§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Hare)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Hon. Members will have seen the White Paper in which we set out our proposals for special help to small farmers. This is a short Bill and essentially an enabling Measure under which schemes can be made to carry out the proposals in the White Paper. My remarks are therefore bound to be rather wider than the provisions of the Bill.
Everyone who has been connected with farming in Britain in the past ten years or so has realised that our small farms present a real problem. Too many farmers on small acreages are having a hard struggle to make a decent living. A great deal of discussion has gone on about the need for special assistance. There has been little agreement on how best these people can be helped. There are those who say that the small general farm run by the farmer and perhaps his son is an anachronism, quite uneconomic in view of the agricultural techniques of 1958.
I do not share that view. Certainly, the need nowadays for expensive machinery and equipment has made it more difficult to run a small farm economically. On the other hand, the dramatic improvements in yields of crops and livestock and the general intensification of farming during the agricultural revolution—I call it that—of the past twenty years or so have made it possible to get a better living from a small farm, always provided that the farmer has the knowledge and the capital to make use of modern techniques.
I have no doubt that many small farms in Britain today can prosper. Yet at present large numbers of small farmers are finding it difficult to make a decent living. What is wrong? What can we do to help? As soon as we approached this problem I felt sure that we must stick to two basic principles. First, we most somehow identify individually the small farms which ought to receive special 38 help and, secondly, we must aim at improving permanently the profitability of these small farms so that they can provide a decent living without continued special assistance.
Many of the schemes which have been canvassed in the past—for example, differential payments under the subsidies or production grants—do not meet those two principles which I have enunciated. They do not limit aid to the small farms which we ought to help nor do they permanently improve their profitability. They are only a concealed dole. In my opinion, such schemes will not do.
I admit straight away that a scheme based on these two principles raises big problems of its own, but I am sure that the starting point is right. The first problem is obviously how to identify the farms which should have special help. Clearly, there must be an upper limit. After all, there must come a point when a farm business can no longer be described as small. Equally, I am sure, there must be a lower limit. We ought not to put large sums of public money into farms which, because of soil, of size or of climate, can never provide a decent living, however much they are improved or however hard the farmer works.
It may be said that those are hard words, but I believe that what I say is right. The farms in that lower category which I have mentioned represent a social problem to which, frankly, I do not yet know the answer. That is why Clause 1 (1, a) of the Bill makes it an essential feature of our scheme that the farm business to be helped must becapable of yielding an adequate return…Most of those to whom I have talked about the scheme, and, I think, most of the Press, have accepted that this principle on which I am approaching the problem is right. I have observed the somewhat unusual phenomenon of the Manchester Guardian, the Economist and The Times linking arms, so to speak, with the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and our farming weeklies to welcome the basis of these proposals.
In the White Paper we set out the tests which we intend to use for the upper and the lower limits—first, acreage, and secondly, a test of the size of the farm business measured in terms of "standard labour requirements." The acreage test 39 is simple to understand, but its imperfections, I am sure, are obvious to all. For example, 20 acres on rich land in the Fens may be worth more than ten times that acreage on poor hill land. It is useful as a test, but it is quite insufficient on its own.
The test of size of business, measured in standard labour requirements, is unfamiliar and at first sight perhaps difficult to understand. This system of measurement has been used in farm management for some time and is based on practical experience. It offers what I think we have never had before—a fair and acceptable way of defining the small farm which is capable of giving the farmer a decent living. Once hon. Members have studied it they will find that it is nothing like as complicated as it looks at first sight.
By these means—and I think this is very important—we avoid any possible suggestion of a means test, which I am convinced would have been quite wrong, penalising, as it would, both the efficient and the unfortunate. These tests, of course, involve drawing lines which will exclude some people from the scheme. Wherever we draw lines there will be some people who are just, and only just, outside. There will be disappointments and there will be pressure to extend the limits and to let in hard cases. But there must be limits, and we must stick to them.
Quite apart from anything else, I am determined that the load of work falling on our advisory officers shall not be more than they can carry through with the care and attention that they must give to each individual case.
I want to emphasise this. We may not be able to deal immediately with all the applications we get. Perhaps 65,000 farmers will be eligible. We estimate that we can deal with 25,000 applications during the first year, although, of course, not all that number in the first few months. Many may have to wait, and that is where the supplementary scheme comes in, about which I should like to say a word in a moment.
We intend to get off to a good start. That is why we have taken what is, perhaps, an unusual course in providing, in Clause 4 (1), that farmers can submit their programmes to us before the Bill becomes law. This will give us a chance 40 of looking at the applications in the New Year, before we start formally dealing with the applications, which will, we hope —and as the White Paper says—be on 1st April.
I should like to say one more word on the acreage limits. The scheme has been criticised, on the one hand, for not covering farms below 20 acres. On the other hand, it has been criticised for spending money on farms of between 20 and 40 acres, on the ground that these are too small for present day conditions. When one gets strong pressures on entirely different sides, I would guess that, by and large, we have the range about right.
Hon. Members may have been puzzled to find that, in Clause 6, the small farm is defined as being up to 150 acres, when the White Paper refers to 100 acres as the limit. The reason is that farmers farming up to 150 acres, who have been getting marginal production assistance, will be eligible under the supplementary scheme, and the Bill has to cover this as well. The 100-acres limit will, of course, be in the small farmer scheme when it comes before the House.
Having identified who is to be helped, the next question is: what kind of help should be given? The essential feature of our proposals, and the one which I myself put absolutely first, is that the farmer himself must put forward a constructive plan for improvement—a plan to increase the profitability of the farm. In preparing this plan, the advice of the N.A.A.S. will be available to him. These plans are, in fact, the cornerstone of our whole scheme.
If the plans are to be effective, the farmer needs, first, sound advice, and, secondly, a boost, in the form of some extra cash in order to put the advice into practice. These two things our scheme will provide. Furthermore, I think that the scheme provides an unrivalled opportunity for our advisory services to make contact on a really practical basis with small farmers. They will do so on the best possible footing. They will be able to consider the farm programme as a whole; to give, not simply technical advice on an individual feature of the farm but, instead, constructive suggestions as to how the farm as a whole can be managed so as to yield the maximum profit.
41 That is the second point that I should like to emphasise. Our proposals are based on looking at the farm as a business—that is, as a profit-making concern—producing a decent income for the farmer. We are not concerned simply with improved techniques. We are not concerned with increasing output regardless of cost. What we shall be looking for is the final result in terms of income of each farm business. I believe that this approach to farm management advice is new, and that it is a very healthy one.
Hon Members may ask, "If these farms, with good management, are capable of yielding a better living, what is now holding back the farmer? Why does he need special assistance?" Of course, we all know of cases where farmers have achieved great things without the help of such a scheme as this. I remember such a case in Wales, a short time ago, where not only the farm but the farmer himself had been transformed. From scratching a bare living from the soil, he had not only achieved a good income but had gained confidence, and was playing a leading part in the life of the local community.
On the other hand, many of these farmers lack the time or the opportunity to work out, without assistance, a long-term plan for improving their farm management. Again, many of them simply do not have the working capital necessary to make a start on the changes. We shall now be offering them the advice they need, and some extra working capital with which to make a start—up to £1,000 for each farm through the field husbandry grants and a farm business grant.
A few minutes ago I described the farm business grant as a boost, but it is an injection of working capital which will, as it were, lubricate the running of the farm in the early stages of its improvement programme. The programme will lay down in detail what the farmer will do, what changes in management he will make, what alterations in stocking are intended, what new equipment will be bought. The farmer will not be asked to account for each penny of the farm business grant, but if he does not play the game, if he does not carry out the agreed programme, the grant will be stopped.
Before any extreme step such as the stopping of the grant is taken, my county 42 agricultural executive committees will, normally, be brought into the picture for advice. In this, and in dealing with marginal cases for entry to the scheme, and with difficult cases generally, the county committees will have a big rôle to play, and we shall rely greatly on their knowledge of local conditions. I am sorry to have to add to their labours, but I do so with confidence that they will respond—
§ Mr. Hare
Well, they will have plenty to do under this scheme.
It has been suggested that we are wrong in making an outright payment of the farm business grant—that it should have been repayable. As the House knows, that is the position taken up by the National Farmers' Unions of Great Britain. Quite frankly, I think that this approach would be fatal to the scheme. It would be fatal from the farmer's point of view. The very people most in need of help would be the most reluctant to saddle themselves with a further load of debt to be repaid in unknown circumstances.
It would be fatal also, I think, from the Government's point of view. This scheme depends on our advisory officers as individuals. Those officers are trained to advise on farm management. They are not bankers. They simply have not the expertise to judge the creditworthiness of farmers. I am sure, therefore, that this farm business grant—a maximum of £360 spread over three years—is the right course—
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Does it not really amount to this: that this so-called capital that is being offered to the farmers is offered in circumstances affecting agriculture in which the people who are to receive it would adjudge it such a bad proposition that they would not accept it, even on interest-free terms; and that the Minister rather agrees with them, because his advisory services could not advise the farmers to accept it, even interest-free? So is not this a somewhat frivolous attitude?
§ Mr. Hare
The hon. and learned Member has been known to be frivolous on other occasions and he is certainly 43 being frivolous now. I am sure that the House will be delighted to hear a further frivolous speech from the hon. and learned Gentleman, if he is lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
So far, I have been referring entirely to the small farmer scheme which will be made under Clause 1 of the Bill. I wish now to say a word about the supplementary scheme which will be made under Clause 2. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will describe the Scottish equivalent at a later stage in the debate. The supplementary scheme is a temporary measure which we need for two reasons. First the number of applications which our advisory services can properly handle under the small farmer scheme is limited to perhaps 25,000 a year. There are far more farmers who are eligible, and it is only fair that we should make some provision for those who cannot enter the scheme immediately. The supplementary scheme gives some assistance to them while they are, so to speak, in the queue.
We are bringing our marginal production scheme to an end because this has now outlived its useful purpose. It was introduced at a time when maximum production was the aim, almost regardless of cost. Now we require economic production. But there are some small farmers not eligible under the new scheme who are receiving assistance under the marginal production scheme and we thought that it would not be right to cut them off immediately so that they would receive nothing. Therefore, they, too, for three years, will be eligible for help under this supplementary scheme and its Scottish equivalent. I estimate that their numbers amount to about 25,000 in the whole of the United Kingdom.
Finally, a word as to cost. We estimate that in the first full year the total cost of the new scheme may be about £12 million. Of this, £3 million, perhaps a little more, will be extra money provided by the taxpayer to cover the greater use of the existing ploughing up and fertiliser subsidies which will be encouraged by this scheme.
§ Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)
Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that an extra £3 million will be spent in the first year? I know that he estimates that 25,000 applications may 44 be approved, but approval and the carrying out of such proposals are two different things. Does he still think that there will be £3 million extra spent, say, on fertilisers, liming and that kind of thing, in the first year?
§ Mr. Hare
I do think so, otherwise I should not say so. In fact, I have been given an estimate of £3 million to £4 million but, being a Conservative, I have used the lower rather than the higher figure.
Another £3 million will be covered by the saving resulting from the ending of the marginal production scheme. The remainder of the cost, the other £6 million, is the additional sum which will go towards the guarantees settled at the coming 1959 Price Review. It will thus involve some redistribution from the larger to the smaller farms. But the amount is not very much. It is £6 million against the total subsidies which we know have been running at between £250 million and £300 million a year.
We have had close and helpful discussions with the Farmers' Unions over the past six months, during the formative stages of our thought on this matter. We also asked for and received practical and helpful advice on the whole problem from many other sources. The county agricultural executive committees, the Country Landowners' Association, the Agricultural Workers' Unions, and many other people have also tendered advice. But, naturally, since this is bound up with the Price Review, our main discussions were with the Farmers' Unions.
Hon. Members will have seen from the Press that the unions have points of criticism about the details of the scheme. But despite these detailed criticisms, they have been good enough to say that they recognise that this scheme is a serious attempt to improve the technical and economic position of small farmers. The leaders of the unions have said that they wish to co-operate with us in making a success of the Bill. I wish to say publicly that I am grateful to them for that, and also for the statesmanlike way in which, from the beginning, they have approached the whole problem.
§ Mr. Hare
I hope that what I have said has been sufficient to convince hon.
45 Members that the Bill is a step forward in the continued development of a sound agricultural policy. It will enable us to make a start on dealing with what, quite frankly, has hitherto been left alone as an insoluble problem.
§ Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)
Will the Minister attempt to give to the House a clearer definition of the time factor set out in the White Paper, where it states:To qualify for assistance under the Small Farmer Scheme, the farm business must be judged capable of reaching standard labour requirements of at least 275 standard man-days after completion of the proposed farm business plan"?
§ Mr. Hare
If the hon. Member will look at the Appendix to the White Paper, ho will see that it is fairly clear. We hope that if the House passes the Bill, we shall be able to ask for applications from 1st January. That will give a period of three months for the first applications to be considered before they are formally dealt with on 1st April, which is the date when the scheme comes into operation.
In addition, we have staggered the bringing in of the supplementary scheme to 1st July. That again will give greater flexibility and time for the advisory services to deal with the applications made to them.
§ Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)
What is the meaning of the phrase… must be judged capable of reaching standard labour requirements of at least 275 standard man-days after completion of the proposed farm business plan"?What exactly does that mean in "urban English" as opposed to White Paper agricultural policy?
§ Mr. Hare
The hon. Member has indicated that he comes from an urban area, but if he will read the White Paper in detail he will see how the standard man-days are worked out in terms of cattle, sheep, kale, pigs and other commodities. The reading will not prove quite so difficult as the hon. Member thinks.
There will be snags and, of course, we shall learn as we proceed. That is why the Bill is drawn in rather general terms. As have said, the details of acreage, size of business, rates of grant, and so forth, as described in the White Paper, will be set out in the schemes which will 46 come before the House for affirmative approval under Clause 4 of the Bill. In the first place, these schemes will be made for specific periods, the small farmer scheme for five years and the supplementary scheme for three years.
To sum up, whatever may be the snags we encounter, I am sure that we are making an honest start. New techniques and knowledge will be brought to the front doors of many small farmers who, so far, have not been able to profit as much as they might from the discoveries of our scientists and engineers and from the work of our advisory services. No one knows better than the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) how perplexing a problem this is. The experience of the right hon. Gentleman extends back over many years, and I venture to hope that he and those supporting him will give this Measure their blessing. I see no reason for party strife about the proposals which I have advanced, because I am sure that over the next few years this scheme could make a really worthwhile contribution both to agricultural efficiency and to the social life of the countryside.
The cost of these proposals will be substantial. At a rough estimate, it may be about £50 million over the next few years. But this may be described as a wise investment in efficiency. In fact, it is something more. These proposals will bring new hope and new happiness to thousands of small men throughout the countryside. They represent a new deal and a good deal for a section of the farming industry who deserve well of their fellow countrymen.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)
May I, first, compliment the Minister of Agriculture on his very brave attempt to elucidate a very unlucid Bill, not that many hon. Members will be any the wiser about the complex details of any scheme or schemes that may be produced under Clauses I or 3.
Without the White Paper, which I might describe as a book of good intentions, the Bill itself would be just as clear as a London fog. Even with the White Paper, it will require a combined classical and technological education to be able to grasp the details of the schemes foreshadowed under these two Clauses. The Bill does not help a lot, either.
47 In Clauses 1 and 3, we know that the Bill enables the schemes to be produced, according to the side references, in England,… for grants for increasing efficiency of small farm businesses",and, in Scotland,for grants to persons carrying on certain small farm businesses …Why the differences in terminology? Does not efficiency matter in Scotland? I always understood that Scottish farmers were even more efficient than English farmers. Why change the terminology in the Bill to confuse the minds of hon. Members?
In Clause 4, dealing with supplementary provisions as to schemes, we have the helpful suggestion that provision may be made…for different rates of grant, or different methods of determining the amount of the grant, according to the matters in respect of which any particular grant is payable;That is crystal clear to everyone, is it not?—different grants to different applicants, decided by different methods in respect of this and that, and so on.
I am perfectly certain that clearer language could have been devised so that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) and many other hon. Members from urban areas might have understood what we are talking about. This confusing language gives some idea of the complexity of these proposals, which is emphasised by the Financial Memorandum, where we are told that it would cost about £750,000 to give away £9 million in the first year.
I suppose that is inevitable in the nature of the problem facing the right hon. Gentleman. When The Times commented on these proposals it said:An effective scheme to aid the worthwhile small farmer and nobody else has got to be complicated, callous in its definitions, and paternal in its methods.It is certainly complicated, and those with less than 20 acres of either grass or crops will think it slightly callous, too. But this does highlight the hopeless muddle that has developed in the countryside under the happy-go-lucky, free-for-all, speculative activities so beloved of the Conservative Party, where land speculators have bought up sizeable, economic 48 farms, carved them up into small uneconomic units and sold them, at large profits, mostly to land-hungry, well-meaning farmers, who have never been able to make a reasonable living on them. So, in the end, the Minister of Agriculture is faced with scores of thousands—
§ Captain F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any figures to show how many of these big farms have been split up into small farms in the last ten years?
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. and gallant Member must know that large, economic farms have been carved up all over the country and sold.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. and gallant Member wants the figures, perhaps he will ask his right hon. Friend to provide them. All I can say to the hon. and gallant Member is that during the immediate post-war years I was confronted with more than one case where a large farm had been purchased, was to be carved up into comparatively small, uneconomic units and sold off, leaving the purchaser in a hopeless position.
The Ministry of Agriculture had to step into the breach, threaten to take over the farm and let the county agricultural executive committee run the farm and make the best use of it from the point of view of producing food. I am not going to allow the hon. and gallant Gentleman or any other hon. Member to take me away from what I intend to say. I have been here too long to be caught in that silly trap.
I am convinced that in every county land speculators have contributed to the problem facing the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. If there had been less indiscriminate fragmentation through speculation and more proper smallholdings provided by county councils, the Bill would not have been necessary. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the nation is not against the small farmer as such. Indeed, I am certain that the nation would pay a great deal for the aesthetic and social value of the hedges and fields of the countryside. What the nation does not relish is indirecty subsidising land speculators, and I see no sign in the Bill that that sort of speculation will be stopped or slowed down.
49 We know that there are scattered up and down the country many farms which would be potentially viable if they were farmed on modern methods and with modern equipment, while, according to the Bill and the right hon. Gentleman's statement, the others are to be written off as being beyond viability and left to to their unhappy fate after three years. Well, perhaps nothing can be done about it. It is, however, true to say that, in the course of the past few years, the position of small farmers generally has deteriorated rapidly.
This is due to two reasons. First, the depreciation in the value of money since this Government took over seven years ago and, secondly, because of the under-recoupment during the last several years. This has fallen heavily on small farmers who were unable to increase their efficiency as rapidly as larger farmers, or diversify their farming activities with the changing. or, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the unknown circumstances while the Government have been in office. Who, for instance, with experience of small farms over the last three or four years, would invest the money necessary to restore those farms to really economically prosperous farms? Very few.
The right hon. Gentleman is not unaware of the hostility in the countryside. Something had to be done and done quickly, if only to avert a political revolt against the Government between now and the next General Election. Who could have been found better for the job than a young, new, enthusiastic Minister of Agriculture, full of the joys of life, with no inhibitions, and the dazzling prize of winning the next General Election for his party?
Whatever we may think about the proposals in the Bill, it is difficult to resist the thought that the Bill has to serve a double purpose, and that, in fact, there is a smell of election votes, as strong as fish and chips on Blackpool Promenade. Nevertheless, we on these benches are always willing, regardless of its political implications, to examine any proposal objectively which may help to solve an existing problem.
Whether the proposals are good, bad or indifferent, I compliment the Minister upon his courage in facing up to what is 50 not only a complex but almost an intractable problem. Indeed, I would go further and say that if, as a result of these schemes under Clauses 1 and 3—and it is a rather large "if" —scores of thousands of small farms can be modernised, made more viable, productive and competitive, he will earn the gratitude of a large number of people, whatever the less fortunate under 20-acre man may think of him. But that remains to be seen.
The Bill itself, as the right hon. Gentleman said, is an enabling Measure, simply providing machinery for preparing schemes under the various Clauses. It will be the schemes and the way they are administered that will determine success or failure. For my part, I think that it is a very ingenious approach. I cannot help admiring the simple and cheap way in which the Minister intends to finance the schemes, by sharing the cost among the larger and more prosperous farms, and, of course, after three years, at the expense of the under 20-acre farmer, too.
This is made clear in paragraph 23 of the White Paper:The necessary finance for the new grants will be provided within the total of the guarantees already given to the industry. The Government believe that this comparatively small redistribution of resources is fully justified in the long-term interest of a stable and efficient agriculture.No wonder the Chancellor of the Exchequer is an enthusiastic supporter of the Bill. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said, it will cost him very little indeed in the first year.
One Conservative newspaper announcing the proposals—and other newspapers implied the same sort of thing—said:An energetic farmer who has a farm which can he made to pay by modern methods will now get from the Government a grant to help with his capital investment.Nothing of the kind. The farms provide the money and the Government generously give the scheme.
§ Mr. Williams
No, I do not agree at all. If I agree with the statement the right hon. Gentleman has just made, the paragraph in the White Paper referring to how the schemes are to be financed 51 means nothing. Clearly, if the £9 million is to be taken out of the global figure determined at the Annual Review in February, there will be £9 million less to spread across the wide range of commodities in the First Schedule to the 1947 Act. The taxpayer does nothing of the kind.
§ Mr. Williams
The taxpayer finds the global figure, and that global figure, apart from what we call production grants, marginal schemes, and that sort of thing, is spread over the prices which the farmers receive. If £9 million or more is taken from that global figure, there is £9 million less to spread over the prices of commodities. I do not think that it is arguable but that it is the larger and more prosperous farmers who will have to put up the money to finance the schemes.
Looking at the scheme and the generosity of the Government, I am reminded of an edition of the Washington Post, published the day after His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was born. Referring to the enthusiasm and joy in England, it said:Even the Scots let themselves go, and, in a burst of generosity, they gave their school children half a day's holiday.That is about what the Government are giving here towards these schemes.
However, it is not the first time in history that the strong have been called upon to heup the weak, and I do not make a great point of that, although—hon. Gentlemen ought to have this drilled into their minds—there were, pre-war, very few farmers who could help themselves, and it was only after the Labour Government, after the last war, had shown them how to do so that they were able to help others, also.
