HC Deb 13 December 1955 vol 547 cc1139-65

Order for Second Reading read.

10.15 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. D. Heathcoat Amory)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This small Bill is consequential on the steps that the Government have decided on for reorganising the arrangements for agricultural research. I announced these proposals to the House in a broad way in answer to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) on 5th May. I will refer to them again in a minute.

I think that the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) will agree with me that agricultural research has a long record of achievement in which the enterprise of agriculturists and scientists has been in fruitful partnership with the State. The first moves were made in the 1840's, when Sir John Lawes and Dr. Gilbert began their fertiliser experiments. These led to the establishment of the famous Rothamsted Experimental Station, and then the Long Ashton Station emerged early in the present century. This was followed by three other horticultural stations, the John Innes Horticultural Institution, the East Malling Fruit Research Station and the Cheshunt Experimental Station and by 1912 the Dairy Research Institute at Reading.

In 1909 the Development Fund, which was established under the inspiration of the distinguished father of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary, provided substantial help from public funds for agricultural research. Then the universities and colleges played their part and, by the 1920's, there was a varied collection of research institutions.

The work grew and the need for co-ordination also grew. In 1931 the Agricultural Research Council was born, and today the A.R.C. occupies a key place in the agricultural research picture. It is a chartered body established by Order in Council and is responsible to a specially constituted committee of the Privy Council. It has been very fortunate in that many distinguished scientists and agriculturists have willingly given their services and help to the Agricultural Research Council. The present Chairman is that distinguished member of another place, Lord Rothschild.

When the A.R.C. was set up its main function was to advise agricultural departments about the programmes of the institutes, that is to say institutes which already existed and were at that time financed from the Development Fund. As time passed and the Agricultural Research Council found its feet, it was perhaps natural that it should carry out research itself, and hence there grew up in parallel with the institutes to which I have already referred a new series of institutes directly financed by the A.R.C. The Agricultural Research Council itself also financed directly a number of research units, mainly in university departments. An example of that is the Virus Research Unit at Cambridge. It also made special grants for research work by individual workers, and training grants and travelling fellowships as well for post-graduate work.

An indication of the scale of the Agricultural Research Council's present activities can be given from the figure taken from the revised Estimates of the current year. The Council is at present spending on research institutes about £950.000 a year; on research units £210,000; on special research grants £180,000 and on training grants and travelling fellowships £40,000. Turning that into net expenditure, it adds up to £1,200,000. Apart from these directly financed activities, the Agricultural Research Council in recent years has been responsible for scientific policy and scientific direction in the institutes which were set up before it came into existence and others which have been established since. Since these institutes ceased, in 1946, to be financed from the Development Fund, so far as the financing and general administration goes, the responsibility has fallen on my Department and on the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, and the net total expenditure of these institutes falling on our two Departments is about £2,300,000 a year on the Vote of my Department and £600,000 on the Vote of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland.

From what I have said it is obvious that there must be a disadvantage in an arrangement of this kind where responsibility is divided and sub-divided in a rather complicated way. The Select Committee on Estimates in its Report last year—I bow to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) who was chairman of that Committee—suggested that overall economies could be obtained if all research institutes were brought under the administration of the Agricultural Research Council. As the Select Committee said at that time, that matter was actually already before Ministers, and I announced in the House last May that the Government had decided that it would be an advantage to agricultural research in England and Wales if the grant-aiding functions that my Ministry exercise were transferred to the Research Council.

That means that the financial and general administration as well as the scientific direction for the grant-aided research institutes in England and Wales will be unified under the Council. The institutes that will be transferred from my Ministry's Vote to the Council will continue to remain under their separate governing bodies.

We are proposing to make an exception in the case of Scotland. Governments of all parties are always ready to recognise that there may be special circumstances north of the Border, and in view of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs, we have reached the conclusion that on balance it would be better not to make the changes in Scotland that we are proposing for England and Wales.

I should like to refer to one important point I mentioned in the announcement to which I referred and which I made last May. I said then that we fully recognised the importance of linking agricultural research effectively to the needs of the agricultural industry, and again I think the right hon. Member for Don Valley will feel with me that that is very important indeed. We think the best way of ensuring this is to associate the agricultural Ministers extremely closely with the Lord President in the supervision of the Agricultural Research Council by the Privy Council Committee, and that the best way to do so would be to reconstitute the Privy Council Committee so that it consists in the future only of the Lord President and the two agricultural Ministers. An Order will be submitted in due course for the approval of Her Majesty in Council to give effect to this.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I will thus maintain the close contact we have at present with agricultural research policy, and our interests will be further safeguarded by an amendment we seek to the Charter of the Agricultural Research Council which will provide that the two Departments shall have direct representation on the Council. Incidentally, I should like to say to hon. Gentlemen that if they wish to look at the Charter of the Agricultural Research Council, there is a copy in the Library of the House.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 6th December, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will in future answer in this House on matters concerning the Agricultural Research Council, which explains my presence tonight, since this Bill relates to the Agricultural Research Council rather than to my own Department.

