I beg to move, in page 12, line 5, at the end to insert:(2) Where an improvement is carried out wholly or mainly by an applicant with his own labour the cost of the improvement for the purpose of calculating any grant shall be the cost of the materials plus thirty per cent. or such lesser proportion as together with the cost of any paid labour will amount to thirty per cent.The Amendment follows very closely the lines of one which we discussed during Committee, which, I think I can fairly say, attracted support from both sides of the Committee and, in the words of the Minister:… more than a sneaking sympathy …because I realise full well in many cases it is the most economical thing for the small farmer to use his own labour for part of the scheme…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 7th May, 1957; c. 276.]With that encouragement during the Committee stage, I feel that the Minister ought to be able to say that he accepts the slightly amended form of the Amendment on this occasion.
I realise that there are some difficulties in a calculation of this sort, but I think it would be wrong to over-estimate them, and the formula which I suggest meets most of them. I should also like the House to remember that a large number of applications for help under the Measure will come from very small farmers who, under the Bill as it is now drafted, will not get any help in respect of the large proportion of the cost which would represent their own physical labour.
My right hon. Friend has gone some way to meet the point by adopting a system known as "standard charges". I can understand that that system might very well meet a number of cases where the improvement consisted of a com- 52 pletely new building—a dutch barn, or a cowshed—but a large number of schemes will not include a complete new building but will consist of reconstructing old farm buildings and making a very good job of them. In circumstances such as these, it is extremely difficult to work out a system of standard charges which will really provide any material contribution to the small farmer.
I feel that the criticism of the Amendment reflects too bureaucratic an approach to the problem. Other formulae have been put forward, and all that I have seen have included an element of estimating the cost of a man's work. The moment one starts estimating, one also provides an opportunity for arguing. My form of words meets the difficulty entirely by avoiding any estimating. The Amendment bases the calculation of the work for the purposes of grant on the cost of the materials, which I think is as good a way as can be devised.
In his sympathetic reply to the discussion on the earlier Amendment, the Minister showed that cases could arise where a 50 per cent. addition might be over-generous. I said in my speech introducing that Amendment that I was not attempting in this case to arrive at the exact cost but was simply trying to he fair to both sides while none the less giving some recognition to the man who does the work with his own hand. I have now reassessed the percentage addition which I think it is fair to charge.
Some hon. Members may think that this is just a way of wasting money. There are, of course, plenty of ways of wasting money under a scheme of this sort. On the contrary, however, I believe that it will save money. The small farmer resents, rightly, that under many schemes the cost of his own work, which is a substantial part of the total cost, is excluded, and he will put the job out to a local builder. The local builder in country districts may have long distances to travel, and so the work entails travelling time for the builder's men, and there is, in addition, the builder's profit also to be taken into account. So, far from wasting money, the scheme I have in mind will save public money.
I was glad that in his reply in Committee the Minister accepted the principle and the object that I had in mind.
53 Because of certain criticisms of the percentage figure which I had suggested, I said that I wished to withdraw the Amendment and would try to meet the Minister between then and the Report stage and would like to go carefully into the whole system of standard charges to see whether the Minister could convince me, as I think he hoped to do, that he really did thereby meet my point.
As my right hon. Friend was away last weekend, I met the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. My hon. Friend could not add a single jot or tittle of information to what the Minister told us in Committee. I hoped—I do not think it was asking too much—that I should be shown some technical scheme which would meet the objections which I had put forward not just as a Member of Parliament representing many of these people but as someone who has had a surveyor's training and can, therefore, appreciate the difficulties. I was not shown a single piece of evidence which helped to convince me that the Government would be able to meet most of the cases with which hon. Members on both sides of the House have such sympathy.
Therefore. I felt that 1 had no alternative but to table an Amendment in broadly the same terms as the original one but reducing the percentage. I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to go into much more detail today—a great deal more detail if he expects me to adopt the same lenient and generous attitude towards this Amendment as I did towards my Amendment in Committee.
§ Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)
I beg to second the Amendment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) said, in ably moving the Amendment, the Minister amply demonstrated in Committee—I was not a member of it—his sympathy and good will towards the point covered by the Amendment. The Minister went further than my hon. Friend has indicated, for he said that in the past he had argued the point himself. We should all appreciate it very much if this afternoon my right hon. Friend felt himself able to accept his own arguments, for we feel these arguments as strongly as he must have felt them when he put them forward.
