HC Deb 16 November 1956 vol 560 cc1269-300

Order for Second Reading read.

11.4 a.m.

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

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

This modest Bill is being introduced to fulfil an undertaking given by the Government after the last Annual Price Review. The House will remember, I think, that a good deal was said in the White Paper, following that review, about the urgent need to develop further home production of feeding stuffs. The fuller use of grass and grass products, I am sure, is one of the most effective ways of doing this and thus giving relief to our balance of payments.

It was decided to work out, in consultation with the N.F.U.s, a scheme for assisting the construction and the improvement of silos for silage. For the benefit of non-agricultural Members present, I ought to explain that a silo is a container for fresh grass and fodder crops, which are sealed and preserved for winter use for feeding to livestock, particularly dairy and other cattle.

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

Hear, hear.

Mr. Amory

I see the hon. Member agrees that that is a reasonably accurate description of the silos about which we are talking. This container may, of course, be a perfectly simple affair, such as a pit or something equivalent, or a structure with concrete walls and a roof. I am sure that the general objective of the Bill will commend itself to the House.

Some hon. Members may wonder why we have selected this process for assistance. Silage-making is a comparatively inexpensive method of producing a high-quality material for feeding. I am advised by all my expert farmer friends that the technique of making it is not difficult provided that certain rules are carefully observed, but it is disappointing that it has not made rapid progress to date, particularly among the smaller farms. I know that the labour required for handling silage and feeding it is liable to be rather more than for hay, and this and other difficulties are reflected in the figures of production.

The amount of silage made in any one season depends a good deal on the weather during that season, but, taking the three-year average, the amount produced in the United Kingdom for the three years ended in 1955 was about 2.6 million tons a year, whereas during the three years previous to that it had been 1.9 million tons. I believe that in England and Wales, at any rate, the increase has been mainly on the medium and the larger holdings. Only about 4 per cent. of farms under 100 acres in England and Wales are making silage today and only about 7 per cent. of all holdings. That means that the problem of silage-making on the small farm has not yet been solved.

I feel that the present position is not good enough. I cannot escape the conclusion that in our unreliable summer climate—I do not think it is an overstatement to describe it as unreliable—it must be sensible to conserve a bigger proportion of our grass in the form of silage than is being done at present. In my own county, in the south-west, where we have a fairly heavy rainfall, I should say that it is only in about one year in five that we make good hay, and I should dearly like the progress in silage-making to be faster, at least in the western and south-western parts of the country.

Therefore, I think that there are good grounds for some inducement to farmers who are not now making silage to start doing so. But I should like to make it clear that I believe that there is no short cut to learning the technique of making good silage. The whole basis of the scheme must be the technical advice which, as hon. Members know, is freely available to all farmers from the agricultural Departments, not only on the methods of making silage but on the types of silo which would be suitable to avoid the pitfalls that await the beginner.

The Bill requires little explanation. Shortly, it authorises Ministers to make subsidy schemes which will require Parliamentary approval. The Bill applies to the United Kingdom and, although Northern Ireland is operating at present some capital grants for silos, and has been doing so for some years, under its own legislation, it intends to participate in the scheme which we are going to make if Parliament approves the Bill. I am glad of that. Although these grants will be different from the usual type of production grant, the effect on production is so direct that we propose to consider them in the category of production grants.

I should like to draw attention to Clause 1 (3), which mentions the period within which Ministers may approve the works of construction and improvement. That period is different from the duration of the scheme itself under which the payments are made. The first scheme cannot, of course, be made until the Bill becomes law, but if the House today gives its general blessing to the Bill, as I hope it will, we propose to invite farmers forthwith to put forward their plans for approval. When the detailed scheme is made, after its approval in draft by Parliament, we shall seek authority to make payments relating to the work which has been approved between now and when the scheme is made.

Hon. Members will appreciate that there is a certain urgency in this matter if we are to give effect to our undertaking in the White Paper on the Annual Review and Determination of Guarantees, 1956, that legislation would be sought to enable the proposals to come into operation this autumn and, also, if farmers are to be able to put the work in hand in time for the 1957 silage season. These are the purposes of this special arrangement, which I have described, of making a start at the earliest possible moment. I have placed in the Library for the convenience of hon. Members a copy of the schedule of the rates of subsidy which it is proposed to take power to pay in the first scheme, together with the main conditions.

As to the main features of the proposed scheme, standard rates of subsidy are proposed for various processes and component parts entering into the construction and improvement of silos. These will be specified in the schedule. The total payment, in any case, will depend upon the dimensions and materials used. There will be two limitations. The first is that the maximum grant per farm shall not exceed £250 for all the works, and of this total not more than £125 shall apply to work on an unroofed silo. It is increasingly evident, at least in the wetter parts of the country, that silage of good and reliable quality can be made only where there is some form of proper weather protection.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

Does the right hon. Gentleman really mean that? One can use earth or thatching to produce a decent silo.

Mr. Amory

The point I am making is that the weather protection must be really adequate. There are a great many different ways of providing that protection.

Mr. Paget

The whole process of silage making is to seal the silo from weather and air. Every process is aimed at that.

Mr. Amory

I could not agree more that that is the object, but, unfortunately, there is a good deal of experience to show that, in some cases, silage is inadequately sealed. In the wetter parts of the country I have a bias towards a permanent roof for the silo pit.

The rates of subsidy have been calculated to cover roughly 50 per cent. of the cost of the work, on the basis of moderate but adequate methods of construction. Except in Northern Ireland, which will retain its own constructional standards, we do not contemplate any major or rigid restrictions on the type of silo that may be eligible for grant, but individual projects will need the approval of the appropriate agricultural Department before it qualifies for grant so that we can satisfy ourselves, for instance, that the silo is of reasonable size for the needs of the particular farm.

If, in some cases, the landlord desires to apply for the grant, he will be free to do so, although in those cases the tenant, too, will have to be brought into the consultations. Additions and improvements to existing silos, as well as new construction, will be included so that those who are at present making silage and who wish, for instance, to add a roof to the silo will be able to benefit from the scheme.