I wish to refer briefly to the Bill itself. It can be described strictly as dealing with a rather technical financial point, consequential upon the reorganisation which we have in mind.

One of the main consequences of the changes which I have described will be a transfer of funds for agricultural research from my Department to the Council. The result, as the House will see from the figures which I have already given, will be that the Council's annual expenditure will be increased from about £1,200,000 to about £3,500,000. The change we propose is of course merely an accounting change, and will not involve any additional financial commitment.

At present, the Council's grant of £1,200,000 is provided on the Vote of the Treasury, but I think the House would agree that it is undesirable that the Vote of the Treasury, which at present carries a very large number of what I might call miscellaneous items, should be further increased. On the contrary, we think that the Treasury Vote ought to be relieved entirely of any charge for agricultural research. The main purpose of this little Bill is to bring the Council's funds under a separate head, so that the Council will itself be accountable for the moneys it spends. Under the new arrangement the Secretary of the Council, and no longer the accounting officer of the Treasury, will be the accounting officer for these funds, and he will appear before the Public Accounts Committee.

The method we have adopted to achieve this end is to set up an Agricultural Research Fund which will be fed by an annual grant in aid from Parliament. The Council will be accountable for it. We have adopted this method, rather in parallel with the Forestry Fund, so as not to constitute the Council as a Vote-financed Government Department of the normal type, because that would have involved turning certain research workers into civil servants.

I hope the House will agree that the Bill itself is more or less self-explanatory. The only provision which I need single out for mention at this stage is that contained in Clause 1 (1), under which the Council is, for the first time, charged by Statute with the responsibility of organisation and development of agricultural research. The ultimate Ministerial control remains with the Privy Council Committee, whose power to give directions to the Council, already provided for under the Council's Charter, is now given statutory force.

I think that the House will agree that legislation, however well designed, can only be a framework within which the men concerned, by the quality of their work—either as individuals or as teams—can make or mar the success of any scheme. I should like to end my remarks with a tribute to the scientists, upon whose efforts the quality of our agricultural research ultimately depends. I am certain that it is as a result of their work that our Agricultural Research Service commands very great respect both here and overseas. We have been able to attract to that Service a body of extremely able men as directors and as staffs of the research institutes and other research organisations.

In all this the Council itself has done a lot to help. Together with the leadership of the directors of the institutes, it has also enabled the research workers to feel a sense of cohesion and direction in their work. The time has now come, without any doubt, for the new arrangements of the kind I have described to be put into effect, if the men and the facilities available are to continue to be used to the best advantage in the service of the agricultural industry, and I invite the House with confidence to give this small Bill a Second Reading.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)

As the Minister said, this is a very small Bill. I should like to ease the minds of the Minister and other hon. Members as quickly as I can by saying that we have no intention of dividing against the Bill, so that if they prefer their beds they are at liberty to depart.

As the right hon. Gentleman has gone through the history of the Agricultural Research Council, I imagine that there is no need for me to repeat it or even to comment upon it. As I understand the Bill, it merely transfers the financial control for the Agricultural Research Council from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Secretary of State to the Treasury.

If, in accordance with the recommendation of the Select Committee on Estimates, the transfer is regarded merely as a tidying up of administration, we shall have no complaint to make. On the other hand, I am a little apprehensive of the two Ministers responsible for food production being replaced by the Treasury where funds for research are concerned. I hope that this does not mean that an all-powerful Treasury who know all about dessicated calculating machines but not much about agricultural research, will restrict the activities of the Agricultural Research Council through lack of funds.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the joint efforts of the Agricultural Research Council, with all the staff it has been able to bring together in either universities or institutes, and the National Agricultural Advisory Service have achieved considerable success over the past few years. I recall that the Minister recently told the House about the increase in the yields of livestock, milk, cereals, root crops and all the rest. That was not an accident; it was due to the joint effort of all the scientists who are helping in this kind of work.

It would be tragic, however, if this progress were in any way retarded by limiting the funds available for research. I am one of those who believe that research in agriculture, as in all other industries, is perhaps more important today than ever in our history, and indeed is paying good dividends.

I notice these words beginning in line 7 of Clause 1: …subject to any directions from time to time given by a Committee of the Privy Council for agricultural research consisting of the Lord President of the Council and such other members as Her Majesty may from time to time appoint. Apparently the Committee can give directions to the Agricultural Research Council. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions, and I am sure that he can answer the first quickly: apart from the Lord President of the Council, who are likely to be the other members of the Privy Council who constitute this Committee?

Mr. Amory

Myself and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Williams

That is reassuring since at least the answer gives some satisfaction in the knowledge that the two production Ministers will not be completely divorced from contact with agricultural research.

Secondly, in Clause 1 (3) appear the words: Payments out of and into the Agricultural Research Fund… shall be, made… in such manner as the Treasury may from time to time direct. Does that mean that the Committee of the Privy Council can give directions only within the limit of the funds made available by the Treasury? If the sum available in any one year is mortgaged by grants to universities, institutes, and the rest, is it possible that any directions given by this Committee of the Privy Council could be frustrated? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could answer that question.

