HC Deb 19 February 1963 vol 672 cc319-66
Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I beg to move, in page 18, line 27, to leave out "(4)" and insert "(5)".

This Amendment is consequential on the Amendment to the Clause dealing with the fertiliser subsidy.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 18, line 28, after "13", insert: (Protection of farm animals exposed for sale)".—[Mr. Scott-Hopkins.] In page 18, line 28, after "18", insert: and (Extension of time limits in arbitration proceedings relating to agricultural holdings)".—[Mr. Peart.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster, and the Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]

7.34 p.m.

Mr. Soames

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

First, I should like to thank all those who have contributed to our discussions on the Bill on Second Reading, in Committee upstairs and this afternoon. Hon. Members have been very tolerant with me in my frequent enforced absences from the Committee, and I am grateful to them, but I think that they would all agree that my hon. Friends the Parliamentary Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland have made able contributions in Committee. We have been able to agree upon some additions to the Bill which will add to its value, and we have thoroughly examined those provisions which have been in it from the outset. Many of the Clauses are enabling Clauses, and detailed schemes which we shall make under them will be watched by hon. Members. The discussions in Committee have given us the opportunity of knowing what is in the minds of hon. Members about the scope of the schemes, and this will be borne in mind when drawing up the orders.

The core of the Bill is in those provisions which will help to strengthen the economic and competitive position of the agricultural industry during the coming years. Foremost among these is the additional provision of £35 million for the Farm Improvement Scheme. I believe that there is general acceptance on both sides of the House—and the passage of the Bill has shown this—about the value and success of this scheme.

In addition, we are providing more funds for land improvement schemes in the hills, extending powers to pay hill stock subsidies and providing for new schemes to grant-aid winter keep in the hills and the improvement of permanent grassland, and we are giving Government support to the industry's own efforts to encourage market research, machinery syndicates and co-operation under the guidance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent.

There is another group of measures in the Bill by which we are bringing existing legislation up to date where changing policies, changing circumstances or new techniques make this necessary. This applies, for example, to the extension of fertiliser subsidy to foliar sprays, the prospect of new standards for bull and boar licensing under Clause 16 and the Amendment in Clause 21 about the cooling of eggs.

I should number among these sorts of provisions Clause 17 which provides for the abolition of the Land Commission and the Welsh Sub-Commission. I know that hon. Members opposite regard this as a point of principle. Given the policy which the Government have pursued for many years in disposing of land in the ownership of the State as far as this can be done, it inevitably follows that the task left to the Land Commission cannot justify its continued existence. This is no reflection at all on the work which the Commission and the Sub-Commission have done in managing a very considerable acreage in the past with great skill and finishing with a good financial record.

My hon. Friends and I said that we would later refer to certain points which were raised in Committee upstairs, and I should like to touch on one or two of them now. The first concerns Clause 5, which deals with the registration of fertiliser merchants with the object of securing better control over the administration of the fertiliser subsidy. Subsection (4) of that Clause provides that, before refusing to register a fertiliser supplier or cancelling a registration, the Minister must give written notice of the grounds for this action and give the person concerned an opportunity of being heard by someone appointed by the Minister.

I can confirm that when such a hearing takes place the merchant concerned will be able to be represented by a lawyer or some other professional adviser should he so wish. This point was raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). It is our intention that an independent lawyer will be invited to conduct any such hearing. The procedure would follow the rules laid down in orders made by the Lord Chancellor for public hearings which are held into local authority planning decisions and compulsory purchase orders. Any decision to refuse or cancel a merchant's registration would be taken at Ministerial level, although I hope that the need for this will not arise.

In Committee upstairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton) and other hon. Members put forward a case for using the power in Clause 5 so as to confine registration in some way to what were described in Committee upstairs as bona fide merchants. But for the purposes of safeguarding the subsidy—this is what we are after in the Bill—it is sufficient for us to have powers to inspect the books of those who are dealing in fertilisers, and this is what the Clause gives. It would be undesirable to be more restrictive, particularly as the sanction of refusing registration is a powerful one. It was not our intention to limit the number of people who could trade in fertilisers but merely that we could have access to the books of those who traded in them, so that the subsidy can be safeguarded.

When discussing Clause 20 in Standing Committee, several hon. Members, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), were anxious that when a farmer was displaced by an acquiring authority and no allowance was paid, he should be told the reason for this, or that even when an allowance was made, he should know the basis on which the authority had determined the amount. I promised to consider this.

As a result, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is arranging that when the Bill has received Royal Assent a circular will be sent to the various acquiring authorities asking them to give this information on request not only to farmers as covered by Clause 20 but also to other classes of occupiers in a similar position under the corresponding provisions of the Housing Act, 1957, and the Land Compensation Act, 1961. This, I think, meets the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft. In Scotland, corresponding arrangements will be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Clause 22, which gives the Sugar Board power to implement the agreement which we have reached with Northern Ireland, was the subject of considerable discussion in Committee. I do not want to reopen discussion on all the aspects of this complex subject, but I should like to make one or two things clear. First, there is no doubt that Irish exporters suffered damage as a result of the sugar régime which was introduced at the beginning of 1962 as compared with their position before that time. The new agreement compensates the Irish, and it is right that it should in view of our special relations with them. That is the Government's view. The members of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement were similarly affected and they have been compensated.

It has been suggested that the agreement is unfair and one-sided, but this is not so. The Irish Republic will in future import Commonwealth sugar for its own needs and for its export trade with this country. This is a valuable new market which has been welcomed by Commonwealth exporters. They have already made their first sale of 15,000 tons for delivery this year.

Secondly, the Irish Sugar Corporation has agreed to purchase the produce from a trial of sugar beet in Northern Ireland, a trial which has been proposed by the Ulster National Farmers' Union and is of considerable interest to its members. The Irish have agreed to restrict exports of refined sugar to Northern Ireland to the reduced quantity of 10,500 tons.

Thus, so far from damaging the interests of sugar refiners, if anything the agreement helps them by leaving a slightly bigger market for them in Northern Ireland, for the Southern Irish are limited to 10,500 tons being sold to Northern Ireland as compared with a figure of 13,000 tons in the last year or so. So much for individual Clauses.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

Will the Minister give some information on Clause 22? Under the agreement, if prices of sugar fell to very low levels, what would be the ceiling which the Sugar Board would pay to the Irish Sugar Corporation?

Mr. Soames

As a basis for the agreement, we took a world price of sugar of £25 per ton. Given that price, the money going over to the Irish Sugar Board would be £150,000. That was the mean that we took and that is the figure that the Irish have lost as a result of the new regime. If the world price of sugar goes above £25 per ton, the payment would be less than £150,000. If the average world price over the year were £30 instead of £25, the sum would be £100,000. If it fell to £20 per ton, the payment would go up from £150,000 to £200,000.