I want now to look at some of these figures, estimates and prophecies. Like other hon. Members, I have read the White Paper several times. I have tried to learn something about standard man days, small farm business grants, field husbandry grants, supplementary grants, limitations between 250 and 400 acres, and all the factors contained here, there and everywhere in the White Paper. It would be a wild exaggeration if I were to claim any knowledge of how the schemes will be administered or, indeed, of what 52 impact they are likely to have on ultimate efficiency. We hope for the best, of course, but none can claim any knowledge of just how things will work out. The right hon. Genleman's phrase, I thought, was very good when he referred to "unknown circumstances". In the two or three years before he took office, all the circumstances in agriculture were unknown, while this Government were at work.
I cannot disagree with the expressed intentions in the White Paper, but whether those intentions are fulfilled, or over what period of time, experience alone can tell. I cannot help feeling that some of the Minister's estimates and prophecies are far too optimistic, and I fear that they will, in course of time, prove to be very wide of the mark.
The definition of a "small farmer" is set out in paragraphs 8 and 9 of the White Paper. Apart from the misfortunes of the under 20-acre man, it seems unexceptionable, although the under 20-acre man will not be very enthusiastic about the scheme. The farm business grants, plus field husbandry grants, seem to provide for the most urgent needs on the farms we have in mind, provided, of course, that the grants are large enough to purchase the necessary livestock and equipment. The farmer with 20 acres of crops and grass, whose maximum farm business grant will be £120, will have that £120 paid in four instalments of £30. What sort of stock or equipment will he buy with £30? A man with 30 acres will have four £45 grants in three years. What sort of stock or equipment can he buy with £45? Not very much.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what the Government have in mind about the spending of these grants of £30, £45, or, for that matter, £60. I understand that a reasonable heifer, at the right point of time, would today cost about £80. For £35, a man could not buy the back half of it or the front half. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to tell us something about how that £30 or £45—or the £60 grant for the 40-acre farmer —will be spread over livestock or equipment. Will the money be spent on cows, heifers, bullocks, sheep, or poultry?
The last five lines of paragraph 8 read:There will be many possibilities varying according to the circumstances of each farm 53 business. The improvements to be included in the plan will therefore vary from farm to farm.In other words, there will be 65,000 variations. I do not expect the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what is to happen in all those 65,000 various farms.
The White Paper goes on:Farm business plans will be subject to approval of the Agricultural Departments, after consideration by their technical advisory staff.Does this mean that the Agricultural Departments will give a lead to their technical advisory staff about what kind of stock to encourage or enforce? I understand those words to mean that they will have the power to ensure that the individual farmer buys the stock that they think will best suit that particular farm. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give us an answer to that question, too.
I should like to ask this question at the same time: Will the small farmer have any right of appeal against the decision of the National Agricultural Advisory Service representative? The right hon. Gentleman has said that county agricultural executive committees will be brought back into business. I hope that he will not leave them with all the dirty work after having dismissed them summarily from many of their duties.
While on the point of appeal, I should like to refer to Clause 5:Revocation of approval of programme and recovery of grant".which reads as follows:Where it appears to him"—that is, the Minister—that the programme or a substantial part thereof has been badly carried out, or has been or is being unreasonably delayed, or is unlikely to be completed, or that any condition imposed by virtue of paragraph (d) of subsection (2) of section four of this Act has been contravened or has not been complied with, he may revoke the approval.The right hon. Gentleman would have to give notice in writing to the applicant why he disapproves and threatens to revoke the programme, and he would also, according to subsection (2, b), allow the individual to appear before a representative of the Minister of Agriculture. The question that I want to ask is: who will police these grant-aided schemes? It is suggested that there will be 25,000 approvals in the first year. That amounts to quite a lot of farms. I hope that we 54 shall be given some information on this point. Who will be the people to go round 25,000 farms to see whether the programmes are being faithfully carried out? Clearly, the N.A.A.S. will be fully engaged on analysing business schemes for business grants and other farms for grants under the supplementary scheme. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us who will police these business schemes.
The field husbandry grants seem to be more specific and, presumably, will cover most of the cost, at least, of the smaller farmers who qualify. However, if the Minister raises the small farmers' hopes too high, which I fear he is doing, only for him to see them dashed at the point of administration, I would not be surprised if he was not anxious for an early General Election to help him to get rid of his responsibilities.
The supplementary scheme which is set out in paragraphs 14 and 16 of the White Paper seems to be inevitable, but many sub-small farmers will feel a cold chill when they read paragraph 15. According to the estimate in paragraph 18, at the end of three years 25,000 farmers will cease to receive grants under the present marginal scheme. Yet, curiously enough, they will be indirect contributors to the 65,000 farmers with larger acreages who benefit under a small business farms scheme. It is suggested in paragraph 20—and the Minister repeated it this afternoon —that 25,000 farm business plans will be approved in the first year of operation.
I said a few moments ago that I thought the right hon. Gentleman was rather a super optimist, or words to that effect. I still think that I am right, but, of course, by the end of the first year of operation, if I understand the dates aright, the General Election will be over and then it will not matter to the right hon. Gentleman whether it is 25,000 or 5,000.
What does 25,000 approvals involve? Schemes of every sort and kind on farms varying from 20 to 100 acres, lowland, highland, sandy soil, chalky soil, clay soil, with a high or low rainfall, will have to be approved at the rate of nearly 500 a week, after all the objections and appeals and comings and goings. But that is not all. The remaining 65.000 farms which cannot be considered for approved farm business grant, for reasons given in paragraph 14, will all have 55 to be considered under Clause 2 for grants during the same first year.
I know that the staff of the National Agricultural Advisory Service is good. I set it up. It has to be good. But it will have to be super to achieve the target set by the right hon. Gentleman or the target which somebody else has set for him. I appreciate that the use of standard labour requirements to measure the size of a farm business is expected to expedite decisions, but I cannot help feeling that the illustration of how it will work as set out in Appendix I is almost too simple and too good to be true.
For example, to draw attention to one difficulty of a whole series, I note that paragraph 4, on page 9, raises a difficult point of administration. Paragraph 4 reads:Since the stocking of a farm may be changed during the year consideration will be given to the normal stocking of the farm, rather than to the number of livestock carried on any particular day.It is quite conceivable, as hon. Members opposite and on these benches know, that the livestock on many farms can change several times during the year. I do not want to make too much of this point, but I think that it is so much easier to say a thing which will be much more difficult to handle in the end. However, I mention these matters only to restrain the Minister's bubbling effervescent optimism to save him from howls of execration in the years that lie ahead.
It would not be a profitable exercise to pose all the questions that are prompted either by the Bill or by the White Paper, for I know full well, as most hon. Members know, that most of them could not possibly be answered this afternoon. We must await the production of the scheme before reaching any hasty conclusions. Our approach to the Bill is not so much in a spirit of hostility, but is one of modest hopefulness. Apart from its political implications, a sort of last despairing pre-General Election effort to repair some of the damage already done to small farmers, at least it has its possibilities, and we shall reserve final judgment until the schemes are ultimately produced.
§ Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)
The right hon. Gentleman has been rather critical of the Government. 56 Does he think that the Government are spending enough or too much on these proposals?
§ Mr. Williams
What I said was that I could understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer being an enthusiastic supporter of the Bill, because it will cost him very little.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Holland-Martin (Ludlow)
As one who represents a constituency which contains a large number of small farms, none of which, as far as I know, has come into being by the method which the right hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has suggested, I welcome the Bill and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on his courage in tackling in such a very practical way a problem which we all know exists and which, up to date, has proved intractable. It has proved intractable mainly because it is not only an economic problem but, as we all know, a social problem as well.
Judged from a purely economic standpoint the small farm may not be the optimum farming unit, but, then, the small farmer himself is not a purely economic animal. None the less, he is essential to the nation, for a nation cannot truly prosper unless it has its roots firmly in the land. Our nation must be largely an industrial one, but industry alone is not enough. Our national wellbeing would suffer irreparable damage if the breed of small farmers were allowed to die out, just as our countryside would suffer irreparable damage if their farm buildings were allowed to disappear.
One of the major difficulties which has faced those who have considered this problem has been the question, to which my right hon. Friend referred, of definition: what is a small farmer? Acreage alone is certainly not a good criterion—our countryside is far too diversified; neither is capital or turnover. I congratulate whoever it was among my right hon. Friend's advisers who hit upon the ingenious yardstick of the standard man-day, which seems to me to be the most workable, if not the only workable, yardstick which has been produced.
I believe that the scheme is a good one, all the more so because its purpose is to make a permanent improvement in the position of the small, full-time 57 farmer. I am glad that it is to be a matter of grants and not loans, because this, in itself, will go a long way to solve the small farmer's credit problem. It will also make him more credit-worthy for any further working capital which he has to borrow for his business. That is particularly so since the lender will know that not only has an injection of new capital been put into the business, but that it has been spent in accordance with the best ad vice available.
It is a good thing that the Bill comes at a time when the credit squeeze has been relaxed, otherwise Government action might have been necessary to help in the direction of credit. As it is, I see no reason for such action, although I am sure that my right hon. Friend will always watch the position.
I believe that the difficulties of the scheme will be mainly administrative. A heavy burden will be placed upon the National Agricultural Advisory Service. It is true that the supplementary scheme will ease the burden, but a vast amount has to be done in the next few years. I trust that my right hon. Friend the Minister will not fail to make full use of the county agricultural executive committees, not only in borderline cases. The members of these committees have invaluable knowledge and first-hand experience of many individual farms.
I hope, too, that those who are responsible for approving the plans will bear in mind at all times the possibility of encouraging the establishment of machinery pools and other forms of cooperation between neighbouring farmers. I am sure that a great deal of increased efficiency and a great saving of expenditure can be achieved in this way.
I believe this to be a good scheme and I welcome it, but help to small farmers must not be allowed to rest there or even within the confines of the Ministry of Agriculture. Great progress has been made with the provision of essential amenities in rural areas, but there are still great needs, especially in those parts of the country, like a great deal of the constituency which I represent, where the population is very sparse. I refer to telephone kiosks, sewerage schemes, rural bus services and, above all, water and electricity supplies. I ask my right hon. Friend to press the necessity and urgency of these matters upon his colleagues in 58 whose provinces they lie. Without them, this excellent Bill will fail in its purpose.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
Today a serious attempt is being made to establish what really is a small farm. I welcome the attempt which has been made concerning definition and later I shall have something to say about what has been omitted.
This is an important problem. Over the weekend, I looked at some of the Welsh farming Press. The Welsh Farm News had this to say:Welsh farmers have given a cautious welcome to the Government's new small farm assistance scheme."Cautious welcome" is my feeling too. A cautious welcome is. what I give the Bill this afternoon.
I understand that the Farmers' Unions among the counties in Wales have given the Bill a lukewarm reception. Most of them have adopted the attitude that they will appoint committees to look into the scheme and will discuss their reports later. I only wish that the Government had allowed more time for repercussions and for a welcome to be given to their proposals, because they merit close examination.
I do not agree with one of the farmers in my constituency who said that the Bill savoured of Communism because it took away from the large and gave to the small farmer. That is rather unfair. I hope that the application of assistance will not be on too much of a scientific basis. That is what the small farmer is likely to think about it when reading the appendices to the White Paper.
The first condition in the scheme to which I wish to refer is that of standard man-days. Here is the economic capacity test. I believe that the test of 250 standard man-days is rather high. I I also consider that in addition to the plus for overheads, mid-Wales should have a plus for inadequate services; otherwise the scheme, as I am sure the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will agree, will not meet the needs of the farmers in mid-Wales, about whom the Minister and his colleagues, as well as myself, are concerned.
Under present-day conditions, a farm cannot be effectively worked without adequate public services. This was stated 59 in one of the six Reports that we have had about mid-Wales in recent years. In referring to 1,404 farms, the Mid-Wales Report states that 86 of them had only a footpath and 194 only a cart track, and that in 108 cases the tracks could be used with decency only in the summer. These are the inadequate services. It is true that the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Act, 1955, has subsequently come into operation, but I regret to say that, the Government having decided to allow £100,000 more for these roads, none will go to mid-Wales. I understand that a new element comes into the scheme for counties where unemployment is greater. We in mid-Wales deprecate the fact that some of this money does not come to us.
One could say a great deal also about electricity. Despite the excellent reports and White Papers, the Electricity Board does not give anything at all adequate to meet the conditions required by small farmers to help to make their farms remunerative and to come within the scope of the Bill.
My other criticism is that of acreage. As suggested in the White Paper, acreage is not a criterion of potential output or profit. I think the limit of 20 acres is too rigid. I say that because Wales has 21.727 holdings under 20 acres; 14,931 are from five to 20 acres. Therefore, the House can understand why I am concerned about the small farmer and especially about the man who has not 20 acres. I know the men with less than 20 acres. These figures are taken from the 1957 June returns. There are six counties with more than 1.000 small farms of between five and 15 acres—Anglesey Caernarvon, Cardigan, Carmarthen, Montgomery and Denbigh. In Carmarthen there are 2,812 under 20 acres; in Caernarvon 2,840 under 20 acres. There are 32,000 holdings of 20 acres or more, and 14,200 of them are poor land farms, and I understand from the White Paper that the scheme will not apply to those which are of 20 acres or more if they are poor land farms. That is a criticism I level against the scheme looking at it from the mid-Wales point of view.
Let me give another figure. The Council for Wales panel on rural depopulation made a survey, and in the surveyed area 60 81½ per cent, of the holdings are between 5 and 100 acres. So the scheme is very essential; but I am afraid that a large number of farms are outside it.
According to the Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission's Report on mid-Wales, out of 1,404 farms 804 farms are classified as uneconomic. If that is the case, and if the test of the standard man-days is applied, one will find that those farms will not benefit; they will not if we accept those measurements. I say to the Minister that those measurements ought not to be accepted. One might as well put a fence round mid-Wales and call it a desert.
I hope that in seeking advice on this matter the Minister will appoint an advisory committee as he did under the farm improvement scheme, so that he can get good advice on what can best be done with this difficult problem in mid-Wales.
I want to raise one criticism of the Bill itself, because it is suggested in the White Paper that it will apply only to full-time farmers. I must give credit to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and to Ministers of this Government that they have always said, about proposals for dealing with mid-Wales, that there should be a real marriage between forestry and agriculture. I think that the qualification that the Bill should apply only to full-time farmers is detrimental to that. I do not suggest that part-time farmers who are part-time engaged in industry should be brought in, but I do say that the part-time farmers who are part-time engaged in afforestation ought to come into the scheme, for all the Government reports on mid-Wales have said as much. One said:Small part-time farms can still exist. Further developments of afforestation would provide employment for occupiers of smallholdings engaged in part-time farming.For one thing, the Forestry Commission requires to hire horses. What is wrong about a small farmer working part-time for the Forestry Commission and qualifying for some of these schemes, thus enabling him to improve his farm and make it remunerative and economic and thereby coming to full-time farming later? It is employment in agriculture itself, and that and some of the small farms are stepping stones for young farmers to larger farms.
61 As it is, a great number of the farms will not come into the scheme at all. I also find that some units up to about 30 acres will continue to be occupied on a part-time basis. Where do I find that? It is in the Report on mid-Wales which was presented to Parliament. It is stated that units up to 50 or 60 acres will also survive if the occupiers are prepared to undertake some part-time work, for example, haulage for the Forestry Commission with horses.
The proposals as they stand are a real blow to these farmers whose farms are of less than 20 acres or who, if their farms are of more than 20 acres, are not full-time farmers, for they will get no support at all. What is to be the solution of these problem farms in the mid-Wales area? It is suggested that in same cases this is more of a social than an economic question. If that is so, are these people to be told, "We cannot do anything at all about it for you. You will have to get some support otherwise than from the Ministry of Agriculture"? I quite agree that it may be a social problem, but some attempt ought to be made by means of the Bill to cover some of those people I have mentioned.
I come to the financial aspect of the scheme. I agree with the criticism expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley about the money required coming out of the Price Review. If those farmers do not qualify for the scheme they will get subsidies and grants for their products, but I understand from enlightened farming opinion that it may be that the prices of milk, bacon and eggs will not keep their level in future years. If that is the case, these farmers will not be able to get any benefit from the scheme, or any assistance, and they will pay towards other people getting it.
I am sorry that this is a sort of enabling Bill only and that we shall not be able to go into the details of some of the things raised by my right hon. Friend. I should have liked to put a few ideas and suggestions, particularly one to apply a plus rate for inadequate services and overheads. A labourer can get a plus rate of 1d. an hour extra in certain circumstances. Farmers in mid-Wales are working hard against difficult conditions and they ought to have a plus rate, too. I hope that even yet, with Government and Opposition working together on the Bill, we can do 62 something to help the farmers in mid-Wales, at least to show them that there is recognition of their problems, so that the outlook for them in the future may be better than it is at present.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)
I am sure the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) will not expect me, a humble Member from Sussex, to make any comment on the problems of Welsh agriculture.
I want to say just one thing, however, about the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). In the county of which I know a little I am quite unable to recognise any evidence of the claims he made that this problem of the small farmer is one largely created by the land speculator. I had for some time work which took me to ten other counties round London. It may be a surprise to him to learn that in some of those counties there have been no small farms created since the war, certainly not until a year or two ago. It should not be a surprise to him to learn that there were small farms in the country even when he was the Minister. For some time those who are interested in agriculture will have heard people making speeches asking the Minister and others to deal with the difficulties of small farmers. I am most grateful to the Minister today for the courageous way in which he has tackled this problem which has been worrying a good many of us for so long. The White Paper on Assistance for Small Farmers states at the very beginning that this is another step in the Government's long-term policy for agriculture. An hon. Member opposite seems to think there is something funny about that.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
Over a period, as anyone with any interest in agriculture will know, claims have been made that something should be done by way of a long-term policy for agriculture. If the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) had listened to the Chairman of the National Farmers' Union, or to other leaders in agriculture, he would know that for a great many years such people have been asking for a long-term policy and that, notwithstanding the benefits which no doubt he will claim have 63 arrived as a result of the policies introduced by his party, since the Agriculture Act, 1957, for the first time these demands have not appeared in speeches made by agricultural leaders. It would be just as well for the hon. Member to realise that the people of the country and the farmers think that a long-term policy has now been introduced for agriculture.
I should like to make three comments on the Bill. The first is that the Minister said many people would have to wait before their proposals, made under the Bill, would receive consideration. He went on to say that the county agricultural executive committees will have a big rôle to play. He will be aware that during the war there was an organisation known as the district committees. Has my right hon. Friend thought of reintroducing the district committees to deal with this problem? There are people in most localities to whom the small farmers would be quite prepared to go and with whom they would be willing to discuss their original proposals. It is possible that they would talk to them more frankly than to officials from my right hon. Friend's Ministry.
Secondly, I am not quite able to follow the reasoning in paragraph 13 of the White Paper which deals with the way in which the scheme is to be financed. I have had an opportunity of talking to some small farmers in my own county during the last week or so. Perhaps it may be a surprise to some hon. Members to learn that they are a very sturdy and independent type of farmer. It has been put to me that if some arrangements were made for an easy method of taking out an insurance policy to finance their grant they would welcome the opportunity of feeling that they were standing on their own feet. It may be that that provides insuperable difficulties, but it would be of advantage if at the end of the debate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would make clearer than it is in paragraph 13 why it is impossible to deal with the finances of this scheme in that way.
The paragraph states that… the aim is that small farmers should be helped without adding to the Exchequer commitments to agriculture.I am not asking that they should be helped by an Exchequer commitment; 64 but if, as a result of reconsidering the finances of the scheme, there happens to be a small amount of money available and the Minister is unable to deal with it, I am sure that we could suggest how he should employ it.
The wording of Clause 5 (2, b) of the Bill came as a complete surprise to me, as I am sure it did to anyone who was interested in what happened in the course of our debates on the Franks Committee on Administrative Tribunals and Inquiries. I thought for a moment that the Bill had been drafted before the Franks Committee reported, but later I decided that that could not possibly be the answer. I ask my right hon. Friend to have another look at the Clause, because I think that it could have been better drafted in exactly contrary terms to those which appear. I should have thought that for this purpose, whatever happens, the hearing should not be beforea person appointed for the purpose by that Minister…and at some stage it should be necessary to define "a person". If the subsection is left as drafted the country at large, and the small farmer in particular, will be worried about it.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
An opportunity should be afforded for the small farmer to be accompanied at the hearing by someone who would be able to present his case.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
I entirely agree. I was about to say that to deal with this problem the Minister has already at his disposal a Land Tribunal and I should have thought that at some stage it should be possible to allow the small farmer to have recourse to that tribunal. It might be necessary to have a preliminary hearing of the matter before it got to the tribunal, but I can hardly think that as the Bill is set up there would be many cases of revocation of approval. If the Ministry's advisory service has gone into the matter and the farmer has submitted a scheme, I should think it would be most unlikely that it would be a scheme which would not be carried out. Subject to the points which I have mentioned, I should like to say that I welcome the Bill.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)
I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity of taking part in the debate, because I represent a constituency which is almost entirely agricultural. Merioneth is a county of comparatively small family farms. I was very pleased, therefore, to hear the Minister say that he agrees that these family farms are sound economic units. The family farm in Wales has always been the economic unit.
The Bill is very complicated and technical. I was surprised to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who is an expert and a thorough-going Englishman, say that even he could not comprehend the whole Bill. What hope, therefore, has a Welshman like myself of understanding it? I asked a Welsh journalist on Saturday to translate parts of the Bill to me. He replied. "It is untranslatable. It is the only thing, so far, that I have ever failed to translate." I challenge the Minister and his staff to publish a Welsh translation of the Bill.
§ Mr. Jones
I thank the Government for making this effort to solve a problem which has caused great concern in Wales for a long time. I emphasise "Wales" for the simple reason that there are over 54,000 agricultural holdings in the Principality of which 24,000 are of between 20 and 100 acres. The Bill, in the main, will no doubt benefit those holdings, but over 22,000 holdings, that is, 40 per cent. of the total number in the Principality, are below 20 acres. Therefore, there is no hope for them in the Bill.
In the light of the Minister's statement at the time of the last Annual Price Review that a social problem exists in the farming industry, the proposed new scheme will no doubt correct some of the injustices of the past which have been perpetrated as a result of a haphazard method of finance within the industry. The new proposals are apparently designed so that some of the available resources are channelled in the directions where they are most needed.