Mr. Amory

The Agricultural Research Council will in future have a Vote of its own and it will be accountable straight to Parliament. I shall reply for the Council in the House of Commons on that Vote. I think the reference which the right hon. Member has made to Treasury control is really on the form of accounts and the way in which the money will be accounted for, and not the control of expenditure.

Mr. Williams

I only make this observation to get the thing straight and to remove any doubts or misapprehensions which might exist about it. I am only anxious to know that the Treasury will not be the all-powerful body which can determine exactly the sum of money that shall be made available to the Agricultural Research Council.

Mr. Amory

I do not want to argue about the degree of power of the Treasury. The amount of money available will be controlled by the amount voted directly by Parliament to the Agricultural Research Council.

Mr. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I am sure, that I have had some contact with the Treasury over a long time and that I know just how "sticky" it can be. I am asking these questions only because I want to be satisfied that the two production Ministers, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland, should at least remain in the research picture. That is the whole substance of my comment.

When I was at the Ministry I was very proud of the system of two-way traffic we then had, and still have, of the National Agricultural Service picking up problems in the field, handing them on to the Agricultural Improvement Council which sifted those problems and fixed certain priorities and transmitted them to the Agricultural Research Council and, finally, any solutions or discoveries that were made were handed on to the National Agricultural Service which brought them to the notice of the average farmer in the field. That is why yields have been increasing in the past few years and we have had dividends on the expenditure.

I think we pay a very small sum for agricultural research—0¼3 per cent., as Lord Rothschild said the other day at a meeting of the Farmers' Club. I know of no better system than the one we have in existence here. I hope, therefore, that this small Bill means no cutting down of funds for agricultural research. We need more rather than less research into farming problems so that our farmers can meet fair competition from any quarter. I repeat that it is not our intention to divide against the Second Reading.

10.38 p.m.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

I do not want to traverse the ground so successfully covered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), but there are a couple of points I wish to raise on this very useful Bill.

The first is that I see from subsection (6) of Clause 1 that the Agricultural Research Council shall prepare annual reports and, presumably, it will get an annual grant. I wonder whether the Minister would consider treating the Council in exactly the same way as the universities are treated through the University Grants Committee and that research funds should be on a quinquennial basis instead of an annual basis. An agricultural research department of a university is covered by the quinquennial grant both for capital expenditure and for revenue expenditure. The head of a department of agriculture at a university can plan ahead for five years, but the Agricultural Research Council will be unable to do that with the same freedom.

I think the Minister will agree that agricultural research does not fall automatically into a year of 365 days, but is a continuing thing. A lot of the work of the Council in the past has been of a continuous nature, spreading over a number of years. I think it would be much better if the Council had exactly the same facilities as a university department and were able to plan ahead with the assurance that over a longer period than is provided by an annual grant it would not have its grant interfered with or altered.

It is quite probable that in the middle of a useful piece of agricultural research the Agricultural Research Council may find that it needs to alter quite considerably its ideas on capital construction. It may need a new building for a new piece of research, for example. Would it be able to go to the Minister, with the consent of the Treasury, to ask for an additional grant for that year, or must it defer the building until such time as it can get the approval in the next financial year? There is strength and wisdom in giving to the Research Council the power and authority to plan its research over a longer period than it is able to do at present.

My second point concerns the dissemination of information from the Agricultural Research Council to the farmer. My right hon. Friend is a little happier than I am about the way in which the farmer is getting this information from the Research Council. My experience is that the information is there if one digs it out. The officers of the National Agricultural Advisory Service are not sufficiently numerous to be able to go to the farmer with the information that the farmer wants. My experience is that the farmer is astonishingly ignorant of the facilities of the Research Council and of its findings.

If the average farmer had a problem, I doubt whether he would know exactly where to go to get the answer. I know he could go to his agricultural executive committee or to the N.A.A.S. office in his locality and get it, but there is at the moment a gap between the information which the Agricultural Research Council has and the farmer who needs that advice.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Would not the hon. Member make any distinction between the effective way in which information is disseminated to horticultural growers as distinct from farmers?

Sir L. Plummer

I am obliged to thc hon. and gallant Gentleman for making that distinction and stressing my point. The horticulturist is infinitely better off than is the average farmer.

I ask the Minister to consider particularly the dissemination of information on machinery. I believe that our farms are getting over-mechanised; that is to say, too many farms have too much unsuitable machinery. I wish that we could have, through the Agricultural Research Council's magnificent work at Silsoe, a consumer council, as it were, to which the farmer could refer when he wanted advice about machinery, an organisation to which he could go with his particular problem and ask whether a certain machine which had been tested at Silsoe by the Research Council was suitable for his purpose.

There is too much blind buying, too much buying on the recommendation of the salesman, and there is too much information contained in the Agricultural Research Council about machinery which somehow or other does not percolate through to the farmer. I am not suggesting how this should be done, but it ought to be done and the Minister, with his advisers, is in a position to organise it. I hope that in this new life which the Agricultural Research Council is to have, in which I wish it the greatest success, attention will be paid to seeing that the farmer gets, in the simplest possible language and as easily as he can, the most up-to-date information on machinery in the possession of the Council.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

I follow the last point made by the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) by saying that I have found that the machinery officer of an agricultural executive committee is very well informed—it may be that I am particularly lucky in my area—and does have the results of the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering at Silsoe available, provided, of course, that the farmer takes the trouble or has the knowledge to inquire.