This, in outline, is the scheme which we shall be submitting to the House in due course. As I have declared on many occasions, it is my firm belief that the greatest single opportunity of increasing the prosperity of British agriculture lies in the tremendous scope which I believe there is for further improvement in the production, management and use of our grass. I am sure that the Bill will be of help to many of our small farmers with limited resources in making fuller use of one very promising method of grass conservation, and I warmly commend it to the House.

If I may, I should like to apologise to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) because I fear that I may have to leave the House temporarily before he may have concluded his speech.

11.19 a.m.

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

I have no objection to the rather unusual procedure in respect of the first scheme which the Minister has outlined to the House. This, despite the fact that last night I heard the right hon. Gentleman say at a function, even before he came to the House today to move the Second Reading of the Bill, that he was prepared to start taking applications. I thought that he was rather "jumping the gun."

Personally, I welcome production subsidies. I know that I do not always carry my hon. Friends with me in this, but I think that it is the right way to use the taxpayer's money. If subsidies there have to be, let us use them, or at least a part of them in direct incentives and aids to the best use of our natural resources. Schemes relating to livestock rearing, farm improvements, roadways, marginal production and fertilisers are all such direct incentives. Grants for the construction of silos or the improvement of existing silos are a further incentive to farming efficiency which I readily support.

I think, with the Minister, that if there is one branch of agriculture which offers real possibilities of import saving and better utilisation of our climatic conditions and soil it is improved grassland husbandry. How badly we need that import saving, and shall need it in the years ahead, has been obvious for some time, but what was already a serious problem has been gravely worsened by the war in the Suez Canal area. The political consequences of that action are becoming increasingly obvious, but the economic consequences have yet to be appreciated and suffered. No less than one-fifth of the country's imported food and animal feeding stuffs came through the Suez Canal last year.

That quantity of food and feeding stuffs will now be subject to the longer haul, with shipping that may prove quite inadequate for the task. The Times tells us this morning that freight rates have risen 30 per cent. in the last three weeks. Considerable imports of animal feeding stuffs came from Egypt, Syria and Iran. There is no likelihood of an early resumption of imports from those countries, but even if we could get over the initial difficulty with the Suez Canal I imagine that those countries would not be anxious immediately to resume the export of those things to us. As has already been shown in the Middle East, some of these countries display a fanatical readiness to cut off their noses to spite their faces. They have done it in relation to oil and they may do it in relation to other things.

In the first nine months of this year, Egypt sent us 45,000 tons of feeding stuffs; India and Pakistan, 90,000 tons; Australia, 22,000 tons; East Africa, 60,000 tons; and Burma, 90,000 tons. No wonder the prices of feeding stuffs shot up immediately following the crisis. Groundnut cake and meal went up in the first week by 7s. 6d. to 35s. a ton; cotton seed and cotton seed meal from 10s. to 17s. 6d. a ton; soya bean meal by 2s. 6d. to 20s. a ton; and maize meal from 15s. to 25s. a ton. Those are all additions to the annual feeding stuffs bill which was already a very serious factor in our balance of payments problem. About £54 million is involved in the annual feeding stuffs bill. It is right that we should do as much as possible in any circumstances to cut down this bill because of its heavy drain upon our sterling and a certain number of dollars.

The effect of rises in prices of these feeding stuffs will be reflected either in increases in price to consumers immediately or will be charged to the taxpayers after the next farm Price Review. This is a serious situation, which we have to take into consideration even in connection with a very small Bill, such as this happens to be. The sooner we get down to measures of import saving the better for our future.

It is repeatedly said that what the country requires of agriculture is increased output without a substantial increase in unit costs. I think I heard the Minister say that last night. I agree with him that that should be the aim of the Minister and of everyone connected with the industry. Better utilisation of grass is one of our ways of doing this. I can see nothing wrong with grassing down, if the grass is properly produced, utilised and conserved. It is conservation that we are dealing with this morning.

It ought to be noted that in quality we lag very seriously behind such countries as Holland, Belgium, Norway and Western Germany, according to the O.E.E.C. Report for 1954. I am sure that we lag seriously behind in the use of fertilisers on grassland. Farmers who use quite reasonable amounts on arable land tend sometimes to say, "Do not let us bother about fertilisers on grassland." It seems to me that a large increase of meat off grass is well within the bounds of possibility. With proper skill, slaughterhouse accommodation and preserving equipment we could achieve it.

Incidentally, meat is a product of which more will be required to meet the continuing change towards more attractive and more nutritional food. Good hay is a very good way indeed to conserve grass, but how often can we make good hay in our climate? The Minister has spoken about one year in five; certainly, it is always a very chancy business. The real alternative is good silage. Crops cut at an early and nutritive stage of growth, well made into good silage, produce a highly nutritive feeding stuff. Much of the future of animal husbandry lies in grass and silage. We could get an increase in beef and lamb in that way. We are still short of the animal population we could carry and, certainly, the sheep population could be stepped up by nearly 5 million.

Silo subsidies are a part, a very small part, of the capital injection required to remedy our slowness in modernising our farm buildings. Many farmers are using equipment in this respect that was out-of-date a hundred years ago. It was inadequate for its purpose then and is more inadequate today. We shall have to tackle this aspect of agriculture. The Bill will be of small assistance in that direction. For all the reasons I have given, I gladly welcome the Bill.

11.27 a.m.

Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)

I offer my humble support to what the Minister has described as a modest Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the speculation about what may happen as the result of recent events in the Middle East.

I represent a Division in the southeast of England where we have some of the best farming land and a great many small farmers. In a recent survey made by the University of London it was found that the profits on farms in this part of south-east England amounted to about half the typical profits found on farms throughout England and Wales. According to the survey, the small farmer with under 100 acres in southeast England has an income of not more than £450 a year. It is to that type of farmer that the Bill will be of assistance.

When we consider why these farmers are not achieving a better income, the interesting thing is that although the cost for labour, power and machinery has gone up the actual money spent on these items in recent years has fallen. In 1947 61 per cent. of the amount spent by those farmers was spent on labour, power and machinery. By 1952, that had fallen to 52 per cent. and there has been a slight fall since.

Where there has been a great increase is in the amount of feeding stuffs purchased. During the years 1952–1954 feeding stuffs purchased by the farmers included in that survey increased by 30 per cent. In those years, of course, there was a great increase in the numbers of pigs and poultry kept, but it may be that some of the increase was also used for dairy cattle.

