§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
I beg to move,That the Agriculture Act (Part I) Extension of Period Order, 1953, dated 2nd July, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd July, be approved.This Order extends for a further year the powers under Section 4 of Part I of the 1947 Agriculture Act. The Act provides that no Order under Section 4 is effective without the annual renewal of the Minister's powers to make such orders under this Section. The first extension was made in 1950, and this is the fourth such Extension of Period Order.
Section 4 of the 1947 Act gives the Minister power to make administrative arrangements to carry out the policy of guaranteed prices and assured markets where no existing arrangement is adequate or suitable, or where no provision exists at all.
At present there is only one such arrangement, and that is for wool—the guaranteed prices provided under the British Wool Guaranteed Prices Order, 706 1951, which is the Order that is now extended. The Wool Marketing Board set up in 1951 provides the machinery through which these guaranteed prices are paid. Without this Extension of Period Order these arrangements would cease, and therefore I ask the House to give this Order their approval.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
I do not rise at this stage in order to prevent any of my hon. Friends from pursuing the subject, but I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary can expect the Order to go through on a simple explanation of the kind he has given us. He has, in fact, read out to us the first two or three paragraphs of the memorandum which the Ministry have issued on this Order, and he ended by saying that if we did not pass the Order the Wool Board guarantees and the Wool Board operations for implementing the guaranteed price would not be able to operate, and that therefore we had better pass the Order or be responsible for putting the wool producers into a difficult position.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) had better wait a little before he says "Hear, hear," as otherwise he may get the concrete where he suggested my hon. Friend would get it the other night.
There are a number of questions which it is about time the Government answered. If it is true that we have to have an Order every year before the wool producers can get their guaranteed price, do the Government and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary regard that as a good form of giving long-term security to the producers? The hon. Gentleman used to say in our day that there was not enough long-term security. Are the Government going on for ever simply extending this Order year after year, or do they propose at some stage to put this temporary business on to a permanent footing, and, if so, how? We have extended the Order on three occasions now.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) introduced the Bill, as it then was, in 1947, he made it quite clear that the powers in Clause 4 were intended to be 707 quite temporary ones. He made it clear that what was proposed was an Order under Clause 4 in any case where the existing arrangements were not suitable or adequate and that we could extend it from year to year because, as my right hon. Friend said:'obviously it is going to lake time to work out permanent plans."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 631.]Clearly my right hon. Friend expected that at some stage permanent plans would be worked out. It is not good enough for the present Government to go on extending year by year the purely temporary provision that we produced then without getting down to working out permanent plans. Everybody in this industry is saying—even though we do not seem to be able to get it into the minds of the Minister or of the Parliamentary Secretary—that there is at the moment no indication of what the Government's long-term plans are for agricultural prices.
Merely to extend this matter for another year because if they do not the producer will not get his guarantee is not good enough. Some year, somebody will forget to make this Order at the right time. Things like that have happened before now. Somebody may bring it forward in an illegal form, as happened on the last Order we debated from the Ministry of Agriculture, when it will have to be taken back to be put right, and in the meantime the producers' guarantee will go. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary how much longer the wool producers' guarantee is to depend upon extending these temporary Orders for one year.
That brings me to a rather wider consideration. If, as we understand the position to be, any products of which the existing arrangements are not considered to be adequate, is to be dealt with by an Order made under powers obtained by extending Clause 4 (1) year by year, what is to happen to the cereal producers and the egg producers? We are told by this Administration that their aim is to move as quickly as possible into a freer economy. We are told that that freer economy means the disappearance of the Ministry of Food. Indeed, the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food hardly let a week pass 708 without giving themselves a specially minted medal for their anxiety to get rid of their jobs. The fact that the jobs are not got rid of in the meantime does not seem to worry them. They still strike the medals and wear them. They still say that they are anxious to work themselves out of a job as soon as they can. At some stage, apparently, the Ministry of Food is to disappear. The Minister of Food seemed to make this quite clear in an interview he gave to a London evening newspaper about a week ago.