The hon. Gentleman's second point, about allowing universities to plan five years ahead, is sound, but I hope that in the foreseeable future there will not be any question of cutting down the funds available for agricultural research, because they are relatively small. After all, 0.3 per cent. is not large, and considering the enormous production which that expenditure has brought forth in the past ten years, it is clear that the yield for that investment is a very high one indeed.

Sir L. Plummer

Is the hon. Gentleman assuming that I was arguing in favour of cutting down the grant for research?

Mr. Hill

Not for one moment. I was entirely in sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point. The universities should be able to plan five years ahead. I merely wanted to emphasise that I hope there will be no question of cutting down, because there seem to be large gaps which need to be filled. I hope, also, that the co-ordinating powers which the Agricultural Research Council will now have will be used to see not only that there is no overlapping in research, because, clearly, that is likely to be wasteful both of money and of talent, but also to fill in the gaps where we need answers to some of the problems which bear upon our production.

Unless agricultural research is directly related to increased and cheaper production it is not of very great value. We need to keep our feet well on the ground, even to the point of getting them muddy, in seeing that agricultural research is for the benefit of farming. There is, of course, the part played by private research. I do not think we should over- look that. In my experience, many firms are spending large sums of money in pure research and offer extremely good advisory services of their own which supplement the work of the National Advisory Service. I hope that the Research Council will be able to include private work in its general survey of what is being done and needs to be done.

It seems to me very important that the right people should be attracted into agricultural research. I think it fair to say that unless one loves farming one probably will not make a good agricultural scientist. Nevertheless, one hopes that the fullest opportunities will be taken to attract scientists keen on agriculture, so that they may feel they have as favourable a chance of becoming famous and of receiving good rewards here as they would have in any other field of research.

10.48 p.m.

Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)

I would thank the Minister for his references to the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates. I hope he will set an example to some other Ministers, perhaps particularly the First Lord of the Admiralty, in recognising that Reports of the Select Committee on Estimates can sometimes be of some value. I would say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) that he need not necessarily worry. The Treasury is a very large source of funds, and is the largest spender of public money without any Parliamentary control—through the University Grants Committee.

I would support my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) in his request for a quinquennial grant. The House will understand that a quinquennial grant is not what it sounds. It is merely a promise to pay, which has to be renewed every year by Parliament. That is not always recognised. Nevertheless, the University Grants Committee and, I think, the Medical Research Council and the D.S.I.R. recently have been given this promise to pay and it has, I think, very greatly assisted their work. Certainly, when the Estimates Committee was taking evidence from research institutes, in the 1953–54 Session, when it made this inquiry, the feeling was very strong among directors of those institutes that they would be greatly helped, particularly with capital expenditure, if they could have a promise of that sort.

As one, who in this case, is speaking, as it were, for the House as guardian of the taxpayers' money and not as a farmer with a direct interest in agricultural research, I would draw attention to a change in the attitude of the finance committees of the House to this problem. There was a time, a few years ago, when the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee looked with disfavour on quinquennial grants and grants-in-aid in general. Since we have had the opportunity of examining the work of research institutes, it has become clearer that it is by no means certain that public money is saved by the method of annual vote, particularly in the case of capital expenditure. The starting and stopping of projects and having to fit tenders and contracts into particular yearly votes make the work not more but less economic.

I believe that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley who made some reference to the possibility of some cutting down or restriction of the funds at the disposal of the institutes which have previously been grant-aided directly by the Ministry. There is, however, the advantage in the present arrangement—and perhaps this bears on the point of carrying forward capital and other expenditure from year to year—that one can have a smaller contingency fund if the whole is under one control. One body, with a smaller contingency fund than would be needed by a large number of separate bodies, can then assist in carrying out the process on a more economic basis. I hope, therefore, that the Committee of the Privy Council which will be in charge of the Research Council will bear these points in mind and represent them very strongly to the Treasury.

I should like to ask two questions. First, what is to happen to the veterinary research laboratory at Weybridge? Does it still remain a direct Ministry department? I know that the veterinary surgeons are not happy about the part they play in the present arrangements. Some of them would like a separate council; but I am not competent to discuss that. I see that one recommendation made by the Estimates Committee has been accepted. It is that a scientific adviser should be responsible for veterinary research, as for other research. The split at the top between the two types of research, veterinary and other, has been dealt with, because one half of the research has been taken away altogether, but I should still like to know what happens to veterinary research.

As to transmission of information, there was a plan in the early days after the war for 17 husbandry farms and horticultural stations as well. I think I am right in saying that only nine have been established. I understand that these farms, in addition to being experimental husbandry farms, serve a useful purpose as demonstration farms and, therefore, are useful for the transmission of information. I should like to know whether it is proposed to proceed with these farms, or whether the project is being dropped. We did not investigate that and perhaps it would have been outside our competence to do so; but on the surface it looks to me as if dropping the farms is unfortunate, particularly in view of the importance of the problem of communication, which applies to industrial as well as agricultural research. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with that point.

