§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (Sir Thomas Dugdale)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I think that the House will agree that on this occasion the Bill is well named, because it touches upon very many aspects of the work of my Department, certainly so far as the agricultural side is concerned.
Let me at the outset tell the House that the principal reason for this Bill is the Government's desire to continue certain temporary or emergency legislation which would otherwise expire. First, the present legislative authority in the Agriculture Act, 1947, for the grants for field drainage and water supply in England and Wales and for the agricultural lime subsidy in the United Kingdom would expire next summer unless something were done about them. Therefore, if the House wishes them to continue, legislation this Session is necessary if these grants are not to come to an abrupt end.
Then there are certain other Clauses of the Bill, particularly Clause 8, which deals with the collection of kitchen waste, etc., Clause 9, which deals with the prevention of bee diseases, and Clause 12 which relates to a Scottish point, which have been prepared in pursuance of the Government's policy which was expounded by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in the recent debate on the extension of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, when he said that one of our objects was to elect such of the remaining powers under the emergency legislation as seemed to serve an important continuing public purpose and, in suitable cases, to put in hand the preparation of legislation. That, of course, has been done.
I think it will be convenient if, without any further general observations, I now go through the Bill Clause by Clause to explain its provisions to the House. None of the Clauses, as the 839 House will see, has any connection one with the other; certain groups have a connection, but they are on entirely different subjects.
Clause 1 extends the present powers of the Government to make grants towards the cost of approved schemes of field drainage—ditching, tile and mole drainage—and, in addition, of farm water supply carried out by owners and occupiers of agricultural land. These grants were introduced originally in 1940 as part of the war-time food production campaign under powers which have been renewed from time to time, but which, as I have already indicated, will expire next August. The rates of grant for these works are normally 50 per cent. on ditching and field drainage, 40 per cent. on schemes to supply water from a private source and 25 per cent. when the source is a public main.
The need for this work, as I think the House will agree, is still pressing, as is shown by the number of schemes coming forward annually at the present time—roughly 24,000 for field drainage and 6,000 to 7,000 for water supply. The need for Exchequer assistance also continues because these schemes are relatively costly, but they give the owner or occupier a very definite long-term return on expenditure, but only a long-term return. Yet, in my view, it is essential that we should secure the early benefit to food production which this work does undoubtedly confer.
I think that those who are interested in this subject will agree with me that better field drainage is very often the essential first step to improving any piece of land. Some hon. Members may recall the retort of the principal of one of our agricultural colleges when, in one of his lectures on crop husbandry, he was asked, "What ought I to put in wet land," and the answer was, "Drains, you fool." There is a great deal to be said for that very simple answer. Farm water supply schemes raise crop yields and milk production and cut down unproductive and unpleasant manual work, besides affording farmers, farm workers and their womenfolk a long-wished-for amenity.
As far as Scotland is concerned, under its 1937 Agriculture Act it already possesses comparable powers to those for which I am now asking the House. I am 840 confident that hon. Members on either side of the House who are familiar with rural conditions will agree that these powers ought to be continued after August of this year.
Clause 2 extends existing powers to make other grants which are of enormous value to the production campaign; namely, contributions towards the cost of applying lime. These powers also would otherwise expire next August unless we pass legislation through the House. Clause 2, unlike Clause 1, extends to the whole of the United Kingdom. It provides for a prolongation of the powers of the Secretaries of State and myself until 1959 and also, in addition, for five-year extensions afterwards if orders subject to affirmative Resolution are submitted to and approved of by Parliament.
A lime scheme subsidy was introduced by the Agriculture Act, 1937. It has operated ever since without really any major change and is done by payments made direct to farmers. I think that those who have watched its operation in the countryside will agree that it has undoubtedly proved one of the most successful means of aiding production and farming efficiency. Since its introduction, the use of lime in the United Kingdom has risen from about 500,000 tons in 1936 to six million tons in 1953.
From these figures the House will see that this revival in the good practice of liming must continue, or we shall lose what we have already gained in improvedsoil fertility. But lime deficiency still exists, particularly in our poorer grasslands, and this will not be remedied until farmers use more and more lime. We would like to see lime being applied throughout the United Kingdom at the rate of approximately seven million tons annually. If hon. Members wish, as I do, to see our land in the best possible heart, and the improvement of our grassland continue and best results flow from increased use of fertilisers, they will support this Clause also.
Clause 3, a technical Clause, deals with smallholdings and enables us to clear up two small difficulties that have arisen in the administration of our grants to county councils in respect of smallholdings provided under Part IV of the Agriculture Act, 1947. The provisions of Clause 3 do not imply any change in the 841 Government's smallholding policy and are designed only to facilitate the provision of smallholdings.
The passing of this Clause will now give full statutory authority for certain of the grants to smallholdings authorities which, with Treasury approval, we have up to now had to make on an extra-statutory basis, subject to noting in the Ministry's appropriation accounts. If any hon. Member cares to ask detailed questions on the Clause, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to reply at the conclusion of the debate. I emphasise, however, that there is no change in policy and that the Clause is inserted only to deal with a technical point.
Clauses 4 to 6 introduce amendments into the constitution and proceedings of the agricultural land tribunals set up under the 1947 Act. The House is now familiar with the working of these bodies. Their main task is to hear and to decide finally on the basis of the facts cases in which decisions and proposals of mine, in my present capacity as Minister of Agriculture, or of county agricultural executive committees, acting under powers delegated to them by me, under the Act and also under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, are referred to them at the request of one of the parties concerned.
The most notable of these references are concerned, of course, with notices to quit and proposals to dispossess occupiers or owners for failure to observe the rules of good husbandry or good estate management. In day-to-day talk these references are often termed "appeals," but the House should realise, as, I know, does the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), that what the tribunal really has to do is to hear the whole case again and reach an independent decision. When the 1947 Act was going through Parliament, I and other of my hon. Friends, sitting at that time on the Opposition benches, attached very great importance to the operation of these tribunals. It is still my view that they are one of the linchpins of the 1947 Act. I am satisfied that they function as a valuable safeguard for the rights of the individual in this difficult field. I am glad to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the work that they have done.
842 The national bodies representing owners and occupiers of agricultural land—that is, the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers'Union—have made it clear that they have full confidence in the tribunals and the way in which they have discharged their duties. I believe that this view is shared generally by informed public opinion.
In these Clauses 4 to 6, it is the intention to make three improvements in the constitution and powers of the tribunals. These changes, I hope, will not raise any controversial issues, but they have been urged upon me from well-informed sources in the light of experience over the past six years. Their object is threefold: first, to make the independence of the tribunals abundantly clear, because we believe that to be of paramount importance ; second, to enable them to award costs where necessary; and third, to enable any aggrieved persons to have as of right a wide right to access to the High Court on questions of law by way of reference from the tribunal. That is the main purpose of the alteration which is set out in Clauses 4 to 6.
Most of the remaining Clauses can be dealt with fairly shortly at this stage, although, no doubt, we shall have an opportunity during later stages of the Bill to go further into details.
Clause 7 brings us to an entirely different field in our agricultural life and deals with sugar. It increases the upper limit to the contributions by growers and the British Sugar Corporation for the programme of sugar beet research and education under the provisions of the Sugar Industry Reorganisation Act, 1936, and the Sugar Industry Act, 1942. With rising costs all the time and increases in the programme of work, particularly—and I should like to emphasise this point—on such matters as the campaign against virus yellows, which is a definite problem and must be fought and won, the maximum contributions payable at the moment, which are 1d. per ton of beet from the grower and 6d. per ton of sugar from the Corporation, have proved insufficient.
As far as this particular Clause is concerned, both the National Farmers' Union and the British Sugar Corporation are anxious, as indeed are the Government, that the work should not suffer, and it is accordingly with their full approval 843 that this Clause has been introduced, providing a maximum rate of contribution of 3d. per ton of beet both from the grower and from the British Sugar Corporation.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Yes,…threepence or such larger sum…Up to now the farmers have contributed rather more than the Corporation, but under the new proposals they will contribute exactly the same.
In Clause 8 we go to another field of our activities, namely, to the collection and processing of kitchen waste for animal feeding stuffs. Hon. Members interested in particular in the problems of the small pigkeeper will remember how early on in the war the enterprise of one of our municipalities introduced us to a new regional dish, the "Tottenham pudding." This was not for human consumption, but it was much appreciated by the pigs at that time and afterwards.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Yes, we consumed it secondhand.
Thanks to the enterprise, not only of the Borough of Tottenham, but of many other local authorities, some 300,000 tons of pig food is collected annually and much of it processed. In this connection I should like to pay a tribute to the work of the late Lord Morrison not only for the very great interest that he always took in the activities of his native Borough of Tottenham, but also for his work for many years as chairman of the Waste Food Board.
§ Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley(Angus, North and Mearns)
I am sure my right hon. Friend would not like it to go out that the late Lord Morrison was a native of Tottenham. He came from Aberdeen of which he was intensely proud, but Tottenham was his adopted home.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I accept that, but he was identified with the borough which he adopted later in life.
844 The powers and duties of local authorities in this matter rest essentially on the Defence Regulations and, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, it is the Government' sintention to cut down this emergency legislation and replace it, where necessary, by permanent statutory powers as quickly as possible. Local authorities and others will thus know exactly where they stand in the future.
As the House has already been told in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) on 26th November, current directions to local authorities to collect and process kitchen waste for animal feeding-stuffs are to be removed, so that in future local authorities will be themselves free to decide whether they continue in the scheme or not. The purpose of Clause 8 of this Bill is to give them the necessary powers to do this, because their powers under public health legislation would be insufficient. Under Clause 8 local authorities will be enabled to collect kitchen or other waste for feeding to animals and to maintain processing plants at which the waste food is sterilised before distribution for stock feeding. I sincerely hope that, wherever it is possible to run this service economically, local authorities will continue to do so.
In addition to the local authorities, private firms and individual collectors add considerably to the total of waste material for feeding, but now that the scheme is on a voluntary basis we think it right to relieve them of restrictions, save only those which are concerned with animal health. Therefore, in areas where licences are at present required for private collectors they will still be required, but the criterion will be whether the collector's plant can be approved by my veterinary officers.
These licensing powers derive from the Defence Regulations which will continue for the present, and I propose to review the matter in the light of the desirability or otherwise of permanent legislation when I receive the Report of the Gowers Committee on foot-and-mouth disease later this year. There are also provisions in this clause for the prevention of pilfering from waste containers, for the avoidance of injury to human beings and animals from materials placed in the containers, and for the making of byelaws for public health purposes, all of 845 which I hope will commend themselves to the House as being sensible provisions.
From there I go right away to insects—to bees. Clause 9 deals exclusively with them. It is another example of making permanent provision for continuing action at present taken under emergency legislation. At the present moment I have powers to control diseases of bees in this country, but I have no power to ensure that only healthy bees are imported.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I was wondering when the right hon. Gentleman mentioned powers to control diseases of bees whether he would not consider eliminating them altogether, and so save us a lot of trouble?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
They are not so easy to eliminate as all that. The position at the moment, as far as the importing of diseased bees is concerned, is safeguarded by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who issues licences to import bees only if health certificates are provided by the responsible authorities in the countries of origin. This safeguard can be applied only so long as imports themselves are controlled, and I think the House will agree that it is desirable that a permanent power to ensure that only healthy bees are allowed to land should be given to the agricultural Ministers. Bee diseases, such as acarine and nosema, can be so devastating in their effect, and the beneficient activities of bees are so vital to agriculture and horticulture, that I feel confident the House will readily agree that the possession of the proposed powers is necessary.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
No, we do not have to examine every bee, but a certificate has to be obtained before the bees are imported into this country. In exercising the powers given by the Clause, naturally I shall have regard to advice given to me by the Bee Disease Advisory Committee, of whose work I am glad to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation. This Clause empowers the Government of Northern Ireland to introduce similar legislation for that country if they so desire.
Clause 10 and the Second Schedule which goes with it, which extend to Great Britain, are designed to apply the pro- 846 visions of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1950, to the transport of animals by air, whether to or from this country or within the country. From time to time many questions have been asked me in this House on this problem and I think that this Clause and the Second Schedule will meet a definite need in our legislation on this subject. The 1950 Act consolidated earlier Acts, some of which were drafted as long ago as 1894, when there was little thought of moving animals by air. To show what is taking place at the present time, I give as an example the recent air lift of a large number of breeding pigs to Yugoslavia. This illustrates how things have changed and are changing all the time. I think the House will agree as to the need to amend the law accordingly and will not dispute this Clause.
The main step by which the Clause will achieve this is fairly simple. It extends the powers of the 1950 Act to cover aircraft and aerodromes in the same way as vessels and ports. Shipment in or landing from an aircraft will be treated like shipment in and landing from a vessel. In addition, other detailed adaptations of the 1950 Act to cover minor points are considered necessary and will be found in the Second Schedule to this Bill. There is also a subsection of this Clause enabling the Northern Ireland Parliament to make similar adjustments of their diseases of animals legislation if they so wish.
Clause 11 deals with a different field altogether and makes quite minor amendments to the Seeds Act, 1920, but again I emphasise that it introduces no new principles. The Clause is designed primarily to deal with the situation brought into prominence by a decision in a recent court case. As hon. Members may be aware, the Seeds Act, 1920, requires certain farm seeds to be sold with a declaration to cover such matters as purity and germination. This declaration must be supplied on or before the delivery of the seeds, unless a licence otherwise provides. If the declaration is not so supplied, or the statement is, false in any material particular, then the merchant becomes liable to penalties.
The recent case made it clear that, in the absence of a statutory statement delivered at the right time, the merchant's contract with the farmer was unenforce- 847 able, so that not only was he liable to the prescribed penalties, but was in danger of losing his purchase money as well. That was a result which was not foreseen or intended when the 1920 Act was passed, and the first provision of the new Clause puts that matter right. It lays down that any mistake in regard to statutory particulars shall not make a contract for the sale of seeds or seed potatoes unenforceable but, at the same time, the penalties under the 1920 Act will still apply.
The other amendments in this Clause also relate to the statutory particulars of seeds given by a seller and are designed to strengthen the position of the user in regard to possible dispute on variety. Again, this is a technical point but, as I said in introducing the Clause, it does not vary the present policy or introduce any new principles, and is designed only to make the present legislation more fool proof.
Clauses 12 and 13 apply exclusively to Scotland and we have on the Bench with us the Joint Under-Secretary of State who will be willing to supply any further information which hon. Members may require about these Clauses. Therefore, I shall content myself by saying briefly that the object is to enable the Secretary of State to fix minimum rates of wages for persons employed by him under the Scottish Harvesting Scheme, which is a scheme they have to themselves North of the Border. The object of Clause 13 is to extend to Scotland, with suitable modifications, the power to obtain returns which already exists in England and Wales under the Corn Returns Act, 1882.
That brings me to the end of the review of the Clauses of this Bill. It only remains for me to commend the Bill to the House as a useful, if unexciting, Measure whose provisions should be of benefit to agriculture and which will assist the administration of existing legislation. I should like to emphasise that it will assist the administration of existing legislation. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be available later in the debate to answer any points which hon. Members may put to him on any of these many and varied subjects, but I hope that the House will feel disposed to give an unopposed Second 848 Reading to this Measure and that we shall be able to consider it more fully in the Committee stage.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought this Bill was aptly named the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. It is certainly all that. Indeed, I do not know that it would not be better called the Rag-Bag Collection Bill. As the Minister said, there are so many things included which have no connection with one another, and they are of such a minor order, that to collect them into one Measure makes me feel that the Ministry have been looking round all their pigeonholes and cellars to see what was in the rag-bag that they could fish out and make into a Bill.
When I was in the country recently, I heard it said that all the confusion there has been, and still is, as to where we are going, and what we are doing is because the Minister and his Department had all gone to sleep. I did not think then that it was true, and obviously they have not been asleep but have been down in the cellars looking for things to put into this Bill. One can only hope that now they have brought them into the daylight and put them into a Bill, the industry and the country will get some evidence of the Minister and his Department being on the job.
Before discussing specific items, I am bound to express surprise that, with so many really vital issues on which there still is no clear understanding in the country or the industry, and which need positive action on the part of Her Majesty's advisers, we have not had something much more substantial than this Bill either as the first measure of the Government on our return after the Christmas Recess or as the first Measure of the Minister.
The right hon. Gentleman himself has a number of important things on which legislative action is bound to be taken and on which some decisions have soon to be announced. I should have thought that we could have got by until he was ready to do that, and that then we would have had some real occasion to tidy up these other small matters. I find it hard to believe that there is nothing more useful than is contained in this Bill available in the Ministry for translation into 849 action by the Minister. Indeed, if there is nothing more useful or substantial than this, we shall be in a good deal of trouble.
I notice the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) on the benches opposite. I am reminded of the speech which he made in Northern Ireland, when he was obviously having a very rough time indeed. He assured his constituents that if only they would not shoot him at that moment but wait until early in February—I think until 5th February—he was sure that he would have some important news for them. It is now 19th January and I suppose that this is the important news. I doubt whether this will save him from being shot when it is made public in Northern Ireland. I agree that important news is awaited by farmers in Northern Ireland and elsewhere; but when they learn that all we are to have is this Bill, I doubt whether they will feel like sparing any cartridges which they may have ready for the hon. Member or for the Minister for that matter.
As for the particular reasons for this Bill, the Minister himself has shown the need to continue drainage and lime assistance schemes. But it is difficult to feel, from reading the Bill, that that is the hub of the matter. I should have thought that many people would regard Clauses 4, 5 and 6 as in fact the substantial reasons for and the kernel of the Bill. Those Clauses certainly seem to me to be the important part of it. Even with regard to these Clauses, I am rather surprised that the Minister has done what he has done in this Bill and then left it at that. One is giving away no secrets when one recalls that it is a very long time since the Ministry began to have informal, behind-the-scene discussions with the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union and other people about the operation of the principal Act, the way in which its machinery was working, and the question of possible amendments.
I seem to remember a number of suggestions being made a long time ago which were very much more substantial and more full of meaning than anything contained in this Bill. I am not clear whether this means that the Minister has concluded all those discussions with the organisations concerned and that they have agreed that nothing more than this 850 needs to be done, whether it means that he has decided that, despite what they have said, he feels that nothing more than this needs to be done, or whether we are just being given this Bill as something to go on with while something more substantial is being prepared.