When the Ministry of Food disappears, and unless something permanent and long-term is done, there will be no agency to implement the prices of the guarantee. Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell me, supposing there is a marketing board for eggs, a commission for cereals or a commission for livestock, where they will get their powers to act as an agency for implementing the Act? Will they be like the Wool Board and have to depend upon an annual extension of the powers under Clause 4 (1)? In other words, is the freer economy which the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary talk about merely another name for removing the long-term security and putting it on a year to year basis? If it is said that the Egg Board will not be in that position, what will be the difference between the Egg Board and the present Wool Board, and why cannot the present Wool Board be given long-term security? Before the House passes this extension because of the habit we get into, as Administrations and Oppositions change, of passing this kind of matter through formally, it might be a very salutary proceeding to stop doing it on this occasion and to sit down and think.
Before the House passes this, and before hon. Members on the other side who sit for agricultural constituencies acquiesce in it, we ought to subject the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture to a fairly close cross-examination on it. We want to know why the Wool Board cannot now be given permanent long-term arrangements and powers for dealing with this. We want to know what happens in any year to the wool producers' money if the Order fails to be made. What happens when the Ministry of Food disappears? Is there nothing but Section 4 (1) of the 709 1947 Act, and an annual extension, between the producers and an end of the guarantees? What proposals has the Minister for the permanent arrangements?
We have had several more or less full-dress debates recently on agricultural policy, culminating in the last debate in my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) putting a series of specific questions to the Minister, to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, whom I am glad to see in his place, as to what are their intentions about permanent arrangements for implementing guaranteed prices.
The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretaries are no longer getting adept at finding means of avoiding an answer. They are now taking a complete refuge in not facing up to this problem at all. We want to know two things from them. First, we want to know what are their permanent intentions. How do they intend to operate the guarantees under Part I of the Act? I hope that tonight we shall not end merely with the reading of some other irrelevant document.
Let the Joint Parliamentary Secretary give us some idea of the sort of thing that he expects to work and how the powers are to be provided. Can it be done under the 1947 Act? Does it need new legislation? How will he provide these powers? Is he going on the line of an annual extension of the powers in Section 4 (1)? If so, how then will he explain to the farmers, the farmworkers and the producers generally that what this Government have done under the cloak of fine words is to remove the long-term guarantees embodied in Sections 1–3 of the 1947 Act and replace them by temporary, year by year powers, which are embodied in Section 4 (1). If that were to be the case we would be much more than half way to the abolition of the Act. We would be almost there.
The wool people are there at the moment. They are there because the Government go on dribbling along incapable of or unwilling to produce a permanent provision in permanent legislation. I am afraid that unless we give the Government a severe jolt we shall 710 certainly find that the existing mechanism for implementing the 1947 Act for livestock producers, cereal producers, and egg producers will have disappeared because of the doctrinaire policy of the Government and that in its place there will be nothing but Section 4 (1) with its powers extended year by year. I believe that that is a bad thing.
I do not mind the Government having a fling and doing the thing in the way they want, but in the interests of producers I want to know how they are doing it and I want them, if they are doing away with our arrangement, to put something in its place in the long term and not rely upon these temporary, year by year powers. I believe that when the industry really awakens to the fact that in the absence of long-term powers, with the disappearance of the Ministry of Food it will be a year-by-year arrangement which the Government can break merely by forgetting to make the Order or by announcing that they are not going to make the Order, there will be considerable unrest in the industry.
The Parliamentary Secretary cannot expect to get this Order just like that. I hope he will tell us why he cannot have this arangement on a permanent basis. We do not mind him having it this year, if he will make a permanent arrangement next year. We also hope that he will tell us what his permanent idea is for the other crops, and that he will assure us that we shall not be suddenly left, with the Ministry of Food gone and with the present long-term arrangements gone, and nothing in their place but these temporary powers.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I hope the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will respond to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has said. We on this side of the House are very suspicious of the Government's intentions. We know that when the 1947 Act went through many of the supporters of the Government were very critical of Part I and of any planning arrangements that would be made to implement the suggestion of assured markets and guaranteed prices. Therefore, before we pass this Order it is important that we should have such assurances.