10.59 p.m.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I intervene only to follow up the question put by the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer). Horticulturists, of whom I have many in my constituency, have set an example in the use of research. They are far more research-minded and they set an example which might well be followed by the ordinary farmer in mixed farming and mainly arable areas. Every pound that we spend for this purpose is precious money and it is very important that, wherever we can, we should avoid any overlapping where the job is already being done so well.

There is, for instance, outside Cambridge, an institute of agricultural botany which does tremendously good work, and Cambridge University itself carries out various agricultural activities of immense value to the industry as a whole. Those of us who live in that area were very pleased when Her Majesty the Queen opened a new institute for animal medicine there, a wonderful building which will serve that cause very well indeed.

I hope that there will be some machinery, if it does not already exist, which will ensure that unnecessarily redundant work is not indulged in, because every penny we spend is precious, and there is a great need for further research, both in agriculture and horticulture. It would be a pity if the Agricultural Research Council were to indulge in work already being done effectively by the universities or the other institutes. I quite appreciate the point which the hon. Member for Deptford made about being able to plan ahead in the research that they are to do. I think it is important that we, and particularly the growers, should remember that although they may not be satisfied with all the tariff support they get these days, nevertheless they are getting great benefit from this type of research work.

I know that at present considerable work is being indulged in by the Council to the general benefit of horticulture throughout the country. The pity of it is that perhaps not enough growers realise what an enormous value this is, and how much more use they might make of it if more of them knew what was being done. This money comes essentially from the taxpayer, though I notice in the Bill that there is a possibility of including sums received by way of gifts.

If the Parliamentary Secretary has the figure, it would be interesting to know what gifts have been made in the past, or in what proportion gifts have been to the general grant given. It certainly seems to be a most admirable way of helping the country and I wonder whether the same facilities are available for those who wish, perhaps, to avoid death duties going straight into the ordinary common run. It would seem highly desirable if they could be designated definitely to this purpose instead.

I have been asking a question or two about the work of the National Agricultural Advisory Service, and I should like to know whether, in the work which the Service does—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

As I understand the Bill, it is just a machinery Bill and it is not in order to seek to inquire into the work of this Service.

Major Legge-Bourke

I quite appreciate that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) made several references to the Agricultural Advisory Service, and I hoped that I would go no further than he did.

I was wondering whether the Agricultural Research Council will have any responsibility under this Bill for members of the Agricultural Advisory Service, in so far as they are responsible for passing on the information to growers and farmers. As I understand, the Advisory Service remains purely the responsibility of the Minister himself. The Agricultural Research Council is to be under a separate Vote, though apparently with certain Treasury strings.

I hope that there will not be any unnecessary complication of different responsibilities coming into the picture to avoid that research work which is being done by the Research Council getting passed on as quickly and as smoothly as possible to those who most need the results of that research.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

Other hon. Members have spoken about the work of the Select Committee on Estimates, and I would like to pay tribute to its work. I have often felt, when a member of the Committee, that the Governments of the time have not paid sufficient attention to it. I am glad that the Minister has on this occasion. I think that the House does not sufficiently appreciate the excellent job that it does for the House in the examinations which it makes. I was especially glad to hear the Minister pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), who was Chairman of the Committee from whose work has come this Bill.

The Bill, as several speakers have said, is a tidying-up Measure, but it would have been better if the Minister had to some extent set about the job suggested in certain sections of the Committee's Report, recasting the whole of the agricultural research set-up. There was, in 1954, a Report of a Departmental Committee on Foot-and-Mouth Disease. That Committee dealt with this point to some extent. It said, in paragraph 125: We feel some concern, however, about the present arrangements for the administration of the Institute. We do not think that they can be entirely satisfactory until the responsibilities of the Governing Body of the Institute and their relationship with the Minister of Agriculture, on the one hand, and the Agricultural Research Council, on the other, have been more clearly defined than they seem to be at present. The Report went on to say: It was also represented to us that the time was ripe for the creation of a separate Veterinary Research Council, analogous to the Medical Research Council, which should be responsible for the initiation and co-ordination of research into all animal diseases. To discuss these questions would take us outside our terms of reference and we must content ourselves by saying that it seems to us essential to clear up the first point and that the second deserves careful consideration. The Agricultural Research Council, as I understand, attempts to cover, under the one umbrella, as it were, these various items: soil, plant breeding, plant physiology, pasture, horticulture, glasshouse crops, fruit and vegetables, weeds, pests, plant diseases, and agricultural engineering, as well as all branches of veterinary science, such as animal physiology, animal husbandry, genetics, dietetics, and all aspects of animal disease.

