Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Potatoes (Guaranteed Prices) (Amendment) Order, 1961 (S.I., 1961, No. 1119), dated 16th June, 1961, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st June, be approved.—[Mr. Vane.]
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I wonder whether the Minister is to give us an explanation of this Order. We have all read it and we are somewhat mystified by it, but I am sure that if the Minister makes a speech its meaning will become absolutely plain.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)
I did not want to make a speech if it was not necessary, because the Order is very simple. As hon. Members will know, it is to effect a minor adjustment in the guarantee arrangements for next year's main crop potatoes to implement a decision arising out of the 1961 Annual Review. It is a small matter which does not affect the basic guarantee arrangement at all.
The principal Order sets out the method by which Ministers estimate the quantity of potatoes eligible for guarantee, and, as the Order now stands, account may be taken of potatoes sold through approved channels by purchasers registered either with the Potato Marketing Board in Great Britain, or with the Ministry of Agriculture for Northern Ireland.
In the course of the 1961 Annual Review it was represented by the producers' organisations that these arrangements would result in a small understatement of the total sales for the purpose of a guarantee to the extent that they did not include potatoes sold through the recognised channels by certain producers in Great Britain who are exempt from registration under the potato marketing scheme because their acreage is too small. These are producers who grow less than one acre of potatoes and others in certain Scottish Islands and the Isles of Scilly. These producers are now brought into the calculations where they sell their potatoes through the recognised channels.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the yield of potatoes can vary tremendously from year to year, and we have variations, too, in the acreage sown to potatoes. It is therefore not possible to be precise from year to year, but I would say that it would be tens of thousands of tons, and not hundreds of thousands of tons, in an average year. When compared with the total size of the crop, I think that I am justified in saying that any difference which will be effected by this Order will be minimal.
The producers consider that it will be a fairer way of calculating the guarantee to make this small alteration. The Government agree, and I hope that the House will approve the Order.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
Before this Order is approved, I want to ask what we consider to be an important question. We are grateful to the Minister for giving us an explanation, and we are also glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is in charge of agriculture, in his place.
The Under-Secretary of State will he aware of the strong feeling in the House and in the country about the use of Scottish children during school periods for potato lifting. We have been assured by the Government that after this year these chidren will no longer be used for potato harvesting.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Can the hon. Lady help me about how that can be related to this Order which appears to alter some element in the assessment?
§ Miss Herbison
I was coming to that, Mr. Speaker. I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland whether this Order will make it impossible, because of prices, for the farmers to uplift their potato crops without the help of children.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
In paragraph 2 (a) of this Order we are told that a "producer" now means "a producer of "pototoes". Can my hon. Friend say what a producer meant before if it did not mean a producer of 721 potatoes, and why it is necessary to make this alteration?
As I understand it, since we went on to the present form of guarantees, the amount of potatoes considered necessary for human consumption in any one year as the basis of the guarantee was 3,800,000 tons. Is this marginal adjustment which my hon. Friend mentioned likely to put that up to about 4 million tons? Can my hon. Friend give some information about how, on present prospects, he expects the crops for this year to work out? On the ordinary average yield per year, it is about 8 tons an acre. In the light of the weather conditions this year, we would very much like to know how his advisers think the crop will turn out this year. I think I am right in saying that in the year which is finishing we shall have a surplus of about 500,000 tons. It will be interesting to know, in relation to the guarantee published in Cmd. 1311, which is the Annual Price Review for the coming year, now the Minister thinks that the prospects will work out, compared with the forecast made in that Review.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
We must express some protestation to begin with. It is wrong that the Minister should not have offered to make a statement in these circumstances. The Explanatory Note begins by saying:This Order amends the Potatoes (Guaranteed Prices) Order, 1959, in accordance with the conclusions of Ministers after a review held under section 2 of the Agriculture Act, 1947.It is constitutionally improper for the Minister to assume that because conclusions were reached at the Price Review it is unnecessary for the Government to make a statement to the House when they lay an Order consequent upon that agreement. We should exercise the authority of the House in the matter. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will express regret that he did not think that a statement should be made in explanation of the Order.
The Explanatory Notes goes on to say that the Ordermakes provision for the inclusion in the estimate of the tonnage of home-produced potatoes to which the guarantee applies of 722 sales of potatoes for human consumption by unregistered growers.When the Parliamentary Secretary is asked for an explanation, he says that the Order is really not worth bothering about, and that its effect will be minimal. It will amount to tens of thousands of tons of potatoes, but no more.