Mention has been made by the Parliamentary Secretary of the need in relation 711 to wool. We have the Wool Board, which is the agency to implement a guaranteed price, but we are rather concerned about the policy of the Government in a wider field. My right hon. Friend mentioned an article by the Minister of Food in the "Star" of 3rd July. He was dealing with meat. When talking of rationing and the future position of the Minister of Food, which is an important factor when we consider this Act and this Order in relation to the Minister of Agriculture, he said:I must be sure, too, that private importers will be free from undue currency restrictions and that satisfactory arrangements are made for effecting the price and market guarantees for home production under the Agriculture Act of 1947.We feel from what we have heard in speeches by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and other hon. Members that there is an attempt on the part of certain Members of the Government, supported by very influential people in the Conservative Party, to end the planning arrangements which we made in the Act of 1947. [Interruption.] It is all very well for hon. Members to object, but many hon. Members were very critical of this Measure when it went through the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
The hon. Gentleman and I were both present during those speeches. I am quite sure that he will agree that a great deal of the criticism at that time arose on the question of the assured market and guaranteed price without relation to cost.
§ Mr. Peart
If the hon. Gentleman will carefully read the reports of the Committee debate he will find speeches by many hon. Members—there are some hon. Members here tonight who spoke in that debate—who made very critical speeches and they voted against this Part of the Act. Because of their record, we are naturally suspicious. The hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. York) made critical speeches. I remember his eloquence when he attacked the planning arrangements. I hope he will have the courage to speak tonight and press the Government to give detailed arrangements for moving to a freer economy. When the Prime Minister last addressed a farmers' dinner in London, he defended this move towards a freer economy in agriculture.
712 We have had the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in relation to this and we know from the whole tone of the propaganda of the party opposite at the last election, when they condemned farming from Whitehall, that they do not like planning. I understand that good Tory philosophy of setting the people free and objecting to assured markets and guaranteed prices, but I wish that hon. Members on the Government side would be consistent and pursue their propaganda to its logical conclusion.
It is for those reasons and because of the uncertainties which have been expressed by a responsible Minister in a forthright speech and by an hon. Member opposite, who was challenged frequently by my right hon. Friend in the last agriculture debate, that we believe that the Government are not sincere in their desire to give those full guarantees which we as a Labour Administration envisaged when the Act went through
If tonight the Parliamentary Secretary is not forthcoming, if he can give no assurances that there will be no sabotaging of the Act or that we will have any of those essential long-term guarantees for producers, we shall have to consider our position. That is why my right hon. Friend, quite rightly, pressed the Minister to give details. After all, the Parliamentary Secretary has written many eloquent pamphlets on the need for marketing policy——
§ Mr. Peart
I was paying him a tribute. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is an exception in believing that we should work out marketing arrangements to implement what is contained in Part I of the Act, which is affected by this Order. Can the Parliamentary Secretary use his influence to restrict the lunatic fringe in the Tory Party who would ruin our agriculture, as they ruined it in the 1920's and 1930's?
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
Will the hon. Member agree that the agricultural prices prevailing today under the present Tory Government are higher than ever in the industry's history?
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Member should realise that although prices go on from year to year, they are fixed by the Price Review. He should also remember that because of the financial policy pursued 713 by the Government, farming costs are also much higher. Many small farmers are now faced with serious difficulties. The Minister should read a speech on credit policy by one of his supporters in the last agriculture debate, when a Conservative Member was very critical of the credit policy being pursued by the Government and its effect on organisations like the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. Therefore, the argument of increased prices and costs is not valid.
There is a great danger that if certain sections of the Conservative Party have their way in this move towards a freer economy, the long-term guarantees which are laid down in Part I of the 1947 Act will be considerably weakened, and that British agriculture will go back to that state of affairs, which hon. Members opposite, quite rightly, are prepared to defend, which existed in the 1920's and 1930's. I do not want the farming community to go back to that freer economy which we knew in that period. We know what it meant. [Interruption.] One at a time. Who is to get up first? I am willing to give way.
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Member asks whether that was not the Labour policy. We certainly did not approve of the drift from the land before the war, and we did not approve of the mortgage difficulties which were felt by many small farmers. We certainly did not approve of the neglect of the land. That is why we brought in very early, when we had power after the war, the new Agriculture Act of 1947, which gave the farmer for the first time the security which he never had when hon. Members opposite were in power. [Interruption.]
I wish that the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) would make his speech standing up. I will give way if he wishes. He, as a farmer, should know well the danger of freeing our economy and the danger of sabotaging the effects of the legislation which we brought in. I am merely asking that he, as a good farmer—as a bad Tory, but as a good farmer—will use his influence to get assurances from the Parliamentary Secretary, and particularly from people like the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who wish to move away from 714 what they term the rigidity of the Act of 1947—a nice phrase. We are merely asking tonight that when this important Order goes through to implement extra arrangements as laid down in the Act we can have assurances.