There are two ways of tackling the problem. We all know of a professor in an agricultural college in the west of England who prides himself on his 2,000 gallon cows. His approach to the problem is that if one buys feedingstuffs one is, in fact, making additional resources available to the farm. In my constituency, the other day, I attended a farm demonstration where cattle were producing 5 gallons a day on grass alone. That seems a much more helpful method of tackling the problem if we are to reduce the cost.

Some hon. Members may have seen in the Farmer and Stockbreeder last week that a gentleman farming at Newbury was keeping 55 Ayrshires on 125 acres. His explanation of how that was done was that of concentrating on grass and kale. If one concentrates on grass and kale it means that we shall have to make more silage and, if we make more silage, we shall reduce costs, which will be a great advantage to farmers. Not only will that be an advantage to farmers, but it will fall in with our national policy as a whole. At the time of the last Price Review the Minister told us that we were paying 1s. for imported food on each gallon of milk produced. If we can reduce that amount it will be all to the good.

Only this week my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) quoted, in the Farmer and Stockbreeder, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary saying that 10 per cent. saving on import of feedingstuffs would reduce our total trading deficit by 25 per cent. It seems to me that here we are not only starting something which will be of advantage to the individual farmer, but also to our national advantage.

May I summarise by quoting a passage from the Report published by London University, to which I have referred, and which says: There can be no gainsaying the part grassland can play in reducing costs. It is more than disappointing to find such methods of low cost production receiving far less than their fair share of attention because purchased feedingstuffs are more handy. Indeed, this is the crux of the matter, farmers either do not have the ability, or do not care to involve themselves in the harder task of grassland management. For this two penalties have to be paid; production costs are higher than they need be and the farmer also forgoes some income. To this must be added the ever-growing cost of feedingstuffs imports into this country. Farmers certainly cannot be blamed for seeking out the easiest ways of profit making and there is no doubt that feeding concentrates is an easier way of 'farming' than many others. Neither can they be held responsible for the fact that purchased feedingstuffs prices may not reflect the real cost to the country of these imports. The central problem of inefficiency in the feed economy is responsible more than any other factor for the low incomes of farmers in south-east England. If this Bill makes any contribution to reducing costs and increasing the incomes of farmers that seems a very important point in its favour.

There is another aspect I wish to mention. I have had the advantage of looking at the document which is in the Library setting out the details of the first scheme that the Minister may propose. That document says that the subsidy … will apply to … pit clamp or trench silos. Power silos may be included. We all know that the National Agricultural Advisory Service gives great assistance to farmers about farm building. I have no doubt that it has studied, and will be studying, the method of using this money to the best advantage. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East mentioned various countries which seem to have better results from grassland conservation than we have. In many of those countries they have tower silos. They are almost the first thing obtained for the equipment of a farm. I have also seen them in Canada and the United States as almost standard equipment for every farm.

Mr. Paget

Are they to make silage or to store grain?

Mr. Godman Irvine

They are to make silage.

I have seen a great many of them, although this standard method of making silage in those countries seems to have escaped the notice of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). They grow maize and put it green into the silos. That is one of the fundamental methods of feeding cattle in Canada and the United States. They have the tower silos sited near the cow stalls so that it is not necessary to go out into the snow and ice in winter to bring silage to the cattle.

There may be certain advantages in tower silos. The modern variety of tower silo is airtight and saves the walking and the waste of labour which some other varieties of equipment involve. I hope that the National Agricultural Advisory Service will see whether there may be a case for building modern tower silos in this country. In 1950 a productivity team went to the United States to find out what they could about agriculture there which may be of value to this country. When it considered the question of tower silos the team came to the conclusion that that would be of no advantage in this country because of our climate. The team thought the only justification for tower silos in the United States was to avoid the difficulty experienced because of snow and ice in winter. Yet a great many of us will have seen tower silos used in countries where that difficulty does not arise. I do not know the answer; it may be that the Minister will be able to advise farmers whether to use towers or not.

So far as other methods of silage are concerned, it seems that a great many items of equipment on farms only serve to collect rainwater. Some farmers have constructed silos and, after a few years' experience, discarded them and gone back to surface silos in a stack or clamp. There is a lot to be said for surface silage and I hope that the National Agricultural Advisory Service will be able to advise farmers whether stacks and clamps may, in many cases, not be the best and cheapest method.

I had the privilege of going with some hon. Members to visit a farm at Bulborne, owned by the Farmers' Weekly. There, two large pits have been built with very economical materials. The sides were constructed of railway sleepers and there was a concrete foundation. When I asked what would be done to keep the rain out I was told that the cost of putting on a roof had been gone into very carefully and it was found that it could not be justified economically for these clamps. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether a roof has a justification where costs are concerned. I know that it is very desirable to keep rain out, but the cost of roofing has been found by some of us who are farming to be so high that unless we can get better and cheaper methods of roofing there are real difficulties.

This is a Measure which I think may well be a means of meeting a particular problem in the South-East of England, and I think it will also have a wider application to the national economy. I am pleased to offer my support of the Bill.

11.40 a.m.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine), but I should like to give him this word of advice, and that is not always to believe the claims of people who argue that it is possible to get five gallons of milk a day from a cow simply by feeding her on grass. I am sure there are exceptions to the general standard of production in this country which might make an individual case like that possible, but those of us who farm in south-east England and who are constantly hearing of these wonderful records of milk and crop production have found, when we run them to earth, that they are not as good as was claimed. One of the impressions given by statements of that kind to the outside world, the taxpayer and the consumer is that the production of food in this country is an easy job. We know that it is a difficult job.

I would also say to him that the landscape of English farming is littered with derelict tower silos. They were expensive and they used a great deal of cement at a time when the nation needed cement for other purposes. I should have thought there was a very good reason for pressing on the Agricultural Advisory Service that it should be concentrating much more on the proper development of pit silos than on encouraging the use of raw materials which are scarce in building these quite unnecessary concrete constructions.

