HC Deb 25 June 1958 vol 590 cc553-5

10.10 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I beg to move, That the Draft Fertilisers (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th May, be approved. I do not think that it will be necessary to spend long upon this Scheme. It merely extends for a further year, from 1st July, the arrangements for paying the fertiliser subsidy and increases the rates of subsidy for nitrogenous fertilisers in accordance with the Price Review award of an additional £1½ million. This production grant is now a familiar feature of our support for agriculture, and I am sure that I have no need to explain to the House the great benefits which result from the greater use of fertilisers.

In the last fertiliser year the use of nitrogen and potash showed a further increase, and, since the supply position is still improving, it was decided at the Price Review to allocate this further sum to nitrogen.

The total cost of the Scheme is expected in this current year to be more than £25 million, which is an indication of the extent to which it is being utilised. I commend the Scheme to the House.

10.12 p.m.

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

I am sure that the House will have had enough of agricultural debates for quite a long time to come. I certainly feel like that after 20 Sittings upstairs in Committee on the Agriculture Bill and four complete days on the Floor of the House on other stages. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary appears to have stood up to it very well—I am talking about his health and not his deplorable activities as a junior Minister.

The hon. Gentleman has told us that this Scheme represents an increase in the subsidy for last year. I did not quite understand his explanation. Did I understand him to say that it was because of price increases in the meantime, or that it was an additional subsidy to the industry as a result of the Price Review, so that, in effect, he has taken the sum off in prices of products and has placed it on fertilisers? If that is what it amounts to, I have no objection to it.

The use of fertilisers is something that we ought to stimulate, and I therefore welcome the Scheme. I did wonder whether the cost of nitrogenous fertilisers had gone up, and whether that had caused the increase in the subsidy. Hon. Members on this side of the House are still somewhat disturbed about the fertiliser industry. It is true that we cannot go into the question now, but we think that the Government should stimulate the Monopolies Commission to complete its consideration of the industry, because many farmers fear that as a result of the monopoly money is being taken out of the pockets of the taxpayer to provide the subsidy, which has to be paid simply because the monopoly charges very much more for its products than would be charged by competing firms. The Parliamentary Secretary should press his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to ensure that the Monopolies Commission gets to work on this matter and presents a report which would either clear away the existing fears or cause the Government to take suitable action.

I agree that we want to stimulate further use of fertilisers, particularly of nitrogenous manures. It is the lack of supply of nitrogen in our soil which is the commonest limiting factor in crop growth. I hope that, through the N.A.A.S., the Minister will do everything possible to stimulate its use by using some of the additional money that is now being provided.

Last year, I visited an experimental farm, where the conversation turned to improvements in crops, and so on, and surrounding farms. I was told by the farmer that he could show me fields which, to his own knowledge, extending over a long time, had never received a dressing of fertiliser. That may be regarded as a waste of the country's land. We ask the Parliamentary Secretary to use this Scheme and the services at his disposal to increase the use of fertiliser, which is one of the best things that could be done to stimulate and improve agricultural production.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Godber

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) for the approach of himself and his hon. Friends to this matter. The advantage which stems from the use of fertiliser is something about which we are all agreed and I am glad that the House is unanimous in that view.

The hon. Member will realise, as, in fact, he said, that his references to the Monopolies Commission is a matter for the Board of Trade. That is something which is at present being pursued. I think it only fair to remind the House that two of the largest firms concerned with the production of fertilisers have, during the last few days, both announced price reductions for some of their fertilisers. That, together with the increase in the subsidy, which is due to the increase given this year in the Price Review, will bring about a fairly substantial reduction in the price of some fertilisers and should be an added incentive to their further use in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Draft Fertilisers (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th May, be approved.