HC Deb 16 June 1952 vol 502 cc898-904
The Temporary Chairman (Sir Austin Hudson)

The next Amendment is in page 3, line 6, to insert "one year," and is similar to the one on the previous Clause.

Mr. G. Brown

Are you not selecting the Amendment in page 2, line 30, which involves an important principle, Sir Austin?

The Temporary Chairman


Amendment made: In page 3, line 6, leave out "two years," and insert "one year."—[Mr. G. Brown.]

Mr. G. Brown

I beg to move, in page 3, line 6, at the end, to insert: and provided that no such variation or revocation shall alter any grant payable in respect of any ploughing up of land under grass or further operations on the land commenced prior to any such variation or revocation. Here we are seeking to give an assurance to the farming community which they certainly need despite all that we have been saying up to now about not allowing them to think that these provisions will necessarily go on. It is a perfectly logical argument that we do not want to hold out specifically the prospect that they will have the subsidy anyhow next year if they like to wait and yet that the Minister should have power to revoke or vary a scheme at any time. On the other hand, there should be no doubt in people's minds that that power to revoke or vary does not mean that if they embark upon an undertaking there will be a subsequent change which will lose them the cost.

I have in mind a limited class for whom alone this is justified, that is to say, small men for whom the cost of ploughing and subsequent cultivation, even at the present price for the end product, is just over the border of what they think worth while. Those are the chaps for whom the argument can be made that £5 an acre may tip the balance and make it worth their while. Those chaps also tend to be the canniest in the industry. They are the fellows who think twice and have memories of having been bitten before. I do not want to make the point too strongly, but the Minister will remember that his party got rid of the Corn Production Act.

These fellows claim to remember all that has happened in the past and they think they may be bitten. Therefore, it is important to make this provision in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister will tell me that this arrangement will always be made and that if a scheme were revoked or varied exemption would be made in the case of those who have already started operations. But there is no harm in declaring that intention in the Bill. It adds no weight to the Bill and it makes the position doubly clear. It is an important assurance to that kind of farmer who, we hope, will be encouraged to plough and who certainly needs that assurance.

It is in that spirit and mood that I have moved the Amendment. I believe the words to be quite all right and that the Minister will find no difficulty at all in accepting them. I am sure that he accepts the spirit of the Amendment. Since I understand this will be the last Amendment we shall have, I hope the Minister will keep up his good record in this debate and agree to let us have it.

Mr. Baldwin

I think we ought to be quite clear about who actually repealed the Corn Production Act. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said that this was done by the Conservative Party. My recollection is that when the Corn Production Act was passed it was supposed to continue for five years. Then a committee was appointed consisting of all parties to decide whether it should be continued, and all the Socialist Members on the committee voted against its continuation. Mr. Lloyd George was then the Prime Minister, and it was decided that the Act should continue. But circumstances were such that the price of wheat fell to an alarming extent, and he decided that he could not go against public opinion, and it was a Coalition Government, with Mr. Lloyd George at its head, which actually did away with the Corn Production Act.

Mr. Paget

I do not think we need get too political in this discussion which has been conducted in a most co-operative spirit and bipartisan way. However, one must not be deceived by the various fronts under which the Conservative Party operate from time to time. There have been a variety of names, but it has generally been composed of the same people. Ever since Peel betrayed the countryside, one Conservative Government after another has let down the farmer, and they have let down the farmer ultimately because they have been the party of the industrialists.

Labour and the primary producer, who is the farmer, are a natural coalition, and the first party from whom the farmers ever got a proper deal was the Labour Party. With the party opposite there has been a long period, for over 100 years, of continual betrayal of agriculture, and people who had the experience of the Corn Production Act do require an assurance.

Sir T. Dugdale

I cannot be quite so helpful on this occasion as on the last, but I hope that the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) will, in his turn, be helpful, I accept the principle at once, but I am not quite happy about the wording of the Amendment. I give to the Committee the undertaking that I will examine the point right away, and I will put down on the Report stage an Amendment to cover the principle as it was explained by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. G. Brown

I certainly accept that. We know very well that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is always as good as his word, and we are quite happy that he should choose a form of words to give effect to this principle. On that basis, 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. G. Brown

I should like to raise a point which I think is of some importance, as do some of my hon. Friends, and which we had hoped to raise at an earlier stage.

Under any scheme of this kind, and particularly one that is related not to the mere application to the land of an addition like a fertiliser, but which has to do with the actual cultivation of the land, at some stage, in defence of the taxpayer and of the agricultural community's good name, steps must be taken to ascertain what the effect has been. If we are to have power to examine and to see, first, that the job which is claimed to have been done has been done, and secondly, that it has been done efficiently, there must be some sanctions which can be imposed in a case where it has not been done properly.

