HC Deb 12 July 1955 vol 543 cc1821-40

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1956, for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for grants, grants in aid and expenses in connection with agricultural and food services; including land drainage and rehabilitation of land damaged by flood and tempest; purchase, development and management of land, including land settlement and provision of smallholdings; services in connection with livestock, and compensation for slaughter of diseased animals; provision and operation of machinery; training and supplementary labour schemes; control of pests; education, research and advisory services; marketing; agricultural credits; certain trading services; subscriptions to international organisations; and sundry other services including certain expenses in connection with civil defence.

7.20 p.m.

Mr. F. Willey

I wish to raise a few points on this Vote. I am not surprised that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has not first endeavoured to explain it. However, with some difficulty, I appreciate its major purposes.

There is something here which is unusual in a Vote of this character. There are sales abroad amounting to more than £11 million. What foodstuffs do we intend to sell abroad during this financial year? Why cannot they be sold at home. Is the Minister afraid that their sale at home would reduce the price to the housewife, and is not this a deliberate policy to sell foodstuffs abroad in order to maintain the high-price policy at home?

The Vote deals in the main with trading services. When we had a reply earlier from one of the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries, he conspicuously failed to deal with the point that I raised about the trading services part of the Vote. There seems to be a strange reluctance, which is understandable, on the part of the Government to refer to those services at all. I do not want to get out of order, but earlier I called attention to the remarkably high loss by the Ministry on a small trading transaction. I know that part of it was attributable to welfare foods, but, allowing for that, there has been a remarkable incidence of loss even for the Ministry of Food.

I have said that in this financial year we are selling abroad more than £11 million worth of foodstuffs. What is the subsidy borne on such sales? We know that the average loss of the Ministry on resale now is certainly over 10 per cent. Can it be assumed that we are now subsidising foreign consumers of foodstuffs, bought by the Ministry for our own consumption, to the extent of more than £1 million?

The Ministry is understandably coy about revealing details of stock losses. However, as we have now got a remanet trading account, perhaps we may be told the stock losses anticipated for the next twelve months. What are the losses on tinned meat borne by this Vote? I appreciate the difficulty about strategic reserves and the commercial transactions of the Ministry. Perhaps it is not so appropriate on this Vote to ask about the loss on welfare milk stocks. What are the storage charges to be borne in the next twelve months? Have we still cheese stored in Belgium and bacon in Denmark, and is sugar still on barges? What is the overall cost of storage in foreign currency?

There are a few other questions arising out of subhead M on the trading services that I should like to put to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. The Committee will appreciate that this is a cash account; we are now dealing with the cash which will be provided by the transactions of the Ministry during the next twelve months. It has nothing to do with profit and loss. There is a rather extraordinary situation revealed here, and I should like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to explain how it comes about that in the next twelve months the Ministry anticipates, on a cash account, to show a deficit of £1,400,000 on grain, including cereal feeding stuffs.

Surely that can happen in only two ways. Either the Ministry is paying somebody to shovel it away so that it is £1,400,000 out of pocket, or its stocks are being increased to the extent of £1,400,000. How is this happening if the Ministry got out of the grain business two years ago? In its revised Estimates last year, the Ministry, in disposing of stocks of cereals, calculated that there would be a balance of £3,900,000. How does it come about that it now shows a deficit of £1,400,000 in disposal of stocks?

My second point is a similar one, although it is not concerned with precisely the same circumstances. For the first time on the cash account we are showing a loss of £900,000 on oils and fats. I appreciate that the Ministry is still in the oils and fats business, but the revised Estimate last year showed an anticipated cash return of more than £50 million. How is it that, on the cash statement, we are now facing a loss of £900,000?

I also notice that the Department expects to be able to pay to the Treasury more than £22 million in respect of sugar. That is more than twice what the Department, according to last year's Estimates, anticipated paying to the Treasury. Am I to assume from that that there are to be further sales of sugar abroad, and, if so, may we be told to which countries they are to be made?

