§ Mr. Godber
I beg to move, in page 4, line 48 to leave out from "on" to "a" and to insert:for the time being the business to which the programme relates".This is purely a drafting Amendment designed to clarify the position.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Godber
I beg to move, in page 5, line 3 after "person" to insert:and, if that person so requests, not more than one other person nominated by him in that behalf".This is another matter which we discussed in Committee. I then gave an undertaking that if an Amendment which had then been moved were withdrawn, we would seek to meet the point which hon. Members opposite had in mind. We have sought to do so in this way and we have provided for one other person, the choice of the farmer concerned, to go with 296 him to make representations against a proposed revocation. I hope that that fully meets the wishes of hon. Members opposite. I am grateful to them for drawing my attention to the matter.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Godber
I beg to move, in page 5, line 6 at the end to insert:a copy of which shall be supplied by the Minister to the first-mentioned person".This, again, makes a point raised in Committee by hon. Members opposite. In our usual conciliatory mood, we sought to help in every way we could. This closely follows the precedents set out in the Franks Report and we are grateful to hon. Members for bringing it to our attention.
Mr. T. Williams
I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few seconds in order to say, "Thank you" to the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary for having accepted the wise suggestions submitted by hon. Members on this side in Committee. It is not a very good Bill, but at least the Opposition have made it a little better than it was.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hare
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The objects of this short but very important Bill have commanded a wide measure of agreement among hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have had our disagreements but there has been a wide measure of agreement with the principles behind the Bill, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends for their very helpful and constructive attitude towards the Bill. As the right hon. Gentleman has just said, their efforts have resulted in a number of quite useful improvements.
Before I talk about the Bill in more detail, I hope that I shall not be out of order in saying a personal word about the tragic loss that we sustained, during our discussions, in the death of Sidney Dye. He was regarded with warm affection by hon. Members on both sides of the House and, as in so many of our agricultural debates, he made valuable contributions in our Second Reading debate as well as in our proceedings upstairs. I know that I am speaking for 297 the whole House when I say that he will be very sadly missed.
First, I want to deal with one or two matters to which I could not give a final answer in Committee and which have not come up by way of Amendments. The first concerns the farm business grant, which is such a very important feature of the small farmer scheme. The right hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends suggested that the instalments of this grant, as we proposed to pay them, after six, twelve, twenty-four and thirty-six months from the beginning of the farm business programme, were staggered too much. They wanted me to pay the whole or a large part of the farm business grant right at the start of the programme.
I think that would be going too far. As a result of the representations put forward by them, however, I have considered the question very carefully and have come to the conclusion that there might be too much of a gap after the payment of the second instalment, as I had originally weighted the scheme. I therefore intend to bring forward both the third and fourth instalments by six months. The four instalments will now be paid after six, twelve, eighteen, and thirty months after the beginning of the programme. I am glad to make this change. I think that it will be welcomed, and it will be helpful. It goes some way to meet the case put forward by hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
Does this mean that in every case the payments will be made at those intervals? We said that we thought that it would be advisable to speed up payment in certain cases; we did not suggest that it would be necessary in all cases.
§ Mr. Hare
The payments will be made at those intervals in every case. I can explain why I feel that, having gone this far, I cannot go as far as hon. Members opposite would like. I do not think that it would be right to pay a large proportion of the grant before the farmer has shown by positive action that he has got down to the job of carrying out his programme. It has been argued that many farmers would want to buy extra stock at the start of the programme, but the great majority will probably need to 298 carry out grassland improvements before they increase the numbers of stock they carry.
There will be some cases where the farmer would be justified in buying stock at the start, but in the last analysis I think that this problem may solve itself. The very fact that a small farmer has had a programme approved under the scheme should improve his credit-worthiness. This, in turn, should enable him to borrow money, in cases where he genuinely needs it right at the beginning of his programme, to supplement the first payment of grant which he will in any case receive six months after he starts work on his programme.
Before leaving the question of working capital I want to make one other point. The field husbandry grants for the improvement and renovation of grassland, and for ditching, are also at standard rates, and they are paid on top of other grants and subsidies. The total grant aid may well exceed the farmer's expenditure where he does the work himself, as he generally will. If he does his own ditching he will therefore have some extra cash in his pocket from that source. In a way, his position will be rather similar to that of a farmer who gets a grant on a standard costs basis for work he doss himself on improvements under the Farm Improvement Scheme. Our experience has been that this standard costs innovation has been widely welcomed and is working very well. The provisions under the small farmers scheme should, I believe, operate to the advantage of the small farmer in very much the same way.
In our proceedings upstairs we were very largely concerned with questions of eligibility. I undertook to satisfy myself that I had correctly stated the effect of the Bill in certain respects, and I have given the matter that consideration. I have already emphasised that the small farmer scheme will be concerned with small farm businesses which are capable of providing an adequate return to a full-time occupier. Our test for this will be that the business is capable of acquiring at least 275 standard man-days after improvement, as is laid down in the White Paper. The actual occupier need not be full-time; he may be working part-time, and be helped by his wife or other workers.
299 As hon. Members will be aware, provisional applications for both the small farmer scheme and the supplementary scheme were invited last week. Leaflets and application forms have been sent out in large numbers to all those farmers who had already notified the divisional offices of my Ministry of their interest in the schemes. I think that we are off to a pretty good start. The opening day was only 15th January—just six days ago—but from all I hear there has been a very welcome response in the demands for application forms and further explanation.
I have two more things to say. The first concerns the criticism that this scheme is simply a redistribution of income from one section of the farming community to another. That criticism is not justified. Of the £12 million which we estimate the scheme will cost in the first full year, £3 million will be extra money provided by the taxpayer to cover the greater use of the existing ploughing up and fertiliser subsidies which the scheme will encourage.
Another £3 million will be covered by the saving resulting from the ending of the marginal production scheme, and only the rest of the cost—the other £6 million —will go towards the guarantees settled at the coming 1959 Price Review. This £6 million will in general involve, of course, some redistribution from the larger to the smaller farms, but we must keep this in perspective. The amount is very small by comparison with the total of agricultural subsidies, which, we were reminded only a minute or two ago, have been running at between £250 million and £300 million a year.