After all, if hon. Members opposite believe that the Ministry of Food should go, then they must carefully think out the details of effective guarantees to the primary producers. The whole effective working of the Act of 1947, the whole effective working of the administrative arrangements contained in this Order, depend in the end upon a State Department and a Ministry of Food. For that reason we wish to have the essential assurances, and I hope that the hon. Member, who sits for a farming constituency, will press the Government on this matter, so that there will not be any betrayal of agriculture as we had a betrayal so many years ago before the last war.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, Southwest)
I am not quite able to understand what I think is the rather false indignation of hon. Members opposite over this Order. So far as I understand it, this Order carries on certain provisions that are carried on from year to year. We have heard it said that there is a doubt in the minds of producers as to how permanent these provisions will be, but surely it is the duty of hon. Members opposite to explain why in the first instance these particular provisions were made temporary. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said that in due course of time it was intended that other arrangements should be put in the place of the existing arrangements, but I think they have to carry the responsibility for having inserted in the Agriculture Act, 1947, a provision whereby these arrangements have to be carried on from year to year.
§ Mr. G. Brown
There are two points here. For all the crops mentioned in the Schedule to the Act as it was passed in 1947 we provided permanent arrangements, and if this Government had not upset them, those permanent arrangements would have been carried on. Temporary provisions were provided for many other things, for instance, wool, when it was added to the Schedule, so that we could have temporary provisions until permament arrangements were made. So 715 we covered the thing both ways. It is only the present Government who are now making temporary provisions apply to what hitherto had been covered by permanent provisions.
§ Mr. Bullard
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I think the Government would prefer that arrangements should be carried on for a longer period. It was stipulated in the Act that they should be carried on from one year to another, and that is why we have this Order tonight.
There is another point I would put to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Tonight they have talked a good deal, particularly the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), about decreased confidence and short-term policy. I think it is a great mistake on their part to emphasise this in every agricultural debate.
§ Mr. Bullard
I am a great believer in permanence and stability in agricultural policy. It is a great dis-service to the agricultural community for hon. and right hon. Members opposite on every one of these occasions to plant, or try to plant, seeds of insecurity in the farmers' minds for what, I believe, is primarily a political purpose. I believe they have a political purpose in opposing this Order tonight.
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Member surely has read the National Farmers' Union's publications where over and over again they press for a long-term programme? We have had speeches from very responsible members of the farming community, not attached to any political party, and articles in very responsible farmers' papers, deploring the fact that the Government will not give the farmers any vision of what their long-term agricultural policy is.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Nugent
By leave of the House, in reply to the various points raised by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and his hon. Friends, I think that I should first explain a point upon which the right hon. Gentleman, strangely enough, is at fault. He is under 716 the impression that he has made permanent arrangements for the Schedule of commodities in Part I. In fact, of course, he did not. The intention is defined in the first three Sections of the 1947 Act, but the means of making the payments was through the Defence Regulations—emergency powers which the Ministry of Food had and which are still being operated, and which, of course, had no permanency at all. They have to be renewed from year to year in exactly the same way as this Order does.
§ Mr. Nugent
It is not a different point. The right hon. Gentleman was quite incorrect in trying to put my hon. Friend right. He was completely wrong himself. I advise him to study the exact structure under which he was operating the guaranteed prices and he will see the extent to which he was wrong.
§ Mr. Nugent
The Ministry of Food were operating it under emergency powers which they have to renew from year to year. The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in thinking that he set up any permanent legislation at all in order to implement the guaranteed prices. He has not.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Gentleman is making a great point of this, but I hope that he will come to the point which I was making to him just now. I hope that he is going to examine the argument we were discussing. The point is whether the Ministry of Food needs to have permanent legislation in this matter or not. The present arrangement for the operation of the 1947 Agriculture Act operates so long as there is a Ministry of Food Therefore, it is the action of the present Government in doing away with the Ministry of Food that brings into question the temporariness or permanence of the powers of the Agriculture Act. That is what he has to answer.