Another query relates to bacon. The Department expects to make a modest credit of £10, unlike the position in previous years. I know the explanation for that; we know what is happening about trading in bacon this year. However, I should like to know the effect of something else which I have previously raised in the House. There was a remarkable occurrence in bacon prices this year. In respect of Danish, Dutch, Irish and Polish bacon being sold by the Ministry, there was a reduction in the wholesale price from 7th April until 8th June. I should like to know how much that cost the Department.

It was obviously merely fortuitous, but it happened to cover the period of the General Election. In my constituency, and probably in most constituencies, a point was made about the cheaper retail price of bacon. I think it is remarkable that for that specific period the Ministry, which, after all, is wholesaling bacon on Government account, reduced the price. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman says that it was the result of supply and demand. The demand for bacon apparently fell during the General Election period and picked up immediately afterwards.

Mr. Amory

As I pointed out the other day, the demand for bacon fell considerably before the General Election, and it has only recently picked up.

Mr. Willey

I presume that the Government took expeditious action. I should not have described 7th April as long before the General Election.

Mr. Amory

The demand had fallen considerably before that time and the Ministry price had gradually come down.

Mr. Willey

I concede that the price was also reduced a little earlier. At any rate, it is remarkable that things rectified themselves immediately after the Election.

Mr. Amory

Correct commercial action was taken and produced satisfactory results. I am not referring to the Election.

Mr. Willey

I will not pursue the matter, but there seems to be a coincidence in the commercial and political action taken.

If we turn to the trading losses—I have been dealing with only the cash payment —we get a position to which we had accustomed ourselves with the Ministry of Food, and which is apparently to continue in that Department's new environment. On a turnover of about £50 million, the Department says it will suffer a trading loss—there is no attempt to disguise this as a subsidy—of about £8,800,000. I suppose that is what we can expect. The percentage of loss is rising very steeply. It is now about 16 per cent., which is certainly an achievement. When everyone can make a profit in food, the Ministry can run at a loss of about 16 per cent.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary specifically why, in the case of butter and cheese, he should anticipate a loss this year of more than £2½ million; why in the case of oils and fats—on a free market—the Ministry will suffer a loss and anticipate a loss of more than £1 million; why in the case of sugar—again on a free market—the Ministry should, although it is obviously anticipating a considerable turnover, expect any loss at all.

I wish especially to refer to meat. As we said in the previous debate, the Ministry used to make what it regarded as a modest profit on transactions in the sale of imported meat. That obtained until February this year. On 15th February, when I asked about the Supplementary Estimate, we learned for the first time that the Ministry no longer anticipated making a profit on imported meat and estimated that in the last financial year it would suffer a loss—admittedly a very small loss—of £100,000. In other words, it hoped by the end of the year to strike about even.

However, when we debated that within a week of the end of the financial year, I hold the House that the Ministry would sustain a substantial loss in disposing of imported meat. The Minister did not correct that, nor did he challenge it. On the other hand he did not say anything to alter the Department's view that it would suffer a loss of £100,000. The Ministry is not 100 per cent. out, it is not hundreds of per cent. out, it is thousands of per cent. out. The financial year ended a week after that debate. The Parliamentary Secretary now tells me that the loss is not £100,000, it is £5,800,000.

That means that when the right hon. Gentleman was addressing the House a week before the end of the financial year presumably he did not know what was happening. Who runs the Ministry? Who took the decision that a loss of nearly £6 million should be borne on the sale of imported meat? I could hazard a guess in the House that there would be substantial losses, but the Minister, apparently and overtly, was standing by his Supplementary Estimate that the loss on the import of food would be £100,000. How could that happen? Either the Minister did not know, which is the conclusion that I draw, or he did not wish to disclose the figure. I prefer to take the charitable conclusion that he just did not know. That is what I think is happening at the Ministry.