It would be rather interesting to be told. Are those discussions concluded, has it been decided, after the Review, that the 1947 Act was so wisely drafted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) that no substantial amendment needs to be made to it? Have those amendments which were made at one stage by the various organisations concerned been withdrawn or knocked down or merely pigeonholed?
I should have thought that there were some substantial problems about the operation of various pieces of machinery under Part II of the Act that ought to have deserved consideration. I should have thought that we would have been advised to withhold piecemeal, rather small-scale amendments of the Act until we had made up our minds about rather more substantial problems under that Part. I doubt, for example, whether the Minister or anybody else would disagree that one of the real problems under Part II of the Act is the long-drawn-out nature of the proceedings even at the moment. County and district committee members say much the same thing. A good deal of keenness, interest and enthusiasm on the part of those whose job it is to operate all these provisions has evaporated, simply because the thing had become so long-winded, so long-drawn-out and so uncertain that it really does not seem worth while.
I know that there are hon. Members opposite who dislike Part II of the Act. It so happens that in nearly every case they are the gentlemen who also dislike Part I. The hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) will no doubt seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. He has brought himself to quite a favourable position as one of those who honestly and straightforwardly take the provisions of Part II as an outrageous interference with the freedom of the individual; but, as he showed the other day when we were discussing the horticultural industry, he has also shown that he dislikes the protec- 851 tions which we seek to give the industry as a corollary.
That is an understandable point of view with which I disagree, but it is a very dangerous business for the industry if the provisions of Part II are to be whittled down and, as has been done, are to be the occasion in the country for a smearing attack. It would be a dangerous business if this were to be the prelude, as it certainly would be, to the whittling down of Part I of the Act and of the guarantees and protections which the industry needs.
I should have preferred it if, before throwing a sop to the hon. Member for Orpington and the Cheap Food League and others who have joined this band wagon, the Minister had waited until he had examined the more substantial point. I regard Part II as an essential part of the Act. I do not think that the farming industry can expect or can have the special underwriting and protection which are in Part I unless it accepts its obligations to the rest of the community, which Part II of the Act sets out to achieve.
I should like to see the job of those who have to administer the Act made easier rather than more difficult. I believe that the county committees, the farmers, the farm workers, and the landowners' representatives who serve on these committees, do a first-class job of work. It is often distasteful and, even when not distasteful, it is very unlikely to pay any dividends personally in the neighbourhood where one has to work and live; but it contributes an enormous amount to the raising of the standards of our farming and to increasing the output of food from our fields.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
On a point of order. While it is very interesting to have a general discussion on the operation of the 1947 Act, will it be in order, Mr. Speaker, for hon. Members on both sides of the House to pursue this discussion?
§ Mr. Speaker
On Second Reading of a Bill of this sort it is very hard to say what cannot be discussed, because on Second Reading one can not only urge arguments against the miscellaneous provisions in the Bill but one can argue that certain other provisions should have been included. I think that the drift of the argument of the right hon. Member for 852 Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was in that direction.
§ Mr. Brown
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I think you have put it, I do not see how I can discuss whether this Bill is adequate or good unless I say how we got to this position. In so far as this Bill is a sop to those who have been attacking the operation of Part II and the methods of those who operate it, I regard it as an unfortunate way of approaching the business. Those people who are doing their job, and who have been attacked, represent a first-class piece of industrial democracy. We should stiffen support for them and help them rather than seek to make their position more difficult.
The first thing that will happen is that the proceedings, which are already over-lengthy, will not be made any shorter by the provisions of this Bill. Therefore, the likely outcome of the provisions of this Bill will be to increase the discouragement that many members of county committees already feel in carrying out their duties.
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that a second complaint about the situation as it exists is the way in which this is done. He said that the tribunals themselves do not in fact constitute courts of appeal; they are independent courts presided over by barristers of, I think, seven years' standing, accompanied by assessors drawn from panels of farmers and landowners. They do not review the decision of the executive committee, but—in the words of the Minister—hear the case completely afresh. They adjudge it, as it were, de novo.
The county committee, the estate management committee, or the husbandry committee send two or three members to inspect a farm which has been under supervision for a long time already and decided to recommend a certain course of action. The person concerned then asks that the case be referred to the tribunal. Some months later—perhaps in another season—the tribunal also sends two or three members to judge the farm visually in what may be altogether different conditions.
I should have thought that was already a legitimate criticism of the scheme as it now operates, but this Bill does nothing to deal with that problem. It does not 853 face it and does not seek to find a new basis of judging the efficiency of a farmer or a landowner. It does not seek to put the matter on a rational, understandable basis, but merely makes the most minor change in the appointment of the second court, the tribunal. All the existing problems of the sketchy examination, the chancy examination and differences in standard between one county and another, go on.
The Committee, which originally spent a lot of time on the job, finally find that their opinion is thrown over by another set of people coming from elsewhere and having none of the knowledge which the original committee had of the many circumstances which went to make the case one which, in their view, should be considered for dispossession. I should have thought that the Bill stands to be attacked for being quite inadequate in carryingout its declared purpose. It deals with small issues which achieve little when they are dealt with and it achieves nothing with regard to the important points which ought to be considered.
There is the other criticism of the repeated applications, constantly putting a man in peril year after year. Perhaps he has got across the landlord and, although the landlord's application is turned down, a new notice is served. I imagine that the Bill is meant to hit at that, but it does not directly hit at it.
I shall have something to say about the specific provisions of the Bill, but there is nothing in it to say that this is the sort of case in which costs are to be awarded, and nothing to stop costs being awarded against the tenant farmer. Far from being a deterrent to repeated applications by a big landlord determined to get rid of his small tenant, the Bill may be a deterrent to the small man defending his own interest before the tribunal. Unless we have a great deal of clarification about that, I think the Minister has shown here that he has addressed himself to a very small point and failed to deal with a substantial point which needs to be dealt with. I think it really is a pity that this Bill should have been introduced on this scale, should have taken so long in preparation, and yet the Minister has not dealt with the important rather than the smaller problems.
854 I turn to some of the provisions in Clauses 4, 5 and 6 which I wish to criticise. It is difficult, Mr. Speaker, to make a speech on Second Reading which does not sound like a speech in Committee, but that is because of the nature of the Bill. The first provision of Clause 4 is to change the method of appointment of the assessors. They are still to be chosen from panels drawn up by farmers and landowners but, instead of the Minister nominating a chap on the panel whose turn it is to serve that day, the chairman is to be given that responsibility. I imagine that someone will exercise that duty for the chairman and the work will be done in much the same way as at present, and there will in fact be no change. Someone in an office somewhere will tick off a member of the panel whose turn it is for duty.
If hon. Members, like the hon. Member for Orpington, who have been making this their pet hobby, think that they are given anything here, I am quite sure they are wrong. The position after the passage of this Clause will be exactly the same as before. I do not think that it should go out to the country that this Bill makes any practical or effective change in this matter; it does not. So far as the Clause goes, I do not object to it. If it is thought better, theoretically, to have the responsibility borne by the chairman, so be it. The appointments will be made from the same panels in the same way, and I leave it at that.
I am a little worried about Clause 5, which gives the power to award costs. One would have thought it possible to get at the real problem of repeated and irritating applications designed to get rid of a tenant simply by giving the tribunal power to make a decision which would hold for a longer period than one year. Why should the tribunal not have power, when it is thought proper, to say that the decision is binding for two years or for three years? It seems absurd to allow power to award costs which may be used against the case at which we are not hitting as well as against the case at which we are hitting—a power which may be used as a deterrent to the small man defending himself as well as against the big man acting in an arbitrary fashion.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with this matter, because the Minister used a wide phrase and there is 855 a phrase in the Bill which is rather wider. The Minister said that there is power to award costs "where necessary." The Bill says the tribunals may award costs wherethere are special reasons for doing so.Who is to lay down what are the special reasons? Is each tribunal chairman to do that himself? Is the Minister to give general guidance or general direction? Will there be an opportunity for the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and, of course, Parliament, to know in advance in what kind of circumstances this power to award costs will be used? I think we ought to know in advance. The Minister ought to say that he will lay down what kind of reasons, in his opinion, constitute special reasons. We ought to be told what sort of line the Minister is to take. If it is to be left to the tribunal to take the decision in each case, I would regard this change in the law as a not very happy one. That will want looking at again before I shall be willing to part with the Bill when it is in Committee upstairs.
On the question of the appeal to the High Court—on which there has been a lot of discussion recently—I am not at all clear about what is provided in the Bill. No one should think that what we are being asked to provide here is an appeal by the farmer to the High Court from the decision of the tribunal. Therefore, if that is intended to be a sop to the hon. Member for Orpington and his friends, I imagine it completely misfires at the beginning. What we are doing is to provide for an appeal on a point of law by the man concerned, by the other party or by the Minister at the time of consideration or after the decision has been taken.
I had hoped that the Minister would tell us today what sort of points of law he has in mind. What points of law, are likely to arise? Is it the form of the notice? Is it whether the notice was duly served, or whether a map was properly drawn? Are those the sort of points of law? If they are, they leave out of consideration the real matters on which the case is determined.
It seems to me that on this basis we might well find a case properly determined by the committee and the tribunal, in which it is in the interests of everybody—the industry and the country—that a 856 particular action should be taken to get a particular piece of land better farmed. Yet we are now adding an additional hurdle which, because of some breach of a small point of law, can mean the breakdown of all that has been decided. No one will know at any stage when the matter is over.
In addition to telling us what will be the points of law and whether any of them have arisen, will the Minister say why he is ready to intervene on a point of law after the decision has been taken and announced, even if nobody else does? Why does he want to add this additional uncertainty, and why do so after the decision has been announced? This provision will put into the minds of everybody operating this Bill and the Act still more doubt about whether it is worth doing so. This is really a small thing, and, if it works, a very tiny thing indeed, but it is likely to arouse a great deal more doubt and is likely to make Part II of the Act even less used than it is at the moment.
We are told that the matter will go to the High Court. Will it end there? Suppose a case has been won by the tenant farmer at the tribunal, and then, at some later stage, perhaps three months or six months after—it may be longer, we do not know what period is to be allowed—the Minister decides to intervene on a point of law and takes it to a High Court judge, who rules in his favour. That may mean that the tenant farmer has lost. Has the tenant farmer then no right of appeal? Can he not take the case to the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords. As I read this Bill, he cannot; it is intended that he should accept that final decision of that first court.
I am no lawyer, and I do not know in what other fields of our legal system there is absolutely no appeal from the court of first instance. I should be glad if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would tell us whether it is deliberately intended to provide no appeal whatever for the man who may have won his case at all the lower levels, which are not law courts as we generally understand that term; that he should lose his case because the Minister, who is not a party in the original case, intervenes and takes it to a High Court judge, and then the man has no right of appeal against that decision. Is that deliberate? If so, I 857 cannot think why, unless it is that the Minister wants to prevent the delay from becoming even longer. But the way to do that was not to embark upon this procedure. Having embarked upon it, I should have thought that the Minister was bound to carry this procedure to its logical conclusion.
My conclusion about Clauses 4, 5 and 6 is that they could not have been less thought out had the Department really wanted to achieve that result. They could not have begged more questions than they do. They could not have raised more unsolved questions than they do. They will do little except add to the delay and uncertainty that already exist in the operation of Part II of the Act.
I turn to one or two other matters that occur to me on other Clauses. Clause 1 deals with drainage and water supply grants. There will be no objection in the House to these being made permanent, but is it not time that we reconsidered a number of matters about this provision? I am told as I go around the country—I was also told when I was at the Department—that there are a number of ways in which we could make the drainage grants more effective if we widened the scope of them—if, for example, we made the maintenance of the ditches subsequently eligible for grant or, better still, made the proper maintenance of ditches afterwards a condition of the payment of the grant for the original work.
That has been suggested many times, but it is not provided for here. Has the Minister considered it and judged that it cannot be done, that it is impracticable? If so, on what grounds? I should not have thought that it was. There is a good deal in the point. What has happened to the recommendations of the Heneage Committee? I remember several years ago one of my duties when I was still at the Ministry of Agriculture was to go and officially thank that Committee for their illustrious report. It was full of the most useful and important material. Quite a lot has happened since then. I should have thought that if we are making these grants permanent, the Government should now be ready to say something about the Ministry's intentions about that report.
Unless we do so, much of the money we are expending on drainage grants is literally going down the drain. One can see 858 many instances of a farmer doing this work and seeing it nullified because the other chap next to him is not carrying out such work and the water from his land is going on to the other farmer's fields. We have at the moment no power to compel that other farmer to do the drainage work on his land simply on the ground that lack of it is adversely affecting someone somewhere else. If we cannot show that it is affecting his own farming we cannot, under the 1947 Act, do anything about it. The Minister must have considered this matter, and I am surprised that he has brought forward this proposal without saying a word about it.
I turn to Clause 3, which deals with smallholdings. The Minister said that it was a highly technical matter, by which I suppose he meant that it was too technical for him, and that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would deal with it at the end of the debate. I should be very interested to hear what this proposal is all about. I understand that progress in providing smallholdings under the 1947 Act is extremely small indeed. Is that because the £150 rental limit is there and is holding us back? I should not have thought so. It applies only to the 50–75 acre limit.
Is it thought that the £250 rental limit will make for more progress? I should not have thought so. I shall be glad to hear. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give us figures of smallholdings now being provided and say in what way this provision means that the difficulties which are holding up the provision of smallholdings have been dealt with. If they have not been dealt with, why have not the real difficulties been dealt with instead of these proposals being brought forward?
As to the reference about giving power for account to be taken of the change in the borrowing rates between the date of applying for sanction for the scheme and the carrying out of the scheme, I suppose that is because a Tory Government can be expected to put up interest rates by the time the scheme can be carried out. It is a corollary to the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer under this Government.
The only other Clause which worries me is Clause 8. I was glad to hear what the Minister said about my colleague the late Lord Morrison, not only for his 859 work in this House and in another place, but for his particular contribution to the question of the better organisation of the collection and use of waste material. When I left the Ministry of Agriculture and went to the Ministry of Works, I found the late Lord Morrison there as Parliamentary Secretary, and he proved to be a first-class colleague in every way.
The Minister is now putting this matter on what is called a permissive basis and allowing every council to decide for itself. I do not worry about that, but I should have thought the great lesson taught by Lord Morrison—we all remember the Waste Food Board and the "Tottenham pudding "campaign—would have been learned by the Minister. It was that, in the interests of animal health, if collections of waste food are made at all they ought to be processed at some place where animals are not kept. I should have thought that Lord Morrison proved the effect of taking unprocessed swill or waste food to places where pigs were being kept and having it processed there. Why make that permissive? Why unlearn that lesson which we learned at such great cost?
I can understand the Minister allowing councils to decide whether or not to permit such collections, but this Bill would have been better drawn if, in any case where it was decided to collect, it was made compulsory that food waste should be processed before arrival at a farm or holding where livestock is kept. I am glad to hear that we may keep an open mind about that until the Committee stage.
I suppose that there is nothing about this Bill which is highly objectionable. The Minister himself says that it does nothing new. It creates no new legislation, it merely interferes with or messes about with existing legislation. I believe it will achieve practically nothing. When we have passed the provisions contained in this Bill, we shall have achieved practically nothing; but we shall have interfered with a good deal of legislation that is already working satisfactorily. Matters will be made much less easy and still more doubt and uncertainty will be created—which seems to be the main mission of the Minister and of this Government in the field of agriculture. I think it is a great pity, when there is so 860 much waiting to be done in the industry and when so many people are waiting to know what is to be the next step, that a Bill drafted in this way should have come before the House.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
The Minister emphasised Clauses 4, 5 and 6 and the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) devoted the major part of his speech to those Clauses. Although this Bill leaves much to be desired it is a step in the right direction, although only a very small and a timid step. Clauses 4, 5 and 6 prove that a determined people by their importunity, can compel a Minister to take action. For what it is worth this concession has been forced from the Minister.
Clause 4 seeks to amend what has been a travesty of British justice and I am proud, though humble, at being able today to speak on behalf of hundreds of farmers and smallholders who are the salt of the earth. If I remember rightly, for two or three years 50 families were turned out of their smallholdings each year, and, last year, I believe the figure was 88. During the last year or two I have had scores of letters from these people. I have sent them on to the Ministry. Those letters were heart-breaking and revealed human tragedies. If these people were better organised politically perhaps their grievances would receive better attention. These grand people are country folk and have not the ability to express themselves as well as some others who have threatened to strike, and who are better organised.
I maintain that anyone, whether he be in an exalted position or in very humble circumstances, who is a subject of Her Majesty, is entitled to have his grievances justified or refuted, and to have the right to appeal to a traditional court of law on points of fact and merit. If I understood the Minister aright the concession, if it is a concession, contained in this Bill relates to points of law, but I maintain that those people should have the right to appeal on points of fact and merit, which they have not at present.
I am told on high legal authority that this is the case and that this Bill does not go far enough. As the right hon. Member for Belper said—and though it is an awful admission to make I agree with a great deal of what he has said— 861 this Bill does nothing. There is no appeal to the High Court for a farmer or smallholder. The fact is that the whole principle of British law and justice is involved in this question of the right of agricultural executive committees to rob a man of his land without his having the right to take his case before a properly constituted court. In setting up land tribunals we have put back the clock 300 years.
Contempt for the rule of law is growing. Lord Jowitt recently stated in a debate in another place that bad fanners were the enemies of society, and Lord Hudson agreed with him. Are they greater enemies of society than criminals? Even criminals have to be convicted before a properly constituted court before they are treated as enemies of society.
There is no appeal, even to a land tribunal, if the Minister likes to proceed under Section 84 of the 1947 Act. Under that Section the farmer is completely at the mercy of the Minister. The 1947 Act provided the thin end of the wedge regarding the nationalisation of the land. Furthermore, it was a breach of the undertakings we accepted as signatories of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, to the effect that everyone should have the right to own property and that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of it.
