HC Deb 26 January 1956 vol 548 cc422-9

6.5 p.m.

The Chairman

The three Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) are out of order, because they go beyond the scope of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

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

I cannot speak to the Amendments which you, Sir Charles, have decided not to call, for the obvious reason that I should be out of order, but I have one or two observations to make on the Clause as a whole.

On Second Reading, I called attention to the fact that there is a substantial body of veterinarians strongly of the opinion that there should be a separate medical council dealing with veterinary research, whose job would be that of fostering and co-ordinating all aspects of veterinary science. The answer I received from the Parliamentary Secretary did not wholly convince me that there ought not to be such a medical council.

As you have indicated, Sir Charles, I sought to find Amendments within the Title of the Bill which would enable me to express that point of view at this stage, but it was difficult, and you have decided not to call them. Despite the fact that I cannot discuss that aspect of the matter, there are some aspects of the problem of veterinary research which can be discussed now. For example, there is this sentence in Clause 1: … the Agricultural Research Council shall be charged … with the organisation and development of agricultural research, and may in particular establish or develop institutions or departments of institutions, and make grants, for investigation and research relating to the advancement of agriculture. In view of my interest in this matter, a strong representation has been made to me in the following notes which were given to me in this connection: While substantial provision has been made for veterinary research, it has remained insufficiently co-ordinated and for this reason certain fields have been neglected. For instance, research into problems affecting the poultry and pig industries has not received the attention deserved. In addition, many branches have been largely overlooked, e.g. clinical studies, including surgical research. Investigations of this type are mainly related to diseases of individual animals; but the over-all losses therefrom represent a serious factor in the economy of agriculture and the welfare of the animal population. Such advances as have been made in the fields of animal research during recent years have been through the unaided efforts of workers in veterinary schools, and of practitioners. There has been little attempt to co-ordinate studies relating to the diseases transmissible from animals to man, and insufficient stimulus has been given to the study of basic research into factors influencing the epidemiology of disease. That, coming from someone who knows what he is talking about in this connection, constitutes a serious indictment of the present position in relation to veterinary research. Even if there is an element of exaggeration about what I have just read out——

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin-Morris)

Order, order. I do not want to intervene, but the hon. Gentleman seems to me now to be dealing with issues raised by his Amendments, which are beyond the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Champion

I am coming to the point, Sir Rhys, that certain aspects under the existing situation are not being dealt with properly. I shall suggest to the Government that they shall call the attention of the Council, as they are permitted to do under Clause 1, to the need to take into consideration the factors which I am mentioning. I was trying hard not to mention things which I felt I ought not to mention having regard to the fact that the Chair decided not to call my Amendments. I will try again and hope for the best.

In connection with the paragraph which I have read, I was particularly struck by the point made about the comparative neglect of research into poultry problems. This is a matter about which I am sure the Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows something. It must be remembered that this is a very important aspect of the science, and the poultry industry is a very important one in relation to agriculture as a whole. I have no very recent figures. but as a branch of agriculture it stood third in importance in 1938, and I imagine that it has not changed very much in the intervening years. Therefore, it is extremely important.

The veterinary problem is a matter of considerable importance within our economy and to the industry as a whole. The Government have shown that they are not prepared to set up a separate research council for veterinary surgeons, but I think that certain Amendments might be made to the set-up of the Agricultural Research Council to enable a greater amount of weight to be placed upon the work of that side of agricultural research.

I urge the Minister that under Clause 1 he should suggest—I do not even go as far as saying that he should give a directive—to the Agricultural Research Council that a committee might be specially constituted charged with the tasks of, first, intensifying and further developing veterinary research; secondly, generally within the Council dealing with the disease problem and the scientific aspects of livestock development affecting animal health; and, thirdly, making representations as to the amount of funds necessary for those purposes to the Council.