Bringing the story within the present Supplementary Estimates, this chapter has now been concluded, because all the meat has gone and it has cost the taxpayer, according to this Vote, another £3 million. So within a few months we have had a deficit of £100,000, which was striking a balance, neither profit nor loss, becoming an enormous loss of £9 million. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary what that represents per 1b. of meat sold, as that is important.

A few minutes ago the Parliamentary Secretary made a point of how attractive was the sale of imported meat. That also was sold at the time of the General Election. We had bacon sold cheaply during the General Election and after the Election the price was rectified. We also had the sale of imported meat and the Government saying in the Supplementary Estimate in February that it would be sold at a loss of £100,000, and yet now we are told that stocks have been disposed of at a loss of nearly £9 million.

That is a proper subject of inquiry, and we are entitled to a full explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary. We also know that 11,500 tons of that meat was sold abroad. When was it sold abroad? To whom was it sold? We are told that it was sold to private buyers, but my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) referred to the interest which the Soviet Union is showing in buying meat. It is believed that most of this meat has gone to the Soviet Union. This is a matter which affects us, because we know that there were times last year when the Soviet Union was buying, for example, as much as half of all the meat coming from Uruguay, although in the past we have regarded ourselves as the sole importers of meat from Uruguay.

The Russians have become the third largest importers of meat in the world.

We do not know whether it is a matter of policy on their part to go to the world food market—they are rather erratic traders—or whether it arises because of temporary difficulties. However, if foodstuffs are being sold to the Soviet Union, it would be better to sell them direct and negotiate direct. If we are likely to face increasing competition for world food supplies, we had better not prejudice our position.

While I fully realise that the Parliamentary Secretary is new to this Department, and that he does not yet bear responsibility for the matters to which I am calling his attention, I hope that he has applied his mind with diligence to them and is no longer in blissful ignorance. He used to intervene in food debates in blissful ignorance. Now he is thoroughly informed and must be very disturbed and upset. I hope that he will offer some solace to the House now that he is fully cognisant of these matters, and will not run away by saying that the Ministry is getting out of the food business and not caring at what cost.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) mentioned, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) commented about the Soviet Government participating in the world market for food. My hon. and gallant Friend tried to get home the point that there is terrific competition in the world today and that consequently we have to pay particular attention to home production. That is why I wish to concentrate on some aspects of production which are affected by the Supplementary Estimate, and some aspects of policy which affect home production directly and indirectly.

First, I would refer to research, which has not been mentioned in the debate and which comes under subhead H.8. I have raised this matter of research on a previous occasion. We see from the Estimates that in 1955–56 an additional sum of £16,960 will be required. If one looks at the subhead in detail, on a later page one cannot be certain where that money is going. We see on page 20 that the money covers Scientific research in connection with nutrition, food technology, etc. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to be precise. Can we have an indication of Government policy on research? Will there be emphasis on research in connection with livestock? These matters affect farming.

I am rather perturbed about our failure in regard to research. Too often we jibe at the scientists, but the view of those engaged in agriculture is that agricultural science has made a very remarkable contribution. I am asking for information, and am in no way criticising the existing institutions. Government-sponsored institutions are doing remarkably well, but I still feel that we should have an indication of Government policy, and that research should have greater priority.

The Minister and his Department are responsible for research in connection with the Ordnance Survey. There is a link between that and the Geological Survey, which is vital for agriculture. If we are to develop home food production and marginal land we must know the land, and we can know that only if we have an adequate geological survey.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North, raised this matter by Question, and I have pursued it in further Questions. It was rather interesting to know that we have not a complete geological survey yet for this country. Northern Ireland has, and the figure for Scotland is 90 per cent. and for England and Wales 60 per cent.

