason for including them in this scheme and for not having a separate scheme for them is that the ploughing-up subsidy is as much necessary in Northern Ireland as in England. The tillage acreage has gone back there; indeed there has been a very excellent response to the subsidy in increased tillage acreage in the last few months. I am advised the applications amount to something around the 150,000 acre figure, which is extremely satisfactory in the 826 prospect of bringing us extra crops for the future. Had the Northern Ireland Government wished to have a separate scheme, of course they would have had one. But they considered that the scheme we were proposing to adopt here was what they wanted and, therefore, they agreed to have the same scheme. If I could make the point to the hon. and learned Gentleman in case he is sceptical on this, in the fertiliser scheme now in the Vote Office they have a separate scheme, because their conditions vary slightly.
The hon. and learned Gentleman asked why flax has not been included as one of the approved crops, and why the special position in Northern Ireland has not been recognised.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I was not in the Chair at the time, but I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman pressed that point rather much. I think that flax is outside the Bill.
§ Mr. Paget
With great respect, this is a Bill to authorise schemes. It is perfectly true that flax is outside the scheme which has been made. But if any scheme were to be made for Northern Ireland it is a scheme which would be authorised by this Bill, and in our view it would certainly have to deal particularly with flax. Therefore, with respect, when the Minister is asked, "What are you going to do about flax? Are you going to have a scheme under this Bill for flax?" that is a Northern Ireland question. It does extend to Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Hale
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), who made a speech on this matter —with almost every word of which I am in complete disagreement, and I hope that I may catch your eye, Mr. Bowles—did make a fair point there.
The Minister of Agriculture announced this grant on 4th February and on Second Reading emphasised, as a reason for the ploughing-up grants, the policy position, and the necessity for encouraging the growth in the home area of a number of things, including the provision of feedingstuffs, which are at the moment the subject of the dollar deficit.
My hon. and learned Friend gave figures on the importation of flax into 827 Northern Ireland and of the dollar deficit. He raised what appeared to me to be a most important matter. I am against him and I hope that flax will not be included, but I suggest that it is most relevant. I do not think that it was pursued at great length. The important question which we must consider in this half-starved country is whether to encourage the growth of food or to encourage the growth of things required for trade at the expense of food.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I appreciate all that, but this Bill refers to grass and grazing. However desirable flax may be, I do not think——
§ Mr. Hale rose——
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I will listen to another submission when I have made my statement. The Bill refers to grass and grazing. It does not, and could not possibly, include a subsidy on the growing of flax.
§ Mr. G. Brown
In Clause 1 (1) the Bill refers to the ploughing up of land under grass and the carrying out of further operations. Until now, we have all understood that that involved the question of the cropping of the land following the ploughing up. It seems to me that it must be competent to submit that one crop, as well as certain other crops, should be a following operation for the purpose of this Bill.
If flax is of importance to Northern Ireland, then clearly, in discussing the applicability of a scheme to Northern Ireland, it would seem that one ought to be as free to discuss the further operations referred to in this Bill, for example, the sowing of flax, as one is free to discuss the cropping of potatoes or the sowing of corn in this country. I submit that if in fact that is not your ruling, and that is not allowed, we shall be debarred from discussing an important phrase in the Bill itself.
§ Mr. Bing
I do not know whether it would help you, Mr. Bowles, if I called your attention to what was said by the Minister on the Second Reading of this Bill. Describing the purpose of the Bill he said:The land had to be ploughed up and sown at once with approved crops. The list of 828 approved crops included not only grains, but potatoes, linseed, peas, beans, fodder, beet and certain other fodder crops."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 421.]I conceive that the object of the Bill is to provide (a)for the ploughing up and (b)for the insertion of certain crops, and that the schemes will provide not only for the land to be ploughed up but for what are to be the crops to be sown on the grassland once it has been ploughed. The argument with regard to flax was raised because I felt that in Northern Ireland there should be provision for growing flax while that might not be necessary in regard to England. That was an argument in favour of having two schemes instead of one.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I was under the impression that all the various products which the hon. Gentleman read out are edible products, either by cattle or by human beings. If I am wrong, I will consider the matter again. Perhaps the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) will make another submission.
§ Mr. Hale
We are in the difficulty that part of the product of flax is included and part is not. I suggest that it would come under either head, because linseed would come in as a direct product, but that part used for the very important linen industry of Northern Ireland, which no one wants to injure, would not. This is a most important point about how far the grant will apply to one part of a crop of flax and not the other.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I may have been wrong. I do not know. Perhaps the Minister will deal with the matter.
§ Mr. Nugent
I have only a brief comment to make on this position. There is a very fine point in the question of the relationship between linseed and flax. The flax production in Northern Ireland is geared to factory capacity. Without enlarging their factory capacity they would be unable to deal with substantially increased quantities of flax. It is for that reason that flax has not been included as one of the approved crops.
On the question of milk exports to England, and the general contribution which Northern Ireland makes to this 829 country, I should make it plain that Northern Ireland agriculture makes a substantial contribution, especially in milk. I have no evidence that this milk is not used for human consumption here. If hon. Gentlemen opposite have evidence that it has been manufactured into buttons, I will be glad to have it and I will look into the matter. Useful as they are, especially in certain places, nevertheless we may need the milk for other purposes. Milk comes here in large quantities and it makes a substantial contribution to our larder. So do a number of other products such as eggs and bacon.
Although the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman is important, I emphasise that this has been the general practice. It is one to which he and his hon. and right hon. Friends have agreed before and, in this context, it is sound and practical to have this subsidy. It will help to get the extra increase which is required to grow the extra crops which we badly need. For that reason, I hope that he and his hon. and right hon. Friends will withdraw this Amendment.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I find that in some parts of the argument the reply of the hon. Gentleman was a little disappointing. On the question of the provision that a scheme may be separate or joint, I can well understand him meeting the arguments advanced by saying that this is a common form of words. But he has told us that the fertiliser subsidy was administered under separate schemes. He said that agricultural conditions in Northern Ireland were different from agricultural conditions here, and a separate scheme was required. I should have thought that that gave away a good deal of the argument. If conditions differed for the application of that subsidy, they certainly differ for the application of this one. I should have thought that he might have met the argument by indicating that it was likely that there would be a separate scheme.
The hon. Gentleman gracefully dodged another part of the argument. I refer to the question of what happens to the food products, the meat as well as the milk, that is secured as a result of this subsidy. Inquiries I have made in Eire and Northern Ireland since this Bill was placed before us lead me to suspect that we are subsidising the production of food in Northern Ireland in the same way as 830 we are in this country, but whereas here we are getting the results of it in the form of more milk or meat, we are getting rather less than that from Northern Ireland.
I am told that since Eire has been finding it possible to sell her meat in other markets at higher prices than our Minister of Food is willing to pay, not only has a good deal of fat cattle from Eire gone elsewhere than to this country but a decided pull has been made on cattle from Northern Ireland. When the hon. and gallant Member for Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) spoke of his interests as a breeder in Eire, I wondered where his cattle went.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Brown
Nobody is making any allegations, scurrilous or otherwise, and that is obviously the effect of a free market. If the price goes up in one place, the raw materials tend to go there.
We have not got the Minister of Agriculture for Northern Ireland here, and I think it is a great pity. In a two-hour debate on a very important matter, the Minister responsible in this House, who has rather more Under-Secretaries than the normal, is not here himself, nor is an Under-Secretary here at all.
§ Colonel Clarke
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? I believe that one of the reasons there may be a diminution in the number of fat cattle from Ireland is that we are not sending them enough coal. When I was over in Eire, the farmers told me that they believed that, unless we sent them more coal, they would not be able to send us the meat which they had done in the past.
§ Mr. Brown
I can well understand that in regard to Eire, but there is no subsidy proposal for Eire. Not only is that happening, but it is also drawing the cattle in Northern Ireland and I am sure that, if the Minister asked the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, he would get very much the same detailed information as I have got.
In fact, we are going out of our way to give to the Northern Ireland farming community subsidies of a kind which I dislike intensely. I dislike this particular way of paying for the products even here, where we have a degree of control, but 831 here we are going out of our way to give the subsidy to Northern Ireland, where we have not got any control. Cattle can go across the border, where they may be sold away from us, and why should we deliberately subsidise and encourage the production of cattle for Belgium, continental countries, and America, so that the American Army somewhere can have more meat? It is a little absurd.
§ Mr. Harden
The right hon. Gentleman asked me for the production figures from Northern Ireland into Eire. I received them only last week, and, if it would help the right hon. Gentleman at all, I can tell him that the number of cattle exported from Northern Ireland to Eire— unfortunately, up-to-date figures are not given—in 1950 was 329; in 1949, 348; and, to go back as far as 1939, it was 2,833. It would therefore appear as if there is a decrease in the number of cattle going southwards, and, although I quite appreciate the point which the right hon. Gentleman is putting and that the matter needs to be carefully watched by the Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland, I do not believe that there is any reason for alarm and despondency yet.
§ Mr. Brown
I hope we shall get some figures from the Minister concerning the number of cattle in Northern Ireland. We have had one explanation from the hon. and gallant Member for East Grin-stead (Colonel Clarke) and another from the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) on the trend in regard to cattle coming here, but if we could have some figures from the Minister, we might find out whether it is the right trend or not, and I doubt whether it is.
Frankly, I do not think the Government have met the important argument that we are paying out a debateable subsidy to a community in which we have less control than anywhere else, and where we cannot be sure that the resultant food production is coming to us, anyway. I should have thought that, if the Minister hopes to make progress with this part of the Bill, he would give us such information as he has, and also tell us what control we shall have over the resultant production. In the meantime, he should tell us whether there is to be a joint scheme, a separate scheme or no scheme at all.
§ Mr. Nugent
If I may reply briefly to the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the fertiliser scheme, I did not go into the details about the different arrangements, but it is a different set-up with the distributors and manufacturers, and it makes it more convenient to pay the subsidy at the manufacturer point rather than at the farming point. The right hon. Gentleman will know that that matter has considerable advantages.
On the second point, I have some figures here which may be what the right hon. Gentleman requires concerning the numbers of cattle coming into this country, and they are quite substantial. Last year, just under 250,000 head of cattle came here from Northern Ireland, and, setting that figure against the total head of cattle in the country of 931,000, which includes dairy cattle and all the young cattle, it is evident that we are getting a fair proportion of what they are growing. The figures of other cattle run to only a little over 200,000, but the right hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that 200,000 of those are adult dairy cattle producing milk, and that there are all their followers to come along as well. From this, it is quite evident that we are getting a very large proportion of their exportable surplus of fat cattle.
While I accept the anxiety of the right hon. Gentleman that money paid out in this way should not fail to benefit those who have to pay it, I am sure that he would not wish to imply that he believes that what he has said is, in fact, happening, but that he simply wants to make sure that it does not happen. I can assure him that we will do all that we can, and will seek an assurance from the Northern Ireland Government that there is no such leakage.
I will not proceed to give the complete list of foods sent to this country, but they amount to £26 million worth a year, and it is quite evident that Northern Ireland is making a very substantial contribution to this country. I hope that these figures will reassure the right hon. Gentleman that, in fact, his worst fears are not substantiated.