Having sincerely congratulated the Minister, I hasten to assure him that I am not so naive as to believe that he and his Government have displayed great 66 generosity through the financial provisions of this Bill. In the last analysis it is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I am satisfied personally because I happen to be Paul's advocate in this instance, since I represent the small farmer. In reality, however, the Minister has gone back on a promise he made some months ago. In the White Paper on the 1958 Price Review it was stated that proposals would be devised for additional provisions designed to give further assistance to the small full-time farmer. That was his promise then—additional provisions.
§ Mr. John Hare
If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman, I am providing additional assistance. I have made it clear to the Farmers' Unions, and all to whom I have spoken from the inception of this scheme, that this will involve the distribution of income within the industry.
§ Mr. Jones
But our contention is that it is the farmers who will be paying for this. Something will have to go in the next Price Review in order to provide the finance for these small farmers according to the statement in the Bill. Therefore, the farming industry itself will have to provide the finance and the Bill is an enforced self-denying ordinance. Whatever else the Minister says today, he must admit that not a penny piece will be taken from the Exchequer for this scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Not in addition to what is taken out of the kitty which already belongs to the farming industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] If the Minister can explain that point further, I will give way to him.
§ Mr. John Hare
I hope my speech was clear. I said that some £3 million of extra money will be found for the increased use of fertilisers during the first year of the operation of this scheme. That will be new money and will not come from the general aggregate of the farm guarantees.
§ Mr. Jones
Very well, I will look at it again. We shall have to read the Bill a dozen times to understand it and we shall need a very clever lawyer to explain its technicalities. I make no apology for promising the Minister to look again at the White Paper immediately after I sit down.
I must point out to the Minister that farmers in North Wales fear that the combination of the tests and the acreage criteria will exclude many farmers from the benefits of the Bill, although they might have qualified under the proprosed economic tests. No help is provided for farms on poor land and in unfavourable circumstances which fail to qualify on grounds of size or because they fail the economic test.
I have pointed out that in Wales there are 22,000 holdings below the 20-acre mark. Several such holdings in Merioneth are considered by the larger farmers to be the reservoir which provides them with farm workers. Speaking generally, we do not find in North Wales the ordinary farm labourer of the type to be found, for instance, in Norfolk. That is why the Farmworkers' Union is not so strong in Wales. These are family farms and the husband not only looks after his own small farm but spends the day helping a larger farmer.
It is discouraging if such a man believes that he does not qualiy merely because he comes just under the 20-acre limit. A predecessor of the Minister once stated from the Front Bench opposite that the ideal was five acres and a cow. I do not want it to be brought as low as that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Three acres."] Was it three acres? Certainly 20 acres is rather a high figure when we appreciate that there are 22,000 such holdings in the Principality of Wales. The occupants are excellent farmers, as my hon. Friend pointed out, because they are full-time farmers. They work on their own farms in their spare time, helped by their dear wives, and their days are spent helping their neighbours on the larger farms or in afforestation. I cannot believe that the Minister envisaged these people when he was drawing up his proposals, and when we reach the Committee stage I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this point and will do something to help these energetic people who live 68 in the remotest part of the country, right on the hills. They are the most hardworking farmers in the whole of Britain.
Unless I am mistaken—and I stand to be corrected if I am wrong—farmers who have a hill farming scheme currently in operation will not be eligible to apply for either the small farmer scheme or the supplementary scheme. Where, however, a farmer has had a hill farming scheme in the past, he will be eligible to apply for the small farmer scheme provided he conforms with the general criteria. Why this discrimination? Why should one suffer just because he has a current scheme in operation?
Before resuming my seat, I ask the Minister kindly to consider three or four questions and to elucidate these points when he replies to the debate tonight. First, there is no mention that the erection of new farm buildings can be included in the scheme. I notice that paragraph 10 of the White Paper mentions "stock or equipment". Can equipment there mean farm buildings as well?
§ Mr. Jones
The Minister shakes his head. That will be one blow for my constituents. Secondly, when qualifying acreages are reckoned, if it is desired to improve rough grazing will this disqualify the applicant or will the qualifying acreage be that which is relevant at the commencement of the scheme? In other words, suppose a farmer with 95 acres of land intends to convert 10 acres of rough grazing into better land. Will he now, because he will have 105 acres of good land, be disqualified under the Bill? I should like that question answered, too.
Thirdly, and conversely, will the man whose initial acreage does not qualify him for eligibility be given the credit of any rough grazing to be reclaimed and then be eligible? I am asking these questions because there is a movement on foot in North Wales to reclaim a great deal of rough grazing land.
Fourthly, when calculating the standard man-days applicable to a farm where sheep are wintered away from home, on what basis will the standard labour requirements be assessed? Will the sheep be treated as a permanent part of the farm stock? I do not know whether the Minister will nod this time. Apparently he will not.
69 I support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) about the provision of electricity for these farms. I am sure the Minister will agree that the greatest assistance which such farmers could possibly obtain would be electric power. The North Wales Board can boast that it has connected more farms during 1957–58 than any other board in the United Kingdom, and I compliment it upon what it has done. However, a great deal more needs to be done, and the Board is very anxious to carry out its schemes.
It should be borne in mind, however, that electricity boards have to plan years ahead. They divide their areas into scheduled districts and give the people in the districts a firm promise that electricity will be provided at a certain date. Farmers in my area have been promised electricity by a certain date but, because of the credit squeeze, the date has been put back. The Minister would do the farmers a great service if he could persuade the Exchequer to allow a board to know exactly how much it may spend for years in advance, so that it does not proceed to spend a certain amount in one year and then have to cut down for the following year. I press the Minister to do all in his power to enable boards to supply electricity to our farms even at a far greater speed than they have done up to now.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
I cannot follow the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) into Wales, but I can agree with him profoundly on one aspect of his speech—his last remarks about electricity. If there is no other similarity between Cumberland and Wales, there is at least this one. The need for electricity in our rural districts is every bit as great as that in Wales. If our board has not done as well as the North Wales Board, that is a loss for us, and I wish it had. All the same, I feel that it has done well within its resources. However, I agree with the hon. Member that if my right hon. Friend could do something to initiate a real drive to complete rural electrification, he would be doing much to supplement the Bill and also to help both the small and the large farmers of the country.
§ Mr. Slater
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that the North-Eastern Electricity Board has done a remarkable job in supplying electricity to the farming community?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. Member is concerned with the North-Eastern Electricity Board. I am concerned with the North-West Board. I have nothing to do with the hon. Gentleman's part of the world.
I feel that our agricultural policy in recent years has been successful because the money—it is the nation's money—has been wisely invested with the main object of improving the competitive position of the farming industry. The Bill and the proposals in the White Paper must surely be judged by this standard: it must be decided whether special assistance to small farmers is justified, and if it is, whether the Government's proposals provide the best method of giving it.
I accept at once that it is impossible to answer any such questions about the agricultural industry in general terms. Inevitably, it is far too diverse and variable in different parts of the country, depending upon the soil and climate. On the one hand, some small farmers are earning a reasonable standard of living at present by skill and hard work. Many such men are contented and not asking for any special help. Equally, there are many larger farmers today who graduated to their present position by way of a small farm on which they succeeded in times very much more difficult than the present. At the other end of the scale there are certainly some farms which by their very nature can never give their occupiers a satisfactory living on their own. Traditionally, as hon. Members representing Wales have reminded us, these have been worked on a part-time basis. That, surely, is their best hope for the future. I hope that every effort will be made to offer the occupiers of such holdings alternative employment, such as in forestry.
In between these two extremes, I am convinced that there are small farmers who are not earning a reasonable standard of living at present but are only too ready to improve their position by their own efforts if they have the necessary financial means and technical advice. I believe for several reasons that it is right 71 by this scheme to give them that opportunity. First, a successful small farm is a highly efficient unit when judged on production per acre. Secondly, the farming industry must have a promotion ladder. The skilled farm worker must be able to work his way up. Some do so at present by becoming managers on larger farms, and they find this job rewarding in every way.
But there are others who prefer to set up on their own even if it means earning less. The costs of stocking and equipping a farm today already seriously restrict such men's opportunities. Small farms of the type considered in the Bill offer the only hope. Thirdly, there is a strong social reason for preserving small farms in our countryside. Over generations such farms have produced men and families of a sturdy and independent character. In many ways they are the backbone of our countryside and so also of much that is best in our national life.
I certainly believe, therefore, that some special assistance is justified, but naturally much depends on the way the help is given. I should be strongly opposed to anything in the nature of a dole paid out indiscriminately, and so I believe would the vast majority of small farmers. Equally, I do not consider that any system of differential prices would be wise, workable or acceptable to the farming community.
I welcome the Government's proposals, first, because they are designed to enable the small farmer to help himself. Secondly, I am sure that they represent a wise investment of our national resources, because it is their aim to improve permanently the small farmer's competitive position rather than just to give him some temporary financial benefit. Thirdly, they will encourage contact between the advisory services and some small farmers who up to now, for a great variety of reasons, have been very shy of going anywhere near the advisory officers.
The plan will succeed in its object only if the money goes to those who genuinely need it and that, as all who have studied the problem know, is the difficulty. Obviously, acreage alone does not provide the answer. Like others of my hon. Friends, I welcome 72 the ingenious idea of the standard man-days set out in these proposals. I cannot believe that it is quite as difficult to understand as some hon. Members have tried to make out. I believe that together with the acreage qualification it provides much the fairest answer put forward so far.
Of course, there will still be hard cases when a line has to be drawn, but there always will be. In this case, those with less than 20 acres but who nevertheless satisfy the standard man-days requirement will be especially unfortunate. Yet, I am sure that my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw a line and to confine himself to a limited and modest scheme at the start.
It would surely be dangerous to embark on some far-reaching plan without experience of the difficulties of administration. These, as everyone knows, are likely to be formidable. Indeed, one is bound to be apprehensive lest even these proposals place too heavy a load on the advisory services. It will certainly have to be accepted that the advisory services will have less time available for the larger farmers. That in itself is regrettable. In some areas, it seems that even the time which is saved in that way will not be sufficient, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will not hesitate to increase his advisory staff in any area if an overwhelming number of small farmers' schemes are submitted there.
Equally, I hope that he will ensure that the load on the clerical office staffs will not be so great that it delays the passing of grants under the farm improvements scheme. I am convinced that it would be a tragedy in any way to interfere with this work of modernising farm buildings which is proving of such immense value.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has decided to give grants rather than loans. As he said, many small farmers shrink from incurring further debts. It is also clear that the administration of loans and their repayment would raise serious difficulties. Equally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Holland-Martin) said, if the proposals achieve their purpose, the credit-worthiness of small farmers will be improved and they will be able to finance themselves further, if they wish.
73 I understand from the way my right hon. Friend moved his head when the hon. Member for Merioneth was speaking and from what I read in the White Paper that the farm business grant will not be available for improvements to farm buildings. This will be one of the most difficult sides of the scheme, because building improvements must form part of any comprehensive scheme to strengthen the economic position of a farm. If the stock-carrying capacity of the land is increased, through improved grassland, the extra animals carried—certainly in Cumberland. I can assure my right hon. Friend—will have to be housed somewhere. Perhaps it will be possible to consider this aspect further at a later date, for it is very important.
On the other hand, I am glad that farm husbandry grants will concentrate on improving grassland as, despite the great advances made in recent years, I am convinced that there is still insufficient attention paid to it. After all, in many areas grass is the most important crop and certainly the one best suited to our soil and climate. It should be treated as such. I also consider it wise that grants for renovating grassland will not be confined to those cases where the field is ploughed. It has been all too seldom recognised that some permanent pasture can be improved far more successfully without the plough.
I welcome the Bill and the White Paper proposals because I believe that they represent the best method of tackling a difficult problem which everyone will agree has to be faced, and which, I can assure the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), did not arise with the Tory Government. It has been there with Governments of all parties, perhaps for generations. Of course, the scheme can be criticised. No doubt there will be many difficulties in administration, but my right hon. Friend has wisely recognised that by starting with a modest, commonsense scheme.
Most important of all, the plan places the main onus on the small farmers themselves. Its ultimate success will depend on the extent to which they are prepared to help themselves. I have great faith in their ability and character, and so I hope that the House will give them this opportunity to prove their worth.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Bonham Carter (Torrington)
I hope that the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks too closely. However, to adapt some of his words, he comes from the North-West and I come from the South-West and in some respects some of the problems he was discussing apply to both areas, while in other respects they differ. I associate myself with what he said about the importance of supplying farms with services such as electricity, water and roads, without which farm improvements are often held up and the provision of which still constitutes a great problem in many parts of the country.
I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on the Bill and to say, as a Liberal, how warmly we welcome the idea of help for small farmers. We are glad that the Government have been converted to the idea -that what the small farmer needs is capital. The small farmer is a member of the community who contributes much which is of value to all of us, not only the fruits of his extremely arduous labour, which goes on for seven days a week and for which he receives no overtime pay, but also by being an independent member of the community at a time when independent members of the community are, unfortunately, growing rarer.
I also welcome the opportunity to speak because my constituency contains a large number of small farms, and although I cannot rival the statistics which some Welsh Members have been able to produce, I think that at least 75 per cent. of the farms in North Devon are of 100 acres or less—as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture will probably know after his recent tour of the area. In consequence, the Bill is a matter of very great urgency and interest to North Devon.
I think it was Sydney Smith who said that all men thought that they could do three things—drive a gig, edit a newspaper, and manage a small farm. I do not think that anyone would have said that after the present summer, or after the last Price Review. Not many men would have volunteered to manage a small farm in March, or at the end of August and September. I mention the Price Review, because no one can deny that it hit the 75 small farmer hardest. I also mention it because it contained a postscript about the Government's intention to produce a policy to help the small farmer.
I thought that I detected the hand of a new Minister of Agriculture in that postscript. I can well believe that the right hon. Gentleman had no desire to be saddled with the odium of his predecessor's policies without the compensation of becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, the Farm Price Review was also published at a time when a by-election was taking place in which farm votes were not an insignificant matter, and although the Government have told us—
§ Captain Corfield
Would the hon. Member confirm that this is the pure doctrine of the Liberal Party? I have been sent a pamphlet which says:Would you like £1,000 a year? This is the average sum paid in subsidies each year to farmers…It says that the reader and every member of his family, on average, pays £6, and goes onSupport the Liberal Party—the only party fighting against this waste…Where does the Liberal Party stand?
§ Mr. Bonham Carter
I am very glad that the hon. Member has raised that point. I am sure that he would not think I would be so bold as to speak anything but the purest Liberal policy in the presence of my Leader. Perhaps I can now get on with what I was about to say.
I have not noticed, in the behaviour of the Government, any obvious disregard for the importance of votes, although they have been confidently telling us that they are going to govern no matter how unpopular their measures may be. To that extent we in Torrington believe that we have some responsibility for the Bill, as well as a real interest in it. Indeed, the alacrity with which the Government responded to pressure is one of the things that I would criticise. A member of the N.A.A.S., to whom I was speaking recently, told me that he was amazed how quickly this scheme was produced. He said it in admiration. It would have been a good deal better if it had taken a little longer, for the success or failure of the Bill depends upon the way in which it is administered and upon how it works 76 out on the ground, among the small farmers themselves.
At this level it has hardly been discussed at all. There have been discussions between the Government and the N.F.U. at an exalted level, but these discussions have only just reached the branch level where the whole scheme will have to work. In my constituency the N.F.U. started discussing the scheme only last Friday, and this fact, and the fact that it appears that the Bill is being rushed through, has strengthened the suspicion to which its contents have given rise.
§ Mr. Percival Pott (Devizes)
Is it the intention of the hon. Member that the Government should not move any Bill in the House without the consent of the local branch of the N.F.U.? This matter has been discussed at every level in the agricultural industry for at least the last twenty years.
§ Mr. Bonham Carter
My point is that the Bill will depend very greatly upon the way in which it is administered, and it must be administered at branch level, where many small farmers are in contact with the local branches of the N.F.U.
There is no question but that it has given rise to some suspicions that this is a London Bill—a Bill conceived and drafted in London; which is being pushed through in London, and which will be administered from London.
§ Mr. Bonham Carter
I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. My point is that these discussions have not got down to the level of the people who will be affected by the scheme.
As the scheme will depend for its success or failure upon its administration, this seems to be a very important aspect of the matter. In his speech the right hon. Gentleman said that county executive committees have a big rôle to play, but there are very few references to them in the White Paper or the Bill. Again, the people on these committees 77 know the small farmers and the problems of the district. It looks as though they will be used in a purely advisory capacity for dealing with difficult problems.
Many people on those committees are most unhappy about the position that they will be in. At any rate, that is true in my constituency. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to confirm that the rôle they are to play involves something slightly more than acting in an advisory capacity, and listening to appeals. A man may be capable of drawing up the most wonderful blueprint in the world, which may satisfy the N.A.A.S., but he may not be able to carry it into effect, and vice versa. This aspect is worrying those small farmers who have read the White Paper.
Secondly, although the Bill looks neat and relatively possible on paper, it will he difficult to work in practice. Many people who will expect to qualify under the terms of the Bill will find that they are disappointed. I hope that when the advisory services find farmers who have requirements above the 450 standard man-days they will show them how, by redeploying their labour, they can reduce this number so as to get within the scope of the Bill.
In a letter to The Times it was emphasised that when the Bill becomes an Act the advisory services will be put under a considerable strain. It looks as though they will be one of the few over-employed sections of the community. The kind of farmer for whom the Bill is designed has not a great deal of time for paper work, nor is he accustomed to drawing up three-year plans. For this reason and for others I would have been glad if the scheme had been simpler, and if the right hon. Gentleman had not dismissed the possibility of loans quite so summarily.
I agree very much with what one hon. Member said earlier about the Clause dealing with revocation of grants. This is a somewhat worrying aspect of the Bill. It appears that the Minister will appoint the person who has to judge whether or not the scheme has been badly carried out, or is being unreasonably delayed. I would have thought it essential that if proceedings of that sort are to be taken the farmer in question should 78 have the right to appeal beyond the person appointed by the Minister—to an independent tribunal if it is not possible for him to appeal to the Lands Tribunal.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)
I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for calling me. I would draw the attention of the House to a problem which is very acute in the north-east of Scotland, but, first, I would like the Minister to tell me to what extent the agricultural executive committees are to function and what is to be the scope of their advisory capacity. Are they to deal with individual cases and recommend special treatment for them, and so on?
I would enter a special plea for the under-20-acre and the over-150-acre farms in the administration of this scheme. In the north-east of Scotland are large areas which are purely marginal and which have been obtaining assistance under M.A.P. since the scheme came into existence. These areas do not benefit under the advantages which are offered to the crofting counties, but the small under20-acre farms are the nurseries of farming personnel. We are having increasing difficulty as time goes on in supporting adequately in manpower our farms in the north-east of Scotland. If the assistance they have been getting is withdrawn, as it will be at the end of three years, these smallholdings may disappear and we shall be faced with further losses in personnel.
The farms of 150 acres and over are marginal and are aggregations of holdings, in the main brought together under one management to make each aggregation an economic unit. One. of two things will happen to these 150-acre farms in what are now marginal areas. They will either be split up into smaller units, or the standard of production will go down. The probability is that much of the land will revert to bracken and heather. The M.A.P. has been of very great assistance and I make a very strong plea to the Minister that either the agricultural 79 executive committees must be in a position to devise special treatment in areas such as I have mentioned, and which I have the honour to represent here, or a special dispensation must be made for us.
The areas which I have in mind in Banffshire are, for example, Tomintoul, Glenlivet, The Cabrach and Glen Rinnes. They have farms of probably the highest altitude in Great Britain, and working conditions are harder there than anywhere because of the climate, the altitude, the distance from cinemas, etc., and the shortage of electricity and water schemes. Unless there is to be an incentive to those farmers to carry on, something supplementary to what is offered to other parts of the country, they will be in great difficulty.
No doubt hon. Members have often heard of blizzard conditions up there; I have experienced them on more than one occasion. It is something that has to be seen to be believed. I make a strong plea to the Minister that special consideration should be given both now and in Committee on the Bill to devising a scheme so that areas such as I have mentioned shall have special treatment.
Another matter concerns security of tenure, which is extremely important in the areas which I have described, and which are very largely Crown land. In the deliberations that took place on the Agriculture Bill, 1958, the hope was expressed from our Front Bench and reiterated throughout the House that landlords and tenants would get together willingly and enter into long leases. The Commissioners of Crown Lands—
§ Mr. Duthie
The Commissioners of Crown Lands in those areas have so far set their minds against long leases. Unless the tenant farmer can have absolute security of tenure he will not be very much inclined towards accepting assistance under the Bill. I submit that the Commissioners of Crown Lands should be a shining example to other landlords in giving effect to the Government's desire for long leases rather than proving, so far, a stumbling block.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The circumstances affecting agriculture in Scotland are very different from those 80 affecting agriculture in England. On this occasion, therefore, there should have been two Bills on this subject.
We had the unfortunate experience on the last Bill that came before us that when we came to discuss Clause 4, which affected Scotland vitally, only a very small number of people was present. Scotland was therefore voted down by a majority of English landlords. As far as I can see, this Bill will meet the same fate. When the Committee comes to be constituted, who is to sit on it? There were only three Scottish hon. Members on either side on the last Agricultural Bill Committee, and out of all the areas the north of Lothian was not represented at all, and neither were the Highlands of Scotland. The hon. Baronet the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Lord John Hope) was kept off it because he was a rebel. We may see the same sort of thing now, only a small fraction of hon. Members representing huge areas. Agricultural constituencies will not have an opportunity of discussing and voting on the Bill.
This is all wrong. It is a step backwards. The Government are doing it because they know how quickly they disposed of Scotland in the last Bill. An hon. Member has just put the matter very clearly when he talked about the prospect of a General Election and the idea of regaining the support in the countryside which was lost by the apprehensions of insecurity of tenure. The Government are thinking not so much about marginal lands as about marginal seats. They hope to give the general impression in Scotland that farmers will get some recompense and the hope that the Bill will result in the dispensing of charity.
