HC Deb 19 February 1963 vol 672 cc366-90

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

I had finished referring to the difference in quality of soil in relation to the question of the optimum size of farming units. Other tests must be applied also to the value of the subsidies and other forms of aid under the Bill as they affect different parts of the country. The infusion of capital—subsidies or any other form of subvention—to various parts of the country must be considered in terms of the ultimate and real value of that finance to the area. Assistance given to the Highlands and Islands and other marginal parts of Britain represents in real terms a different value compared with financial aid given to other parts of the country. It is important to consider these different values as between the outlying marginal areas like the Highlands and Islands and Shetland and other more favourably placed parts of the country.

Most people accept that there is a differential which operates against the outlying and marginal farmer and holder and we, therefore, should adopt a deliberate policy of differentiating the subsidies to see that the operation of Measures of this kind ensure that the greatest emphasis and help is given to those who need it most. I am sure that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) will agree with me. I am equally sure that the Minister will see the justice of implementing the Bill in that way. I hope that, in practice, something will be done to slant the whole emphasis and weight of the beneficial Clauses of the Bill in favour of the persons labouring under the greatest geographical and other difficulties.

I am endeavouring to discard as many of my notes as possible because I do not wish to keep the Joint Under-Secretary of State up too late. The hon. Gentleman has sat through the debate and, while I understood originally that he intended to reply, I now understand that he has passed the buck, so to speak, to another Under-Secretary. I accept, however, that out of courtesy the Under-Secretary of State has come here tonight and I thank him for doing so.

We want to see the Bill doing its bit towards the creation of full-time careers and livelihoods in agriculture. It is important that that should be done as far as it can possibly be achieved. To the extent that the Bill may help to do so, it is welcomed and I am sure that all hon. Members will support it. The new hill farming financial provisions are greatly needed. A lot more needs to be done in providing shelter belts. A lot has been done in recent years under the existing umbrella, if I may call it such, but a great deal more still needs to be done whether under the Hill Farming Scheme or otherwise.

While an hon. Member has said that he would not wish to criticise the Forestry Commission, I would be prepared to criticise the Commission in one respect; it has not been particularly helpful in the smaller jobs; and has tended to leave the job to the hill farming scheme people and the Department of Agriculture, for the smaller plantations. I could give many examples of this if I wished to weary the House. It is almost impossible to bring in the Forestry Commission—perhaps I should say that it has been almost impossible until recently—unless one talks in terms of three or four hundred acres and upwards. Only then does the Commission seem interested. Meanwhile, for the ancillary work in agriculture—stock shelter and so on—the Commission has not been particularly interested. It is natural, therefore, that what has been done by others, those less well-equipped and less experienced, is not as much as we would have liked to have seen.

We are, of course, grateful for what has been, and is being, done in the provision of shelter belts; but I should like to see, if not a dramatic at any rate a very substantial increase in the planting of shelter belts. I do not speak from the point of view of planting commercial timber, but from the point of view of ancillary agricultural shelter, from the point of view of amenity and, indeed, the tourist industry, and from the long-term point of view of its possible value in ecological restoration in certain areas that have suffered from erosion, and from the thoughtless and destructive activities of man.

I should like to see hill farming and, not least, shelter belt planning as far as possible made complementary to reclamation schemes and to the reseeding schemes that are now so fashionable and successful in the north-west Highlands, and particularly in the Island of Lewis and some of the other Outer Isles. As far as possible, the two types of scheme should be brought together, planned together, and thought of on a larger scale than has been the case hitherto.

One of my hon. Friends who represents a Welsh division mentioned the importance of marketing. It is true that lacking good market planning, in any one area, at any one time, one might, as it were, be producing in competition with oneself and beating oneself down in the market. There must be greater planning of marketing, and greater cooperation between the stock breeder and the buyer, which is one of the things that has been lacking during the years, with often disastrous results, especially in the outlying areas where the breeder is very much at the mercy of far too small groups of buyers, coming out just once in a while to places like some areas of the Outer Hebrides. I see that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West raises his eyebrows, but he does not suffer from that problem of marketing.

Especially in the outlying areas, marketing is of the utmost importance. I am glad to see that that is recognised, and that people are coming together in the Western Isles under various cooperative schemes and organisations to do something about it. I am delighted to see further provision in this Bill to aid marketing. I do not care where it comes from—I am not doctrinaire or partisan about it. As long as I see the sensible promotion of the idea, and the practice of marketing assisted, advocated and extended, I am all for it, and want to see it succeed.