When I first put forward our proposals, I was called a super-optimist, which phrase was actually used by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). He painted a gloomy picture in which the administration of the scheme was going to prove far too heavy a burden for the National Agricultural Advisory Service to bear. Yet, in all these latest stages of the Bill, we find that almost every major alteration which the Opposition have pressed for would have involved extending the scheme and increasing the burden on my Department.
Now, I have been told to offer loans instead of grants. I will not go into 300 that, because I have already stated the reasons why I cannot accept it. I have been told to extend the scheme to cover holdings at present excluded by the 20-acre lower limit. That again could only increase the burden of administering the scheme. Again, I know that some people feel that I ought to alter the man-days limit at the upper end of the scale to a higher figure.
In all these matters, I must stress the point which I have tried to make right from the start. We are making an honest attempt to tackle a problem which has been with the industry for many years, and to do that we are going to have to resort to methods which are new and untried. This is truly pioneer work, and it would indeed be foolish and arrogant if I were to claim for a moment that we had found the perfect answer at our first attempt. We shall be ready to learn from experience. If we find in a year or two that the limits we have set are too narrow, and that we can and ought to do more, we shall not be afraid to change our plans. Surely, this is not an unreasonable attitude for me to adopt?
I have slightly criticised the party opposite on one or two points, and I am not going to ask forgiveness for that. But this I would say. I do realise that there are honest differences of opinion between both sides of the House about the best way to help the small farmer. We have had our discussion on loans, and we have our differences about how far co-operation should go in order to enable farmers to qualify. These are definite differences of opinion. But I think that whatever our views about the means, we are in fact all agreed about the end.
We all want to put the small farmer in a healthy and competitive position. I am convinced that this Bill, and the schemes which we hope to make under it, offer us the best chance we have ever had so far of achieving just that. If I may sum up in three or four words the purpose of this Bill, I would say that it is to give a new deal, and a better deal than they have ever had before, to many thousands of small farmers.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Willey
May I first be permitted to join the Minister in paying tribute to Sidney Dye? When we had the Second Reading debate on this Bill, Sidney Dye spoke for the first—and as it proved to be 301 the last—time from this Front Bench. We all recognised him as a very real champion of the small farmer whom we have been discussing in our proceedings on this Bill, and I think we would all remember Sidney Dye as one of the most well loved Members in the House. We all have very great respect for him, and it is hard to believe that we shall not hear him again.
As the Minister has said, we have not opposed this Bill. We have not been as enthusiastic about it as the right hon. Gentleman now seems to appear. I do not know whether that is "Dutch courage," in view of what many farmers are now saying about the Bill. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to forgive me if I did not follow him in all that he said. I realise that he took the opportunity to say several things about the schemes to be introduced so that people can be better informed about them, but I think it is better to await the schemes before we discuss them in detail.
We have not opposed the Bill because we recognise that it will bring some welcome relief to sorely pressed small farmers. It was perhaps designed to mitigate the antipathy of many small farmers towards Tory agricultural policy, although I have never regarded the Bill as a political Measure. It is probably bureaucratic in conception. It is an endeavour to mitigate the harm that is being done to the small farmer by the policy which has been followed by the present Government over the past three years. Therefore, as I say, we are as unenthusiastic about the Bill as members of the National Farmers' Union seem to be at the moment, and as, indeed, some Government back benchers may well be. I have noted that two of the Government's spokesmen on agricultural matters have been silenced; they have been promoted to become Whips.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the rejection of our Amendments. By reason of that rejection we are more than ever convinced that the only purpose of the Government—the only purpose that has so far been revealed—is the scheme dealt with in the Government White Paper. We shall have an opportunity to debate that Order later. Again, like the National Farmers' Union, we regret the failure of the Government to modify their scheme in any way or to anticipate that further measures may be necessary. If 302 the right hon. Gentleman really believed that the Government intended to do more for the small farmer—if he shared the views of the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) that much more will have to be done—the Government would have been bound to accept some of our Amendments.
We have an enabling Bill, but we have not been able, as the right hon. Gentleman confessed, to extend the powers which the Government take under the Bill. We have no evidence that the Government will take the measures which are necessary. I am not blaming the Government for creating the small farmer problem, which is an intractable problem that has been with us for a very long time but I feel, as the producers feel, that the Government have aggravated the small farmer problem during the past few years. I do not want to go into any detail but it is shown by farm accounts—in the figures which have recently been published—that the farmer with fifty acres or less has seen his income decline over the past few years and that the small farmer has become relatively worse off during that time. I do not think that is disputed. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to concede that this was one of his anxieties and one of the purposes of the Bill.
We have to recognise, as the farmers do, that unfortunately this trend is likely to continue. The right hon. Gentleman called in aid the Economistwhen he was telling us of those who sounded the praises of his proposals. If I were in his office I would not be very enthusiastic about support from the Economist.In praising the action taken by the Government the Economistexpressly and specifically said that if the scheme was to benefit the national economy there would have to be further downward revisions at the next and the subsequent price reviews. This is not an encouraging prospect.
It is in that depressing context that we are bound to regard as disappointing the present Measure and the scheme which the Government have announced in the White Paper, for many reasons. I will touch upon only one or two of them. They are disappointing because very many potentially viable small farms will be outside the scheme which the Government are introducing. My right hon. Friend gave the figures when he spoke 303 on Second Reading. The Government estimate that they will assist and aid 65,000 farmers, 25,000 of them in the first year, but that is only touching the fringe of this problem. I think everyone believes that the Government are optimistic in putting forward those estimates.
In passing, I touch on something which I had hoped the right hon. Gentleman would mention. I again urge the Government to take all the steps they can to increase the Advisory Service. Unfortunately, this is a Cinderella service. I do not think its prospects have been helped by the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd). I think that has caused some concern, but I hope that the Government will consider the salary and career prospects of the members of the Advisory Service and try to achieve the purpose he has of expanding this Service in view of the calls that are going to be made upon it.
