HC Deb 28 June 1955 vol 543 cc354-7

11.46 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Draft Fertilisers (England, Wales and Scotland) Scheme, 1955, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th May, 1955, in the last Parliament, be approved. With permission, I would ask the House to consider with this Scheme the Scheme for Northern Ireland, if that meets the convenience of hon. Members.

These two Schemes are made under the 1952 Fertilisers Act, and they have the effect of extending for a further year, from 1st July next, the present Schemes. Both Schemes are the same in form as the Schemes now current. The only difference in the new Scheme is an increase in the amount of fertiliser subsidy payable for nitrogen and phosphoric acid. The amount of the increase is the amount which was awarded in the determination at the Annual Price Review in February.

I should briefly tell the House that fertiliser usage has responded well to this fertiliser subsidy, which was introduced in 1952 after a period of declining fertiliser usage; but in the past 12 months, which will end at the close of this month, there has been some decrease in the use of phosphoric acid and phosphates. The use of nitrogen has been about the same. There has been a check in the increased usage, probably to some extent due to the exceptionally bad weather in the last 12 months, and we want to see the increase going forward again.

The cost of the subsidy in the past 12 months, which end at the close of this month, is estimated to be £11,937,750. For the year 1955–56, the estimated cost is £15,436,260, assuming that the volume is the same as it has been for the past 12 months. The increase now proposed will raise the percentage subsidy for nitrogen from 16 to 26, and the percentage for phosphates from 32 to 36, at the present prices. The justification for the increase is broadly that, despite the increased usage of fertilisers which we have achieved in the two previous years, we believe there is scope for further increase in the usage, particularly in phosphates, before we reach the optimum level of usage. We are convinced, and I am personally convinced, that increased fertiliser usage is the high road to better farming, higher production, and lower costs. I believe that this increase in the subsidy rate will stimulate a further increase in usage.

11.50 p.m.

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

We are not opposing the Scheme. It is, in fact, one which we welcome, and I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for the information he has given us in moving it. I shall not make a long speech because, obviously, Members want to get home, but I am bound to protest against the decision to bring on this Scheme on the night following the Committee stage of a Bill in which a large number of Members took a deep interest.

It was fairly obvious to everyone when the business was decided that we should be discussing this Scheme at a very late hour of the night, much too late to do it justice or to permit some of the Members who, otherwise, would have done so to participate in this debate. This Scheme has been on the Order Paper for at least a fortnight, during which time we have had many nights when it was obvious that the ordinary business would end at 10 o'clock. It is a shocking arrangement of business by the Government to bring it on at this time of night.

Having made that protest, I say that we do not oppose the Scheme but welcome the decision of the Government in this regard, because we think that these fertilisers are an essential part of production and that a production subsidy in this way is the right way to do the job. But I ask the Government, when they have this sort of Scheme in future, to try to bring it on on a night when it is reasonable for those who have to participate to stay here and do so.

11.52 p.m.

Commander Agnew (Worcestershire, South)

This is a late hour to debate the merits of the Scheme, but I want to place it on record that there are many people interested in horticulture, and particularly in good husbandry, who notice that there is still a significant omission in the ferti- lisers Scheme: that is, the absence of any subsidy for potash. The Scheme includes only nitrogenous fertilisers. I hope that at a later stage the Government will see fit to include this very important fertiliser amongst those others which are bringing such great benefits to horticulture at the present time.

11.53 p.m.

Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)

At this late hour I do not wish to delay the House, but I should like to say that of the various Measures that the Government give to assist agriculture, I consider this is the best investment of all. I think that through the greater use of fertilisers we can increase production and so reduce costs, and that in the future we shall be using much more nitrogen than we have done in the past.

I was very impressed only last week to read a report that has recently been published about what has been happening during the last five years on a small farm of about 100 acres. Five years ago, they were spending 26s. an acre on fertiliser. Last year, the figure was increased to £4 4s. But what has happened to production during that period? The net output per acre has increased from £26 10s. to £49 10s. The investment in fertiliser, and the better management of the farm with better grass, has proved well worth while. I believe that with the greater use of leys and the proper use of fertilisers, we can go a long way towards reducing the costs of our products and can increase the output from our farms.

11.54 p.m.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I, too, do not wish to delay the House a moment longer than is necessary, but I should like to support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Commander Agnew) has just said. In welcoming this Scheme, which I realise is of enormous importance to as great an arable area as that which I have the honour to represent in this House, I nevertheless feel that in giving this support to agriculture we are sometimes apt to forget that we expect from the horticultural industry a similar reward for employed labour. Yet we do not—and cannot, I think—give the same security to horticultural growers that we can give to agriculturists.

In an area as important in the horticultural trade as Wisbech there is, naturally, disparity between the arable farmers and the horticulturists. Some of the growers of fruit manage, I know, to grow other crops in respect to which this Scheme will be highly beneficial. Nevertheless, the majority of them feel that it is of little benefit to them.

I appreciate, of course, that one of the reasons why potash has not received the same treatment as nitrogen is that today's price of potash fertiliser is not as high in relation to the world price as the prices of others are, but I ask my hon. Friend to consider this matter again and to realise that we in this House expect horticulture to be continued at a very high level of production of very high quality crops. Indeed, we hope for ever better quality. The Scheme will be of enormous benefit to a great percentage of those in agriculture, and it seems to me a pity we should have to leave out of it such an important section of growers as those in horticulture who will not benefit, or not benefit much, by the Scheme.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Draft Fertilisers (England, Wales and Scotland) Scheme, 1955, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th May, 1955, in the last Parliament, be approved.

Draft Fertilisers (Northern Ireland) Scheme, 1955 [copy laid before the House, 5th May, 1955, in the last Parliament], approved.—[Mr. Oakshott.]