It seems to me that many of these items, which require very careful research, have only one thing in common, namely, the word "agriculture." I think we might have taken this opportunity to set up a separate council whose job it was to co-ordinate all aspects of veterinary research in the same way as the comparable Medical Research Council does. In any case, there is this point to be made—even if the Minister will not recast the whole of this Council: it is not enough to have only two members upon the Council from the veterinary profession. It is not enough when one considers the fact that that, important profession is specialised into so many parts. It has specialists in physiology, biochemistry, pathology, bacteriology, medicine and surgery, and husbandry and nutrition.

This aspect of animal disease is an extremely important one economically. I see that the O.E.E.C. Report for 1952 said, about Great Britain's livestock and animal economy: Losses caused by livestock disease in the United Kingdom, for instance, have been conservatively estimated at about £80 million per annum or 15 per cent. of the value of the total output of livestock products. These are important points. One could enlarge upon them for a considerable time, but at this time of night one does not wish to keep people here unnecessarily. I have put these points as shortly as I am able, but I think they deserve the careful consideration of the Minister, and I hope that, even though he has produced this Bill, he may think in terms of accepting Amendments which would give effect, if not to the whole of my suggestions, at least to some aspects of them, when we reach the Committee stage.

11.7 p.m.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

I wish to make only two points about this very useful Bill. First, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), as Chairman of the Estimates Committee, in what he said about the need to provide these funds over a period of years rather than annually. From my very recent experience of membership of the Public Accounts Committee I can say that the agencies of research appear to be those which are least called into question as to their methods of accountancy and general financial procedure.

Universities are free to carry on research, including agricultural research, from year to year, and the incidence of the Vote in this House does not affect their liberty of action over three, four or five years. That brings me to my main conclusion, which is that the Agricultural Research Council should tend more and more to use the university agencies for the purposes of research.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) made quite a valid point about the need to divide this class of research into two, so that veterinary science comprised a separate field of research. There may be a very strong argument for that. At the same time, so long as the various branches of agricultural research proceed together in the way they do now, there is a very strong case for tending to conduct them under the aegis of a university, where the various scientific departments are at hand and are used to co-operating in the way the Minister will agree has happened in the University of Wales, notably in the departments in Bangor and Aberystwyth.

My second point is a Welsh one. The Minister has explained that the Committee of the Privy Council, which will be responsible ministerially for this class of research—as the Privy Council is responsible for every type of research—will comprise the Lord President of the Council and the Minister of Agriculture for England and Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland, in one of his emanations. I am not satisfied, and neither are my hon. Friends from Wales, that the Welsh position is properly taken into account in such a Committee. After all, the agricultural position in the Principality is wholly different from that in England. Sixty per cent. of our farms are less than 50 acres, and the need for research in Wales is into the crops, stock, soil and the very viability of such small farms.

Whether that specialised research into the small farming units would be given proper attention by the proposed Committee of the Privy Council is open to question. I would suggest that consideration be given to including the Minister for Welsh Affairs in this Committee, particularly as it has powers to direct the Agricultural Research Council to engage in any specific piece of research. I leave that point with the Parliamentary Secretary and hope he will say something about it at the end of this debate.

11.12 p.m.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

I only want to raise one point tonight, and I would not have done so but for the speech of the hon. Gentleman, the Member for South-East Derbyshire (Mr. Champion). The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Workington (Mr. T. F. Peart) and I are Privy Council representatives at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and we considered, with our colleagues, the question of the Veterinary Research Council. We have been satisfied, up to now, and have not pressed for a separate veterinary research council. I can only say that if such a proposal were mooted it would receive careful consideration by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

I want, first, to apologise for having a bad cold. Secondly, I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) in the plea for Welsh representation on the Privy Council Committee. I do so because on 25th March, 1954, I put a Question to the then Minister of Agriculture about having a hill farming research unit in Wales. Although they have such a unit in Scotland, managed by the Hill Farming Research Organisation and the Agricultural Research Council, the Minister said in reply: I do not think that any special organisation for Wales is required."—[OFFICIAL.REPORT, 25th March, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 132.] I welcome the new machinery in the hope that such a unit will be set up for Wales. I am wondering whether some-think like the board which is provided for in Clause 1 (1) of the Bill could be set up in Wales. It is really needed. I do not think the Minister will doubt my statement that there are far more free areas for tuberculosis in cattle in the counties of Wales than in any other part of the country. With what little support they have had from the Treasury in that direction, for research, they can show how the money has brought about higher production.

The Plant Breeding Station at Aberystwyth is an example to every country for excellent work done in research. The Report published last week on the Mid-Wales Farming Inquiry—and we thank the Minister for allowing us to have it in Wales for 3s. 6d. instead of 16s.—has brought out a number of interesting points. I am sure that greater research in hill farming units would be of benefit to all concerned. More research could he undertaken into the growing of seed potatoes on the uplands of Wales and into the destruction of bracken. Indeed, a number of interesting things could be done at such a research hill farming unit.