54 It would be unfair to exclude the farmer's own work from qualifying for a grant in the context of the Bill. The present bar bears especially heavily upon small farmers undertaking small schemes. That is very hard and a great pity. If a farmer is reimbursed for the cost of his workers' wages, and if he is to be reimbursed for the cost of employing even members of his own family, surely it is illogical for him to be cut out. I cannot see why this should be so. As my hon. Friend has said, there are no arguments other than convention against including the costs of the farmer's own work.
One sometimes hears it suggested that if one reimburses the farmer it will do contractors out of work. I do not believe that. My experience of contractors is that they are rubbing their hands with glee waiting for the Bill to become an Act, for it is believed that they will then have plenty of work to do.
Sometimes the argument about demarcation is used, it being suggested that it is wrong to encourage the farmer to do work which should be done by members of other trades. I do not believe that workers in the country will complain, for they know how skilful farmers are in doing their own work.
If the Amendment is accepted, public money will be saved, and costs will be cut from the point of view of both the taxpayers and the farmers. The method suggested by my hon. Friend is both simple and efficient. I cannot find anything in the Bill which should preclude the reimbursement of a farmer for his own work. Indeed, Clause 13 (4) says thatThe grant shall be payable to the person or persons by whom…the work…is done…That is almost an invitation to reimburse the farmer for his own work. All that is against it is merely convention or the Treasury mentality, thinking only of maintenance schemes in respect of house decoration and matters of that sort. What we are considering here is entirely different.
If my right hon. Friend requires practical evidence of the feelings of farmers on the subject, I can tell him that on several occasions when I have discussed the Bill with members of my local branches of the National Farmers' Union—the subject has been discussed at county level 55 also—and with farmers who do not belong to the N.F.U., they have all said more or less the same thing. In effect, they say, "We think this is a good Bill, and we can find little improvement to suggest to it. But we should like to be reimbursed in respect of our own work. We think that only fair."
I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel able to agree to this Amendment, but, if not, I suggest as an alternative, since it is only a question of his decision, that he should try and see what happens during an experimental period in which farmers could be reimbursed for their own work. It is a matter of trust and I do not believe that the farmers would let him down. In time, my right hon. Friend might find it a principle which could be extended to other agricultural legislation.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before we proceed further with this discussion I would say that I have been listening to the arguments advanced by the two hon. Members and I am wondering whether, were this Amendment accepted, it would involve a public charge beyond the charge provided for by the Bill in the form in which it left the Committee. I am not quite sure whether that is the case, and I should like someone with knowledge of the technicalities of the financial arrangements to advise me.
I was at pains to include in my short speech—my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) used almost the same words—the statement that the object of this Amendment is, in fact, to save public money.
§ Mr. Godber
It would seem to me, Mr. Speaker, that the acceptance of this Amendment would not impose any additional charge, because the effect would be to substitute one expenditure in place of another—the labour of the farmer in place of the labour of the hired contractor. In theory, that would probably be a lower charge, so that rather than increasing the charge it would result in a lesser charge.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must accept what the Minister says about the effect of this Amendment and, therefore, I withdraw any expression of doubt I had about 56 whether the Amendment is in order or not. Had the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) finished his speech in seconding the Amendment?
§ Mr. Bowen
I hope that the Minister will be persuaded by the pleas which have been made to him. We appreciate what he has done regarding the standard charges. There was talk about an elaborate schedule of standard charges during the Committee stage proceedings, but however elaborate that schedule may be it will not cover many circumstances which the supporters of this Amendment have in mind.
I do not wish to repeat the arguments advanced in favour of this Amendment, but I should like to add one. Reference has been made to the fact that in many instances the acceptance of an Amendment of this kind, involving an arrangement whereby a farmer's own work could be credited, might well save money to the Treasury. It is not only a question of saving money, but also of getting the work done. Certainly, in many parts of my constituency, there is great difficulty in getting a local builder or contractor to undertake work on inaccessible farms. Even though he does so, his charges must be high.
It would appear to me that the best prospect of getting the work done is to adopt either this Amendment, or something of the same nature, and to give every encouragement to the farmer to undertake the work himself.
I wish to support the Amendment. I suggest to the Minister that he is not obliged to apply this arrangement to every scheme. Surely the county agricultural executive committees would be able to advise him about a scheme where the farmer wished to use his own labour, and whether that would be an advantage or whether the farmer was seeking to exploit the situation.