§ Mr. Nugent
The right hon. Gentleman has tried to find an answer but it is a very flimsy one. It does not answer the fact that the powers under which the Ministry of Food operates are temporary emergency powers which have to be renewed from year to year. I am not at 717 all surprised that the right hon. Gentleman was rather upset at hearing that.
The general philosophy of the 1947 Act is, of course, a permanency, but it is clear from reading the explanatory leaflet which came out with the 1947 Act, and which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend's published, that the general intention was that the guaranteed prices for the scheduled commodities would be operated under emergency powers which were to be retained in the Ministry of Food so long as these were necessary. These additional arrangements were made under Clause 4, but quite obviously we were looking forward to the time when some long-term legislation was brought in to put these price payments on a permanent basis.
This particular provision of Clause 4 is on very much the same basis as the other arrangements for paying guaranteed prices at the present time. It certainly is a provisional arrangement as was defined in the explanatory leaflet, and it is necessary to renew it from year to year. I agree with him that it would not be satisfactory to leave either this arrangement for wool or the arrangements for the other price review commodities on the temporary basis whereby it is necessary to renew them from year to year.
As my right hon. Friend informed us recently in the Supply Day debate we have been working for some time on the evolution of long-term legislation and long-term structures for the various commodities as we move into a freer economy, in order to give the necessary guarantee and assurance of prices. Then we shall have not only for this commodity of wool but for all other commodities a long-term arrangement, not just determining the philosophy of guaranteed prices under the 1947 Act, but providing a long-term statutory basis for the actual payments of the monies involved.
With regard to wool, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that eventually there may have to be long-term legislation, but in the first cycle, which the House will know is a five-year cycle, the arrangement has served quite well and there is no immediate necessity to change it. I can certainly assure the House, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his hon. Friends, that this Government, 718 at any rate, is in no danger of forgetting to bring the Order forward.
§ Mr. Nugent
We shall be perfectly ready to bring the Order forward at regular intervals of a year so long as it is necessary to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked what will happen to cereal and egg producers when the existing arrangements for guaranteed prices for Ministry of Food purchases come to an end. We shall make the necessary arrangements to maintain the guarantee, and in due course we shall bring before the House long-term legislation to provide a statutory basis. However, it would be quite wrong to leave the impression either in the House or outside that the year-to-year arrangement is any different from the system that we inherited from the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Nugent
It is exactly and precisely the same arrangement carried on on a year-to-year basis. I am not criticising it; I am simply stating it as a matter of fact. For the time being it has served, but eventually it will be necessary to put it into long-term statutory form, and we are in process of doing that.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) made his usual speech which we have heard a good many times here.
§ Mr. Nugent
The hon. Member's speech was of very little substance, and there is a good deal of weight in the criticism of my hon. Friend that it tended to destroy the confidence which is necessary for increased production. If the hon. Member is really interested in getting increased production, he should make his remarks more constructive.
§ Mr. Brown
There is one matter which puzzles me at the moment. The Parliamentary Secretary may be right, but I should like it made clear. The Order is made for one year and runs out on 5th August next year. If, as he says, 719 this is the same arrangement as has always previously operated—which I do not agree—if it applied to cereal prices, how would he fix a price in this year's Price Review to apply to next year's harvest, as we always did under the old arrangements, if the Order under which it has to be done runs out before the crops are harvested?
§ Mr. Nugent
If I may be allowed to continue my speech, the wool price payment structure is based—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give me his attention, because he is not altogether well informed on the matter—on the wool price Order of 1951. That Order runs on continuously until the House brings it to an end, and it is the Order now before the House which gives the necessary powers to continue it. In other words, this is, so to speak, a parent Order to the actual Order which determines the structure for the wool payments.
Order. I must remind hon. Members that this is the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman has already made four interventions on the subject. We cannot conduct the debate as if the House were in Committee.