Turning to the Bill, I regret that I cannot share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) for this silly Bill—for it is a silly Bill. What are we doing? We are encouraging the building of silos after the cow has departed. I see that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is puzzled by that. Is he not aware that considerable anxiety exists among the dairy farmers about the future prospects of milk production in this country? Is he not aware that the country markets are becoming crowded with good cows being sold off?

The fact is that the dairy farmers know quite well that the Government are pricing an adequate supply of milk out of the housewife's budget. Every dairy farmer knows that from the first of next month—and every good dairy farmer also knows that the next four months are his most profitable production months—he will lose between 3d. and 4d. a gallon off the price which the Milk Marketing Board will pay him for milk.

It is not much good going to farmers who are anxious about this position and telling them that they can increase their milk production by the use of silage when what they are worried about is whether we are about to return to the day when farmers had to pour their milk down the drain to get rid of it. I do not think we are returning to that day, but at the same time the Government will make it extremely difficult for the small milk producer by their policy of pricing an adequate supply of milk beyond the housewife's reach.

I beg the Government to remember that the average size of herds in this country is about eleven cows. That means that in the main the milk produced in this country is produced by very small farmers. Now we intend to go to these small farmers and say, "We will give you financial encouragement to build silos". That is not the end of it. How is the small farmer to get his crop into the silo? He must have at least a buck rake, and the condition of many of our farm roads is so bad that a buck rake becomes virtually an incompetent tool.

The Minister himself said that the greatest amount of silage is being made by the medium and large-sized fanners. Of course it is. That is because the medium and large-sized farmer can afford to have a green crop loader which gathers the crop and delivers it straight into his trailers and lorries. These are the people who benefit from silage, and I do not believe it can be argued under any circumstances that such farmers as these—medium and large-sized farmers—need a subsidy from the Treasury to enable them to put a roof on a silo or to build a new silo.

What the Government seem to be doing is continuing the folly of using marginal subsidies. This follows the example, which I suppose will be repeated in the coming Annual Price Review, of giving a subsidy for the ploughing up of temporary grassland. If ever there were a way of throwing money down the drain, it is the decision to give the farmer a subsidy for doing something which he ought to be doing anyway and which is in his own interest and in the interest of good husbandry. For years the Agricultural Advisory Service has been asking that we should follow a proper ley system and urging that farmers ought to be rotating grass round the fields. Yet each year I receive a cheque from the Treasury—by the way, this year's cheque seems a little overdue—for three-year grass leys which I ploughed up. I put a lucerne field down for cows which is now becoming weedy—as lucerne fields have a habit of becoming weedy; I put it down because it would enrich the land and then, later, I plough it up. I get £7 an acre for ploughing it up. That is an appalling waste of money.

I see that the economists have been suggesting that we ought to be very careful about the development of marginal land in this country. I wish the Minister would stay away from the economists. They have done a great deal of damage to the agricultural industry of this country and it would be better if the Minister were to listen a little more to the farmers, who are showing a great deal of uncertainty about the future.

Mr. Speaker

I think the hon. Member is transgressing even the wide limits of a Second Reading debate on this Bill. It does not open the whole agricultural problem to us. If the hon. Member could get a little nearer the Bill, I think the House would be obliged to him.

Sir L. Plummer

I was only arguing that this is a marginal subsidy, or a subsidy for marginal producers, and I was pointing out that these subsidies for marginal producers ought not to be repeated; but, of course, I accept your instruction, Mr. Speaker, and I will not develop that argument further.

I should like to refer to the covering of silage pits. I have found, with the assistance of the Agricultural Advisory Service, that the making of silage pits is a comparatively easy task if one has a bulldozer or can hire a bulldozer. Moreover, I have found that it is quite unnecessary to provide a concrete floor for a silage pit. It is a complete waste of money. A little hard core at the bottom of the pit, some land drainage pipes and a lead to take away any water and the moisture from the silage itself is all that is necessary.

This is not an expensive job. Indeed, it is a very cheap job, particularly if we use, as most farmers do, land which is not in agricultural production. The growth of the use of the combine harvester has meant that land which hitherto had been preserved for containing corn stacks is now to a large extent idle land, and one can build a very cheap silage pit on such land without any of the trimmings which the Minister mentioned. I assure him that even in a wet Summer it is not necessary to have a permanent roof on these silage pits. What we do is to put a covering of earth and then a covering of straw. We then rip open old fertiliser bags and put those on top, and some more earth, all of which adds weight and helps to compact the silage underneath. It is made convex, and the water runs away. I hope that we are not to encourage the putting of roofs over silage pits, because I do not feel that there is any evidence that those are necessary for making good silage.

Mr. Paget

It need only be earth, anyway.

Sir L. Plummer

As my hon. and learned Friend points out, it need only be earth, in any case.

What I want to know is whether there is to be any help given to the farmer who is to start with silage for the procurement of the necessary tools for making it. I have mentioned the buck rake and the green crop loader. Unless the small man is given the opportunity to get the tools, how will he be able to perform the task, not only of filling his pit but of making the silage properly? I do not think that the Ministry has thought out this matter completely in deciding to give some asistance for the construction of a receptacle for the silage without, at the same time, assisting the small farmer to make the stuff adequately.

I do not believe that these half-hearted attempts to produce schemes of this kind really benefit agriculture. We can maintain and improve our grass production if we give the farmer the guaranteed prices and the guaranteed markets which he really requires. This is the nub of the whole problem. If we give the farmer these things, he will, in turn, see to it that he produces from the land food at the most economical rate. If he is encouraged, and encouraged over a long term, he will produce the goods. All we are now doing is to discuss a Bill which might give some benefit—and a slight one—to a few farmers.

If it is true, as was advanced yesterday, that it is necessary in the next few years for us to increase agricultural production by from 12 per cent. to 20 per cent. to meet the growing demand of the population, the Government have to start thinking now about how to encourage that increased production. They have to think now a/bout how they can induce the farmer to grow the things we most want in this country. At the moment, the Government haver between increases in the price of milk and clamping down on milk production, and do not take the necessary action in controlling the price of the product.

As I have said, this is a silly Bill. It is a waste of time, and certainly, I think, a waste of public money. I do not think that it is likely to get the Government any applause, particularly from the farmers, who would not turn up and vote for the Government in Chester yesterday.