The Chairman rose

Mr. Peart

I know that I am transgressing, Sir Charles, and I will not pursue this matter. I was only using it by way of illustration to show that we lag behind in one important field affecting agriculture, where the Minister has responsibility. If we are to develop home agriculture quickly we must give every assistance to scientific research conducted in our institutions. I should like more details of subhead H.8, and an indication of Government policy.

Another matter covered by the Supplementary Estimate, quite different from that which I have just raised, concerns agricultural credits, mentioned on page 18. This very important matter affects particularly the small farmer. Many hon. Members have argued that financial policy has not affected the small farmer.

The Chairman

The hon. Member has referred to page 18. I do not see that this Vote covers agricultural credits.

Mr. Peart

If you read the eleventh line down, Sir Charles, you will see a reference to the agricultural credits.

The Chairman

That is only in the general heading. It does not appear in the subheads of the Vote.

Mr. Peart

I will leave that matter, and present an argument about policy on research, etc., which is mentioned earlier, as affecting land reclamation. We know that research institutions, like that at Aberystwyth, in Wales——

The Chairman

I am sorry to have to stop the hon. Member again, but this subject is really only in the heading to the Vote in which different matters are reviewed. It does not appear to come under the Vote.

Mr. Peart

I have already mentioned subhead H.8, which deals with research. In relation to that heading, I was only going to say that our hill farms should be encouraged by more research of the type conducted in Aberystwyth and other places, and that I should like an indication of the policy of the Government, and of whether they would encourage more research of that kind.

However, I will not proceed with that matter. I will turn to Subscriptions to International Organisations. This appears on page 19. I should like to refer to our subscriptions to agricultural and other organisations of the United Nations, under subheads L.1 and L.3, which relate to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. and Other international organisations. I hope I shall be in order, but before I proceed to make my speech under those headings I should like your guidance, Sir Charles. Am I entitled to ask for a statement on Government policy in relation to these organisations?

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman should proceed with his speech, and I shall be guided by what he says.

Mr. Peart

I am much obliged, Sir Charles. I do not wish to depart from the rules of order in discussing international aspects of agriculture, which are extremely important.

I know there is a reason for a revision of the Estimate corresponding to the additional sum required. It was given by the Minister in his opening speech. I would like to know the policy of the Government in regard to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Is the Estimate sufficient to cover our support? After all, that organisation is financed by the United Nations.

Many hon. Members may have sympathy for other organisations, but the F.A.O. has done a remarkable job over the years. I should like the Government to give it every support. We have only to look at the statistical details which have been given of world food production and at the technical and personnel assistance that has been given.

That Organisation has helped us in our own country, as when it set up regional organisations to deal with diseases in livestock in Europe. We remember the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak here in 1952, when there was a direct European contagion. We thought that our own livestock could be protected only by something more than national action, by action on the European level. We gave every support to the F.A.O. in that matter. Indeed, some of our finest people, like Sir Thomas Dalling, our Chief Veterinary Officer, supported the Organisation.

Do the Government feel that the amount mentioned in the revised Estimate is adequate to support the Organisation, which is working in the sphere of the United Nations? We have here a constructive approach to world problems, and there are many specific instances in which even the barrier of the Iron Curtain has been broken and countries with different ideologies have worked together constructively for agriculture. I hope that the organisation will have continued support from the Government.

I turn to subhead L.3. I should like to ask a specific question about the new European organisation which has been set up under the O.E.E.C. which, I assume, is covered by this subhead. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, it was decided in Paris in July last year to set up a new international agricultural organisation to take the place of the old "Green Pool" idea sponsored by many European statesmen and politicians. Instead of a form of Schumann Plan for agriculture—a high authority as for coal and steel—we have a new European organisation in which the Government participate. Indeed, at the preliminary conference held in March last year representatives from the Parliamentary Secretary's Department attended.

I want to know what the policy of the Government really is in relation to this new international organisation to which we have given our blessing. The Paymaster-General attended the initial conference, and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food now attends the Ministerial Committee. It is extremely important that this evening we should know the Government's policy, because this organisation can have a tremendous effect on home agriculture.