In that connection, I want to emphasise the constituency point of the difficulties under which the store cattle people suffer in our Islands in the North-West. The North-West and the Western Islands are the great natural store areas. For many crofters there, it is the all-important part of the industry—for some, indeed, it is the whole of the industry. There is only one thing more pathetic than to see the miles-long lines of cattle and their crofter owners, returning from the spring sales in North Uist and South Uist because prices were too low, because there were too few buyers, because very often the crofters suspected that prices had been more or less by some mainland buyers fixed before the buyers came to the Islands at all—there is only one thing more pathetic than to see the owners having to take the cattle home again from the sales and feed them all during the summer, and that is to see them taking the cattle home from the autumn sales, knowing that they have to feed them on expensive imported food during the long winter—only to find themselves, perhaps, faced again with the same problem in the spring.

The store cattle people lose almost every time. That is not a reflection on the best buyers, or even on the average buyers, but it is a reflection on some of them, and it is something which should be dealt with in the interests of the store cattle breeders, who are a very big part of the population of my constituency and of the north-west Highlands.

Certain things can be done, and can be encouraged under the Bill, if not by direct Government agency, then by suitable impartial agents on the spot. For example, on the marketing side, much could be done to arrange a rotation of sales in the Islands so that the first sellers alone would not always cream off the best prices, with the last local sales suffering a drop in price, to say the least. In sales in the Islands in recent times there has been a drop of £8 to £10 or more at times on the sale of livestock between district sales. Much harm can be done by simple things like that.

Some good can be done again by the installation of weighbridges, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) when he talked about responsibility for providing pens and proper conditions to avoid and prevent cruelty. It would create a sense of fairness in handling goods at the Island ports. The provision of suitable weighbridges properly supervised in the Islands and on the mainland is extremely important and will give a feeling of fairness and security all round.

Mr. Stodart

One thing which has never happened in my experience has been the selling of store cattle over a weighbridge. As far as I know, they are never sold in that way in any circumstances.

Mr. MacMillan

I quite agree. I am not talking about store cattle at this point but of the general run of goods to and from the islands. We had departed some minutes ago from the province of store cattle, which is largely a problem of getting sufficient buyers and arranging the rotation of the sales. But I might in passing give the hon. Member an example. In Lochmaddy, in North Uist, these is a strong demand for a weighbridge. Nobody seems to want responsibility for it. I take it that it is the county council's responsibility. but nobody has got down to the problem and this leaves a sense of uncertainty or unfairness or even an odd suspicion that people are being unfairly treated in some way.

As to the grass renovation provisions in the Bill, I want to support something that was said by the Secretary of State for Scotland a few weeks before he became Secretary of State. I know that things are said with perhaps less responsible care before one enters office than one might allow oneself to say afterwards; but the Secretary of State said in the magazine Reclamation, of the Scottish Peat and Land Development Association, talking about a subject which became one of the important parts of the Bill: The Government should set up land corporations comprising chemists, engineers, and aircraft experts who can plan and organise large-scale reclamation over areas of about 250,000 acres. Not one such area, be it noted, but "areas"—units of 250,000 acres.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say, and he had just missed being a right hon. Gentleman by a few days when he said it: Since 1941 considerable amounts of subsidy had been paid to hill farmers, but these had been largely based on the subsistence theory that farmers must be kept with their noses above water rather than on a determined policy to change the whole face of the hills. 'Unless a major Government decision of this sort'"— that is, the reclamation of 250,000 acre units— 'is taken and the industry is given a green light for a period of not less than fifteen years, it is hard to believe that farmers will be willing or able to find the large amount of finance necessary'. This Bill may do many things, but I doubt whether it will produce many reclamation units of 250,000 acres at a time, or give anything like a policy in that or other directions for 15 years.

I know that 15 years are mentioned earlier in the Bill and that a period of 20 years is also now mentioned. It was a relief to farmers, and especially to crofters, to see such a long-term mention as that. Until they saw recently the 15 years mentioned in the new provisions they thought that at any moment all their guarantees and interests might be discarded in favour of the proposed Common Market arrangements. They were relieved to think that even this Government were going to do planning on their own instead of having it done for them by President de Gaulle, Adenauer and the others, not to mention Professor Hallstein.

That, then, was the right hon. Gentleman's advocacy about the 250-acre units. No doubt, when he said it he did not know that he would shortly become Secretary of State. Without being too unfairly critical of him, I do not think that anyone else thought that he would, either. But, anyway, he wrote that article; and I think that he meant it. He is a sincere and a forthright man. In this case, at least, whether he was forth or not, he was certainly right. That was his policy, to regenerate and reclaim units of 250,000 acres. This is exactly what we have been asking for or hoping for under the Bill. Perhaps that is the wrong way round. We are not hoping for it or expecting it; but we are certainly asking for it.