We have to recognise also—as the Government are bound to concede—that the position of many small farmers as a result of this Measure is going to be worsened. Not only will they receive no benefit whatsoever under the scheme, but they will have to contribute towards the expense of that scheme because it is a charge which will be loaded on to the Price Review. To take this action at the present moment is not only inadequate, but—I say this calculatedly—seems likely to drive many of these people to the wall. I cannot avoid a conclusion that this is one of the purposes of the present approach, that not only are those in the most unfortunate position excluded, but upon their shoulders is put the burden of contributing to the scheme itself. If the Government disagree with what I have said, they had better show some real urgency in tackling this problem.
Whether that result obtains or not, the fact remains that the Bill is inadequate and, as I have indicated, only a very partial endeavour to tackle the problem of the small farmer. I would be fair to the Government—this has been referred to already today—they have recognised this. In the White Paper they say they will give further study to the other small farmers, who are particularly adversely affected. If the Government are genuine in this endeavour they had better produce something quickly because this is a part 304 of the farming community which is most sorely pressed today. It is not easy; it is a difficult problem—a problem which, incidentally, the Economistrecognised— a problem wider than the approach made by the Government in the present Bill. It is at least partly a social problem and certainly something which should be recognised as a national responsibility.
For the Government to take steps which aggravate this problem and at the same time afford no immediate assistance to those very sturdy, independent people working in agriculture, is certainly something which is upsetting the industry. I apologise for going outside the contents of the Bill we are discussing, but I hope the Government will not lose any time in proceeding to endeavour to tackle this further problem affecting not only the farming community but the countryside. Moreover, this is not only a question of the countryside; this is adjusting something which at present is unfair.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about redistribution of income. In fact, surprisingly enough, there is a case to be made out now that there should be a readjustment of income, that if we examine price support the small farmer and the farmer on marginal land gets less than his due from the present arrangements. I would say from the point of view of the countryside and recognising that this is an acute social problem, and from the point of view of adjusting the unfairness of the present arrangements, that the Government ought to tackle the wider problem of the small farmer and the marginal producer.
To return strictly to the Bill and the scheme that we can anticipate from it, I ask the right hon. Gentleman not only to continue his study of the wider problem but to see whether between now and the introduction of the scheme he can make allowance for the criticisms—I believe constructive criticisms—that have been made not only from this side of the House but from outside the House, and get a sounder scheme than the one at present proposed by the Government. If we do not get a sounder scheme we shall get something which will bring some comfort to some small farmers, but I am afraid it will be no more than cold comfort.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Corfield
I welcome this Bill. I think we all agree that there is a case for weighting agricultural support in favour of those farmers who cannot, owing to the size of their farms, get the same advantages of large-scale production which are available to larger farmers.
However, once we go beyond that, the task of defining what farmers should come into this scheme is almost impossible, and I think that any definition is bound to be arbitrary to some extent and is bound to give rise to a great deal of criticism. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be unduly deterred by that criticism. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was very full of it. He talked a lot about unfairness and so on, but he was careful to skate clear of the problem of definition. I believe that that is the crux. It is impossible to define the actual group of farmers whom one should help in a way which avoids drawing entirely arbitrary lines somewhere or other.
The real point to which I wish to draw attention goes to the root of the qualification for assistance under the Bill as it is now drafted. According to the White Paper, the basic qualification is that the farm business should becapable, with reasonable management, of giving remunerative full-time employment to the average occupier.Later on in paragraph 7 of the White Paper that is amplified in the following words:…capable of yielding a net income broadly equivalent to the average earnings of a skilled agricultural worker.That is basically the same qualification as under the farm improvement scheme of the 1957 Act. They are not the words which are used in the Act, but they are virtually the same words as were used in the White Paper which preceded that Act and to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred in Committee when discussing an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion). He said:We intend to be governed very largely by that definition,"—that is the definition in the White Paper—but when it comes to writing it into the Bill, there are certain reasons for which we have felt it right not to confine it absolutely 306 to these words…We felt it right to give ourselves a little latitude in this, while saying that we stand by that definition as an approximation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,Standing Committee A,2nd May, 1957; c. 226]I have come across cases in which farmers who have applied for improvement grants under the 1957 Act have been turned down on the very ground that their holdings are not capable of providing this reasonable income for their occupiers. They then find when the White Paper is published, which gives an idea of the scheme that we are going to have under this Bill, that their standard labour requirement is too high for them to qualify, that they have more than 450 man-days. I suggest it is ridiculous to pretend that they are uneconomic. If they are too economic for the purposes of the small farmers scheme, and the basic consideration of qualification is the same in each case, it is quite absurd to say that they are too uneconomic to qualify for an improvement grant.
Of course, it is argued that under the improvement grant scheme of the 1957 Act the definition applies to the land and buildings and that this scheme applies to the business and the men, but I suggest that that is a distinction without a difference. Under the farm improvements scheme we have to look at the land in conjunction with the occupier. The land for the benefit of which the improvement is proposed is to be agricultural land occupied together with buildings, etc., and must be capable of yielding a sufficient livelihood to an occupier reasonably skilled in husbandry. I suggest that once we consider land and buildings of a farming nature in conjunction with the occupier we are considering the farm business in the same way as we are doing under this scheme.
I should have thought that if the standard labour requirement under this scheme of 450 days is a reasonable measure of income corresponding to a good agricultural worker, and if the farmer has shown that his land is capable of carrying that additional labour, he has quite clearly shown that that farm is capable of being economic. It is absurd to draw a fine distinction and say that he is not economic, although he is too economic for the other scheme.
I was rather disturbed earlier on, when dealing with the Amendment relating to small farmers who do not qualify but 307 wish to co-operate, to hear my right hon. Friend say that he would accept a very loose form of agreement and would not insist on a legal partnership. It seems to me that in any form of joint undertaking in agriculture perhaps more than any other it is essential for the welfare of the people concerned that their rights and obligations should be clearly defined. To encourage small farmers to go into these undertakings without doing so is absolute folly. It is not the two or three guineas which one pays for one's partnership agreement which puts all the money into the lawyers' pockets. It is the hundreds of pounds which accrue when a dispute arises because one has not done that very thing. I beg my right hon. Friend to insist upon a properly drawn agreement.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Watkins
I agree with the point that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) raised about economic holdings. I hope that he will be able in future to say something about the position in mid-Wales. The hon. Member also suggested that proper agreements should be drawn up. I would not go so far as that because I find that if the farmers whom I represent come to an understanding with one another and shake hands on it they will stand by it.