No one, for example, could construct permanent fencing better than the farmer. Although experts might be engaged to do building work and improvement to buildings, it does not follow that they are expert in the construction of permanent fences. Therefore, it would be an advantage for the country generally were that 57 kind of work done by the farmer, especially if he was an expert in the erection of fences and in hedging and such similar things. The same argument might be applied to the construction of farm roads.
The Minister should not regard this matter through the eyes of the Treasury. Cannot he, for a change, look: at it from the practical side, from the point of view of a Minister who wishes to help these applicants? If the right hon. Gentleman can visualise something being achieved in this matter, he may feel inclined to extend the arrangement to livestock rearing and hill farming legislation.
§ Sir L. Ropner
I am sure that hon. Members have listened with interest to the persuasive speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) and my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Du Cann). I think it would be impossible for the Minister to accept the final suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton regarding a trial period. This is either a good Amendment or a bad one, and I shall be interested to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say about it.
I do not know whether the formula suggested in the Amendment is a good one. I was not a member of the Standing Committee in which this question was discussed. But if the formula is not a good one, and if that be the only reason why my right hon. Friend feels inclined to turn down the Amendment, I think it is up to the Ministry to think of a better one and to prepare an Amendment which will fulfil this object.
I wish to do something more to help the small farmers. I agree that this Bill will be welcomed by the farming community as a whole, both the farmers and the farm workers. It is a good Bill. But those who represent agricultural constituencies are still a little apprehensive about the future of the small farmer. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider this really deserving class of agriculturist.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
I support the Amendment, but there is one point I wish to put to the Minister. We are considering agricultural workers undertaking work other than the work upon which they are usually engaged, as they might be called on to do under the terms of this Amendment. I wish to know whether the Minister is prepared 58 to give an undertaking about the rate of wage to be paid.
The Amendment refers simply to unpaid labour. Normal farm labour is paid labour and, therefore, does not come within the terms of the Amendment, except as a secondary calculation.
§ Mr. Wells
As I see the Amendment, it would cover anyone who was employed by the farmer upon direct labour in connection with these improvements. If that is not so, my objection does not arise. To the extent that straightforward work required on a farm from time to time is usually performed by agricultural workers and by farmers and members of their families. I am fully in agreement with the Amendment.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
Not only do we want to help the small farmer, we want to make it as easy as possible for him to get the work done as cheaply as possible. Whatever system of standard charges the Minister may bring forward for certain specific jobs there will be more complicated jobs, such as the renovation of a building, which cannot be specified in terms of standard tasks, such as laying so many square yards of concrete or making up a road so many yards long. The modification of a pig-sty would be extremely difficult to standardise and price in terms of labour unless very elaborate time sheets were kept.
On a biggish farm, employing a farm carpenter, much work is done without calling in an outside builder, and that work will always he done much more cheaply, for the reasons already mentioned, one of which is that no one has to travel to the job. The large farmer has clerical facilities behind him which enable him, if necessary, to provide detailed price schedules, but the small farmer cannot afford to do this, and any form of clerical work is rather an imposition.
One fact that emerges about the big farm is that on all these jobs the ratio of labour to raw materials used is considerably higher than 30 per cent. In fact, it is between 60 per cent. and 100 per cent. Therefore, the 30 per cent. suggested would he very much on the low side. On the other hand, it would mean that the small farmer who did 59 his own work would know that he would get something, even if he did not attempt to keep a detailed time sheet, and if he did he might be able to get even more.
One other important point.is that if the small man can use his own labour he can do so when he has nothing else to do. He can carry out these tasks at the back end of the year, as and when he is free from other tasks on the farm. He can use every hour profitably. He cannot do it so easily if he has to keep an elaborate documentation, however, and I hope that the Minister will consider the Amendment favourably as a way of providing the small man with an alternative means of procedure, which would seem to save public money and would undoubtedly help him.
§ Mr. James Lindsay (Devon, North)
I hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment, or something in similar terms. Like other hon. Members, I support it because it provides a means of helping the small farmer. I take it that it is now generally agreed that small farmers are in need of special help. The difficulty arises in defining what is a small farmer. I do not think that the size of a holding is a sufficient definition. Many farmers in a small way of business have a great area of rough land, and other farms, although small, are intensively cultivated and well capitalised. The idea of letting the farmer charge for his own labour seems to me to provide a way of helping him without any differentiation, because no definition is required as to the types of farmers who can get help under the Clause.