There is another very interesting provision about grassland renovation. The provision here in the Bill is made for three-year periods. How often have I asked the Secretary of State to make the grants which are now being made for only two years over three year periods, instead, in order that the regeneration work can be consolidated. Anyone who knows anything about regeneration knows that it is necessary to have three full years, at least, to consolidate. It is not possible, even then, to say that the job is finished, of course, because after that there is still the continuous maintenance; and the people concerned have to carry the whole burden of the cost of maintenance themselves.

Now, in this Bill, we are talking in terms of periods of three years for renovation jobs. Why cannot the Under-Secretary of State, who turned my three-year plea down on behalf of the previous Secretary of State, get together with the present Secretary of State and agree that what applies here in the Bill to grassland renovation should apply to all these reseeding and regeneration schemes? When all is said and done, the people in the Western Isles themselves took the initiative in regeneration of pasture covering several thousands of island acres. The result is to be seen particularly in my constituency. It is spreading now to the mainland, and we are asking that these schemes should now be extended on a regional scale, just as the Secretary of State was arguing, shortly before he took responsibility to make sure that it could be done. Why cannot we have an official answer? Why cannot all the reseeding schemes without exception have a three-year grant just as the renovation schemes proposed under this Clause do?

What will be the result otherwise? There will be two years of communal effort, two years of subsidy, two years of assistance and local co-operation among the Department, the college of agriculture, local bankers, local merchants and everyone concerned; and then, if the local people cannot, from the third year onward, bear the whole cost for the future, we shall see all the thousands of reclaimed acres going back to the bog. This would be a disaster. One thing that we cannot afford in the Highlands and Western Islands is any other public memorial to failure in industry or agriculture. Therefore, we have some small hope that there will be the greatest possible application of the doctrine which the Secretary of State in his article so strongly emphasised in support of what we have been advocating for a very long time.

In this way, we could do something to help employment in the Western Islands. Those who have watched the reseeding schemes develop will agree that in the last few years, regeneration and reseeding has led to a wonderful growth of new pastureland where there was only moorland before. There is a multiplication of the cattle population. It is a wonderful sight in Lewis to see the contrast of the brown of moorland on one side of the road and beautiful, new, green pasture on the other side of the road only a few yards away. But how much more dramatic, how much more wonderful, would it be if this were done over the 250,000-acre units which the Secretary of State so rightly depicted for us in his article.

Work on that scale, if the Bill can be conceived to apply in such a way, would mean that we could employ considerable teams of full-time trained people in agriculture for the first time in the Highlands. A man cannot live as a full-time crofter on a small croft. He must have a second job. The second job in the countryside is one of the most important problems in every country throughout the world. The really small operator cannot make a living out of a smallholding; or, at least, very few can. Whole families certainly cannot.

The average crofter is a man who is based on his croft, who takes what he can out of it in kind—there is very little money income from it—and who must have also a second job for which he travels by rural bus to and from the neighbouring town. Here, however, we have an opportunity, by regional reseeding, regeneration, reclamation and all the rest, for the first time to train full-time teams of men as expert agriculturists and to ensure their full-time insurable employment, continuously extending their operations of reclamation, maintenance and consolidation, in fully mechanised units, over wide areas.

I am not overdrawing the picture. The Secretary of State visualises this happening with 250,000 acres at a time. So do I; only I mean it. However, he is in a position to make sure that it is imple- mented; that is the difference. If he retains his enthusiasm for the 250,000-acre unit, something still might be done. However, it might have to be left until after the next election, when whichever right hon. Friend of mine is responsible will do what the Secretary of State has shown no sign of doing since he came to office, keen as he was before then.

We cannot have a population of happy, contended and efficient crofters, smallholders, farm workers or, for that matter, small farmers unless they are in good homes with good public services laid on. In so far as these things can be achieved with the help of the Bill, it is, of course, the duty of the Secretary of State and other Ministers to try to ensure that they are achieved. I find it deplorable that after the crofters' magnificent efforts at rehousing themselves, to a large extent, in the Western Isles and other parts of the Highlands under the various crofter assistance schemes, they now have to find about £300 deposit before they can even start to build a house. Not many years ago, a crofter could get the materials and the plans from the Department of Agriculture and build the house himself for £300 from the foundations to the slates. Indeed, many hundreds of crofters did so. Thousands of houses in the Highlands and most of those in my constituency have been built in that way with State loans.

Now the crofter has to get a contractor to do the work. This takes the job more expensive. It might or might not be the right way to do it, but why stop him in mid-flow in this fine rehousing drive, to which he has contributed so much by his own skill and labour, by slapping on this means test provision of a £300 deposit which the average crofter cannot find and cannot obtain from the bank as long as he has to pay the high interest rate which has obtained under Government policy for the last three years? If the Government mean what they say about crofter rehousing, why should not they help this development instead of stopping it?