A big farmer who is also a big businessman told me the other day that the only person able to turn a farmer out of his farm should be his bank manager, if the farmer could not make the farm pay. We have heard of case after case of farms which had been in the same family for two or three generations, and where the farmers had been turned out. Yet they had always been able to make a living. I wish to indicate to the House the feelings of some of these men by a few typical extracts from their letters. One writes:As one badly affected myself I can say that I was completely stunned by the news that all my aims and ambitions were to be arbitrarily smashed. I have seen very many of the men affected and have seen their characters completely changed. Normally happy men become morose, distrustful, embittered. I have seen them broken in spirit and will.There are English farmers saying things like this when we have a Conservative Minister of Agriculture on the Government Front Bench.
§ Sir W. Smithers
These men are not Communist agitators, they are decent English countrymen. They feel—and I would like the House to take note of it—that the tribunals are not independent. Whether they are right or wrong they feel that because two members are appointed by the Minister under the Agriculture Act, 1947, and because the tribunal is paid by the Minister, they are. therefore, his paid servants.
The tribunal accept orders from the Minister. As proof of that, at the South Wood ham appeal counsel for the Ministry told the tribunal that it was not to take any account of the merits of any individual cases. This can only mean one thing, condemnation before the hearing commences. I think counsel quoted a Section from the authorisation procedure Act for that statement.
Another farmer says:The inspection of land was most unsatisfactory. At my own case, only two inspected; at others, they did not approach within sight. They stood on the roadway 150 yards away and could barely see the roof because of the intervening trees. At another, they were, I consider, a good 300 yards away. Two were definitely not in the least interested, with a definitely 'could not care less' attitude. I know, because I went round with them.Another man writes:We should have an appeal to the courts. At the present time, the dice is loaded against us.Another farmer says:The agricultural executive committees and tribunals should be disbanded but, until then, smallholders and small farmers should have proportional representation on both bodies.Another says:Deep resentment is felt that their land should, in so many cases, be handed to friends and relations of the agricultural executive committee and Ministry officials.I do not know whether or not that can be proved, but this procedure opens the door to nepotism and corruption.
§ Mr. Renton rose—
§ Sir W. Smithers
I cannot give way Another writes:It is madness that several owners who were refused possession of their land have been allowed to sell to Ministry-approved-persons who have then had the land given back to them. Why, when the owners could and would use the land to the same advantage, should they not be allowed to have it?863 Another writes:It is wrong that the Minister is allowed, after compulsory purchase, to sell or otherwise dispose of the land for any purpose he may deem expedient.Another dispossessed farmer asked me to ask the Minister a Question. I did not "try it on" at the Table, because I knew that it would not be passed. I was asked to ask:Will the Minister confirm or deny the rumour that he proposes to change his name by deed poll to Dugdalovitch, so that he can be well in line with the Russian commissars?That is the kind of feeling that these poor people have. I am not satisfied that the Bill goes far enough and I appeal to the House to bear with me while I plead the case for liberty and justice for the British farming community.
In case my own words carry little weight I want to quote a short passage from a book by Professor Keeton. In his book, "The Passing of Parliament," he speaks of the Town and Country Planning Act and the Agriculture Act of 1947. These are Acts which, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) is reported to have said:…have so socialised socially created values that the need for land nationalisation no longer existsbecause it is being accomplished in homoeopathic doses.
Professor Keeton said:The Town and Country Planning Act of gives powers of planning and control on a scale not hitherto contemplated. Moreover, in view of the importance of agriculture in the national economy, the Agriculture Act of 1947 and the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1948 have revolutionised the whole position of the farming community. Because public dissatisfaction with the Town and Country Planning Act has grown rapidly in intensity, the equally far-reaching provisions of the Agriculture Act and the Agricultural Holdings Act have not been so generally appreciated. Nevertheless, they cut right across the traditional development of agriculture in this country, and as the extent of the powers conferred upon the Minister of Agriculture are more widely appreciated there can be little doubt that criticism of this Act and dissatisfaction with the régime it creates will increase sharply.These two Acts and the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 leave little more to the owner of land than the empty shell of bare title.
The Minister has referred to the point I am about to make. I should like to 864 draw attention to the statement he made when speaking on 28th January, 1947, about Section 12 of the Act which, in those days, he felt was in need of emendation. He said, speaking in Opposition:If the Minister relies so largely upon these committees, I am sure he will have no objection to their supervision orders and directions being subject to appeal to the land tribunal. We believe that the effective moment for the farmer or land-owner is the moment when he is put under official supervision under Clause 12, and we take the view that an appeal should be allowed under Clause 12 to the agricultural land tribunal, and we shall move Amendments in Committee to this effect."—[Official Report, 28th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 873.]The Minister will remember that on more than one occasion in the course of the correspondence I have had with him recently I have brought to his notice the views of land agents and valuers who have complained that it is almost useless to make representations against the decisions of the county agricultural executive committees to put a client under supervision. Therefore, an Amendment here, in accordance with the suggestions made by the Minister when in Opposition, is long overdue.
I want to make a constructive suggestion. Certain amendments must be made to the Agriculture Act, 1947, if it is to be brought into line with the British conception of natural justice, and into line with our commitments in the council of free nations. First, trials must be in public. Under Section 84 the Minister decides in private and alone sees the evidence and reports. Secondly, defendants should be confronted with their accusers, in order that integrity, capacity and motive can be tested in cross-examination. Thirdly, costs and damages ought to be obtainable when frivolous and repeated charges are made—such as requests by landlords for a supervision order to be placed upon a tenant time and time again to wear him down financially so that he will quit.
Next, judges should be free of the Executive and entirely independent of the Minister of Agriculture and his agents. Only at the appeal stage before the agricultural land tribunal are the members of the bench known. The judges are the county agricultural executive committees or the land commissioners who are the agents of the Minister. Also, it is imperative in the interest of the 865 industry that judgment should be expedited in cases under Section 84 where decisions have been delayed for years with the consequent unsettling of the community in the area. The decision in the case of Lake heath, about which I wrote to the Minister, is still awaited, though the matter was referred to the Agricultural Land Commission as early as March, 1949. Farmers in Burwell and Swaffham have been on tenterhooks for years and waiting for months for their objections to be heard.
My last point is that judgment should be taken out of the hands of civil servants, for their true function is to advise and carry out the policy of the Minister and not to be judges administering the law. Lastly, justice must be done and justice must manifestly appear to have been done.
I have frequently pointed out these matters to the Minister without any effect, except for the minor concessions in the Bill. It is essential that the whole of the legal provision of the Act of 1947 should be thoroughly examined in the light of the British conception of what should constitute natural justice, and a comprehensive amending Bill should be brought before the House.
While I welcome this small crumb of amendment, I plead for a comprehensive investigation into the whole matter. Under the Agriculture Act, 1947, a new crime was invented, namely, "inefficient husbandry." It is not defined, and indeed cannot be denned, as it is necessarily a matter of opinion and must fluctuate with world conditions.
Government interference with farming, carried to extremes in the Iron Curtain countries, has failed. I commend to the House two pamphlets recently issued by the Economic League, of 24, Buckingham Gate. [Interruption.] They are two very constructive pamphlets, and if hon. Members opposite do not wish to learn from them they need not take the trouble to get them. Dictatorial regulations have been relaxed in the Iron Curtain countries because they were not getting increased production. Yet a Conservative Minister of Agriculture operates compulsory powers in a free country with the excuse that it will increase production. I once asked the Minister if he could say how much production had increased because of the dispossession policy. Lo and behold! he could not say.
866 Here is the opinion of a well known big farmer and journalist, a very highly educated man. [Hon. Members: "Name."] I cannot give his name, be-caused he might be victimised. He says this in a letter to me:There is no appeal at common law. This is the biggest blot of all on our State control of farming. No Briton should be evicted from house and home unless he has the right of appeal to common law against that decision. Every time this Fascist system has come up against the law of the land (as in the Odium case) it has been shown up for what it is, an evil, un-British system of government that should never have been permitted to exist. In fact it stinks.Yet this is being enforced by a Conservative Minister whose leader's slogan is, "Set the people free."
Seven or eight big farmers whom I have consulted have asked me to make these points today.
In conclusion, if the Minister really wants to increase production, let him resign and close his Ministry. But before doing so—hon. Members opposite will not agree with this—he should repeal the regulations for minimum hours and minimum wages. Fanning is a seasonal industry. At seed time, ploughing time and harvest time we ought to be able to work from dawn to dusk when the weather is favourable. We should, of course, have to pay overtime. I was in France last harvest time, and there I saw the families out in the fields until dark. A big farmer in this country said to me, "It is heart breaking to stand in this valley and hear all the tractors stop working at 5.30 p.m."
I ask the Minister to persuade his colleagues to do all in their power to reduce the farmer's costs by reducing penal taxation and removing controls. Farmers should be allowed to get on with the job, but taxation and controls are killing initiative. If only the Minister would set the farmers of Britain free by removing the controls and persuading the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reduce taxation, there would be more production throughout the country.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
We always have fun when we listen to the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) discoursing on whatever subject he chooses, but perhaps most of all when he begins to touch upon questions of liberty.
867 The hon. Member does not seem to think much of the Bill, and neither did my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), and I doubt whether anyone else can be found to sing its praises very loudly. The hon. Member also did not think much of the Agriculture Act, 1947, apparently, for he states that it invented a new crime of inefficient husbandry. I should have thought that that was an old crime. I wonder whether the hon. Member is speaking for his party when he suggests that it should not be a crime, or something very near a crime, to have control over a plot of this country and not use it efficiently.
§ Sir W. Smithers
All I said was that people accused of that offence should have a right of appeal to a court of law on points of fact and merit.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
The hon. Member said that the 1947 Act had invented a new crime. I should have thought that, in his view, but not in mine, that was a criticism of the Act. The hon. Member spoke about farmers and smallholders as being the salt of the earth and later implied that at harvest time the tractors stopped at 5.30 p.m. and nothing else happened on the farms.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
The hon. Member did not say that; and even at ploughing time that would not happen. Whenever it is necessary to work, the # agricultural worker will work provided he is given a fair deal.
Some of my hon. Friends and I have had a good deal of quiet fun in noting that the first Bill that we are asked to discuss on returning from the Christmas Recess deals with agriculture. I hope this shows the Government's realisation of the extent to which it is necessary to restore confidence in our great agricultural industry after all that the Government have done or have left undone during the last two years. The Government have, partially at least, forced farmers to abandon their rightful rôle of being specialists in food production and have obliged them to divert their energy and time to the totally different task of trying to dispose of their goods, whether by hawking them round to individuals or 868 by going to chancy and not always honest markets. I should have thought that farmers might have been forgiven for believing that henceforth the Government have no real interest in increasing food production.
Most of us have been rather sorry for the Minister in view of the position in which he has found himself, for he has obviously been forced by doctrinaire and big business considerations to dam the prosperous flow of the stream of agriculture, which the Government found on coming into office, causing it to overflow its banks, leave its orderly channels and eventually form separate streams all over the countryside going it knows not whither and sometimes stagnating in swampy places.
So eager were the barons of town industry and finance to get rid of their own fetters—which have hitherto forced them to take some notice of the national interest as well as to their own profit-making—that they were determined to use their influence to force the party opposite to a certain extent to weaken agriculture's healthy discipline. They did this because they feared that if they did not the contrast between their own rather unseemly scramble after profit and the orderly progress of agriculture in the nation's interest would become too obvious.
We know, as I hinted just now, that the many condemnations of farmers in widely separated parts of the country, from Yorkshire to Suffolk and from Essex to Wiltshire, have been against not the Minister himself but the Government, and are a measure of the lack of confidence felt by the agricultural industry in the present town-conscious Government of the party opposite. I am sure it is the Minister's warmest wish to be allowed amiably to preside over a prosperous agriculture. The only element of criticism of the Minister himself which has crept into the condemnations of the Government by farmers arises from the fact that they wonder why it is that he has remained in office and allowed the sabotaging of the agricultural industry to continue.
After all, there are in his party magnates of City finance, of town industries, who would very admirably conduct his office, openly, in his place, instead of 869 doing it from the back rooms of the party. I quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) could hardly be spared from his urgent task of sabotaging the nation's efforts in the colonial field in order to be put into the office of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. But there are plenty of others in the party which abounds in City magnates who could do the job just as disastrously. Then the Minister himself might be allowed to go back to his fields and countryside, and be regarded properly by all as the true friend of farming and the countryside.
Now, we have this Bill—a very small matter. I do not think there is any particular part of it to which I take vigorous objection, but I think we can all congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, at any rate, on having been allowed to save this little thing from the wreck of British agriculture. He has made a slight contribution, as it seems to me, towards increased food production, in that Clauses 1 and 2 provide for an extension of the grants for water supplies to farms and liming. To that extent, we ought to congratulate the Minister.
Whatever the party opposite may think, we on this side of the House still believe that it is necessary that there should be increased food production in this country. At any moment, we might and ourselves in a position in which we are unable to find the dollars, or possibly even less scarce currency, necessary to buy the food we need, and then, of course, the City financiers and the industrial barons will turn, with the whole nation, in an appeal to the farming community to produce more food.
It seems to me that the success of the cry of the nation to the farming community will not depend, unfortunately, solely upon the good will of that community. In my opinion, that good will is unbounded. It will depend upon the extent to which these country folk have been enabled to keep their land in good heart, and the extent to which they have not been forced to abandon their land in the pursuit of the amenities of civilisation even in conditions most uncongenial to most of them, namely, in the towns.
We in the Labour Party believe that it is necessary to increase our production 870 of food at this time, even though the prophets of a slump in America, with its consequent disasters here, are proved to be wrong. We believe that we should increase food production even though we do not come into a period of catastrophic international strife in the near future, as I for one have never thought that we should; and we believe that it is necessary to increase food production here even though, at the present moment, there may be food surpluses in certain parts of the world, for instance, in North America.
The trouble is that there are still enormous areas of the earth's surface where food surpluses are very far from being in evidence, and where, indeed, there is actual want. The trouble is that those areas where want is greatest are the very areas where food production lags behind most. I know that increased food production in areas of surplus or even of sufficiency is by no means a complete answer to this problem of food supplies in the underdeveloped areas, or areas less developed than those of North America; but, at any rate, it is the first part of the answer and a necessary part of the answer, to be followed later by the encouragement in the backward areas themselves of means of production of food which will supply their own needs.
It is because I believe that this Bill makes a very small contribution towards increased food production that I support it. We must increase food production, because it is only by better distribution of the surpluses of the more fortunate parts of the world among the peoples of the less fortunate parts of the world that we can have greater justice, and, therefore, greater peace among all peoples.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) have done their best for their party, but I do not think their efforts have been at all convincing. Though they believe, as we do, that the Agriculture Act, 1947, was a useful Measure, passed by this House with the assistance of all parties, and though they believe, as we do, that it should continue as a permanent feature of our national policy, they have sought to collect whatever dirt they could 871 and throw it about in their speeches this afternoon. However, I want to go back to the Bill itself.
The first few Clauses deal with the grants for water supply schemes, laud drainage and liming, which, I think, have already proved their value. We have been spending about £7 million a year in assisting farmers to carry out these improvement works, and I have no doubt that this public money has been well invested. I looked at the file of "The Times" in the Library before this debate began, in order to check up on the acreage yields before the war—before these grants came into operation—and the present time. A comparison between the 10-year average figures—which, of course, smooth out the differences from one season to another—show that the yield of wheat for the 10 years up to 1939 was 19.3 cwt. per acre, and, for the 10 years up to 1953, 21 cwt. In the case of potatoes, the figures were 6.6 tons per acre and 7.4 tons per acre. Those are the 10 year averages for periods before the war and up to 1953.
There is no doubt that these grants for assisting the not-so-good land have helped to raise the productive capacity of our agriculture. More food is being produced now, and increased food production is still the aim of this Government. I would remind the hon. and learned Member for Brigg that, whatever he says about the state of agriculture, since this Government took office, our agricultural industry has continued to increase its output, and, as far as I can see, judging by the prices of store cattle today store sheep, store pigs, and the demand for fertilizers, home food production will go on increasing through 1954.
This is testimony to the policy of this Government, and these improvement grants, amounting to £7 million a year, have been money well spent. This item of expenditure will fall to be included in the total sum of the subsidies which the Exchequer will be paying to bridge the gap between the prices which British farmers receive in a free competitive market and the income which they require if they are to maintain full production.
This is an instance of bridging that gap to which the Prime Minister referred 872 in November, when he said that we should have to face a considerable subsidy bill to bridge the gap between the price received in the free competitive market and what was required if food production was to be maintained at a high level. These grants will fall into that general account. Any reasonable charge which the public pay to ensure that, however cheap or dear a free market may become, British agriculture will continue on its course, will prove, as has been proved hitherto, an economical premium for the British public to pay.
At present, there is a surplus of wheat in North America and heavy crops in the Middle East, and it may be argued that it is not worth while continuing these grants for liming and draining the land here, because we shall be able to buy all that we want from abroad. At the moment we can do so, but a year hence—who knows? I am sure that it is an essential part of our nation's defence policy to keep our land in good heart and in high production. This is a well-worth-while premium to be paid.
I would refer to Clauses of the Bill with which the Minister dealt fully and which were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers). I am sorry that my hon. Friend is not here now. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) seemed to be trying to stage a cock fight between the Orpington champion and the Wednesbury champion, each scrapping independently of his side. Our old cock was game, but where is the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans)? All I will say is that both parties have trials and tribulations in getting agreement on a sound and enduring agricultural policy.
The Clauses of the Bill deal with the procedure by which the agricultural industry exercises self-discipline, particularly in relation to the appointment of the agricultural land tribunals. Experience of the past five years under the Socialist Government and under our present Conservative Government shows that the procedure works fairly.
I see that there have been some 2,182 cases before the agricultural land tribunals and that about two-thirds of those cases have been dismissed and one-third have been allowed. That does not suggest to me that the tribunals are overweighed by 873 the Minister's influence. Obviously, they have taken their decisions by exercising their own judgment. The Bill will make it clear that the tribunals are independent of the Minister, because of appointment by the Lord Chancellor not only of the chairmen of the tribunals but of the members selected to represent farmers, on the nomination of the National Farmers' Union and to represent landowners, on the nomination of the County Landowners' Association.
The lists put forward by the N.F.U. and the C.L.A. must have the approval of the Lord Chancellor, and the chairman of a particular tribunal will pick two men, one to represent each interest, to adjudicate in a particular case. That will remove the Minister of Agriculture completely from the scene. He does not say whom the N.F.U. will put up, and he does not even put them on a list after they have been suggested by the N.F.U. The whole task will fall upon the industry and upon the Lord Chancellor.