§ Mr. Herbert Butcher (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury) rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."833
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."834
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 184; Noes, 141.835
|Division No. 163.]||AYES||[6.10 p.m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Godber, J. B.||Partridge, E.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Gough, C. F. H.||Pickthorn, K. W M|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W J||Gower, H. R.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Graham, Sir Fergus||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W)||Harden, J. R. E.||Prior-Palmer, Brig 0. L|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Bucks, Wycombe)||Hare, Hon. J. H.||Redmayne, E.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr J. M.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Baldwin, A E.||Heath, Edward||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)|
|Banks, Col. C.||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Robertson, Sir David|
|Barber, A. P. L.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Holt, A. F.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)||Hope, Lord John||Russell, R. S.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Birch, Nigel||Horobin, I. M.||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Bishop, F. P.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W (Rochdale)|
|Black, C. W.||Howard, Greville (St. Ives)||Scott, R. Donald|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hurd, A. R.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Braine, B. R.||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W)||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W H||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W||Spearman, A. C M|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T||Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Speir, R. M.|
|Bullard, D. G.||Lambert, Hon. G||Spence, H, R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Leather, E. H. C.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Stevens, G. P.|
|Carson, Hon. E.||Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)||Stewart, Henderson, (Fife, E.)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Linstead, H. N.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Channon, H.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Cole, Norman||Longden, Gilbert (Herts, S.W.)||Summers, G S.|
|Colegate, W. A.||Luoas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir 'Hugh||Teeling, W.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Macdonald, Sir Peter (I. of Wight)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Crouch, R. F.||McKibbin, A. J.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Macleod, Rt. Hon. lain (Enfield, W.)||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Deedes, W F.||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Donner, P. W.||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Turton, R. H|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Drewe, G.||Marples, A. E.||Vaughan-Morgan, J K|
|Dugdale, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Duthie, W. S.||Maydon, Lt. Comdr. S. L. C||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (Marylebone)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W E||Mellor, Sir John||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Fell, A.||Molson, A. H. E,||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Watkinson, H. A|
|Fort, R.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Wellwood, W.|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E)||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Gage, C. H.||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Nugent, G. R. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Antrim, N.)||Mr. Butcher and Mr. Oakshott.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Bowden, H. W.||Cocks, F. S.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Coldrick, W.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Brookway, A. F.||Collick, P. H.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Brook, Drydsn (Halifax)||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Cullen, Mrs. A.|
|Bence, C. R.||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Darling, George (Hillsborough)|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)|
|Beswick, F.||Burton, Miss F. E.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)|
|Bing, G. H. C||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Deer, G.|
|Blackburn, F.||Callaghan, L. J.||Dodds, N. N.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Champion, A. J.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C|
|Blyton, W. R.||Chapman, W. D.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Follick, M|
|Foot, M. M.||McGhee, H. G.||Ross, William|
|Forman, J. C.||McLeavy, F.||Schofield, S. (Barnsley)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Macpherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Manuel, A. C.||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S)|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H A.||Snow, J. W.|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mellish, R J.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Messer, F.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mitchison, G. R||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Monslow, W.||Strachey, Rt. Hon J|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Hall, John (Gateshead, W.)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon E-|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Moyle, A.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Harman, W.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Hardy, E. A.||Oliver, G. H||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Hargreaves, A||Oswald, T.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Padley, W. E.||Thomeycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Holman, P.||Paget, R. T||Viant, S. P.|
|Houghton, Douglas||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Hoy, J. H.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Webb, Rt. Hon. M (Bradford, C)|
|Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Pannell, Charles||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Pargiter, G. A.||West, D. G.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Parker, J.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Paton, J.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Pearson, A.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Peart, T. F.||Wigg, George|
|Janner, B.||Poole, C. C.||Willey, Frederick (Sunderland, N.)|
|Jeger, Dr Santo (St. Pancras, S.)||Popplewell, E.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Porter, G.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y)|
|Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Proctor, W. T.||Winter-bottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Reeves, J.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Keenan, W.||Reid, William (Camlachie)|
|Kinley, J.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Royle.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Hale
May I seek your guidance on a point of order, Mr. Hopkin Morris? It is a point which has been raised before, and one which I want to put to you with every possible courtesy and respect. You had called upon me to address the Committee when the Whip, who had not been present and heard the discussion and, therefore, had no means of judging how far the discussion had gone, rose and moved the Closure. There are two points which arise and which I think should be put. In the course of the debate on the Motion of censure on the Chair put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) ——
I cannot accept any point of order. The vote has been taken and that matter is now finished.
§ Mr. Hale
I am seeking your guidance, Mr. Hopkin Morris. We have always been told that a Member can seek the guidance of the Chair as to what steps he can take to safeguard his reputation when it is reported in HANSARD that he has been called upon to address the Committee and then suddenly he is deprived of speaking through the action of the Whip moving the Closure. Is there no way in which I can make it clear to my constituency what happened?
The moving of the Closure does, of course, deprive an hon. Member of the opportunity of speaking, but there is no reflection at all on his reputation, and I cannot allow this discussion to go on, because it is completely out of order.
§ Mr. Hale
May I now raise a separate point of order which does not arise out of the Closure at all? In the discussion which has just terminated, a considerable amount of comment took place concerning the absence of the Home Secretary who is, of course, the Minister for Northern Ireland, and as I apprehend that we may wish to raise the matter again, could not some measure be taken to ask the Home Secretary to be here?
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, to leave out "may," and to insert "shall."
§ Mr. Fraser
If it is the wish of all concerned, I could take this Amendment together with the next one, though they raise two different points. I understood from the Minister himself that he, too, is anxious that they should be taken separately.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)
Perhaps I should add here that it would be more convenient for the Government if these two Amendments were taken separately. The second one deals with a rather different point.
§ Mr. Fraser
If I may, I will read the provision in this Clause which we are seeking to amend. Clause 1 (3) states:A scheme under this Act—…(b)may provide for defining or limiting the kinds of land under grass in respect of which the grants are to be made,…It seems to me that if this provision is to be permitted it really ought not to have been inserted in Clause 1 of the Bill; but it might have been inserted in Clause 3 which deals with supplementary provisions as to schemes.
A scheme must do three things. It must specify the rates of grants, it must provide for denning or limiting the kinds of land which benefit under the Measure, and it must provide that land which is to benefit must have been under grass for a minimum period of time. It is because these things are bound to be provided for in this scheme that they are dealt with in Clause 1 and not in Clause 3, which deals with supplementary provisions.
The Minister may feel that it is not easy, and perhaps he would argue that it is impossible, to accept this Amendment for the purpose of his first scheme because he intimated to the industry, to the House and to the country, on 4th February, that a ploughing subsidy of £5 per acre would be paid in respect of grass of four years or more to be ploughed down before the end of May this year. He might say, therefore, that the first scheme could not be provided for in any limitation on the kinds of land under grass in respect of which the grants are to be made.
838 However, I should have thought that, even though he accepted our Amendment, the scheme could provide for defining or limiting. I call attention to that little word "or." It still remains and we are not seeking to make it "and." I submit that the Minister could provide for making this grant available in respect of land under grass more than four years old that was ploughed down within the specified period.
What is important, and the reason we want this Amendment made, is that the Minister himself told us during the Second Reading that it might be desirable to provide for different kinds of grants in respect of different kinds of land under grass. I should have thought that that went without saying. Hon. Members in all parts of the Committee have expressed appreciation of the fact that in some parts of the country it would be very bad husbandry to plough down four-year-old grass.
Hon. Members will appreciate that in some parts of the country it would be very bad husbandry to keep land under grass for as long as four years. It seems to me, as we look beyond the first scheme to be made under this Measure, that the Minister really must be obliged to consider how the scheme to be made will apply to grass on different kinds of land in different parts of the country.
In this Amendment we are merely saying that the scheme shall provide for defining or limiting the kinds of land under grass. I might refer to one sentence the Minister spoke during the Second Reading of this Bill. He said:It will be possible, for instance, if it is desired and approved by the House, for one scheme to provide for different rates of grant for different types and kinds of grassland."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 422.]He might say now that it will still be possible, if this scheme so provides, for the House of Commons to discuss it. But if the Amendment is not accepted and the Minister does not put any provision in the scheme defining or limiting the kind of land, we shall not be able to discuss any limitation or definition of land when the scheme comes before the House; because then we shall only be enabled in this Chamber to discuss that which is contained within the scheme. Therefore, we are seeking to ensure that the scheme shall provide a definition or. 839 if the Minister thinks fit, a limitation of the kind of land under grass in respect of which grants will be made under the scheme. I hope the Minister will be able to meet us on this point.
I might say, in passing, that the Minister himself, when he returns to the benches on this side of the Committee, will perhaps take comfort from the fact that when he was Minister of Agriculture for a short period he accepted this small Amendment to the Agriculture (Ploughing Grants) Bill.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I should like to comment on this Amendment from a different angle. Just as I distrust a bi-partisan foreign policy, so I am beginning to distrust more and more the bi-partisan approach to agriculture of which I see evidence in this Committee. I always exculpate my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), but when I heard the speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and by the present Minister of Agriculture last Thursday, they reminded me very strongly of the fight I saw the other night between Mr. Cockell and Mr. Turpin.
§ Mr. Snow
I am coming to that point. In the fifth or sixth round the boxers had to be stopped and told not to be so polite to each other. I feel that on this Amendment there is a great deal that could be said about the position and responsibility of county agricultural executive committees. They play a very important part in this matter. The Minister knows that recently I put a series of Questions to him to ascertain what the position was about certain agricultural land in my constituency which seemed to me, not only from representations I had received but from my own observation, to be very badly farmed indeed. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman refused that information for the reason that——
I do not know how the hon. Member is going to relate his present argument to this Amendment.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Snow
If you could possibly be a little patient, Mr. Hopkin Morris, I will come to my point very quickly indeed. I was saying that in these questions that I had put I had tried to extract information from the Minister about certain land in my constituency which seemed to me to be badly farmed, and the Minister declined to give me the information. The responsibility of the county committees in this matter and in the schemes which will be provided under the Bill will be important, to the extent that they will be the supervisory bodies.
We must impose on the committees an obligation to see that the definitions are provided under these schemes, and the matter should not be made permissive. This Amendment will make it obligatory for a definition or a limitation to be prescribed, and that is why I say that the county committees should not have the authority or the ability to vary these schemes without a clear definition or limitation, and for that reason I hope the Committee will accept this Amendment.
You have evinced some impatience with my argument, Mr. Hopkin Morris, but I am trying to relate it to a matter of practical experience. These committees, in my view, are tending more and more to be representative of farmers and not representative of the nation.
I hope I have not been impatient with the hon. Member's argument, but I do not see what the constitution of the committees has to do with the substitution of "shall" for "may" in this Amendment.
The committees do not prescribe. It is the scheme which prescribes, as the hon. Member will see if he looks at the Clause.
§ Mr. Cecil Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I have no doubt that there is very great virtue in this Amendment, but I see some difficulty inasmuch as compulsory definitions are put into a scheme particularly in relation to this year. When the Minister made the announcement of these grants, he did not then say that there would be any limitations. I am sure that many farmers rushed to plough up grassland because of the incentive of the grant. I can see that much hardship can be caused if limiting factors are now imposed in any scheme which the Minister may prepare in respect of the current year.
I can see that many farmers will have ploughed up land and, perhaps, will not fall within the limitations which might be put into the scheme. Therefore, while there might be great virtue in inserting the word "shall" instead of "may" in relation to schemes for other years, I think it would be hardly fair to these people who, as a result of the Minister's statement in the House, have ploughed up land and who would find themselves outside the scheme which the Minister prepares if this Amendment is carried.