I cannot see the younger generation remaining much longer in some of the smaller islands or mainland townships unless radical measures are taken to rescue them from decay. I take it that it is Government policy to keep the population there is far as possible and to arrest the drift of population. This has been the avowed policy of every Government that I have known for many years and even since well before the war. Yet, the drift goes on. This is not all explained in economic terms. It is not explained in climatic or weather terms, or by the difficulties of soil and the frugal harvest. It is largely explained in terms of the social background against which these people have to live and to bring up and educate their families.

It is time that the social services in these agricultural areas, particularly in the neglected areas of north-west Scotland and the Western Islands were brought into line with those to be found elsewhere. Agriculture obviously cannot prosper without proper roads and communications, without proper means of transport, without electricity and an adequate telephone system—indeed, without all the things which are regarded as wholly essential and which have been taken for granted for many decades everywhere else. All that the people in the Highlands know of their future regarding transport is that they are threatened with the stripping away of the railway services while being left with an utterly inadequate road system—in places, with no roads at all.

That is not the way to encourage people to stay on the land, to stem the trend of depopulation or to cure unemployment. The Government have a five-year or ten-year programme right in their laps at this moment which might, at least, save them from losing a few seats at the next election to the Liberal Party if only they would put it into operation by getting on with a real programme for the basic services—roads, harbours, jetties, sewerage and drainage, electrification—all the things which are essential in so many crofting areas in the Isles, especially, and still denied to them.

How is it possible to practise modern agriculture without adequate water supplies, roads and electrification? It is all right to offer these various welcome forms of aid, but without the other things which are wholly essential and which are the foundation for everything else by way of economic development, there is little possibility of raising the standards in these areas to that enjoyed in other more fortunate places. If the Government neglect the basic services and the social background, they may as well forget the Bill and all that it stands for.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Hoy

I should like to add a word to what my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) has said so well. On Second Reading, I made a plea for regeneration, reseeding and drainage, which is extremely important in my hon. Friend's part of the world, because I considered that it would be rather a waste of public money simply to concentrate on reseeding without giving a good base to the soil. I suggested that a period of three years was the absolute minimum if we were to get the best out of the soil.

This is a peculiar Bill which we have been dealing with today. It is a regular hotch-potch. It is called a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill and it provides for many things over a wide field, from £20,000 for fertilisers for mushrooms to £150,000 at the other end of the Bill for the Irish Sugar Corporation.

I well understand my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) being a little flippant about it. I will not repeat the story of the man who made a claim for cultivating grapes on Ben Nevis, but I recall an hon. Member opposite who, when he heard that so many subsidies were going, made a plea for winter keep for his bees. He said that if the mushroom growers were to have subsidised fertiliser, his claim for winter keep for his bees was equally strong.

The question of the mushrooms is an interesting one. I do not want to spend time on it except to repeat how extraordinary it is that when we asked for a similar sum under the Sea Fish Industry Bill to provide compensation for the shell fishermen, the Government said that it was prohibitive and simply could not be done. Immediately we get on to a little corner of agriculture, however, or even an attachment to it, the Government find it neither impossible nor even difficult to provide art equal amount.

Therefore, if my hon. Friends are a little suspicious, they have every reason to be so. While we are not criticising the subsidies that are paid to agriculture, my hon. Friends are tempted to say to hon. Members opposite that it is amazing to compare the freedom with which they give out subsidies to agriculture with the awful, Scrooge-like attitude which they adopt when we discuss small subsidies for municipal housing tenants. My hon. Friends contrast the behaviour of hon. Members opposite because they realise that as we pass these extra subsidies tonight, entailing about £35 million, no means test will be applied to any of the recipients. For that reason, my hon. Friends express their doubts.

Before returning to the question of the sugar agreement, which was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), I should like to raise one or two other points. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, raised the question of the distribution and cost of the fowl pest vaccine, which is to be provided at subsidised prices by the Government. I raised this matter on a previous occasion for one good reason. It is only a short time ago that the Ministry's experts said that the development of this vaccine had not reached a stage at which they could say that it would prove adequate for its job. Until then—and I am talking about only a few short months ago—the Ministry was paying compensation because of the slaughtering of birds which contracted fowl pest disease.

Before the House approves this part of the Bill—because it is the taxpayers' money which again will subsidise this operation—we are entitled to know from the Minister if the Ministry now believes that this vaccine has been developed to such an extent that it will give a guarantee against the disease. Unless it does so, the money might as well be poured down the drain. We want to ensure that, having paid for the vaccine, which may not be effective, we will not be faced by some Supplementary Estimate to compensate for the slaughter of birds. It is reasonable that the House should have this assurance.