The matters which these tribunals have to decide are such things as notices to quit—which are the most numerous—charges of bad husbandry, cases of dispossession, or orders requiring a landlord to provide fixed equipment. Those matters are of a practical farming character and are, in my view, ill-suited to consideration by the High Court. On this point I am particularly sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington has not stayed to hear answers to the case which he put, in a rather inflammatory way. The great majority of farmers, as represented by the N.F.U. and the C.L.A., have not been able to think of a better arrangement for an appeal court. If they had, surely, over the past five years, they would have put it to the Minister.
I have spoken to both those organisations and I know my own farmers and landowners pretty well. Not one of them has said to me, "We must do away with this system of agricultural land tribunals and have an appeal to High Court." Indeed, all of us in agriculture and in this House should be most grateful to those who serve on the tribunals and who settle the domestic disputes of the industry without invoking the paraphernalia of the law courts. If I were a farmer or landowner in trouble, I would ten times rather be judged by my peers who have practical knowledge of the 874 matters at issue than be dragged up to London into the High Court. I would know where I stood because I would be talking the same language as the men who were to pass judgment on me.
This little amendment of the Agriculture Act, 1947, is sound. It makes it quite clear that the Minister of Agriculture cannot manipulate the agricultural land tribunals. Its various provisions for assistance grants for land drainage, liming and water supply are all useful. One might say that this is only a little tidying-up Bill and that we want the whole picture of future agricultural policy to be unfolded to us. It is unfolding day by day. Today, we had the details of the seasonal prices for cereals for the 1954 harvest. We do not need to bring Bills before the House of Commons for every aspect of the policy of the Government to be unfolded. It going forward day by day.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
In opening the debate, the Minister laid great stress on the importance of the drainage of agricultural land. I wish to deal with that narrow but very important matter. I do not quarrel with Clause 1 of the Bill as far as it goes, but it does nothing new. It merely continues the powers contained in Section 15 of the Agricultural (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act, 1940, and is very far short of what is required by British agriculture at the present time.
The Minister will be aware that the present statutory provisions dealing with the drainage of agricultural land are totally inadequate. As I develop my theme I hope to be able to prove this to the satisfaction of the Minister and of the House. I am very disappointed that the Minister has not seen fit to grasp the opportunity given him by this Bill to deal with the problem in a bolder and more imaginative way.
What is the present set-up with regard to agricultural drainage? First of all, the river boards are responsible for certain sections of main rivers—adopted, confirmed and marked on the official map. Secondly, the farmers are responsible for the maintenance of field drains and ditches, and the powers contained in the 1940, Act, and continued in Clause 1 of the present Bill, are designed to help 875 them. It is only fair to say that this provision has been of immense benefit to agriculture and has brought into cultivation many thousands of acres of agricultural land which would otherwise be derelict today.
The point I wish to stress in this debate is that that is only a small part of the total picture. In my submission there is a very grave problem which is getting worse week by week, and which, somehow or other, is not receiving the attention it should receive from the Ministry. Between the drains and the ditches for which individual farmers are responsible, on the one hand, and the main rivers maintained by the river boards, on the other, there are many hundreds of miles of streams which are too big for a farmer to maintain and which no river board can deal with because they are not scheduled.
For example, the Gwynedd River Board in North-West Wales, which includes the counties of Anglesey, Caernarvonshire and Merionethshire, are responsible for 597 miles of main rivers. It is estimated that between these main rivers and the farm ditches there are no less than 1,300 miles of streams and main ditches in those areas. It is also estimated that in my own constituency of Anglesey there are something like 200 miles of secondary streams between the small ditches and drains for which farmers are responsible and the main rivers. That, I think, will give the House some idea of the importance and the immensity of the problem.
Who is responsible for these streams? They constitute a major problem in British agriculture today, but no one seems ready to assume any sort of responsibility for them. As the Minister knows, large tracts of valuable agricultural land are being neglected at the present time because of flooding, and when farmers and others try to find a solution to the problem they are told that there is no real solution to it. In practice, nothing is being done and the people concerned are told that nothing can be done.
The House will recall that during the war the war agricultural executive committees had effective compulsory powers under Defence Regulations with which 876 to secure land drainage. But these powers lapsed some years ago, and today the only body with statutory land drainage powers, apart from the river boards, are the county councils, who exercise powers under Section 50 of the Land Drainage Act, 1930.
Can the county councils undertake the work which they are empowered to carry out under this Section? It would be interesting to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary whether he and his right hon. Friend think that the county councils can do the work. The plain truth is that the county councils have not the staffs, the machinery or the money with which to do the job. Confronted with these difficulties, my own county council in Anglesey passed a resolution last July urging the Government to implement the provisions of the Heneage Report. They also decided—this is very important and I ask the Minister to note this point—not to exercise their powers under the 1930 Act, and I understand that other county councils are following suit.
No one can blame these authorities for taking this action. It is not due to any lack of a sense of responsibility. It is simply because they have not the men or the machinery with which to do the work. On 27th February, 1953, the Agricultural Committee of the County Councils' Association passed a resolution calling upon the Minister to take urgent action because agricultural drainage works are deteriorating throughout the country.
The Anglesey branch of the N.F.U. sent a letter to the right hon. Gentleman's Department stating what the county council had decided to do. In due course, the secretary of the branch received a most interesting and significant reply from the Department. The following is an extract from the letter, which is dated 10th November, 1953:The limitations of the existing general land drainage powers of county councils and their inability to deal effectively with maintenance problems which arise in connection with lesser water courses and farm ditches are part of a much wider issue which has come to the fore in recent years. Existing legislation does not provide any adequate solution. The powers of county councils under Section 35 are so hedged about with safeguards as to make the provision most cumbersome and difficult to operate"—877 this is, from the right hon. Gentleman's Department—with the result that very little use has been made of this Section by the authorities concerned. Another weakness of the Section is that it can only be invoked when obstruction to a watercourse has actually arisen. The powers are purely permissive and the Minister has no authority to intervene if a county council decide, as the Anglesey County Council have done, that it is not possible for them to take any effective action.The Minister and his Department know full well that there is a serious defect here. The question I am asking the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon is what he now proposes to do about it. He had an opportunity to do something about it in this Bill. When I asked him a Parliamentary Question about a month ago regarding the prospects of implementing the recommendations of the Heneage Report, he said that he was still consulting various organisations and authorities on the matter.
My complaint is that the Minister knows of the existence of this major problem, but does not seem to be doing anything about it. In this Bill he could have formulated an interim measure to deal with the problem pending the introduction of more comprehensive legislation at a later date. Will the Minister, or the Parliamentary Secretary, say what associations they are consulting, and how long they think it will be before it will be possible to tell the House what constructive steps the Government propose to take to deal with the matter?
How much longer does the Minister want before he really makes up his mind what he is going to do about the Heneage Report? I think that is the key to the whole problem. I believe that the Minister hashad ample time in which to give consideration to this matter because the Report was made available to him as far back as 1951. The main recommendation of the Heneage sub-committee is that the responsibility for water courses, including the secondary streams to which I have referred, should lie with the river boards, for drains it should lie with internal drainage boards, and for ditches it should lie, as now, with the owners and occupiers. I suggest that the Minister must either say clearly that the Government are not going to implement the Heneage Report in the foreseeable future, in which case the county councils throughout the country would know where they stood and could 878 get the men and the machinery to do the job, or he must put the Heneage Report into operation at a very early date.
During the last two years many cases of serious flooding in Anglesey have been brought to my notice, and I know that many acres of valuable agricultural land are not giving their full yield because of the damage caused by these intermediary streams. This problem exists throughout the United Kingdom, and if the Minister is in any doubt about that I can supply him with plenty of illustrations from my own constituency. Because of it, the vital task of food production is being gravely impaired.
There is a serious defect in the law and the provisions of this Bill do nothing to remedy that defect. This matter is far more important and urgent than any other dealt with in the Bill, and I ask the Minister to give it his most serious consideration. I assure him that the farming community throughout the country will read very carefully the answers he gives to the questions I have asked.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lambert (Torrington)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey(Mr. C. Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the argument he has put to you, Sir, about the difficulties of Wales.
§ Mr. Lambert
The people of Devon will be both relieved and grateful to the Minister for prolonging the water, drainage, and lime subsidies, which have been of the utmost benefit to food production in the South-West. I am delighted that the Minister has taken steps to prevent the spread of disease, in Clauses 8, 9 and 10 which deal with swill, beekeeping and the air transport of animals respectively. In my view, possibly the field in which the Ministry can do most good is in the cure and prevention of disease.
I should like for a short while to discuss the diseases of bees. In so doing I make no apology because, even at the height of the war, the Prime Minister realised the importance of beekeeping and ensured that beekeepers had adequate sugar. I am very pleased that steps are to be taken to ensure that imported bees 879 are free from disease, but is it necessary to import bees at all? The various English strains are acclimatised, whereas those from Holland or Italy have to work here in very different conditions.
I wonder whether it is realised quite how efficient some of our breeders of bees are. In particular, I should like to refer to Brother Adam, of Buck fast Abbey. Two or three years ago I was talking to Mr. Hambledon, the head of the bee department of the United States Department of Agriculture, and he said that Brother Adam was the greatest authority in the world on bees. During 30 or 40 years of beekeeping this man has evolved a strain of bees with four good points. They are more resistant to disease than most; they do not swarm so often; they are good honey collectors; and, what is of great importance, the queens are easily distinguished from the workers—so much so that when money was more flush the Ministry of Agriculture spent, I believe, no less than £50 in buying a queen bee from Brother Adam. At that time the Socialist Government rather thought of taking up beekeeping when they decided to bolster up the groundnut scheme by producing sunflower seeds, but I must not further develop that argument because it will be out of order.
One of the main causes of disease in bees at the present time is imported honey, and probably the most widespread disease here is foul brood. The spores of this disease live in honey and contaminated honey is the cause of the spread of the disease. To me it seems absurd that the Government should spend public money, employ people, and encourage people voluntarily to go about the country to try to stamp out this disease when all the while they allow large quantities of honey, which, in many cases, is contaminated with foul brood, to be imported. There is no better way of spreading the disease than to allow this.
The housewife when she has finished a pot or tin of foreign honey throws it out. It proves a great attraction to any bees in the neighbourhood, they collect any honey left in the container which may be contaminated, and take it back to their hives with often disastrous results. Surely nothing can be more disappointing to people who have done their 880 utmost to stamp out the disease in a certain locality than to find it present once more, due to this.
Furthermore, when it is found that a beekeeper's bees have foul brood he is compelled to destroy them without recompense. That, surely, is not fair because his bees may not have become diseased through any fault of his; he may have taken the greatest possible care but, even so, they have become contaminated through coming into contact with foreign supplies of honey. I would urge the Minister to look into this question and see whether he can take action to ensure that imported honey is free from the spores of foul brood disease.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Bartley (Chester-le-Street)
In the main, I wish to refer to Clause 3, but I should first like to turn to something under Clause 1, dealing with land drainage, which calls for explanation. On several occasions I have raised in the House the subject of the effect of coal mining subsidence damage to agricultural land. I do not intend to go into that subject very deeply tonight, but, as will be appreciated, that damage often affects land drainage on agricultural land, and farmers with land in the areas of coal fields are often faced with heavy expenditure in repairing existing drainage or installing new drainage systems.
All I would ask the Minister is whether the land drainage grants cover such projects, even though there might be, by agreement, some contribution from the National Coal Board towards the cost. Since expenditure arising from mining subsidence is higher and more frequent than in other parts of the country, I also ask that a higher preferential grant should be given for such land drainage work than is given at present.
The main part of my speech relates to Clause 3, which appears to increase the permitted rental for smallholdings. This rental, instead of being limited to £150, is to be increased to £250. I have expressed my concern about smallholdings in a previous debate. Like some of my hon. Friends, while I cannot substantially oppose this Bill, I feel that it has overlooked some problems which ought to be dealt with.
Many Questions have been asked in recent months about smallholdings. The reply given by the Minister to one Ques- 881 tion revealed that in the last three years the number of schemes approved has been substantially reduced—I think from 90 to 42 schemes the year before last. It appears that the number of smallholdings in some parts of this country is still as it was and that no further progress is being made. I ask the Minister to provide facilities to enable the county authorities to acquire more land to meet the existing demand for smallholdings.
Some months ago, in reply to a Question that I asked, the Minister said that the number of applicants awaiting holdings in County Durham was 186. I then asked what was the average waiting period before such people were given an opportunity to acquire a smallholding, and I was told that seven years was the average waiting period. I was also told at the same time that even in a county like Durham, to satisfy that demand would mean acquiring another 7,000 to 9,000 acres of land. I know that it is not too easy to get land for this purpose, but I suggested that land is going out of production through the effects of coal mining subsidence damage, and that by some expenditure this land could be brought back into use as smallholdings.
The Minister did not agree at that time; I do not know whether he agrees now. I have seen some smallholdings on land which has been affected by coal mining subsidence damage, and I am sure that such land can be brought into use. I ask the Minister to take more effective steps, to urge, encourage or facilitate the bringing into use of sufficient land to meet the demand of these applicants on the waiting list, and to reduce appreciably the period that these people have to wait before they are able to take smallholdings.
There is another respect in which I am not satisfied that all is being done by the Ministry for smallholders. I do not deny that there may be some cases where an increase in rent is justified, but the provisions of the 1947 Act relating to good husbandry and estate management do not seem to have had the same effect among our smallholdings as they have had among the larger farms. Before an increase in rent is permitted, provision should be made to ensure that among smallholdings the rules of good estate management are observed.
882 I would refer hon. Members to Questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) and myself in this House last year. Probably the Minister has seen some of the correspondence that has appeared in the Northern Press in recent months from tenants of smallholdings, and in one case from a former tenant, complaining about the management of smallholdings. From the replies that my hon. Friend and I received and from the correspondence in the Press it appears that there is much to be desired in smallholdings. More effective supervision, knowledge and understanding are needed to ensure the observance of good estate management on smallholdings. This is a problem which many smallholder tenants will agree needs attention and action in their interests.
I ask the Minister to make additional provisions for these requirements. One is to facilitate, encourage and urge counties to acquire sufficient land to satisfy the demand for smallholdings, and not only in Durham county. From an answer in reply to a Question I gather that in Scotland the waiting list for smallholdings is about 14,000, and there is, therefore, a great need for additional land to be acquired for this purpose. Secondly, before any increase in rent is permitted, steps should be taken to ensure full observance of the rules of good estate management on these smallholdings in the same way as these rules are enforced in respect of the larger farms.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I should have thought that this was a non-political Measure if ever there was one. It seems to me that all it is doing is to place on a more permanent footing provisions which have been agreed by all parties for very many years. I therefore rather regretted that some Members took the opportunity to make what I thought were needless party political speeches.
I want to answer only one point which was made in that sense. It was stated that under this Government agriculture has been declining. That is just not the case. When this Government came into power production in agriculture was some 43 per cent. above the pre-war level. It is now 51 per cent. above that level. That is a material improvement. Although there was a natural anxiety among farmers— 883 much abated by recent events and explanations—during the period when we were changing from an economy based upon scarcity to one in which scarcity no longer exists, or is much reduced—[An Hon. Member: "What about butter?"] One can always find an individual example to deny a general proposition, but no one can deny that, broadly speaking, conditions of scarcity which prevailed for many years are beginning to give way to conditions in which more goods are available. The consequences of that fact have to be faced by the nation as a whole and it is my conviction, having talked to people in the agricultural industry, that this fact is now beginning to be well understood and appreciated.
The purpose of this Measure is to continue an arrangement whereby part of the cost of drainage, water supply and liming is to be made available in a more permanent form. That is very sensible. It seems to be a small contribution towards greater security, and towards a feeling of greater certainty for the future. It has to be remembered that all these provisions have been continually in existence for 10 years, and some for 12 or more years. They were not the invention of a recent Government. They date from the war years, or before and they have made an enormous difference to the yields of our grassland and arable land. It seems to be sensible and wise to take them out of the realm of wartime or temporary provisions and make them more permanent.
; These are exactly the kinds of provisions which the agricultural industry should most welcome. Whilst it is necessary to fix prices and make arrangements for marketing—all of which costs the taxpayer money—there can be no part of the price which the taxpayer has to pay, and is willing to pay for a sound and stable agriculture, which is a better investment than these kinds of activities.
Liming has a certain degree of permanency about it. Water supplies and drainage are certainly permanent or semi-permanent improvements. So is electricity, though that is not covered by this Bill. My opinion is that nothing contributes more directly and more permanently, and in a form which is likely to be of greater value to agriculture, than these kinds of incentives towards the improvement of the land itself. No mat- 884 ter what happens in the future under any Government, they cannot take away from agriculture improvements which are made in water supplies, electricity, and so on.
Turning to the Clauses in the Bill which deal with tribunals, I think that they are an improvement upon the present arrangements. They follow very closely a series of proposals with which I am very familiar, namely, the appeal tribunal and the appeal to the High Court upon a point of law, which have become a long-established and well-recognised feature of our war pensions law. Originally, it was the Minister alone who set up courts of inquiry or appeal tribunals, or who heard the appeals himself. Objection was taken to that, so an arrangement was made whereby lay or semi-expert tribunals—not courts of law—were set up to hear appeals or cases, and these tribunals were appointed by the Lord Chancellor and not by the Minister.
More recently, an arrangement was made whereby an appeal could be made to the High Court on a point of law. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) criticised this appeal to the High Court on a point of law on the ground that this was an appeal from which there was no further appeal. I think that he has misunderstood this matter. The cases will be dealt with—as most people would think best—by the tribunals, but there are points of argument and law which occur over and over again in the tribunals and about which it is desirable, in the interests of all parties, that there should be a ruling.
These rare points are taken to a High Court for a declaration of the law in the matter. They are not appeals on merits, from which there might be further appeals in the Appeal Court or the House of Lords; that passage in the speech of the righthon. Member for Belper was quite irrelevant. They are appeals to a superior authority, such as the High Court, on points of guidance for the future conduct of all the tribunals which are affected. That arrangement has worked very well in the analogous sphere to which I have made reference, and I cannot see why it should not work well in this case. These Clauses are improvements upon the provisions contained in the Agriculture Act of 1947.