As I understood the Minister's statement, it was a plain statement that those who ploughed up grassland which had been put down to grass over the requisite period would qualify for a subsidy. It is hardly fair to those who have done that and who have fulfilled the obligation —and they had to do it before the end of May—now to suggest that the scheme shall impose limitations which may debar them from the benefits which the Minister held out to them as an encouragement to go forward.
There may be great virtue in inserting these words in respect of future years, but in respect of the present season, at any rate, I think the guiding factor must be the Minister's statement in the House, and all those who have responded to the incentive which he then offered ought to qualify this year.
§ Mr. Snadden
I must say that I agree with what the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) has said, and I am sorry tO have to tell those hon. Members who support this Amendment that we cannot 842 see our way to accept it, because we feel it would tie the Government's hands to too great an extent and would introduce an unnecessary rigidity into the Bill. I think we are all agreed that generally the more rigid provisions of this kind are, the more difficult administration becomes when it comes to implementing a Bill of this sort. There is also the question of manpower involved if we. create a great deal of clerical work which, I think 1 can say, is unnecessary.
The Amendment, as I understand it, would make it obligatory that every scheme should define or limit the kinds of land under grass for which grants would be payable. This in certain circumstances would prove to be extremely complicated, and indeed it could prove to be quite wasteful in its operation. For example, if the scheme were to apply, as the present scheme does, to all land under grass, it would be necessary to give a precise description of every type of grassland in the country.
§ Mr. Snadden
That is what this Amendment means. It says that a scheme shall "provide for defining or limiting the kinds of land under grass." That makes it obligatory on the Government to define in their scheme every type of grassland——
§ Mr. Snadden
The Amendment seeks to put an obligation upon us to define in every scheme the kinds of land for which a grant is to be paid. I cannot read it in any other way.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The hon. Gentleman is not now answering the point which my hon. and learned Friend has put to him. If the Minister's objection is that he does not want to be put to the trouble of defining all land if we want to include all land, the point of my hon. and learned Friend, which he ought to answer, is: Would it not be a definition if we merely said "all land"? What is there difficult about including all grassland? If that is the answer, why resist the Amendment?
§ Mr. Snadden
If we are going to bring in an all-embracing scheme such as we are bringing in at the moment, I am 843 advised that this Amendment would mean that we should have to particularise and specify, according to the legal reading of it, every kind of grassland under that scheme. We feel that that would complicate things far too much and would cause us a great deal of unnecessary work, because today there are plenty of forms and pamphlets explaining things to farmers, and to have another one defining all the kinds of grassland would, I think, involve a great deal of difficulty and complexity. There cannot be any justification for such particularity of definition where such generality is involved, and that is the point I want to make with regard to the present scheme, which is all-embracing.
The principle underlying the Government's proposal is that the provision regarding definition or limitation shall be permissive rather than mandatory, so that where a scheme is intended to be selective definition will, of course, be necessary and we shall define in that scheme precisely what we intend to do and on what kinds of land we will pay a grant. But where a scheme is all-embracing, such as this one, the exact definition of that scheme and the elaborate nature of defining it, which would be inevitable, would be unnecessary.
The Amendment would introduce, not what hon. Members opposite want—a desirable safeguard—but an unnecessary and probably impracticable responsibility. I am sorry to have to reject it, but I can tell hon. Members opposite that we are prepared to accept the following Amendment, which raises a slightly different point, about the minimum period. I have full authority to accept that, on behalf of the Government.
§ Mr. Snadden
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will see what our definition is if he looks at the last subsection in the Bill. Of course, if we wish to vary that in any future scheme, we may miss out some of the parts that are included in the reference.
§ Mr. Snadden
That subsection in the Bill refers to all grassland, and if we bring in a fresh scheme which is different from the present one we shall define particular types of land to which the scheme shall apply. That will mean that some of the things included in the last subsection may not be included in a fresh scheme.
§ Mr. Paget
—seven types of grazing land, that would seem to me to burden unduly any scheme which he might have in mind. If I am wrong—and I should not have thought I was—in suggesting that if one included "shall" instead of "may," none the less "all kinds of grassland" would be a perfectly good definition, I do not think one would unduly burden the scheme if one repeated what, according to the hon. Gentleman, is a comprehensive definition of all kinds of grassland—the half dozen or seven types which are contained in Section 5 (3).
The reason we are anxious that something of this sort shall be done is that we do want rigidity where we are using this subsidy system and using public money. There are certain words which have a curious magic to them. "Rigidity" and "appeasement" sometimes acquire a special meaning. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that "rigidity" is not always an uncomplimentary term. For instance, if one is on a step ladder, it is a very complimentary term. Where one is making provisions for the payment of public money, to say that those provisions are rigid is a compliment to them and, indeed, the performance of a duty of this Committee.
845 We are very anxious that agriculture shall work for a price. I think the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) will agree with me that agriculture should work for a price and not be supported by a series of loose subsidies. Where a subsidy is required, the more rigidly and precisely it is defined, the better. If, in any particular subsidy, it simply involves looking through to see whether or not one should include lucerne, that process should be gone through with the scheme and we should be told whether or not lucerne is to be included.
If the hon. Member says that he is going to accept the next Amendment, I ask him to have second thoughts and to accept this one and to tell us, in each specific scheme, whether lucerne shall be in or out.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I do not think the hon. Gentleman can be very happy about the reply he has given us. He himself must know that he spent the first part of his reply in telling us that it would be quite impossible to put any definition into the scheme. The first part of his reply was a criticism of the words contained in the Clause at the moment and not a reply to the Amendment which I have moved. He said that there would be too much work involved and that it would be too burdensome and irksome to try to put this definition into the scheme, and then, in reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), he said that the definition the Government have in mind is the definition to be found in the last subsection of the Bill.
Since the definition of the different kinds of land is the sort of thing the Government had in mind when they drew up this scheme for the approval of this Committee, I should have thought it would not have been difficult, or that the Government would have been hindered in any way by the acceptance of our Amendment, if they had put into the first scheme the whole of the definition, bringing in all grassland.
I concede the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole). I do not want to see the farmer who was promised a subsidy in February deprived of the subsidy under this scheme, but I submit that the acceptance of this 846 Amendment would not necessarily deny him the subsidy. We should merely say, when defining the land in the first scheme, that all this land was to be included. If this Amendment were accepted, we should not necessarily provide any limits to the kind of land under grass which would benefit under the scheme. As I said in moving the Amendment, we are not seeking to delete the word "or" and insert "and". The word "or" would remain and that part of the Clause would still be alternative or permissive.
The Minister, in his Second Reading speech, said:It will be possible, for instance, if it is desired and approved by the House, for one scheme to provide for different rates of grant for different types and kinds of grassland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 7th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 422.]If the Minister wishes to shelter under the permissive power that he gets by refusing the Amendment, he does not have to put in any definition. If he does not put in any definition, the Committee will not be able to discuss the desirability of providing different rates of grant for different types of land. We shall only be able to discuss what is in the scheme. When we discuss Statutory Instruments, we are not free to discuss matters not included in them.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Major Sir Thomas Dugdale)
I think there is a little confused thinking here, perhaps on both sides. There will always be a definition in the scheme, and what I said on Second Reading stands today. The only time when there will not be a definition will be when all grass is included, and that, of course, comes within Clause 5 (3), which defines grass. A scheme simply on grass would mean grass as defined in that subsection. If there were any limitation it would be specifically defined.
§ Mr. Fraser
I do not wish to continue this discussion unnecessarily. Indeed, I think that more often than not the Minister will provide for a definition when he introduces schemes and will act as if the word "may" were replaced by "shall." I doubt whether he will seek to take advantage of this little word in the Bill which he is not willing that we should change. I do not wish to argue the matter further at the risk of being charged with breaking the bi-partisan agricultural policy. The proper thing to 847 do would be to withdraw the Amendment, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I beg to move, in page 2, line 6, to leave out "may," and to insert "shall."
I understand that the Government are willing to accept the Amendment, which seems to me the correct decision, because it would be foolish to have a provision in the Bill stating that the schememay require the land to have been continuously under grass for a minimum period.That "may" ought certainly to be "shall."
§ Mr. Paget
I speak on behalf of those who go in for a seven-year rotation. I have not seen the first scheme yet, but I understand that the condition was to be four years. A four-year condition excludes those who are working a seven-year rotation, which is three years grass and four years under the plough. This does not apply to my district in the Midlands, where we have fairly heavy land, but I understand that on light land this is an extremely desirable rotation. I am afraid that if we make the period four years, a good many people who are working the seven-year rotation will keep the grass down for an extra year in order to qualify for the subsidy.
Thus, by having a four-year condition instead of a three-year condition, we might get less ploughing in this respect than if we had no subsidy at all. People who, according to their normal plan, 848 would plough at the end of three years, will be induced by the conditions of the subsidy to put off their ploughing for another year in order to qualify for the subsidy. I ask the Minister, when he considers using these powers, to consider also taking three years rather than four.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I understand that we are discussing the Amendment which the Government have accepted and that the next Amendment is not to be called. I want to say a word in reply.
That Amendment is not being selected and we are dealing with the Amendment in line 6.
§ Mr. Paget
On a point of order. The Amendment which you have selected, Mr. Hopkin Morris, provides that it shall be obligatory to impose a minimum period specified in the scheme. In an Amendment making it obligatory to provide a minimum period, it must be relevant to discuss what that minimum period ought to be. That is why I asked whether you were calling the next Amendment, because what I have had to say was clearly relevant to this Amendment, although it might have been more convenient to discuss it at another time.
I mistook what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said. I thought he was going to deal with the Amendment which has not been selected.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I started incorrectly. The point which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made will be borne very carefully in mind. The first scheme is for four years and over, but in future schemes which may be introduced we will take into account the point which he made. I do not want to give him any hope this evening that the Government will necessarily agree with his view, although very careful consideration will be given to the question of the period of years in the general interest of what we want to achieve.
If we came below the four-year period in the first scheme, it would make the first scheme ultra vires, because details have already been announced of our intentions, which exclude land which has been under grass for only three years. We stand on our announcement about the first scheme, but in any future schemes we will bear in 849 mind what the hon. and learned Gentleman said when we consider the detailed provisions.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, at the end, to insert:(d)shall provide that no grant shall be made in respect of the ploughing up of land under grass and of the carrying out of further operations on the land after ploughing if in the opinion of the county agricultural executive committee a failure so to plough or so to carry out further operations would constitute a failure on the part of the applicant farmer to perform his obligations under the Agriculture Act, 1947.This is a somewhat difficult point to draft adequately and clearly and to place in its proper place in the Bill. On the other hand, it is a point which raises important considerations. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not shelter behind any suggestion that our words do not adequately meet the position, because we claim no particular credit for the form of words chosen. I hope he will seek to meet the point of substance.
The attitude which many of us have adopted on the Bill, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr.. Paget) said, and as I said earlier, is that we dislike this form of payment and this subsidy rather more than some others, for a variety of reasons which I can shortly and briefly recapitulate. In the first place, we pay for more than we really get, because we pay for a subsidy over all the ploughing up which is done, when much of it would have been done in any case. We pay a subsidy to those who ought, in the interests of good husbandry and in accordance with the obligations which they have assumed under the Agriculture Act, to be doing the ploughing up any way, fitting it into their economy.