I now wish to return to the subject of the winter-keep scheme. This scheme is in substitution for the old M.A.P. grant. To Scotland this is extremely important because so many of our farms in the uplands are marginal in every sense of the word. It is in these areas, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles said, that we want not only to maintain the farms but to prevent further depopulation, in areas which have suffered very badly from it in the past; and if we are going to err at all, let us err on the side of generosity rather than of meanness. The people who farm in these areas have tremendous difficulties with which to contend.

I want to raise specific points in connection with the operation of Clause 18. I mentioned this on a previous occasion to the Under-Secretary. Clause 18 imposes some further restriction on the operation of notices to quit agricultural holdings, and some of my farming friends have felt that under this Clause greater security will be given to tenant farmers. I want to know why the Clause does not apply to Scotland. Clause 26 states quite clearly that Clause 18 does not apply to Scotland. We therefore want an assurance that Scotland is already covered by provisions in certain other legislation.

I want to return to a problem which affects Wales perhaps more than any other part of the country. That is the dissolution of the Agricultural Land Commission and the Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission. The case was put very well by my hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. G. Roberts). It was also raised during the Committee stage of the Bill. What gives us concern is the position of tenants whose land is transferred to the Forestry Commission. We are concerned that their security of tenure will disappear when their land is transferred to the Commission.

The Minister said, "We will not rush in and drive the people out so that the Forestry Commission can take over." But that is not good enough. We should like the Minister to go a little further tonight. After all, we know that at present these tenant farmers have security of tenure, but they will lose it if their farms are transferred to the Forestry Commission. At least, that is what they fear. They are entitled to expect, before the Bill is given a Third Reading, an assurance from the Government that their security of tenure will be safeguarded. I am certain that I speak not only for my right hon. and hon. Friends but for every hon. Member in saying that.

Now I come to the sugar agreement. I have been surprised today by the absence of those who were loud in their detestation of the agreement and made threats of what they would do when the Bill came before the House. They have not come today to support what they were saying a few weeks ago. But I too want to make a protest against the inclusion of the agreement in this Bill. It has no right to be so included.

This is not the first occasion on which this sort of thing has happened. The Government injected into the Sea Fisheries Act the prohibition of salmon fishing, even taking over control of international waters and prohibiting them to our own fishermen while giving rights to foreign fishermen. They put that provision in an Act with which it had no association. Now the Government have found it convenient to put the sugar agreement into this Bill.

I spent considerable time discussing this agreement in Committee and I shall not go into detail again. But for the record it should be said quite clearly that the effect of the voluntary agreement among the refiners was that the British sugar refiners had to pay up to £4 a ton more for their sugar than the Irish sugar refiners had to pay for theirs. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) had better get that in his head. When the British refiners were released from their undertaking the compensations, if any, went to the raw sugar producers and not to the refiners.

The refiners put their case succinctly and it was understood by the Minister. They said they would have no complaint if the Irish refiners had imported Commonwealth sugar and had obtained Commonwealth preference on it when it was re-exported. But that did not happen. The Irish imported Polish sugar and then obtained Commonwealth preference when it was re-exported. The hon. Member, coming from Ireland, will know that this was described there as a "three card trick." As a consequence of this operation—and this has not been denied by the Minister—the Irish Corporation benefited to the extent of £2 10s. a ton. That is why the British refiners have argued that there can be no justification for giving a subsidy because Eire now buys Commonwealth sugar, for she should have bought Commonwealth sugar in any case in order to get the preference.

Mr. H. Clark

The hon. Gentleman have mistaken me. I did not defend the importation of Polish sugar. I was merely maintaining the right of Northern Ireland to buy sugar, if she wants to, from south of the Border if it is more profitable, and not necessarily limit its imports to 10,000 tons.

Mr. Hoy

But the hon. Member must face the consequences. He says that the Irish should have the right to buy sugar from foreign countries in competition with the Commonwealth, and then re-export it under Commonwealth preference at an advantage of £2 10s. a ton. If he does not mean that, let him get up and say so.

Mr. H. Clark

I think that one of the most important provisions of the Agreement is that the Irish Corporation is bound from now on to buy sugar from the Commonwealth. I do not suggest that there is continuing agreement to buy Polish sugar.

Mr. Hoy

The hon. Gentleman now says that they will buy a specific amount from the Commonwealth sugar producers, and this has been the argument used by the Government. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the British sugar refiners could well have taken all the sugar that the Commonwealth producers were able to give them, but as a consequence of this deal with the Irish Sugar Company this country was involved in the expenditure of a sum estimated at £150,000, and this would have had to be provided by the consumer in Britain. It is true that as a result of the movement in sugar prices the Government will not have to face this bill, but that is due to some fortuitous circumstance. If the price of sugar had moved the other way, the bill might have exceeded that sum for the consumers in this country, and the hon. Gentleman must face that fact.

We want to encourage Commonwealth sugar production and consumption, but there are some Members on this side of the House who have doubts about whether this is the right way to do it. If we are going to do it this way, let us face the bill which has to be met by the British consumer.