Why was the point taken up at the Price Review, and why was the conclusion reached that this Order should be laid? This business of legislation is quite expensive. I have a greater respect for the producers' organisations than to think that they would put up some trifling matter in respect of which they could obtain an Order and perhaps claim a victory in their Press. What is the purpose of the Order? It will not do merely to say that its effect is absolutely minimal and that it does not really affect anybody. It is no good saying that the Minister cannot give a figure, but that it may amount to tens of thousands of tons. That may be anything short of 100,000 and anything more than 10,000. I know that this can be a fluctuating figure, because of the fluctuating potato crop, but when a Minister is challenged on the question why our time has been taken up with this Order it is not good enough merely to say that it is a minimal matter.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) occasionally affords me the opportunity of supporting him, and I am always delighted to be able to do so. I agree that the Order is very obscure. I do not think that anybody who picks it up will know that its effect will be minimal and that it is, therefore, not worth troubling about. I cannot see any potato producer deriving enlightenment from it.
I have often made the point in the House and in Standing Committees, and I shall continue to make it in the future, that in cases where we have amending legislation, whether it is delegated legislation or major legislation, its purpose should appear on the face of the amending document, if that is possible. One can glean very little information from a reading of this document. Indeed, I believe that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely misread it. I am not surprised that he should have done so.
§ Mr. Willey
I believe that he has. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member can persuade my right hon. Friend that he has it.
§ Mr. Willey
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. I thought that the hon. and gallant Member was speaking with knowledge of the main Order. Apparently he has not, as I am assured by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I was going to say that I think—
§ Mr. Brown
Will my hon. Friend forgive me? I have tried to get the main Order. If the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) has a copy he has the advantage over us. We on these benches have tried to get a copy of the main Order which is amended by this Order but it is not available in the Vote Office.
§ Mr. Willey
Perhaps you, Mr. Speaker, can assist us in this matter. I think that it will properly come within your province. It is impossible to expect the House to discuss an amending Order unless the main Order is freely available. If it is not, as my right hon. Friend has said, and I have every reason to accept his statement, I think that we should ask leave to move to adjourn and to consider this Order when we are in a better position to discuss it. We should be informed whether the main Order is available to such right hon. and hon. Gentlemen as wish to take part in the discussion. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary or the Under-Secretary of State can help us. Have they available copies of the main Order? It is impossible to expect us—I apologise to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely, and I appreciate the difficulties he was facing in not being able to obtain a copy of the main Order—
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Surely the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if there is not a copy immediately available at the Vote Office there is always a copy in the Library.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
May I assist my hon. Friend by saying that I have just been to the Vote Office to obtain a copy of the main Order but I understand that a copy is not available.
May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, and your assistance in this matter? I think that it would be quite improper to pursue the debate any further if the main Order is not being made available. It is elementary to expect that if an amending Order is to be discussed a copy of the main Order is required in order to refer to it. We cannot satisfy ourselves about the scope of the amending Order unless we have the main Order to consider. In those circumstances, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will now assist us by withdrawing the Order and presenting it again.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to invite my aid. I do not think that the Government responsibilities should be confused with those which are mine. I do not think it would be fair to say that the Government are unable to invite the approval of the House to an Order because of some failure on my part to see that the Order be available at the Vote Office. I have not tried to get a copy there myself. We do what we can to help hon. Members with the service at the Vote Office. In a case of old statutory Rules and Orders, I am afraid that our practice is—subject to refreshing my memory—that some notice may be required on some kind of green document that we used to have and, I think, still have. It may appear that the principal Order here is to some extent an old document. What we mostly do in the House is to look for what we want in the Library.
I have no reason to think that the principal Order is not available, possibly in more than one copy, in the Library. But I do not feel that as a result of my own failure in the service of the House—if there be one—that the Government should on account of my dereliction be prevented from asking the approval of the House to this Order.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As we would have expected—[Interruption.] I beg your pardon, Sir. I was not quite clear who was addressing the House at that moment.
§ Mr. Speaker
As far as I know, the right hon. Gentleman was addressing me and at the same time I was receiving advice on a point of order, which I am entitled to do, I hope, with no discourtesy to him.
