HC Deb 30 June 1953 vol 517 cc355-8

11.18 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R.H. Nugent)

I beg to move, That the Draft Coastal Flooding (Acreage Payments) Scheme, 1953, a copy of which was said before this House on 23rd June, be approved. ' The House will not wish me to give a lengthy and detailed description of the scheme, because I did so a fortnight ago when I originally introduced it. As will be remembered, on that occasion I withdrew it at the request of the Opposition because they felt some uncertainty about some aspects. I withdrew it in order to clarify those uncertainties.

There are two aspects on which there was uncertainty. The first was whether it was within the powers of the parent Act, the Coastal Flooding (Emergency Provisions) Act, and the other was whether the acreage payments proposed in the scheme were, in fact, related to the desired rehabilitation. The scheme which I am moving tonight is amended in order to clarify those two uncertainties. The first amendment is in paragraph 4, which is a new paragraph put in to make plain the link up between this scheme and Section 13 (2, a) of the Coastal Flooding (Emergency Provisions) Act. Paragraph 4 alludes to the schedule of crops which is mentioned in Section 13 (2, a), and I think it now removes any doubt arising from the original Scheme as to the schedule of crops.

The other amendment of substance is in paragraphs I and 2 of the Schedule where we have introduced the words, in the second line of each paragraph: … and is dealt with in an approved mode during the year 1953. We put those words in to make it plain that these acreage payments, although related to the nature of the crop in the ground at the time of the flooding on 31st January, were made with respect to the operations which were to be done on the land at the behest of the county committees concerned after the flooding had taken place. In other words, the change is to make it plain that these payments are made for the purpose of rehabilitation. That was the other major doubt which arose.

In addition, there are two small consequential amendments. The first is in paragraphs 9 and 10 (2), where we have postponed the closing date for applications from 15th July to 15th August to give the necessary additional time because the scheme has been brought before the House a fortnight later than was originally intended. The other small amendment is in paragraph 8 (3), in the second line, where there was a misprint before which referred to "civil contract." That is now amended to "simple contract." The main changes remove any uncertainty which there might have been as to the Scheme being within the powers of the parent Act and as to the payments being for the purpose of rehabilitation. I hope that the House will be willing to approve it with these amendments.

11.23 p.m.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

One cannot help feeling that this Motion has been moved from the wrong side of the House. In its present form it becomes not the Scheme which the Government sought to introduce the other night but that which the Opposition submitted the Government ought to have introduced. However, we are all willing to do good by stealth and, as the Parliamentary Secretary has a position which entitles him to move the approval of the Scheme, we are prepared in this case to let him do so. But it must be clearly understood that in its new form it is the Scheme we suggested.

The position is now that the scheme, by the insertion of paragraph 4 which did not appear in the previous draft, and by the insertion of the words to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred in paragraphs I and 2 of the Schedule, now comes within the terms of the parent Act. It is not a question of removing uncertainty, because we have now discovered, as some of us thought previously, that that scheme was in fact outside the terms of the Act. I am sure that the Government are grateful to us for having saved them a considerable amount of difficulty and maybe having saved somebody from being surcharged.

It has always been the view of this side of the House, equally with that of the Government, that these farmers and these farms—and much as we feel for the hardship of the farmers who have suffered we all feel above all the importance of bringing the land into cultivation and full use again as quickly as possible—should be helped. It is our view that these acreage payments, as a means of enabling the tiller of the soil to get the land back into use as quickly as possible, were most useful and important.

What we sought to do the other night was to make sure that we did not pass through this House rather quickly very late at night a scheme which in the end would make payments which the Act did not authorise, and, much more important, which would mean that we were paying compensation for what had been lost, whereas the whole intention of the House was to make provision for what had to be done thereafter. This scheme, by paragraph 4 and the other words referred to, does that. It means that the county agricultural executive committees, which are charged with the not very easy job of adding the provision of all this service to their other duties, now have some clear guidance and instruction from this House instead of being left to imagine what it was we really meant.

I know these county committees, and I know many of the people on them; and I can say that, by and large, they would have made a good job of their duties under the old scheme. But, it would have put much more on them than Parliament should have put. As to the change of date, we have not only postponed it to bring it in line with the other scheme, but we have also given six weeks instead of a bare month which, as I said the other evening, I thought insufficient.

It only remains for me to say quite sincerely that the Parliamentary Secretary was, we appreciate, in a difficult situation on that first occasion; and we on this side of the House appreciate the way in which he was susceptible to the arguments put forward and appreciate the friendly and courteous way in which he listened to us in the discussions which took place afterwards. For our part, we have promised that we will not hold up the debate unduly, nor delay the operation of the Scheme. But it is now better than it was; it is now more in accordance with the parent Act and, what is most important, carries out the intention of the House. I heartily support it on behalf of my hon. Friends.