Mr. Loughlin

I want to deal with this point about how far we are prepared to assist Commonwealth sugar interests. Part of this agreement is for an experiment in the growing of beet sugar in Northern Ireland which will then compete with Commonwealth sugar.

Mr. H. Clark rose

Mr. Hoy

I have given way often enough. I have sat in the House since half-past two, and I think that it would not be a bad idea if I got on with my speech.

It is part of the agreement between Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland that this 200-acre experimental production of beet sugar will be carried out. I can understand the hon. Gentleman saying that this may eventually mean something to Northern Ireland. I think that he protested vehemently against the limitation of the size of this experiment. I do not think he used the terms used by the Secretary of State for Scotland when he was thinking about reclaiming 250,000 acres, but I think that the hon. Gentleman felt that 200 acres were insufficient.

Let us consider how this has worked out. Our trade to Northern Ireland has been affected adversely to the extent that the combined trade between Greenock and Liverpool has fallen by about 13,700 tons of refined sugar. Of that total, 55 per cent. of the loss has been borne by Greenock, and the remainder by Merseyside. The hon. Member for Antrim, North says that this is not a large amount, but Greenock now has an unemployment total of 1–0 per cent., and anything that worsens that position is very serious indeed.

That view is accepted by the Minister and, while in the terms of a full economy and full employment it may not mean a lot, it means something substantial when the unemployment rate is 10 per cent., and I am certain that this should evoke sympathy from Northern Ireland where the unemployment rate is as high as it is at the moment. I accept that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me, and I hope that he will not interrupt.

Let us also remember what is taking place in these shipments, because this is important. It is not only a question of refining sugar, but of transporting it. It is interesting to note that just as our sugar imports have fallen by about 13,284 tons, so have the Irish imports to this country risen from nil to about 11,500 tons. One can see at a glance just what this has meant not only in sugar refining but in shipments of sugar. It is because of this that my hon. Friend's constituents in Greenock express concern, a concern shared by the people on Merseyside, because both are areas of high unemployment.

I am sorry to have spent so much time on the sugar agreement, but it was the Government who put the agreement into the Bill. All I want to say in conclusion is that we have spent a considerable time on the Bill. I hope that in its main facets it will work out to the benefit of the industry, not only in the sense of dividends but for those who seek to earn their livings inside the industry. If it does that we shall feel that we have got some reward for the cash we are spending—because it is the taxpayers' cash that will pay the subsidy.

It is true that the main purpose of the Bill is to restrict price levels. If it did not do that it would fail in its purpose. If it makes it possible for the people in the uplands and in the marginal farms to maintain themselves and their families with a modicum of comfort, we shall have no objection to the Bill being given a Third Reading.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) has underlined the fact that the Bill has been generally welcomed by the House. The interesting and quite long debate that we have had in the past few hours has covered all the important aspects. I shall try to answer the various points that have been made by hon. Members as best I can, going through the Bill Clause by Clause.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) asked about co-operative schemes under Clause 1. He wanted to know whether one farm could get together with another, and whether the Government enocuraged this. Indeed we do. We are making every effort to encourage hill farmers to co-operate in preparing joint schemes where this can be arranged and where the farms are contiguous.

The hon. Member also asked about the survey of hill areas. As he knows, our officials are now examining conditions in the whole of Great Britain for the purpose of reviewing the existing areas in order to see how they compare with each other. I do not think that it would be fair to put any pressure upon them in the matter of the publication of their findings. I can assure the hon. Member that they are working as fast as they can, and we hope to have their views shortly. It is important that we should have this all-round look at the existing situation. I can assure the hon. Member that it will not be held up for any reason.

The hon. Member next asked about grants for amalgamations under Clause 3, and wondered whether the scheme went far enough. Other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), also raised this point. This is one point that the Government had in mind in introducing the scheme in the 1957 Act. The amalgamations are assisted only to the extent that the incidental costs can be grant-aided under these provisions. I accept that this is not an enormous help, but I can assure the House that these amalgamations are taking place and that, where further amalgamations are possible, they are encouraged by means of our advisory services throughout the country. The hon. Member for Gloucestersire, West (Mr. Loughlin) mentioned the question of mushrooms under Clause 4. We had a very long and exhaustive debate on this subject upstairs in Committee. I noticed that the hon. Member made the same speech on the Floor of the House as he made upstairs—

Mr. Loughlin

Not the same speech.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

—in some parts. I shall spare the House by not making the same speech in the House that I made upstairs in Committee.