11.54 a.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) that this Bill is very great nonsense. I believe that the Government are going about this task in completely the wrong way. If one believes in the private enterprise method of farming, it ought to follow that one believes in allowing the farmer to decide how best to produce the end-product. Give him a decent price for the end-product—and that is how the whole subsidy system should be applied—and leave him to make up his own mind how best to produce that product in the most economical way. On the one hand, to let the price of milk break —as is happening at the present time—so that the main back-bone of the small and medium farmer is taken away and, on the other hand, to introduce this Measure in order to get more milk does not make any sense in the countryside.

This Bill does even worse than that. It is capricious to a degree, because not only does it tell the farmer that in producing milk he will have an advantage if he uses silage, instead of preferring roots, or hay or any other method which may be more useful on his farm, but it gives him a special advantage in relation to the particular methods he uses for making his silage. That seems to give the most encouragement to the least economical method of making silage; that is to say, the expense of the silage is put into the silo instead of into the machinery.

In making silage economically, the expensive items are the buck rake, the hydraulic lift and the green crop loader. Those are the items on which the money should be spent. Instead of that, we are encouraging expensive silos which are dead against the whole trend. Following the American and Canadian example, we ourselves put up a lot of tower silos. The capital expenditure was extremely heavy, but even then, having incurred it, we have found that the labour of making silage in that way is the reverse of worthwhile. Indeed, that is a very general experience both in Canada and in the States. It is true that, on some of the farms, old silos are still being used for corn silage, as they call it, but in a great many cases they have found that stacking the corn is far more efficient, and the old silage towers are now being used for stacking grain and, indeed—with a warming system installed—for drying grain. It will be found that a lot of those silos are now used as grain storages.

Mr. Godman Irvine

The main difficulty that Canadian and American farmers are always up against is lack of labour, and I have always understood that the main reason for using these silos was to reduce the amount of manpower required. The hon. and learned Gentleman may be right, but that is not the view they hold about the tower silo.

Mr. Paget

I think it will be found that they are progressively taking that view. With the tower silo, one has first to chop, then to mix, then to get the stuff in, then to press it and then to cut it out. Tower silage needs all those things. With stack silage the weight of the tractor can be used for the pressure. Pressure chopping can be obtained by using a mechanical digger to put on the earth. It is true that some maize crops still have to be chopped, but that is not necessary if the maize is cut when fairly young. I do not think that any other silage crop needs chopping. It has, in fact, been proved that the stack pit method eliminates a number of processes and comes much cheaper. That is why the tower is being progressively abandoned.

Again, I can see no justification either for providing silos with concrete flooring or for roofing them—the very thing which we are asked to encourage. Here I would come to something very much more controversial indeed. I am simply quoting this as a personal experience, and the experience of other people with whom I have been talking. It is something which is contrary to the view of the scientists, and it is this. If anyone goes in for producing very high quality silage, he does not get in the bucket anything like what the analysis would lead one to expect. That has certainly been my experience, and it has been the experience of many people with whom I have talked. I do not know why this is, but certainly I do not think that the protein which the analysis shows is really in an available form. It certainly does not seem to come through to the bucket.

Personally I am a great believer in silage, but as a roughage crop. If it is a roughage crop, one need not use the additional labour which is necessary to get the very highest quality. One can use the buck rake method, lay the silage down, driving the tractor over it and using the weight of the tractor as the main presser, and then get the mechanical digger to put the earth on top. One man can produce an enormous amount of silage per day. The labour costs are very cheap. The silage is not going to be the best, but it will be an admirable feed. It is the sort of job that can be done when it is raining, and it is too wet to do anything else on the farm. Yet that is the very sort of silage-making on which this Bill puts a premium.

This is as good an example as one could find of how not to help agriculture. The farmers should have assistance in the price of the end-product, and they should be allowed to make up their minds how to produce the end-product. If for social and defence purposes we want a higher level of production than would be economic, we have got to provide a higher end-price than the normal market price. All through the world it is a question of balance. In the prairies there are cheap acres, expensive labour, high production per man and low production per acre. In Holland there is cheap peasant labour and unsatisfactory land, high production per acre and low production per man. We are somewhere in the middle.

Our labour expenses are very high. On an economic basis I reckon that our agricultural production would pay at about half its present price if it were left to a free market. We have to provide a higher price, but in providing that higher price let us provide it for the end-product and let the farmer decide how he is going to produce the end-product.

12.4 p.m.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

It seems from what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) have said today that they are coming more and more in line with a view which I have felt for a long time, which is the need for a differential form of subsidy for those who need it. There is some justification for saying that in this Bill the Government have missed an opportunity whereby they could ensure that those who really need a subsidy and will use it properly shall get it and those who do not need it shall not get it. I hope that it may not yet be too late for some rectification of that omission.

I should have thought that here is definitely a case where the Government ought to have made up their minds, before they introduced the Bill, whether or not this is the kind of Bill to encourage the really efficient milk producer. The Milk Marketing Board has recently taken some important steps in this matter, in particular in the examination of milk to ascertain the solids-not-fat content as well as the butter fat content.

I think that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) will agree that since the end of the war there has been a gradual intensification of the policy to increase lower quality milk rather too much to the detriment of the interests of the really efficient milk producer. One of the reasons that that has happened is that there are, in particular in the south-west part of the country, many beef breeds producing milk which is far below the quality which it should be, which has creamed off—though "creamed" is the last word to use—or caused to evaporate that cushion to the price which the Milk Marketing Board has relied upon in the winter months to give a decent return to the good dairy farmer. It seems to me that unless a careful check is kept one consequence of this Bill will be to encourage that low quality milk production far more than it will encourage the better type.

I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton about the cost of erecting these silos and the relative values of pit silos and surface silos. My feeling is that as long as one has the drainage right in the pit silo it is the most economic silo to make and the most economic form of silo to use, which is perhaps even more important than the actual cost of construction.