I was glad that the Minister, in moving the Third Reading, made reference to what I think is an important aspect, namely, the eligibility of part-time farmers for grants under the scheme. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make the point clear again, although it may only be restating what the Minister has said, namely, that the scheme does not apply only to whole-time farmers.
The Mid-Wales Investigation Report made a tentative suggestion about the compulsory amalgamation of small farms, although it was not accepted by the Government, and expressed favour for voluntary associations of farms. Because of that report the South Wales Electricity Board seems to think that that is the policy of the Government, but I am glad to say that it is not. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will reiterate what has been said. If there is the possibility of the amalgamation of viable holdings, either full-time or part-time, I hope that grants will be given towards them.
308 On 30th July last year the South Wales Electricity Consultative Council felt thatit would be wrong for the Board to use some of the limited amount of capital available for rural electrification in providing supplies to rural premises which might well be vacated when amalgamations envisaged by the Sub-Commission come about.The South Wales Electricity Board expressed itself in the same vein. It said, on 12th September, 1958:…If the amalgamation of farms mentioned in the Report should take place, the number of premises to be connected will presumably be less than at present, and we sincerely hope some clarification will have taken place by the time we come to deal with the Area.Surely clarification is now required to ascertain whether certain holdings will provide good prospects of agricultural production.
The Board continues:Otherwise there appears to be a grave danger of effort and capital being applied wastefully to supply premises which will, in due course, be vacated.I am glad that the Minister does not accept that point of view.
On 22nd December, 1958, the Consultative Council stated that it would not be justifiedin recommending that additional capital should be devoted to rural works or that any area such as the Mid-Wales Area should be given special treatment.The area is composed entirely of farms. I am glad that I have been able to bring that point into the Third Reading of this important Bill. Mid-Wales is not a desolate area, but has in it economic holdings which should be supplied with electricity. The fact is that they do not get electricity and that is why the South Wales Area Board is the worst area board in Britain.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will also consider sympathetically any borderline cases. I would ask him to consider mid-Wales more than any other area, but I ask him to give consideration to the borderline cases if he thinks that there is a prospect of the holdings becoming economic. For instance, money can be saved by grants from the Minister of Agriculture, and I suggest that the electricity boards should not be allowed to charge large amounts for bringing electricity to the farms. The electricity boards, in turn, take advantage of the small farmers' scheme or the farm improvements scheme for buildings which pay 309 33⅓ per cent. or 50 per cent. towards other schemes. There is thus an indirect subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture to the electricity board, and the board is taking advantage of this. I hope that something will be done about that. I suggest that the Minister should ask his officers, who are in liaison with the electricity board, to watch this.
I hope that the Minister will put into operation what he said when he spoke in Committee about the under-20-acres man and the excess man-days. He said that the Government would consider an alteration of the scheme after some experience, and he said that he was by no means inflexible in his ideas. I wonder how many ideas he has already had. How many ideas has he had from the farmers' organisations about alterations in the requirements for crops and livestock production? How many ideas has he had, and to what extent have his ideas become more flexible than they were during the Committee stage? Will he try the scheme for just one year or two years, and so on?
I was very disappointed to hear what the Minister said this evening about the new schemes not being available for farmers working under 20 acres because of the burden upon the administration. I do not want this to be merely an intention in the future. If people have looked at this aspect of the matter now and reported that the farms under 20 acres should be brought in, I hope that the Minister will not turn that down flatly with the excuse about the burden on administration in future.
How many applications are likely to be received from Wales? The Minister, I think, said that, in the first twelve months, 25,000 schemes are expected under the Bill. In reply to one of my hon. Friends, the Parliamentary Secretary said that there are 28,000 full-time farm businesses in Wales, and one-third of them would qualify. How many of the one-third will qualify for schemes in the first year within the 25,000 for England and Wales? These things are important, because they show whether the Ministry's first impressions are as good as the hon. Gentleman led us to believe that they were. The people with 100 or 150 acres who may come into the scheme are very efficient farmers. The point has been put by hon. Gentlemen opposite as well as by my hon. Friends.
310 The number actually coming under the scheme may be less than that first indicated by the Parliamentary Secretary.
Finally, I reiterate what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). I cannot expect any statement from the Parliamentary Secretary now on this, but I hope that there will be no reduction in the guaranteed prices, particularly to those having less than 20 acres or those above the standard man-days in order to provide for the £9 million contribution. I make the plea that they should not have another penalty put upon them, and I hope that their guaranteed prices will not be detrimentally affected.
I respect all that has been said about the Bill, and I hope that it will have a Third Reading.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Sir A. Baldwin
First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having introduced the Bill, and I congratulate him also for the way he has stood up to criticism from both sides of the House. No matter how one may criticise, one must recognise that he is the first Minister of Agriculture to tackle this problem. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said that we had aggravated the position of the small farmer during the last three years, but I cannot for a moment accept that. The problem of the small farmer has been with us for many years, and this is the first attempt made to try to remedy the troubles which exist.
I want my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to pass a plea on to my right hon. Friend. Upstairs, the Minister said that he would review the position in two or three years. I suggest that that is much too long a time. As soon as it is ascertained what the response is and what the applications are under the Bill, steps should be taken to see whether another scheme can soon be formulated to meet the needs of those farmers who do not come under the scheme because their farms are either too large or too small.
There is no doubt that a great deal of dissatisfaction exists in rural constituencies because so many small farmers having under 20 acres or other farmers having over 150 acres will suffer as a 311 result of the marginal production grants being done away with, and they will not come into the small farmers' scheme.
One bright spot I noted this afternoon was the statement that the marginal agricultural production scheme is to be kept on for another twelve months. During that time, the Ministry ought to be able to form some idea about whether the response will be as overwhelming as the Department apparently thought it would be. If the Ministry finds that it will not be overwhelmed with applications under this scheme, it should at once take steps to formulate another one.