Apart, possibly, from an odd day or two at some time or other, the world price of sugar has not fallen below an average of £20 throughout the year for 20 years. I do not think that there could be any question of the world price of sugar falling below £20 a ton for any length of time without its having a disastrous effect upon world sugar producers. It is considered most unlikely that any price of this sort would rule for any length of time.

We have, however, taken £25 as the mean. If the price drops, the payment will be slightly more than £150,000. Every £5 less in the world price of sugar represents £50,000 more; every £5 more means £50,000 less. That is how we arrived at these figures.

The Title of the Bill—Miscellaneous Provisions—does not belie its contents. This only shows, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) will know, the remarkable diversity of the problems that arise in agriculture. The problems go beyond those of agricultural legislation.

All of us have turned our thoughts from time to time to the farmers who were grappling with the physical problems of feeding and watering their stock, sometimes buried in snowdrifts, and of keeping supplies moving off the farm. I hope that what we are doing in the Bill will help the farmer in tackling no less effectively some of the economic and technical problems that lie ahead.

Assistance to the industry in the shape of direct farming grants forms a major part of the Government's policy for the industry. With expenditure now running at over £100 million per annum, it is right that we should keep the different forms of assistance under review in Parliament. The Bill serves that purpose.

With the provisions of the Bill, we are refurbishing some of the well-proved schemes of grant aid and introducing new ones to meet new needs. I am grateful to hon. Members who have studied and helped to improve the Bill, and I commend it to the House.

7.48 p.m.

Mr. Peart

We on this side of the House accepted the Bill in principle, but in Committee by hon. Friends sought particularly to scrutinise its financial provisions. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) would like to have spoken again on the mushroom subsidies.

Mr. Loughlin

I shall do.

Mr. Peart

I have no doubt that if he is called, my hon. Friend will be able to elaborate on that aspect of the Bill. I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friends and for their scrunity of the Bill, not only its financial implications but also its legislative effects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) has this evening had a new Clause accepted which shows that, even though the Bill may be a very good one, we have had to seek to make improvements here and there. I recognise that the Minister was busy elsewhere during certain stages of the Bill, but his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary won his spurs in Committee. We pay our tribute to the courtesy and the conscientiousness with which the hon. Gentleman responded to suggestions made by us. The Minister has had his disappointments.

The Bill is really an interesting one. The very fact that it was introduced at the time of our negotiations with the E.E.C. is extremely interesting. It is not for me to go into the wider aspects of agricultural policy now, for we must talk only about the Bill on Third Reading. But inevitably this Measure flows from the main legislation we have passed since the war. Indeed, tribute has been paid only today to Lord Williams, Minister of Agriculture in the period which produced the Livestock Rearing Act, 1951, the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948—which sought to improve tenant-landlord relationships—and, above all, the basic Act of 1947, which covers part of what we are dealing with now.

Despite the asinine comment of the Lord Privy Seal in reply to an intervention I made, when he said that entrance into the E.E.C. would not have harmed the position established by the 1947 and 1957 Acts, I am glad that the Ministry at this stage through this Bill seeks to build upon what the Labour Government started in 1947 and even before then.

The Bill provides a considerable sum of money to the industry. We commented on this during Second Reading. I sought then to analyse the policy of the Government. I asked whether it was deliberate policy to shift support from deficiency payments to production grants. As the Minister has said, quite rightly, grants—which I support—are now running at approximately £100 million a year, which is a very large sum. As this policy gives a different direction to the industry, it is right that we should carefully scrutinise any legislation which seeks to increase aid.

Figures have been given for improvements under Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1947, and we are giving an extra £35 million. I still want to know whether it is deliberate Government policy to switch support from the deficiency payments system and general support policy to specifically production grants.

As I argued on Second Reading, and in Committee, if we had gone into the Common Market we could still have paid specifically production grants, because Dr. Mansholt is on record as saying that, in the Community itself and in other countries outside the Community, production grants are an essential feature of agricultural policy. I have always argued, and have tried to convince even some of my hon. Friends on both sides of this House, that they are an essential feature of our industry because they enable the Government to speed up policy and take administrative action where required. Production grants covered by this Bill are therefore important.

Clause 1 is an important part of the Bill. Here there is another increase of £3 million which is in addition to the £27 million previously agreed to. The schemes, of course, will come to an end in 1963, but I should still like to know what is Government policy on what we term comprehensiveness. Will more than one farm be included in one particular scheme? Can grant aid be given in this way? I am anxious to encourage co-operation between farmers, and Clause 1, in a small way, could be used for that purpose.

Clause 2 extends the period of the payment of subsidies for hill sheep and cattle. We have accepted this. The Minister revealed on Second Reading that there would be a survey of our hill areas. I am still uncertain about what this survey will achieve, when it will be reported and how responsible the body charged with the task will be. We are all anxious to see our hill farmers succeed.

Today we have 400,000 cows in regular breeding herds in the hill and upland areas. The number of ewes in the hill areas is 4½ million and 5 million. These areas need help. We all know what the uplands farmers have had to put up with from the weather recently. There could have been a crisis in that part of the industry. Thus, Clause 2, which seeks to extend the period of payment of subsidies to improve our upland regions, has the support of the Opposition.

Clause 3 is one of the most important. It seeks to extend the provisions of the Farm Improvements Scheme. Here again, I should like to know whether it is deliberate Government policy to encourage amalgamations. I do not believe in enforced amalgamations. Here we are dealing with small farms. Some people take the view that small farmers should be driven out, and compensated. I do not accept that viewpoint.

Our small farmers should be encouraged. We should also, through financial assistance under Clause 3, encourage them to amalgamate. I resent the policy, which is advocated by some people who, I believe, do not know the industry, that small men should be driven out. These people claim that small farmers are inefficient and that their holdings cannot be viable units. But I remind these individuals that most of our farms are under 50 acres.

We have a total of nearly 525,000 farms—316,000 in England, 55,000 in Wales, 71,000 in Scotland and 81,000 in Northern Ireland. The majority are under 50 acres. It is entirely the professional economists attached to agriculture and rich business farmers who argue that now we have to face the challenge of not being in the Common Market we should tackle the small farmer. I do not accept this.

I assert that the small farmers must be encouraged. Indeed, some of them are more efficient than some large farmers. My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) has reported on the contribution which the small farmers in Wales have made. Will the Government make Clause 3 work? Will they encourage amalgamations? I recently read an interesting article by Professor Thomas, Professor of Agricultural Economics at Reading University, dealing with the amalgamation of small farms. The article appeared in 1961 in Lloyds Bank Review and I shall not read it in detail since so many hon. Members wish to speak. But I commend it to hon. Gentlemen.

We must encourage amalgamations. I trust that that line will be pursued by this Government and by the next Government when there is a change. Clause 3 must be used. We are anxious that co-operative enterprises should also he encouraged under it.