Acute minds have been brought to bear on the Bill in Scotland, and there is very strong opposition to some of its provisions. We are all in favour of raising the standard of life of the small farmer, just as I hope we are in favour of raising it for the agricultural worker and of anybody who contributes in any way to the prosperity of the rural areas; but sympathy for the small farmer was lamentably missing when we passed the other Bill, which gave the landlords power to increase rents.
What are the people behind the Government hoping will happen? In a few years' time there may be an increase in the income of the small farmer, which 81 may be used as an excuse for raising rents. That can be the inevitable result of the Bill. Unless hon. Members think that the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) has overstated his case against the Government on the question of security of tenure, I would quote a statement made recently by a very well-known representative of the farmers in his constituency, who contributes the agricultural notes to the Kilmarnock Standard. Referring to the last Act, which has caused such resentment throughout the agricultural industry, he said:Legislation, however, was passed, and today we have an Agriculture Act which may in some cases lead to hardship, and in others to bad farming and a return to the nerve-racking insecurity of a former century.So the Government give what apparently is a sop to the small farmer.
I do not know how this will work out in practice. I see in the White Paper a table showing how subsidies are to be reckoned. It might have been copied direct from directions to a collective farm in the Soviet Union given by Mr. Khrushchev. It says that standard man-days per acre are to be used as a criterion of how the subsidy is to be paid. That is exactly what has been done in the collective farms of the Soviet Union.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not know about that, but the claims are too high. According to the White Paper, the standard man-days per 1,000 acres for beef cows are 4½ and for bulls seven. If that is the criterion for bulls, what is to happen to a farmer who gets his cows fertilised by artificial insemination?
There are other conundrums. Hon. Members from agricultural constituencies sooner or later will be receiving a very large number of inquiries from disappointed farmers asking questions to which it will be difficult to provide answers. The questions will be put in envelopes and sent to the Minister in the hope that he will be able to answer them. We should like to know what directions are to be given to the officers who are to advise on these farms. Is that to be done purely in the interests of agriculture? Suppose a farmer has 100 acres and an adjoining farmer has 98 acres. Suppose the Ministry of Agriculture official begins 82 to think in terms of interest of the efficiency of the unit and comes to the conclusion that it would be a far better economic proposition if the two farms were merged as there would be a better living for the people concerned, and that would be the permanent basis for a prosperous agriculture in that county. I wonder what would happen.
I cannot see this scheme materialising in any great improvement in agriculture throughout Scotland. That view is shared by the people who have the greatest amount of experience in agriculture, both in the north and in the south. The Glasgow Herald has had some pertinent questions summarising the attitude of the farming community. In a leading article on this question on 8th November it said:On the latter…The marginal agriculture production scheme—the voices of organised farming are unanimous in condemnation.When we have the voices of organised farming "unanimous in condemnation" of a scheme, surely there is something radically wrong with it. At least there is what the lawyers call a prima facie case. The Glasgow Herald concludes its leading article by saying:the N.F.U. are undoubtedly right about one weakness in the scheme—rigid demarcation of acreage eligibility—and the Government will be wise if they leave the agricultural executive committees some latitude to bring in deserving cases above 100 acres or below 20.That is sound reasoning, but if that is done the bottom will be knocked out of the Bill. We should then have to go to some better and more intelligent scheme for re-organising the industry in the interests of agriculture.
However sentimental we may be about the small farmer, a great many people know that small farming can be slavery. The small farmer who works twelve hours a day may not see his standard of life improved. He may become a greater slave. The same applies to the farmer's wife who, on a small farm or smallholding, is sometimes even more of a slave than her husband.
The Minister has made no real attempt to answer the criticisms of the agricultural community, who are not by any means inclined to support the Labour Party but are usually overwhelmingly 83 Conservative. We are told by the leader writer of the Scottish Farmer:This is a body blow for Scotland. The introduction of the MA.P.That is strong language. If it is so, what is to become of the programme which used to be outlined with such enthusiasm years ago by Mr. McNair Snadden, as he then was? He used to get enthusiastic about marginal aid and large-scale planning to produce beef in the Highlands of Scotland. He used to be quite lyrical about it when he was critical of the Labour Government, but now we find that people who have built up their farms on the assumption that the Government were to continue the scheme—which is a constructive scheme on which a large part of the agriculture of the Highlands depends—are to receive what the Editor of the Scottish Farmer calls "a body blow".
When we read reports of various meetings of the National Farmer's Union in different parts of Scotland we see very strong condemnation in any place where farmers are articulate and have had an opportunity of examining the scheme in relation to the whole of agriculture. The Scottish Farmer says:It is not impossible that time will prove that a fully-fledged marginal land aid scheme would have been far more economically sound than the help to small farmers. The feeling of dismay and resentment which the limitation of the M.A.P. aid has occasioned has not so far found full expression, but that will come.Take my own authority in Ayrshire. The Vice-Chairman of the Ayrshire County Council—a Conservative, a very strong anti-Socialist— said that this is aserious backward step in withdrawing assistance from the marginal lands, which were stepping up production.Let us consider the views of the farmers in Perthshire. Perhaps they are not unanimous, but the majority of them are extremely critical of the effects of the Bill. Mr. David Yellowlees, of Muirhall, the chairman of the branch, said:It looks almost as if they were trying to legitimise the annual double-cross in advance by robbing Peter to pay Paul.That is a very strong opinion, but if the Government wanted to help the small farmer, why was it necessary for them to take the money from the marginal land scheme? Surely this sum of £7 million, or at the most £10 million, could have been obtained had the Government 84 looked around at other branches of Government expenditure. If they had decided to take £10 million from the expenditure on obsolete armaments and to invest it in the land, that would have made the Bill acceptable to both the large farmer and the small farmer.
One farmer has pointed out that it will result in men being dismissed. For example, Mr. William Balfour, another Perthshire farmer, said that they could say without fear of contradiction that the withdrawal of the marginal aid plan would mean the dismissal of substantial numbers of men in the larger units, because cropping as cropping would cease. Only crops for essential stock on the place would be grown. There would be nothing over for sale to the national larder. There were going to be empty houses all over the place. Whatever expansion had taken place would come to an end. That was said by Mr. William Balfour.
This is a serious indictment of the Government's policy, and I believe that there is something in it. By attempting to catch a little transient popularity in the country the Government are putting on the Statute Book another Act which will have an adverse effect. It might do until a General Election. It might do for vote catching. But there is a substantial opinion in Scotland which says that as it stands the Bill is not in the best interests of agriculture in Scotland. It is not a step forward to a long-term plan for the reconstruction of agriculture in Scotland. It is a petty political party makeshift which will not stand the test of examination in Committee.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. H. R. Spence (Aberdeenshire, West)
I am sure that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will understand if I do not follow him exactly in his line of argument.
I should like to remind the House of this fact—that the Bill proposes that we should spend £3 million more in assistance to farming than is being spent at present. It does not take money away. What the Bill does is to repeal the marginal assistance payment, but to put in its place a series of payments made in a new way to the smaller farms with a view to rephasing the methods of production. It seeks to get away from cropping of uneconomic land and to put a stimulus upon animal production.
85 That is what we shall find, and I think it is quite right that the Government should review the effects of the payments which they are making to stimulate production and, when necessary, change the method of payment so as to bring about a change in the commodities which are produced.
When we examine the proposals we see that they mean that the only farms which will be worse off will be the big farms and the very small farms, but even these farms will continue to get the benefits which have been brought into being since the Act came into effect dealing with marginal land—notably those under the Hill Farming Act and the Livestock Rearing Act, 1951. There will still be the improvements scheme designed to put land and equipment in good shape and there will still be the hill cattle and sheep subsidies. These benefits will remain. Listening to some of the things which have been said this afternoon, one would have thought that every subsidy was being removed from the marginal land farms.
There have been natural misgivings over the Bill. There are always misgivings over every new Bill. But I believe that these misgivings are mainly due to misunderstandings and to a lack of full knowledge of what is proposed. I have tried, from unofficial sources, to make an estimate of what this is likely to mean. At present, 8,000 farms are receiving marginal grants. Probably 3,000 will now fail to get those grants, but an additional 5.000 farms will rank for grant under the new proposals. After the Bill becomes an Act, therefore, we shall have 10.000 farms in receipt of assistance instead of 8,000 as at present. It is a broadening of the basis upon which the help is being given.
This is always bearing in mind the type of production which we need today. The Government can best judge whether the emphasis should be on cereals or on meat production. When the effects of the Bill are taken into account, I think that we shall find that that is one of the main results.
Many hon. Members have spoken about the other forms of assistance which our marginal farms need. In the remote areas the services to the farms are all important. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) spoke about electricity, and I 86 should like to say something about that, on two grounds. First, in many parts of my constituency in Aberdeenshire no electricity is available because the mains do not exist. There are these black islands of isolation where we cannot get electricity even when we want it. Secondly, there is the colossal increase in the installation charge and in the supply charge, in many cases quite unrelated to the value of the farm and its rent.
When we read that the Central Electricity Board had a surplus of £18 million last year, it seems that some attempt should be made to cushion the installation charges in these remote areas. The fact that people in these areas have no electricity is not their fault. They applied for it years and years ago when the installation charges were low, but because the mains did not reach them they could not get the current. Now that the current is becoming available they are finding the charges uneconomic and are unable to take advantage of the electricity offered.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
That applies not only to Scotland, but to the constituencies of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, some of which are in hilly districts. I hope that the hon. Member will bring pressure on his own party—this is a non-party issue for the economic benefit of the United Kingdom —to see that something is done about these initial charges for electricity to farmers, and especially small farmers, in remote areas. If he would do so he would have the support of hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Spence
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I am sure that this is a matter which affects every rural constituency.
The difficulties of rural and local transport ought to be stressed. Following the increasing ownership of motor oars, the rural bus services in the remote areas are going out of commission one after another. Whether the answer lies in a relaxation of the regulations controlling the type of vehicle, to allow something lighter to be used, or, perhaps, in a special arrangement for the provision of tax-free fuel, I do not know, but if we are to expect people to live and work in the remote areas we must provide them with reasonable amenities of light, heat and comfort in their homes, and transport to their main shopping centres whenever they 87 wish to use them. This is a good Bill. I believe that when it is understood it will be welcomed, and I congratulate the Government on bringing it in.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)
The noble Lord the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland must have listened to the first part of the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence) with a great deal of relief, as it was the first speech from that side of the House to give the Bill an intelligent justification. The second part of the hon. Member's speech dealt with very important matters, common to both sides of the Border, but for which no provision is made in this Measure.
The hon. Gentleman gave what I thought was the most intelligent summing up of the possible results of the Bill. I hope that he is right in his estimate of what it will do, but as I read it, as I read the White Paper and the comments in the Press, and as I listened to the Minister introducing the Bill, with all the talk about this being a Bill for the assistance of small farmers, it seemed to me that the Measure brings us to a very odd circumstance. Under its provisions, the smaller the farmer the less help he gets, until, if the farm is under 20 acres, he gets no help at all.
In my constituency there are a good many small farmers, and many other people engaged in agriculture, who will get no assistance whatever from the Bill, but they are the hardest working people in the industry. That, as hon. Members know, is saying something. The hardest working people of all are to be found among the smallholders. They have to make the smallholding their full-time occupation, as that is a condition of their Government tenancy. They also have to make a living out of it, otherwise they starve. In the main, they have proved to be very intelligent, successful managers and users of the soil that they hold in trust, and they produce a very welcome contribution to our national food supply.
Those people will get no assistance at all. It can be argued, of course, that they hold their tenancies on very favourable rents, and that to that extent there is a sort of hidden subsidy. I know, too, that the tenancies also include the house, which is generally a reasonable house, 88 and that, perhaps, in that respect they are not too badly treated. But it is just as essential to encourage these people to attain a reasonable standard of life as it is to encourage the small farmer to do so.
I think that the upper limit is reasonable, but if we are to have both a lower limit and what, at first sight, appears to be a complicated yardstick of man-hours, that is overdoing the business. There is no need for both. The apparently complicated yardstick of man-hours is not unknown to the industry. I agree with the Minister that it is not so complicated as it looks at first.
A large number of people who engage in the industry's administrative arithmetic—and their name is legion—are used to this kind of measurement. Although I must admit that if that yardstick were applied also to farms under 20 acres only a comparatively small number would benefit by the scheme. nevertheless, if there is any benefit accruing under the scheme, to apply it here would give those farmers a sense of fair play, and remove from them the feeling of being left out in the cold.
The first paragraph of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum does not exclude the possibility of reducing the limit to under 20 acres. It states:This Bill authorises the provision, in accordance with schemes made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland, of financial assistance for increasing the efficiency of small farm businesses in the United Kingdom. A small farm business for this purpose is one carried on on not more than 150 acres of land, excluding rough grazing land, and coming within such other limits as may be specified in the scheme in question.There is no specific mention of a lower limit of 20 acres. I therefore ask the Minister to look again at this lower limit, and, even if he has to stick to his other measurement of ability and capacity to benefit from the scheme, to consider whether that lower limit is necessary at all.
Reading the adjustment of the scheme to Scotland, I do not think that we shall really get very much out of it at all. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has stated, to produce a satisfactory scheme for the assistance of small farmers in Scotland would require a separate Bill. In my view, this Measure does not give the amount of assistance required.
89 The existing M.A.P. scheme, which has been in operation for about six years, I think—
§ Mr. Taylor
Very well, during the war—that scheme operated very well. One of its effects was to give very good, practical assistance to a very widespread number of small farmers in every Scottish county—certainly in every agricultural county in Scotland—who are working under most difficult conditions of soil and climate. The greater their difficulties, the more the scheme assisted them.
As the noble lord knows, in the agricultural community there has been a great deal of misgiving about the super-session of that scheme by this one, with its complications and possible administrative difficulties, its delays, and its substitution as an improvised, temporary, interim scheme of doubtful benefit and questionable chance of success, and having all the other problematical, hypothetical difficulties that the farming community foresees. It seems to me wrong to seek to assist small farmers in Scotland by means of this Bill. That task requires a different approach and a separate Measure.
At this period in the lifetime of a Parliament we get a succession of these carrot-dangling Bills. We shall be discussing another one tomorrow and, no doubt, we shall discuss them frequently in the ensuing few months. They are window-dressing Measures. This carrot is not a very good one. It is a bit rotten at the core and, in my opinion, only a donkey would be deceived by it. The Bill is a piece of blatant electioneering and does not do what should be done, considering the circumstances and the need in Scotland.
For these reasons we shall examine it during the Committee stage with great care; and so far as we can with a United Kingdom Bill—when there are a restricted number of hon. Members present who represent Scottish constituencies—we shall endeavour to improve it substantially in many important ways.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord John Hope)
It may be convenient if I intervene in the debate at 90 this point. I am extremely glad, as I believe is everyone else, that on the principle of helping the small farmer there exists no real dispute on either side of the House or of the Border. The industry, the National Farmers' Unions, hon. Members of this House and the public are clearly of the opinion that it is right that such help should be given.
I endorse what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the helpful way in which the farmers' unions have approached the main problem. The decision to help make this scheme work was fully shared by the Scottish National Farmers' Union. But there has been criticism of one part of the plan regarding the run-down of the marginal agriculture production assistance. It is that part against which criticism has been levelled in this House, and so I can probably help best by concentrating on that point.
I fully understand the anxiety and displeasure of anyone who has to lose something which he has enjoyed for some time. That human and natural reaction ought not to be contemptuously dismissed. But I am convinced that an objective and dispassionate analysis of the relevant facts and figures will show that such anxiety is needless and such displeasure unjustified in terms of what is right and fair. We had decided that it was our duty to review the whole case for M.A.P. on its merits before the small farmer scheme was thought of. It is, therefore, on its merits that I wish now to deal with the question of M.A.P.
As the House knows, it was during the war that a start was made with a series of M.A.P. schemes to make available grants for specified operations on marginal land. These were principally cultivations and cropping, reseeding and regeneration of grazings and land reclamation. Grants were at standard rates based on a maximum of 85 per cent. of the cost. The schemes were administered by the agricultural executive committees who, over the years, have compiled lists of holdings and graded them according to the degree of marginality. Farmers on these lists were invited each year to submit proposals for cropping and so on so that the committees could consider whether to offer a grant.
91 Under the proposals in this White Paper, marginal agricultural assistance will be continued on much the same lines, but for a period of three years only and to a much more limited class of holding. There will be a statutory limit of 150 acres of crops and grass exclusive of rough grazings. I ask the House to note that there is no standard man-days test of eligibility here in this scheme. In fact, no lower limit is specified. The bigger and more substantial enterprises will be excluded, as, normally, will be those which have been put on a sound economic footing by the carrying out of improvement schemes under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence) mentioned this, as it has not been mentioned in several discussions outside of the House but is relevant and germane to the whole point.
The agricultural executive committees have been asked to review their marginal lists in the light of the general principles which I have mentioned and to decide who are to remain eligible for assistance. I think that answers the question put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie).
Why have we made these changes in a scheme which everyone agrees has operated well in Scotland and under which a useful function has been performed during and after the war? Our reasons may be divided into two parts. First, the idea of marginal agricultural production schemes was right so long as the Government were asking for the highest possible level of production, and they did a good job. Now the emphasis must be on economic production and more competitive home agriculture. This is the aim of the general policy of the Government as has been made abundantly clear in successive White Papers on the Annual Review.
The second reason is that originally the marginal schemes were directed at the production of more crops for human consumption. Then the emphasis was changed and, more recently, has been on the encouragement of winter feed production in the upland cattle and sheep rearing areas. In this way valuable initial impetus has been given to the drive for more beef and mutton. But by now 92 both the beef and the sheep industry are happily in a prosperous state and the prospects for the future look good. All this is reflected in a buoyant market for store sheep and cattle, and store production is, of course, the backbone and main source of income of the upland marginal farms.
Do not let us forget that several of the Government's more general measures of assistance are, as has been mentioned, devoted particularly to the hill and upland areas. There are the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts. Improvement schemes under these Acts are designed to put the land and fixed equipment into good shape. Under these Acts also there are the hill cattle and sheep subsidies. The hill cattle subsidy is particularly important to ensure the production of store cattle, and since 1952, when the Hill Lands (North of Scotland) Commission recommended that there should be a special supplement to the subsidy for the encouragement of winter keep production this subsidy has contained an element provided for that purpose.
There is even a special provision in the calf subsidy scheme to enable the farmers in the hill and upland areas, who have to sell their calves before the winter, to take full advantage of that scheme. The point is that none of these last forms of help which I have mentioned was in existence when M.A.P. was started.
I think I can best help the House about the amount of assistance given if I refer to one or two figures. I do not wish to quote a number of figures, because in a speech they are always boring. But this is relevant. It is so often asked how much farmers get out of it and so on, and this is the answer. In the last ten years, for the hill farming and livestock rearing schemes, for which there is a 50 per cent. grant, the figure is £2,600,000—I am giving round figures. Actually the amount is more than that. The figure for the hill cattle subsidy is £10 million and for the hill sheep subsidy just under £6 million. The upland and hill share of the calf subsidy is probably—I do not know exactly—something under £2 million. The total is much more. I think it would be unfair to bring that in because it applies to so many who are not upland or hill men. That is a quick resume of the figures and of the help 93 which has been given by the country under those Acts which did not exist when M.A.P., which so many say ought to be kept on, was started.
The other figure which I should like to give to the House concerns, for the various classes of farm, M.A.P. grants as a percentage of revenue. This is the average. Hill sheep 1.2, stock rearing 3.3, stock rearing and feeding .5, arable .3 and dairy .4. Those are the accurate figures of M.A.P. as a percentage of revenue. I think that they will help to put into perspective just how much damage we are supposed to be doing by what we have decided vis-à-vis M.A.P. and this scheme.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
When I go to East Aberdeenshire later this week and farmers ask me why these M.A.P. schemes have been discontinued or at least modified—and a great many farmers live out of them—shall I be right in saying that the Joint Under-Secretary of State informed the House that the decision that these schemes would need to be modified is sound because of the great help given to the small people by the Hill Farming Act, 1946, passed by the Labour Government, and the Livestock Rearing Act, 1951, also passed by the Labour Government?
§ Lord John Hope
I do not mind what the hon. Gentleman says to anyone. The last time that he spoke in a by-election was at Argyll, and that was a most helpful speech. He is certainly perfectly entitled to pay tribute to the correct source of those Acts, and I hope that he will end up his rousing support for my figures by supporting the Bill in Aberdeen when he goes there. It will help me very much, and I shall be much obliged.
Much of the marginal land in Scotland which has received assistance under the M.A.P. is, in fact, farmed in fairly extensive units and these are basically sound economic propositions. There is no real trouble about these. Farmers on a smaller scale, however, are much nearer the borderline of obtaining a reasonable livelihood from their efforts. Hence the emphasis in both parts of the Government's proposals on special assistance for the small farmers.
We nope that as many as possible of those small men, whether on marginal 94 land or otherwise, whose business can be put on a sound economic footing will take advantage of the small farmer scheme. This is the main plank of our endeavour to help the small man.
In conclusion, I should like to answer one or two of the points put to me. I will try to be as quick as possible, because I know that there are many others who want to speak.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
We are now waiting for a reply to the debate instead of the brief which the hon. Gentleman has been reading, which will perhaps make it much more vibrant and vivacious.
§ Lord John Hope
I thought, considering that it was my own brief, that it was rather good, but that, of course, I must leave in all modesty to the House. However, these were things that had to be said.
The hon. Member for Banff asked about the scope of the A.E.C. in the supplementary scheme. I think that I answered that in an earlier part of my speech. He mentioned the most important section of the small farming community when he talked about those with farms under 20 acres. I know that particularly in Banff and thereabouts there are a number of small farmers who run less than 20 acres of crops and grass who have been receiving M.A.P. assistance. My hon. Friend asked what their position would be under the revised M.A.P. scheme. This is the answer.
There will be no arbitrary exclusion of these people based on a lower limit of crops and grass. Many of them have considerable areas of rough grazing which will be taken into account, as will also their actual and potential level of output. That is a statement of the position so far as I can give it now.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) complained that there was no special Scottish Bill, largely on the grounds that there would be too few Scottish Members on the Committee. I pointed out to him after one of his many speeches in Committee on the last Agricultural Bill that we must rely, as we have so often in the past with success, on quality rather than quantity.
§ Lord John Hope
I thought it was a pretty good one, and I would have 95 thought that there was something in it. Of the two characteristics, I much prefer quality, especially when it comes to having to get through the Committee stage.