I regard it as a great mistake to cut out the small farmers having under 20 acres. For many years, county councils have been creating smallholdings; they have been buying big farms and cutting them up. In my own constituency, there are about 15 county council smallholdings under 20 acres which will not qualify under the Bill. That is something that should be recognised.
I do not agree with the argument that is always put forward that we must not assist a small man either with a farm improvement grant or under the small farmer scheme because he is not a viable unit. I get extremely tired of hearing that. It is time we thought along an altogether different line.
Many of these small men with less than 20 acres are farmworkers who have a bit of ambition and want to become small farmers. They take their 10 or 15 acres of land, continue their work on the farm, get up a bit earlier in the morning to do the work on their smallholding and continue when they get back at night, their wives carrying on during the day. That kind of unit might not be viable, but these are the people whom I would like to see encouraged. Many of today's bigger farmers started as farmworkers. By the steps we take in the Bill, we are removing one or two rungs from the ladder of advance for these people. I am all in favour of the part-time worker being encouraged.
We have had discussion today of the amalgamation of two smallholdings of less than 20 acres to qualify for grant. Knowing as I do the mentality of most small farmers and smallholders, who are extremely independent people, I consider 312 the prospect of two of them uniting to come in under this scheme to be extremely small. I would sooner see those two small farmers helped independently rather than be expected to amalgamate to come in under the scheme.
This afternoon we heard a great deal from our Scottish friends on both sides of the House about the marginal production scheme. No one from either side of the House pleaded for either England or Wales. England and Wales, particularly the Border counties, are hit just as badly as the Scottish farmers by losing the marginal production scheme. I hope that in the fresh scheme which my right hon. Friend will introduce he will bring forward a scheme to help not only the men with less than 20 acres but also the farmers on marginal land who, possibly, may not be qualified because of the standard man days test but who are having a difficult job to get a living on marginal land. We want to encourage these farmers.
We must go on encouraging full production in agriculture. If there is a reduction in values at the Price Review, and if we do not help those marginal farmers under this scheme, they will drop their production. The country cannot afford to reduce production. Our population is increasing rapidly. Every year we lose something like 35,000 acres of agricultural land, generally the best land. If we do not keep agriculture fully productive, we will find that we are up against a problem of balance of payments much more serious than in the past. I therefore implore my right hon. Friend and the Ministry to ensure that they keep the marginal and small farmers in full production. The need was never more urgent than at present.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Gooch
I can endorse one of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin), when he said that the real objective of a Bill of this nature will not be reached because the people mostly in need are left outside. That is true and is a point of view which has been stressed during our debates on the Bill.
The Minister said that he was pleased with the wide measure of agreement with the Bill. Whilst there may be an agreement upon fundamentals, the debates both in Committee and on the 313 Floor of the House have clearly indicated that there are two divergent views upon the main principles of the Bill. What is more, I should not like the debate tonight to end without calling the attention of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the fact that there was strong, and certainly influential, criticism of the Bill right up to yesterday.
When a prominent member of the National Farmers' Union says that the Bill stinks, I should have thought that it was the obvious duty of the Minister to reflect and see what was meant. The same speaker at yesterday's annual meeting of the National Farmers' Union said he was surprised that the N.F.U. should have had anything to do with it. That does not speak hopefully of securing the support of the farming community on the Bill. I hoped throughout, especially during the progress of the Bill in Committee, that it would have been withdrawn and something more useful, which would be of tremendous assistance to the small and deserving farmer, would be put in its place.
I am certainly not opposed to putting small farmers in a position to take their place with the larger ones. I am concerned with the wages and working conditions of farmworkers. The object of the Bill, if achieved, would have helped us enormously in securing better wages and working conditions for those who work on the land. That is what I hoped the Bill would do. I want the small as well as the large farmer to be in a position to pay good wages, and to that end I certainly supported the Bill.
I want, however, to make a few general remarks. Certainly, the small farmer scheme will be limited in operation and will, I suggest, cause tremendous dissatisfaction in its working. The basis of such a scheme should be low-interest loans made available to a wider range of applicants. The most objectionable feature of the Bill is that it does not bring new money into the industry but aims at spreading a little bit further the money that is already there.
I was not surprised to learn that the Norfolk branch of the National Farmers' Union passed a resolution only a few days ago placing on record that a large proportion of the small farmers of Norfolk—the county in which I live—will gain no benefit from the schemes but will contribute substantially to their costs. This 314 is not a case of large farmers actuated by good will contributing finance to help small farmers. Many farmers are prepared at all times to help small farmers in cultivation, and their help is of great value, but when it is a question of handing out money it is another matter.
The Bill really conveys a wrong impression, and I hope that that impression will be removed. It is an impression to the public of Government assistance being given to small farmers, whereas it is not Government assistance, certainly not to the extent of £6 million, to small farmers but a case of the farmers themselves contributing to a general fund out of which some of them hope to get something. There is general alarm and resentment that these schemes should be financed out of the total Price Review award. The question which I have heard asked seriously lately, and to which the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary should address themselves, is whether this is the thin end of the wedge and whether price support is really in danger. I ask the Minister and the Government to think seriously about this. These two points are certainly being advanced and they call for an answer.
It is too late, of course, now to ask the Minister to withdraw the Bill. It will go forward. I can only hope that some of its objectives will be reached, but I hope also that when a Government of a different colour come into office they will produce something of real and lasting benefit to the small working farmers of the country.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hall
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), at the opening of the Third Reading debate, described the problem of the small farmer as intractable, as indeed it is. I doubt whether any Minister of Agriculture, of whatever side, would be able to produce a scheme which would meet the unqualified approval of the farming community, but I think that it is true to say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) pointed out, that this is the first time that a really determined effort has been made to tackle this problem. I doubt whether the National Farmers' Union, if asked to do so, unless it were allowed some limited access to Treasury funds, would itself be able to produce a scheme which would be acceptable to the farming community as a whole.