At the original conference last July a Resolution was passed in which it was decided to co-ordinate agricultural policies and "to harmonise"—if I may quote from the Resolution, …the conditions of production and of the markets for agricultural commodities with a view to the creation of a common market. This new organisation seeks to create a common market for European agriculture. Is it the Government's intention to pursue that objective in the months ahead? The Government's representative at the conference supported the view that we should seek to eliminate trade barriers —and again I quote from the Resolution, …to eliminate the obstacles to a rational expansion of the agricultural production and to increase trade. The Resolution then went on to talk about the common market, the need for an opening up of the market, an end to barriers, and a move towards multilateralism.

We should know what the Government's policy is on this because it directly affects the horticultural industry. Do we really support the principle of the common market, or are we merely paying lip-service to this European conception in order to appease supporters of European unity among hon. Members opposite? Are we just speaking in platitudes? I understand that only last week, at Strasbourg, this matter was raised. European agriculturists expressed concern about this new organisation which the British Government helped to sponsor and supported so strongly, and which, I admit, I supported myself in a speech at Strasbourg last year.

Are we really sincere in our approach to the organisation? We have a responsibility. The Ministerial Committee now exists, and I understand that the Minister has already represented Britain on that body. Are we going to take it seriously? After all, the main work will not be done by Ministers but by the Committee of Deputies. Who is to be the deputy? It will probably be the Parliamentary Secretary—I hope that it is—but have the Government made a statement about it?

The work, as I say, will be done by the Committee of Deputies, and we shall also have to make a contribution to the secretariat. We make a contribution of approximately 10 per cent. to the expenses of F.A.O. What will be the British contribution to this new O.E.E.C. organisation? Will the Minister this evening give some indication of what our share will be?

I have raised the issue of policy, which is important. I have raised the issue of financial policy which again is important because from that we can really judge the intentions of the Government. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to regard this as an important matter, not just because of its relation to horticulture, but because it is important in relation to our good will on the Continent. We may or may not agree with the idea of the common market. I believe, and have stressed, that our home production should come first, but we should also play our part in this new set-up.

I have never accepted the view that we should have something rigid like a high authority—agriculture is too diversified and one cannot have rigidity when considering such a European link. We have to consider the special interests of our home horticulture. Nevertheless, we are committed to this idea of a common market and a "Green Pool" in Europe. Tonight, when we are considering the Estimates, it is important that we should have from the Minister some detailed explanation of our support, or lack of support, for such organisations. I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will try to enlighten me on this issue.

7.58 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Harmar Nicholls)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), referred to the time when I sat on the back benches and intervened from time to time. He said that now that I have had some inside knowledge I perhaps realise how little I knew at that time. I must say that when I sat on the back benches I was at times rather impressed with the knowledge the hon. Gentleman appeared to have, but now, after having had this inside knowledge, I find that even he, with his great experience—and I say that in the full meaning of the word—can make some mistakes.

In his opening words, it struck me that he had forgotten my right hon. Friend's explanation that this was not a new supplementary figure but a merger; that the figures are not new but are a rearrangement of the figures which were set out and presented in February of this year. Having given him a warning that as a consequence of that I shall not perhaps be able to answer all his questions in detail —as I thought I should until I realised the effect of the merger—I shall endeavour to answer many of the important points to which he later referred.

I should first like to clear up the £11 million figure on sugar. That was for sugar sold abroad. The hon. Gentleman then referred to what he termed a loss on cereals, but the figure to which he referred in his opening words was not a loss but a balancing arrangement under the merger.