§ Mr. Nugent
I think I can rapidly bring my remarks to a close, Mr. Speaker. I feel certain that I have satisfied the House that the arrangements that we are making for wool are exactly comparable to those for other commodities and that it is perfectly reasonable to continue the provisional arrangements for wool marketing at present. We have no immediate intention of applying this provision to other commodities, but if and when we decide to do so, we shall bring the necessary Order before the House. I can give the House the firmest assurance that the passing of the Order is strictly consistent with the spirit of the 720 1947 Act and that the guarantees that we have given farmers up to now and for the future will in every way be beneficial and conducive to increased production.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary fully appreciates that none of us had any intention of opposing the passing of this Order. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) made it clear that we understood it was necessary to have this Order if the wool marketing arrangements were to continue. But the Parliamentary Secretary left the impression with hon. Members on both sides of the House that it was necessary to have this Order to give effect to the guarantees contained in the 1947 Act, and that this had been done year after year since 1947 in order so to do. If he did not say so in so many words——
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman gave that impression, because towards the end of his speech he made it clear that this Order was only necessary for the wool marketing arrangements and not for any other commodity in the First Schedule to the 1947 Act. The reason for my right hon. Friend's question was that we have been told many times in recent months that the agriculture industry is about to move into a freer economy We all know that cereals and eggs are decontrolled, but they are provided for where guarantees are necessary under Section 3 of the 1947 Act, so this Order has no effect upon that whatsoever.
The important point is that if some marketing arrangements for eggs and cereals have to be made they have to be similar to the arrangements made for the marketing of wool; that is to say, there have to be new arrangements under the terms of Section 4 of the 1947 Act. That Section deals with the variations of arrangements or new arrangements replacing those hitherto followed under Section 3 of the Act. If those new arrangements modify the marketing of those commodities, then that would be done under the powers given in the Order which we are to approve tonight.
My right hon. Friend is quite right in saying that this Order runs until 5th August, 1954. Under the present arrange- 721 ments the Government are able to give a long-term guarantee to the industry, and they see the advantages to the industry of the security afforded under Section 3. But a different position arises if the Government have to say to the industry, "Our intentions as honourable men are good. We will continue with the guarantees for many years, but we are sorry that under our new arrangements you will only be able to get your guarantees and your security on a year-by-year basis, dependent on the House of Commons passing the Agriculture Act (Part I) Extension of Period Order in July each year." The Parliamentary Secretary must not accuse us on this side of the House of endeavouring to create a feeling of insecurity amongst farmers in this country.
§ Mr. Nugent
I hesitate to speak again, but may I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? He has got it all wrong. It is only possible to implement the guarantees on other commodities by the annual renewal of the emergency powers contained in Defence Regulations under which the Ministry of Food act. Exactly the same provision is necessary annually in this case in order to implement this guarantee for wool.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may be right, but I doubt it. Of course the Ministry of Food get their powers annually by the Order referred to. But the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland have powers under Section 3 of the Act of 1947 to deal with the agricultural industry. That is the point, and if we did not use the instrument of the Ministry of Food, the Government of the day are fully empowered to use another instrument of their own making and choosing, so the argument adduced by the hon. Gentleman is irrelevant.
I was going to quote some of the things which the farmers in Scotland have been saying about the policy of the Government, but I shall not do so at this late hour. In the course of a debate last week I ventured to interrupt the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—there are so many that it is difficult to identify which one. However, I asked if he had seen a report in the "Scotsman" of what 722 the farmers in Scotland were saying about the agricultural policy of the Government vis-à-vis guaranteed prices and an assured market. They have been using much stronger language than has been used tonight or on any other occasion I can recall by hon. and right hon. Friends of mine in the course of debate.
We are unhappy about this position. We think that the principle and the basis of the 1947 Act is being undermined by these policy decisions of the present Government. They have found it easy to take decisions which have brought about chaos in the marketing of some of our agricultural commodities. Eggs provide one glaring example. It was the action of the Government that created chaos. The Government spokesmen say, "Ultimately we shall bring in some sensible, workable arrangements to deal with the marketing of eggs," but it was they who put the farmers in the difficulty by taking the action which has led to all this widespread criticism throughout the whole of the industry North and South of the Border.
They must not lay at our door the accusation that we are making speeches which are encouraging a feeling of insecurity in the agricultural industry. We say that this Order which we are asked to pass tonight is the kind of instrument which we think is useful to carry the Ministry and the Government over a temporary period when they have to modify the arrangements for effecting guarantees as set out in Section 3 of the Act. We say, however, that it should be the exception rather than the rule for the Scheduled commodities to be dealt with under this Order. Since there has been so much talk of decontrol and of moving into a freer economy, we have a great fear that many of those commodities will in the not distant future, in view of the promise of the early demise of the Ministry of Food, fall to be dealt with under this Instrument, and so the security will be given to the farmers on a year to year basis.