I thank the Minister for the assurance he has given under Clause 4. I will not deal with that in detail, but will leave it to some of my colleagues. I welcome Clause 6 which gives grants towards the construction of certain buildings used by farmers' machinery syndicates. We had an extremely interesting debate on this subject in Standing Committee. Many small farmers in different parts of the country, including my own County of Cumberland, and Westmorland, are forming syndicates. We must encourage co-operation and this provision will help small farmers.

I remind the Minister of an interesting article which appeared in the Farming Express. I know that the Farming Express has been rather critical of Government policy—and why not?—but I was delighted on Thursday to see the headline: Britain's small farmers have a future The way ahead for 120,000 Efficiency can mean prosperity". The article asked: Are Britain's small farmers finished? Have they no future, other than bankruptcy or other employment? The answer is 'No'. It was given yesterday by Mr. W. E. Jones, head of Britain's farm advisory service, at the National Power Farming Conference at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. I congratulate the Farming Express on defending the small farmer, and I hope that the Minister will remember what one of his own advisory officers has said. The way ahead for 120,000 small farmers is to combine and to form machinery syndicates and so on.

Clause 8 has not been mentioned in detail this evening, but it is very important. It deals with grants to bodies promoting co-operation in agriculture and horticulture. We welcome any aid given to the Agricultural Central Cooperative Association and its Welsh equivalent, the Welsh Agricultural Organisation Society. I asked in Committee whether this provision would be given any priority. We link it with Clause 9 which provides for grants for the promotion of efficient marketing. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) is a chairman of a very important committee which will receive grant aid under this scheme.

Are the Government in earnest about this matter? Will they encourage research, or will this be something lost, a promise made and nothing fulfilled? The Government have not been very sympathetic towards orderly marketing. I always keep with me the 1953 White Paper on the decontrol of food and marketing and agricultural policy. It reminds me of the failure of the Conservative régime to do anything. I never thought that hon. Members opposite would welcome a Government initiative in this respect, for they have always said that we must leave it to the industry. However, the time has now come when the Minister and his colleagues must take greater initiative.

We had an interesting debate on winter keep grants under Clause 10. We support the Clause and we link it with grassland renovation grants.

Clause 14 deals with the distribution of fowl pest vaccine at subsidised prices. We welcome the Clause which flows from the recommendations of the Plant Committee. I have the honour to be the president of the Poultry and Egg Producers' Association of Great Britain and we have responded to the Minister's campaign. The Minister made an interesting reply yesterday to his hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) about the effectiveness of the campaign. I expect that farmers will read that reply carefully, because we still have a long way to go to reach our goal, which is that every bird must be a vaccinated bird. I know that responsible sections of the industry will respond to the Minister's campaign for effective control against fowl pest. The provisions of this Clause must be vigorously pursued.

I now come to one of the most controversial provisions of the Bill, Clause 17, the dissolution of the Agricultural Land Commission. The Government have acted for doctrinaire reasons. The Land Commission was set up by the Labour Government in 1947 and Sections 68 to 70 of the Agriculture Act, 1947, laid down how the Commission should be administered. There was also a Welsh Sub-Commission. Hon. Members opposite have always been hostile towards the Commission. The Parliamentary Secretary was not an hon. Member at that time, but if he reads carefully the debates of the time, he will see that many hon. Members opposite were not sympathetic towards those provisions of the 1947 Act.

There were others, like an hon. Member who became Minister of Agriculture in a Conservative Administration, who thought that the provisions were reasonable, but most hon. Members opposite were hostile. They argued that the State was seeking to farm. But the purpose of the Commission, as the then Minister explained, was to manage land which could not be farmed privately, land which could be farmed only if the State intervened or provided the necessary capital. We argued that this was necessary because there were vast tracts of land which needed to be brought into effective cultivation.

Ever since then, hon. Members opposite have disliked the Commission. They have disliked several parts of the 1947 Act, including county committees and even Part I of the Act which dealt with security and assured markets and so on. They have paid lip service to the 1947 Act, and have not dared completely to dismantle it, but they brought in the 1957 legislation which weakened it and Clause 17 of the Bill is the culmination of that policy.

The Land Commission still bad a job to do. It could have undertaken experimental research. Professor Thomas' interesting article refers to the famous Yetminster Report which the Commission prepared in 1952. There was a report which sought to provide an experimental scheme for the readjustments of farm boundaries, a report which was never put into operation. There have also been important reports from the Welsh Sub-Commission.

This work was important and I regret that the Minister has ended the Commission. It could have been a useful part of our administration of agriculture and could have been an important part of our policy. It is too late to change the matter now. I regret it, but the Government have decided. I think that it is a grave mistake.

We also have Clauses dealing with notice to quit and allowances payable to persons who have been displaced from agriculture. We welcome these Clauses.

I come, lastly, to another disputed Clause which affects some of my hon. Friends, that dealing with the Irish Sugar Agreement. I know how some of my hon. Friends feel about this. They expressed themselves forcefully in Committee. They were rightly worried about the state of employment in refineries in this country, particularly in Greenock. I understand the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), and I would expect him to express his point of view.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

He did not get a chance.

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend was not a member of the Standing Committee.

Mr. Ross: Exactly.

Mr. Peart

I did not know that my hon. Friend was interested in agriculture generally, although I knew that he was interested in this Clause. Many of my hon. Friends who are interested in agriculture were not on the Standing Committee. Perhaps if the Committee had been a larger one he could have been selected to serve on it.

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirling-shire)

Perhaps my hon. Friend would tell us how it is possible to get on to an agricultural Standing Committee such as the one which considered this Bill.

Mr. Peart

From his experience in the House my hon. Friend must know how Members are selected to serve on Standing Committees. Often we have great difficulty in getting Members to serve on them. The Members of this Standing Committee were not selected by me. There was no attempt to put my hon. Friend off from being a member of it. Indeed, we were glad that his point of view was ventilated, and I sought to encourage it by suggesting that we should have a free vote, although I took a contrary view. I tried to assess what effect this would have on employment, and I am not convinced that firms like Tate and Lyle have a good case.

I take the view that the Clause will help our Commonwealth producers. I argued this in Committee. I think that we have here a pledge given by the Minister. I want to have good relations with Eire. We have an obligation there. I do not regard Eire as a hostile country, as some people suggest it is. I want friendly relations with the Government of the Republic of Ireland. They are not in the same position as France and other countries. They are our friends, and, as I said in Standing Committee, I sit on the Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. The Irish representatives sit with us. We regard them as our friends and colleagues, and I am sorry that Eire is not in the Commonwealth. Perhaps with wise statesmanship she will be one day.