885 Agriculture is our most important fundamental industry, for whatever else we may be in need of there can be nothing quite so fundamental as our food. We cannot exist without it, and whatever may come to us in the way of distress, crisis or war, it is very important that this nation should provide itself with the largest possible amount of home-grown food. I think it is right, therefore, that we should give a sense of permanency to these proposals, and this Bill provides further evidence of the Government's desire to abate anxiety and to make as permanent as possible the various advantages which the farming industry has.
There is one last point to which I want to call attention. It was undoubtedly Parliament's intention that farmers and smallholders should not have to pay the initial charges which fall upon most other citizens when a road is made up, but the fact remains that in certain cases, especially amongst smallholders in or around the edge of towns, there is some dubiety in this matter. Cases have been brought to notice in which what seems to me to be the clear intention of Parliament is being interpreted in an opposite sense in administration.
There are cases where, because the land itself has not been drawn on a particular map or designated for a particular purpose, it is said not to be agricultural land, and yet every sensible person who looks at it would say it is obviously agricultural land that has been used for agricultural or horticultural purposes. It would seem common sense to suggest that the question at issue should be, how has the land been used, what is the land, rather than whether it has been particularly designated in accordance with a particular Act.
I shall not develop this matter beyond telling the Ministers concerned that the reference will be found in Section 48 of the Town and Country Planning Act, and I hope they may consider whether this omnibus, miscellaneous purposes Bill is not a suitable opportunity in which to seek an amendment of that Section which, I think, is clearly being interpreted in a way Parliament did not intend. Finally, I offer my thanks to the Minister and my congratulations to the Government upon this small Measure which does nothing but good to help the agricultural industry.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) began by saying that this was a non-political Bill if ever there was one, and he deplored the unfortunate fact that some hon. Members had dragged party politics into it. He inferred how lamentable that was. Earlier the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) said more or less the same thing. He accused my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) of collecting dirt and spreading it around, and then, with a great show of virtue, he said he would like to get back to the Bill. Then at one stage we had a speech on bees from the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Lambert) in which he said that he was grateful, that he was delighted; and then he was delighted again at some stage. Having heard the speeches of the three hon. Gentlemen opposite I cannot help thinking they are all "bee" complacent at this moment.
The truth is that this debate is taking place when there is a great deal of uncertainty in the agricultural industry. Personally, I regret that the Minister has not used this opportunity to set at rest many of the doubts that exist in people's minds—and it is no good blinding ourselves to that fact. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Newbury to say production is going -up, and for the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale to say anxiety has abated. Only in "The Times" of yesterday Lieut. Colonel Robert Henriques, an extremely well known writer on agricultural subjects, who writes with a great deal of authority, wrote a letter which he finished by saying:Our complaint amounts to this: that the Government have consistently and forthrightly declined to state any agricultural policy whatsoever. As a result, when I try to plan for maximum production at minimum costs (on my farm of 1,300 acres) I find that my planning is reduced to sheer gambling and guesswork.That is the situation that exists today, and here we have a debate on the agricultural industry in which we have not had a word from the Minister to meet that kind of uncertainty that exists.
Only the other day we had a speech by the Secretary of the National Union of Agricultural Workers in which he returned to the fact once again that large 887 numbers of people were still leaving the land. He said that in 1953 13,000 more agricultural workers had left the land. There will come a point, to which we are very near now, where the decline of the working population in farming will gravely prejudice the economy of the country, and it is no good our blinding ourselves to this fact either. Sooner or later the Government must face this problem. No attempt has been made to face it up to now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley) hit the nail on the head in his remarks about small holdings. We have talked a great deal about amenities on the land. There has been a revolution in the countryside in housing, schools, water supplies, bus services and the other facilities for people living in the rural communities. There has been an enormous change since the end of the war. Yet people still go on leaving the land. The truth is that a lot of people are continuing to live in the rural areas but are changing their occupation from farming to some other industry, and the reason why they are changing their occupation is that they find their new one is a better job with a better return. Until we are prepared as a nation to face this real problem of how to get a better return and better opportunity for the agricultural worker, we shall not arrest that change.
It is not only a matter of wages, but one also of opportunity, and that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street was talking about when he discussed the long waiting lists for small holdings. We must recognise that amenities are not the final answer—and amenities are not the final answer in almost any walk of life—and that opportunities and greater incentives to most people are more important. The cloying climate of a cushioned existence may be all right, but the bracing wind of opportunity very often attracts people much more. I see the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) finds himself in agreement with my remarks. I am glad he agrees.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
In so far as better wages attract men from the countryside into the towns, I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that, if bigger wages must be paid, as I think they ought to be, those who consume the food that is the product of the wages must be pre- 888 pared to pay a higher price for their food. The hon. Gentleman has to face that fact.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I should be the last to run away from the point, but the point I am making is that amenities and wages and opportunities have all got to be considered, and that at the moment we are tending to concentrate too much on the amenities and not enough on the wages and the opportunities for the farm working population. Until we are prepared to face up to this the decline in that population will go on with grave effect on the whole of the industry and on the nation as well.
Capital investment in the, agricultural industry in proportion to the national income has been steadily declining over the last few years also. In each year, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953 the capital investment in agriculture in proportion to the national income has declined steadily. Unless we are prepared to recognise this danger, too, and to reverse the trend, we are not going to get the food production we need, that is essential for a stable economy in this country. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) spoke earlier on the slump in America and said that the only way we could create a stable economy here was by greater food production in the sterling area and in this country as a part of it. We shall not do that until we invest more capital in agriculture in proportion to the national income.
These two trends of declining manpower and of declining capital investment pro rata with the national income are two very serious trends in the agricultural industry that the Minister cannot afford to ignore if he is to do his job properly. Added to it all is the uncertainty in agriculture about which I have already spoken. The Minister has only himself to thank for that. The Government are very largely to blame, but not only are they themselves not giving any idea of what is happening, but they are being aided and abetted by economists who talk about a return to the situation which existed in the 'twenties, about there being more food, and whether it would not be cheaper to get it from abroad. I think a lot of these economists only see food in Soho restaurants and have no appreciation of the social matters involved. They are long-haired men and 889 high-heeled women writing with no knowledge and great damage.
The country must understand that the farming community went through a very bad time in the years between the wars and in many ways their position is analogous to that of the mining community. They have the same kind of fear, the same kind of political "thin-skinned ness," as the miners because they have known what it is to be down and out. The farming community, every bit as much as the people in Jarrow, know quite well that although their plight may not have been as well publicised as "The Town That Was Murdered," none the less thousands of villages were murdered in the years between the wars. They do not want to see it happen again. This fear which exists in the industry and in the rural communities has been allowed to grow because of lack of a statement of policy by the Government. It is something which is undoubtedly prejudicing food production.
The Minister today and the Bill we have been discussing have done nothing to meet those doubts. It is a grave charge against the Government that they have allowed this situation to continue for so long and have made no attempt whatever to correct it by a clear statement of policy which, if they had a policy, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to make.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
We have had a very interesting debate. Speeches from the other side of the House have followed the pattern we have seen so often in the last two years—the pattern of trying to deride and decry the efforts of this Government towards the agricultural industry. Hon. Members opposite are trying to create a great deal of unrest in the industry—an unrest which does not exist. In his speech the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) made no mention at the entire decline in production which occurred during the last two years of the Socialist Administration. He declared that farmers were now dissatisfied, but he failed to mention that the output from each branch of the industry during the last two years has been greater than ever before.
I have looked anxiously at the benches opposite, hoping to see the hon. Member 890 for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) or the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) and hoping to hear them make some complaint about the number of eggs available at the present time. The eggs now available have been produced by our own farmers. I am sorry the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) is not here; in his speech he sought deliberately to mislead the agricultural community and the country as a whole about the present condition of our industry.
I propose to confine my remarks to Clauses 1,2 and 7. Clause 1 is probably the most important Clause in the Bill because it continues the grants for the extension of water supplies through our rural areas. I believe our medium and easily available land is producing pretty well the maximum amount of food which can be obtained from it, but the untapped part of our agricultural land is the light land lying on the hills. Throughout the South of England we have large areas of light land which for centuries have been used for arable production. The time is coming when that land should carry livestock, but it cannot do so unless we have an ample supply of water for the livestock to drink.
I suggest to the Minister that in addition to encouraging local authorities to lay on water supplies throughout the ruralareas, very much greater attention should be directed to encouraging farmers themselves to lay on water supplies. There are a great many cases where one can run for miles before picking up a large consumer of water. If we tap our own springs and wells, which are available on most farms, and we encourage the farmers to lay on their own water supply, I believe that will bring very much quicker results than waiting for years for the local council to come through with the big mains.
I know that if one discusses this with a well skilled local councillor one will often meet the argument, "Supposing a fire should break out on the farm; there would not be enough pressure to put it out." In my opinion, the small number of farm fires which occur do not justify the holding up of water schemes which are necessary if we are to extend the number of our livestock. Perhaps I have said this in the House before, but I believe that in the development of this light 891 land we have a much greater future for the farming community and a much greater hope of an increase in our food supplies than we have in any other direction,
May I turn to the other part of Clause 1, which deals with getting the surplus water away from the low-lying land. During the last few years I have seen astounding results following the draining of our low-lying land, which is suitable for the production of livestock only after draining. We must see that we get a very much greater output per acre from our own soil than we get at present. We must do that for two reasons: first, because we want more food, and secondly, because experience has taught us that as the output per acre goes up, the cost per unit comes down.
I believe it is our duty as agriculturists to use every means at our disposal to see that we produce our food as cheaply as possible per unit to enable the people to enjoy home-produced food at the cheapest price at which we can produce it. During the short Recess I have been very much encouraged by going round, seeing some of the more advanced of my farmers and seeing how they are increasing their output and reducing the cost. The farms which I have seen are not all large. Indeed, I have seen one or two farms of under 100 acres. The amount of the food they are turning out and the price at which they are turning it out are astounding. If they can do it, others should follow their example—and I believe they will.
May I turn for a moment to Clause 2, which deals with the lime scheme. I shall be very brief on this point. It is certainly the case that since the lime scheme was introduced, as long ago as 1937, the quality of our grass and our crops has improved, and farmers are now fully appreciative of the value of the lime subsidy. In 1937–38, when the scheme was introduced, the amount of lime bought was 762,000 tons—just over three-quarters of a million tons. Last year it was just under 5 million tons—4,936,000 tons.
Lastly, I should like to turn to Clause 7 which deals with the educational grant for sugar beet. In a few years the amount of money for this purpose has gradually increased. In 1941–42 it was, in round 892 figures, only £9,000, and last year it was £30,000. Some people may wonder for what purpose this money is used. It is used for various purposes. A great deal of it is used for demonstrating to the farmer the advantages of better drilling, better spacing between the rows and in an endeavour to find if we can use seed drills to reduce the labour necessary for singling the beet. A good deal of it is also used for demonstrating harvesting machinery.
I think that it can be said that these demonstrations have met with great success. In 1946, when the first demonstration of sugar beet harvesting machinery was used, it was estimated that .09 per cent. of the sugar beet grown in this country was lifted by machinery that year. It is estimated that this season, which is now rapidly coming to a close, some 30 per cent. of the beet has been lifted by mechanical means. That is all to the betterment of the worker and of the individual farmer, because where these machines are worked—and I am happy to say that Dorset has not been behind in using sugar beet lifting machines—the beets have been lifted in much better condition. They have been got beside the roads much more quickly in readiness for when the factories can take them, and not as much soil has been carted round by the railways as when the beet was lifted by hand.
Much more work will have to be done before we can say that we have this lifting machinery anywhere near the perfection for which agriculturists look. To enable further development more money is required, and I think that the farmer realises the value of the grant as proposed in this Bill put forward by my right hon. Friend. In addition to drilling and harvesting demonstrations, demonstrations go on and research takes place with regard to the amount of fertiliser used for the cultivation of sugar beet. If one looks back over the years and thinks of the yields which we were getting in the '30s compared with what we are getting today, one realises that a great deal of progress has been made in finding out the accurate amounts and when best to apply fertiliser on land which is to grow sugar beet I believe that the national average in the '30s was eight tons an acre and last year the crop average was over 13 tons. We owe a good deal of this to research workers who have spent so much time 893 on telling us how to get the best use from the fertilisers we apply.
There is also the question of research into diseases of the sugar beet plant. I know that at the present time that industry is very worried indeed by the spread of yellow virus disease on sugar beet. I was talking to a farmer this weekend about that and he asked me if I would put this point to the Minister—and I do so now—that in the areas where the sugar beet seed is grown a large number of our seed growing firms insist that the stiplings should be sprayed against contracting yellow virus. Others do not worry about it. It was suggested to me that the Minister should make it compulsory for all growers of sugar beet seed to have their crops sprayed in an effort to get rid of this disease which causes so much loss to the farmer and to the country.
I believe that as a result of this Rill and, in particular, of Clauses 1, 2 and 7, we shall see during the next few years a continued increase in our agricultural output, in spite of what hon. Gentlemen opposite may say. On this the first day of our return after the Christmas Recess, and at the beginning of this year which, I believe, the farmers are calling this "Year of Opportunity" it is well that we should start off our debates by introducing a Bill which will be of benefit not only to British agriculture but to the community of this country as a whole.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Richards (Wrexham)
I do not find in any quarter of the House any very great enthusiasm for this small Bill. It has been referred to several times today as a rather insignificant Bill compared with some of the Bills which have been introduced with the object of improving the production of agriculture in this country. I think, none the less, that the Bill, although it is small and confined to certain miscellaneous procedure, will as a whole do a considerable amount of good in preserving some of the things which agriculturists enjoy at the present time.
For example, it is very important that we should do everything in this country to encourage the continuation of drainage. That is one of our chief problems. The areas in the country which are still flooded or which are inadequately drained are very considerable indeed. We have only to go about the country at this 894 time of the year to find it difficult to imagine that some of the land which has never been drained can grow any crop at all. Personally, I warmly welcome the continuation of the grants for drainage because I think that drainage is fundamental and that lack of drainage ruins a great deal of agriculture in this country.
For the same reason, I welcome heartily the reference in the Bill to lime. I have often been struck by the fact that farmers 60 or 80 years ago used to do a great deal more liming than they do at the present time, although they have now considerably better facilities. In my part of the country, in North Wales, farmers used to tramp overnight to neighbouring lime kilns, sometimes coming back the next day having drawn a ton or two or even five tons of lime from a distant kiln. That practice has died down completely. Until quite recently, the practice of liming has declined notoriously in most parts of the country with which I am acquainted. The result is that those lands that used to be limed have practically gone out of cultivation altogether.
There is, however, another side of the picture, and one which farmers are gradually taking into consideration. That is, the tremendous advance which has been made by the agricultural departments of the various colleges in introducing a new system of rotation, and particularly in increasing the amount of grass that is grown in the country.
We in Wales have every reason to be proud that the work which has been done at the university college at Aberystwyth has transformed the characer of agriculture, not only in this country, but abroad as well. It is astounding to notice the changes that one sees in a county like Anglesey, for example, which is well given to grass growing, where we have this new system and these new grasses introduced. Parts of the country have been transformed almost out of recognition.
This is an opportunity for the farmers of our generation. Our ancestors never had anything of this kind. They were excellent cultivators, but they had no opportunity of changing the rotation and changing the character of their land completely. But that is happening every day with good farmers in most parts of the western counties.
I welcome these fundamental provisions in the Bill. I am pleased with the pro- 895 posal to continue the grants that have been given to persuade farmers to continue with drainage and with the supply of water to their farms, which is, of course, essential. It is important, particularly from the point of view of the health of the community, that the quality of the water that is used on the farms should be of the very best. On so many farms the cattle go to dirty pools. The water that they drink should be as clean as the water that human beings require. We all know that this has its effect upon milk and butter. I have referred only to what I consider to be some of the more important parts of the Bill, and I wish it well.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
The speech of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), to which we have just listened, was a welcome change from the miserable and cavilling speeches from other Members of the Opposition. It is time that the Opposition awoke to the realities of the present farming situation.
The situation is that when cheaper food is available, with the buyers' market returned, scarcity ending, and rationing coming to an end, the Government have for this season given full indemnity to all farmers, whether their produce is of good quality or poor. The sky is the limit so far as quantity is concerned, but there is full incentive for quality also. In those circumstances, I simply do not understand how it can be said that the Government have no policy for farming or even that they have an inadequate policy.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) quoted a letter from "The Times" of yesterday. I happened to read the whole of that letter. It was written by a gentleman who writes a great deal of fiction; and this occasion was no exception. The fact is that, especially in the last few weeks, now that they have had a chance to let things sink in, farmers realise that they are on a very good wicket for 1954. Many of them are getting a little sick and tired of this constant attempt by the Opposition to make a lot of party politics out of a very little opportunity for criticism.
Here we have a modest but positive attempt to make a further advance in farming. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said that the Bill 896 was a sop to those who attack Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1947. Of course, very few people, on either side of the House, attack Part II. There are more hon. Members on the other side who attack Part I than there are on this side; but I mention that merely in passing.
So far as the right hon. Member for Belper is concerned and those of us who agree that Part II of the 1947 Act should stand, as so many of us agree that it should, there is a difference between Members on the Opposition side and on this side of the House as to the way in which it should be administered, when we come to tread upon the liberties, the livelihood, the rights and the property of the farmers and owners of land who are concerned.
The right hon. Member for Belper is quite content that the county executive committees, to whom all credit is due, should have so little obstacle placed in their path that the safeguards of individual rights are very slender. We on this side disagree with the right hon. Member. We think that the safeguards in the 1947 Act were not quite good enough; and so we have Clauses 4, 5 and 6 of the Bill, which to me are greatly welcome.
The right hon. Member for Belper asked what is meant by the power to award costs. In Clause 5 one sees that the tribunal may award costs whenthere are special reasons for doing so.…Those words are important. They mean that the costs will not necessarily follow the event, as they generally do in an ordinary court of law. It would be an onerous provision to insert in a Bill that the costs should always follow the result of the case. But that has not been done. Presumably, the tribunal will consider very carefully the merits of the original decision and the merits of the objection to that original decision; and, if the tribunal finds that there are no merits one way or another, it will say that there are special reasons for awarding costs. That is how I imagine it will work out.