I feel there is a case for the Government carefully to re-examine their intentions with regard to the implementation of the Bill. I should have thought that one of the first things we ought to do is to encourage the small farmers to cooperate more than they do and to make their farms more economic units. There is nothing in the Bill to indicate whether or not the Government would be prepared to pay these grants in respect of several small farmers who get together and build one silo which they could all use. I should have thought that a lot of money could be saved from this subsidy if the Government would make clear that they would give a slightly higher rate of subsidy for one silo where several farmers use it and make it an economic unit to use. There are many small farms of 50 acres or so; in fact, the majority of the farms in the country are under 100 acres, and if every one of those farms were equipped with an expensive surface silo a lot of money would be wasted.

I am one of those who believes that, in general, the long-term future of British agriculture would be safer if we relied upon tariffs rather than on subsidies, but in the case of milk we cannot do that. We have to decide whether to operate with a subsidised price or with a production grant, or both. In this instance we had decided that we ought to use a grant. Let us, therefore, make certain that it is given to the people who will use it best and not to those people who will abuse it. That inevitably means some form of selection. Who will do that? I would suggest that, in conjunction with the local county agricultural executive committees' milk sub-committees, and with the cooperation of the Milk Marketing Board, it ought not to be so very difficult to find out those who really ought not to have this particular form of subsidy.

I should like to hear an assurance today from my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when he replies to the debate, that before the Government draft their orders they will think this out very much more carefully than they appear to have done so far. I believe, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford said, that the milk producer is in greater jeopardy than probably any other section of the farming community, because there has been over-production of a low-quality milk which ought not to come on the market and certainly ought not to have any subsidy. If we can eliminate that, we shall reassure the taxpayer and, what is more, we shall save a considerable amount of money for the taxpayer, because I do not think that the really efficient milk producer is going to give a bad return. The person who does is the man who is farming an uneconomic unit, producing low quality milk, and getting the full benefit of subsidy; and now, as the Bill stands, we are holding out to him the offer of a further subsidy.

I am as keen as anyone to ensure that the small farmer survives, but I am absolutely certain that if he is to survive he must be prepared to co-operate where-ever he can with his neighbours in equipment which they can jointly use without getting in each other's way.

Mr. Paget

Surely the whole point of silage is to have it by your sheds?

Major Legge-Bourke

I absolutely agree that it is highly desirable, and if you possibly can have it close to your farm, so much the better; but I still believe that when we are thinking of farms of 50 acres and smaller, to allow each such small farmer to build an expensive surface silo and get the taxpayer to subsidise the work is utterly wrong. My own feeling is that it is a matter of degree and of common sense, more than anything else. I am quite convinced that it is much better to build an expensive surface silo so that four or five men can use it, though they perhaps have to stand a little extra in cartage cost, rather than that each one of them should have an expensive surface silo for his own farm.

The small farmer presents a great problem to all of us. I do not see how the small farmer can survive under present conditions, with labour costs rising the whole time and the labour force itself dwindling, while he has at the same time to compete more and more with all the other rising costs and increased competition from abroad. It is important, therefore, that we encourage him to co-operate wherever he can. This Bill affords an opportunity to do so, and I hope my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to give some assurance about that.

12.13 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

We have had a very interesting and informed debate this morning, as we so often do when matters come up for discussion on a Friday morning. I feel that the Government cannot complain in any way of the reception, on the whole, that the Bill has received, although there have been two noteworthy exceptions.

Mr. Paget


Mr. Macpherson

Two, and perhaps not such a warm reception from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) as he sometimes gives to our Bills. I will put it in that way.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) gave support to the Bill, although perhaps the reasons for his welcoming it were not themselves quite so welcome to the Government. I should like to say, at the outset, that the broad purpose of the Bill is twofold: first, to save imports; and, secondly, to reduce costs. It is not to increase milk production, but essentially to reduce the cost of milk production.

In that, I would agree with what the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East stressed so much. He said—I noted his words—that much of the future in animal husbandry lies in silage. We agree with that, and we believe there is an immense opportunity for increased use of silage. One authority has recently put the possible increased use of silage as fivefold or sixfold.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East said, also, that we were lagging behind other countries in O.E.E.C. in the use of silage. That, of course, is true. We hope, by this Bill, to encourage farmers to start on silage where they have not already done so. We feel that once we can get them to start on the use of silage, we shall be going a long way to making much better use of our grassland in this country. We all must bear in mind the small proportion of farms at present using silage. Hon. Members will remember the figure of only 7 per cent. which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave.

The fact remains that silage is one of the most economical ways, if not the most economical way, of conserving grass. Indeed, in some parts of the country, it is the only economical way of conserving grass. I would urge hon. Members in all parts of the House to remember the very widely differing conditions, both physical and climatic, which we have to face in Britain. That is one of the reasons for the wide scope of the Bill, why it leaves to the judgment of the individual farmer, to a very large extent, the sort of silo that he should construct.

I understand that that is not the case in Northern Ireland, and, of course, this Bill will not in any way affect the standards laid down by the Northern Ireland Government, although they come into the Bill. We feel that with the very much wider difference in climatic conditions in Britain, it is wise to give much wider scope for the way in which the subsidy is given.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine) referred to the use of tower silos. In certain instances, there may be a case for their use, and that is why we have included them. It may well be that in certain cases a tower silo is the most advantageous to a particular farmer. But each of these cases is to be considered on its merits, and perhaps I might be permitted, at this stage, to refer to the actual phraseology used in the proposed conditions: For a project to attract grant, the appropriate agricultural department must be satisfied that it conforms with the requirements of good farming practice and that proper use will be made of the silo in relation to the needs of the farm. If the inspectors can be assured of that, then, of course, we can also be certain that proper use is being made of the money which the Government are making available.

Sir L. Plummer

Suppose a grant is given to a man who makes a pit silo, and then a couple of years later he does not like it and bulldozes it in again. Does he then repay to the Government that part of the subsidy he has received?

Mr. Macpherson

No, Sir; that would clearly not be the case. First, as I have said, we should already have started him off in the use of silage, which in most cases he will not already be doing. In the case the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) mentions, it is likely that, if the man is already making silage, he will know the sort of silo he requires, and, therefore, the circumstances which the hon. Gentleman suggests would be most unlikely to arise.

If the question is whether a farmer would be entitled to make two applications under the present Bill, the answer is, of course, that that would entirely depend on whether his second application came within the limits of the Bill or not.