All farmers could benefit by this provision, but, in particular, the small farmer could take advantage of it. I very much hope that with a view to helping the small farmer— of whom there are many in the West Country—my right hon. Friend will be able to accept the Amendment or one like it.
§ 4.45 p.m.
I wish I could make this concession to the view expressed so persuasively by many of my hon. Friends, who are in very close touch with farming. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) is not only a very tenacious Member, but one with a great deal of technical knowledge of 60 this subject. Therefore, his view carries weight. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) reminded me—I hoped that he would not—of a violent speech which I made some years ago upon this subject, when I took a view different from that which I am taking today. I can only say that I suppose that as one grows older and gets nearer the grave one acquires a greater measure of wisdom.
The question of making the farmer's own work eligible in this simple form goes a good deal wider than the Amendment. If we were to make the farmer's own work directly eligible for a grant we should be departing from a definition of expenditure which has always been applied in the past, not only in agriculture but in a good many other spheres. It would have very wide repercussions.
I think that hon. Members are clear about this, but I want to make sure. If a farmer decides that the cheapest way of getting the work done is to do part of the job with his own hands that does not invalidate the whole scheme for grant. It only means that the grant that we pay will be limited to the remainder of the work—that is, the materials and the cost of the part of the work which is carried out with paid labour. I want to make it quite clear that if the labour that he employs is that of his family—his own sons, if they are not partners, and are paid wages —it would be eligible for the purposes of the grant.
The Amendment is the same as that which my hon. Friend proposed in Committee, except that he has substituted:cost of materials plus 30 per cent.forcost of materials plus 50 per cent.I am afraid that the reason why I cannot find the Amendment acceptable is the same as that which I gave in Committee, namely, that after very careful examination we have come to the conclusion that the cost of materials is really not an equitable basis for the calculation of the part of the cost which consists of work done.
I think that our attitude is logical. I thought that that would make a favourable impression upon the House, until the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said that he did not think 61 that it was necessarily enough to have a logical reason; it might be logical, but not adequate. I agree with him in general, but I believe that here our view is the only one which can be held. The cost of materials used in a job has really no fixed relation to the cost of the work done apart from materials. In the case of repairs to roads, or repairs to some types of fences, the cost of materials might be quite a high proportion of the total cost of the job.
When we come to work like reclamation of land or the clearing away of obstructions there might be practically no element representing the cost of materials. I may be told, "All we are doing is to give the occupier an option" but I still do not believe that this would give a basis for arriving at a fair answer.
I am advised that the effect of the Amendment might be to do what I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland does not want, that is, to exclude to some extent the cost of hired labour used in the scheme. I do not try to argue that the views that my hon. Friends have pressed me to accept would result in wasting money. I know that in some cases work done by the occupier is the cheapest way of getting the job done, but the scope for the occupier's own labour is generally in jobs that fall within the skills that an occupier might be expected to have.
It was with that point in mind that we tried to think of some way of meeting the views that have been expressed. We have concluded that the best contribution we could make would be to apply the principle of standard costs wherever we can. We cannot apply the standard costs principle to all the cases that hon. Members have mentioned but it will meet some of them. The kind of job that might well be met by standard costs would be the preparation of a site for subsequent building, the laying down of concrete, road making, fence and gate making, reclamation and clearing work, claying and marling.
I do not say that we cannot do anything when it comes to building. I think we can, in the erection of the simplest kinds of building and shed. We cannot he specific there yet. It is a point on which we are asking the Advisory Committee, which I have set up under the chairmanship of Lord St. Aldwyn, to look 62 at carefully and to consider whether it can find certain categories of building and erection work that we can bring within the scope of standard costs.
We have tried this principle of standard costs experimentally in the recent Agriculture (Silo Subsidies) Act. We did it with fear and trembling because we were not quite sure how it would work out. So far, it seems to be giving satisfaction to the applicants and to us. With that experience we may be able to extend the use of these standard costs. I shall not pretend that this will completely meet the wishes that hon. Gentlemen have put forward so persuasively; I am sure that it will not, but I ask the House to accept that we have given a tremendous lot of thought to this question.
I know it is important for the small farmer, and all of us are trying to find ways and means of giving our help and making it of value to the small occupier. Having considered all these matters, with a strong bias to finding a way to help as hon. Gentlemen have pressed me to, we have concluded that the best way to make progress on that front is by the introduction and development, as best we can, of the principle of standard costs.