I support anything which will encourage the making of arrangements which are satisfactory to all concerned. I also support anything which will ensure that the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement succeeds, and I am sure that the decision of the Government of the Republic of Ireland to take sugar from Commonwealth sources rather than from France and Cuba and other parts of the world is the right one. I do not accept the view that this will be harmful to our country.

Obviously some people have doubts about this, and no doubt will express their views, but the key to this is that under the agreement imports of refined sugar from Southern Ireland to Northern Ireland are to be restricted to about 2,500 tons below the figure of imports in recent years. This restriction is there, and for those reasons I hope that this Sugar Agreement will work well and will not harm our British refineries, nor the people in the industry, but will in the end encourage our Commonwealth producers, and also promote good relations with Eire.

For those reasons, I welcome the Bill. We may criticise some of the details of it, and we may criticise the Government's administration of it, but the Bill is a good one. It is a tidying-up Bill which will help to make the farm structure better. It will provide aid where it is needed, particularly in the upland areas. It will encourage farm improvement schemes to work more efficiently, and, broadly, it will help the industry. For those reasons we welcome it.

8.15 p.m.

Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)

There are just one or two points I should like to make on the Bill before it leaves the House. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing forward this useful Measure which, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) pointed out, has much of value in it.

My first point concerns Clauses 8 and 9, which enable my right hon. Friend to make schemes to encourage farmers to conduct research in marketing and developments in marketing. Although this seems an obvious development, it is a new one on which my right hon. Friend is to be warmly congratulated. It is one which he brought in during the last Agricultural Price Review. It gives a farmer a grant to encourage him, when he is planning the production on his farm, to think about the consumer who will consume his produce at the end of the day. This, although it is the logical thing to do, is contrary to the general tradition of farmers, who normally concentrate their energy and attention on the actual production of the produce of their farms and reckon that when it leaves the farm gate other people look after it.

That traditional attitude does not meet the situation today. They are too much at the mercy of the market if they follow those lines, and this is a valuable development which enables grants to be given to farmers, or groups of farmers, who wish to make research into the market into which they are to sell their produce, and also gives grants for farming groups or co-operatives of farmers to grade, present, and collect their produce into the most marketable form. It is a first-class idea, and, as has been mentioned, I have been fortunate enough to be asked to be chairman of the committee which is administering the scheme for the National Farmers' Union and a very interesting job it is.

This is a new thought to most of the farming world. There are pioneers both in horticulture and agriculture who are doing this, but the majority have not thought about it much, so that we on this committee have a pioneering job to do to get farmers to be aware of our existence and aware of the need to do this and make use of the grants which we can give them for their benefit.

It has occurred to me that, my right hon. Friend having spotted this gap in the agricultural economy and having decided to help out in this way, it might be necessary to go a step further to get continuity of thought in this field and set up a Chair of Agricultural Marketing where fundamental thought can be given to this essential part of the agricultural economy. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider this point.

My second point is a somewhat critical one. It concerns Clause 14, touched on by the hon. Member for Workington in connection with the subsidised supplies of fowl pest vaccine. Yesterday my right hon. Friend gave the figures of vaccination up to date in the country. It appears that only about 25 per cent, of our poultry flocks are at present vaccinated. At the end of next month the present system of slaughter and compensation comes to an end, and the sole protection of our many tens of millions of birds will be vaccination. This leaves only six weeks in which the balance of our birds can be vaccinated, and, obviously, it is a matter of the gravest urgency to get this enormous number of birds vaccinated.

There are two points I should like to make to my right hon. Friend in this connection. Of course, it is for the industry to make use of this valuable offer of the subsidised vaccine and to cooperate much more rapidly than it has been doing so far, but there are rumours, especially in the North and Lancashire, that this vaccine is not fully effective in the face of heavy infection.

I am not a veterinary expert, and I do not know whether that is the case or not, but I know from practical observation of the process of vaccination that it is a fairly expert job. The vaccine loses its efficacy if it is kept at either too high or too low a temperature, and I should think that many farmers do not realise that. The process of vaccinating with a syringe is fairly simple, but there are certain straightforward rules of hygiene—such as boiling the syringe, and keeping it in good working order—which must be observed. I doubt whether the majority of poultry farmers understand these rudimentary rules of the process of vaccination.

It may be that where breakdowns have occurred after the poultry on a farm has been vaccinated they have occurred because the vaccine was not in good order, or because the vaccination was not properly done and the birds did not receive the immunity which they should have.

I suggest that, at this stage, anyhow, the Minister ought to get some more demonstrations going throughout the country, so that poultry farmers can see just how the process of vaccination should be carried out—how they can observe simple rules and get going the drill by which large numbers of birds can be handled in quite a short time. Unless there is a sufficiently good voluntary response which makes vaccination general among our poultry farmers my right hon. Friend will have to consider a scheme of compulsory vaccination. We cannot allow our flocks to be exposed to an epidemic sweeping through the country and causing enormous losses to our poultry farmers, besides upsetting our supply of eggs and poultry meat.

The urgency of the problem is shown by the fact that only a quarter of our flocks have been vaccinated. I ask my right hon. Friend to note the extreme urgency of the situation. I know that he has sent notices to all our poultry farmers, but more than that is needed. We need demonstrations by expert teams throughout the country. I ask him to watch the situation, and to make sure that if, during the next six weeks, he does not get a much better response than he has got to date he will make preparations for a compulsory scheme and for sending out his own teams, who will have to do a very big job. The present position cannot be regarded as fully satisfactory, although the Minister's part of the provision has been a generous one.

I do not want to end on a note of criticism. Once again, I thank my right hon. Friend for what he is doing for the industry in this very valuable Bill, and I hope that the House will be able to speed it on its way.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. G. Roberts

The Bill does a number of very useful things, especially for the small farmers to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) has referred. Wales has a higher proportion of farms under 50 acres in extent than has the United Kingdom as a whole. I believe that 60 per cent. of our farms are under 50 acres each. Therefore, many of the Bill's provisions are bound to affect them. But the Bill leaves open the all-important question of the long-term agriculture policy of the Government, especially in view of the failure of the Common Market negotiations, into which I do not propose to go, except to suggest that it is vital that a well-thought-out policy of new guarantees should be presented to the farming community without undue delay. There is acute anxiety and uncertainty in the countryside.

In the Second Reading debate, the Minister said that the Government's policy was to switch from price supports to production grants. The Bill carries out that policy. But although I might be in favour of a certain amount of movement from price supports to production grants, I am bound to ask whether the emphasis on increased production is sufficient without a properly thought out marketing policy.

This is what is absent from the Bill. The various provisions for voluntary association, and financial and other encouragement by the central Government, are not enough, although we approve them. To the extent that the Bill encourages marketing co-operatives and other forms of co-operation it is to be welcomed, but the Bill relies unduly upon purely voluntary action. The inertia in the countryside and in the fanning community, although admirable in some respects, is perhaps a little dangerous in others.