We make a special payment—I used the word "bribe" on Second Reading and the Parliamentary Secretary did not like it—to induce them to do what is an ordinary part of adequately farming their land. If the Minister is determined to go on with this form of payment I think he is even more bound to seek some means of limiting the extent to which he is to pay for what he ought to have anyway.
In the debates we have had on agriculture many hon. and right, hon. Gentlemen have said that the 1947 Act gave the 850 farming community a measure of stability and security, and that, in return, that community accepted certain obligations to the country. We ought to use it—and the Minister went a considerable way, I think, last Thursday, in this respect, and certainly in the circular he sent round to the county committees—to see that the obligations accepted under the Act are as faithfully fulfilled, as vigorously imposed, as the security and stability parts of the Act. That, I think, is important and proper, and that is why, I think, we are bound to try to prevent our having to pay a subsidy that really gives us no worth while return merely because, otherwise, the work is not done.
I referred earlier today to my own experience with the county executive committees. Unquestionably, in very many cases it was the people whom we had the greatest difficulty in getting to farm according to the requirements of the nation who were always jumping in quickest to reap any particular subsidy payment that was put on. We always knew, time and time again, that it would be the bad and difficult people we were trying to jolly on who would plough up, and take the subsidy, but then grow only inadequate crops.
I am asking in this Amendment that we should insert into the Bill a form of words which will make it quite clear that we are not seeking to use this payment as an inducement for that sort of man to do what he ought to do very much better anyway. The county committee will act as investigating agent of the Minister. The Parliamentary Secretary told us in the Second Reading debate that it will not check every particular case but take a sample of 10 per cent. of cases particularly concerned with the fulfilment of the obligations under the Act. There would seem to me to be no practical reason why a committee should not see this man is dealt with under the Maximum Area of Pasture Order.
Incidentally, can the Minister give us figures about the operation of the Order since October? I have raised this matter with the Government since they came to power, and I mentioned it on Second Reading debate. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has some figures we should like to know what they are. I still feel that there are many cases in which one really ought to proceed against those men under the Maximum Area of 851 Pasture Order, simply because they are not doing what they should in proper farming, and because of the acceptance of their obligations under the Act.
I can understand the Minister's saying, "I want the subsidy because there is a class of fellow for whom the £5 ploughing-up subsidy just about tips the balance between what is profitable and what is not, between what he can afford to do and what he cannot." I always think that that argument is a bit overdrawn, but there is such an argument and there is such a class of man, and I accept the argument to that extent for the subsidy; but I do not believe that the big fellow, who is up to date, and mechanised, and has the "know how," ought to be subsidised to do the ordinary routine ploughing. I do not believe that the man who can be expected to do it ought to be able to get away with not doing it.
I believe that we can give the Minister what he wants only in the cases in which it can really be shown that it is justified, and, at the same time, save the country a considerable amount of money, and without any loss of food, if we make it plain, by the insertion of some words such as this, that the people who are not doing their job will be dealt with under the other powers that the Minister has available to him. We ought not merely to incite and induce people, by this sort of payment, to do this sort of work. If the Minister does not like our form of words I hope that he will seek to find a better form to achieve the same purpose, but I think he ought to accept the principle of the Amendment.
I think it is important in view of some speeches made in this Chamber and in view of attacks made on the industry outside about subsidy being paid. A good deal of publicity has been given to those attacks. We should show the consumers and taxpayers that we are being very careful to use the subsidy only where it is of immense value and where it is quite clearly necessary. If the consumer, the taxpayer, thinks that we are to pay what he will call a bribe of £5 an acre—even if the Parliamentary Secretary does not like my using that term—to many farmers who ought to be doing this work anyhow, he will think this a "bit thick."
852 I should like to be able to say that the we are not doing that, but that we are going to deal with those men under the Act, and that we are paying this subsidy only to the limited class of people for whom it tips the balance between what is worth while and what is not.
§ Mr. Paget
I feel that we ought to bear very strongly in mind all the time that we are dealing with public money here, and that we have not a right to use the taxpayers' money to pay for something to which the taxpayers are entitled anyway. The bargain which was given to agriculture by the 1947 Act—one which, I believe, was approved by all sides—gave the taxpayers certain rights as against the farmers, and the farmers certain securities as against the taxpayers.
One of the provisions of that Act was, that the farmer should farm his land properly; and we ought not to use public money to give him an additional inducement to farm his farm properly when he is not doing so. I believe it is very much in the interests of the farmer, because to provide special payments for people who are not doing their job will provide tremendous opportunity for people who take the same point of view as my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans).
There is developing to some extent something which I very much hoped we had put behind us—the ancient antagonism of town and country. We had a system that gave the countryside, for the first time for over a century, a reasonable deal, and which, at the same time, was an arrangement that was acceptable to the towns. We need to be very careful indeed, those of us who care for agriculture and the countryside, not to provide any opportunities for people to say, "The farmer is being feather-bedded all the time. You are providing him with a special and new payment in order to make him fulfil an obligation which you have already secured on our behalf. Of course, he takes all the advantages of the 1947 Act. When you want him to play his part you have to put your hands in your pockets over again to make him do it."
That is not the sort of argument we want to leave open. The man who neglects his pasture, who lets it get into a state in which it is bad farming not to plough it, ought not to be paid a 853 subsidy for not farming badly. That is the provision we seek to make by this Amendment. I agree with my right hon. Friend that these may not be the best words, but some provision of this sort, either these words or other words which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman may have thought of or may in the future think of, ought to be put in here to provide for this objective, and to guard farming generally from the criticism which will otherwise be directed against it.
§ Mr. Nugent
I immediately recognise the intention of the Amendment as being valuable and designed to help. The difficulty, as always in a broad national picture where we are dealing with literally hundreds of thousands of farms, is to equate the perfect arrangement with the possible. The complaint of the right hon. Gentleman, that a subsidy of this kind might well be paid inevitably to some people who would have ploughed anyway, to some people who ought not to have ploughed, and that there will, therefore, be only one section out of the three who will be specifically assisted to plough, is bound to be true. That is a matter of fact. It is a matter of opinion, of course, how big the different sections are.
With the first section, those who would have ploughed anyway, in the designing of schemes my right hon. and gallant Friend has had particular regard to trying to fix a period which would exclude them. Indeed, that will be seen in the first scheme, in that it is made a four-year ley and not a three-year ley. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) appreciates only too well the significance of that. Those who work a three-year ley system on a seven-year rotation get excluded, and it seems rather hard luck. On the other hand, it does save the taxpayer from paying something unnecessarily.
§ Mr. Nugent
I do indeed agree. But while we recognise the valuable contribution he is making, it would not be right to spend extra public money to induce him to do what would in any event be a sound economic proposition for him, and we so differentiate.
854 With the other section, those who ought to plough up anyway, there is a greater difficulty. In the Second Reading debate I gave the right hon. Gentleman figures of the number of orders that had been served up to the end of last October. I apologise that I have no more up-to-date figures. There are not any. We shall in due course have a further return, but I am not able to give him anything further at the present time. If he would like to put down a Question we will see whether those figures can be made available in the near future.
I hope and believe that as a result of the new impetus which my right hon. and gallant Friend has given this matter that county committees will use the Maximum Area of Pasture Order perhaps a little more readily in these cases where it should be used, but this matter does have to be left finally to their discretion, and we are doing our utmost to see that we bring about the right climate of opinion in the counties so that the county committees will have a keener sense of the individual farmer's obligation to grow what the nation requires.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be intolerable, as a general practice, if we were subsidising somebody who was not playing his full part in growing what the nation requires. We believe—I certainly do myself—that, in the main, county committees are discharging their responsibility, and with this greater imeptus I hope that they will now be encouraging farmers who have not up to now been ploughing up to do so where they can. But at the end of the day it is a very difficult practical problem, especially in some of the higher rainfall areas on the smaller farms with more difficult land, to determine whether it is a case for a Maximum Area of Pasture Order or not. On the broad picture one could always say that, where a field should be ploughed up—to qualify, in terms of the Bill—where it ought to have been served with a Maximum Area of Pasture Order, they should not have a subsidy anyway. It must be a matter of judgment.
We have looked at the wording put down by the right hon. Gentleman, but we cannot accept it. We feel that it would have too restrictive an effect; it 855 would create an impossible administrative problem for county committees to carry out all the checking that would become essential if the Amendment were accepted. Although the broad intention is certainly what is incorporated in the Bill, and in everything my right hon. and gallant Friend has said, I must, with regret, reject the Amendment because it would be impossible to operate it in practice.
§ Mr. Hale
The Parliamentary Secretary is always so engaging and so courteous to the Committee, and discussions of agricultural matters in these days go through in so friendly a fashion, that I am a little reluctant to intervene. At the opening of this discussion I understood that we were also to discuss the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and myself, in page 2, line 10, at the end, to insert:(d)shall provide that no grant shall be made in respect of the ploughing up of land under grass or of the carrying out of further operations on the land after ploughing unless the county agricultural executive committee certify that the land in respect of which a grant is claimed was suitable for ploughing and for any further operation provided for in the scheme.I am not quite sure whether that course is now being taken because I have since been told that only one Amendment is being discussed. There is practically no difference between them, except that the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend refers to obligations under the Agriculture Act, 1947, while in the other Amendment responsibility for judging the standard of farming is left to the county agricultural executive committees.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The Chairman has selected the third proposed Amendment to line 10, that standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman. The other one to which the hon. Member refers, standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), could be discussed with it.
§ Mr. Hale
That is what I had in mind, Mr. Bowles.
As there has been some argument about which is the appropriate form of words, perhaps it would not be too discourteous to my right hon. Friend or to 856 the Parliamentary Secretary to say that on a mature reflection I, personally, prefer the words put down by my hon. and learned Friend and myself.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am not sure that the purpose of my Amendment is not altogether different from the purpose of the Amendment put down by my hon. Friend. No doubt his form of words is more suitable for the purpose he has in mind, which was to certify that the land was suitable for ploughing and for further operations. The Amendment we are discussing, with my form of words, is equally more suitable for my purpose, which was to ensure that the farmer was being paid for something he could not be required to do earlier. I submit that there are two quite different purposes involved, and that my wording is good for my purpose whereas his wording is good for his.
§ Mr. Hale
I am very glad to have my hon. and learned Friend's assistance, because it shows that he had in mind other matters besides those which he put on the Order Paper. I should have thought that the job that the county agricultural executive committee were already doing was the sort of job that would keep them in touch with this particular problem. It is their problem to consider whether agricultural land is being utilised for the benefit of the community and developed in an appropriate way. We are asking that they, with their knowledge, should take steps to inform the Minister of cases in which either wholly unsuitable land is being ploughed up in order to get the subsidy or the appropriate development mentioned in any scheme is not being fully carried out.
The Parliamentary Secretary has to face the problem that the whole of the discussion on the first Amendment and much of the discussion on the Bill will be concerned with the type of conditions laid down in any scheme which he makes. If he says that the county agricultural executive committees cannot see that the terms of a scheme are carried out and cannot examine the administration of it, who is going to do 857 it? How will he know that the terms which he lays down are carried out at all unless some responsibility is vested in the county agricultural executive committees normally charged with that particular responsibility?
I did not follow the reference which the Parliamentary Secretary made to a third-year ley being outside the operations of the scheme. I have been doing some hurried mathematics since his statement, and I gather that it is by taking the period that comes in by backdating in the first paragraph of Clause 2 and adding the two years' minimum in the scheme in the third paragraph of Clause 1. I am afraid that I cannot work it out, but I am reassured by that belief.