§ Mr. Brown
The advice you receive we must not receive quite so loudly at the same time. Further to that point of order, we understand that you very often take upon yourself, for the protection of us on this side of the House as well as for the Government, sins which quite often are not yours. If the Government ask us to amend an Order and the Order is not easily available, we can of course queue up in the Library to have a look at it, but that is not where one normally goes. The normal practice is for one to go to the Office outside. If the Order they are seeking to amend is not there available, I submit to you that it is an abuse of the privileges of this House to insist that we should now amend it.
This is a complicated matter. May I draw your attention to the very first subparagraph of paragraph (2)? We are talking about Potatoes (Guaranteed Prices) Order, 1959. That is an Order made not a long time ago. We are asked to amend that Order and sub-paragraph (a) says that we should substitute in paragraph (1) of the Order the following definition: "producer"—which one would have thought was a producer of potatoes since we are talking about potatoes—'producer' means a producer of potatoes.If we cannot see the Order it is very difficult to ascertain what is the purpose of substituting for a producer of potatoes a more clear condition which says "a producer of potatoes". Although you have your duties to perform and, as we all agree, they are very well performed—that is not only meant for you, Mr. Speaker, Sir, but for all those who service you—if the Government come to us with an Order like this and, although they are the commanders of their time, cannot arrange that we can get the Order, we are being asked to perform—[Interruption.] I gather you said that it was not their responsibility, but the whole point I am submitting is that it is their responsibility. They want us to amend an Order and they bring in an amendment.
I submit that it is not our business to walk all round the Palace of Westminster. There is a place where we normally find the Order. I repeat that we are not going back into the nineteenth century but are talking about an Order which is not more than two years old. If the Order is not there I submit that, since 726 things have to work not merely by paper work but by ordinary practical procedures and we know where we can have these things, it is unreasonable to expect the House to proceed with this Order tonight. It would not be at all unreasonable for the Government to withdraw the Order, arrange that there should be copies in the Office and then proceed with the Order on another occasion. I ask on behalf of the minority in the House for your protection in this matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am very greatly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the courteous way in which he states his troubles, but I cannot involve others in what are my responsibilities. If there is some failure in the Vote Office to provide the services for Members, about which at this moment I know precisely nothing—I accept everything I am told by hon. Members—then that is my fault and I am not entitled to blame it on anyone else. I cannot be required to adopt the position that because of some failure on my part the Government of the day are not entitled to ask for the approval of some Order. I cannot go further than that. I would be departing from my duty if I did.
§ Mr. Brown
I am sure you know that we accept that, Mr. Speaker. Will you accept a Motion from me, That the debate be now adjourned? We feel very strongly that it is the Government's business to see that documents are available. I hope that the Patronage Secretary sees the point of this request. The Order is complicated, and to postpone it will not involve the Government in much trouble. They could re-introduce the Order later.
I ask hon. Members to look at the complicated nature of the Amendment. The Parliamentary Secretary said that its effect was minimal, and I was prepared to consider whether we should be asked to conduct such an operation for such a minimal matter. But in order to understand how minimal it is and its relation to the total tonnage, I must know what is the total tonnage and how many operators are involved. It is a long time since I was at the Ministry of Agriculture, and I do not like to trust my memory on the subject.
I asked for the Order to be brought to me in order that I might see these things. That is how the House works. 727 I am not normally expected to walk down the corridors to the Library for the Order. Normally one gets the Order. We are asked to agree to this change, but the Order is not easily available in the place where we normally obtain Orders and, therefore, we cannot check the Minister's assertions that the change is minimal. In those circumstances, I suggest that the House is not being treated with the courtesy to which it is normally entitled, nor are objections to the Order being fairly treated—and there are objections.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I do not know to what extent the right hon. Gentleman tried to get a copy of the Order. I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) whether he would be kind enough to get me one, and he brought one back from the Vote Office.
§ Mr. Speaker
Naturally I made the same request, and some copies of the Order have arrived for my use. I am in some difficulty; I did not myself try to get them. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would renew his application and see whether they are available at the Vote Office.
§ Mr. Brown
We went from this side of the House to the Vote Office and were told that they were not available. Apparently a Government supporter went to the Vote Office and obtained a copy. Apparently you, Mr. Speaker, sent to the Vote Office and obtained a copy. If this is so, is it not a matter for inquiry? It sounds as though it comes back to your office. When my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) went to the Vote Office he was told that no copies were available, but subsequently a copy was available for a Government supporter—and then, apparently, a copy had to be available for my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), who has just entered the Chamber with a copy. If the Orders are available we are prepared to go on with the debate, but I ask you, Mr. Speaker, very seriously to inquire into the circumstances in which the document was not available to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, was subsequently available to a Government supporter and then had to be available to my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock.