I think the provision contained in Clause 6 is a good thing, and that, when an agricultural tribunal is in difficulty on a point of law, it should have power to refer the matter to the High Court. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper, who has a powerful imagination, did not allow his imagination to run quite as far as usual on this occasion, 897 because he said he could not see what points of law might arise. May I make one or two suggestions, and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here. First of all, the Agriculture Act, 1947, and, indeed, all other agricultural legislation is very complicated. Very difficult questions of construction arise; and, if a tribunal finds itself flummoxed on some occasion, it may wish to refer a point of interpretation to the High Court.
Sometimes there is a doubt as to who is the owner of land. An agricultural executive committee, in pursuance of its duties, may possibly serve a notice on somebody, who is not even the owner of the land. There have been disputes before now as to ownership. One could think of other matters on which points of law might arise and which could be referred to the High Court.
In this connection, may I issue a word of warning and suggest a possible need for amendment of Clause 6? The agricultural tribunals have made a point of trying to hear cases as swiftly as possible, because in the practical nature of things there should be as little delay as possible. If points of law are going to be referred to the High Court, there might easily be a delay, unless special provision is made. We are all familiar with the fact that the lists in the High Court are sometimes very full; and, if cases are to take their place in the list and then be put out of the list and postponed from time to time, more injustice may result from this power to refer the matter to the High Court than we would wish to see: and we wish to see justice flowing from it.
But, in general, I welcome these Clauses; and, if it is not out of order, I should like to make the comment that they are so admirable that they might well be followed as a precedent by other Ministers in dealing with similar types of administrative and Ministerial tribunals. I hope this will be regarded as a precedent, although speaking only for myself, I would prefer to see the whole system of administrative tribunals changed and made branches of the High Court. But that is another point.
Clauses 4, 5 and 6 refer also to those cases which are dealt with by the land commissioners under the 1947 Act and under the Agricultural Holdings Act, because they are essentially deciding just 898 the same sort of matter, so far as individual rights are concerned, as the agricultural land tribunals do at present. Although the land commissioners, as some of us know, do their work as conscientiously as they possibly can, they are in a most difficult position. They have a conflict of duty in their minds. They are actually paid officials of the Ministry with administrative duties in the Ministry to perform, and at the same time they are there to decide as between the citizen and the Minister, though there is the hearing of evidence and the whole thing is very much like a court of law. It is an alternative procedure in some cases to the agricultural land tribunal.
I would have thought that either the same sort of provision, as is contained in Clauses 4, 5 and 6, should be applied to the land commissioners, or—and this would be better still—that jurisdiction should be taken away from the land commissioners altogether and the agricultural tribunals be empowered to hear every kind of case that arises.
In practice, there is a further difficulty which has arisen. I am sorry that all this is a bit legal, but it is most important, if we want to see Part II of the Act working fairly. In Section 72 of the 1947 Act the Minister is empowered to make regulations to delegate to executive committees such functions under the Act or under other Acts as he might think fit. Section 104 of the Act says something which is very obscure, and in my opinion it is being interpreted in the wrong way by the Ministry of Agriculture, and has so been interpreted for a long time. It says this:No officer or servant of a County Agricultural Executive Committee, or any subcommittee or district committee thereof, shall be appointed…to receive representations relating to laud in the area of the Committee.In practice it has been found, however, that sub-committees of executive committees are being appointed by the Minister to hear representations about land in their area. Sometime the very sub-committee which has made the decision, about which representations have to be made, has been the committee appointed to hear the representations. In other words, it has been appointed to hear an appeal against its own decision.
The reason why this is being done is because the word "of" has been left 899 out of Section 104 (5). That is a very small matter to adjust, but it is very important that it should be adjusted. I hope that some steps will be taken in that direction.
I have only one other point on the legal aspect, and that is that I would suggest that in all cases—I believe that this is done in some cases—the agricultural land tribunals and the land commissioners should publish full reasons for their decisions. It is very difficult to see how justice can appear to be done, unless reasons for the decision are given. I was very shocked indeed to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) criticise the conduct of an agricultural lands tribunal in a case when I happened to be present throughout the hearing. I disagreed with its decision and I was not sympathetic to the agricultural executive committee in the case, but nobody could say that the tribunal did otherwise than behave in a most proper and just manner, or so it appeared, apart from the fact that the full reasons for its decision were not, so far as I recollect, given.
One hon. Member opposite missed the point about smallholdings under Clause 3. As I understand it, the point is that experience has shown that on very heavy land even as much as 75 acres will not make an economic smallholding, but on very good land an acreage as small as 50 acres, or even less, will make an economic smallholding. If we are to have more smallholdings, and more really good smallholdings, what we have got to do is to give those concerned the power to obtain better quality land. That is what Clause 3 will make possible, and for that reason I welcome it.
In conclusion, there is one thing I should like to say. I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper is not in the House. I had hoped to say this earlier in my speech, but I was waiting for him to come in. However, he is not here and I must say it now. He is a very fine speaker and he has a very powerful imagination, but he is about as constructive as a khamsin. [Hon. Members: "What?"] If hon. Members do not know what a khamsin is, it is a very hot wind, which raises a lot of dust and lasts fortunately for only about five days.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Slater (Sedgefield)
After listening to the legal interpretation made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) of the regulations proposed by the Minister in this Bill, I think I had better leave the hon. Gentleman to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) to see if they can agree upon it. The hon. Gentleman has referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) as being what we in the North call an empty drum, and an empty drum makes a lot of noise. I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that in my opinion my right hon. Friend has a great knowledge of the agricultural industry in view of the office he held when Labour was in power.
In recent years we have had many discussions about agricultural production. I believe we shall continue to have them, because it is now recognised that this industry, like mining, is a basic one, and has an important part to play in the economy of this country. Every one of us recognises that the 1947 Act provided greater security for this industry than it had ever had before. Whenever I refer to that Act, I am reminded of visiting an agricultural area, a place called Yarm, where I spoke in the market place. An old farmer listened to what I had to say about the policy pursued by Labour when we were in power and, at the conclusion of my speech, a young man asked the farmer if he had any questions he would like to ask the speaker. He replied, "No, lad, I have no questions to ask the speaker. The Labour Government have done everything for us and we are satisfied as far as agriculture is concerned, but Churchill is my man." He was then asked, "But what will happen when Churchill passes on?" The farmer replied, "Well, I shall have to look for another." He was attached, not to the Conservative Party, but to someone he had exalted over a period of years.
Time and time again we have had this question posed: Are we getting what we should be getting from the injection of capital by the Government into the industry? There is doubt about this, and we should have some clarification from the Minister of the conflicting statements regarding the increase in production since 901 those financial aids were given to the industry, because that policy has been contradictory to the principles of private enterprise before the 1947 Act became operative.
Hon. Members opposite have accused us of being critical. In reply, let me refer them to the statement made in the "Sunday Express" of 19th May, 1935:The Conservative Members of the House of Commons have done nothing whatever to increase production in the soil since the days they came into power through our exertions.That is what they had to say prior to 1935 when there was Conservative control and when the farming community was neglected. There is no gainsaying the fact that great apprehension is being felt in rural areas because of the reduction in subsidies, the increases in the cost of living, and what is likely to be the reaction of the agricultural workers and farmers as a result.
This Bill seeks to make provision for what? For the continuance of grants which would otherwise lapse in August, 1954. I do not complain of that, but I do complain about the inconsistency of this Government in not complying with the request of the Opposition for an extension of Section 62 of the Industrial Injuries Act which would have saved thousands of our people from having to apply to the National Assistance Board for relief.
My constituency is adjacent to that of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and in it there are three rural areas in which there are smallholdings. Every hon. Member knows that the 1947 Act provided for farm workers to become farmers on their own account. County councils and, in certain circumstances, borough councils became responsible for making smallholdings available for letting to people experienced in agriculture. The land for this purpose had to be obtained by agreement, by compulsory purchase or by hiring. The Ministry were prepared to give every assistance, even to making loans to the smallholders up to three-quarters of the working capital required.
On 25th May, 1950, my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper, who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, reported to this House that 8,774 acres had been acquired so far in 241 smallholdings provided under the Act. In addi- 902 tion, schemes for capital improvements to 228 existing smallholdings, or 5,986 acres, had been submitted for approval. I ask the Minister what progress has been made in this field since 1950? Not so long ago we had a debate on smallholdings in which I took part. After that debate a smallholder wrote the following letter to one of our Northern papers:It is common knowledge that the smaller the holding the greater the skill required to make it pay. Some of them carry overheads higher than farms of 200 and even 300 acres. The trouble is that such farmers are too often denied room to expand.…Those are agricultural workers who have left other forms of industry for the land and have tried to develop smallholdings. Now it appears that they are being denied the right of expansion. So I ask the Minister what progress has been made in this field since 1950? What new smallholdings have been opened up? Is the Minister satisfied, from the reports of his officers, that smallholders are being given every chance to develop and extend their husbandry? It does not appear to be so from the letter I have quoted.
Another matter on which I would like clarification is in regard to the rental charge which is increased from £150 to £250 per annum. Also, Clause 7 provides for increasing the maximum contributions from sugar beet growers and the British Sugar Corporation towards research and education. We all believe inadequate research, especially if it is a means whereby the farming industry is assisted in sound development. On 20th October, 1952, questions were put down to the Minister in regard to a sugar beet factory. He replied to the Questions and supplementary questions asked of him at that time and he said that there was no capital available to build a factory somewhere in the south. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) asked the Minister to discuss the matter with his colleague the Minister of Agriculture.
I have received a letter, and I expect that the Minister of Agriculture has received a similar letter, from the National Farmers' Union area secretary at Darlington on this subject. He said:
My County Executive Committee has instructed me to write to you, asking for your support in Parliament for the provision of a 903 new factory in the South of England for processing sugar beet. I have seen Hansard for 20th October, 1952, and realise that the Minister of Food has already turned down requests for this new factory, but no doubt the matter will be raised again in the future.Farmers in the North Riding and South Durham area would benefit from the proposed new factory because it would relieve pressure on the factories in the North of England which at present have to deal with a proportion of the crop grown in the South. This, in turn, would mean that a larger beet crop can be grown in the North of England, and that the duration of the campaign could be slightly reduced, with a consequent saving in sugar content.The present demand for an extension of the arable acreage requires efficient cleaning crops in the rotation, such as sugar beet, which, at the same time as providing dollar-saving sugar for our population, will also provide beet pulp which is a most valuable feed for livestock.I am informed the cost of a new factory in the South might be as high as £2 million and that about 8,000 tons of steel would be used, but the saving to the Government in rail surcharges would, it is estimated, be over £50,000 per annum, and the use of the steel would be an investment when the increased acreage of beet and increased production of sugar began to save dollars. For example, 20,000 acres of sugar beet produce roughly 30,000 tons of raw sugar, at £35 a ton, which equals a saving of over £1 million per annum.I hope that the Minister will not ignore this information which has been passed on to me and of which I am sure he has received a copy. I hope that he will note that those concerned believe that a great amount of money could be saved in transport charges for bringing the sugar beet from the South to the North. It used to be the policy of the old coal-owners never to allow their wagons to be used by other coal-owners but since nationalisation of the industry the wagons have moved round and have continued to serve the industry as a whole. If he has not already taken steps to do so I think that it is about time that the Minister considered this matter with the Minister of Food.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
It is always very difficulty to assess the prospects of a debate in this House. When I started from home this morning, in the dark, I thought that it was a waste of energy on my part because I should arrive here and find the debate largely confined to the Clauses of the Bill. I 904 now find that we are able to roam not only over agricultural land but also over nationalisation of coal and legislation dealing with industrial injuries. I shall not take the time of the House in going so widely. I shall endeavour to keep as narrowly as I can to the Bill.
Clause 1 continues grants for drainage and water supply. I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking on this Bill, because I have been known to condemn subsidies. I have had the reputation of being entirely against all subsidies, but that is not quite correct. I still do not agree with many subsidies, but I approve of the grants or subsidies, whichever one calls them, which are provided in Clause 1 of this Bill. I approve particularly of the grant for drainage.
It may be asked why farmers and landowners cannot carry out this process themselves without assistance. The answer is that for nearly 100 years this country has completely neglected agriculture for the sake of other industries and when our forefathers have wanted their land properly drained and cultivated the lack of money available both to farmers and landowners has been such that drains have tended to become useless. Therefore, any assistance for drainage purposes is all to the good in the interest of increased production.
I hope that the Minister will consider one point with regard to water supplies. It has always seemed to me rather unnecessary, if not stupid, that when a claim was made for a grant for water supply no grant was permissible for the installation of a water supply in a cottage or a farmhouse. It may be said that that point can be met under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944, but if one is developing a water supply for the land one should be able to supply water to the cottage or farmhouse at the same time and have that supply included for the purposes of grant. I hope the Minister will consider whether something of that kind cannot be done to meet these cases. Obviously, an effort is made to bring water to a water tank in a field as close to the cottage or farmhouse as possible, so the expense of a connection to the cottage or house would be comparatively small.
There has been more discussion on Clauses 4, 5 and 6 of the Bill and Part II of the 1947 Act than upon any other 905 matter. If I may say so, it has been a discussion which has shown very little realisation of the practical facts of the case. Listening to the debate, one would imagine that prior to the 1947 Act there had been nothing in the way of an appeal to the Courts or that legal decisions or differences on points of fact relating to agricultural holdings had never arisen. I should like to remind the House that the 1923 Act was quite as difficult to interpret as was the 1947 Act and that the way in which decisions were arrived at under the 1923 Act was infinitely better than the method suggested in the 1947 Act.
Now, in this Bill, we are getting a little closer towards a practical way of making decisions in the suggestion that when points of law arise a decision of the court should be obtained. Those of us who have been arbitrators and have had to deal with the 1923 Act have done that. If, during the course of a hearing, either side felt that there were points of law to be decided the arbitrator was asked to state a case. He did so and the decision of the court was final.
I suggest that instead of a decision being given to the High Court which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) has said, might take an extremely long time, it should be given by the county court judge and that his decision should be final. My experience of county court judges is that very often they have a little more practical knowledge of agriculture than have judges in the High Court and, very often, although the matter before them may seem to be entirely a question of law it is to a certain extent tied up with a question of practical agriculture. I suggest, therefore, that reference should be made to the county court judge. It would be infinitely cheaper and would not involve the delay that would arise in the High Court.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) is very sincere in his views, but completely unpractical. He will take up any case if anyone likes to write to him. I have sent one or two cases to him and said, "There is only one man in the House who will take up the case, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington."
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to attack another hon. Member without having given him previous notice?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that when an hon. Member takes part in a debate and expresses controversial opinions it is not always necessary to give that hon. Member notice.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I can assure the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that I put these points to my hon. Friend, who sits by me on the back bench on many occasions. Although we agree on some things on these points we do not agree. It is quite wrong to suggest that fair play has not been given to appellants before the land tribunal. My experience has been that if there is any doubt, in fact sometimes when there is no doubt, the decision has gone to the tenant farmer or to the owner-occupier.
As a farmer I say that the land tribunal ought to be far more severe in future than they have been in the past. There are men on the land today who ought not to be occupiers. They are producing only 25 per cent. of what they should be producing. I have said this before a body of farmers. I knew I had the support of some young farmers in the room for the reason that if we are to make it virtually impossible for a landowner to get possession of a farm when it is being farmed badly the tenant farmer system will die completely. If we do not make the position more fluid, no one, unless there is a sentimental interest attached to a farm, will want to re-let when the farm becomes vacant. That would be a great disservice to the farming community.
We have to remember that few young farmers, unless they have an opportunity of becoming tenant farmers, will be able to continue in the industry. Today, because there are so few farms being let to tenants, the farms are put up for sale with vacant possession and make a ridiculous price. The price is not so bad as it was a few years ago but it is such an unreasonable price that many young farmers expend capital on buying farms which would be better expended on agricultural implements and stock.
I suggest that in future county executive committees, and, if necessary, the land tribunal, should be much more 907 severe in the line they take with a man if he is not farming his land properly. I say that as a farmer and as one coming of a long line of tenant farmers; and I know that I am voicing the opinion of a great many brother farmers. It may be said that at present we have a world surplus of food, and why should we make a fuss about land not being properly farmed? I am not such an optimist as to think that that surplus of food which is said to exist will find its way to Britain in the next two or three years. The land of this country has to be farmed to the highest extent if we are to survive as a nation. We are completely unbalanced in manpower on the land, having a ratio of something like one in 14 in this country, whereas it is one in six in other countries. We want that balance put right; then we shall be getting on a firm foundation,
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) is not in his place. I agreed with almost all he said until he concluded and could not help bringing politics into the end of his speech
§ Mr. Baldwin
The hon. Member for Pembroke followed the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who brought politics into the whole of his speech—
§ Mr. Baldwin
—but the hon. Member for Pembroke left politics to the end of his speech.
One point he mentioned was the fact that people are leaving the land. That is perfectly true, not only in this country but all over the world. The attraction of industry both in wages and amenities is such that the wives of farm workers, although the men may wish to stay in the countryside, will not go into the remote districts. That is something we must face up to and bring about an improvement.
What we have to face up to, as have the consumers, is that consumers have been living on cheap food now for about 100 years. They think it their tight to continue to live on cheap food. 908 The day of cheap food has gone and the sooner the consumers of this country divert a little more of their salaries and wages from beer, tobacco, the cinema, television, etc., and devote it to paying for good honest food produced in this country, the better it will be for the country and the people who consume the food.
We cannot stop men from leaving the land unless we pay good wages, and good wages cannot be paid unless people are prepared to pay a fair price for food. I want to see the farm worker on the top scale of wages. He is the most skilled man in the country today, and I think it is unfair that every time anybody gets a wages increase the agricultural labourer should be kept at the bottom of the ladder. There cannot be cheap food and good wages.
I wish to refer to the question of the amendment of the Seeds Act. I hope that some steps will be taken to bring seed potato sellers into line. Because there has been a scarcity in the last 10 to 15 years what the growers of seed potatoes have been selling to those of us who want to buy seed is shocking. One can find potatoes from the size of a marble to the size of a football all pushed in a bag and called seed potatoes. It is time that seed potato growers began to conform to some sort of standard in the marketing of their products.