There was some loss on imported meat. We have the hon. Gentleman's figures, which I have no doubt are correctly taken from the Estimates, but the loss on imported meat is due, as has been explained on many occasions, to the public's preference for home-killed rather than for imported meat. We had an example of that from his right hon. Friend not many minutes ago when he said that he had graduated from imported meat and he preferred and expected to get home-killed meat. That appeared to be the view of many people in this country, and apparently they had the income which enabled them to pay for it, despite the strictures which have been expressed earlier this evening. The result is that our stocks of imported meat could not be allowed to deteriorate, and, in order to turn them over rather than allow them to deteriorate, they were sold off at a lower price, which accounts for some of the deficit to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

I was asked about meat that has been sold abroad. About 11,000 tons of meat was sold on the Continent. It was offloaded in Continental ports owing to the dock strike last autumn. I think we tend to forget cause and effect in some of these matters. When we had the dock strike to contend with last autumn we said that the effects would not be realised at home for many months, and here is an example. There is nobody more experienced than the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, and I bow to him in his assiduity in getting the facts before coming to the Box, but here he had apparently over-looked that this meat was sold abroad because of the effects of the dock strike here.

This meat was disposed of on the Continent on the advice of the experts who said that from their experience they could scarcely suggest that we should handle this meat two or three times, off-loading it on the Continent, then taking it out of cold store, shipping and off-loading it again to cold stores in this country, later to be sold in the shops here. That accounts for the sales abroad to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Willey

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but can he say when the sales of this meat which was off-loaded abroad were made?

Mr. Nicholls

I told the hon. Gentleman that it was off-loaded on the Continent in the autumn of last year. I have no information at the moment when the actual sales were contracted, but I should think that a decision to sell would have been taken at the time that the decision was taken to off-load on to the Continent, because the reason we off-loaded on the Continent was that we had been advised by the experts that the meat would not stand double loading which would be involved if we held it back and brought it into the shops here after the strike was ended. I should have thought it a fair assumption that the decision to sell was taken at the time the decision was taken to off-load on the Continent. If the position is different I will let the hon. Gentleman know, because I know that he would like the actual facts on his record and not any assumptions that he or I might make.

The "jungle service" has come into being, and I can now tell the hon. Gentleman definitely that the meat was sold in April, 1955. So it did not work as I had assumed it did. The decision to off-load it abroad because of the strike was followed later by the decision to sell it on the Continent, and the decision was taken in April, 1955.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the prices of imported bacon. Prices were reduced on the advice of the Imported Bacon Producing Advisory Panel, from November, 1954. The reason for reducing the prices in November, 1954, was that supplies were far in excess of demand at that time—indeed, the hon. Gentleman referred to this in his speech—and stocks were piling up. Further reductions from February were made, but when we reduced the second time in February I am afraid that the demand did not respond. Only just recently has the demand perked up again, and as a consequence prices have gone up. That is what will follow in a free market. The demand will settle the prices generally, and that is precisely what happened with bacon.

The trading loss on butter and cheese to which the hon. Gentleman referred is due to the obligation that the Ministry undertook to buy butter and cheese at fixed prices under the long-term contracts with New Zealand, Australia and Denmark. That was a position that I know had the support of the hon. Gentleman at the time, and I have no doubt it represents a principle that he still supports. These products had to be sold on a free market here, and the price is determined by the supplies available in relation to the demand. That is the effect which we found in meeting the public demand, which in our view should have a high priority. The demand settles whether or not one is to make a profit or a loss when one is committed to the amount of stocks which have to be purchased. I was asked how long these contracts were likely to go on, and I can Tell the hon. Gentleman that the last long-term contract for butter and cheese ends on 30th September, so that we are almost at the end of that road.

With reference to the trading services deficits, I do not think there is a great deal that I can add to what is set out in the Estimates. Hon. Members will see on page 24 that the total trading deficit is estimated at £8.8 million, and we have broken down that total as follows: Cereals £0.1 million; imported eggs £0.9 million; imported meat £3 million; milk products £2.7 million; oils and fats £1.2 million; sugar £0.6 million; Recommissioned Mills Ltd. £0.3 million.