§ Mr. Speaker
Most certainly I will inquire. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the fact that the document was not available at the Vote Office was brought to my attention only as I arrived to take the Chair, while the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) was speaking. I have had no opportunity to inquire. Of course I will inquire, because it is my prime concern that hon. Members are served with whatever they require from the Vote Office. Perhaps I may make this point in a preliminary defence which occurs to me—and I do not want to make a false point: where Orders do not stand on the Order Paper, which may be old Orders, we may in all reasonableness, in order to serve hon. Members, require some notice of the documents needed. I will say no more except that I will inquire into the matter.
§ Mr. Cronin
Further to that point of order. I think that this matter should be taken further. I went to the Vote Office at an early stage of the debate because I had hoped to catch your eye and make a speech on the Order. I was assured that the Order was not available. I received the impression that attempts would be made to obtain it. Nevertheless, it is very unfortunate that the Order has not been readily available all day for hon. Members who wished to catch your eye in the debate. What has impressed my hon. Friends particularly unfavourably is the way the Joint Parliamentary Secretary—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman may complain on a point of order about the conduct of the Parliamentary Secretary, however undesirable it may be. The hon. Gentleman should not despair of catching my eye should his turn arrive. As for the inability of the hon. Member to obtain the Order when he asked for it, I will comprise that in the inquiry which I will make.
§ Mr. Cronin
I was only going to suggest, Mr. Speaker, that the Parliamentary Secretary might properly and reasonably have followed the example of the Minister of State—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to make complaints of that kind under the guise of a point of order. They may be very meritorious, but they are not points of order.
§ Mr. Willey
To resume my speech, I was merely callng attention to my inability to consult the main Order. I was not endeavouring to cast any reflection on the reason for the Order not being available. I say at once that I had some personal responsibility. I should have made inquiries for it earlier. The reference I made to the Parliamentary Secretary was that it should be an accepted principle that, if the House finds itself in difficulties, the Goverment in insisting on getting their business should make available the documents on which we must depend. I was saying no more than that. I have now been given a copy of the main Order.
I want to revert very briefly to my point. This form of Amending Order, which has become conventional, is objectionable. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely spoke about the Amendment concerning the definition of "producer"—'producer' means a producer of potatoesWhen one looks at the main Order, one can see the point of the Amendment. In a case such as this it would be far better to set out the provision in the main Order and show the Amendment. Then a person who was affected by the Order and who took the trouble of buying it would know at once the point of the Amendment. The same is true of the other Amendments. I was not surprised to find that the main Order is quite a short document. It is only a couple of pages. It would have been far better to have set out an Amending Order making quite clear what the purposes of the Amendment were.
We all welcome the Explanatory Notes which now accompany Statutory Instruments. This is as a result of a recommendation made by the Select Committee a long time ago. It would be helpful if we had, in addition to a note explaining the purposes of the Order, a statement of the reason for it. I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary has enlightened us very much by saying that this matter affects perhaps tens of thousands of tons and not hundreds of thousands of tons. It would be a good thing if, in fact, we knew what the effect of this was. If that had been done, I doubt very much whether we should have felt obliged to make the inquiries 730 which we have made. So I hope that these three points will be borne in mind.
Firstly, it is an important point—I have said this repeatedly—that because something is agreed between the Government and some outside party it does not discharge the Government from being accountable to the House of Commons. Because an agreement is reached or a conclusion struck with the Price Review it does not mean that the Government should regard an explanation to the House of Commons as unnecessary.
The second point is whether when we have an amending Order—and this would not involve any expense—it would be possible in the amending Order to show the purpose and effect of the amendment. I think that that ought to be done.
Thirdly, I hope that the Government will consider making the explanatory notes of some of these Orders more explanatory in the sense that we do not merely want an explanation for the benefit of lawyers but, in a case such as this, an explanation which might be beneficial to farmers also. I hope that these are points which the Government will bear in mind.
§ 10.41 p.m.
I would, if I may, say that I never intended any discourtesy to the House, and I know that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), with whom I have discussed the subject on previous occasions, will bear me out that to be discourteous is not my habit.