We are told, and I do not challenge it, that the grants in respect of development already taking place will date from 4th February, that being the date on which the Minister made his announcement. 1 can apprehend that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in coming to that conclusion, would be inhibited by some of the criticism which is almost invariably made in the House of any proposals which are retrospective in their effect. It is well to remember that, so far as the present year is concerned, it is not a question of dividing the people into people who are developing usefully, well and appropriately.
The only people who will benefit in the present year under this scheme are those who develop land usefully after the first announcement was made, and who were too late to provide first-class ploughable land in this year, except in the extreme south of England, whereas the people normally doing good farming and ploughing up land last November and December will get no benefit at all. Those who are engaged on the normal term of rotation will not get any benefit for a long time. In other words, the good farmer will be specially penalised by the rigidity of the determination not to date this back beyond 4th February.
We were told—and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—on Second Reading that about 500,000 acres would come in the normal part of the four years' ley, and 150,000 acres have been the subject of application in respect of special ploughing up.
§ Mr. Nugent
The figures related to the applications received for Northern Ireland ploughing up under this subsidy scheme.
§ Mr. Nugent
Yes, 150,000 acres was the figure for Northern Ireland. I have not given any figures today of the total expectations.
§ Mr. Nugent
The figure of 500,000 acres as given by my right hon. and gallant Friend is his estimate to begin with. In fact, it is hoped and believed that the total will be considerably higher.
§ Mr. Hale
I am glad that my intervention has brought forth that information. The figures does seem to be extraordinarily high. Everyone realises the dilemma with which the Parliamentary Secretary is faced in this matter. In many ways this subsidy is designed to help people to plough up bad land as well as good. In many ways it would give the maximum benefit to the country if it brought under the plough land which has never really been beneficially used for agriculture. There is land in Leicestershire that has done nothing but raise deer for 50 or 60 years. Within 12 months of ploughing up it produced some of the best oat crops in the country. I am not talking about ploughing up mountain sides, but there is a great deal of land in the country which has never been fully developed for agricultural purposes, either as pasture or as arable land.
There is going to be great difficulty in differentiating between the man who makes a genuine effort to expand his holding and take in undeveloped land in that connection in the future and the man who, merely for the sake of getting the subsidy, ploughs up useful land with the object of doing no more than the bare minimum which the scheme provides that he should do.
In this connection, I should have thought that there could be no authority 859 other than the county agricultural executive committees likely to be seized with the necessary information and able to exercise the necessary judgment. After all, the county agricultural executive committees used to dispossess farmers on the ground of bad farming. There could be nothing much added to the burden which they used to exercise rather extensively in war-time by asking them to report on the faulty utilisation of the subsidy procedure.
§ Mr. Paget
I admit that there is no doubt at all that if this Amendment were accepted the instrument would be the county agricultural committee, in just the same way as, I think, the instrument will be the county agricultural committee under Clause 3 (1, b), which provides for supervision and subsequent things. The point of difference between the two is that the second deals with failure to conform with the obligations of good farming, and the Amendment which has not selected dealt with the suitability of the land, such as water meadows unsuitable for cropping, but which are suitable for ploughing and reseeding with grass.
§ Mr. Hale
My hon. and learned Friend keeps coming out of a coma, and has paid no regard to the preceding six or seven sentences in which I have been referring to the problem of undeveloped land and the differences between land ripe for development and capable of development and land never suitable at all for ploughing. I thought that I had made that clear to the Committee. My hon. and learned Friend wants to make it quite clear that in his Amendment the emphasis is entirely on the nature of the land and that in the comprehensive Amendment of my hon. Friend there is a reference to development. In any event, both are clearly matters for the county agricultural executive committees.
My hon. and learned Friend says that the duty of judging in relation to the scheme made under Clause 3 might well be entrusted to the county agricultural executive committees. I do not dispute that. Why does the Parliamentary Secretary say that those committees cannot judge this? I do not know whether I am now to get agreement upon that, for, if so, we have almost reached unanimity, although, my hon. and learned Friend was almost in a complete minority on this.
860 However, the point that I have been trying to make, perhaps not with quite as much clarity as I could command, is that it is not fair to the committees to say that they are not competent to judge these matters. For that reason, I press the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider this as an important matter of practice in connection with the administration of the scheme and as an important matter of confidence in the way it is to be carried out.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I want to follow what has just been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) to the Parliamentary Secretary and to add a little more weight of my own. The argument with which the Parliamentary Secretary has been briefed has done a good deal less than justice to his own capacity and to the competence of his Department.
As I understood the hon. Gentleman, there was no disagreement at all between the Government and the Opposition on the argument that we did not want to pay this money to people who ought to be ploughing anyway and who could be got at in another way, but the hon. Gentleman said that he did not know how far since he took office the committees had been using a power which they already had.
I had a limited experience at the Ministry of Agriculture, but I am staggered that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary do not know whether a single order has been issued between October and June. It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to talk about the new impetus and the new upsurging which his right hon. and gallant Friend is bringing to this. But he and his right hon. and gallant Friend do not appear to get returns as often as we did. We have debated this subject twice and all the information that we have been given is what happened when the Labour Government was in office. We used the powers that we had, but I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and gallant Friend are doing so.
I am frightened that, despite the noble words which the hon. Gentleman used, he and his right hon. and gallant Friend are really relying on the bribe rather than on the powers which they have and 861 that that is why he is showing such peculiarly little interest in this. I am sure that before I had been at the Ministry eight months I should have asked for a return on what had been happening. I do not believe that the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister could visit a single county without first putting the obvious questions about what was being done under the Maximum Area Pasture Order. The fact that no returns have been made and that neither Minister has been disposed to call for them suggests to me that, far from there being a new upsurge, there has been a bit of backsliding. Because of that we ought to press the hon. Gentleman a good deal further before accepting the refusal to include something of this sort in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman said he was sure the county agricultural executive committees were discharging their responsibilities all right. That is good. As a former member of such a committee, I have never disputed that the committees can do it extremely well, but one thing that irritates and hampers committees is the feeling always that (a)they lack the powers really to do it, and (b) they are held up through the Ministry taking a somewhat different view. If we think the committees are willing and able to discharge their responsibilities, what can be wrong in putting this additional weapon in their hands?
I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that it must be a matter of judgment whether a farmer should have ploughed the land before or not, but a matter of judgment for whom? For the county agricultural executive committee? The Parliamentary Secretary says that the committees are carrying out their responsibilities. Very well. Why not let us give them the possibility of using this power?
Many a county agricultural executive committee would be very glad to have this additional shot in the locker when dealing with a man who has been very difficult and has always kept just on the right side of the law. They could then say to the man, "You are the sort of person to whom this refers. You ought to have done this before. We have not in the past been able to take any action, but we will certainly see that you do not get £5 of the taxpayers' money for doing it now." I can think of no county agricultural executive committee that I have 862 met which would not be glad to have this power, is not well able to use it and would not use it.
So far, the hon. Gentleman has not produced a single argument against the proposal. He almost commended the words of the Amendment. All he said was that they were a little restrictive. That is the whole point of the operation, to exclude certain people from receiving the £5 per acre. I gathered that the hon. Gentleman found no very great difficulty about the words. However, we have made it clear that he can have all the time between now and the Report stage to think up better ones.
The hon. Gentleman must have been impressed by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West made without hearing the previous debate. I see that my hon. Friend is not at the moment in his place, and if he does not hurry back he may not hear the rest of it. However, the Parliamentary Secretary must have been impressed by the arguments used by my hon. Friend and also by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget).
We are on an important point here, and I am sure, as a result of my contacts in the country, that there will be no difficulty about the proposal. If the hon. Gentleman puts this to his next meeting of the chairmen of county agricultural executive committees they will enthusiastically tell him that they would like the power. This is not so drastic a supervision, nor is it as difficult to operate as the Maximum Area Pasture Order, but it is a useful shot in the locker and will give the committees no end of help.
I am not prepared to accept a flat rejection at this point. We must press the hon. Gentleman. If the hon. Gentleman wants to get on with the Bill but cannot commit himself to accepting our proposal in the temporary absence of his right hon. and gallant Friend, let him at least say that he will look at this point with an open mind between now and the Report stage. This is a point of considerable importance and we ought not to let it go simply on the arguments that the hon. Gentleman has so far put to us.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
Hearing my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) use the militant 863 Phrase "a shot in the locker" has caused me to intervene. Having heard the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and my right hon. Friend, I want to enter a caveat. We have heard eulogies of the county agricultural executive committees; they have done a good job and they are composed very largely of first-class farmers.
Nevertheless, when I go to the market at Rugby and talk to the small farmers, I find them a little afraid at the moment that the small farmer is not quite as fashionable as he might be. I have heard the Minister talk about their efficiency and the farm survey, and I want to utter a caveat in relation to the wording of the Amendment, where it says:… if in the opinion of the county agricultural executive committee a failure so to plough or so to carry out further operations would constitute a failure on the part of the applicant farmer to perform his obligations under the Agriculture Act, 1947.I should hate that sort of wording to enable a county agricultural executive committee to institute some mild form— no more than that—of witch-hunt against a small farmer who did not plough up as much as he might or perhaps ploughed more than he should have done in order to get the £5 per acre. We have heard a lot about efficiency and about county agricultural executive committees having the facts and the knowledge to enable them to investigate such cases. The committees have a thankless job investigating these matters and sitting in judgment upon their neighbours. While I am in favour of the Clause as a whole and in favour of this Amendment, I hope we shall not give the county committees too much power to use on small farmers.
§ Mr. Paget
I want to add a word or two to what my right hon. Friend has said, because I do not feel that the Parliamentary Secretary is very pleased with his brief. Let us take what he told us about the seven-year rotation farmer. That farmer is doing a very intensive job during the cycle of production, and he is the person we want to encourage. But we are deliberately excluding him here because it is something which he would do anyway. The good farmer is to be excluded for that reason and his virtue is to be trusted that he will not be tempted 864 to put off the ploughing this year in the hope of getting a subsidy by so doing. But the bad farmer, in spite of the fact that he ought to do it anyway, is to receive a reward. Could anything be more unjust than that?
Here is a man who has gone to such lengths that he has a maximum pasture order served upon him. That does not happen to him unless he is a bad farmer and has been thoroughly unco-operative for a very long time. But in spite of the fact that he does his ploughing in obedience to such an order, he still draws a subsidy for doing this duty and making good a gross neglect. Equally, the "C" farmer under supervision, who is directed to plough because he ought to have done it long ago, now receives a reward for doing it, whereas the man who is working a seven-year rotation is excluded on the ground that he would do it anyway. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary recognises how unjust that is.
I am not so happy about the words of the Amendment, and they may be a little wide. Of course, this can be supervised by the county agricultural executive committees. If the hon. Gentleman will look at Clause 3 (1, b), he will see the provision:the appropriate Minister is of opinion that the ploughing or any further operation in respect of which the grant is to be made has been inefficiently carried out, or that adequate facilities for the inspection of the land have not been given.That will require supervision. It would be a great deal easier for county agricultural committees, knowing their district, to pick out people who have been getting into trouble in regard to ploughing for years and who ought to have done the job long ago, and to say to them, "You are not to be given a subsidy for having neglected our advice for years." It would be far easier for them to carry out the supervision which is envisaged by this Amendment than it would be for them to carry out the wider supervision of all the work that is to be done to qualify for a grant pursuant to one of the schemes.