315 Like many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have talked to farmers in their constituencies, I have heard some praise and, of course, a good deal of criticism. Some of the criticism has not been altogether on the lines that have been mentioned in the debate. I have heard one or two of my more successful small farmers complain to me privately that they could not really see why grants should be given to other small farmers because they were inefficient. They asked why a premium should not be given to them for being efficient and making their farms pay. They did not like the idea of money going to people whom they regarded as somewhat idle and not very capable. But, taking all that into account, one must welcome the Bill as a courageous and even ingenious attempt to solve this difficult problem which has exercised our minds for many years.
All I would do in this short contribution to the debate is to ask the Minister to look at two matters when the time comes to review the scheme for which the Bill provides. I am not at all satisfied that the man-day formula is not being too restrictively calculated. In studying the situation in my own constituency and Buckinghamshire generally, I find that the Ministry calculates that some 40 to 45 per cent. of farms between 20 and 100 acres are likely to qualify. The estimates my farmers make are that the number will be less than that, and my own estimate, having gone round a number of small farms, is that the total number which will qualify will probably not exceed 30 per cent. I should like the Minister to consider the formula and calculation to see whether they should not be adjusted a little when the matter is reconsidered.
There is another problem which is very difficult and to which I see no immediate solution. It is the problem of the farmer who is efficient and who by reason of his efficiency puts himself outside the scheme on the man-day formula. I have a case in my own constituency. A young man who started farming in Buckinghamshire last year on a 50-acre farm, by dint of a considerable period of very hard work and a readiness to accept a very low standard of life and by mortgaging himself up to the hilt and by raising loans wherever he could and by putting every- 316 thing back into his farm in that year and increasing his stock, in a comparatively short time increased the efficiency of the farm a great deal. Last year, he would have qualified. This year he does not do so. He does not do so because he has been prepared to work much harder and because he has been much more able than others.
It was for that reason that, in Committee, I suggested that the Minister should give himself power to make loans available to meet cases of that kind. If capital could be made available to such a man, who has shown that he is able to increase the productivity of his farm, and if the rates of interest were low, that would be a great boon to him and would help him over the difficult first few years of the development and formation of his farm.
Those are the only two points I wanted to make and I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider them when he reviews the Bill, as he has promised to do, at a later stage. Nevertheless, I welcome the Bill as a determined and useful contribution to the solution of the very difficult problem of the small farm.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Hayman
The Preamble to the Bill says that it is toProvide for the making of grants for the purpose of increasing the efficiency of small farm businesses; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.However, it is not all small farm businesses, but only some of them, and it is because the number is so restricted that we have felt that the Bill is inadequate. It covers farms of between 20 and 100 acres, but of those only 75,000 to 80,000 are likely to benefit, although the Minister put the maximum number at 90,000. There are 136,000 separate holdings of under 20 acres in this country and they represent about 25 per cent. of all our farms.
Few of those can benefit. As the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) pointed out, the efficient small farmer is excluded from the benefit of the scheme because of the rule about 450 man-days maximum. Many of the intensively run small-holdings under 20 acres—of which there are many in Cornwall—are cut out of the benefits of the Bill because of this maximum. I agree with the hon. Member 317 for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) that the part-time smallholder is often on the first or second rung of the ladder to becoming an efficient farmer on a much bigger farm. Many of the leaders of the Cornwall branch of the N.F.U. have risen from the lower rungs of that ladder in that way.
Under the Bill it would seem that the efficiently run holdings of 20 acres or less, and a great number of part-time holdings, will be excluded from benefit. In spite of what the Minister said, these men will be paying the bulk of the cost of financing the scheme, because about £6 million out of the £9 million is to be taken out of the Price Review.
I would point out to the Parliamentary Secretary that from the figures he kindly gave me recently it is clear that in Cornwall there have been an average of 820 approvals for aid under the marginal production scheme in each of the last five full financial years. There, the scheme is also to be sacrificed, as has been pointed out many times this afternoon, to provide the finance for the carrying out of the Bill.
The Minister made play with the Opposition because they had suggested improvements which would have put more work upon the National Agricultural Advisory Service, but the Parliamentary Secretary gave me an assurance in Committee that, if necessary, that service would be expanded. I hope that there will be no hesitation on the part of the Minister to expand it to meet the needs of the schemes put forward under the Bill and to carry on the normal work of the service. This normal work is too good to be sacrificed even for the benefits of the Bill.
Yesterday, at the Annual Conference of the National Farmers' Union, a resolution proposed by the Cornwall branch was carried unanimously. That resolution deplored the refusal of the Minister of Agriculture to remove the lower acreage limit which excluded many viable farms of under 20 acres. The chairman, Mr. Mutton, said:The position of the small farmer under 20 acres is almost a tragedy.That is the verdict of the farmers of Cornwall, and I can say no more than that.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
We should probably all agree that the House has had some excellent debates during the various stages of the Bill. It is obvious that since the end of the Second World War both parties have had a greater appreciation of the vital importance of agriculture to our economy. I should say that it is probable that more attention has been paid to British agriculture in this Parliament in the last fifteen years than was paid to it in the previous thirty years. That is only a generalisation, which I cannot definitely prove but which I feel.
Without wishing to be too political, I would say that it is no good hon. Members saying that this is the first time that small farmers have been considered. If the part is contained in the whole it can be said that the 1947 Agriculture Act which was brought in by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), was a prop for British agriculture the like of which it had not had before. In that Act the small farmer was given a prosperity and a consideration that he had never had previously. In this Act, however, the man with under 20 acres has been left out.
Why was this Bill produced? We all know, in the House and in the country, that never before has the Conservative Party been criticised, as it has been in the last few years, at National Farmers' Union annual meetings. We are not children. The Bill was produced in a rush, but it is ingenious, although the mathematics of the man-days may yet prove its downfall, because, as has been said, it is possible, under the formula of man-days and the production of grass, for a man to work himself completely out of the scheme. What an absurdity in British agriculture that he can work himself out.