The hon. Gentleman made particular reference to one or two of the items in that list. Whilst trading in cereals had terminated in 1954–55, clearing up operations remained to be carried out in the following year 1955–56, and it is estimated that a sum of £1.4 million will be required in 1955–56 to discharge obligations which arose in the previous year. Provision had been made for that in the trading accounts for the year 1954–55. As a result of this, a deficit of only £100,000 is expected to arise in the current year. I think that should answer the hon. Gentleman's point.

In addition to the tonnages of meat to be delivered in completion of the contract with the Argentine, stocks of imported meat remained to be sold. This meat is estimated to yield proceeds which, after meeting the trading deficits forecast at £3 million—that is forecast at page 24 of the Supplementary Estimate—will provide £18,100,000 for surrender to the Exchequer. While the deficit is shown as £3 million, we have got this £18,100,000 on the cash side which will go to the Exchequer, and it more than balances the deficit.

On oils and fats, the Ministry will continue to purchase copra and coconut oil under existing long-term contracts which are well-known to the hon. Gentleman, and they are estimated to result in cash needs of £900,000, with a resulting deficit of £1.2 million. All of this is part of the colonial help that I know has the support of both sides of the Committee because of the wider benefits which will flow from it.

Trading in sugar continues in implementation of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. It is expected that the trading will result in a deficit of £0.6 million. On the other side of the picture, we have substantial disposals of Ministry stocks of sugar in the course of the year which will result in receipts sufficient to meet the cost of trading operations and leave a balance of £22.1 million which, again, will be available to the Exchequer.

The hon. Gentleman asked who was buying the sugar abroad. I think it is mainly India, but there again I should like him to allow me to correct that if my recollection is not right.

I think that is a sketchy answer to the many questions which he put, but, added to the information which exists in the Supplementary Estimate, I think he will find that it gives a pretty full summary on all the points which he raised.

Mr. Willey

Could the hon. Gentleman say a little more about cereals? This occurs under the heading of trading services and he described it as a balancing item. It is somewhat difficult to appreciate the significance of some of the figures in the Ministry of Agriculture's Vote and I should be obliged if he would say a little more about that figure.

Mr. Nicholls

I gave the hon. Gentleman the figure of £100,000, which is the deficit which will be left after the clearing up operation of this year. I think that is the only figure involved in the Estimates, and I think that answers the question which he asked in his opening speech.

I want to assure the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) at once that he can rely upon the Government to give full and unstinted support to scientific research in all its facets. We recognise, as does the hon. Gentleman, how important it is for us to be at the head of research so that our industry can have the full benefit of all new ideas which flow from it.

The provision under this subhead is for the expenditure of the Chief Scientific Advisor's Division (Food), which was set up during the war to give advice on the application of scientific knowledge to the problem of war-time feeding. The work of the Division, which started during the war, has continued to expand since then and now covers a very wide field of research into questions related to quick freezing and storage, bacteriological work, quality and wastage of foodstuffs, nutrition and dehydration.

The hon. Gentleman asked what we had in mind here, and I can tell him that this expenditure falls under three main headings: food technology, nutrition and food defence. It includes the cost of scientific equipment and consumable apparatus and foodstuffs for use by the staff of the Division while carrying out the research. It also includes payment to Research Associations for work undertaken on behalf of the Ministry.

Capital expenditure and running costs in connection with the research factory and the laboratory at Aberdeen are provided for under subheads N.1 and N.2.

As the hon. Member will have noticed, the provision shows a decrease of £4,460 compared with 1954–55, but that is mainly accounted for by a reduced provision to meet the cost of experimental work on meat freezing. This does not mean that experimental work in this direction is not still going on. Many of the private businesses connected with this subject are carrying on research as ardently as it was carried on before.