I wish to refer to the collection of waste food. I am sorry, in a way, that the Minister has decided to open up the collection of waste food. Here I agree with the right hon. Member for Belper—it is the only thing in his speech with which I did agree—in calling attention to the risk that will be taken if the gate is opened to all and sundry to collect waste food. I know that it is supposed to be processed or sterilised but I also know that that is not done to the extent that it should be. The more the avenues for evading sterilisation or processing are increased the more will the danger of foot-and-mouth disease in this country be increased.
It is fair to say that many of the outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in this country, especially lately, have been caused from waste food fed to pigs. In a county adjoining my own there was an outbreak a few months ago, happily kept to a very small area, which broke out 909 among pigs. I have not the slightest doubt that it was brought into the pig sties by waste food, probably the bones or marrow fat from the bones of chilled meat. I am convinced that foot-and-mouth disease can come to this country in the chilled meat which comes from countries that are riddled with foot-and-mouth disease.
I hope that the Minister, in opening these avenues for increasing the places where these foods can be processed, will see that his veterinary department takes very strict steps to deal with the matter and that there will be some form of supervision which is foolproof. I hope that if anybody is caught feeding unprocessed food the penalty will be so severe as to deter other people who might feel inclined to take that risk.
I would go so far with the right hon. Member for Belper as to say that I do not think this food should not be brought on to farms before it is processed or sterilised. It should be processed in some remote spot so that there is no fear that it will be fed to animals before being processed. Human nature being what it is, there will be many cases where food will be thrown out to pigs without being processed at all. The livestock industry of this country is so valuable, both from the point of view of exports and of food production, that we must close every avenue in order to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease.
I welcome this Bill and I am glad that the Minister has kept its provisions within a narrow compass. I disagree entirely with the right hon. Member for Belper who wanted something big. I consider that the Minister is dealing with changing times in the proper manner and facing up to situations as they arise, for example, the announcement with regard to the 1954 harvest. We hear a lot about a long-term policy, but I have never yet met anyone who can tell me what is a long-term policy. I hope we shall be told to night what such a policy might be.
All we can do now is to give confidence to the farmer. There has been a tremendous change of opinion in the rural districts during the last two or three months. Level headed farmers are becoming upset about the tub thumping which has gone on in the last six months. They are beginning to realise that it is doing the industry no good. The farming 910 industry must secure the good will of the consumers of this country and they will not succeed in doing that by agitating, unless they have a real grievance. My experience is that farmers have confidence in the future, and I am glad that is so.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I find it difficult to follow the logic of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin)—
§ Mr. Hughes
In the first part of his speech the hon. Member for Leominster said that for over 100 years this country had neglected agriculture for industry. In the latter part of his speech he pooh-poohed those of us who ask for a declaration of a long-term policy.
I wish to examine this Bill from the point of view of the Scottish farmer. I remember that when the hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Snadden), who is now the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland, was on the Opposition benches he made interesting speeches in which he outlined his long-term policy for agriculture. I remember that he used it to make very interesting speeches about what the Labour Government should do in order to increase the number of cattle on the Scottish hills.
§ Mr. Hughes
I found them very interesting indeed, but unfortunately those speeches have evaporated. When those of us who represent Scottish constituencies examine this Bill to see what it provides for Scotland, we find that none of the suggestions formerly urged by the hon. Member for West Perth are included. We thought when the hon. Member joined the Government that it would provide an opportunity for the development of a constructive policy for Scotland and that, surely, in such a Bill as this we might find something of the spirit of his speeches.
However, there are only two Clauses which refer specifically to Scotland. One is Clause 13 in which we are told that the Corn Returns Act, 1882, shall now apply to Scotland. One of the criticisms which used to be levelled against the Labour Government was that they made the farmer fill up too many forms. Here 911 we are applying an Act of 1882 to Scotland and making Scottish farmers fill up more forms. What is more, there is a very severe penalty involved. The Minister gives the farmer to understand that in future the person who does not carry out the provisions of the Act will be liable to a fine of up to £20. That is not the sort of imaginative approach which we expected from the Joint Under-secretary. The farmer is to fill up more forms and he is to be subject to a greater penalty.
I should like to have some information about Clause 12. Why is it necessary to introduce a specific Clause for Scotland modifying the powers of the Agricultural Wages Board? This Clause takes away from the Board certain powers and vests them in the Secretary of State for Scotland. What does the Clause mean? Are we getting something that England is not getting? Why is Scotland specifically singled out?
When I see that further powers are to be vested in the Secretary of State for Scotland I am not at all enthusiastic. Could the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland tell us exactly what is implied in this Clause? One of the purposes of the Agricultural Wages Board is to guarantee a minimum wage for the full-time worker. Now the temporary worker is to be excluded and these powers are, for some reason, to be vested in the Secretary of State for Scotland. Has the Minister so little confidence in the Board? Why exactly is the proposal inserted in the Bill? If we need to secure the supply of full-time workers on the land, we also need to see that part-time workers, even though they work for only a short time during harvesting, are given wages which are likely to be attractive and which will prevent exploitation.
How is this to apply to the children? Much against the will of Scottish educationists, the children are brought in to help at the potato harvest. What is likely to be the effect of the Secretary of State taking over powers from the Agricultural Wages Board? These are small matters, but when we think of the wide title of the Bill—the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill—we wonder what the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has been doing to get such meagre results for Scotland.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is the only Scottish Member who has taken part in the debate and, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture promised that I would give an answer to any Scottish questions which were raised, perhaps I might deal straight away with the two points discussed by the hon. Member. First he mentioned Clause 13, which deals with the extension of the Corn Returns Act of 1882 to Scotland.
This is required because of the method, already published, whereby deficiency payments become payable based upon a United Kingdom average price; the calculation is made between that average price and the standard price in order to arrive at the deficiency payable to the farmer. It has been found that in England and Wales, returns under the Act will supply the necessary information because, through the Act, a cross-section of the country is taken and market prices are returned to the Minister of Agriculture from a very large number of towns in England and Wales.
No such provision exists in Scotland. Our equivalent provision was what was called the old fiar's price whereby the minister's stipend was struck. It was a very haphazard system and would not be at all effective in the disbursal of public money. So that the whole country may be able to supply the necessary United Kingdom average, it has been decided to extend the Corn Returns Act to Scotland. Returns will be made by some 20 towns in Scotland, which will represent about 70 per cent. of the total production of cereals. That is the reason for the insertion of the provision in the Bill.
With regard to Clause 12, the powers conferred upon the Secretary of State by the Clause are not new ones. They have run on since 1941, during the period of the Labour Government, until now. What we are doing in the Bill is to remove all the previous conditions coming under a Defence Regulation and taking power in respect of only one, which is a very exceptional case indeed. It is the Scottish Harvesting Scheme.
In England and Wales the harvest normally starts at a much earlier stage than in Scotland and it also extends over 913 a very much longer period than in the North. Scotland has a very bad climate compared with the South and our harvest starts later. We also have a very high percentage of broken weather, this sometimes being as high as 30 per cent. The result is a different set-up in Scotland compared with that in England and Wales. In England and Wales there is no guarantee of continuous employment for the harvest volunteer. We find that in order to get the army of volunteers which is necessary for the Scottish harvest we have to guarantee continuous employment whether there is broken weather or not, and that is all in favour of the worker.
In order to do that the Secretary of State, out of his Vote, guarantees the Scottish volunteer harvest worker a full-time wage for the entire week, but the farmer pays the Secretary of State at a rate not less than the minimum wage—in fact, considerably above it—for the actual hours worked. One can imagine that the burden upon some small farmers in respect of a week when perhaps only a few hours have been worked is tremendous.
In a normal year when the weather is fairly decent the scheme more or less supports itself because the farmers are paying the Department, but in a very bad year, such as last year when the weather was extremely bad, there is a charge on public funds. The amount varies. It may run to as much as £20,000 per year, covering the entire volunteer army. It is essential for the Secretary of State to have special powers to make the work attractive to the volunteers.
The Scottish Agricultural Wages Board has been consulted about this, and the Chairman has indicated to the Secretary of State that because of the complications, including hostels and board and lodging, entertainment and other matters, he would rather not have the responsibility of carrying out the scheme.
We have had no trouble at all with the scheme. The farm workers' union is satisfied with it, and so is the National Farmers' Union. The farmer pays the Department at a rate of 3s. per hour per adult male worker, which for a full week represents about 30s. more than the normal minimum laid down for the industry.
914 In view of that explanation, I hope the hon. Member will feel that the two Clauses have been inserted for some purpose.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
One or two points arise affecting Cornwall and the constituency which I represent. Clause 3 appears to widen the scope of the Minister by increasing the acreage of the smallholding which is to receive grant. Does he consider that the standard of efficiency, equipment, farm buildings, water supplies and so on of the county council's smallholdings in Cornwall is adequate from the point of view of good farming, and will he state how those smallholdings compare with average farms in the country?
I was a little disturbed to read last week that in Cornwall many of the county council's smallholdings appear to be behind the times and partially sub-standard. Reference was also made in a newspaper report of a meeting of the county council's smallholdings committee to the fact that, within a few years'time, the county council will own something like £100,000 worth of smallholdings, and it seems to me that, if the smallholder is paying towards the amortisation of the loan, there should also be something available for the proper equipment of these holdings now and in the years immediately ahead, without looking further into the future, when the county council's smallholdings will be free of debt.
In Clause 7, power is given to increase the levy on sugar beet for research and education in the growing of sugar beet, what the farmers in Cornwall, and I think in the south of England generally, are rather more concerned about at the moment is not the capacity for growing sugar beet, but for dealing with the sugar beet which they themselves grow. This Government seem to be lamentably lacking in foresight in providing sugar beet factories. There is a great need for a sugar beet factory in the south-west, and it seems ridiculous at this time of day for sugar beet grown in Cornwall to be sent hundreds of miles to Peterborough.
There is another Clause in the Bill making further provision for the collection of waste food. I understand that farmers in Cornwall have to pay the full cost of the carriage for sugar beet pulp coming back from the factory to their own farms.
915 Surely, this Government, said to be doing so much for agriculture—although the farmers themselves seem to be rather uncertain about that—can arrange for a sugar beet factory in the South-West before very long?
I gather from what was said by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), who is not now in his place, that he rather hoped that this would be a non-political debate. I cannot remember any period in the lifetime of the last Parliament when hon. Members opposite, then sitting on these benches, regarded agriculture as something that was non-political. Every Question time when the Minister of Agriculture was in his place, there was a torrent of Questions—very critical, even hypercritical Questions—from the Conservative benches, in addition to a number of Prayers put down on the Order Paper. Let us get away from nonsense of that sort. We have a democratic Parliament, and politics do enter into agriculture, as into everything else.
The question of men leaving the land was raised a short time ago, but, surely, one of the main factors contributing to that situation is the tied cottage? The hon. Member for Leominster said the wives of agricultural workers were reluctant to stay in the country. No wonder they are, if they have to live in isolated farm cottages.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)
It is significant that an agriculture Bill should be the first Measure that we discuss in 1954. Clauses 1 and 2, dealing with drainage, water supply and the agricultural lime scheme, are of particular importance to my constituency and I welcome the continuation of those schemes. The importance of drainage, particularly of marginal land and in areas with a high rainfall, is a matter with which we must be very much concerned. As the Minister has said, the answer to a problem of wet land is often simply to drain it.
One of the factors is cost, of course, and I should like the Minister to consider whether, where a farmer does not find it possible to produce the 50 per cent. share of any drainage scheme, it would be possible to give assistance by a drainage loan, which would ultimately be repaid out of the increased production brought 916 about by the drainage of the land. These schemes should pay for themselves in increased production. It is not always possible for a farmer to lay out a large amount of capital, even after he has received a Government grant to put a scheme into operation.
I should also ask the Minister to see that consideration of all schemes should be much speeded up. There are often instances, particularly in the putting in of water supplies to holdings, where farmers have had to wait for so long before a decision was made whether to approve a scheme that they have gone ahead with the projects themselves, only to find, later, that because they started without the official word to do so they did not get the payments to which they thought they were entitled.
I have had many cases from my own constituency, following on from the previous Administration, in which I have been asked whether the new Minister of Agriculture would review a scheme which had been started without prior permission, and would grant a payment. In every case, I am sorry to say, my constituents have been turned down. I have often wondered whether this was due to loyalty to his predecessor on the part of the new Minister of Agriculture in not wanting to alter a decision which had been made by his Department. Having inspected personally some of these schemes, I should have thought every time that they were entitled to the grant in question.
One further point frequently brought to my notice by farmers wishing to put in water supplies concerns the necessity to have two reports as to the purity of the water, one report from the Ministry of Agriculture and the other from the local authority. If the water in any area has been found to be fit for human consumption I should have thought that the Minister and his Department could accept that analysis and not require further time to be spent on the matter by their own officers.
Clause 2 extends the agricultural lime scheme, which is due to expire on 1st August this year. It was originally introduced for a term of five years, but was extended for two years by Order in 1952. Can we take it that the scheme as it stands at present will now be continued unaltered into 1959, or will the Minister issue Orders yearly modifying the scheme 917 by altering the basis of the subsidy or making other changes in the present provisions? There have been three Orders since 1951 affecting the agricultural lime scheme. If we are to achieve the steady consumption of 7 million tons of lime per year—it was 500,000 tons in 1936 and is now running at 6 million tons per annum—then we must have an assurance about the operation of this scheme over the next five years, and, if possible, even beyond that date.
It is of particular importance to my constituents to know what the demand is likely to be, because not only are we large consumers of lime on our land, but we also have some of the finest lime works in the country in our area. After all, Settle lime and Spencer lime are world famous names, and it is important that the industry should know what demands are likely to be made upon it over the next few years.
I welcome this Bill, the first one in 1954. It is a very good beginning to the year. Its provisions will assist in increasing food production, and, by continuing these schemes of help to the farmer, this Bill will give fresh confidence in the future of this industry.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
This debate has been a useful one around a Bill that is all bits and pieces. There have been some complaints from the Government benches because we on this side of the House have attempted to talk from the point of view of a long-term policy for the agricultural industry. We are accused of introducing party politics into agriculture. But I remember that when hon. Members opposite were in Opposition they always spoke of the necessity for a long-term policy for agriculture. We used to point out to them that we already had such a policy under the 1947 Act, but they said that that was not enough. Time after time we used to hear from hon. Members opposite that if only they, with their wonderful understanding of the industry, were in power they would provide it with a long-term policy.
However, that is something that the present Government have not done. Surely, however, it is right that the Opposition should call attention to that, and, 918 when the opportunity arises, that we should also call the attention of the Government to the fact that there is considerable apprehension, doubt and anxiety in the farming industry despite what the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) and the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) have said. They seemed to suggest that all this was a figment of our imagination. I can only ask them where they spend their recesses and what farming papers they read. Do they only read the speeches of Members of the Government and of those whose job it is to answer for and excuse the Government's policy?
I do not propose to follow this line because, frankly, I think we can welcome this little Bill. It certainly does a few essential things that require to be done, and, in the case of water supplies, field drainage and the liming subsidy, it is necessary that we should have legislation which will dispel some of the doubt which may be in the minds of farmers regarding the continuation of these grants. I also welcome the fact that no time limit is proposed in the Bill. For many reasons, it is necessary to have a degree of permanency regarding these grants.
In passing, I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell the House whether the cost of grants under these schemes will be part of the computation in the Price Review. Will it be charged against the cost, and taken into consideration in the Price Review, as part of the payment to farmers of the price which they ought to be getting as a result of their cost of production, and so on?
As regards the degree of permanency of the grants, I think it is absolutely essential, for the sake of the people who are working within this branch of the Ministry of Agriculture, that they should have some idea as to continuation of employment. It is essential for efficiency, and for the recruitment of good staff, that they should have some such idea. Referring to payment for field drainage as a whole, I understood some time ago—I do not know what the position is today and I am asking the question—that not only were grants being made but that the Ministry was, in fact, suffering a loss on its trading account—a loss on the jobs which it was doing for farmers. Can we 919 be told whether we have balanced the budget on the Ministry's contract work there? I am sorry I did not give the Parliamentary Secretary notice of this point, but I should imagine that he will know. If he does not, he will probably tell us later.
The reference made by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), to these ditching and under-drainage schemes seemed to me to be of considerable importance. After all, it is of very little use the farmer doing something about his mole, tile and ditch draining if the ditches between his farm and the main rivers which come under the various boards have not been cleaned—if they will not permit the drained water to run away. The Heneage Report dealt with this point, but the Report has not yet been implemented and I feel sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will take the opportunity tonight to give use some idea of what the Minister has in mind about this gap, as it now is, in the drainage arrangements of the country.
The Report was presented fairly early in 1951, I think that the Minister ought by now to be in a position to tell us what he proposes to do about this gap which exists between the farms and the main rivers. Uncertainty is undoubtedly caused by the delay. The County Councils' Association is in some difficulty about this and, I gather, have been passing resolutions asking the Minister to do something about it—and they are not likely to do anything themselves until the Minister has take a decision. If the county councils have to do the job with some assistance from the Ministry they should be told. If the recommendations of the Heneage Report are to be adopted and carried out then those most concerned should know as soon as possible, in order that they may get on with this job of controlling the water courses for which no drainage authority is at present responsible.
Ditching appeared to reach the peak in 1948. Can the Minister tell us whether the slight falling off which occurred after that date has stopped and whether we are now doing more ditching than, say, last year and the years before? I think we ought to know these things before parting with this Bill. It certainly 920 gives us an opportunity of asking these questions and, we hope, getting an answer.
We also welcome the water supply grants. This proposal will be of considerable help to the agricultural industry. It will help the rural areas, and I think that the maximum possible in this connection should be done not only to benefit agricultural land but also to assist farm workers, their wives, and so on, in their habitations.
Last week-end I received a complaint to the effect that quite often when a local authority is considering carrying out a water scheme it approaches local farmers and ascertains how many taps and so on they require, and, then eventually, when the local authority gets to the point of carrying the mains through the village and past the farms quite often its representatives never go near the farmer again to inquire whether he will, in fact, take the water. There is no salesmanship attached to the project at all.