These matters appear to me to deserve consideration by the Minister. I hope he will consider them when he has obtained his Measure and will make suggestions along those lines to the Agricultural Research Council, for I believe this would assist the industry generally and the profession as a whole.

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

Lest there should be any misunderstanding about what I said on Second Reading, I should like to support the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) in his general approach today.

The Bill deals with agriculture, but agriculture is in two parts. There is crop husbandry and livestock husbandry. The Government's attitude towards this matter until now has been that, as the animals eat the crops, whether of grass or something else, there should be integration of the two forms in the interests of both. Personally, I do not disagree with that idea.

On the more technical details of the study of livestock and livestock diseases and the importance placed on veterinary research, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that until a very few years ago this was very largely neglected by the Governments of the day. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt agree that since 1948, when the Veterinary Surgeons Act was passed, a great deal of research has been done——

The Deputy-Chairman

This is a machinery Bill providing for the setting up of a Council. Details about veterinary research do not come within the scope of the Bill.

6.15 p.m.

Captain Duncan

I would point out, Sir Rhys, that there are veterinary surgeons on the Council, part of the duty of the Council is veterinary research, and the object of the Council is to integrate and co-ordinate veterinary and agricultural research. With all due humility, I submit that I am in order in talking about the veterinary side and asking, as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East did, that there should be greater emphasis in future in the administration of the Council on the veterinary side, particularly in regard to pigs and poultry, and that greater sums of money should be spent by the Council upon that side instead of concentrating, as it has done so far, on crops and the other side——

The Deputy-Chairman

That is clearly outside the scope of the Clause. The Clause is purely a machinery one setting up a Council and providing it with funds.

Captain Duncan

With all due respect, Sir Rhys, having been set up, the Council has to do something.

The Deputy-Chairman

It may be perfectly true that it has to do something, but that does not come within the Clause. What the Council does is not covered by the Clause at all.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

With very great respect, Sir Rhys, but entirely without humility, I would point out that the Bill authorises money to be spent by Parliament upon agricultural research. If we are authorising unlimited sums to be issued from the Treasury at the request of the Minister, subject to a later Parliamentary sanction, for agricultural research, and if we know, having been informed, that animal physiology is one of the objects of research, and also stock rearing, and so on, surely we are fully entitled to discuss the matter. I do not know precisely what "veterinary" means, and I do not know whether anyone else does, but if we are discussing the provision of money for raising poultry and increasing egg laying, surely we are entitled to discuss poultry diseases and their cure.

The Deputy-Chairman

That is precisely what the Committee cannot discuss under the Bill. Hon. Members are entitled to discuss the setting up of machinery and the provision of funds for it. This is purely a machinery provision. Hon. Members cannot discuss what the Council is going to do.

Mr. Hale

With respect, Sir Rhys, the Clause is the whole of the Bill except for the Title, and it says: There shall be established an Agricultural Research Fund into which shall be paid … such moneys as may from time to time be provided by Parliament for the purposes of this Act …. Surely we are entitled now to discuss the branches of agriculture which we consider to be fit subjects for agricultural research.

The Deputy-Chairman

It will be in order to discuss that when the funds are provided, but they are not provided here.

Captain Duncan

With all due respect, Sir Rhys, the Clause says that the Council is to be set up: … and may … establish or develop institutions, or departments of institutions, and make grants, for investigation and research relating to the advancement of agriculture. Agriculture is divided into two parts, crop husbandry and livestock farming, and my contention is that the Council in its work in the future should put greater emphasis on the livestock side of agriculture in comparison with the crop husbandry side than has been done in the past. I may be getting near the line again, Sir Rhys, but I have made my point.

I hope that in its future administration the Council will pay greater attention to this problem, because the losses in livestock are an unnecessary waste of effort, money and productive efficiency, a very large amount of which could be eliminated by further scientific research by the veterinary profession and by the use by farmers of the results of that research. It is that job which the Agricultural Research Council can so well do.