Sir L. Plummer

I do not think I have made myself clear to the hon. Gentleman. A farmer receives a subsidy for making a pit silo; two or three years later, he decides it is too expensive for him, he bulldozes it in again, and does not have silage any more. Does he then return to the Treasury the grant which he has been given, or would the Ministry then be satisfied, and, having encouraged him to try, not be discouraged when he gave up the effort?

Mr. Macpherson

My answer would be that we have sufficient confidence in advocating the use of silage, together with the advice as to the making of silage which will be available to the applicants, to consider that the sort of circumstance which the hon. Gentleman has cited to the House will arise so rarely that it is not really worth considering within the scope of the Bill.

There has been a good deal of discussion as to whether a roof is necessary or not. The House has noted, as my right hon. Friend said, that the maximum amount of grant available will be £250 for a roofed silo and £125 for an unroofed one. We consider that it is particularly desirable to encourage roofed silos. Experiments on this have been made by the Scottish colleges. As hon. Members will know, Scotland has a good deal more rain than most parts of England and, therefore, weather proofing is a more difficult problem. It has been found there, in comparing roofed silos and soil covered pits, that 17 per cent. more dry material is available if a roof is put over the silage. We think that that is well worth achieving, particularly in those parts of the land which have a heavy rainfall.

I think that I overheard my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) say that that must be a guess. Very careful experiments have been carried out by the colleges in Scotland; careful measurements have been taken and a very careful analysis made. I could not perhaps say that they are absolutely exact to the decimal point, but, broadly, I think that the results must be considered to be justified.

Mr. Paget

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what they mean by a roof? Do they mean a tin roof, an earth roof, a thatched roof, or one with straw or bags on it? They are all roofs of sorts.

Mr. Macpherson

One cannot consider mere covering to be a roof. I think that one can clearly distinguish between a covering laid on silage and a roof erected over it, and that obviously must be the distinction. I do not know whether that will satisfy the hon. and learned Gentleman from the point of view of legal definition, but I hope that when the Order is made he will have a careful look at that point and satisfy himself that the distinction is clearly made.

Mr. Paget

Does not the hon. Gentleman see that the quality of the silage depends on the quality of the covering, whatever it may be, and that makes utter nonsense of talking about 17 per cent. because every percentage will be different according to the covering?

Mr. Macpherson

One has to bear in mind that silage has a very high moisture content. In other words, the equivalent of dry matter in silage is as one to five; it contains about four-fifths moisture.

Mr. Paget

More than that.

Mr. Macpherson

I am talking broadly. It is about four-fifths moisture. We have to bear in mind the object of getting good quality silage—I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not attach very great importance to the quality of silage—which will be best served, in our view, by encouraging the erection of roofs. There are parts of the country where we believe that the erection of roofs is really necessary for the production of even adequate silage, and it necessarily follows that we must give adequate financial encouragement and adequate financial aid and assistance for that to be done.

I should like to explain to the House that our purpose is not to make a standard grant but a grant at standard rates, so that every farmer will be able to work out exactly what he will get for the size and type of silo that he needs. There is no limitation on the type of silo in this country. The rate will be the same all over the country irrespective of the difference in local building costs, so it is fair as between farmer and farmer and district and district. I would mention, in passing, that that will enable the farmer to do the work himself and still get the full grant under the plan as we have made it.

I was asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely whether the Government would think out more carefully the plan before actually drafting the orders. My answer is that the unions have seen and accepted in general terms the plan as it has been drafted. The Bill carries into effect the promise which we gave in the White Paper on the Annual Price Review that we would introduce assistance for the construction of silos. We believe that by introducing it in this way—and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire South-East for saying that he took no exception—we shall allow advantage to be taken of the Bill in the current year for next season's silage.

That is the justification for it. We believe that in this way we shall be laying the foundations for quite a considerable reduction in the costs of production by encouraging the use of grass and the maximum utilisation of grassland. We think that that in itself is a good object to achieve.

Major Legge-Bourke

My hon. Friend has said that the unions have already agreed to the draft of the Orders. I hope that he will not accept as a precedent that when unions have agreed on an Order which is to be laid as the result of a Bill which comes before this House, which may or may not be given a Second Reading, it automatically follows that nothing can be done about altering it.

I am a member of the National Farmers' Union and I am always ready to defend it if that should be necessary, but it would be utterly wrong for Parliament to be overridden and because unions have agreed on a draft Order before it has been presented to Parliament, Parliament should have no further say about what should go into it.

Mr. Macpherson

I did not say that the unions have approved the draft Order. I am not even certain that the Order has been drafted as yet; I do not believe that it has. I said that the unions had approved the principles contained in the proposals. I used that argument merely to say that the views put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely will, of course, always be considered but they will not necessarily be fully implemented, bearing in mind that the unions themselves do not fully share those views.

Mr. Champion

On this point of the proposed conditions in connection with the first scheme, particulars of which have been placed in the Library, I see nothing at all in it about 50 per cent. or any other figure; but I understood the Minister, when he opened the debate, to say that it would be limited to 50 per cent. or a figure less than 50 per cent. of the cost. Could it, in fact, go up to 100 per cent? I am not quite sure.

Mr. Macpherson

The scale has been prepared on the basis of 50 per cent. of the reasonable cost of the particular operations, the particular work and the particular buildings concerned. We think that by giving a grant at standard rates we shall do something which is fair throughout the country and which will enable farmers to know exactly where they stand with any particular project. It will also have the advantage that it will represent a very considerable administrative saving, as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East will understand.

Mr. Champion

Does it mean that the owner or occupier will first put up his scheme and will then be told how much of the estimated amount will actually be granted to him.

Mr. Macpherson

It will be possible for the farmer to calculate, on the basis of the proposed rates of subsidy, exactly what he will get in advance in accordance with the scheme which he puts up and with his particular needs. We think that that should be a most satisfactory way of applying the subsidy and we hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I apologise to hon. Members for not having been here at the beginning of the debate. There is one matter which I should like made clear. Paragraph 33 of the Annual Review and Determination of Guarantees, 1956, Cmd. 9721 says: Provision will be made for the payment of grants up to £200,000 in 1956/57. I apologise for raising this matter, if the Joint Under-Secretary has already dealt with it. Will that figure be maintained at that level, even in view of the possibility—I do not want to make a party point of this—of increases in the costs of feeding stuffs and so on in the next six months or more? As feeding stuffs will probably be dearer, could we not have the grant increased earlier, so that more silage would be made in this country?