I hope that after that explanation the House will realise that we have given a lot of care to this matter. We have a lot of sympathy with the idea behind the Amendment and we have done our best to find ways of meeting the wishes of hon. Gentlemen who have spoken.
Mr. T. Williams
I regret having to sit here and listen to the right hon. Member admitting that I was right in 1946 and 1951. Wisdom lingers in certain quarters; we all recognise that. Perhaps I am slightly wiser than I was yesterday, if I have learned anything in the meantime.
I have never seen Government supporters so united since July, 1956. It seems regrettable that the right hon. Gentleman could not have been more forthcoming, in view of their logical pleas this afternoon, but the right hon. Gentleman has behind him at least ten years' experience of the Hill Farming Act. If the experience of the administration of that Act enables the right hon. Gentleman to help hill farmers in particular I should not feel very happy going into the Division Lobby with Government supporters, if they have the courage to follow their 63 Amendment, which I doubt, unless I could feel that, in the light of experience since 1946, it would be administratively possible as well as fair to the landowner, to the tenant and to the Government, to allow grants to be made direct for what is called the farmers "individual" work.
I did not think it was possible, in 1946, in view of all the advice I received, and by 1951, after five years' experience, we still did not think it was possible. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I felt very sympathetic towards the small farmers and I should much have liked to do it. I recognise that they constitute two-thirds of the whole and that anything we can do to help them in this or in any other direction we ought to do.
I am sorry, therefore, to have to oppose the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins). I feel today as I did in 1946, on the basis of the advice then given to me, that this proposal would lead to all sorts of abuse. We ought always to avoid that possibility where Government grants are made available. I cannot help feeling that the right hon. Gentleman's conclusion is right.
If he can find ways and means, through his St. Aldwyn Committee, of loosening up this matter in any shape or form and finding a solution which is abuse-free, the right hon. Gentleman will have a very ready welcome from these benches. We shall want the improvement to be satisfactory and the calculation of the farmer's work to be established without employing 10.000 more inspectors to see how much the farmer has done or has not done and whether his time sheet is correct or incorrect. Anything that can be done which is administratively possible and practical we would be very ready and willing to help.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I want to be clear on one point. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that the proposal in the Amendment would lead to abuse if it related to the farmer's own labour. Why is no abuse possible if it relates to the farmer's sons?
Because in all probability the farmer's sons would be working for the contractor who had taken on the job. That is a very different proposition. If a contract is let for an 64 improvement scheme which may involve two, three, or up to six of the items in the Second Schedule, the contractor may agree to employ for wages the sons of the farmer.
There is nothing that I can find in the Bill that would prevent the contractor from so doing. If a contract is made, and the local committee which is administering it or the right hon. Gentleman's officials are satisfied that the terms of the contract are fair to the Government, to the owner and tenant, is there anything in the Bill to prevent the contractor from employing the farmer at X wages? I cannot find anything. It seems to me that the desire of all those who support the Amendment could be met. If the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) can point out anything in the Bill which would prevent a contractor who has taken a contract to effect a desired improvement from employing who he likes to do the physical work, I will listen to him.
§ 5.0 p.m.
This is not what is in the Bill; it is the facts of life. On many small farms where work is done there will be no contract at all. I anticipate that the work will be done by the farmer's paid labour and perhaps an odd job man from the village. Often there is not a contract. That is why my Amendment has some force.
Many of the small farmers whom we want to help will not employ any paid labour. All the work may be done by the farmer and his family. There is nothing to prevent the contractor from employing the son of the farmer if he wants to, for wages agreed between the two, and the work can be undertaken.
I do not want to detain the Committee, but I must say that I am sorry to hear such magnificent unanimity on the benches opposite for once in the last ten months, and I am equally sorry to learn that the Minister cannot help them.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I had not intended to intervene, but I feel that there was some force in the Minister's argument when he said that the effect of the Amendment would be to rule out those who did work for the farmer. I was prepared to leave the matter at that until I heard what the 65 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) had to say.
This seems to me the most outrageous example of the Executive, past and present, ganging up against the Legislature. Before members of the Executive come here and, with unctuous solemnity, proceed to address us on the subject of the impossibility of doing this or that, they should remember—those who are members of the Executive today, those who have been and those who hope to be —that if the Executive had not abused every single tax they have ever raised in the past, probably this Bill would be unnecessary.