§ Lord John Hope
The hon. Gentleman has not learned that half the art of expression is what one leaves to the imagination. I was trying to work it round so that there is no doubt in anyone's mind that I was referring to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire. I cannot be fairer than that.
The hon. Member posed one other doubt which concerns the intricacies of artificial insemination and its relationship to man hours. Rather than get out of order or into difficult channels I think I would prefer to speak to him about that outside the Chamber, in which case I am sure he will be satisfied that a great deal of labour is needed in one way or another over that process.
I have already referred to the speech, of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, which I was delighted to hear, because I think that he has, if I may say so, hit the predominant note that is felt by the country over what we are trying to do. We know that there will be difficulties. We shall have to have detailed schemes, and, incidentally, when the scheme or schemes come to be written we can and shall if necessary have our own Scottish scheme, if that is in the interests of Scotland, and hon. Members will be able to debate it in the House.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) referred to the lower limit as being too high. I hope that I have helped him a little in what I have said in answer to my hon. Friend. The only other thing that I want to say is that we want to go ahead with this, we believe it to be right, but nothing that we are doing will absolve us—and I want to say this for the whole of Her Majesty's Government—from watching the situation the whole time. This is done to help agriculture to be more prosperous, but the last thing we shall do will be to allow any section to go by the board 96 because of what we sincerely believe will help the great majority.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
I propose to detain the House for only a very few minutes, but there are one or two points which I should like to put to the Minister. No hon. Member who is aware of the problem can take exception to the proposals to help small farmers. The proposals contained in the Bill, and elaborated in the White Paper, have been described in some quarters as a serious attempt to deal with a long-standing problem. I think that they may constitute a serious attempt and that the harvest reaped for them in their working out can prove of value not only to the small farmers, but to the State.
The Minister has been good enough to say that in the working out of the details of the scheme he has had consultations with the National Farmers' Unions. He went on to say that, among the bodies which had offered their advice and suggestions to him, was the National Union of Agricultural Workers. I should like it to be on record that, when the idea of special help for small farmers was first mentioned at the time of the Price Review, the Executive of the National Union of Agricultural Workers said thatWhilst they endorsed their long standing smallholdings policy, aimed at the provision of economically viable holdings, it was essential that measures should be taken to deal with farming units employing labour which, either for reasons of inefficiency or because they are not economically viable, act as a drag upon the whole industry and are used as an argument as to why wages in agriculture should not be raised to a level equal to those paid to skilled workers in other industries.The Executive's statement went on to say:Looked at in this light, the eligibility tests set out in the Government's proposals certainly appear, without applying a means test, to ensure that the money will be directed to those units which can be made economically viable, and the payment of grants is dependent upon the carrying out of an approved plan for improving the productivity, and, hence, the profitability, of the holdings which qualify.So far, so good. But it is a matter for general regret that the Minister has decided that some of the money for carrying out these schemes will be deducted from the overall guarantee payment. We have heard much today about this, and the Minister has gone into the figures in detail.
97 I suggest that the reduced guarantees may be on the very things that small farmers are best fitted to produce, and thus the State will not be infusing much new blood into the industry as a whole. To quote from the National Farmers' Union statement:The new scheme is a self-financing operation by the industry.It was really expected, after the talks which followed the 1958 Price Review, that something better than this would emerge. There is a real fear among the small farmers to whom I have talked—many small and marginal farmers—that they will have to contribute from the guarantees towards the cost of a scheme from which they themselves do not benefit.
I want to take up a point which was under discussion when the last Agriculture Act was in Committee. The 1957 Act fixed a limit below which the guarantee should not drop. In view of what is proposed in this Bill, how does that tie in with the fact that, under the Bill, at least £6 million will be taken from the industry's guarantees in the first year, and, as I understand it, a total of £9 million will be taken from the global total of £290 million?
It is interesting, in this connection, to read the reaction of various people. I wish to refer to one only, and it is right that this should go on record, I think. I notice that the Farmer and Stock-Breeder, when referring to the Government's proposal to take from those who have in order to give to those who have not so much, said:Probably this is the first time that any major industry has agreed to put its hand in its pocket to this considerable extent to succour needy brethren—a gesture which should not be overlooked.When I read that statement, the words which came to my mind were, "This is all poppycock."
I am not surprised to hear fears expressed that this may be a serious attempt to change the fundamental basis of support for British agriculture, which has, in this House, had the support of both the present Government Party and the Labour Party. Of course, if this is an attempt to alter the fundamental basis, it is strictly in keeping with what has been happening during the last year or so in the undermining of the main principles of the 1947 Act.
98 The scheme is a little involved, in spite of all that has been said and the attempts made to explain what all the odds and ends in the Bill mean. Any effort to understand the scheme on the part of those whom it is intended to help must produce many headaches for small men. All the talk about standard labour requirements, standard man-days, man-days per head or per acre, and so forth, will seem a little puzzling to them and, I seriously suggest, may deter many small farmers from making applications for assistance under the scheme. The scheme is certainly ingenious in the way it applies eligibility tests without applying means tests, but small farms which are already sound businesses are almost sure to be excluded by the limit of 450 standard man-days.
There is nothing proposed which will directly encourage co-operation among small farmers and, to my mind, there are at least two ways in which this might be done. In the first instance, two farmers whose holdings failed to satisfy the lower limit might, if they amalgamated and went into partnership, qualify for inclusion. Secondly, if a group of farmers came forward with development plans involving a scheme for some form of machinery syndicate, some of the farm business grant might be allowed for this purpose. Unless the improvement plans can be carefully steered in certain specified directions, it will be difficult, on many small units, to do anything other than increase the production of commodities, such as milk, eggs and pigs, in which the market is already difficult enough.
The N.U.A.W. does not oppose the Bill. Indeed, it welcomes—it is quite honest about it—what it hopes will be an improvement from its point of view if the Bill operates as the Minister expects that it will. The matter of farm wages enters into it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has warned that the wage freeze is still on, but the Government, by the Bill, hope to help small farmers so as to raise their income and give them a net income broadly equivalent to the average income of a skilled farm worker. I was interested to note that the Minister estimated the average wage of a skilled farm worker at from £9 10s. to £10 a week.
How many men could average this figure of wages, and what hours would they put in? If the Minister stands by his figure of average earnings, and he wants 99 the small farmer to have equal earnings, all I can say is that the Agricultural Wages Board should be working overtime further to improve the national minimum of £7 16s. a week.
The Bill raises in an acute form the question of large farms versus small farms. Large-scale, mechanised farming has come to stay for many years; there is no doubt about that. Nevertheless, I still feel that there is a place for the small man, and it is he whom the Bill is designed to help. Some argue that one cannot apply modern agricultural techniques to small units, and the old cry of compulsory amalgamation is again heard. I reject entirely the idea of compulsory amalgamation. I should like an assurance from the Minister that this is not lurking at the back of his mind for action in the future.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Phelim O'Neill (Antrim, North)
I am grateful for having the opportunity of intervening in the debate, because I suppose that I represent as many small farmers as any hon. Member in the House. I believe that the Bill will apply to a great number of farms in Northern Ireland, and there is no place where a Measure of this sort is more necessary. Owing to our remoteness, it is inevitable that the prices which we receive for our products are less than anywhere else.
Perhaps it is not generally known in the House that every farm in Northern Ireland is owner-occupied, and that it is the owner-occupier whose capital resources are stretched to the limit. After all, if one is a tenant it is possible to put all of one's capital into stock and implements. If one is an owner-occupier, it has to cover one's land and dwelling-house. I therefore welcome the Bill and I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend for grasping this nettle. Many of his predecessors have considered this subject, but he is the first who has had the courage to proceed with it.
I received a curious reaction to the Bill in my constituency this weekend which I thought I should pass on to my right hon. Friend because it contains a veiled compliment. It was said that this was a Machiavellian conspiracy between my right hon. Friend and his right hon.
100 Friend the Chancellor to lure unsuspecting, innocent small farmers into the bracket in which they become liable to tax. It was further said—and I agree with this—that if that happened, they would, like Clementine, be lost and gone for ever. I think that that is a veiled compliment with which my right hon. Friend should be pleased.
The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Bonham Carter) said that this was a London Bill which would be administered from Whitehall. To my certain knowledge, that is completely untrue. I know that my right hon. Friend has had many consultations over a long period with the Government of Northern Ireland, and I assert with confidence that the Government of Northern Ireland have immense experience in the problems of small farmers.
I am not altogether sure whether it is entirely a coincidence that the concept of this scheme does in many ways tie up with the voluntary scheme that has been in operation in Northern Ireland for some time which is known as the pilot farms scheme. This is an entirely voluntary scheme and no public money has been put into it, but, oddly enough, it has been administered on a similar basis to the scheme which we are now discussing. I feel strongly that one of the most formidable tasks in the operation of this scheme is the administrative task that lies ahead.
I say with humility but with confidence that we in Northern Ireland probably have the most practical and most efficient advisory service in the United Kingdom. It is confident that it will be able to manage the administration of this scheme, but it freely admits that its resources will be strained to the uttermost limit.
I should like to say a word about the question of standard man-days, which is not entirely understood by small farmers in remote areas. I find a slight difficulty in understanding a passage on this matter in the White Paper. At the top of page 5 it says:To qualify for assistance under the Small Farmer Scheme, the farm business must be judged capable of reaching standard labour requirements of at least 275 standard man-days … It will be assumed that farm businesses with existing standard labour requirements of not less than 250 standard man-days 101 are capable of doing this; those below this figure will need to be considered in the light of the plans put forward.That statement is rather nebulous. If we turn to the last page of the White Paper, page 11, we find under, I admit, the supplementary scheme:… standard labour requirements are not less than 250 and not more than 450 standard man-days.I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to confirm that any farm of more than 20 acres the standard man-days potential of which is capable of being raised to 275 will not be excluded from this scheme whatever its man-days may be at present.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that assurance because I think that it is of some importance. It is unfortunate that I have many farms of less than 20 acres in my constituency. as have many of my hon. Friends from Northern Ireland.
I think that amalgamation of small farms is inevitable and, on the whole, a good thing. I should like to quote to the House the figure which is applicable to Northern Ireland; it is not without interest. Thirty years ago there were 104,000 agricultural holdings in Northern Ireland. Today, this figure has been reduced to 80,000. The annual reduction by voluntary amalgamation with larger units, being bought for building purposes or for forestry is at the rate of 1,500 a year. There is no doubt that, on the whole, units in Northern Ireland, to use a word that I do not like, are becoming more viable.
In conclusion, I think that my right hon. Friend would have been very foolish from the administrative point of view if he had tried to digest too much at once. I think that he was extremely wise, at the beginning of this scheme, to limit it in the way that he has. In the light of the experience which he may get when the scheme has been in operation for some time, and when the administrative facilities are not taxed quite as highly as they will be in the near future, I would ask my right hon. Friend to give the most earnest consideration possibly to reducing the acreage limit.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)
I have listened to a number of the speeches that have been made this afternoon. It appears to me from the speeches from the Government side of the House that one of the reasons hon. Members opposite feel so cheerful about the Bill is because of the serious setback that they received in the country and from the National Farmers' Union on the occasion of the last Price Review. No doubt when the next Price Review is considered we may have a repetition of that.
I have endeavoured to enter into agricultural debates on various occasions because of the nature of the constituency which I represent. I visualise that in my area and in the county from which I come there will be a great deal of disappointment about this Bill, particularly on the part of those who are cultivating less than the 20 acres which is the minimum standard set by the Minister. I readily appreciate that there has to be a starting point, but it will not be easy to explain why the Minister has decided upon the figure of 20 acres.
Since the end of the war, the people who are operating less than 20 acres have, together with the rest of the agricultural community, done a very good job in giving that increased production which has been so vital to the country's economy. Not only that. It is recognised, even by those who come from Northern Ireland or Eire, that the qualifications of those who operate these very small holdings cannot be surpassed. Recently, at the Council of Europe, I heard a member of the Dail praising the ability of the agricultural community in his country. There is, however, no need for the people in our own agricultural industry to take second place.
I am at a loss to understand why those who work less than 20 acres will be looked upon as operators of smallholdings. I should like to know from the Minister the extent of the acreage by which he is designating smallholdings. Many of these holdings are in need of new capital and assistance, but those below the 20-acre limit will not qualify. Can the Minister give me a definition of a smallholding and a small farm? I have looked up various records to find a form of definition, and I have inquired of 103 some of my agricultural friends, but not even they can give me the definition.
It is well for the House to remember that up to 31st March, 1957, smallholding authorities in England and Wales occupied no fewer than 433,655 acres of land, which was divided among 17,529 holdings. In addition, the Department itself was responsible at that time for 15,420 acres, which was divided for smallholding purposes among 1,351 owners. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in February, 1956, his predecessor or his Department issued a circular to local authorities stating that for the time being it was not proposed to approve or sponsor new expenditure on smallholdings. What happened was that approvals given by the Minister for improvements during that year amounted to £214,214, as compared with £367,840 in 1955–56, a reduction of £153,626 in the operation of the policy to develop these undertakings. Hence my reason for saying that it will be extremely difficult for hon. Members, on both sides of the House, to explain away the 20-acre principle as enunciated in the Bill. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will elucidate the position for the benefit of hon. Members and explain the difference between a smallholder and a small farmer.
Hon. Members have welcomed the Bill and, no doubt, it will be reasonably acceptable to the farming community, but who is to fix the programme of operations following an application for the benefit that it confers? Must an applicant submit details of his proposals for his holding covering a period of three years? If so, will they be forwarded to somebody who then consults him to ascertain whether he qualifies, or will he be advised to do something else instead?
Whether hon. Members opposite agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) or not, there is no getting away from the fact that there are people who traverse the country seeking to profiteer from the selling of land into smallholdings and small farms. I remember an occasion when the northern group of Members of Parliament, from this side of the House, was making a tour in the North-East. I entered into conversation with an 104 individual who was about to retire and I asked what he would do on his retirement. He replied, "I am going to buy myself a farm".
My advice to hon. Members is that the door has been open too long already for those who have never had an interest in this great industry simply to come in when they feel disposed because they can benefit from it. I have always advocated the claims of those who give their lives to the industry, whether owners of land or ordinary agricultural workers. It is they who should be given greater accommodation in the operation of this great industry.
I am pleased that something is to be done for the small farmers, but let us consider the 90,000 farm businesses which are likely to benefit from the scheme. In the first year, it is to provide £6 million for the small farmer, Then, we are told, there is to be a supplementary £3 million, making a total cost of £9 million. It has not been sufficiently emphasised, however, that the £3 million assistance for existing marginal production schemes is to be dropped. Thus, instead of an outlay of £9 million, there will be a net additional cost of £6 million, which, we are reminded, will be taken into consideration at the time of the 1959 Price Review.
Hon. Members will be aware of the great experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), who is President of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. My view is that the Minister could have gone a little further in the Bill. Hon. Members opposite have said that they do not agree with the policy of making borrowing easier for the small farmer. I disagree. The Minister should have endeavoured to introduce a policy of cheap money for these small farmers, apart from giving them this form of assistance which it is now sought to give them. Had this kind of policy been introduced, it would, I am sure, have been well received. I do not, of course, advocate the same policy as many local authorities have had to face when seeking to borrow capital, when they have been confronted with a rate of interest of 7 or 7½ per cent.
Many of these people have spent their lives on the land. Many of them are now finding conditions very precarious indeed. I believe that sufficient consideration has not been given to the needs of these people. The Minister may say, "This 105 Bill is an attempt to help them," but it does not go far enough. I would say to him that, even in his reply to me on the question of the days, he has still not made the matter quite clear to me, and I would ask him to elucidate the matter and, when the Bill becomes an Act, to circulate among the farming community an explanatory leaflet which they will be able to understand.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
Opposition Members are giving this Bill rather a lukewarm welcome. Perhaps there is a touch of jealousy or anxiety in their minds in that they were not able to produce anything at all definite or clear beyond complaints and moans about the condition of small farmers. That is true of the National Farmers' Union, and, I am afraid, of politicians generally.
I would add my word of praise and commendation of my right hon. Friend for having the courage and energy to bring forward this scheme. Many people said we could not do anything and that it would be much better not to touch the matter at all, but my right hon. Friend has shown courage, and I wish him well.
This is to be a joint enterprise. I think it is right that it should be. All of us in the farming industry, whether big farmers, medium-sized, or very small farmers, are to do something to try to help a section of the small farmers who come within the confines of the definition in the Bill. It should help those men to make their holdings better propositions and to earn a better living for themselves and their families. We in the farming industry are to be asked to put up about 2 per cent. of the total fund of agricultural support at the current level, £300 million a year. I am glad that we are to do that. I hope that we shall approach the whole problem in the spirit mainly of self-help within the industry itself.
It will not, of course, be easy to explain to the man with 80 acres, who has slaved and saved to make a go of his holding, why, because of his very success, he is debarred from benefiting under this small farmers' scheme. I have a constituent much in my mind at the moment, who has 80 acres. Let us consider his rating under this scheme. In standard man-days, his 15 cows and followers bring him 300 106 marks; 12 sows and followers 100; 12 acres of grain 56; a total of 456. On that score he is out. Yet he is a worthy man who has worked very hard, and so has his wife. It is difficult for him to understand why, in equity, he is cut out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, we had to draw the line somewhere. That man will admit freely, if you talk to him over his tea-table, that he is not doing too badly today. All credit to him. Now we are asking him to help others to do equally well, men who, perhaps, had not initially as much enterprise or drive or thrift as he and his wife had. We are going to try to help them, too. We do that under this scheme.
In five years quite a number—I am not as optimistic as my right hon. Friend and I am not going to quote his total—of farmers who are not earning a good standard of living for themselves today should be in a much better financial state, finding themselves in a much better state mentally, too. They will have got an injection of ideas, of business management, and technical advice as well as finance. They should be able to earn a better living for themselves and their families. It will be the test of the scheme whether those men who come in do achieve that.
Why have the Government brought forward this plan? I do not think myself it will pay any big political dividends—not for the Conservative Party. I quote the White Paper. The object is to makeproduction more economic and the industry more competitive.In other words, to give the smaller men, who have the will and the energy to better themselves, a chance to catch up with the bigger operators who have been able to finance the re-equipment of their farms to save costs.
That saving of costs—what does it mean? The intention must be a saving of costs all along the line that will lighten the charge which falls on the taxpayer at each Annual Price Review in meeting the cost of agricultural support. I say, as a farmer, that that will be welcome to everyone if that is the result. We do not like this heavy subsidy operation. The taxpayers do not. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not. If we can help some who are willing to help themselves to get into the higher 107 income bracket, and so relieve the taxpayer, the Treasury and the country as a whole of part of this burden, I shall be happy. The Government and the House as a whole will be happy, too, if we can achieve this and make our industry more competitive.
But make no mistake about this. We Conservatives—and I know that I can say this for other Tory Members of Parliament as well as myself—are determined that British agriculture shall continue to have the support needed to enable our farmers and farm workers to carry on successfully, however world prices and food supplies may chop and change. I say that because the hon. Member the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) seemed to cast some doubt on that point. Of course, we want our farming to be competitive. We want it to be prosperous and progressive too, and this cannot be achieved, in this industrial country, open to supplies from all over the world, without some protection in the face of the ups and downs of world prices. As long as I am a Member of this House I shall certainly underline that all the time. We cannot have the agriculture we want unless we have basic protection to give us stability of prices. As costs are lessened, that in some measure will help us.
I would say a word on the effect of the scheme on farmers generally, outside those comparatively few who will qualify for particular assistance. I am thinking of the concentration of the National Agricultural Advisory Service which will be necessary to serve areas where most of the small farmers are. I know that a much appreciated district officer is going from my county and that there is another who is going from Wiltshire to Devon and others are going to the West Country.
I have come to the view that the State should not for all time provide day-to-day technical advice free of all cost to all farmers. What is offered free as a State service is all too often not fully appreciated. There is much to be said for neighbouring farmers joining together in a group to hire a technical officer, a kind of general practitioner. Indeed, they do that in Denmark, where 30 neighbouring farmers join together and hire or, if need be, "fire" their own 108 technical adviser. They get a grant from the State in aid of the cost, but he is the servant of those farmers.
I am not talking of the top expert advice, which the Government will always have to provide from the universities and from scientific bodies. I am speaking of day-to-day advice which could be provided by farmers for themselves, backed with a grant in aid. It could be done through a farmers' cooperative society. There is a scope for that, as it is done in Denmark.
If the scheme goes forward as we hope it will, the National Agricultural Advisory Service should be hard-pressed to meet all the calls by small farmers needing technical advice and who now have only little use for the N.A.A.S. The N.A.A.S. could be vastly expanded, but I gather that that is not the Government's intention. It is better that the larger farmers should begin to think of organising technical advice for themselves, with some financial backing coming from the State.
Outside the N.A.A.S. there is effective and widespread advice available from sources such as Imperial Chemical Industries, Fisons, with which I am concerned, British Oil and Cake Mills, Silcocks, and other firms supplying fertilisers and feedingstuffs. As the efforts of the State's service are necessarily concentrated more and more in those areas where there are small farmers able to benefit from the scheme, so will the, rest of us, willy nilly, have to look to the commercial firms for soil analysis, advice on fertilisers, feeding practice, and the rest. We are already paying for that service in so much a bag for fertiliser, cattle cake and so on. It is better for the industry to pay directly for some of the cost of the technical services it requires instead of paying all indirectly as a taxpayer.
To make a success of this Bill, to aid small farmers without hindering the general technical progress of agriculture as a whole, we shall need to use all our resources. I hope that the Government will not feel it necessary to increase or expand the State service. They will probably have to do so in some areas, but I hope that it will not be general. The cost of agriculture support is already substantial, and I am always jealous for the good repute of our industry.
109 I have little doubt that this technical progress in British farming will continue unabated. It is becoming much more widely recognised today that it is good business to farm well. We should not always need to have to rely on the State to show us how to do that.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
The House always listens with great interest on occasions like this to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd). Although we may not always agree with him, he endears himself to the House because he is always brief, to the point and clear. I have not always found myself agreeing with him when I have read a certain newspaper of which he is aware, but I did agree with his last few sentences.
It is time that we began carefully to watch the support being given to British agriculture. All too often the Conservatives have ululated like vixens in the Christmas moonlight about the subsidies being given to council house tenants and others. Yet, if we added up the support given to British agriculture over the years we should find that it would be interesting to make a comparison.