Mr. Hale

I entirely agree with the last two speeches and I do not propose to add anything to them, because hon. Members on each side have said all that needs to be said; but I should have thought that the Virus Research Council, at Cambridge, had a good deal to do with this matter. The Bill authorises directions to be given by the Lord President of the Council to the Agricultural Research Council which can use the services of the Virus Research Council. My only short point is that we had a Select Committee on delegated legislation which unanimously said that delegated legislation was singularly undesirable, but that it was unfortunately necessary that we had to use it.

It is true that this is a Bill which simply refers to existing organisations and enlarges powers, and so on, but the form of drafting is such that, had it initiated the Agricultural Research Council, it would have been a classic example of Parliament completely abrogating its functions. Both sides of the Committee are convinced that it is a useful and proper Measure, but it provides no measure of Parliamentary control. It provides no limit on the amount of funds that can be granted. Decision as to directions can be given by the Lord President of the Council alone and by anybody else whom he cares to add to the Committee. Decision as to the funds can be made by the Minister alone, subject to the agreement of the Treasury, and there is no control of any kind, sort or description.

I suggest that in the interests of the dignity of the Committee it is as well that these measures should provide a little more for Parliamentary control. I suggest that the Minister should have in mind the fact—although I admit that there is a case for this and that it amends Acts which have already provided some measure of control—that the drafting is very wide and does tend to abrogate the power of Parliamentary control.

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

May I, first, deal with the constitutional point raised by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), and assure him that the position is not as bad as he has seen it? In fact, the Lord President's committee will consist of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Vote will be that of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, so that Parliament must approve the money, although once approved the money will be under the control of those three Ministers in its spending, with the normal safeguards of the Treasury. Parliament does control the purse strings and it is right, Parliament having determined how much money is to be made available, that in activities of this kind the greatest possible freedom in the actual spending of the money should be given.

Mr. Hale

The Parliamentary Secretary should bear in mind the very important factor that Ministers always start with good intentions and nearly always finish up as viscounts. It is not always possible to carry out what is intended. The Bill gives the Lord President of the Council power to do what he likes about directions and forming the committee. We accept the assurance that he would carry on in much the same way, subject to the Amendments. We attach importance to the assurances of the Minister, but they are still only verbal assurances.

Mr. Nugent

Parliament is an effective watchdog and so long as Members like the hon. Member for Oldham, West are here, we need not fear that this will be an ineffective constitutional device. On the other side, I assure the hon. Member—and I am sure the Committee accepts it—that it is most desirable in these matters of research to give the maximum freedom in the activities of the body and thereby get the best results.

I want, briefly, to reply to other points without going out of order. I think that I said on Second Reading that the balance of advantage is in keeping the combination of the veterinary scientists with the general agricultural scientists under the aegis of the Agricultural Research Council. The work of agriculture and the whole of livestock husbandry is so intimately bound up with the work of veterinary surgeons that there is every advantage in keeping the two together. I will certainly acknowledge that there is scope for more work on livestock husbandry and perhaps particularly on poultry husbandry. I think that the A.R.C. recognises that and at the present time it is in process of taking over the very admirable pioneer work started by the Animal Health Trust in that line.

However, the soundness of my argument is still there. It is that the work of the veterinary expert with the agriculturalist is part of a whole problem, and we want to keep them working together. The A.R.C. is the right body to see that development proceeds in a co-ordinated fashion. I take note of the comments of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) on this and, indeed, those of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan), and I do not doubt that the Agricultural Research Council will also have taken note of them. I do not think that anyone would disagree with the importance of developing veterinary work in agriculture today, not so much the curative as the preventive work.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member is pursuing this too far.

Mr. Nugent

I shall conclude my remarks, Sir Rhys. If my interest in the subject has led me astray, I hope that I shall be forgiven. We have taken note of the remarks of the two hon. Members and I do not doubt that we shall do our best to cater for them. I have given as substantial an answer as I can and I hope that the Committee will now be ready to agree to the Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.