When I begged for loans for the small farmer, both in this House today and during the Committee stage, I was told by the Minister, who was very courteous, smiling and kindly, that it would be putting too much of a burden on the N.A.A.S. But Clause 2 (3) throws an overwhelming burden on the N.A.A.S., because when the farmer receives a grant and wants that grant to be continued, he has to prove that he is doing good farming. It is there in the Clause, and it means that the N.A.A.S., while doing the 319 book-keeping part of it, must go hopping around the country watching these farms.
I can remember the use of the word "snooping" when the Labour Government were in power. It was called an ugly word when the country was tough and we had just come out of the bitterest war in the history of mankind. It was called "snooping", but this ugly word is forgotten now; the same thing is called intelligent overseeing or justifiable watching over the taxpayers' money. Maybe there is a psychological difference between those high falutin' phrases and "snooping", but there is snooping in this Bill. Not only that, but in this rushed but ingenious Bill there is reference to the Price Review and its position in regard to the general income of the farmers.
I mentioned in this House today and earlier in Committee the fact that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen can speak from now till doomsday, but the fact is that this is in the main a self-financing scheme, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley has said, £6 million of it is to be found out of the National Price Review. Well might people say "Is this going to take away the Price Review ultimately?"
We were accused by the Housewives' League and other organisations which went from one end of Britain to the other saying that the British Labour Party wants to nationalise the land. Where is this amalgamation taking us? Now, irrespective of the humanities, the cry is for viability. Viability at a price—never mind the human soul, and never mind Britain's countryside. This is a new cry from the Tories.
I know that it would be completely out of order for me to make a wager with you, Mr. Speaker—but I would bet you a beetroot to a pig's trotter that the party opposite will produce a small farmers' scheme in its manifesto for the next General Election; and I mean for the farmers with under 20 acres.
There are two other points I want to make. The party opposite has divided farmers against themselves. They have got the biggest farmers well away up in the blue skies of prosperity, but the little men, still struggling on the marginal land in my own constituency of Leek, or that of my hon. Friend in Cornwall, or in 320 Merioneth, or Radnor and counties like that, or in Scotland, are divided against themselves and also against the bigger farmers. They are asking why could not something have been done for themselves and their wives, and we very often forget that it is the wife of the small farmer who gets much of England's fresh food on to the breakfast table.
These small men are now divided. There are 1,710 farms of under 20 acres in North Staffordshire, with 1,340 of them in my constituency, and the men who farm them are not going to get anything out of this. Why could we not have given a little more thought to them? Why could not there be introduced into this Bill, when we were debating an Amendment to Clause 1 this afternoon, provision for them? Why could not the Minister say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) that he would help them by granting loans for the purpose of taking water and electricity to farms? This would have been a means of real help for the farmer with under 20 acres.
It would be worth while some of the farmers in the House having the courage to attack vigorously the monopolies that are digging themselves into the farming fraternity. I still want to know the facts about fertilisers, about the rubber industry and about the oil industry, which is making huge profits. It is the duty of some party in this country to see that British agriculture is not sacrified to monopolies in that way.
Nevertheless, despite that denunciation, I know that half a loaf is better than no bread. After all, the workers of Britain have never had more than half a loaf from the Tory Party. Therefore, I accept this moderate aid that is to be given to some of the small farmers. The Bill is much better for the constructive criticism of my right hon. and hon. Friends than it would have been had we not discussed it so thoroughly as we have.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Sir Harold Roper (Cornwall, North)
I would make one point very briefly. I fully share the views expressed by many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, including my hon. Friends the Members for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) and Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), in giving great 321 credit to the Government for tackling this very difficult problem.
Disappointment has been expressed on both sides of the House that the benefits of the Bill cannot be extended to all small farmers who, we feel, are deserving of them, particularly those with less than 20 acres and some of those in the hill tracts that are more than 150 acres. I am concerned about the working of the Bill and with the Minister's statement that the cost will be covered in the Price Review and will come out of the global figure.
On the face of it it seems that these farmers, particularly those with under 20 acres, will lose twice over. They will not merely fail to receive the benefits of the scheme, being excluded from it, but they will share in the cost of the benefits given to the other small farmers. We are told that it will involve a very small amount, but a small amount can mean a great deal to a small farmer who is in great need of cash. I hope that in considering the Price Review, in February, the Minister will do his best to see that no injustice is done to those small, deserving farmers who are outside the scope of the Bill, and moreover, that justice will be seen to be done.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Champion
I do not propose to make a Third Reading speech, but I want to raise one point on this Bill. There seems to be some misunderstanding about the position in England and Wales in relation to what appeared to be a concession announced by the Secretary of State for Scotland this afternoon. That was referred to by the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin), who appeared to be labouring under a misapprehension about the position as it relates to England and Wales.
During the course of that debate, I mentioned to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that I was hoping for an opportunity to ask this question and to have the answer to it because, having heard what appeared to be a concession to Scotland, it seemed that there was in this Bill another injustice to England and Wales. We must stand up for England and Wales against this Celtic difficult fringe. I am anxious to ensure that if concessions are to be made we in England and Wales are to get our share, or, if not, that there is a reasonable explanation.
322 Apart from that, the only thing I wish to do is to wish the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary success in the difficult task which lies ahead of them.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Godber
May I start by thanking the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) for the brevity of his winding-up speech and for the very kind words at its close. We certainly appreciate those good wishes; indeed, I think we shall need them because we have frankly admitted that this is a difficult scheme to administer, as I think is recognised by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
It is perfectly true that this afternoon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland did make some concession in regard to the marginal agricultural production scheme in relation to Scotland. That does not apply in relation to England and Wales. They are entirely separate schemes and have never been comparable. The provisions on both sides of the Border are wholly different in this sphere.
I can put it most clearly to the House if I explain that, generally speaking, marginal production schemes in England are of an ad hocnature designed to suit particular problems of particular farmers at particular times, but in Scotland over a period of years there has been a system of annual cropping grants which farmers have come to rely on to a considerable extent. That is an entirely different scheme. There never has been a direct comparison. While I sympathise with the hon. Member in his desire to see that the Scots do not get away with too much in this place, I am afraid that for a long time they have succeeded in doing that, and it is inevitable with their persuasive nature.