When a reference was made to the main Order, I felt that there must be some mistake because this Order had been laid in the Vote Office some time ago. I had a copy of it, and I could not check what was in the Vote Office. It was a mistake, and I entirely understand the protest that when the House discusses an amending Order, no matter how small, it is not satisfactory if there is not the main Order available from which hon. Members can trace the amendment proposed.
I hope that hon. Members will see that the point which I made in my short opening explanation, that this is really a very small change in the guarantee arrangement for the potato crop, was, in fact, justified. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) shakes 731 his head. The proposal is to bring into the guarantee arrangement certain sales of potatoes from unregistered growers who sell them through the recognised channels.
That leads up to the point about the wordsproducer' means a producer of potatoes.In the main Order we were concerned with producers who are registered under the Potato Marketing Scheme selling their potatoes through recognised channels. Now that we have brought into the calculation sales of potatoes by unregistered growers through the recognised channels the more normal definition applies. I am glad the hon. Member nods his head. There is really nothing sinister in it.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am still not very clear about the matter. How small are these small producers? How far down the scale do we take this? Would it include me producing potatoes in my garden?
It could. Any producer not now registered with the Potato Board and who sells his potatoes through the recognised wholesale channels will have those sales taken into account in calculating the general guarantee arrangement. In point of fact, of course, the very small growers of potatoes, who grow mainly for their own needs, will not effect any sales through these channels. But there will be a number of farmers who grow something like half an acre of potatoes who may, though not every year, sell potatoes through the recognised trade channels.
I was also asked whether I could give any indication of the size of the crop this coming year. The potato crop is one of those things which we cannot estimate, bearing in mind the variations in yield from year to year and the weather that we may experience between now and harvest time. Last year, the estimated crop for human consumption was 3.7 million tons. This year, the acreage sown to potatoes is slightly smaller than it was last year, but it would not be possible, at this stage, to estimate what the crop will be.
Let me repeat; this small amending Order is really a small Order. It amends 732 in this simple way a procedure that we have known and with which we are familiar; one that has worked well, and one that has been accepted by the House. I hope, therefore, that the House will agree to approve the Order.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gilmour Leburn)
Perhaps I may be allowed to answer the hon. Lady for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison)—
§ Mr. Speaker
With respect, the hon. Gentleman cannot do that, because it appears to me to be out of order. I am afraid the hon. Lady did not persuade me that the point she raised could reasonably be associated with this Order.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
With the permission of the House, Mr Speaker, I do not know how the House feels about this Order. This is not a party point but is where the House operates for the protection of the people. Agriculture is one of those matters where a good deal of public money is available, and I hope that for just a moment I can capture the interest of the House on the question of the protection of the public purse.
We have instituted a system whereby we encourage the professional, commercial growers to grow potatoes, very well knowing that they may grow them in some years when the outcome of their efforts will not be very good, perhaps because we suffer in that year from a lack of water; or, in other years, that their efforts may be crowned with success far beyond their dreams, and we get potatoes with which we cannot easily deal.
As I remember from my Ministry of Agriculture days, we do not want a situation in which, in the year after the year in which for reasons they cannot control they grew too many potatoes, they then cut down the acreage. Nor do we want the situation in which, in the year after the year in which equally for reasons beyond their control the outcome was too small, they cut down the amount they grow.
For that reason, we give them a guarantee, but this is obviously a very wide guarantee. I am trying to remember what the estimates were in my day—and that was a very long time 733 ago—and I remember that the estimates were very wide and that there is here a great pit into which public money can be poured. In my day, it was thought to be very important to keep these guarantees applied to professional growers; that is to say, applied to that part of the agricultural industry that could be properly considered to be potato growers. As I remember, we had a lot of trouble over this, but we did keep it that way, as otherwise the possibilities for the misuse of public moneys seemed to us to be enormous.
As I understand from the hon. Gentleman, what we are now doing is to destroy all that. He says that it is minimal. I have no doubt that it is minimal in the sense that, if we assume an extra 10,000 acres, it is minimal against 3 million acres, but it is not minimal if we appraise what is being done in principle. We are now seeking —I do not know at whose pressure—to admit under this Order just anybody who chooses to grow some potatoes. Unless I have forgotten all I learned at the Ministry of Agriculture, it seems to me that those whom we are now admitting are those who choose the bad years.