There is an anomaly here and I ask the House to remember that mushroom growing is the second largest part of the indoor horticultural industry and that the growers produce £7 million worth a year. The hon. Member made great play about existing mushroom growers being on agricultural land. This is a technical definition. If they put their fertiliser or compost back on the land, be it half an acre or a quarter of an acre, the growers do at present qualify for subsidy. That would be an encouragement to the industry which, although the hon. Member treats it lightly, is a very important one.

Mr. Loughlin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

No, I cannot give way now. We have covered the points about mushrooms almost to exhaustion, both as to eating them and dealing with them under this Clause. If the hon. Member is still worried about the matter, he should read the speeches which he and I made in Committee upstairs.

I turn to a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) concerning fowl pest, which was referred to by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Leith. I can do no more than repeat what my right hon. Friend said yesterday in reply to a Question about fowl pest. The response from the poultry industry up to the moment is disappointing. We have said all along that the vaccine is not guaranteed to be 100 per cent. effective, but it is the best we can expect. And it will only be really effective if there is 80 per cent. coverage throughout the country. In other words, unless poultry farmers vaccinate their flocks up to 80 per cent., the vaccine will not be 100 per cent. effective. If that is done we are confident that it will fulfil the purpose for which it is used. I must point out again how necessary it is for the industry to realise that the policy of slaughter and compensation will be coming to an end in the not-too-distant future. It behoves poultry farmers to get their flocks vaccinated for their own protection.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford suggested that perhaps methods of vaccination are not widely enough known. We are sending out as many leaflets and articles for the Press and as many instructions as we can. A further suggestion was about demonstrations. Our field staff has worked closely with the county fowl pest committees in giving lectures and demonstrations throughout the country. Next month the National Fowl Pest Campaign Committee, sponsored by the National Farmers' Unions, will be launching a special publicity drive under the slogan, "Don't hesitate, vaccinate". The Department is working very closely with that campaign. I must impress on the House that, in spite of all these publicity campaigns, and other gimmicks, it is the poultry keeper himself who has the future of his flock in his hands. The vaccine is good and efficient and it is not difficult to administer. I hope that the industry will take heed of what my right hon. Friend has said and what I am saying this evening.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford also suggested that a Chair of Marketing Research should be set up. This is a very useful suggestion which we will examine. I will get in touch with him later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft and several other hon. Members spoke about small farms, machinery syndicates and co-operation. As the hon. Member for Workington knows, nobody is more enthusiastic than myself in trying to promote and encourage co-operation among farmers, particularly small farmers. I will certainly look at the point my hon. Friend made. The formation of machinery syndicates can be of tremendous benefit to small farmers. This Clause will encourage them to get together and cut costs. Everything we can do is being done.

The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) and various other hon. Members opposite raised points on Clause 17. I do not think that I need go too deeply into this. It was very exhaustively examined in Committee. The Opposition accused my right hon. Friend of sticking to principle and dogma, but it is they who are doing it. Accepting that the policy of my right hon. Friend and of the Government is to dispose of lands held by the Government, the logic of the case is indisputable the time must come, and, indeed, has come, when there is not sufficient land left to warrant such high powered bodies as the Agricultural Land Commission and the Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission being kept in being.

The hon. Member for Caernarvon asked various questions in relation to the dissolution. He asked who would continue to manage the land which was left. The answer is that the land services of the Ministry, staffed by extremely competent officers, will continue to administer this, as they do at the moment under the Land Commission.

Mr. G. Roberts

I entirely agree that the land services department is an excellent one. May I take it that it will operate from Aberystwyth as well as from London?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Yes. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will continue to operate in the best interests of the land concerned. The hon. Gentleman asked about land coming to the State by way of death duties. I am sure he knows that the Glanllyn Estate is the only one which has ever come in. This was a special case. A special plea was made for it to come into the hands of the Department and of the Land Commission. This is not a normal practice. It is not likely to happen again.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about large-scale reclamation schemes. Neither of the two Commissions handles such schemes. When a report was put in by the Commission recommending that they should do this, it was turned down. The hon. Gentleman asked finally about the Mid-Wales report. This was mentioned in Committee. The value of this report is fully appreciated. Nobody denies this. If in the future some such report or inquiry is needed, my right hon. Friend is quite prepared to find people for an ad hoc committee. We have our Welsh Department, which is of great value. It is staffed by very competent technical people. The hon. Gentleman need have no fears that there will be a lack of knowledge in the future.

The hon. Member for Leith asked about the Forestry Commission land. I understand his anxiety. But it is not the policy of the Commission to use the powers it has under Section 24 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, as the normal means of securing resumption of land for planting. It is the policy of the Commission wherever possible to secure the resumption only by voluntary means. Compulsory evictions have been rare and I do not expect them to be more frequent in the future. However, in the rare cases where it is necessary to compel a satisfactory tenant to quit, arrangements have recently been made for the Forestry Commission, before giving notice, to obtain the consent of my right hon. Friend. I hope that this explanation will satisfy hon. Members who have raised this matter. I can understand their feelings about it.