How should one historically and innately opposed to the Conservative philosophy approach the Bill if he tries to be an honest man? [Laughter.] That is a difficult exercise in politics, and hon. Members opposite should not smile about it. The only reason for the Bill is that Conservative associations from village to village have lit beacon fires from mountain top to mountain top telling the Conservative Central Office that something must be done to win the support of farmers, especially small farmers. I know that that is happening in my constituency, for my ear is fairly close to the mountains and hills there.
I believe that it is our duty to support the Bill because it is a beginning in the right direction. However, in my constituency there must be hundreds of small farmers who will get nothing from this kind of Bill. Those who will get anything will not get it before the next General Election. I agree that the Conservative Party will not get much out of the Bill, and if the Conservative Central Office thinks otherwise it should think again. On that ground, therefore, the Labour Party need not worry too much about the Bill.
110 Galbraith in his book "The Affluent Society," hints at the economic facts facing small farmers. As technical progress is made and as the big farmers get electricity and metalled roads and greater numbers of tractors, so the disparity between their output and that of the small farmers grows so that small farmers are pushed out of the markets, no matter how hard they work or how much they want to produce goods for their country.
Because of the mistakes of the age in which we live, small farmers depend too much on imported feedingstuffs. That is one of the penalties which we are paying for the modernisation of milling. Forty or fifty years ago, most of the feeding-stuffs required would have been produced in and around a farmer's village, but now it arrives at the big ports and is under the control of the millers. I have said before that it is time we investigated the monopolies of the fertilising and milling industries to see whether it is not possible to lower costs, especially for small farmers.
As the National Farmers' Union has said, the scheme is self-financing. The N.F.U. was quick to point out in its Press Release No. 22 of 20th March that it was the Conservative Government who had reduced the farmers' income by £19 million in 1958. I presume that at least some of that £19 million will go back to the small farmers. At least that much should be done by the Conservative Party or the Government—it is difficult to tell which is which these days since the Conservative Party seems to be sending out a propaganda in Government envelopes. Only five minutes ago I saw an envelope sent out from the Ministry of Education and containing propaganda. The Government will be about £10 million in hand, so the scheme will not cost the Government anything.
How do we encourage young men to enter farming if they do not have an opportunity to manage a few acres of their own as they develop their independence? It is about that that I am chiefly concerned. There is a danger that the marginal farmer will be wiped out. There is a danger from amalgamation. Farmers were afraid that my party would nationalise the land, but in the threat of amalgamation there is a much greater danger that the small farmer will he forced against his will to do things which he would not have been forced to do 111 under a different ownership of the land. My party is not in complete agreement with me on this matter.
I am not quite sure that the aim of man is to be an economic animal. It is sometimes a way of life. If people are prepared to work together on a small farm because they feel free in the fresh air, and if they want to work for 20 hours a day—I know that that might be called decadent in these days—and produce in their own time, have the Government now in power, or any other Government that might come into power, the right to say, "Because you are not an economic unit you must stop"? We cannot measure humanity by means of a slide rule, or the good things of life with a calculus, but I am afraid that the Bill contains a hint that there may be forced agreements in the future.
Clause 5 talks about the revocation of approval of a programme and the recovery of the grant. We shall say more about that in Committee. Somebody has to make the decision that the small farmer who gets the grant is doing well or is failing.
I want hon. Members opposite to be fair. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) introduced the 1947 Agriculture Bill—which was one of the finest jobs done for agriculture in the past 60 or 70 years—we had a lot of cheap Conservative propaganda about farming from Whitehall. We could say exactly the same about this Bill. We are bound to have a type of inspectorate going round the farms—
§ Mr. Davies
—a bureaucracy; I thank my hon. Friend. It would not be unfair of us to say that the Bill is loaded with the powers of bureaucracy, but we have not done so. But hon. Members opposite did not bring that fairness into their arguments at General Elections.
I am concerned about the small farmer. He is not illiterate, but he is not expected to use long words. He does not deal in semantics, and he stays as far away from lawyers as possible. Clause 5 (2, b) says that when he makes out his case he will have an opportunity of appearing before a person appointed by the Minister. My plea is that even before the Bill goes to 112 Committee the Minister should give us an assurance that the small farmer will be allowed to bring with him a friend to represent him if he so desires. That would make the Bill a little fairer to the man who does not deal daily with legal and administrative matters.
Generally speaking, hon. Members on this side of the House welcome the Bill, although we know why it has been introduced.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Percivall Pott (Devizes)
The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. H. Davies) talked about the very small farmer and his right to farm his small acreage. He should have that right, but if his production is uneconomic he should not be entitled to receive the additional sum received by the economic producer. That is why I congratulate my right hon. Friend on producing this scheme. It will not solve the situation of the very small farmer, but I believe that his problem is a social one, and not one which should be taken into the overall agricultural picture.
If we subsidise the very small farmer to such a level as to make his life liveable on a cash basis we shall be encouraging a subsidised peasantry that is completely outside the social position of a great industrial nation. I think that there will be many people who will farm very small holdings, and that there will be more and more people farming as a part-time exercise, but it would be wrong for the Government to encourage the very small holding. It has been suggested that this situation has been caused by the evil landlord, but we know only too well that many of the very small holdings are the responsibility of local authorities, because they were created at a time when we believed that they could produce a special crop. In the county in which I live we created at the beginning of the 1920s—in perfectly good faith—many holdings to produce strawberries alone. We now know that we did the people concerned a very great disservice.
What has worried me about the debate is that there has been too much talk about the scheme being self-supporting, and about the bigger farmer or the efficient small farmer who does not benefit from the scheme granting charity to those who will benefit. As a farmer who will 113 not receive benefit I can say that I do not look upon the scheme as charity. We know that the only future which will guarantee prosperity for British agriculture is one with a lower cost of production throughout, so that it is more competitive with countries which send their exports here. To do that we must have a prosperous agricultural industry, and we must realise that those whom we are benefiting now have the ability to make use of the help being given, because help will be provided only if the National Agricultural Advisory Service is satisfied that a farmer can make good.
These men are the customers of many of those of us who are not to benefit, and many of us buy goods from them. I believe that the industry looks upon this not as an act of charity but as a piece of very advanced thinking on the part of my right hon. Friend the Minister, and feels that he is taking one stage further the steps taken by his predecessor in amending the 1947 Act. At that time my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he looked upon the 1957 Measure as being one milestone towards greater productivity in agriculture. I hope that we shall have passed another milestone when we pass this Bill.
If we can cut down the unit cost of production throughout the industry there will be greater scope for the man on the smallholding, but I do not think that the Government would be justified in bringing in any scheme to keep him in business at present. I agree that there may be social advantages in doing so in some cases, especially in areas like the forest districts, with their minute hamlets, in which the small farms play such an important part. If we close those small farms we shall break down those communities as human entities. I am glad that the Minister was not tempted to go into that subject, but it is one which the Government might look into.
The only way in which we can enable the small farmer to become more efficient is by creating the capital that will enable him to make a change of policy without grave hardship to his family. Many of our very small farmers would like to change their production policy today, but they will not do so because there will have to be a period, between their starting on the plan and its coming into 114 fruition, during which time their families will suffer hardship from sheer shortage of money. This scheme is the only way to tide them over that period, and I wish it every success in that very important task.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
The speech of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott) will cause a chill in the hearts and minds of the farmers of Cornwall. When the hon. Gentleman hears the statistics with which I will venture to trouble the House, I think he will feel that I have substantiated that remark. The Cornish branch of the National Farmers' Union has said that it views the proposals of the Government with mixed feelings. I think that the Government put them forward with mixed motives, one of the motives being to win over the small farmer who has shown himself in recent years to be dissatisfied with the Government's policies.
The scope of the Bill is designed to help farmers with holdings between 20 acres and 100 acres and is linked with certain standards of man-days. Farms below 250 standard man-days and those with more than 450 standard man-days will be ineligible. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us an estimate of the number of men on each side of that scale who will be excluded from the benefits of the scheme. It seems to me that the very efficient farmer with a holding of between 20 acres and 100 acres is likely to be excluded because of his very efficiency. That applies particularly to farmers in West Cornwall.
Paragraph 18 of the White Paper says:Although there are over 500,000 agricultural holdings in the United Kingdom, a large number of these are part-time or spare-time holdings, while others are not separate farms. It is estimated that the number of full-time farm businesses in the United Kingdom is at present not much more than 300,000. More than two-thirds of the full-time farmers either have more than 100 acres of crops and grass or are likely to be above the size of business qualification for the Small Farmer Scheme. It is expected that most of the remainder, or something like 65,000 full-time farmers, will be eligible for assistance under the Small Farmer Scheme or, as an alternative, the supplementary scheme. In addition, about 25,000 former recipients of marginal assistance are expected to be eligible only for the supplementary scheme… making a total of about 90,000 farm businesses.115 That total means, as I read it, just under 18 per cent. of the total number of farmers in the country.
Much has been said about whether the Government will be giving additional money or not. I take it that paragraph 13 of the White Paper is quite explicit when it says:But in any case the aim is that small farmers should be helped without adding to the Exchequer commitments to agriculture.An hon. Member on the Government Benches talked about a conspiracy; I think there has been a conspiracy between the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see that this grandiose scheme, which is supposed to give benefits to small farmers, does not cost the Exchequer very much more, if anything.
Again, much was said by the hon. Member for Devizes about a fully efficient agriculture. He spoke of those who, like himself, were above these limits; but the farmer below the 20-acre limit is also making his contribution to the success of the Government's scheme. In Cornwall there are 6,800 farmers, part-time or full-time, who farm under 20 acres, while there are 1,900 whose farms have more than 100 acres. The hon. Member who said that the scheme was like robbing Peter to pay Paul had some justification for that rather sweeping remark.
I would point out that the 6,800 farms below 20 acres represent 49.4 of all the farms in Cornwall while there are only 12 per cent. above 100 acres. That means that about 38 per cent., or 5,500 farms, should benefit. Some calculation must be made of all those who are to be excluded because they are under the standard man-days qualification. The man-days test is 250 man-days as a minimum and 450 as the maximum. I am informed by the Cornish Branch of the National Farmers' Union that the 450 maximum will cut out a large proportion of those who are eligible for the benefit on acreage grounds, because they farm intensively and very efficiently.
An efficient farmer told me over the weekend that he was discharging seven men, because of various difficulties. We can therefore see the substance of my remarks. Many Cornish holdings from 12 to 20 acres would qualify on an economic test. A typical holding would 116 probably earn a qualification of 325 man-days, which would bring it within the ambit of the scheme.
Much has been heard in the past in this House about Cornish broccoli, and I propose to mention it again. The pre-war crop in 1939 was about 5,000 acres. This crop reached its peak in 1946–47 when there was shortages after the war and when the figure had risen to 10,000 acres. By 1953, the acreage was down to 4,000, and now it is about 5,000 acres, back to the pre-war crop of 1939. If encouragement were given to the producers, more could be grown. This is almost a gambling crop, but fresh vegetables are an essential element of diet for the people. Our efficient farmers can get broccoli to the markets in London and the Midlands in very quick time. I am informed that the yield is about 5 tons of broccoli per acre.
Early potatoes are another crop on which the Cornish farmer has to rely. The 1939 acreage was about 5,000. The Ministry's estimate is very much below that, but I am told that 5,000 is a fairly good estimate and that farmers who are best able to judge would stand by that figure. The peak in 1949 was 16,380 acres, compared with 5,000 acres in 1939, but there was a startling decrease by 1953, to 5,300 acres. We find the same with new potatoes as with broccoli. At present, the production is 5,000 acres, as in 1939, and the yield, I am told, is 4 tons per acre.
Many of our holdings are situated on old mine wastes—which cover thousands of acres in Cornwall—amongst clay pit wastes and so on. It has been traditional in Cornwall for centuries for men to go from the mines, from the clay pits and other employment to run smallholdings. Many of those holdings have been retrieved from wastes, and it would be impossible to amalgamate them with larger farms. The small farm provides a way of life which we can ill spare. I know men who go from the factory, the docks or the clay pits in the Truro constituency to work on small holdings every night. That helps them to keep a sane balance. Many hon. Members know of the relief to be found in going from work in an office to work in a garden. In the same way, these men find recreation in running smallholdings.
With so much unemployment and part-time employment many men who run 117 smallholdings of 5, 10 or 15 acres can provide themselves and their families with a reasonable income. The age in which we are living is a neurotic age. Not a week passes when we do not discuss in this Chamber road accidents the high incidence of juvenile crime, overcrowded prisons and such subjects. To a large extent they are due to neurotic conditions. I suggest that smallholdings for great sections of our people provide relief from the strains of life and they cannot but be of benefit. I hope that before the Bill gets to the Statute Book we shall have made such amendments to it that the half of the farms in Cornwall under 50 acres, to which I have referred, will gain some benefit.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I did not quite follow from what he said whether the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) is supporting the Bill or is in fact against it, but I assume that on the whole he will come down in its support.
§ Mr. Hayman
I shall vote for the Bill if a Division is called, but I suspect the motives of the party opposite.
§ Mr. Marshall
I wanted to make certain of what the hon. Member would do under certain circumstances. The hon. Member mentioned broccoli. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) is unfortunately unable to be present today. He telephoned me yesterday and said that he was suffering from influenza. As he is not here to answer the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne on that question, perhaps hon. Members will not mind my answering him. The position is that the acreage for broccoli has gone down from 10,000 acres in 1947 to about 5,000 acres now as a direct result of the imports of broccoli and of the need for a further protection against those imports. Broccoli is not protected, and never has been, by the 1947 Act nor any other Act governing agriculture. This is a horticultural question.
§ Mr. Hayman
I did not deal with the reasons for the decline, but was simply saying that since the Conservative Government have been in power the acreage has declined.
§ Mr. Marshall
The whole question of production of broccoli is purely a matter 118 of protection. I sincerely trust that the President of the Board of Trade will listen to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne, myself and other hon. Members and speed up, if he can, the review he is making at present as to whether an adjustment is needed in the protection measures for broccoli.
My right hon. Friend the Minister, in his speech opening the debate, said that his remarks would be wider than the Bill itself. I therefore trust that he will not mind if hon. Members have a few things to say which are slightly wider than the Bill itself. I think it reasonable in this case to realise that hon. Members, speaking on behalf of constituencies in the countryside which are heavily involved with the problems of small farmers, must on this occasion bring a parish pump attitude to the notice of the Minister, because the position of the small farmer does not even itself out throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Attention is focused upon certain parts of the United Kingdom where for generations the impact of the small farmer has been far greater than that in other parts.
I welcome the Bill more or less, as every hon. Member who has spoken has done and has then proceeded to say "but". I welcome it as a brave effort to throw out a life-line to some. It is very important to remember that it is only to some. It is an honest attempt to help, but we should first look at the post-war background of the small farmer. The N.F.U. has always refused to state how we should define the small farmer. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Cam-borne has been with me on many occasions when we have met the Cornish N.F.U. and he knows that at all times when a direct question has been put, "Will you define what is a small farmer?" no official reply has been given.
§ Mr. Hayman
Would not the hon. Member agree that there is extreme difficulty in Cornwall in defining that, because there are so many very efficient units of even 10 or 15 acres?
§ Mr. Marshall
In this case the hon. Member is right not only about Cornwall: there is extreme difficulty in defining a small farmer at all. Yet everybody knew the problem was there. The farmers themselves, through the National 119 Farmers' Union, have not found a solution or put up a suggestion to any Government since the war. The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) knows that, as well as my right hon. Friend the Minister. We know also that the small farmers' needs have often been the base upon which the most powerful argument for higher support prices, especially for eggs, milk and bacon, have been made at the time of the February Price Review, yet the principle of those more fortunate helping those who are not so fortunate is apparently disliked by a certain number of people in the farming industry.
The redeployment of £6 million out of £290 million is causing a number of people to say that they have not much use for this scheme. It is to my mind equally absurd to suggest, as the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne suggested, that the whole of the money necessary to finance this scheme was to come from the farmers themselves. That is not so.
§ Mr. Marshall
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why not. He has no more reason than I have at this stage to believe that the figures calculated by the Ministry and given by the Minister are inaccurate. The Minister, served in many cases by those good and trusty servants who served the right hon. Member for Don Valley, stated that the calculations made about increased efficiency and the increased number of grants which will be made under the scheme show that it will cost the Treasury an extra £3 million this year. My right hon. Friend said that that was a conservative estimate and that the original estimate given to him was £3 million to £4 million over and above the figure which will be taken into account in the February Price Review.
§ Mr. Williams
But the hon. Member cannot dispose of the simple fact that the £3 million to £4 million is based upon another calculation, which is that 25,000 schemes will be approved during the first year. Even if 25,000 schemes were approved during the first year, it might well be that only one-third of them would come into operation. The £3 million to £4 million extra expenditure over and above existing subsidies 120 will not be spent until the programme is well ahead. The estimate of 25,000 schemes is wholly outrageous and, secondly, the financial estimate will be equally bad.
§ Mr. Marshall
The right hon. Gentleman said that when he made his speech and he is repeating it. The Minister did not agree with him. The reason I support the Minister's view rather than that of the right hon. Member for Don Valley is that, on the whole, the estimates made by the Minister's advisers in the House about the likely extra cost involved in the policy which my right hon. Friend is proposing are generally not quite right—but because they are too low, not because they are too high. What has troubled the House of Commons from time to time is that ultimately it is found that the figure is greater, not that it is less.
§ Mr. Marshall
We will talk about it when we get to it, but I prefer the statement made by the Minister to that made by the right hon. Member for Don Valley.
The Bill provides for grants and I have heard it suggested that it might be better in certain circumstances if these were loans instead of grants. This is a matter of opinion, but I think the grant is very much better. When applying our minds to a small unit, there is a great danger of overloading it with a charge which has to be paid back ultimately in capital. I should be very sorry to be the Minister, whatever his political colour, who had ultimately to try to get back the loans which had been made. It is better to make a grant in certain conditions to make the unit more economic.
Although the N.F.U. has apparently agreed to co-operate in the scheme, it is true that the chairmen of county branches and other officials have made a number of statements, which have been reported in the local Press and which could not conceivably be translated as being in favour of the Bill. Some of these statements have been quite violent.
Nevertheless, people who have telephoned me and constituents who came to see me throughout nearly the whole of yesterday—apart from the time when one was at other services which one naturally attended yesterday—were 121 mostly anxious about the speeches which have been made. This was a contradiction in some ways to the position adopted by the N.F.U. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne rightly points out that about 49 per cent. of the farmers in Cornwall will be left out of the scheme, and this is a very great anxiety and worry. I cannot help feeling that in a number of these cases they will feel much aggrieved by that fact. Even if we consider the balance who will he eligible under the scheme, it is quite possible that 25 per cent. of the balance may not qualify under its terms. That is a point which the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne did not mention.
Let me give the Minister an example of the type of situation which is causing us anxiety in Cornwall. I will take the case of a farm of about 32 acres, with twelve milking cows, six other cattle, three sows, ten pigs and 150 poultry, and other acreages with which I will not weary the House. The total number of standard man-hours is 475. If we add 15 per cent. for maintenance, the figure is 545. That puts this farm outside the scheme. The farmer has 32 acres and in that respect qualifies for the scheme, but the other figures put him outside it.
Let us next consider a farmer with 14 acres—a farm which is paying quite well as an economic unit. He has eight cows, six sows, twenty pigs, 300 poultry, one acre of kale, four acres of hay, one acre of potatoes, and eight acres of grass; the number of standard man-hours is 283, plus 15 per cent., which is 325. If he had come within the acreage limits he would have qualified. Of course, it is open to him to take a few more acres, if he can got them.
§ Mr. Marshall
I cannot give way again to the hon. Member. I have given way to him a great deal.
Presumably, if this farmer took extra land he would then qualify under the scheme.
§ Mr. Marshall
I have given way to the hon. Member several times, and if I do not give way to him again it is because several other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.
122 The right hon. Member for Don Valley doubts whether the Government will be able to deal with 25,000 schemes in the time given. Had the Government attempted to deal with more than this number, the scheme would have proved impracticable and there would have been much delay, not in the question of months but in the question of years. The whole scheme would have broken down. The machinery would have been clogged.
We should realise that this scheme is a beginning and not an end. It is a beginning. Let us see how it works, and whether it can be enlarged later.
Another thing that worries many people in Cornwall is the extent to which those farming under 20 acres may find themselves hurt by this scheme. If, at the next Price Review, it meant a penny less on milk, that is roughly £3 a cow. To the really small farmer that would represent about £18 per annum. That is a very heavy burden on him. The Government should be, must be, aware of this, and I trust that the supplement, as I call it—allowing the thing three years to operate and, in certain circumstances, coming down to the 10 acres—may help.
The Bill is a move in the right direction, but a great deal will depend on how it is administered. One gets quite a number of complaints about the present administration. I hope that the Minister will take note that there are complaints of people who rather give the impression to the farmer whom they are visiting that their chief job is, somehow, to ensure that the farmer does not come within the scheme. The Minister may say that that is very strange, but it is true, and in the next week or so I shall give him papers on this subject showing, in detail, what I really mean.
Apart from this enabling Bill, as my right hon. Friend called it, I assume that the chief object of the exercise is to make an ever-increasing amount of our farming industry more efficient, but here is something that I really cannot understand at all. Recently, I took a case to the Minister—and I mention this not in any way because of the case itself but because its particular angle comes within the ambit of the Bill. Mr. Body, the President of the Devon and Cornwall Landrace Pig Breeders Association, who markets his 123 pigs with the F.M.C., and with a well-known West of England bacon factory, realised that in order to obtain greater efficiency it was necessary to get what, in shipping terms, might be called a quicker turn round of pigs, and less capital investment per pig. I think that the Minister will agree that if those two objects could be attained there would be greater efficiency among the small farmers.
Mr. Garceau, another pig breeder, of twenty years' standing, realised the same thing, and, as a result, he developed a sty that serviced in three ways. First of all, it reduced the capital charge per pig, from the Government's suggested form of £10 and, in a number of cases, as much as £25 a pig, to 50s. He also suggested a low form of sty, because in those areas where there are a number of small farmers it so happens that the prevailing wind is so great that it is necessary to protect the pigs from the draught. He so constructed the sty that not only were his pigs having ad lib. feeding, with constant water by gravity, but the roof could be taken off, so that the added ventilation and the strength of the sun could assist towards the maturity of the pig.