Given a bad year for potatoes, a number of people will put down half an acre. Having put down half an acre, they will now be entitled to get a licence, and having secured a licence they will be entitled to the guarantee. But that is exactly what we were not interested in permitting. This is exactly the whole point of the guarantee. Instead of the guarantee being. as it should be, a support for that section of the agricultural industry and for those agricultural producers who take the risks of the bad years with the others, and instead of being an assurance to them that in the bad years they will not suffer, it now becomes a cushion on which anybody who wants to get into this section of agriculture and who wants to gamble on a crop which failed last year can now gamble.
§ Mr. Vane indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Brown
The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but he will now let into this section anybody who chooses to have a go. I do not mind gamblers in this or any other field, but 734 if they are having a go, gambling and chasing last year's losses, they ought to take the consequences. But now we are putting behind them the public purse.
I repeat that I do not know who asked for this inclusion. I suspect that it was the National Farmers' Union, otherwise the Parliamentary Secretary would not be so forthcoming, but I am puzzled to know why the union asked for it. The whole point of guarantee Orders for agriculture is that we should guarantee agricultural producers who have to take risks which industrialists do not have to take, and should guarantee them against the kind of risks which they cannot take into account.
I submit that now we shall admit people who have a go with a tiny piece of land, as a half-acre is. It is half a football pitch, and we are not even limited to half an acre. It could be much smaller. It could be no bigger than a tennis court. Many of us could get into this activity. If we are to extend the guarantees to cover anybody who with that size of land goes in for potatoes we are widening the liability to the public purse. I intervened in the debate not because I wanted to have a go but because of a suspicion, out of my own six years at the Ministry of Agriculture, that the Government were doing something which we on this side of the House would not have done in our day.
I tried to remember why it was that we would not have done it, and as the debate continued I remembered. The point is that we cannot control this if we get down to that limit. The moment we get beyond the professional potato producers and beyond the constituents of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) we let in all those other chaps who break the hon. Member's market. His constituents' problem is that whenever there has been a bad year in the next year a lot of other people try to get into the market. What the Government are doing is to guarantee the enemies of his constituents against any failure in the year they get into the market. I should have thought that this, from our point of view as protectors of the public purse, as the Opposition must be, and from the hon. Member's point of view as protector of the real, reliable producer of potatoes, was a ridiculous and bad Order.
735 I again ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider why we should let in every chap who crashes in with a quarter of an acre, giving him a licence and a guarantee. In terms of total cost to the public purse, it is possibly minimal when set against the millions of pounds which this scheme costs, for this extension will cost only some hundreds of thousands of pounds. In that bureaucratic sense, it is minimal. That is what all the bureaucrats tell one when one is a Minister. They used to tell it to me. But in terms of justice and of a sensible agricultural policy, it is ridiculous. There is no reason why we should guarantee them at that level and for this purpose.
Looking round the House, I see that it is obviously absurd for me to ask it to get angry and reject the Order, but if the House were doing its duty this sort of Order would not be accepted. It is nonsense. This is not an agricultural policy. It is merely giving in to the N.F.U., which itself is giving in to the smallest men it has but who have the votes to irritate.
I can understand why the N.F.U. thinks it needs to give into these people, but I cannot understand why we, the protectors of the public purse, should make it possible for it to do so. It is obviously impossible to ask the House to reject the Order, but I am bound to say that in a House of Commons where there was consideration for the interests of the public, together with a Government who were not seeking to buy off pressure groups at every point, this Order would not be made. It is absolute nonsense.
I am all for agriculturists. All my life has been spent with them and with agricultural workers, and that means that I want farmers to be guaranteed a return for their work so that my men can be guaranteed a wage for their work. But to encourage this sort of thing, to say that we will include in the guarantee the very men who are our problem—the men who are normally not in the scheme but enter it in a year when they think there is a bit of profit to be made, and who constitute the margin which breaks the market—and give them the benefit of guarantee, seems not only to be expensive in terms of public money but ridiculous in terms of public policy. The more I think of this the more I feel that the 736 House should ask the Parliamentary Secretary to take back the Order and think again about the policy involved.
§ 10.59 p.m.
The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) is confusing the guarantee arrangements of some years ago with the current ones, under which no deficiency payments are made to individual producers. The sort of features he was describing as ridiculous or bad do not apply today, The present guarantee arrangements are a guarantee to the industry, to the Board.