The hon. Member for Leith also raised several points about Clause 18 and asked why it does not apply to Scotland. The reason why it does not is because Section 74 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1949, states that any question of difference of any kind between the landlord or tenant of an agricultural holding shall be determined by arbitration. The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) raised a constituency point. If he will let me have the details I will make inquiries of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and get in touch with him later.

The final Clause with which I wish to deal concerns the sugar agreement with Ireland, which seems to have caused so much difficulty upstairs and in the House. A number of points have been raised and, on the general one made by the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) about the employment situation, I hope that he and all hon. Members realise that if the agreement had not been made the employment position in Greenock could have worsened. The same can be said of Liverpool.

When the agreement comes into force it could have a beneficial effect on the employment situation in these ports. Had there been no agreement the Republic of Ireland would have been perfectly entitled to export to Northern Ireland as much refined sugar as they could sell. They are entitled to export to this country as much sugar in manufactured goods as they can sell. By the agreement the Republic of Ireland is restricting, voluntarily, its sales of refined sugar to Northern Ireland. I think that the hon. Member for Greenock does not appreciate that if there were no such agreement, the export of refined sugar from the Irish Republic to the United Kingdom could go on increasing. There was no reason why it should not. The agreement is helpful for these reasons, and the point about the employment position raised by the hon. Member has no relevance to the Clause.

Several hon. Members have referred to the trial going on in Northern Ireland on 200 acres of land. I should like hon. Members to recollect that this is only a trial. Whatever hon. Members may have quoted me as saying in Committee upstairs, it is only a trial. Only when one knows whether or not the trial will succeed will it be possible to go further. To do so without knowing the result would be foolish. I do not accept that it is too small or that it was been subdivided into too small fragments. The whole essence of the trial is to have it on a small scale to see if it is successful. If it is, there seems no reason why we should not extend it.

However, the growing, planting and harvesting of beet is, to a certain extent, circumscribed by the character and amount of land in which beet can be grown favourably. I am sure that hon. Members would agree that by no means all of Northern Ireland would be suitable for this type of crop. Not all that much land is available for this purpose and, in any case, there has been a great deal of doubt about whether or not it could be done on a commercial scale. It should also be remembered that the Irish Sugar Company have agreed to accept whatever comes forward from the crop and to manufacture it.

The hon. Gentleman made a further point about the copies of the agreement upstairs. He says that there is only one. If hon. Members want more, we will arrange for them to be made available.

Dr. Mabon

In acknowledging this, will the hon. Gentleman tell us what consultations he had with the industry before this took place and whether in any future revision of this agreement or in any new agreement he intends to consult the industry? I am sure that it would be more convenient to have more copies of the draft agreement rather than leave it to hon. Members to ferret out the information from his Department.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I was trying to be as co-operative as I could with the hon. Gentleman and trying to meet the point which he made. One of the things he asked was whether I could arrange for more copies of the agreement to be available. He made great play with the fact that there was only one. I am telling him that if he wants more copies to be available I will arrange for this to be done. As far as consultation is concerned, we do not in the normal way consult with the trade interests before agreements are made. We consult with them after the agreements have been made. This is what happened in this case.

On the other point raised by the hon. Gentleman concerning trade with the Republic of Ireland and how restricted it is, I would inform him that there is a sizeable trade in syrup with the Republic of Ireland at the moment. Of course, there is a duty on the syrup going into the Republic of Ireland, but, equally, this agreement puts a complete ban on imports of refined Southern Irish sugar into Great Britain. They can only export it to Northern Ireland and they are restricted to 10,500 tons. Therefore, it is hard to see how we could ask the Republic of Ireland to relax further its regulations and restrictions.

I turn now to the matter of the £150,000 of taxpayers' money. I wish to make it quite clear that this is not taxpayers' money but money coming from the surcharge which the Sugar Board is charging. When the new arrangements were made in 1962 the price of sugar was dropped by an amount equal to the increase in the surcharge so that the cost of sugar to the consumer would not be increased. In point of fact, this is where the effect on the Irish came from.

Finally, in regard to this Clause, I wish to impress upon the House that, although the agreement may seem rather complicated, it is giving a new outlet to Commonwealth sugar into the Republic of Ireland which, in its turn, is restricting its trade with us. I think, therefore, that the arrangements which we have made to compensate the Republic of Ireland—as we would be doing if market prices had not gone up—to the tune of £150,000 a year is greatly to the advantage not only of this country, but of the Commonwealth as well.

I hope that I have covered most of the points raised in the debate. I am certain that the Bill will be very valuable to the industry which hon. Members by their contributions to the debate have been trying to serve.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.