The Minister will recall that the Government's White Paper on Rural Wales, two years ago, said it would like to get more information on hill farming units in Wales through the National Agricultural Advisory Service. If that Service wants up-to-date information it cannot do better than have a hill farming research unit in Wales. With the blessing of the Welsh Committee of the National Farmers' Union—not the new union just set up, but the union already there—we should welcome an announcement of the setting up of such a hill farming unit for Wales.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

This is a small but extremely important Bill. If we look back over the history of the last twenty-five years, we find that something like a revolution has taken place in agriculture, mainly as a result of agricultural research. I remember the time, not so very long ago, when certain cattle diseases were rampant; they came and went and did great damage. Now those diseases are almost unknown. For instance, there were Johnes disease, contagious abortion and the ever-present tuberculosis, which is now perhaps being eradicated as a result of research. I remember when we were not sure what kind of vaccine to use to discover whether an animal had tuberculosis or not. Now we know.

Tremendous improvements have also been made in the new types of corn—wheat, barley and oats—with increases in yield as a consequence.

The Minister referred to the Long Ashton Fruit and Cider Research Station. I remember going there fifty years ago, when it was just being started. I went there last autumn and I saw the trees, planted fifty years ago, now grown into big, mature trees. They were planted with the object of seeing what kind of cider varieties suited the West of England. They have proved their point and they now have a mature cider orchard as a result of careful investigation. Now they are busy trying to see whether, with bush trees, they can grow better cider fruit which is produced cheaper and is easier to spray. That is an example of the kind of thing that has been going on.

I also refer to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion). I wonder if the Minister is quite sure that it would not be advisable to create another body for veterinary research? I have an open mind on the question, but I know that the veterinary people are keen about it. It might be worth considering because, after all, many diseases of animals involve the study of other things not directly related to agriculture. We are all animals, and the question of human diseases has to be considered in connection with diseases of other animals. There is also the famous case of the liver fluke, which spends part of its life on a snail. Knowledge of the activities of all animals is important in this connection, and that brings to mind the question whether we should not have a bigger and broader organisation with which to finance animal research. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will say something about that and that the Minister will keep in mind whether that is a development for the future.

11.22 p.m

Mr Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I would be prepared to argue, if it were not so late, that lack of uniformity in research is a virtue and it is better that it should arise empirically, but that there is also a case for co-ordination.

I rise to put the point that the Minister is now responsible for food as well as agriculture. His Department has taken over from the Ministry of Food a scientific division and also responsibility for several research establishments. I should have thought that there was a case for close co-ordination between the work of those establishments and agricultural research generally. I hope the Minister can assure the House that every step will be taken to see that the work of institutions formerly under the Ministry of Food will be closely related to the work of the Council.

11.23 p.m.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

I wish briefly to support the plea made by my hon. Friends the Members for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) and Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) in respect of Wales and the treatment of Wales under this Bill.

When opening the debate, the Minister referred to Scotland. He said that Scotland is to receive special treatment specifically because there are special agricultural problems in Scotland which are different from those which exist in England and Wales. In this Bill Wales, as usual, is embraced by England. We do not object to that for any purely doctrinaire reason, because we feel that the embrace is one of affection and not an embrace of violence which might presage assault. We think the intentions are good, but we would like an assurance that Wales is to have proper consideration in this matter of agricultural research and also to have representation on the Council.

I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon that it is important that if at all possible the Minister for Welsh Affairs—who has too little work to do in relation to Wales as it is—should be brought on to the Privy Council Committee. There are certainly problems which are peculiar to Wales; I think that is generally accepted. A great deal could be done in certain parts of the Principality. For instance, in the southern parts of Anglesey a great deal could be done for horticulture and market gardening, where insufficient research has taken place. With that research and advice farmers might co-operate to the benefit of the entire community on the island.

I was very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor mentioned Aberystwyth. I think the House will agree that the plant breeding station at Aberystwyth is one of the finest agricultural research units, not only in the United Kingdom, but in the world. That is proved by the fact that students come from all over the world to take courses at this plant breeding station. The work that is done there, commenced by Sir George Stapledon, is certainly exemplary.

I should like an assurance from the Minister also that when the time comes to set up and develop institutions, or departments of institutions, under Clause 1 (1), the special needs and problems of Wales will be taken into account, so that the Principality receives proportionate benefit under the Bill.

11.26 p.m.

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

My right hon. Friend and I have been glad to hear these many words of welcome that have been given to this little Bill. Late al night though it is, it is a subject of very great importance and it deserves the attention which the House has been good enough to give it.

May I reassure hon. Members who have spoken about the cause of Wales that the embrace of England is entirely one of affection and not of assault? We shall certainly be concerned to see that Wales benefits as much as England and Scotland in the results and, indeed, in the work generally of these research stations and of the Agricultural Research Council.

England is essentially a country of small farms. Our average farm acreage is 80 acres, and a very large number of our farms are under 50 acres too. The fact is that basic research applies to all farms. Some problems are peculiar in application to a large farm or to a small farm, but the basic research work has value everywhere. It is more a matter of interpretation to see that it is really useful on the small farm.

I reassure the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) that a research hill farm unit is, in fact, being established in mid-Wales. Unfortunately, I cannot pronounce the name of the place, but I shall be pleased to write and tell him where it is. It is somewhere east of Aberystwyth and it is in course of establishment. On the subject of Aberystwyth, I would be very glad to join with the Welsh Members who have referred to the wonderful work that the plant breeding station has done. No one need fear that Aberystwyth will ever be forgotten. Its work continues and its strains of grass seeds are established throughout the world. Long may it remain so.