I do not think that the difficulty of supervision or administration, in view of the burden of supervising the tillage which follows from one of these schemes, is an adequate excuse here. I do not see why one should be more difficult than the other, but I should think that it would be much easier where the seven-year rotation farmer is excluded to include the 865 fellow who is under a "C" farm order or a maximum pasture order.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Bing
Before the very patient Parliamentary Secretary gets up, I want to appeal to him, if he cannot accept these words, to consider them with the possibility of doing something further on the Report stage. I know it is normal and right that we should rejoice more over one sinner who has repented than over ninety and nine just persons, but that does not mean giving one sinner £5 and denying it by Act of Parliament to the ninety and nine just persons.
There is a great deal in the argument that has been addressed to the Parliamentary Secretary by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) that there are bad agricultural committees, but the remedy there is to improve the committees and not to take away from their power, because this is a very valuable form of local democracy and these committees ought to be strengthened and given authority. The value of the committees will depend upon the value of the authority which they have, and the sort of people who will be attracted to them will depend to some degree upon the responsibility which they have.
In all these schemes it is very important that we should see that the agricultural committees have some greater part in the management and the control of the area than they have at the moment. The Parliamentary Secretary may say that all this is to be put into and worked out in a scheme. If he is going to tell us that, perhaps we can wait until there is an affirmative order and deal with it on that occasion. But I feel that he ought to consider the possibility of including some form of words here.
An excellent point was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) when he made a passing reference to the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans). I am surprised that he has not been taking a strong and forthright part in our proceedings, but the fact that he is not physically with us does not mean that his influence is not prevailing. There are people who take the same point of view as he does. I admire the way he puts it, although it is not my point of view. But it is very important 866 that not only should justice be done, but it should appear to be done.
In this case, it is desirable that in an Act of Parliament we should not put in something which leads somebody to say, "Oh, here is a method by which our feather-bedded farmers can get rewarded for ploughing up an old bit of land on which they know that nothing will grow and which is worthwhile because they will get £5."
I apologise, on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends, for having detained the Committee on this point, but if the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, has been persuaded to make some slight concession, I do not think that the time of the Committee will have been wasted.
§ Mr. Nugent
I cannot undertake to put in these words, or something like them; nor can I hold out a prospect that some-think of that kind will appear in the scheme. There are one or two specific points with which I would like to deal before I come to the main point. Because we have been discussing the two Amendments together, and to a certain extent the previous Amendment in which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is interested, dealing with the three-year ley point, there have been a number of points coming in together.
The three-year ley is not in the first scheme, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows. The second scheme has not yet been published and I can undertake that we will look at it very closely to try to get the right balance between excluding the good farmers from its benefits and, on the other hand, spending the taxpayers' money unnecessarily. It is a difficult point. I do not think I should say more about it now.
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) made a point which I think is germane to the Amendment which is before us. If the Amendment were in the Bill it would place upon county committees a very difficult decision. In the case of applications, are they to say, "No, you cannot have it. You will get a Maximum Area Pasture Order"; and to another applicant:" Yes, you can have it. You will get your £5 an acre"? That kind of responsibility never has been put upon these committees during the whole 12 or 13 years we have been operating this system of ploughing-up subsidies and 867 orders, at the same time, for the cultivation of fields. There are dangers in it. It is more likely to upset confidence and sentiment than to have the spurring effect which the right hon. Gentleman opposite quite rightly wants.
A point was made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) concerning the responsibility of committees. Of course, the county committees must be responsible. What I said was that there was a limit to the amount of administration they could cover. I was addressing myself rather to the first Amendment than to the second in that respect. The second Amendment would not of itself necessarily greatly increase administration. I agree with that point. The first Amendment would do so substantially, because committees would have to check nearly every individual application. In practice, it is not possible to check more than a 10 per cent. sample, but that has been found reasonably satisfactory in the past to ensure that the subsidy has not been abused.
The purpose of the Bill is not, as has sometimes been stated, to give a reward to somebody for ploughing. Ploughing is only at the beginning of the job. My right hon. and gallant Friend was faced with a seriously declining tillage acreage. It had fallen over the last 12 months by over a million acres, just at the time when we want not only to maintain tillage acreage but to increase it. It was obvious that unless something special was done to assist quite a large number of farmers who have been reducing tillage acreage, that the decline would continue, particularly in the heavy rainfall areas where farms are small and difficult to farm, and the harvest had been bad. The whole picture was of farmers who found that tillage crops were not paying. If we were to get an increase in the tillage acreage we could do something to meet part of the rising costs of growing tillage crops.
That is the whole background of the picture. The payment of £5 is only a part payment. Actually, the sowing and harvesting of the crop will certainly cost between £10 and £20 an acre by the time it is completed. In our belief, the subsidy is just enough to make it profitable, so that the farmer who has not been doing it before will be encouraged and enabled 868 to start. It is in that spirit that we have looked at this matter. I believe that the number of abuses will be extremely small in practice, if not negligible.
I was asked for the figures. The response that we have had already amounts to between 600,000 and 700,000 acres in England, Scotland and Wales, with 150,000 in Northern Ireland. The total is about 650,000 acres altogether, and that shows that the subsidy is sufficient to get the increased tillage acreage that we want and which will produce the extra food that we want to get. I believe that for the sum of £2 million or £3 million, which will be the total cost of the subsidy, the nation will be getting good value.
I therefore ask the Committee not to press the Amendment, although the spirit of it is certainly in keeping with our general intention. I believe that it would rather upset confidence than increase it and would not help the object of the Bill, which is to get the committees working on a rather stronger tone and to produce rather more food.
§ Mr. Nugent
I have not an exact figure. I would not like these figures to be taken as absolute. I understand that the Scottish figure is likely to be round about 150,000 or 200,000 acres. The overall total is round about 650,000. The response has been very good, but that is not a net increase because some of it was going to be found anyway. There is undoubtedly a substantial net increase.
§ Mr. G. Brown
We have had a very good debate, but I am not convinced that some provision of this kind could not be operated and placed in the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary did better on the brief he wrote himself than on the previous one, and I am not disposed to press the Amendment further. I would like, as a matter of interest, to have this matter put on the agenda by the Parliamentary Secretary for his next agricultural conference. I believe that he would find some considerable support for the scheme. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will apply a little pressure at 869 No. 55 Whitehall about the returns from the county committees in regard to the use of the Maximum Area Pasture Order. I will accept his invitation to put a Question down for the next Oral day and I hope that he will have some information to give us. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us a little more about the schemes that are to be made? I hope that the Government realise that they have rather confused the issue by many of the speeches that have been delivered. We are delighted to know that the acreage ploughed since 4th February last is so very much more than was expected. The Minister tells us from the Front Bench that the Bill is estimated to cost £2½ million. If the figures are right that the Parliamentary Secretary gave us just now, the cost will be not less than £3¼ million, so that there was an underestimate by at least £¾ million. However, that is perhaps a good thing, although it shows that the farmers were not such good boys as hon. Gentlemen opposite have so often said they were.
I want the Minister to tell us what he has in mind about the schemes that will follow the first scheme in the next and subsequent years. In replying a little while ago the Parliamentary Secretary took up a point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in which he seemed to agree that the farmer who had been directed to plough up grassland under a Maximum Area Pasture Order was necessarily guilty of bad husbandry in not having ploughed that grassland before.
I have never taken that view. I had thought that the Order might have given the committees power to get more ploughing in some areas where the plough was used a lot during the war and where it was put aside in the postwar years but where good husbandry was still being practised. I had assumed that executive committees would here and there have to give directions to farmers who were not guilty of bad husbandry although they had what the committees 870 consider to be an excessive area under grass.
§ Mr. Nugent
I should be sorry if I gave the impression that I did not take that same view. There might or might not be bad husbandry, but because there was an excessive area of grassland it would not in itself mean that there was bad husbandry although there might still be a justification for the order being made.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
That was my point. I was thinking of Berwickshire, where the standard of farming is very high, though I think the character of the farming should perhaps be changed a little. It was changed during the war and the plough was used a lot then with beneficial results. In the post-war years farmers too readily put the plough aside and went back to their pre-war practices, depending for their feedingstuffs upon outside sources instead of continuing to provide them for themselves. I should have thought that these farmers, though they are good farmers with a high standard of husbandry, should now be induced to use the plough more than hitherto.
The Parliamentary Secretary told us that, in the main, the reduction in the acreage under the plough, and the reduction in the tillage acreage, was in the areas in the west and in the high rainfall areas where it was a risky business to put down a crop of grain because of harvesting difficulties. I should not think it would be a wise thing for Parliament to provide a subsidy to induce a man to plough his land to sow a crop of oats which he can never hope to harvest. In those areas it would be far better if he had a good grass crop with good grazing on which to feed his animals.
§ Mr. Manuel
I am most interested in this, and I think my hon. Friend is on a strong point. Is the gist of his argument that in many of our upland farms, and in the Highlands in particular, it would be better to procure a good hay crop for winter feed?
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, or a good grass crop that could be cut or silaged. I believe that it would be complete madness for us to provide in a scheme made under this Bill for the payment of a subsidy to bad farmers who had three year, four year or five year grass. In 871 some parts of the country it would be good husbandry to do it; in other parts, it would be very bad.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton called attention, as I did during the Second Reading discussion, to areas in the country where a seven-year rotation is normal. It would be silly to give a subsidy to the farmer in those areas who ploughed his grass after three years. We ought to prosecute him when he did not. In other parts of the country it would be equally silly to encourage the farmer in the Western Highlands and down in the south-west to plough his land after four years in grass, because it would be far better if the land were left in grass. It was for those reasons that I was anxious, on an earlier Amendment, for the Minister to define a limit as to what kind of lands under grass would qualify for subsidy in subsequent years. We are concerned today much more with subsequent schemes than with the first schemes.
In all the circumstances will the Minister tell us more about what he has in mind? He must know quite clearly, because the Parliamentary Secretary has told us already that the first two schemes are in draft. So he has been giving a lot of thought to this and so have his advisers. He must know that it is not a straightforward business, and he must know that in subsequent years we cannot give this £5 per acre subsidy which is provided for in the first year. We are already giving the £5 subsidy for grass ploughed up after 4th February, 1952, but I do not believe we shall give a £5 subsidy for the four year old grass ploughed between June, 1952, and the end of May, 1953. If this subsidy is to be of any use it has to be applied to certain classifications of land, so perhaps the Minister will have to look at climatic conditions and altitudes in deciding, in future, which land shall benefit under this scheme.
§ Mr. Manuel
I tried earlier to get a point of view expressed on this Clause. I know that I must not deal with what has possibly been dealt with too much already, but I do not think my main points have yet been touched on. I do not know of any subject of more importance than the one we are dealing with, 872 taking a long-term view for Britain. The production of food and the making of our land more productive will certainly become more important each succeeding year.
I was rather surprised when the Parliamentary Secretary, in his very nice way, dismissed rather lightly some of the questions he was asked by my two hon. and learned Friends above the Gangway. I do not want to enter into any domestic squabble about Northern Ireland—I deplore such things. That is why I interjected when the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) made a slip. But I feel that the Parliamentary Secretary ought to give us the correct figure as regards the balance on the subsidy position, although not because I am in any way against Northern Ireland being helped. In any event, we should explore every means of getting the greatest possible productivity throughout the United Kingdom.