I should have liked to see a provision in the Bill for the initiative to be taken by the Minister, through his officers and agencies, to encourage groups of farmers to engage in schemes of co-operation and even amalgamation. Here I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Workington in denouncing the wholesale proposals for the amalgamation of small farms regardless of the conditions obtaining in various parts of the country. The amalgamation of these small units must proceed on a voluntary basis, helped by expert opinion and solid inducements to co-operate. Without those it could be a tyranny and a threat of the first order to social cohesion in rural areas.

The Bill, as it has emerged from Committee, shows that the Government have adhered to their purely doctrinaire decision to dissolve the Land Commission and the Welsh Sub-Commission. There is no other reason for the action of the Government, except the narrowest doctrinaire prejudice against any form of State action in this great industry. In the Second Reading debate the Minister said that as the total amount of land held by the two Commissions had declined from 250,000 acres to 100,000 acres, and was still declining, the need for these commissions would cease. Hon. Members on this side of the House have said that the need should not be measured by the amount of land held by the Commissions at any given moment; it should be measured by the amount of land which, for various reasons, from time to time cannot be managed, let alone developed, by private initiative. When the two Commissions were first set up, apart from war-held land there was little land for them to manage.

It may well be that in the years to come land will become available from various sources to agencies such as the Commissions which these bodies could manage and develop. One useful function with which the Welsh Sub-Commission was charged was as agent of the Minister to maintain and, indeed, greatly to improve large estates such as the Glanllyn Estate in Merioneth comprising over 36,000 acres. That land was surrendered in lieu of death duty. Circumstances might again arise sooner or later when estates, because of the difficulty of paying the duty in cash, might surrender land. What agency will the Minister have, either in England or in Wales, which would be able to receive such land and to manage and develop it? By the abolition of these Commissions the right hon. Gentleman is leaving himself without such an instrument.

What about the reclamation of land which is not in the least likely to be recovered by private enterprise? There are large areas of land which, so far, private initiative has found it impossible to reclaim. The capital cost is completely prohibitive even in these days of wildly inflated land values and notional returns. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) could tell the House about large tracts of land in the Tregaron area which cannot be reclaimed by private initiative for that reason. Similarly, my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) could indicate in his constituency a large marsh which cannot be reclaimed for the same reason.

In other parts of Wales, and in the Fens and the Romney Marshes and other parts of England, there is land which needs to be reclaimed, and must be reclaimed. But it will never be reclaimed in this tight little land-hungry island by private enterprise. If he abolishes these two Commissions what agency has the Minister which would be able to undertake that task? When Lord Williams—Tom Williams, as he then was—was Minister of Agriculture he said that that was one of the highest priorities in the duties of these two Commissions.

The Commissions would seem to me to be exactly the right agencies to carry out experimental work which neither the Ministry nor the universities nor the agriculture colleges can properly conduct. This Bill provides an impetus for machinery syndicates and for other forms of agricultural co-operation. These Commissions could perform an extremely useful function in promoting pilot schemes in that respect. What is the use of providing, in this otherwise very useful Bill, encouragement for machinery co-operation when comparatively little is known about how to operate such co-operatives in this country? As Lord Williams envisaged, and as was agreed at the time by hon. Members opposite, it is obvious that Commissions of this sort could operate these schemes and show our people how most effectively such syndicates and co-operatives could work.

Finally, did the Minister consider the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington regarding the excellent reports prepared through the activities of these Commissions and, in particular, of the Welsh Sub-Commission? I have particularly in mind the Report of the Sub-Commission regarding Mid-Wales which was published in 1955. That was one of the best statements on economic geography ever published. It was even distributed to schools as an educational paper of the first quality. By abolishing these Commissions the Minister will be abolishing bodies which have a specific interest, knowledge and technique regarding the provision of facts and practical suggestions which might lead to the solution of the age-old problems of depopulation and of sub-marginal farming in areas like Mid-Wales. The Minister is throwing away an instrument which could be of great utility to him, to the farming community and to the country generally. He has produced no valid reason for doing so. We are forced to conclude that his only reason is one of doctrinaire prejudice.

The Bill will kill the Commissions. It will do so only temporarily, I am confident, because they have sure hope of resurrection under a Government who really care for the countryside and wish to pursue a truly progressive agricultural policy in place of the present policy of despair.

8.36 p.m.

Mr. Prior

I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) into the intricacies of the Welsh Sub-Commission, except to say that after the war we needed food desperately from all sources from which we could obtain it, whereas now the production of food off some of the land in the hands of the Welsh Sub-Commission would certainly not be economic under any circumstances. I support the Government in making the changes that they have made. It is also true that the Welsh Sub-Commission cost a great deal of money. It put up buildings on farms which have been rather more glorified than the farms could support. The Government have been quite right gradually to run down the Commission's activities and now to disband them altogether.

I wish to take issue with the hon. Member and with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) on the idea that the Government are trying to swing the method of support away from the general subsidy on to the production grant. I cannot see any great evidence for this understanding by hon. Members. If I thought that that was the case, I would resist it very strongly. I think that the production grants have become, and are becoming even more, too much a method by which the Government can pump money into the industry regardless of how much good that does. One can quote definite examples of subsidies which do nothing to help the basic needs of the industry and which are merely a way of pumping money into it. The calf subsidy comes readily to mind under that heading.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on Clause 3, which deals with additional money for improvement schemes. That is quite the most valuable scheme and production grant which has been given to the farmer since the war. The fact that money which should have lasted for ten years, has run out after about six years shows how valuable this has been to the farming industry. Wherever one goes, whether into Wales or East Anglia, one can see the good results of this money in farm improvement schemes. My right hon. Friend deserves great credit for pushing the Treasury into advancing a further sum of money.

The hon. Member for Workington dealt on the question of the small farm. He said that he could not follow the logic behind some people's arguments for trying to decry the part the small farmer plays and his future rôle in British agriculture. On the whole, I agree with him in those sentiments. That held good for probably about 90 per cent. of small farmers in the same manner as it probably holds good for about 90 per cent. of big farmers. It is not always the big farmer who is a good farmer; it is very much a question of the managing ability of the individual.

The hon. Member said that he thought it would be necessary to use powers granted under the 1957 Act and follow them up with the powers in Clause 3 of this Bill in regard to amalgamation. With that, I also agree. It is necessary to try to help small farmers voluntarily to amalgamate wherever possible. That would help many farmers. It is not possible to see how otherwise it could be brought about. I cannot see that the powers to help amalgamation, however, are as great as they should be. Although one wants to help the small farmer, one may not be helping him to eke out an existence on his present holding. There are a great many of the older small farmers, the over 60s, who are finding things rather tough. I would not hesitate to say that I would like to see in future legislation something done to help these people to get off the land if they want to go.