The subject of a veterinary research council, which was raised by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) and by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), has been considered by my noble Friend the Lord President, but it has been thought that the best interests of both veterinary and agricultural development would not be served by setting up a separate veterinary research council at the present time. Put the other way round, there are great advantages in keeping the two together. So many of these problems are interlocking.

In the very topics to which the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West referred, such as tuberculosis, contagious abortion, and Johnes disease, in the research work and, indeed, in the putting into practice of a combination of research on the veterinary side and in animal husbandry, there is much in the picture in which the combination of the veterinary work with the animal husbandry work can be of benefit. Despite the weighty arguments that can be deployed for separation, the best opinion is that the advantage lies in keeping the two together. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East commented that two veterinary men on the Council was not enough, but they are two out of ten scientists, and that is a quite substantial representation, and the new arrangements ensure that the chief veterinary officer will be an ex officio member of the Council, so I think that hon. Members can feel assured that the veterinary interest is adequately cared for.

I would also inform the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East that Pirbright now comes under the control of the Agricultural Research Council solely. I think that now that the period of massive expansion which has been going on there is complete and the strains that were obviously put on the organisation are over, we can expect to see it continuing with the very wonderful work it has been doing. It is recognised throughout the world as being of the very first quality.

The hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) raised the matter of the dissemination of the results of the research and especially of the results of the research of the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering. The Institute is considering issuing simple reports of machines especially addressed to farmers. Thus there will be a direct connection. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) dealt with the matter of the county machinery officer, who, in every county, is fully qualified to advise any farmer who consults him on any machine. If the officer is not familiar with it himself, he can go to the provincial office or, if need be, to the National Institute itself. The difficulty is to encourage the farmers to consult the machinery officers. They are there, waiting to be consulted. Anything we can do here or anywhere else to encourage farmers to make use of the agricultural advisory service will be very much to their good.

I believe that the machinery for disseminating the results of the research stations is working well. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said, there is the Agricultural Research Council dealing with the business of research, and alongside it there is the Agricultural Improvement Council which is an advisory body, and my right hon. Friend receives, as the right hon. Gentleman observed, reports from it. The National Agricultural Advisory Service also ensures that results will come through, so that there is a two-way traffic going on continually. Moreover, the A.I.C. and the A.R.C. have a joint committee as well as a certain amount of common membership to ensure that their work is completely and effectively co-ordinated. So I think that as far as the structure is concerned the link is effective and complete.

On the subject of the experimental farms, which play a very important part in putting over the results of research work, and developing them on a commercial scale, to which the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) referred, eleven of the sixteen experimental farms are established and six out of seven horticultural experimental farms. That, I think, is a quite good record. Development of these experimental farms is necessarily a slow business. It is necessary to find the right kind of farm in the right place. Research stations can be anywhere, for they are doing basic research which will be useful to everybody, but these experimental farms must be in selected areas to demonstrate the application of the results of research in those areas, on that soil, in those climatic conditions.

It obviously takes time to find the right farm in the right place and be able to buy it at the right figure. This matter has therefore necessarily gone ahead slowly but, as I mentioned, many farms have been established and are doing valuable work. The A.R.C. visits them frequently to see how the work is going on, and I am sure that very valuable work is done in publicising the results of research.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) asked about voluntary bequests. The answer is that naturally nowadays little comes from voluntary resources, although originally such places as Rothamsted were founded entirely by voluntary effort. Now, inevitably these places are mainly dependent on grants, though a bequest of about £70,000 is used to provide fellowships to bring over students from overseas and particularly from the Commonwealth. There have been many gifts to particular institutes such as the fund which established Rothamsted and the John Innes Fund.

If there is any other point in the debate which I have overlooked, I will reply by letter—

Sir L. Plummer

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves detailed points, can he pay sonic attention to the point which I raised about the desirability of considering a quinquennial grant?

Mr. Nugent

My right hon. Friend and I have paid careful attention to the hon. Member's suggestion and that of the hon. Member for Edmonton. The hon. Member for Edmonton observed that in any event an annual Vote is needed, although the programme is made out over a five-year period. It would not be right to regard the work of the Agricultural Research Council as being in any way impaired by the present arrangements. Its work has continued and it has been able to plan ahead. My right hon. Friend and his right hon. Friends have an open mind in the matter. If benefit can be obtained by such an arrangement they are very ready to consider it.

I conclude by paying my tribute to the scientific workers in the field. I had a little to do with it in days gone by when I was a member of one of the standing committees of the A.R.C. I know of the devoted work of these people for the benefit of the agricultural community, and of its immense value. I join with the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West in recognising what we owe to our research workers for the huge development and advance of the industry over the past few decades. Anything that can he done to enable these men and women to continue this immensely valuable work I am sure the House will be glad to do. This little Measure will have a valuable contribution to make to the basic structure of that help.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Oakshott.]

Committee upon Monday next.