It was not to be desired that we should engender any heat into the debate. The main object, surely, was to see how best we could obtain greater agricultural productivity throughout the country. The debate on the position of Northern Ireland and its agriculture was somewhat acrimonious, but I am all in favour of aid to Northern Ireland In itself, the Bill allows for Northern Ireland or Scotland, or England or Wales, to be dealt with separately, but in the previous debate the Government intimated that they were taking the four countries in a joint scheme.
I am rather surprised at the attitude of the Northern Ireland Members. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Armagh should say that he deplored any amendment to the Bill. Is there no feeling at all in Northern Ireland that they can run things themselves, even though they are being provided with the ploughing grant? Surely no Member from Northern Ireland would say that the members of the Government Front Bench, or officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, know the Irish position better than they themselves or the Northern Ireland Government know it?
The hon. Member for Armagh said he thought that the average unit farm in Ireland was even smaller than my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) had indicated; he thought that it was about 40 acres. The 873 nearest figure that I can get from the Price Review is the figure quoted by my hon. and learned Friend of 59 acres, which is very small indeed in comparison with the average for England and Wales of 224-225 acres.
One is led to assume that the smaller unit ought not to be dealt with in an identical manner with the larger farming unit in England. In putting that argument in connection with Northern Ireland, I could repeat it for very many tenant-operated farms in Scotland—and possibly this will be of interest to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who has these responsibilities upon his shoulders. I could put a very strong case that the small tenant farmer, ploughing a much smaller unit than that upon which the £5 per acre ploughing grant has been based, has a right to an even bigger grant than is indicated in the Bill.
The Northern Ireland unit of 59 acres and the tenant farmer in Scotland, who I frequently see in my constituency trying to get the best productivity from his land, very often has greater expense per acre in trying to get that additional productivity than has the man with the larger unit. I see those tenant farmers having to hire mechanism to get work done. They have to approach the owners of larger farms for the hire of tractors for certain periods of work. In such conditions, we could very well argue that a tenant farmer in that position should get a higher grant than the farmer who operates a farm which runs into several hundreds of acres.
I may be told that such a proposal would create difficulties and that there are small farmers also in England and Wales—I appreciate that. But it is time that we considered whether the conditions for making grants should not be allied in some form or other to the question of acreage. We should not simply grant ploughing grants or anything else ad lib.without making certain that we get the production, and the kind of production, that we think is necessary when looking to the future and to the needs of the country.
The hon. Members from Northern Ireland could very well, without any loss of prestige, have said that Northern Ireland ought to have a separate scheme, because in my diagnosis of the position they are 874 much worse placed than the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Manuel
The hon. Member for Armagh was so very definite in suggesting that the scheme must not be opposed, and should not be amended in the way that we suggested, that I thought his mind was made up for all time.
When one views the position in that way, we ought to be prepared, whether or not there is a debit balance arising from the grant or subsidy position, to say to the Government that Northern Ireland ought to have a certain responsibility. We are giving the grant and we know what we want from them, but we recognise that they know their own country best and that they can apply the grant in the best possible way in order to get the productivity. In saying that for Ireland, I would say the very same for Scotland, and I hope that in future we can look at the position from the viewpoint of acreage and that there may be some amendment.
I also think that the powers of the agricultural executive committees are possibly limited in certain respects. If they are not limited, there is something wrong in certain parts of the country. As I go up and down the country, I see far too many rushes and weeds coming into good ground, and I am sure that it would be an astonishing figure if we were to have an acreage return of the ground that is being allowed to go back, to go bad, because the agricultural executive committees are not using the powers that I understand they have.
If the grant of £5 per acre will improve that position, I am all in favour of it. I am convinced that there is nothing more important we can do on the home front than this. I believe that the Minister is completely seized with the idea of the type of ground of which I am speaking; I have heard him speak on the subject. It is rather frightening when going along some of our main county roads to see good ground going back to rushes and weeds when it ought to have been cultivated and turned up long ago. I hope that we shall have more attention paid to that matter.
When we consider that our cheese ration is reduced to one ounce per person per week and hears that we are 875 allowing milk to be used for other purposes than food it suggests that we should get down to the problem of conserving that milk. I was not cognisant of the position disclosed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), that buttons were being made from milk, but I think it dreadful if clothing, essential though it may be, has to be held together by appliances made from this commodity.
That position ought not to be allowed to continue and if milk exported from Northern Ireland is being used to make buttons it is time that the Northern Ireland Members did more about it. It is time that the milk was used for the making of cheese if it cannot be diverted to the stomachs of the people in its ordinary form.
I hope that while we agree to the ploughing-up grant of £5 per acre we shall take definite steps to see that the nation gets value for money and that agricultural produce, whether of milk or anything else, is utilised in the best possible fashion.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
I am afraid that I cannot share the strong feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) on this matter of making buttons from milk. There may be a very strong case for making buttons from certain types of milk. But I do join with him in suggesting that these schemes may well be varied for certain parts of the Kingdom.
I agree entirely that Northern Ireland should go in for its own scheme. The Clause as it stands takes rather too much for granted that the interests of Wales are sufficiently taken care of by tacking it on, as usual, to England. The farming unit in Wales is much smaller on the average than that in England and the arable proportion of every unit in Wales is also much smaller than the average in England. If the Welsh Department of Agriculture makes representations to the Minister for a varied scheme for the Principality, I hope that the Ministry will make an effort to produce one for Wales.
I have a further point to raise. It may only be a small drafting point, but subsection 2 says that theremay be a joint scheme for any two of the countries or for all three countries.876 Which three countries? Four countries are named. Can it be that England and Wales are regarded by the present Government as one country? I wonder what the Minister for Welsh Affairs would have to say about that? Can it be that the present Government, whilst regarding half a Province as a country, refuses to regard the ancient nation of Wales as a country? I am sure that the Welsh electorate, which is now being so ardently wooed by a Liverpool Scot, will be anxious to know exactly how the present Government regard its national status.
§ Mr. Manuel
I take it that my hon. Friend is aware that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Liverpool Scot, is also responsible for Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Roberts
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is responsible for a lot of things in the present Government.
§ Mr. Roberts
He seems to be responsible for transport, Northern Ireland, the B.B.C., and Wales. It is not only a matter of national feeling—although that, of course, is very important—there is a strong administrative point involved'. As the Minister of Agriculture knows, the Welsh Department for Agriculture is an active one and its present Secretary has just been raised in status and power. It may well be that schemes of this description will have to be varied administratively for the Principality. In that case, the drafting of this Clause and the definition Clause, Clause 5, may cause administrative difficulty.
I pass on the suggestion in the best possible spirit to the Government that between now and Report stage steps should be taken to redraft these parts of the two offending Clauses so that we in Wales shall know where we stand nationally and agriculturally.
§ Mr. F. Willey
I am glad I have been able to intervene before the Patronage Secretary upsets our proceedings, because I want to take the opportunity of saying that I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary, earlier in our discussions, thought I had been unfair to him and to the Minister. If he feels that, I very much regret it and wish to assure him that all I was drawing attention to was lack of information and knowledge, and 877 that I did not want to convey anything beyond that.
I sympathise with them in that they did not have the benefit of the advice of the Minister of Food until later, and I particularly sympathise with them that now they have not the benefit of the advice of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who advises on Welsh affairs. I am sure that the whole Committee very much appreciate the courtesy and assistance which are always afforded the House in Committee by the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary.
The point with which I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to deal is one to which his attention has been called, and I think it is an important point. Here we are reverting to a producer subsidy. As long as we have a subsidised agriculture there will always be an argument about what form the incentive should take, whether it should be a direct price incentive or whether it should be, as we are providing for in this Clause, a producer subsidy.
There is no argument about the benefits that we expect to follow from this producer subsidy for, after all, we gave the Bill an unopposed Second Reading. But there is still a good deal in the points made from this side of the Committee on the way in which the producer subsidy is given. It was because of the difficulties of ensuring that every advantage is taken of a producer subsidy that I think there was a tendency until recently to dispense with that subsidy and to rely upon the direct price incentive.
In the exceptional circumstances, the Minister obviously feels that a producer subsidy will enable him to achieve the results which he wants to achieve, particularly in the immediate future. Obviously he has considered the matter. I should like to know whether there is any way in which a producer subsidy can be made selective, whether it is possible to attach conditions and what sort of limitations can be attached to it. In other words, is it administratively possible to avoid a blanket producer subsidy which we know from experience can cause a good deal of wasteful activity and cause land to be ploughed up which would not help us very much?
878 That is the point of substance which I wish to raise. But I should like to say in passing, that I am not altogether satisfied that we can be assured—because I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary was very specific about this matter —that this producer subsidy in the case of Northern Ireland might not provide fodder for cows to provide milk to make buttons. I was disturbed by the intervention which suggested that this was done previously by a Tory Government, because we know today that there is a slump in textiles and I should guess that at this very moment we might have this diversion of milk to buttons.
§ Mr. Bing
I hope that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, when they sum up on this Clause, will give the Committee the benefit of their views upon exactly how these schemes are to be worked. First, on what basis are they going to decide to have one, two, or three schemes? The Parliamentary Secretary gave us some very interesting figures. It seems that in Scotland there are up to 200,000 acres; that is to say, there will be one scheme for 200,000 acres and one scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to include 450,000 acres.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
If my memory does not mislead me, we were told on Second Reading that there was not to be a separate scheme for Scotland.
§ Mr. Bing
I understood there was to be a separate scheme, but perhaps there has been a change. As far as I can recall the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech, there were administrative advantages in that. Might not there be equal administrative advantages in having a scheme for Wales? It has not been so much on this side of the Committee as among hon. Members opposite that, in election programmes and on other occasions, emphasis has been laid that we were to have a great deal of devolution for Wales. This would seem to me to be an admirable occasion to approach Welsh devolution and at any rate to consider a separate scheme for Wales.
As has been said on this side of the Committee, the average size of a Welsh farm is smaller than the average size of an English farm. The Welsh farm is about 95 acres. [HON. MEMBERS: 879 "No."] I am taking the figure from Appendix 4 of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's White Paper on the annual review and fixing of farm prices. When one considers from where it emanated, it may well be that there may be some mistake. But if we accept the figures, they seem to suggest that there are probably in Wales a number of fairly large farms coupled with a number of fairly small farms. In the table of income per £100 of rent, the Welsh figure is the second highest. It seems to me to be a great tribute to Welsh farming, and it certainly indicates that Welsh farming is of a different type from farming elsewhere.
If one looks at it from the point of view of yield per £100 per acre, seeing my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) on the Front Bench, I would point out that Surrey is at the bottom of the list.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
My hon. and learned Friend may recollect that the Parliamentary Secretary was a considerable agriculturist in Surrey before he took his present office.
§ Mr. Bing
I do not want to go through the differences between the counties, except to make the point that the great difference between the yield per £198 in Surrey as compared with £444 in Wales suggests that one might possibly have a scheme dealing with different areas in the country.
What I should like to know is the principle upon which it is decided to apply the scheme. If it is said that it is going to be applied on a functional basis, then there is an argument for dividing up counties roughly speaking in regard to their yield per £100 rent or by some such process, or in regard to the rainfall as the right hon. Gentleman himself suggested. If, on the other hand, it is decided to divide it under administrative units, I do not want to go back upon this but if there is one administrative unit which really exists that is surely Northern Ireland. On what basis do we join England and Wales to Northern Ireland, and on what basis is it decided to have a separate scheme for Scotland? We have heard nothing except what the Minister said, that there were administrative advantages in doing it all in Edinburgh.