I think that that would be sound legislation and a far fairer way of helping them than probably by some of the production grants which enable them just to keep alive, but which do not enable them to enjoy the standard of living that everyone has come to expect in Britain in 1963.

For a number of them this is a problem which we have to face. It is added to by the fact that there are a great many young men waiting to go on to the land who are prepared to work very hard on small holdings and make a living out of them as a stepping stone to something better, but who are at present prevented from getting on to the land which they ought to be farming.

I want to mention Clause 6, which deals with making improvement grants to machinery syndicates, and so on. In Committee, my hon. Friend said that the grants for these improvements would take into consideration any milling and mixing that needed to be carried out or that farmers wanted to be carried out in those premises. I hope that he will impress upon his N.A.A.S. officers the very great importance that this could have for small farmers. At present, the cost of compound feedingstuffs mixed by the farmer himself is between £4 and £6 a ton lower than if he had placed it through a compound feedingstuffs' manufacturer. Here is one very quick way in which the smaller farmer could save himself a great deal of money. I hope that my hon. Friend will try to push this as much as he possibly can.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) spoke about Clauses 8 and 9 which deal with the agricultural marketing development committee. I wish as well to give this my wholehearted support. It got off to a slow start but I think that many farmers would want to use it and ought to use it and the sooner they know about it the better.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend for the promise that he has given with regard to Clause 20. I am satisfied with the answer that he has given that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will be sending a circular to all local authorities.

I am not so happy about Clause 22. When my right hon. Friend said earlier that no doubt the Irish sugar producers suffered as a result of the agreement of 1st January, 1962, I have no doubt that he was correct in saying that, but to my mind it is only because they were in an advantageous position before, and all that that agreement did was to put them back where they should have been. I cannot see any reason why the Irish Sugar Agreement should have been put into this Bill or why we should have reached it with the Irish in the first place.

Mr. Hoy

If the hon. Gentleman feels like that about it, why did he not vote against it in Committee?

Mr. Prior

Because I felt that my Amendment was not a very satisfactory one, and I decided to abstain on the question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" as the hon. Gentleman knows. I have not been entirely convinced by the arguments put forward.

However, I do not want to end on a sour note. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the way he conducted the proceedings in Standing Committee and on the courtesy he has shown to hon. Members in all our proceedings on the Bill. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) has not been able to take part in the later stages of the Bill. He certainly enlivened the Committee stage whilst he was with us. I know that he would like to see the Bill passed into law without delay. We welcome the Bill. It will be a useful Measure, designed to help agriculture in what will be difficult days, but there is no need for agriculture to despair. With this Bill on the Statute Book, and with the 1957 Act there as well, I have no doubt that the future of agriculture is reasonably secure.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Loughlin

I underline the point made by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). I, too. am sorry that the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) is not with us tonight, his absence being due to illness. He made his contribution in Committee. We all wish him well.

I have not found much to agree with in the debate. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary did an exceptionally good job in Committee. It is not much good my hon. Friend repeating and repeating that this is a good Bill after we spent so many hours in Committee trying to persuade the Minister that we ought to improve it and make it into a good Bill. One of the features of tonight's debate is the absence of the farmers. On Second Reading they were all here pleading the cause, but they are few and far between tonight. It may well be true that there is some advantage to be given to the farming community by the introduction of the Bill. It will receive another £35 million in subsidies. I am not against subsidies as such, but I believe that, if we are to pay subsidies as outlined in the Bill, before the Minister can expect the House to agree to them he ought at least to make a case as to why they should be given.

I made some very strong criticisms of one Clause which has not got anything at all to do with agriculture. I refer to Clause 4. I believe, to use the figures which have already been given, that we are proposing among other things to pay £20,000 in the form of subsidies to growers of mushrooms on land other than agricultural land. This is a dog's breakfast of a Bill, because although its title is Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill it deals with other than agricultural matters. It introduces in a new departure subsidies for somebody doing something on other than agricultural land. It proceeds to give £150,000 per year of the British taxpayers' money to the Irish Sugar Corporation. The Minister, when moving the Third Reading, made all sorts of calculations as to why the British sugar consumer should give subsidies to the Irish Sugar Corporation, which is virtually the Eire Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington asked why we should not do this. After all, he said, we are friendly towards Ireland. I realise, of course, that we are talking about Ireland and not France or Cuba. But if that is the basis on which we are going to give subsidies—because we are friendly to a nation and, therefore, the British taxpayer must subsidise it—then heaven help the day when we get complete universal brotherhood. In giving assistance to friendly nations we might find ourselves spending more on subsidies than we are on armaments.—[HON. MEMBERS: "A good idea."] It may be a good idea, but I do not see why we should of necessity give subsidies which must come out of the British taxpayers' purse simply because we are friendly towards it.

I return to the question of mushrooms, a favourite subject of mine. I recall that in a previous debate the suggestion was made by one hon. Member that British agriculture has reached the stage where it had been suggested that if a subsidy were given for growing grapes on Ben Nevis the farming industry would grow them there.

Mr. Peart

It was a stupid statement.

Mr. Loughlin

Was it?

Mr. Peart

It was. I recall that I was interrupted by an hon. Member who made that statement. I say that it was stupid because it distorts the position. We do not justify subsidies of that nature, nor does anyone in the industry, and that sort of statement does a good deal of harm to the industry, for all subsidies are carefully considered and such statements should not be taken seriously.

Mr. Loughlin

One is entitled to one's opinion about that. It is perfectly true that all forms of subsidies which go to the farming community or anyone else are carefully considered. But what sort of careful consideration would my hon. Friend the Member for Workington imagine was given to the suggestion that we should give £20,000 a year to growers of mushrooms on other than agricultural land? This is subsidies gone mad. It is not a question of giving assistance to farmers, small or large. This needs a great deal of understanding and we have really not had any explanation of it.

In Standing Committee the Parliamentary Secretary said that at present farmers can secure subsidies of this kind as long as they have bought the requisite minimum amount of fertiliser. The Government then discovered that an anomaly existed. They discovered that while a certain group of farmers could get the subsidy another group was unable to do so. If there is a case for giving agricultural subsidies, then at least 50 per cent. of that case is based on the difficulties peculiar to agriculture, that it is an industry which is subjected to the elements.

However, the people who will get the mushroom subsidy are not confronted with such difficulties because mushrooms grow in large corrugated sheds. They are grown, in the main—and this is where the £20,000 of taxpayers' money will go—by people who are growing them for commercial purposes. The mushrooms will be made into ketchup and mushroom soup. We have now got to a position in which we are prepared to spend £20,000 almost every year to give mushroom canners a subsidy on the basis of the first process they undertake. I confess that it is beyond me. If it is not these people, I challenge the Parliamentary Secretary to say who will receive this money.