The international aspect of this problem is, I know, a matter in which the hon. Gentleman is particularly interested. The efforts he has made on his visits to Strasbourg and his speeches there are probably well known. I can assure him that his interest is shared by the Ministry and the Government. The hon. Gentleman mentioned, in particular, F.A.O. We are satisfied that it is doing valuable work. The United Kingdom is now a member of the Council and of its Committee on Commodity Problems. He asked what interest we were taking, having become a member. Over the past years our representatives have taken an active part in many of the technical meetings. During 1953–54 we supplied 37 experts from this country for technical assistance work under the ægis of F.A.O. and we trained 30 F.A.O. workers in this country. I think that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman that our support is more than a platitude.

Mr. Peart

I wanted to know the details of the European organisation. The Minister has been to one conference, but at the original conference it was proposed that there should be a Committee of Deputies which would do the main work of the organisation. Who will be the deputy for this country? We know that the Minister of Agriculture is to be the representative. Who will be his deputy? Will it be a junior Minister from his Department or somebody outside the Department? The Paymaster-General, who attended the original conference, was outside the Department.

Mr. Nicholls

Sad to say, it will not be the Parliamentary Secretary, as the hon. Gentleman was good enough to suggest. The member of the Committee of Deputies will be a senior official of this Ministry with the rank of Under-Secretary. The main Committee of Ministers will be what it says—a Committee of Ministers. It has met twice in recent months. Its function is to determine the general policy of the organisation's agricultural work. It is served by the Committee of Deputies, which has met three times in the last three months, and the member of that Committee from this country will be a senior official with the rank of Under-Secretary.

Mr. Peart

I am sorry to be so persistent about this. Will this country also have a share in the secretariat? Has that been decided? Can the hon. Gentleman give any information about it? If he is unable to do so, I shall well understand it.

Mr. Nicholls

I should like to write to the hon. Gentleman on that question. I have had conversations with him and I should like to thank him for having given notice of this subject, but I thought his interest in personnel ended with the information about who was to be the deputy for the meeting of deputies. I will give him the information for which he asks.

Mr. Peart

Thank you.

Mr. Nicholls

The programme of work which has been approved for the Agricultural Committee of O.E.E.C. is an interesting and formidable programme which will satisfy the hon. Gentleman. On broad lines it is this: first, they set out to study national agricultural policies with a view to practical measures of coordination—and that is the hon. Gentleman's policy. Secondly, study and action relating to increased consumption and improved methods of distribution. That is something for which right hon. Gentlemen opposite have been asking for many months. I think we have perhaps been providing it in this country and now it will be dealt with in the wider area covered by the activities of the new continental Committee.

The third point was special steps to expand trade between member countries and the fourth was action to raise the level of European productivity in food and agriculture. In its long-term aspect the last item is perhaps most important of all, because unless we can raise the level of productivity in food and agriculture it will be a problem to meet the general increasing consumption which, as we are very delighted to see, is taking place in all countries of the world.

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

Is all this being done for £10?

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. and gallant Friend has many attributes; optimism is undoubtedly one of them. As he knows, the object of putting £10 in the Vote has nothing to do with the actual amount expected to be spent. The idea is that we may have permission from Parliament to go into this question at all. I am afraid the bill arising out of this Vote will come later.

I am satisfied that the Supplementary Estimate, which in itself is an amazing document full of details which have already given all the answers for which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North asked——

Mr. Willey

Far from it.

Mr. Nicholls

—will be supplemented by the extra words I have been able to utter. I recommend that this Vote be accepted.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1956, for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for grants, grants in aid and expenses in connection with agricultural and food services; including land drainage and rehabilitation of land damaged by flood and tempest; purchase, development and management of land, including land settlement and provision of smallholdings; services in connection with livestock, and compensation for slaughter of diseased animals; provision and operation of machinery; training and supplementary labour schemes; control of pests; education, research and advisory services; marketing; agricultural credits; certain trading services; subscriptions to international organisations; and sundry other services including certain expenses in connection with civil defence.

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