I now come to some of the other points which have been raised. A number of hon. Members have sought to make the point that because there are only a limited number of small farmers who will benefit under the scheme, we are being unjust to other small farmers who are outside. I say quite frankly to the House that had we sought to do anything on a larger scale I do not think we could have envisaged bringing in a scheme at all. Successive people at successive stages have looked at the small 323 farmers' problem, but until now no one has been able to bring forward a scheme.
My right hon. Friend rightly recognised that in bringing forward this scheme he could not go so far as everyone would wish. Nevertheless he thought it right to take a step which would be, of material advantage to many small farmers in helping them to help themselves. This is not a dole but direct help to farmers to help themselves; and it is important to stress that.
My right hon. Friend has also made it quite clear that he has not closed his mind to the possibility of extensions at some later date. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins), who rightly reminded us of what was said in Committee, but I can add nothing further to that at this stage. We must see how it works out. We must take time. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) pleaded that we should not wait the length of time my right hon. Friend has anticipated. I think we must wait and see how it works out, and certainly we must have at least twelve months' actual working of the scheme before we can possibly consider whether we should be justified in making any alterations.
There are those who have said that the means of financing the scheme are such that those who do not qualify— the under 20 acres men, the non-viables —will be unfairly treated as they will be helping to contribute but getting no advantage. We must get this absolutely clear and see the way in which this is being financed. The amount in dispute is £6 million. I will not go over the question of how that is arrived at; we have talked about it many times. That £6 million will rank for consideration at the Price Review. It is nothing more nor less than that. That £6 million can only be said to be found from the pockets of other farmers if the Government of the day decide to make the maximum cut that is possible. Only in those circumstances can it be said that they are in fact contributing directly.
No one can say what the outcome of the Price Review will be. I am certainly not going to announce it at this Box tonight. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am sorry to disappoint hon. Members. I 324 realise how disappointed they may be, but until one can see the outcome one cannot say whether other farmers are financing the scheme or not. Even if they are, we must get the matter in perspective. This £6 million is out of a total of £250 million to £300 million in actual grant. To put it another way, it is out of the total value of the guarantees, which was £1,278 million last year, and so the percentage is far less.
As I said on Second Reading, there are those who said that over recent years we have not provided for small farmers. We are seeking to start to provide for them and it is generally accepted that what we are doing is fair and right. I am sorry the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) is not now present, but I must mention him now because he chided me in Committee for not having referred to his Second Reading speech. So, on Third Reading, I must do him justice. He quoted various things which members had said at the annual meeting of the N.F.U. only yesterday. I would remind him that, whatever individual members have said, the N.F.U. set out officially its viewpoint when it made a statement after the announcement of the scheme. It used these words:Although the Union's representatives have pressed unsuccessfully for substantial changes in the Schemes, they do recognise that they represent a serious attempt to raise the economic and technical standards of a part of the industry experiencing considerable difficulty at the present time".I think that is an indication of sound statesmanship on the part of the N.F.U. It is willing to work with us in trying to get the best possible out of these schemes. It is important to remember that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) asked me specifically about the comparison with the farm improvement scheme. He felt that there should be unanimity of approach between the small farmer scheme and the farm improvement scheme. I sympathise with his view but I cannot agree with his argument. One must consider these matters separately, because in the farm improvement scheme cases we are considering long-term measures related to the holding and to the land. In the small farmer scheme we are considering purely the farm business as it is managed by the person at present occupying it.
325 My hon. Friend read from Section 12 of the 1957 Act, but he did not read far enough. He referred tothe land for the benefit of which the improvement is proposed is agricultural land occupied together with buildings and is capable of yielding a sufficient livelihood to an occupier…He stopped there. It goes on to say:… reasonably skilled in husbandry…"—in fact, not to the actual occupier at the time but to a hypothetical occupier. That is written into that Act. But in this small farmer scheme we are considering the actual man and his own productivity. They are two separate things.
§ Mr. Corfield
Would my hon. Friend not agree that, having achieved more than 450 man-days, a farmer has proved himself reasonably skilled in husbandry? Has he not, therefore, satisfied the test of the 1957 Act?
§ Mr. Godber
My hon. Friend has not taken my point. The man has proved himself to be reasonably skilled in husbandry but it is not the man himself whom we have to consider in relation to the farm improvement scheme. It is the hypothetical occupier of that farm and not the actual occupier whom we have to consider. There is a distinct difference, and that is the reason why we cannot marry the two absolutely. I can sympathise with my hon. Friend's point of view. It would be so much easier if we could follow that line, but for the reasons given we cannot do so.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor asked me certain questions about numbers of cases involved. The estimated number eligible for the small farmer scheme in relation to Wales as a whole is 9,000. We anticipate that we may get applications in the first twelve months certainly in excess of 3,000. In fact, the hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that already 1,300 or more farmers have asked for application forms. It looks as though the applications are coming in fairly rapidly in Wales—in fact, more quickly than in some other parts of the country.
326 The hon. Gentleman referred also to borderline cases. It has already been made clear that we will do what we can in borderline cases. We must have some definite limits, but there is flexibility to the extent that a man with under 250 man-days can put forward a scheme, provided he can convince our officials that at the end of the time he will be over 275 man-days. Then he will be able to come into the scheme. That is a substantial concession which should be useful to the smaller people whom he has in mind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster raised the same point which the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East raised, and I have tried to deal with it and clarify the position. Various other questions have been asked but I think that we have had a fairly adequate debate and that what I have said should be sufficient to convince hon. Members that we are trying to provide a workmanlike scheme which can be improved as it goes along. We have made clear our willingness to bring forward new schemes if they are necessary. The legislation as at present framed will enable us to do that.
We are feeling our way in a new field. We are doing something which we believe will be really valuable and practical for the small farmers. This is the third of a series of Measures designed to ensure the continued long-term health of British agriculture and I believe it is so accepted in general by the farming community. We have had criticisms. No doubt, we shall continue to have them in a Measure of this sort, but there is a general measure of good will towards what we are trying to do, and, in spite of the criticisms from hon. Members opposite, I believe there is an element of good will and a desire that this scheme shall prosper. I welcome that, and I welcome the response generally that this Bill has had from the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.