I want to make it perfectly clear, because I do not want there to be any dubiety about it, that in this Clause we are dealing with the payment of subsidy for the growing of mushrooms other than on agricultural land, and it is to that specific issue that I want the hon. Gentleman to address himself. It cannot be the farmers, because the farmers, whether they were small or large, would qualify, as they would be operating on agricultural land.

If it is not the canners—who is it? Is it to be argued that simply on the basis of an alleged anomaly we can give to people who do not need any assistance moneys out of the public purse? If the hon. Gentleman claims that there are some who have been the victims of an anomaly and are not in receipt of a subsidy that other people are getting, it is incumbent on him, first, to tell the House what kind of people these were. Having done that, it would still be incumbent on him to make out a case on the basis of the economic difficulties with which they are now faced, or with which they might be faced in the future—because there can be no justification at all for the payment from the public purse of moneys in the form of subsidies unless there is an economic basis for that payment now or in the future.

I am a little tired of these people who talk about private enterprise. With every new idea that crops up they pick up a Bill, and say, "Ah, this is a good idea.

The Government are to grant for A, B, C and D." That is the state of mind they get into. Hon. Members opposite who talk about private enterprise then have the audacity in debate after debate to talk about Government grants and Government subsidies. They must have two little compartments in their minds which enable them first to talk about the virtues of private enterprise and then, when it is to their advantage, to talk about Government assistance to private enterprise as well.

Mr. Prior

Is the hon. Member suggesting that agriculture should be nationalised?

Mr. Loughlin

The hon. Member gets inane ideas and then trots them out and exposes himself. Nobody is talking about nationalisation. If nationalisation were the only alternative to private enterprise there would be validity in his argument, but it is not. In any case, it comes ill from him to suggest that there is something wrong with nationalisation. His Government have just nationalised Bailey's in Malta and renationalised Whitehead's. Why does he want to worry about nationalisation?

I was talking about mushrooms. I was saying that there should be an economic argument for an application for subsidy, but there does not appear to have been any application in this case. This is one of those almost unique experiences we have from time to time where nobody has asked for something, no lobby has been produced and no case has been made out but where the Minister has discovered an anomaly and intends to redress it. I asked the Minister what lobby was involved and all he had to say was that the National Farmers' Union welcomed this proposal. But that is completely irrelevant. This has nothing to do with the N.F.U., because this is something other than a farming subsidy.

Who produced this idea? Who approached the Minister and said that there was an anomaly which should be redressed? Who brought this matter forward? If the Minister tells us who it was, then I would ask on what ground it was argued that there should be a subsidy. Or is the position now that provided someone discovers an anomaly and approaches the Minister he is fully prepared to give subsidies?

This is a shocking state of affairs. I am quite serious about it. When hon. Members opposite criticise, time and time again, the people whom I represent as a trade union official, people in the lower income brackets who are in receipt of council house subsidies, I resent this business of paying out money from the public purse for no apparent reason.

The Minister has a great deal of explaining to do. I know that one of the peculiar things about the House is that anybody can come here and initiate the whole basis of subsidies as Ministers of the Crown or as junior Ministers and can receive in a private capacity substantial sums from the public purse at the same time. It is a serious state of affairs. Anyone who speaks in this debate and who is in receipt of subsidies as a farmer ought to be made to declare his interest in the first place. I mean nothing personal here, and I hope that nobody will take it so. There is a general principle involved. It is wrong that Ministers of the Crown, whether they be senior or junior Ministers, should be allowed to stay in office while, at the same time, they receive in their private capacities substantial moneys from the public purse, often through the Departments in which they are Ministers.

I turn now to another aspect of the Bill. The Government have pursued a policy of getting rid of land. We had some fascinating arguments about this in Committee. Some hon. Members opposite argued that what had happened was this. The Commissions were set up so that they could take unto themselves land which was of no value, which was completely derelict. They then rehabilitated it, pouring public funds into it for that purpose. Therefore, so it is argued, it is logical that the land should be sold back to private enterprise. That was the sort of argument used in Committee. It is the logical development of the policy of hon. and right hon. Members opposite.

During the Second Reading debate, we raised the question of what would happen to certain tenants when land was disposed of as envisaged under the Bill. On 21st November, 1962, after having been interrogated by one of my hon. Friends about what would happen to the sitting tenants who were farming land which would be passed to the Forestry Commission, the Minister said: When the land is handed over to the Forestry Commission, and trees are planted, it will no longer be farmed. Brilliant, But that is nothing new. It has happened before, and the situation is known to the tenants".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1962; Vol. 667, c. 1244.] According to a rough calculation which we were able to make there were 40,000 or 50,000 acres involved in this case. The number may be small, but there are people involved. There are small farmers involved. Before the Bill is given a Third Reading, the House should have a definite assurance that the interests of those small farmers will be looked at before the land is passed to the Forestry Commission.

I am not criticising the Forestry Commission, and I want no one to imagine that I am. But if these people are to lose their farms because the Government propose to dispose of the land previously held by the Land Commission to the Forestry Commission, then they should have the fullest possible safeguards against being moved from the farms which they hold.

Most hon. Members have finished their speeches by saying, "I do not want to end on a critical note". I am delighted to end on a critical note. Certain features of the Bill are very good, but other features of it are very bad and certainly have not been explained.

9.11 p.m.

Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)

I commence by assuring the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) that, like himself, I have no interest in moneys which will be paid under the Bill. I had intended to restrict my remarks to the provisions of Clause 22, but, since we have so very few opportunities to discuss agriculture in the House and, as time seems to be no object, I am tempted to make one or two brief remarks about small farmers.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said that he did not believe in a theoretical economic optimum size for a farm. That is a lovely theoretical belief. There is an optimum size to a farm from which a man can earn a decent living. I know thousands of small farmers. The whole of my constituency is made up of small farmers. I do not know one small farmer who has not a very fair idea of what the optimum size of a farm should be, and it is nearly always larger than his own farm. The optimum size which will give a family a decent return from the hours of work which they put into the farm and the capital invested in it is something well over 50 acres.

At the same time, I would never support any proposal to put a small farmer off his land so that it could be amalgamated. On the other hand, there is a strong possibility that in the process of time—I hope that the provisions in this Bill will be added to by future Bills to make this more likely—there will be more and more amalgamations of land. When there is no son to succeed and a farm comes on the market, it may be possible for the neighbours who march with that farm either to divide it up among themselves or for one neighbour to take it over.

This is the type of provision that we want. Let us get out of our heads silly ideas that small farmers are the salt of the earth. The small farmer is a magnificent person, but he would be much better if he were a slightly larger farmer. We want to look, as the Bill does, for ways which will enable the small farmer to become a larger farmer, and particularly a farmer with a bigger income.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I am following the hon. Gentleman with interest. Does he mean that, so far as the operation of the Bill relates to this point, he is against allowing a farm to pass into the hands of the highest bidder and would rather have a criterion based on experience and suitability and not just leave the farm to be disposed of in the open market? That is a very important question.