880 I now come to the other aspect: what plans are there, and for what crops? Once the land is ploughed up, are we going to have an overall plan to encourage certain crops, and if so, what are those crops to be? Let me give one or two examples of the sort of thing I have in mind. If one looks at the figures for agricultural production which are given in the first appendix of the right hon. Gentleman's White Paper, one sees, for example, that bread grains have more or less kept up and, in fact, are a little bit above their immediate post-war figure. Rye is doing equally well, but the rye is a very small amount of our general consumption, and this item is almost entirely composed of wheat, which has not fallen at all from the post-war figure and is not so much below the pre-war figure.
I am talking now in the first case in regard to acreage devoted to these particular crops. The proportions are, roughly speaking, the same in regard to actual production. If one looks at the production of other grains, the odd thing about other grains is the very great increase in the acreage under barley. I do not know if my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) is here——
§ The Chairman
On the Question that the Clause stand part of the Bill, the hon. Member can discuss only what is in the Clause. He cannot go into the details of the scheme.
§ Mr. Bing
With respect, Sir Charles, subsection (4) of the Clause provides forthe ploughing up of land under grass and the carrying out of further operations on the land after ploughing, the grant shall be in respect of the operations as a whole including the ploughing.What we are really discussing here is what are to be the crops which are to be planted after the ploughing has been done, and under what terms.
§ The Chairman
That will surely arise when the scheme comes before the House for an affirmative Resolution.
§ Mr. Bing
With great respect, Sir Charles, though what we are dealing with is a Clause which provides for ploughing up, if one looks at the provisions one sees that it is not when the land has been ploughed up but when a crop has been planted in its place afterwards that there is authority for making payment. Surely we are entitled to ask what crops the Minister has in mind to put in after the ploughing up has been done?
§ Mr. Paget
Further to that point of order. The Minister has agreed to introduce an Amendment on the Report stage making it obligatory to include further stages in a scheme, that is to say, every scheme to be produced shall include an obligation to agree to particular crops. That being so, I humbly submit that the question of what crops are to be grown or what it is intended to include in the scheme is in order under this Clause.
§ Mr. Bing
With great respect, surely it is impossible to discuss the matter if we cannot discuss what are to be the crops? Subsection (4) says:If a scheme under this Act provides for the making of grants in respect of the ploughing up of land under grass and the carrying out of further operations on the land after ploughing, the grant shall be in respect of the operations as a whole including the ploughing.One cannot separate that from a discussion of the Clause as a whole, because the grant we are dealing with under this Clause is payable, not after ploughing up, but after the operations as a whole, including the ploughing.
§ Mr. Bing
I appreciate that, but surely we can obtain from the Minister some indication of what he has in mind? If one looks at it from its narrowest and most technical point of view, the Committee should surely be in a position to decide whether or not they are to agree to the Clause and, in order to decide that, they should know what crops the Minister has in mind for growing on the land which has been ploughed up. If he were to say it should all be barley, perhaps we should vote against it, while if he were to give it a more reasonable aspect we should vote for it.
§ The Chairman
That is my point. When it eventually comes before the House, they can choose. They can say that they do not want any scheme. But I think it is out of order to go into the details now.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Further to that point of order. Would not it still be in order for my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) to ask the Minister what crops he has in mind? It will obviously vary from scheme to scheme and from place to place, but I think the Committee is entitled to know what schemes the Minister has in mind because, as you know very well, Sir Charles, the whole Clause deals with schemes and the making of schemes. As my hon. and learned Friend has pertinently pointed out, in subsection (4) the act of ploughing must necessarily be followed by some other operation. The subsection says that:… the carrying out of further operationsshall go with the ploughing, and the whole shall be considered as one for the purpose of a grant. My hon. and learned Friend was doing no more than ask the Minister what he had in mind when such schemes came forward, and what kind of crops he thought should go necessarily with the ploughing in order that a grant should be able to be applied for and received.
§ The Chairman
I think that in a general way I should allow that, but to go into details of the special crops and to make suggestions is going too far.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Bing
I shall willingly leave the point, but I was trying to safeguard the Minister's right of reply rather than to deal with the issues which I had raised and with which I had completed dealing. Might I ask the Minister another question 883 about these schemes? I take it that the county agricultural committees will administer them. Can the Minister tell us in broad outline the sort of idea he has in mind? Will he deal, for example, with the contrast between Northern Ireland, where a very different position exists, and England? Who are to be the administering authority in a unified scheme when it has to be administered in two such very different areas? Would he, in particular, deal with the point of administration?
To sum up, would he give us, first of all, the grounds on which he decides that there will be a scheme for any country? He might at the same time deal with the problem of whether or not Wales is a country; and if it is decided that Wales is a country, on what basis do we decide that one country is entitled to have a separate scheme and that another country is not? Is it on a basis of the size of acreage involved in the scheme or on a similarity of the agriculture? Or is it based on a similarity in the size of the farms, or is it upon a rainfall basis, or is it merely based upon administrative convenience?
Secondly, what is the general basis— and I do not ask him to go further than that—of the type of crop he is seeking to encourage? What machinery is there, as a whole, to see that schemes are coordinated so that, over the whole area, the type of crop which he wishes to encourage is, in fact, encouraged? What are the types of local control which are to be employed in order to deal with the various local problems which are likely to arise in connection with the schemes?
§ Mr. Nugent
I think we have had a fairly comprehensive debate on the Question that the Clause stand part and I hope that I can cover in a few minutes the main points which have been put forward by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. First of all, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who opened the debate, asked whether I could give him details of the next scheme. At this stage I am not sure whether I should be in order in doing so, but in any event I should be giving to the Committee information which has not yet been settled. Apart from the general outline, which hon. Members have already been given through 884 the debates which we have had, I cannot give specific details.
The hon. Member made a point which is extremely important, that in some of the more difficult areas, particularly in the West—and that would include the Principality—and, indeed, in the West Midlands, where rainfall is high, it might not be desirable to grow increased tillage crops. He asked, are we making a mistake in giving £5 an acre to encourage it? The answer is that the £5 an acre is offered as a subsidy for farmers who decide to plough up and grow a crop, but they use their own judgment as to whether to do so, and if they consider that it would be too great a risk because of climatic conditions, then obviously they will not do it.
We are considering carefully for future schemes whether it is possible to work this subsidy in with a grant for direct re-seeding, as we recognise that the grass crop is a natural crop and that the yield will probably be greater, more beneficial and very much more sure than that of an inadequate tillage crop. But the farmer will decide on the general picture, and what we are concerned with is that so much of the grass which is down now is highly unproductive; and what we wish to do is to encourage the farmer to plough, to grow one or two tillage crops and then to put it back to better grass. Then we shall get the best of everything.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) asked, I think, a somewhat similar question, and developed at some length the problem of the size of farms, and, in particular, the difference, in his opinion, between the size of farms in Northern Ireland and in this country. The figures that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) gave, extracted from the Appendix to the White Paper, are figures giving certain classes of farms, and they do not intend to give what is the national average.
The national average for England is about 80 acres, and it does not vary so very greatly, although it is significantly larger than, the 50 acres or 60 acres average probably of the Northern Ireland farms. The fact is, of course, that although in England we have a fair num- 885 ber of such farms, the vast majority of our farms are small.
That, I think, links up with a point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) about the difference of the farm structure in Wales. It is true that it is very different in Wales from what it is in the Eastern Counties, but it is not so different from what it is in Cornwall and Devon, especially up on the moors, where there are a large number of small and difficult farms—not as mountainous as in Wales, but certainly small and difficult, with a high rainfall. I mention that because I think it does give a more complete picture.
However, to deal with a specific point that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ayrshire, Central made about the financial position vis-è-visNorthern Ireland, on which he felt particularly concerned. He felt that the Committee should be given figures, to show exactly what the amount was between the Government and the Northern Ireland Government, to see whether we were justified in giving this specific producer subsidy. I would suggest that he looks at it in this way— that this is part of the Price Review award; and the alternative to giving this ploughing-up subsidy would be to increase the end price of corn, potatoes, and so forth; and if that had been done there would have been no question of the higher price of this produce coming into account between the two Governments.
The fact is that this amount that goes to Northern Ireland in ploughing subsidy should not properly be included in this account at all, but should be regarded as an additional item of cost to the total cost of the food that we purchase from Northern Ireland, which, as I mentioned earlier, is something in the area of £25 million a year.
§ Mr. Nugent
I have forgotten whether the hon. and learned Gentleman was in the Committee when I gave the figures, but the figures for 1951 show that we did, in fact, receive some £25 million or £26 million worth of food from Northern Ireland, and I have every reason to believe that we shall continue to get it. 886 We shall certainly see if there is any massive traffic across the frontier, on the lines that some hon. Gentlemen have feared.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Ayrshire further asked about milk being used for manufacturing purposes, and a query was made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey). I think that there is no evidence that milk from Northern Ireland is being used for manufacture in that way. It is true it can be. As usual, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hornchurch is well informed: it could be; but I think I am right in saying that they are not doing it at present, and that all the milk they have to spare is coming here; and, in fact, in the summer—at this time of year —a large part of the milk we drink in this country does come from Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) asked why there was not a separate scheme for Wales. There is no reason intrinsically why there should not be, but we felt that conditions, geographical and climatic, although different to an extent, were not so different that we should contemplate a separate scheme.
On that, the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch pressed the question of what was the basis of determining when there was a separate scheme. The answer is that we must look at the whole picture of the farming itself and of the administrative structure, and if both are broadly the same the various countries concerned may be put together in one scheme, or may be treated in separate schemes—as, indeed, Scotland is in this scheme, and as in the fertiliser scheme Northern Ireland is treated differently.
As far as possible the countries are kept together in one scheme because, quite obviously, unless there is some specific reason for setting up separate schemes there is no reason for doing so. There is no magic about it. It is treated quite empirically on what seems to be the most convenient arrangement.
Northern Ireland is administered similarly in this respect to one county in England. There is one administrative centre in Northern Ireland; they will administer the whole of the ploughing subsidy grant for Northern Ireland and will send up 887 applications, receive and vet them from that central authority.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North paid us a most handsome tribute, which we certainly do not deserve, but nevertheless appreciate. He rounded it off by saying that we just did not have any knowledge or information on this point, but that otherwise we were all right. We take that very kindly, but it does not leave us very much. He questioned the whole basis of the producer subsidy, and he will not, I think, want me to go into that at length again.
It is not possible to work a selective producer subsidy; and, unfortunately, it is not possible to work it on an acreage basis, to pay a bigger subsidy to a smaller farmer. It is something we have examined, but the difficulty is to decide what is a separate farm unit. We were finally defeated and we And it unavoidable to have a flat rate subsidy. I do assure him that that has been carefully looked at and it is not now presented in its present form because of lack of consideration of the point he has made.
I think that, broadly, I have dealt with the various points raised in the debate, and I trust that the Committee will now give the Clause their approval.
§ Mr. G. Roberts
Will the hon. Gentleman and the Minister look at the small drafting point I raised? It is important and we in Wales feel deeply about it. The substitution of the word "these" for the word "three" in subsection (2) would meet the point. Will he give an assurance that he will look at that?
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.