This is not only a bright idea of these two men. If one turns to certain papers devoted to the study of pig farming one finds that a great deal has already been written about this type of sty. I will not weary the House by reading at length an article in Pig Farming of November, 1956. but it ends:Mr. Garceau has been keeping pigs commercially for over 20 years, and when a pigman of his experience is satisfied, after two years' trial, that a new idea is even better than when he first thought of it, it's time for the rest of us to take notice. I shall, for one.That alone would have impressed me, even if I had not gone further and found that at this year's Dairy Show this was the type of thing that was being produced; that this was the new form of housing pigs. I have here the 1958 Dairy Show record of bacon produced by Mr. Body. Two pigs, killed at 179 days, gave weights of 8 score 2 lbs. in each case. Another very interesting record was a pig killed at 157 days, and returning 8 score 4 lbs. That would not have impressed me had I not, at the same time, looked up the National Pig Records so as to compare the one with the other. What 124 do we find there? We find that the average age of killing was 223 days and the weight, 7 score 12 lbs.
Against that, what does the Minister say? He says: "This is something new; this is an experiment. We have not yet proved it. This cannot operate for grant. Oh, no—if you like to build a larger sty, and make it cost five times as much as it does now then, of course, it might qualify." I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is taking due notice of what I say, because this is something that I have not just idly studied. The Minister knows that I have studied it for a long time. I really believe that not only will this development produce a more efficient small-farming unit, but that, over all, it will save the taxpayer a lot of money, and it might well be worth the Minister's while to see whether or not it could come within the range of the present Bill.
In my opinion, the Minister has been heroic in making such a start. For a long time, everyone has known that something ought to be done. For a very long time no one has had the courage to do it. This should be looked at as the beginning and not the end.
There are two questions I wish to put to the Minister and to which I should like answers. People with land which has been classified as marginal land have received assistance in the past on manures. Will those who have received this assistance get any help from the supplementary scheme? That is my first question. The second is this. It is understood that the preparation of schemes of work for the improvement of the production of the holding will occupy the N.A.A.S. officials on a full-time basis. It has been suggested that the administrative costs of the scheme will be greater than the actual aid to the small farmer. Will the administrative costs come out of the scheme or out of some other fund?
I apologise to the House for speaking longer than I do usually, but I wanted to say what I have said. I thank the Minister for bringing in the Bill.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) described the efforts of his right hon. Friend as "heroic". I wish to say a 125 word of commendation for the Government back benchers who, I feel, have put on a brave face today. They are witnessing the complete collapse of their agricultural policy, but one after another they have stood up and put a bold face on the matter.
It is true that, like the hon. Member for Bodmin, who voiced his fears about what would happen in Cornwall, they have all betrayed a nervousness which was apparent behind the bold front. Even the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) felt it necessary to tell the House—he said it with some indignation—that it really was the policy of the party opposite that agriculture should be prosperous. I can assure the hon. Member for Newbury and his hon. Friends that it is necessary to repeat that statement almost ad nauseam if there is to be any hope of its acceptance in the countryside.
Were the position of the small farmer not so serious, the manner in which this Bill has been presented would have been rather amusing. The Government have been spurred on by their main supporters, the big industrialists in the towns, gradually to withdraw the charter for the countryside and agriculture, for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was largely responsible, and to replace it with other policies; and gradually to reduce the commitments of the Exchequer to the agricultural industry. And all this is being done for the easement of the taxation burden on their masters, who call the tune.
Despite what has been said, the small farmer was certainly not in the appalling state in which he finds himself today during the administration of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley. But now, as a result of—what is it?— seven years of Tory rule, the small farmer is in the cart. He has had to exchange a position of security for a very precarious position in which he is working harder and harder for less and less. Finally, the withdrawal of help to the small farmer in the way of Labour's guaranteed markets and agreed fixed prices, led to the electoral disasters of which we heard earlier, the electoral disasters of Torrington and elsewhere.
What was the motive behind the Bill? I do not think that there is any doubt 126 about it on this side of the House. The Government felt themselves obliged to try to do something to stem the revolt against them in the countryside. As so often happens, they cast about among the policies of the Labour Party to start with, to see whether they could find anything which might help them. They thought that possibly an easement of the credit facilities to small farmers might he a promising line to pursue. Then came this Bill, which will have the effect of taking from the larger farmers and from the very small farmers that with which the Government hope to reward the numerically more important—and, therefore, electorally more important—small farmers as defined in the Bill.
The support price policy which the Government have followed over the last few years has completely failed to bring security to the farmer: and it has put much money into the pockets of the middleman. There has also been a failure to bring cheaper food to the consumer; and the Government's policy has engendered very considerable bitterness in the countryside. Not only have the Government removed the fixed prices and guaranteed markets, for which my right hon. Friend was responsible, but they have removed Part II of the 1947 Act, all the time giving us, as an excuse for that removal, the alleged fact that Part II was no longer needed and was falling into desuetude; whereas I know, and the Parliamentary Secretary, who is representing the Government on the Front Bench at present knows, there have been cases up and down the country of bad landowning and estate management which have been brought to his notice and about which he has done nothing at all.
The Minister knows about Vimy Farm, in Dorset, to mention but one which, to my knowledge, has been before the Ministry on several occasions. He knows that in that case the landlord was not obliged, as he should have been, by the Minister to carry out his full duties under the Agriculture Act, 1947, to provide even gates between the fields, which, surely, it was the duty of the landlord to provide, and which the Minister should have made him provide. These things were not provided although the tenant could not farm efficiently without them.
127 Very considerable bitterness has resulted in the countryside as a result of the Government's failure to implement Part II and the rest of the agricultural policy embodied in the 1947 Act.
It is small wonder that Laurence Easterbrook, who is not exactly a shop steward, although liable to come under fire from the party opposite about what he said, should write only this year:Let him who will mess up the land and farm it as badly as he likes; it was all baloney, that stuff about caring for our heritage and fostering pride in English acres…. No one any longer cares what happens to the land of Britain. No one in authority, that is. If it were part of a deliberate policy to discourage home production, this attitude towards the land would fit in perfectly.That is the sort of bitterness which has been engendered and the Government know well about it. That is why this Bill has been introduced. Here it is. Whatever the motives may be for it introduction, I feel certain that everyone on both sides of the House wants to see the Bill help the small farmer, if such a thing is possible.
I myself am troubled, along with many other hon. Members who have already spoken, about the case of the borderline farmer, the man with 101 acres, or 80 acres, who falls down under the standard man-day test. Here, this man will be contributing to the benefits given under the Bill, when they come—and we hope they will—and yet he will get nothing out of it at all. He may be in greater need than some of those who will benefit, because, of course, farms and methods of cultivation vary from place to place. An intensely cultivated farm may be profitable although smaller than one much larger which is not.
I feel that there should have been some machinery devised on the lines of marginal relief given in taxation whereby, when one gets above a certain figure in taxation, one has a relief, which means that one does not pay at such a great rate on the very small portion over the marginal line of a particular group, as when one is well over the limit. There should have been some machinery devised to enable some benefits to be given under the Bill, when it becomes law, even though the recipients were beyond the specific limits marked down at present, of 100 acres, for instance, or under the 20, as the case might be.
128 It is said that this would have put too great a burden on the N.A.A.S. My submission is that the fact that there is this burden on the N.A.A.S., which will be great, and which, I admit, would be increased if my suggestion were adopted, is no reason for denying persons who can benefit themselves and the country from receiving benefit or having that benefit. At the most, in my submission, it would be a reason for postponing any benefit which might be given.
I sincerely hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will try to meet that point. Was it not possible for him to devise some marginal relief for the man who might have just over 100 acres, or just over, or just under the 20, as the case might be, or just outside the standard man-days limit? Was it not possible to devise some means whereby he could have obtained some benefit, if not on the same scale, perhaps, as that received by those within the limits, even if it did mean that there would, in his case, be a postponement of the benefits under the scheme?
I hope that the Bill will bring some benefit to small farmers to help them out of the cart into which they have been thrown by the Government's agricultural policy during the last few years. Along with many hon. Members—no one put it more eloquently than my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman)—I believe that the small farmer is by no means the least deserving member of our community. He works very much harder than many; indeed, he works very much harder than most other sections of the community. His life leads him to be more independent. He has to rely upon himself for almost everything.
The life of the small farmer leads him to be independent in his judgment, and, in this respect, he can make a most valuable contribution to our society in these days of spoon-feeding and mass-producing. He forms his judgment, and he tends to stick to it. He is not likely to be swept away by bell-ringing, by the "cult of personality", or by American advertising methods which may be introduced to sway him. I want the Bill to do him good, in spite of the suspicions which most of us are bound to have about the motives which have led the Government to introduce it.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
By overstatement, one is most likely to fail to get one's arguments across in this House. I do not think that I have ever listened to a speech in which there were more overstatements so rashly put together than there were in the one by the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. Mallalieu), to which we have just listened.
The hon. and learned Gentleman did not mention the increased production which we have had. He tried to show that the difficulties of the small farmer were all due to actions which this Government have taken. He completely left out of consideration the enormous increase in mechanisation which has occurred and which has, unfortunately, opened the gap between the small farmer and the large farmer. All those matters he completely ignored. For myself, I shall leave him to his pipe-dream. If he returns to the House after the General Election—which is a little unlikely, I feel, since his party is to renationalise steel—I hope that he will be happy sitting for all time on the Opposition side of the Chamber.
One criticism made by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) surprised me. He suggested that some large farms had been bought and sold into smallholdings. Quite frankly, I have never heard of that happening. Indeed, curiously enough, my anxiety is that the opposite has occurred. I have known of some large farms buying up small farms round about them, and I do not regard that as a good development. I should prefer to have seen county councils., in particular, doing more to buy good land and make more good smallholdings, and I hope that they will pursue that policy. I believe that the Bill my right hon. Friend has brought in will help them indirectly in that respect.
The great point about the Bill is that the Minister has had the courage to do something. Many of us have made suggestions in the past. All of us have found out how difficult it was to start. Every hon. Member knows that if we sit down to write a speech, a difficult letter or an essay the only way to write something which is efficient is to get started. That the Minister has done. I believe that he will pin-point many of the difficulties of the very small farmer by the action that he has taken, and he will bring them out 130 in the open. That, I believe, is a very bold and proper action and he will benefit 65,000 farmers who, perhaps, of all the farming industry, are the most suitable to be benefited and who deserve the help and attention of the Government.
I want to cut my remarks to the absolute minimum and, therefore, I shall make only one point, which concerns the field husbandry proposals. I have looked very carefully, but I cannot find any arrangements for helping farms which come within the category with field drainage. I see a reference to the Northern Ireland Bill, but I see no reference—and I have made a search—to helping small farmers with their drainage problems.
The one point that I want to make is this. This new beginning in tackling small farm policy will lead to many things, but I am sure that there is one way in which we can help the small farmer more than any other, and that is by improving land drainage. It is inevitable that a small farm has difficulty in disposing of the water from it. Nearly always it has to go into neighbours' ditches. Often there are difficulties. Those of us who deal with these problems know that one of the greatest problems in small farms is bad drainage. I hope that the Government, either before the General Election or after they have been returned triumphantly to power, will bring in an all-embracing land drainage Bill, because I think that that will not only be of the greatest assistance to small farmers, but to all agriculture.
I should like to see something done to bring in the present functions of the river boards. I should also like to know what the Government propose to do about the Heneage Report. It is just about time that we had something done about the Report and also tried to divorce from land drainage the enormous amount of money which has to be spent on the maintenance of sea defences and which often frightens river boards or makes it very difficult for them to spend enough on their internal drainage. There is no way in which the small farmer could be benefited more than by improving land drainage throughout the country. If, at the same time, a really sensible way of rating it could be introduced, that would be all to the good.
I have cut down a rather longer speech to the absolute minimum, and I am 131 sorry if, by doing so, I have made it rather incoherent. I welcome the Bill. We must regard it as a start. It is certainly not a political gamble to try to win us the next General Election, as has been suggested, because in its initial stages it will not be very popular. The Bill will spotlight all the difficulties and problems of the small farmer, but I think that the Government have shown great courage and great wisdom in introducing it.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
I endorse what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) has said about drainage. Drainage is to agriculture as foundations are to a building. Unless it is right, the superstructure may be ruined, certainly endangered.
I welcome the Bill because it attacks the three main weaknesses which afflict the smaller farm: insufficient use of grassland, which admittedly is a national failing; a deficiency in managerial skill, which can be seen in any economist's study of the range in costs in comparable enterprises; and the difficulty, both physical and financial, that small farms face in particular, in introducing a new system of farming.
The Bill will provide for a voluntary scheme of systematic improvement. It is agreed that it will keep the National Agricultural Advisory Service very busy, but how much better that the staff of the Ministry should be fully occupied in implementing this sort of voluntary scheme than in trying to operate the outmoded rigidities and disciplines the passing of which the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) seems to regret.
I should like to say a word about the position of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. Although it is agreed that it will be under a great burden, the men under the greatest burden undoubtedly will be the field advisory officers, the general advisers or district officers, who make personal contact with the farmer on his farm. It seems to me that the burden of the field advisory officer needs to be alleviated as much as possible, certainly in three ways. First, he should be kept as far as possible in 132 the field on the inspections and his paperwork should be minimised. Secondly, as far as possible, unproductive visits to farms should be avoided. I realise that the first duty of this officer, which occupies so much of his effort, is to gain the confidence of the farmer. Hitherto, it has been not uncommon for an advisory officer to go to a farm in response to a query—"Can you help me in any way?"—and perhaps a long initial visit has been spent mainly on the question of confidence.
Because this new scheme places the heaviest burden upon these field officers, I hope that they will not have to spend too much of their time in elementary explanation, because there are other bodies who could help. The White Paper states, in paragraph 8, that the applicant himself must devise and submit his plans, and I hope that that will be the case. The actual explanation of what to do can be brought to the attention of farmers in various ways. The Ministry could produce pamphlets, the columns of the farming Press could be used and the National Farmers' Union itself could do a great deal to help a small farmer to analyse his position and work out the possibilities, so that a cut and dried scheme is produced for the advisory officer to adjudicate upon.
Thirdly, I hope that despite the pressure on these officers the Minister will succeed in avoiding their having a complete break with their perhaps more interesting long-term advisory work. To attend to nothing but these new schemes, although each one may be interesting, might in total be a rather dull and burdensome task for the advisory officers. As far as I can see from the recent Report of the Committee on Grassland Utilisation (Comd. 547), each of these officers has, on average, about 1,100 holdings to watch. In England and Wales, there appear to be some 330 advisory field officers, and I notice that this valuable Report recommends an increase of 25 per cent. in the field officer strength to bring the average number of holdings in each district down to nearer 700. I should like to have the comments of my right hon. Friend the Minister, on this recommendation.
The only other main focus for constructive criticism has been in the matter 133 of borderlines. When one looks over the lower borderline at the state of the smaller farms, many of them under 20 acres, I do not believe that our present statistical knowledge gives us a sufficiently clear picture of the true situation. This afternoon, in reply to a Question, my right hon. Friend told me that of the 160,000 holdings of under 20 acres 9,000 are adjudged to be fully productive, and, indeed, above the limit, by having more than 450 standard man-days in their present system of operations. What we do not know is how many of the remaining farms are virtually hobbies, small part-time or substantial part-time, or would-be whole-time.
I am wondering whether our present statistics are sufficiently informative. During last summer, when in America, I had a chance to see what the United States are doing with their small farms. They have a problem not dissimilar from ours, but their statistical inquiries were rather more detailed. I was shown just before I left a study which they had produced which examined the size of the smaller farms and the age groups of the people occupying them. It revealed a rather interesting correlation between the sizes of the farms and the ages of the occupiers. in that the higher age groups were tending to occupy the smaller and less viable farms.
Similarly, the survey showed that the younger, more active farmers were reluctant to take on small farms, and were waiting to get bigger ones. So it does seem, in the United States at any rate, that there probably will be an element of amalgamation coming forth quite naturally over the next ten to fifteen years. It might be helpful if we widened the scope of our statistics to try to obtain some similar information and thus see what trends are likely in this country.
For the rest, we have heard a good deal of criticism of the scheme today, some of it not too well informed, and much of it somewhat political. I regret some of the remarks made because they seemed to indicate that the speakers were perhaps more interested in agricultural politics than in agriculture. This scheme, after all, is the first practical attempt to tackle a problem which has been with us for a long time. Its genesis goes a long way back. There have been many inquiries and reports, of which this very 134 valuable Report of Grassland Utilisation is only the latest.
Dean Swift wrote thatwhoever could make two cars of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.That is precisely what my right hon. Friend is setting out to achieve in these schemes, and, therefore, I welcome his statesmanlike action.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
When I left the House last week I did not know that today I should soon find myself in this position at the Opposition Dispatch Box. When I went into the market place at East Dereham, on Friday morning, an auctioneer and a farmer asked me what I should be doing and where, on Monday. They had read the local newspaper, which I had not read right through, so I was at a slight disadvantage.
I think that I should have been happier in my usual place in speaking on the Bill. However, my task is a comparatively easy one. We have had a quiet debate, except when the representative of the Liberal Party offered his support to the Government on this occasion. That seemed to be deeply resented. It does, of course, make nonsense of the statement just made by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) that some hon. Members on this side were more concerned with politics than with agriculture, because that was, indeed, a political demonstration. Still, it is beside the point.
We have had, as I say, a quite interesting debate. The dominant phrase in the Minister's speech and in the speeches of all other hon. Members has been the suggestion that the purpose of the Bill is to make small farms more competitive. What is meant by that phrase? Do the Government mean that they want small farms to produce more food, competing against the larger farms? If so, where is the greater production to be found? Do they mean that they want agriculture generally, especially small farms, to be more competitive when the arrangements for the European Free Trade Area have been completed?
This is a very important matter. For some time Government representatives 135 have been meeting representatives of Western European Governments to work out the details of the Common Market. The point of disagreement has been that Great Britain has wanted to retain that portion of her home market now held by her home producers, while we have been told that we shall not be allowed to enter the Common Market unless we surrender on that issue. We have been told that an agreement on the Common Market is expected before the end of the year. That seems to indicate that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to surrender a larger portion of the home market for agricultural products to France, Italy and other Western European countries.
§ Mr. Dye
What commitment to other countries has been made? If no commitment has been made, then we can assume that the Bill is an act of defiance of the Government of France and that we are determined not merely to keep the existing proportion of our home market, but to attempt by competition to enlarge it.
Although that would make sense, the negotiations for the European Common Market are not the only negotiations which are proceeding. A conference under the auspices of G.A.T.T. is taking place in Europe, Britain's Ministerial representative being the President of the Board of Trade. Speaking at the opening of the three-day Ministerial session, the President of the Board of Trade is reported as having asked the United States to take a lead in a review of agricultural policies and saying thatThe United Kingdom is ready to take part in such a review on the assumption that all the contracting parties will join with us.There may be nothing wrong with that, but did the right hon. Gentleman go to an international conference in the full knowledge that our agricultural policies could be reviewed in conjunction with others so as to enable primary producing countries more easily to market their commodities here? If so, then it seems to me that even if we make our small farmers more competitive, we will not increase their output or their incomes.
It therefore seems to me that the House should know exactly what are the Government's agricultural policies. Are we to say that in certain circumstances 136 we will import more cereals from the primary producing countries, for instance? If so, that would enable our small farmers to buy more imported foodstuffs and to produce more milk, eggs, bacon and similar commodities. But if they are to produce more of them and our consumption of those commodities does not rapidly increase, there will be a smaller share of that market for European countries.
If the policy of the Minister is to encourage still further the development of our production, that policy must be integrated with our import policies, and with our negotiations with the Commonwealth, in G.A.T.T., and in regard to a European Free Trade Area. We ought to know quite clearly whether what we are discussing today is a plan for increased home production or whether the instructions that were given to the President of the Board of Trade for the G.A.T.T. conference included the provision for a reduction in home production, if necessary, so that our exports of manufactured goods might find an easier entrance to other countries, and the primary producing countries should not be given an advantage over the home producer. This question of being more competitive needs a better explanation than has been given so far.
I have spoken so far of the agricultural setting inside our economic position, and I want now to say a few words upon the relationship of the Bill to our agricultural position. We have built up a tradition of Annual Reviews, and the last Review made it quite clear what the Government's intention was in regard to the small farmer. Paragraph 24 said:As already announced, grants for rabbit clearance societies are being introduced and an allocation for this purpose has been made within the total guarantees.Paragraph 26 finished by saying:The Government intend also to initiate discussions about proposals which they are preparing for additional provisions designed to give further assistance to the small full-time farmer.It is not stated that it would be within the total of the guarantees. The inference which all farmers drew from that sentence was that the Government were considering additional Exchequer assistance to assist small farmers.
The Government have changed their mind on a very important point. If we 137 look at the first Price Review under the 1957 Act we see that the Government have reduced the overall global sum to within £2 million of the minimum of the guarantees which could be given. Applying the Bill in relation to the current year, if £6 million or £9 million are taken from the global sum and funnelled to 25,000 small farmers covering about 5 per cent. of the production of the country, and if we are denying that £9 million to other farmers covering 95 per cent. of the production of the country, are we not thereby reducing the overall global sum below 2½ per cent.?
This is the very first year in which the 1957 Act comes into operation, but if, before the end of the year in which the guarantees are given, a proposal comes forward to limit the guarantees and to reduce the amount for 95 per cent. of the farmers, are not these farmers justified in thinking that the Government have not stood by the 1957 Act?
§ Mr. Dye
The hon. Gentleman has had his fair share of speaking.
I would add the further point that in the discussions on 19th December we were assured that the Bill was a great advance and one of a series of steps for supporting the agricultural industry, and that the Government would not let them down. If we allow this principle to be broken we are changing the steps into an escalator that will allow the amount of the guarantees to the majority of the farmers to be reduced. The Minister knows that on this point there is dispute between the National Farmers' Union and himself.
§ Mr. Hare
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House in any way. He was fair enough to say that the White Paper said that additional assistance was to be given, but it did not say that it would be within or without the guarantee. I have always informed the farming community that there would have to be a contribution from that community. I have said it right from the start, on T.V. and in the Press, since May. It would be wrong for the hon. Gentleman to give the impression that I am trying to "pull a fast one" over the farming community. I am not.