I should have thought that having taken the trouble to make these inquiries, the local authorities would do something about following them up and ensuring that the supply is taken. It might be said that it is the job of the farmer to run round after them, but farmers do not always work that way. Something should be done to induce local authorities which are water authorities to follow up their first approach to the farmer so as to ensure that a water supply is laid on where it is needed and where it can do so much to help to make things a little easier for the farmers, their wives and, certainly, for the farm workers and their wives.
I have not much to say about liming, except that we want to see it increased. I agree with the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) that here is something which is of outstanding value to the farming community. The more liming that we can get done in certain areas the better it will be for agriculture as a whole and for production within the industry. I should like to know whether the Minister proposes to continue what I understood initially was a temporary measure—namely, covering the cost of spreading. Is it his intention to continue with this, and will the grant remain at the present figure of some 70 per cent.? I 921 am not quite sure if the Minister covered this point. Even if he did, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will refer to it again and tell us whether the cost of spreading will be retained and will remain at some 70 per cent.
On smallholdings, it is true that this Bill merely gives legal consent to what, I gather, is already the administrative practice. In this connection, there have been some very useful points put from both sides of the House about the necessity of maintaining and encouraging smallholdings. Obviously, the loss of people from the land is not wholly a matter of wages. A number of other factors come into this consideration, and I feel that many first-class people are being lost to the land because men of excellent brain and managerial capacity feel that they have no opportunity of promotion.
A big factor in retaining people in an industry is that they should be given opportunities for promotion. In saying this, I want to make it clear that I do not want to see this a country of smallholders. I do not want to see it become a country with a peasant economy, because I do not think it would be a good thing for agriculture. I do not think it would be a good thing for the country as a whole.
I should very much like to see a larger number of smallholdings made available, in order that people who are now debarred as a result of the lack of smallholdings may get their feet on to the agricultural ladder. It may be that previous Governments have failed to do all that they might have done in this connection. All I am doing now is to urge the Minister to think again about this matter, to have a look at the whole thing and to see whether there is not a possibility of meeting some of the points which have been made with regard to the necessity for a greater ladder of promotion for those who are working on the land.
The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) touched, rightly, on the contribution of the sugar beet industry being used for research and education. He talked, rightly, about the increased number of machines which are being used to lift sugar beet. Anybody who has ever done any lifting of sugar beet in the frosty time of the year will realise that 922 it is an excellent thing to use machines instead of human beings. Any little additional contribution which can be made from this industry will be well spent if it is spent partly on research, general education, the better use of fertilisers, and so on. Although the tonnage per acre grown has gone up considerably there is still some room for improvement.
I wonder whether there is not also someone else who should make a contribution towards this education and research. There is another part of this sugar industry which, I gather, is a very profitable one. I see no reason why, besides the farmer and the Corporation, the sugar refiners should not consider making a contribution towards research and education. I have looked at last year's trading profits of one of these great firms, Tate and Lyle, Limited—a £13 million firm—and I find that it has gone up to an all-time record of £4,605,143, a jump of £684,600 on the previous year. The ordinary dividend is 16per cent. for the year, with a capital increased by a 33⅓ per cent. share bonus. This is equal to 21⅓ per cent. on the old capital, as against 20 per cent. I cannot help thinking that firms which make all that money should be asked by the Ministry to make a contribution towards research and education, which has become a vital part of our fanning economy.
§ Mr. Drayson
If the hon. Member looked more closely at the accounts of this company he would realise that it spends a considerable amount of money on research, as it does on all matters connected with its products.
§ Mr. Champion
If it can spend so much money on "Mr. Cube" advertisements before Elections, it might spend a little on a really worth while job of research. I think we might call upon such companies to make some such contribution, and I hope that the Minister will look at that point between now and the Committee stage. It will be something for him to think about in the intervening period.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, although we do not regard this Bill as one that will do all that is necessary for the agricultural industry—indeed, we think it is a small thing—we 923 believe that it is desirable and, in the circumstances, it is the intention of the Opposition to support it on Second Reading. We shall examine its various Clauses between now and the Committee stage, when we shall put down such Amendments as will appear to us to make it a better Bill, small though it is.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
We have had a fairly long and, I think, interesting debate, with speeches from all parts of the House, and very few aspects of this somewhat diverse Bill have not been touched upon. In meeting such criticism as there has been, I have to speak more for what is not in the Bill than for what is, and I shall deal first with the general criticism, which came from the Opposition, about what was not in the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was particularly critical that the Government, and my right hon. Friend in particular, had missed this opportunity, as the right hon. Gentleman thought, of saying something that would clarify the position in the farming industry and, as he thought, give further confidence. With one or two notable exceptions, in particular that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), whose contributions are always much appreciated, in most of the speeches from the other side of the House there was a general preamble accusing the Government of not doing anything particularly positive and complaining that there was a state of great uncertainty in the farming world. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) said something of the sort, too, though I must congratulate him on following the debate with such interest. I should like to make a brief reply on the general point.
The charge that farmers do not know what is happening now and that they are in a great state of uncertainty and ignorance really is not true. The Government have stated quite clearly and categorically what is intended. In our White Paper of last November on the decontrol of food and the marketing of agricultural produce we made perfectly plain the kind of guarantees we intended, and the broad struc- 924 ture of marketing we proposed; the evolving of these new arrangements has been pursued most urgently and persistently ever since and, of course, it is at present going on as fast as it can. It really does not fit the facts to say that there is this general state of uncertainty today. We have stated, my right hon. Friend has stated, the Prime Minister has stated, that our policy is one of maintaining full production.
We are quite aware that there are surpluses in North America and that world prices are tending downwards, but we still believe that it is good value for our people in this country to maintain full production of food even at some cost to the Exchequer, and we still stick to our policy of raising production to a level of 60 per cent. above pre-war. We have stated that categorically. I am saying these things now because I feel they should be put on the record and that everybody should know clearly that there is no doubt whatever about these things.
This operation we are putting through now is a very big and complex one. It is full of difficulties of all sorts and kinds, and we have to reconcile the interests of producers, distributors and consumers. What we want above everything is a general attitude of good faith and patience and understanding on all sides in order to get through this big and difficult operation to the benefit of producers and consumers. I am quite convinced that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are just as keen as the Government on seeing that production on our farms is fully maintained and continuously increased during this difficult time.
I do not think that there is today that state of uncertainty and disturbance in the minds of our farmers that might have been said to have been there, perhaps, last autumn. I believe that there is now a general clarification of what the Government are trying to do. I am not saying for a minute, nor are any of my hon. Friends, that there is not anxiety. Of course there is anxiety. Many farmers who were farming in pre-war days, particularly in the 1920s, remember what happened when world prices took a downward turn then. The anxiety today is for the same reason—because they see surpluses of food accumulating in North America and a downward trend of world prices.
925 I suggest that that anxiety is progressively being differentiated from Government policy. Government policy is not responsible for the anxiety; Government policy is trying—and is succeeding—to evolve a structure of price and market guarantees which would stand up in those conditions and which will give the people of this country freedom of choice and freedom to buy what they like, from wherever it may come.
I thank you for your patience, Sir, in allowing me to go that far, for I felt, in answering points concerning what was not in the Bill, that those things needed saying. What we have stated in the way of our general intention clearly defines the general outline of my right hon. Friend's policy. I much appreciated the support which I had from my hon. Friends, particularly the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), in dealing with this point.
To come to the particular criticisms of the Bill, a large part of the comment was directed at Clauses 4 to6, which deal with the amendments to the procedure under Part II of the Agriculture Act. Here again my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon had some very valuable and helpful comments to make. I am not quite sure that I agree with the end of his speech, but I will undertake that we will look at that matter very carefully.
These amendments in Clauses 4 to 6, which will amend the procedure of tribunals, are introduced, as my right hon. Friend said in his speech opening the debate, simply to make a system which is working well work in some respects even a little better. I should like to record my confidence in the system, as did my right hon. Friend. I feel it has worked well. I should like, too, to record my appreciation of the members of the tribunals, who have undoubtedly had a heavy and difficult job to do and who have established for themselves a good reputation with the entire responsible representative farming bodies and, I think, with every thoughtful person in the farming world. They are generally recognised as being fair and efficient bodies who have done this difficult job in a thoroughly just and workmanlike manner.
The suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Belper that my right hon. Friend was making in any way a gesture 926 or offering a sop to the opponents of Part II of the Act can be completely discounted. In fact, the right hon. Member for Belper himself discounted it as he went along, because he was careful to explain, as he went Clause by Clause through Clauses 4, 5 and 6, that there was no substance in them to give any comfort to the opponents of Part II. There the right hon. Gentleman was quite right, because the changes were not intended for that reason but simply to make a few practical improvements.
I think the right hon. Gentleman had no comment to make about the fact that the Lord Chancellor will now make the appointments of the other members.
§ Mr. Nugent
The Lord Chancellor will in name be making the appointments, as opposed to my right hon. Friend, who has been making them up to the present. The right hon. Gentleman was, however, more critical on this question of dealing with vexatious or unfair proceedings brought before the tribunals, such as have occurred once or twice when a party has been penalised by the other party continually bringing the case for ward. We feel that the amendment suggested here, of allowing the tribunal to award costs, will effectively deal with this problem. We propose that the tribunal shall have full discretion to decide when costs shall be awarded, and we believe that we can safely trust them to award these costs in a proper manner and that that will be an adequate deterrent to the kind of vexatious or malicious practice which has occurred in the past.
I think that I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, who is particularly concerned about the third provision and the delay involved there, that although, of course, there will be a delay, we hope that it will be limited to some four to six months in an appeal to the High Court. On the other hand, one has to balance against that delay the added public confidence which will be given to this system, and one must take account of the minds of responsible people generally outside the farming world who have not understood, all the considerations of how the tribunals work and who have thought that there was a deficiency in the system if there was no appeal to the High Court.
927 I believe that the additional time involved will be justified by the greater public confidence. There will be an appeal from the High Court to the Court of Appeal if the High Court gives permission for such an appeal to be made. I understand that the High Court for this purpose will be the Divisional Court with three judges sitting, and therefore they would need to be persuaded that it was a particularly good case before they would agree to a further appeal.
Taking the general picture of these amendments which we propose, I believe that they will not deter or discourage county agricultural committees in their work, and that in so far as they further increase public confidence in the working of the tribunals and the whole process of Part II, the county committees will welcome them. I should like to pay my tribute to the county agricultural committees. I think that it cannot be said too often that they are public-spirited men and women doing a job voluntarily and giving up their own time and energy to carry out a responsible and sometimes difficult task. They certainly do a very admirable job both for the industry and the community as a whole.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in my contacts in the country I have found that the county committees are well aware of the difficulties, especially where there are pockets of hostile public opinion against them, and I do not think that they are in any way deterred from carrying out a job which they know to be essential. My right hon. Friend restated his confidence in the system. We recognise that it is an essential part of the general structure of guaranteed prices and markets for the produce of our farms, and the nation as a whole naturally wishes to know that a reasonable standard of husbandry is being maintained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) made a speech—I am sorry to see that he is not in the Chamber—to which some of my hon. Friends have already replied. I think that if he feels these things so keenly, he should study the facts more closely. I was glad to see that he noticed the amendments proposed would give even further safeguards to the interests of fanners who are threatened with dispossession. But in the general picture 928 it cannot be said too often that the greatest care is taken by the county committees, tribunals and everyone concerned before ever a case is considered for dispossession. It is only when a farmer has shown himself totally unable or unwilling to cultivate the land on his farm that a county committee moves to dispossess him. I am quite certain that the kind of injustice that my hon. Friend thinks takes place is a complete illusion, and I ask him once again to study the facts and inform himself upon them. We shall, of course, have further opportunities of discussing the details of these Clauses in committee.
Turning to Clause 1 on land drainage, I should like to deal shortly with some of the many points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East asked whether the grant for land drainage was included in the Price Review. The answer is that it does not come directly into it, as it is a capital payment.
The right hon. Member for Belper raised a point about maintenance. When a farmer signs the agreement for a drainage scheme, he gives an undertaking that he will maintain the scheme. He has, therefore, a specific obligation. I am not saying that every scheme is fully maintained. It is an anxiety to know how to improve the system. A general system of supervision would be difficult to operate. No less than 24,000 schemes come forward annually, I doubt also whether the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) would be practical. When schemes come to an average of only about £50 each, it would be impracticable to withhold part of the money and pay it over a period of 10 years. By the time that 10 years had elapsed, there would be inspections of a quarter of a million ditching schemes annually.
§ Mr. Nugent
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East asked for the figures of drainage schemes over the last few years. In 1949–50 there were over 29,000 and in the previous year over 33,000. They dropped in 1950–51 to 23,000 and in 1951–52 to 21,900. In 1952–53 they came up again to 24,600 and 929 in 1953–54 to 27,000. The amount involved in 1948–49 was just under £1 million and now, in 1953–54, the annual cost is estimated at nearly £1,500,000. I think we can say, therefore, that although there was some dropping off two or three years ago, the tendency is now for the number of schemes again to increase, and they are coming forward at a satisfactory rate. It is encouraging to hear Members in all parts of the House welcome the continuation of the scheme.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) and others about the Heneage Report. The position is that the consultations have still not been completed. That is to say, entire agreement has not been reached on what course is to be taken. The local authority organisations, the river boards, the Association of Drainage Authorities, the National Farmers' Union and the C.L.A. have been consulted. That covers the whole field of all the bodies who are interested. Work in this connection has, perhaps, been somewhat handicapped in the past year, because the section of the Department principally engaged with this sort of work has been very preoccupied with the repair of the sea defences following the floods of last year. But the whole problem will shortly be coming forward, and my right hon. Friend will be giving it his consideration.
Clause 2, on lime, was also generally welcomed. My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) asked whether it was my right hon. Friend's intention to continue this year and in the future with the same schemes as we have at present. The answer is that schemes may be varied from year to year. The Bill gives power for a five years' period and for further periods of five years; but within that, schemes may be brought forward at any time. It is possible that following the Price Review, another scheme will be brought forward appropriate, as we think, for the particular year.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East asked whether it was intended to continue the subsidy on spreading and the special summer subsidy of 70 per cent. The answer in this case is the same: we will wait and see after the Price Review. After the last Price Review, there was a special allocation to the lime subsidy in order to permit an extra 930 £1,250,000 to be devoted to this purpose. We will have to see after the coming Price Review whether a similar arrangement is appropriate. But the result of last year's arrangements has been an increase, which will be probably a record, of over one million tons of lime, making a total of some six million tons of lime for spreading.
I was asked a number of questions about smallholdings, and I should like to reiterate the point made by my right hon. Friend the Minister that there is no alteration in principle in Clause 3. Subsection (1) does no more than raise the rent limit for holdings between 50 and 75 acres. Holdings under 50 acres have never had a rent limit, and what was fixed was a full, fair rent irrespective of any limit of any kind.
Holdings between 50 and 75 acres have had this limit in the past, obviously with the intention of preventing the rent for any statutory small-holding becoming too high. We have only shifted the maximum from £150 to £250 in order to meet a practical need and to fulfil what has been happening in practice. There is nothing sinister or new in that at all.
I was asked a number of questions about progress with new smallholdings. The position is that in the two years 1949–51 there were 89 acquisitions and in the years 1951–53 there were 56. But there is a rather better record for improvements. As the House will know, the county councils have been preoccupied with the improvement of their existing holdings as required under the 1947 Act, and in the years 1949 to 1951 they made 299 improvement schemes to smallholdings. In the years 1951 to 1953 they raised that figure by 504, so they evidently devoted a good deal of their time to bringing up their existing holdings to the proper standard of equipment, size and so on.
I acknowledge the point which has been made by several hon. Members that the progress in the creation of new smallholdings is going forward slowly, but that is inevitable in the nature of things and something that I am quite sure the hon. Members will recognize as being sensible as a policy. We must never forget in this connection that nearly two-thirds of our holdings, or something like 200,000 holdings in this country, are 50 acres or under. To a very large extent we are 931 already a country of smallholdings, so that there is a very wide opportunity for any young man who wishes to make a start on a farm to find a small farm on which to make that start.
In forming new smallholdings, which can only be created by buying existing farm land and probably breaking up existing large farms, we must be careful to see that we keep the right balance between the sociological considerations which we all have in mind, such as the first rung on the ladder and so on, and at the same time having in mind the economic need of theindustry to preserve a good number of large holdings which can take full advantage of modern mechanisation. I think the present rate will probably stand up to scrutiny.
I was asked one or two questions about sugar beet on Clause 7. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) dealt comprehensively with the question of research and the problem of virus yellows which is very prevalent today. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sedge field (Mr. Slater) asked me about the prospects for new factories, and the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) also questioned me on that subject. I recognise certain passages which I have seen in the document which has been fairly widely circulated. The last word on the new factory was that said by my righthon. Friend before Christmas in answer to a Parliamentary Question, when he announced that he was setting up a group of Departmental officials to examine the project of a new factory for sugar beet. In due course he will receive their report and will then be in a position to consider whether or not he can recommend it.
On Clause 8 I was asked questions on the collection of food waste, particularly by the right hon. Member for Belper and by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), who found themselves in agreement that the central processing policy was of particular value as an insurance against the spread of 932 disease. That policy of central sterilisation is still, broadly, the policy of the Government, and my right hon. Friend said in his opening speech that for the present the Government are retaining the Defence Regulation which allows the licensing of collection in the urban areas. The use of it will be determined solely by animal health considerations; that is to say, after inspecting the sterilising plant of an individual farmer who wishes to collect in the urban area, the licence will be granted if the plant is satisfactory on animal health considerations.
Those regulations are being retained until my right hon. Friend has a chance to see the Gowers Report on foot-and-mouth disease. That will then give him the opportunity to review the entire picture in order to see whether the existing legislation with regard to the use of waste food, which simply requires the boiling of it, is sufficient as the permanent legislation in this field, or whether it is necessary to go further in order to ensure a greater degree of central sterilisation than would occur otherwise; so that consideration is certainly not lost sight of and is still very much in our minds.
I think that covers the main points put to me, but I should perhaps pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Lambert) for his interesting speech on bees, which calls for no reply from me. What is being done will help to preserve the health and profitability of the bees in this country by controlling the import of diseased bees and will be an advantage.
In conclusion, may I commend this small but heterogeneous Bill to the House? It is full of small, valuable measures which will be helpful to the industry in carrying out its job of feeding the nation.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second Time, and committed to a Standing Committee.