Mr. Macpherson

I fully understand the hon. Member's point, which is a good one. So much depends on the practical possibilities of the applications that may be received before the end of the current year. The £200,000 is only an estimate, which will have to be laid before the House when we get to that stage.

12.33 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I intervene with some hesitation, but I understand that in a chronological sense at least my intervention will convenience the Government. This being a Friday morning, I will express myself with moderate phraseology and say that while the speeches from the Government Front Bench were pleasant in delivery they were lacking in content, and have not met the points raised in our discussion.

The first issue which disturbs many of us on both sides of the House is this. We have constant debates about agriculture and we continually reach the fringe of a discussion upon the extent to which production grants should be given, but we never discuss the matter. As each new application is made to the House, the Government have no very clear idea about where the line should be drawn, no clear policy about the purpose and extent of production grants. It is time that we knew what the Government had in mind about the separation between production grants and the other assistance which our farmers receive.

The Bill was conceived some time ago, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) said, a good deal has since happened. It is contended—I do not want to exaggerate or over-emphasise the case—that prices of feeding stuffs may be affected by recent events. The Joint Under-Secretary ought to have dealt with that point. If we are to assist the farmers, we could give much more effective assistance by at once controlling the prices of feeding stuffs than by any step taken under the Bill. The Joint Under-Secretary should have taken the opportunity of assuring the House that farmers will not be exploited in the present situation by any unjustified, undue increase in the prices of feeding stuffs. If that happens—and it is odd that the Joint Under-Secretary did not choose to mention it—then the aid which farmers will get from this Bill will be very small pence, indeed.

There is another essential point to which we have to pay attention when formulating agricultural policy. I was disturbed by the impression which the Minister created, that the Bill might make a greater demand upon labour. I may have misunderstood him, but that was my impression. I am complaining about his approach to an agricultural policy. One of the justifications for the proposals in the Bill, I should have thought, was that it would even out seasonal demands upon labour and so help the labour position.

This is an important matter, because if we are to get a correct agricultural policy we have to have higher productivity from every person employed in the industry. That is the only way in which we can get security within the industry. The Government approach this morning seems to have been quite contrary to that. It has not been considered, yet it is one of the matters, I should have thought, that would have been considered and one of the matters which might have justified this particular approach.

Another topic raised impartially on both sides of the House this morning was that of the knowledge, technical advice and assistance given to farmers about silage. Different points of view were expressed about this as a technical matter. Criticisms were made of the proposals upon those grounds. It was thought that the Bill was based upon a wrong approach and that cheaper methods should have been more deliberately encouraged. The Joint Under-Secretary has not replied to those criticisms.

They are very relevant both to the justification for the Bill and to whether our present services are adequate and adequately used. I object to this constant short-cut of doling out money. The farmers as a whole are no better off, because these are merely different ways in which he receives his subsidy. The Joint Under-Secretary should have reported upon the advice given about silage and the advantage taken of it and whether proper methods are being pursued.

Mr. N. Macpherson

I thought that I had made it plain that colleges in Scotland and in England have at great length made a comparison of methods and have worked on finding the best methods. Their advice goes to farmers through the advisory services in many ways, not only by direct contact but by articles, leaflets, and so forth. In all those ways full information is given where it is really needed, that is, to the farmer.

Mr. Willey

That is not really a reply to the debate. It is no more a reply than was the hon. Gentleman's remark about the National Farmers' Unions agreeing to this. What I have said was that in the course of our discussion, views were expressed but the Joint Under-Secretary made no comment on them, although they went to the root of the Bill. I do not wish to exaggerate this point. It was clear enough that there were different views among experienced Members of this House, but the Joint Under-Secretary sought to say nothing more by way of reply than, "Well, the colleges are doing the best they can."

I am asking him why he has not sought to satisfy the House that the best they can do is adequate in the present situation—whether it is adequate to ensure that the best use will be made of the money that is being made available under the Bill. But quite apart from this—because every expert agrees about it—I should like to know whether every step is being taken to ensure that the silage produced is of the best quality. The Joint Under-Secretary has not dealt with that question, except to say, in general terms, that he is sure that those engaged on it are doing the best they can.

I should not like to challenge that statement, but he owes a duty to the House to satisfy it that sufficient is being done because, if not, a more profitable use of the money would be to spend more upon those services, and it seems from the discussion that there is a need for more money being so spent. In fact, until such money is spent, it may not be justifiable to spend money in the way it is to be spent under the Bill.

These are questions which should have been dealt with by the Government. We have had no reply to them. As the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) rightly said, the Joint Under-Secretary seems to feel that if he gets the agreement of the National Farmers' Unions, it is enough. But it is not enough. We cannot expect the National Farmers' Unions to refuse the money being offered in these circumstances. We want to be satisfied that there has been a real discussion and examination of this critically important problem of a proper agricultural policy.

There are one or two further points which should have been met by the Joint Under-Secretary or his right hon. Friend. One is the question of reconciling the present action of Her Majesty's Government with the action they have taken with regard to recommissioned mills. There should, I believe, be a reconciliation between the two contradictory and opposite actions which are being taken contemporaneously by the same right hon. Gentleman. It is certainly an unusual role for me to be an advocate for the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely, but he is entitled to a reply to the other vexed question, namely, that if we are providing a discriminatory subsidy we should ensure that it goes not only where it is technically needed, but where it is justifiable as a public expense. The Joint Under-Secretary did not deal with that point at all.

It is the failure to consider these questions that we are getting continuously in these debates which leads us to the very melancholy conclusion that Her Majesty's Government have not really got an agricultural policy, and that they extemporise and improvise from occasion to occasion. As my hon. Friend said, it is for that reason that, although we do not oppose this Measure, we cannot let our lack of opposition go by without remarking upon the fact that we are disturbed by the continued failure of the Government to formulate a policy which can provide comfort to the farming community who, at the moment, are deeply upset by the disturbance which Her Majesty's Government have brought upon the security provided by the previous Labour Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

Committee upon Monday next.