§ Mr. Dye
We are getting it a little clearer. It is now that the industry would have to find a proportion. The proportion is as 9 to 3 and the 3 becomes operative only if 25,000 small farmers can get their schemes through in the first year. I think it is clear that the bulk of the money under the Bill will come out of what is already allocated to the industry and that it is not a question of the Government finding additional money to enable small farmers to get some benefit under the Bill.
I turn to the position of the small farmer within the scheme. He is put between two rows of fences. Erected on one side is the 20-acre and 100-acre fence and, on the other side, the 250 man-days and 450 man-days. It is quite clear that many will be ruled out by the 20-acre limit. Many of those are farmers whose units are economic and who would benefit by assistance under the Bill. If there is any reduction in guaranteed prices, to provide the money for the £9 million they will have to make a contribution.
It is not just a question of the big farmers all who come within the guaranteed prices for commodities will have to make their contribution. That is a weakness of the Bill, a weakness which was seen before it was published. In a discussion at the Conservative Party Conference, at Blackpool, a prospective Conservative candidate who is well known to me, Mr. Bullard, took part. His was such an important contribution that it was featured on B.B.C. television. He said:I have no idea what plans the Minister will produce. I hope that he will not produce a plan which will make hard distinctions between one farmer and his neighbour. I hope that that at all events will be avoided in the plans he produces.I should think that Mr. Bullard is very disappointed. He is hoping to fight a constituency in which there are many 139 small farmers and the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he will win. I do not mind greatly whether he wins or loses, but this Measure will not be of very great help to him. If Mr. Bullard is one prospective Conservative candidate who is very much disappointed with this Measure, so are many others.
This scheme makes hard distinctions between neighbours; one will get a Government grant and another will not. The Minister may not like this being discussed. He may like to think that all the small farmers who will not benefit under the scheme, but who will have to make their contribution, will take it in good heart; but I do not think that Britain is made up of such people. The British people like to know that justice is being done when money is being distributed. That is something at which we should aim. We should treat them all fairly.
Under this scheme part-time farmers will be disqualified, but when we were discussing the farm improvements scheme it did not matter whether a man was a full-time or a part-time farmer; he was not debarred from receiving grants. It is only when he is a small farmer, apparently, that we debar the part-time man from receiving assistance which is being given to others.
This is a new principle, for in the discussion of the improvements scheme the then Minister of Agriculture, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, vigorously defended in Committee the principle of giving grants for improvements to part-time farmers, whether they were small farmers in Wales, who had part-time forestry holdings and who also worked for the Forestry Commission, or were the big farmers who spent the week in the City and the weekend on the farm. He made no distinction between them.
Under the Bill there will be thousands of aggrieved small farmers who spend their whole time in agriculture, but only part of it on their own holdings. Although they come within the limits of 20 acres and 100 acres, they will all be debarred. It seems to me that this is a restriction on those who benefit which cannot be justified.
Under the scheme Government grants are to be given to small tenant farmers. 140 Will the landlord be able to increase the rent immediately the scheme is put into operation and a grant is received, before the small tenant farmer has a chance to overcome his difficulty, to improve his farm and to place himself in a stronger financial position? Will the landlord be able to say straight away, "You are in receipt of Government money for the purpose of improving your farm. You are improving my investment. I want my share straight away"? There is no protection for such a small tenant farmer. When the Bill is in Committee will the Minister consider some safeguard against the raising of rents on those small farms?
I ask this because, as the Minister knows, I am also a member of the Norfolk County Council. We meet his representative, the Land Commissioner, and we are engaged in this very task of improving smallholdings under Section 58 schemes. Although the Norfolk County Council has reviewed the rents of all its holdings and has agreed on a basis, the Minister's representative is now opposing Section 58 schemes unless the county council is prepared to raise the rents where a new house or bungalow is being built.
The county council has done its utmost to get the whole of the county council estate on a fair basis, charging a full, fair rent, but the Minister is now concerned with raising the rents above the agreed level where improvements are brought about. If that is being pushed in the case of county council smallholdings, is it not an example to all the other landlords in the country? It is true, of course, that most of the county council smallholdings do not qualify for grants under the scheme, because they are said to be subsidised already.
I should like to know more about the extent of the work of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. It seems that the Minister is now putting a full load upon its members. That must mean that they cannot do their other duties, and that, therefore, the general advisory service will be reduced. Are these men the best-qualified people to deal with the business side of agriculture? Very often, they are experts in grassland cultivation, crop husbandry, farm stock and the like, but very few have had special training on the business side, which is the side that is emphasised in the Bill. Indeed, 141 one of the shortcomings of the advice that has so far been made available to British agriculture is in relation to business efficiency. If we gave more attention to that point, less other help might be necessary.
What is to be the position of those small farmers who are left out of the scheme? Two years ago, we had an improvement scheme under which we gave money to the bigger farmers, much of it being denied to the very small ones. We now take another section of the farming community and make grants available to those in it, but apparently the smaller ones who will not qualify are just to be left to go to the bankruptcy court, be forced into amalgamations, or to perish. Or will the Minister include in this scheme an arrangement whereby they are all helped; a scheme by which, if necessary, those who can no longer stay in the industry because of old age of other infirmity, or because their farm is not an economic unit, can be helped out of it?
This is a problem on which the Labour Party has declared its policy. It has said that it would compensate to facilitate amalgamations on a voluntary basis. It would not need a great deal of money to help out of the industry the older age group who are not able to make the smaller farms pay; to have a scheme of compensation or pension under which we could remove from the scene of active agriculture those farmers who are not now, and who are never likely to be in a position to make their small farms pay.
On the other hand, we must see that those who are young and active, who hive the knowledge and some capital and want to get into the industry, are not kept out of it. As the Minister stated in reply to a Question of mine the other day, there are over 8,000 approved applicants for statutory holdings, but there are many others who are quite capable of becoming farmers on their own account, but who are kept out. We want to facilitate this movement out of the industry, and the movement into it of the young, the qualified and the strong so that we can keep a vigorous agricultural industry in which will work men and women worthy of the countryside, people who want to go on working with the soil because they love that work and because they know that in performing 142 it they are providing the best food for the people.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Gentleman has criticised the Government for not including in the scheme those farmers with holdings of under 20 acres. He did not refer to farmers who have holdings of over 100 acres, or say what he would do in their case.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) spoke from the Opposition Dispatch Box for the first time this evening, and it is right that I should congratulate him on the manner in which he addressed the House. I do not think that I can, with absolute sincerity, congratulate him so much on the substance of his remarks. I hope to deal with one or two of the things he said, because the hon. Member made some extraordinary statements.
I gather from the attitude of hon. Members opposite, and the way in which they have received the Bill, that it is a Measure which, if they cannot wholly support, at least they will not oppose at this stage. I am grateful for that: I am grateful for all small mercies. I am glad to note that hon. Members generally have recognised that this is a difficult problem and that it is being tackled, which is something for which my right hon. Friend deserves considerable credit. There are a number of points of detail with which I propose to deal as far as I can.
One or two rather extraordinary party political charges were made by hon. Members opposite, including the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). I hope he will be forgiven. There were other hon. Members who laboured the matter rather heavily, but the extraordinary thing is that the party opposite, including the right hon. Member for Don Valley, who should know better, talked at one moment about the electoral advantages the Government would gain from the Bill and in the next referred to the courage of the Government in tackling the problem. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that the Government are getting political 143 kudos from the Measure and also that it is a matter which affects only a small number of people. By all means let hon. Members opposite tackle us on one or other of those grounds, but not on both.
I think that my right hon. Friend deserves credit for the courage which he has shown in tackling this problem, and for the speed with which it has been dealt with. Much has been said about the speed with which the Measure has been brought forward, and that is something for which I am sure the small farmers will be very grateful. It seemed odd to me that the right hon. Member for Don Valley should do his best to find criticisms to level against the Bill. I found myself thinking of those words about the "ranks of Tuscany" who could scarcely forbear to cheer. That just about sums up the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman. He longed to think that he could have found some similar legislation to have introduced himself. However, I do not propose to be drawn into party political exchanges, tempting though that may be. I propose to look at this scheme in a calm and objective manner and to try to deal with the various points which have been raised.
A number of hon. Members referred to a matter which I think of interest. It was raised by the right hon. Gentleman and by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater). I refer to the general procedure for farmers who wish to make applications. There is a leaflet which explains certain things and contains a tear-off slip returnable to the divisional office, so that farmers can record their interest in the new scheme straight away. Then we shall send further particulars and an application form, when these become available. Whether they have completed the slip or not, they will be able to get a comprehensive leaflet from the divisional office at some time early in January, which will be announced by Press notice.
§ Mr. Godber
Certainly, it will. If the hon. Gentleman cares to let me that he wants one, I shall be very happy to see that he gets one.
144 The farmer will send to the divisional office the application form giving details of the cropping and stocking, so that his eligibility can be checked. He will state whether he has submitted a farm business plan, which will come on a separate form with his application or, secondly, if he wants to defer putting in a farm business plan until his eligibility has been confirmed; or he can state that he does not want to put in a plan straight away and he can be registered at once for the supplementary scheme.
Checking for eligibility will be done in the divisional office and only applications which have passed this check will go on to the N.A.A.S., accompanied by the farmer's own business plan. The district advisory officer will visit the farm and discuss the plan with the farmer. In most cases, he will be able to suggest modifications or additions to make it a better plan, and we hope that he will be able to agree these with the farmer.
The district advisory officer will then report to the divisional executive officer and recommend the plan to be followed. The divisional executive officer will send a copy of the approved plan to the farmer and tell him what grants he will get if he carries the plan out satisfactorily.
The farmer will notify the divisional executive officer when he starts work on the plan. Four equal instalments of the farm business grant will be paid subject to satisfactory progress of the plan. The first will be at 6 months, the second at 12 months, the third at 24 months and the fourth at 36 months from the time when he starts work on the plan. That is to say, there will be two payments in the first twelve months.
§ Mr. Godber
I am on a rather detailed point, but I shall be pleased to give way later. The final payment will be made in three years from the time that the farmer starts work on the plan. Payments of the field husbandry grant will be made when the farmer reports to the divisional office that he has done the work qualifying for the grant.
I should like to take up the point made by the right hon. Gentleman when he asked who would police this scheme. Frankly, I prefer not to use the word "police". I would say that there will be 145 routine inspections which will be carried out by the field officers, not by N.A.A.S. officers. These field officers are well known already and it is very right that they should carry out inspections because it is public money which is being expended; this is a continuation of previous arrangements.
They will carry out routine inspections to see that the particular items of the plan have been carried out. The district advisory officer will be able to keep in touch with the farmer on his progress with the plan as a whole and he may recommend changes in the plan in the light of experience. He will keep generally in touch, but it will be the field officer who will be responsible for checking where necessary that the work has been carried out. He is the officer under the divisional executive officer. He comes under that side rather than the N.A.A.S. side and not in an advisory capacity; his job is merely to inspect. That is the position operating at present in regard to other matters.
If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) wishes to interrupt, I should be pleased to give way.
§ Mr. Hayman
The hon. Gentleman said that the scheme would eventually come to the divisional officer. Can he say whether the divisional officer has full executive authority to deal with the scheme or whether he in turn has to refer it to the Ministry first?
§ Mr. Godber
If it comes within the terms of the scheme, of course, he will have full authority; but he can always refer it in any case when it is necessary. I think that there will be plenty of flexibility there.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
Will there be any appeal to the Minister from the decisions of the field officer?
§ Mr. Godber
Yes; any questions of dispute will go to the C.A.E.C. I was proposing to deal with that point a little later.
The right hon. Member for Don Valley mentioned the possibility of compulsion for any particular type of stock or crop. There is no question of compulsion, and there will be none. I think it was the right hon. Gentleman who asked exactly 146 the same question in regard to the Farm Improvement Scheme when that was going through the House. If it was not he who asked it, then some other hon. Gentleman asked it, and I think that I gave the same assurance then. There is no question of using any of these schemes as a method of compelling a change-over from one type of cropping or stocking to another. It is voluntary, of course.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I know that the hon. Gentleman's reply will be appreciated by those who will enter into the schemes, but, just for the sake of accuracy, what I said was this. I asked whether the advisory service officer would encourage or enforce a particular kind of livestock for a particular farm according to particular circumstances. I make no point about it; I merely ask the question.
§ Mr. Godber
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for clearing that up. The N.A.A.S. officer will, of course, advise about what he thinks is the best thing for the farm. There will be no sort of directive.
A number of hon. Members asked about the actual numbers involved. My right hon. Friend said that he hoped that 25,000 schemes would be completed in the first twelve months. He was taken to task for this, and the right hon. Member for Don Valley is quite convinced that that number will not be attained. Of course, we must see how it works. I very much hope—indeed, I believe—that my right hon. Friend's figure will not prove excessive. I will break it down to show what I mean.
The 25,000 schemes in a year relate to the United Kingdom as a whole. Of those, it is estimated that 15,000 will come from England and Wales. The N.A.A.S. as such, about which we are talking, operates only in England and Wales, of course; the advisory services in other parts are in a different form. There will be about 330 members of the N.A.A.S., district advisory officers of the N.A.A.S., as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) mentioned, who will be dealing with these 15,000 schemes. That comes to 45 schemes per officer, which is rather less than one scheme per week per district officer.
I should not have said that one scheme per week per officer was an unreasonable 147 amount to expect to get done. I know that they have many things to do, but I should have thought that that was a reasonable estimate, and I very much hope that we shall be able to hold to it. When a year is up, we shall compare notes, and I shall be happy to talk about it with the right hon. Gentleman then. Those are the figures on which we have based these estimates.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. P. O'Neill) touched on the position in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend and I are very grateful for his most helpful speech, which shows a very close understanding of the problems of Northern Ireland. I was very happy to hear him say that, in his view, the advisory services there should be in a position to cope with the numbers involved.
It is worth mentioning, because hon. Members have spoken about taking the N.A.A.S. away from its existing functions, that the total strength of the N.A.A.S. is about 1,300, including all the specialist services—the livestock husbandry officers, the poultry advisory officers, scientific grades and so on. It is only these 330 who will be primarily concerned with this work. All the other work of the N.A.A.S. will be going on all the time.
I have been asked why we are not increasing the numbers in the N.A.A.S., and someone quoted the Caine Committee's Report which suggested an increase of 25 per cent. We are recruiting all the time, but, for this work, we have to recruit only really suitable types of officer, and it would be wrong to dilute in any way the high standard of the N.A.A.S., for which it is well respected.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the administrative cost of £750,000 in relation to a scheme for distributing £9 million. I think that that was the phrase he used. He is quite right. The figure given in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum is £750,000. As I understood it, the right hon. Gentleman felt that that was a large figure in relation to the amount being given out.
§ Mr. Godber
I am sorry; that was certainly the impression that he gave me. The point that I was seeking to make in 148 response is that, after all, this is not just a matter of cash, but a matter of cash and advice. We think that the advice is just as important as the cash and it will of necessity not be cheap. It is very important that we should be able to give advice to these farmers and, bearing that in mind, the cost is certainly not excessive.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked me about the 20-acre man. He gave the instance of a farmer getting a £120 business grant and he said that, split four times, he will get £30 a time. In his picturesque phraseology, the right hon. Gentleman referred to half a heifer and half a bullock. As I have already said, the first two payments come in the first twelve months. If a man proposes to buy extra stock, we want him to increase the capacity of his holding first. We want him in the first twelve monthe to devote himself to increasing it. We hope that after that, with the improvement that he will get through this grant and the field husbandry grant, he will be in a position to buy at least one heifer or one bullock and not one half, as the right hon. Gentleman said. It will be found that the figures work out fairly well. The right hon. Gentleman was, fairly, taking the lowest figure of 20 acres.
I have been asked by several hon. Members about the opportunity of setting up some form of co-operatives with regard to the work which will be done to help small farmers. I do not quite see how we can make direct grants to co-operatives in this sphere, but I would put it to the House in this way. Neighbouring small farmers who come under the scheme may very well find that they can share in purchasing any expensive item of equipment out of the farm business grant which they receive. If several of them got together and purchased one expensive machine they could work their own cooperative arrangement very well. I think that this would be an economical way of improving their farm business and of using some part of the grants that they will receive. District advisory officers will be ready to advise on any such proposal as part of the farm business plan.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I thank the Minister for that reservation. Will he make that clear in the scheme when it is produced? We think that it is very important.
§ Mr. Godber
I shall certainly take note of the right hon. Gentleman's point. I quite agree that it is important and I am glad to be able to give that piece of information.
I have been asked by a number of hon. Members about the total cost of the scheme, and the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, in winding-up, dealt with this point at some length. The question of the amount involved is quite simple. it is £6 million in relation to the small farmers scheme, plus £3 million for the supplementary scheme, plus £3 million for additional work which will be done under existing production grants, making £12 million in all, of which £3 million can be taken off, because that is already being expended in another form in marginal production grants. That leaves a net £9 million increase, of which £6 million will rank for the general annual price review.
That is the position. It is perfectly simple and perfectly straight-forward, and my right hon. Friend has always made it clear from the very start that £6 million, or whatever the figure is, would have to come out of the global guarantees. There is no mystery about this.
I would ask hon. Members to look at this matter in perspective. In fact, this is £6 million out of a total value of the guarantees of £1,270 million and a total subsidy bill in the neighbourhood of £300 million. That is its real extent and that is how it should be related to get the full effect and to show what a modest readjustment it is.
I ask all those who have said that this is unfair and unreasonable to remember what probably many of them and many others have said after Price Reviews about the effect of the Price Review on the small farmer. If they have meant what they said on those occasions, it is nothing but hypocrisy to complain of this change. That is the truth of it, whether hon. Members like it or not, and it is as well to face up to that. That is the position concerning the money. There is nothing else that one need say in relation to it.
I have been asked one or two specific questions concerning Wales. We had some most interesting speeches from hon. Members representing constituencies in 150 Wales, where I know that this matter is important. There is a large number of small farms in Wales—I understand, in fact, that there are 28,000 full-time farm businesses in Wales—and I am told that one-third of these will qualify under the small farmer scheme. They will, therefore, get quite a bit of help. I know that that does not mean that they will all get help, but that is one of the things which we must face. Had we sought to find something to help everybody, we might have finished up with something that would benefit nobody. We are trying to help as many people as we can. The number that we are helping will make a significant difference in Wales, as elsewhere.
I was asked one or two particular questions by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) and I will try to answer as many of them as possible. He asked about farmers who already had hill farming schemes. I am afraid they are ruled out, whether it be for farm improvement schemes or the small farmer schemes. There cannot be more than one comprehensive scheme running at the same time. That applies in this connection as well as to the Farm Improvement Scheme. In the same way, new farm buildings will not come under the scheme, because they are covered under the Farm Improvement Scheme. That is the way in which they should be dealt with.
Concerning rough grazings, the hon. Member quoted an interesting case of a holding with 95 acres and with 10 acres of rough grazing which could be improved. He asked whether those 10 acres would be included so that if at the end of the day they would rank as fully productive acres, they would then bring up the acreage to over 100. The answer is that provided the scheme conforms in other ways, a scheme like that would be included. Indeed, rough grazing can be used at either end of the scale to help to bring a farm within the general picture. I hope that that information will be helpful in some degree to the hon. Member.
The hon. Member asked one or two other questions, but I have tried to cover his main ones. He and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) dealt with similar points, and one of them mentioned also electricity. Of course, a lot of connections have been 151 made recently, but any help in relation to electricity supplies comes under the Farm Improvement Scheme rather than under this new scheme.
It is important also to remember the extent to which we shall look to the county agricultural executive committees for help in running the scheme. It will present a heavy load of work, but I believe that there is a special place in it for the county agricultural executive committees. In particular—I stress this in the light of a remark from my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine)—members of district committees can do invaluable work. District committees are still very much in being. We wish to keep them in being and to see their members doing a great deal of work wherever possible in giving advice and help in any queries that arise in the operation of the scheme.
I have been asked also about Clause 5 (2, b) by a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) and some of my hon. Friends. They asked why this was not considered as a Franks point. Indeed, I do not think it really falls within that scope, because I would ask hon. Members to remember first that this is a voluntary scheme, and that nobody is compelled to be concerned in it at all; and then that if anyone having engaged in the scheme, falls down on the job, since this is money which is paid out by the Minister and he is directly responsible to this House, it is the Minister's duty to see that the matter is dealt with effectively and by officials or by those with whom he is concerned.
I would say in answer to the hon. Member that the person appointed for the purpose by the Minister would be the local county agricultural executive committee collectively, or members of that committee. I am quite sure that the members of those committees generally, hearing these cases, will be sympathetic. I am also quite sure that in many cases they will be only too glad to welcome somebody to come with the farmer. I think that was the point the hon. Gentleman had particularly in mind.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
May I take it that the Minister is now saying that that will probably be included in the Bill in words?
§ Mr. Godber
I do not think it can be included in the Bill in words. I certainly 152 will look into that point, but the county agricultural executive committees will be very ready to do this at any time, and I do not think there will be any difficulty about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) asked me two questions. One was about marginal producers qualifying under the scheme. They can, of course, get grants to help with fertilisers in some form or another. His second question was on the cost of the scheme. It does not come within the Annual Price Review. The administration of the scheme comes on the establishment Vote. I think those were my hon. Friend's two questions.
The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), whom I cannot see at this moment, made what I thought was not at all a helpful speech in any sense. He quoted a case in Dorset, from which he sought to draw a moral. I think he could not have cited a worse case. I should be happy to argue that with him at length.
I have tried to deal with as many questions as possible, and in conclusion I should like to note the generally approving reception which has been afforded to this Measure. It has been generally recognised as the first courageous attempt to deal with this problem. I believe that it can produce results of long-term benefit to our agricultural community. Indeed, this is the third of an impressive list of pieces of legislation designed to bring up to date our agricultural legislation according to the needs of the postwar years. We had the 1957 Act which gave long-term guarantees and the Farm Improvement Scheme, which already have proved valuable. Then we had the 1958 Act which disposed of the obsolete disciplinary powers, and which was designed to put our landlord and tenant relationship on a healthier basis. We now have this Bill designed to grapple with the problem of the small farmer. All these Measures have for their object a healthy, sound agricultural community. It is in that context and against that background that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).