It does not distribute it to individuals. There were no deficiency payments for the 1959 crop, although there were some for the 1960 crap. The sort of thing that the Board will do is to support the market and help maintain the market price as near the guaranteed price as it can.
We are not offering a bait to a multitude of small growers to enter the market to cash in on something and so harm their neighbours, as the right hon. Gentleman represented was the case. All we are saying is that certain potatoes sold by small growers through trade wholesale channels will be taken into account when estimating the total crop on which the possible deficiency payment to the industry—that is, to the Board—will be calculated in such years as there is a gap. The calculation will more closely represent the potato crop grown by serious potato growers and sold through wholesale channels.
I have to declare my interest as I generally grow about an acre of potatoes, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that if I and my employees do not eat them, it is extremely difficult to find anyone to buy them. I would not encourage the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else to enter this market if he thinks that he will get anything on the cheap. I assure the House that this is a simple provision and it is neither bad nor ridiculous, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested it was. It is something which hon. Members can approve with confidence.
§ Mr. G. Brown
We have not got to the bottom of it. Would any small producer want to get into these arrangements unless 737 he got some money out of them? If not, what is the point of the pressure on the Ministry to introduce the Order? I am asking a question and I apologise, Mr. Speaker, if it is getting rather long. The hon. Gentleman has not answered the point. The N.F.U. is pressing for these growers to enter the scheme because when the money is made up to the Board and the Board distributes it—
§ Mr. Brown
If the producer gets nothing out of it, who gets the money? What is the point of the Order if the small man is to get nothing out of it? The point of making up the Board's losses is so that the Board can make up the losses of the producer. We are now being asked to bring in same small men who are normally producers. We are enabling the Board to make up their money so that every second or fifth year they can gamble with the producers for whom the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) speaks. Is that a good thing to do for the ordinary producer?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the Order will not lead to unregistered producers getting the benefit of the services of the Potato Marketing Board which will be financed by registered producers? Does paragraph (iv) of Article 2 (c) mean that the only people who will benefit from the Order are those who have a licence from the Board?
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House. There is no individual distribution by the Board. The guarantee is to the industry, and the sort of functions which the Board carries out is to enter the market at a time when it feels that supplies on offer are going to break the price. In those circumstances, it may buy, selling the potatoes at a loss later. There is no individual dividend at the end of the potato season.
Some years ago there was a guarantee payment which was ultimately reflected in a deficiency payment to the individual, but that has now been superseded by this guarantee to the industry. It is those potatoes sold through recognised channels for human consumption by small growers which are now to be included in 738 the total quantity on which the deficiency payment will be calculated. That means that in years when there is a deficiency payment it will be a little larger than it would otherwise have been, because it will be calculated on a slightly larger crop.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am trying to understand. I am not trying to be awkward. The Minister says that this is a guarantee to the industry. There is no such thing as the industry. The industry consists of a lot of growers. The Minister also said that the growers do not get any share in the guarantee. What is the point of the guarantee?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. In the first place the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) in an intervention invited the Minister to answer him. I do not know whether the Minister was rising to answer him. Owing to the second intervention of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), that opportunity did not arise. I respectfully suggest to the House that it is probably in the common interest that there should exist some finality to the process of sitting down, because when the Minister has sat down hon. Members, and even right hon. Members, may speak again, but only with the leave of the House.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
With respect to my hon. Friend, he has not answered the question I asked. I ask my hon. Friend to answer this question, because I know that the potato —
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I follow, but I am not in a position to invite the hon. Member to intervene again. I was trying to protect him in case the Minister wished to answer him. If the Minister does not wish to answer him, that is beyond my command.
I do not want to be discourteous to my hon. Friend. I had intended to answer his question. I do not think that it will make any difference.
Anyone who sells potatoes now gets the benefit of the support for the market which the Potato Marketing Board is able to achieve. If they are all large growers, they pay their acreage levy. The small grower today who sells a small quantity of potatoes, whether 739 wholesale or retail, may or may not derive some benefit from the operation in the market of the Potato Marketing Board. This Order will not affect that in the least.
§ Mr. Willey
May I seek leave to put a small point to the hon. Gentleman? It comes back to the point about the Explanatory Note. The second paragraph—
§ Mr. Speaker
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, I heard someone say "No". I assert that I heard that.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Potatoes (Guaranteed Prices) (Amendment) Order, 1961 (S.I., 1961, No. 1119), dated 16th June, 1961, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st June, be approved.