In subsection (1, b)the Minister has provided for securing that a grant shall not be made, or shall be restricted in amount, if the appropriate Minister is of opinion that the ploughing or any further operation… has been inefficiently carried out, or that adequate facilities for the inspection of the land have not been given; I wholly agree that if a man claims a ploughing-up subsidy and says that he has both ploughed up and cultivated the land, and then declines to give the committee facilities to examine, no payment ought to be made.

9.45 p.m.

What I do not see is why any limited amount should be paid. If the chap will not allow one to go on and have a look —if he does not give one adequate facilities—one has no way of knowing to what extent the operation merits support. The fellow who is claiming public money should be made to understand most clearly that, consequent on getting any public money, he ought to allow entry upon his farm. In the case of inadequate facilities the sole provision should be the power to disallow payment altogether. We should say:"If you will not allow us entry, there will be no payment. You do not have to admit us, but in those circumstances you cannot be given public money."

I certainly disagree with any proposal to pay half the money when adequate facilities have not been provided. That principle should also apply where there has been inefficiency. I referred earlier to my experiences when I was operating the potato acreage subsidy. Where, for instance, rows have been planted too far apart, I do not agree that the chap should be told: "You have only planted half the acreage, so we will pay only half the subsidy." If a fellow has been inefficient and has produced less than the full crop, I think he should be subject to the other powers which the Minister has. He should not have a penny of public money in recognition of having done something inefficient and having produced less than the full crop. The matter should be considered by the husbandry sub-committee of the executive committee to see what other action should be taken.

I am sorry I was not allowed to move the other Amendment; but that does not prevent me from pressing the Minister to consider the matter. I am sure that he will find that his county committees do not want the power to pay part of the subsidy. They would prefer—as we would certainly have done when I was concerned with these matters—the right to say: "If you have done the job properly and have allowed us to go on your farm, and there is no complaint against you, you get the subsidy; but if you have not done the job properly or you will not allow us on, there is no subsidy for you." There is no case in equity or from the point of view of husbandry for having any power to pay less than the proper subsidy in certain circumstances.

I hope the Minister will not be influenced by the fact that the Amendment has not been selected and will say that between now and the Report stage he will consider this matter with his advisers and will agree that it is right to tell the chap; "If you get on with the job properly, you get the whole subsidy, but if you do not, you get nothing."

Mr. Paget

I should like to add one argument in support of those which have been advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). We know that the most that one can do is a 10 per cent. spot check. Therefore, any provisions under Clause 3 (1, b)will be provisions in terrorem.As to nine-tenths of the people, they will not have been inspected, so the provision here is to have something in terrorem.Why not make it as fierce as one can?

There is one other point which I should like to make and which was also the subject of an Amendment which you, Sir Austin, did not select; that is, that the minimum area should be a very small one. Under the present scheme it is one acre. I understand that the main idea is to encourage people to grow more feed-ingstuffs in order to get more meat, to encourage those persons who can grow some \feedingstuffs themselves to keep one or two pigs on less than an acre. As has been said, there are a great many very small farms of between 20 and 30 acres. It may be that these extra small areas of under one acre each will add up to quite a lot. I hope the Minister will consider making it a very small area as a minimum to qualify.

I understand that this is the last debate on this Committee stage and you will, perhaps, not rule me out of order, Sir Austin, if I take the opportunity to thank all three Ministers for the extremely courteous and obliging way in which they have treated us throughout the Committee stage. I feel that we have had a thorough discussion and done our work thoroughly, and I hope, too, that we have brought out to some extent the difficulties inherent in producer subsidies and have emphasised the fact that the principle of the 1947 scheme is that farmers shall work to a price and that that principle is to be departed from only in exceptional circumstances.

Sir T. Dugdale

In reply to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) about the minimum acreage, I would point out that when the Agricultural Development Act, 1939, passed through the House, it specified a minimum area of two acres in order to be eligible for a ploughing-up grant. Later schemes reduced that to one acre, which has been the minimum for most ploughing-up grants. I think the Committee can take it that that is likely to be the minimum in schemes under the Bill, but the minimum will be specified in any scheme and it will be for the House or the Committee to discuss it when the scheme is introduced.

The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) raised a question which deals with administration. He has had experience of administering this system. I will certainly not give him an assurance that I will do anything in this Bill, but we will watch the point very carefully and see whether, by administration, we can help to deal with it in any way. I think he will agree that efficiency is a relative term, and the whole balance of the argument is whether we shall get the most efficient results by allowing part payment to be made or by cutting payment off altogether and laying down, "Either no payment at all or full payment." I think I have put the right hon. Gentleman's point of view fairly, and it will be given very carefull consideration in the administration of any schemes.

Mr. F. Willey

May I congratulate the Minister on making the Statutory Instrument in this Clause subject to the affirmative procedure? I am glad that he has anticipated the Amendments which would have been moved and has made that provision in the Clause. From this side of the Committee, I very much appreciate the use of this procedure, which has considerable advantages. It is much better that the Government should put down Motions for approval of Orders than that we should have to put down Motions to annul Orders, but I reserve the right to change my point of view when we move to the benches opposite.

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