One of the reasons that this capital has to be expended on our farms today is that year after year the Executive have consistently punished the thrifty person through death duties, and then spent those duties which were capital as though they were income, with the result that we have had a steady deterioration in the value of money and we now find ourselves in a state where what was worth£l ten years ago is now worth only 10s.
I suggest that before anybody who has sat on the Front Benches comes here and says that this, that or the other is impossible, he had better look to his own conduct in the past and make quite certain that he has been such a meticulous attender to detail and correctitude—
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Because the Amendment would not have the effect that my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) desires, it would be a pity to divide on it.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The suggestion of the right hon. Member for Don Valley seems to me to be a legislative reductio ad absurdum. Here is a former Minister of Agriculture, speaking on the subject of agriculture for his party, saying that although it is assumed that the farmer's own work cannot rank for this grant, nevertheless all he has to do, having placed the contract, is to take a job under the contractor and get paid for doing the job himself. Has there ever been a more absurd proposition put before the House? I very much doubt it.
66 We often hear the townsman accuse the farmer of dishonesty or near dishonesty, and we often hear it said that everything is done for the farmer and nothing is done for the townsman on the question of food. But here we have a suggestion by a former Minister of Agriculture to the present Minister, that we do not need to worry about this too much and that farmers can do what they want behind the scenes because the law is so drafted that they can do a "fiddle." That is what it boils down to.
If right hon. Gentlemen opposite consider it part of their duty in opposition to recommend that farmers should indulge in what is nothing less than a "fiddle," then the duty of opposition has fallen by the wayside. Instead, we have a positive encouragement by the Opposition to do something so nearly dishonest that it virtually makes no difference. It is utterly appalling that we should have the suggestion which has been made by the right hon. Member for Don Valley.
I think that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) wishes to intervene. Apparently, he has thought better of it. I am not surprised, because I think that my argument is completely convincing. I am reminded of something said by Lord Montgomery after giving a lecture at a staff college. He said. "There will be no time set apart for questions, because what I have said is indisputably right." I am inclined to think that what I have said is indisputably right.
Down the years Governments have absolutely outrageously misused tax after tax and, of all taxes, they have misused death duties the most. If they go on using death duties as income when, in fact, they are capital, then no matter how many grants the Minister gives we shall never get our farms in order.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) is feeling lighthearted. There is only one comment I need make on what he said, and I think that this will apply to all Ministers going back for a very long time in our history. It is that they cannot alter any tax—either put it up or down—without the permission of Parliament.
§ Mr. Willey
The Minister has said that he will use standard charges for another 67 purpose than that originally understood. We understood that they would be used for administrative reasons. He now says that we will possibly use the charges to overcome the difficulty we have discussed today. I hope that before there is any question of doing that he will consult the trade unions. If he is considering building work being done by the farmer, it is a matter which ought to be discussed with the building industry.
I think I said during the Committee stage that one of the reasons which led us to devise standard charges as an alternative, at the option of the applicant and where appropriate, was to help with this problem and to go some way to meet the views, expressed in Committee, that the farmer's own labour should be eligible. I made it clear that that was one of our objects at that stage, and I have repeated it today. We adopted it because it was the only way we could find that was administratively practical.
§ Mr. Willey
I am not raising any query on the merits of the matter, but as it is being put forward in this way—that it is hoped to provide for building work being done by the farmer and being grant-aided—I think that it would be as well to see that there is consultation with the trade unions in the building industry, because they may have a point of view about certain types of work. I am not making any objection, but it would be a wise precautionary measure to have such consultations.
The hon. Member will realise, I am sure, that this principle is already in practice, as it were, under the Act providing silo subsidy, where, in some cases the work consists of some constructional work.
§ Mr. Willey
I accept that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The House has listened to hon. Members opposite and to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), who wasted a considerable amount of the time of the House.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Am I not right. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in saying that if an hon. Member wastes the time of the House he is at once called to order by you?
§ Mr. Willey
The simple point I am putting to the right hon. Gentleman is that we do not know what sort of building work he envisages as being covered by standard charges. There may be points arising about the character of certain work and whether that work ought not to be carried out except by people in the industry. For that reason, I should have thought it a wise precautionary measure at least to say that we should keep in touch with the building industry and have consultations with both sides of the industry.
§ Amendment negatived.