Mr. Clark

Not so much the highest bidder, but the neighbour should be given an edge when it comes to bidding and should be given a margin of assistance so that he can compete with the highest bidder. I do not think that it is necessary in many cases to expend public money for this. It might be possible to make some reduction in Stamp Duty or make some other provision.

I should like to pass from that point. It has been said that the farming industry was locking with terror to the future and wanted some assurance from the Government. I would not for a moment try to speak for all the farmers in the United Kingdom. That would be a terrifying job, and no one would ever quite accept it. But the farmers with whom I am in touch are not in the least frightened of the future. They are confident that they can compete with the future. One thing which has emerged from the negotiations which have been carried on in the last eighteen months, and as my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has discovered, is that farmers have had the opportunity of looking at themselves very much more carefully than they have done before.

Had it been suggested two years ago that our system of farming subsidies would be radically reformed, there would have been great opposition among the farmers. I can speak for my own part of the country by saying that most farmers recognise the shortcomings of the present system and believe that change is coming. We do not want sudden change without adequate thought, but there is undoubtedly room for changes and for evolution of the system. I believe that it is time when rather more of the costs of food should be passed on to the consumer rather than that the farmer should be burdened with the incubus of a huge bill for subsidies for which he is always blamed. Listening to some people, one would almost believe that the farmer was living off the rest of the country.

I pass now to Clause 22. No representative from Northern Ireland served on the Standing Committee. Coming from Northern Ireland—I shall take a fairly parochial view of the Clause—I should like to say that we welcome the agreement on sugar between the United Kingdom and Southern Ireland. An agreement is made essential by the two facts that Southern Ireland has in the fairly recent past become a net exporter of her own sugar production and that for some time she has received Commonwealth preference.

If Southern Ireland is a net exporter of sugar and receives Commonwealth preference, it has been essential to reach some sort of agreement. I see the agreement as bringing the South of Ireland, generally speaking, within the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. This—and we are accustomed to it—is more evidence of the heavy economic dependence and integration that exists between Southern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

In Northern Ireland, we almost invariably welcome agreements and legislation that will liberalise trade between the Republic and Northern Ireland, because we in Northern Ireland are always up against the heavy tariff wall which Southern Ireland has set up since the 1930s. The trouble about the agreement, however—generally, I am in favour of it—is that on the whole, it does not liberalise trade between the United Kingdom and Southern Ireland. It certainly does not liberalise it between Northern and Southern Ireland.

The agreement maintains Southern Ireland's almost complete monopoly position on sugar and sugar-containing products. We in Northern Ireland have a large soft drinks industry. We have a small and, at present, not entirely successful confectionery industry. As far as I can see, they will be incapable of exporting to Southern Ireland sugar-containing products. If I am mistaken, I shall be glad to be corrected by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary. Secretary.

Again, the agreement seems to be slightly illiberal because our right to import sugar from Southern Ireland, if we so desire—and we have imported something like 13,000 tons over the last year or so—is now restricted to 10,000 tons a year. That is a sop to nobody except the refiners at Greenock and Liverpool, who have for many years regarded Northern Ireland as an area to which they have the divine right to sell sugar. Why we must buy sugar from across the water, particularly if we can get better terms from Southern Ireland, I cannot understand.

Only within the last few weeks, the Irish Sugar Corporation working from Carlow has made provision for supplying sugar in bulk direct to our jam factory in Northern Ireland. Our old traditional suppliers for generations have never even thought of this. If we want to import sugar from Southern Ireland, we should have the right to do so. I ask the Minister how much consultation he had with Northern Irish interests before he came to this clause in the agreement.

There is another point on which I do not think we made as good a bargain with Southern Ireland as we could have done. No one is more delighted than I am that the Government have arranged that 200 acres of sugar beet trials should be undertaken in Northern Ireland and that the processing should be done by the Southern Ireland Sugar Corporation. We shall know in a year or two whether sugar beet can be successful in Northern Ireland. I have campaigned for this for a considerable time.

But why only 200 acres? I know that the Southern Ireland Sugar Corporation was prepared to process production from 500 acres. I am told that the Treasury limited the acreage to 200. The Treasury usually takes an arbitrary and nontechnical line on these matters. The Ministry of Agriculture in Northern Ireland advertised licences for sugar beet growing and volunteers came forward prepared to grow up to about 370 acres. But the arbitrary figure of 200 was stuck to.

Every volunteer had his acreage docked down and then docked down again, and finally 10 per cent. was taken off all round in order to bring the acreage down to 200. A close friend of mine wanted to grow 25 acres, which would have produced a really economic trial. But he can grow only 7½ acres—just over two-thirds of a field. The other third of the field has to be planted with something else. Other people are growing about two-thirds of an acre.

Will this be an economically practical trial? By experimenting for the benefit of the country, these farmers will lose money. It will be uneconomic to shift the sugar beet machinery around the country. I hope that the Minister will look into this and, if the trial is successful in the current year, consider allowing Northern Irish farmers who want to do so to experiment on a scale which will really produce results and will give them, if not a profit, at least not a loss on the operation.

We welcome this agreement. We welcome any agreement which tends to liberalise trade between Northern and Southern Ireland. But I do not think that the Northern Irish interests have always been the first to be thought of. We received something of a sop in getting 200 acres of sugar beet trials. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that Northern Ireland is consulted, and will go on being consulted, during the operation of this Measure?

9.23 p.m.

Dr. J Dickson Mahon (Greenock)

I have served on the Scottish Grand Committee and have been at international student conferences and on legal subcommittees of different kinds, but never have I encountered a more difficult, complex and dialectical business as Clause 22. It is almost an Irish situation.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) said that he welcomed this Clause as a liberalising measure, although he qualified that statement by quoting two acts of illiberalism in practice. His mind was to a large extent influenced by the fact that sugar beet was being grown in quantity in Northern Ireland. I want to quote what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said in Standing Committee on this. The hon. Gentleman said: The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West spoke about the sugar beet industry in Northern Ireland. I should not like the Committee to exaggerate the importance of this. There are only 200 acres at the moment. As there is no sugar beet factory in Northern Ireland, it is obviously very helpful of the Southern Irish to agree to accept all that comes from this 200 acre experiment. But it is an a very small scale. I was in Northern Ireland last weekend, and I understand from the experts there that they do not expect it will increase to a very great extent."—{OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 5th February, 1963; c. 419.] The argument about Northern Ireland is a bit of a blind. If 2,500 tons was a sop to Greenock and Liverpool, the 200 acres of sugar beet was a sop to Northern Ireland.

It is not that I begrudge the citizens of Northern Ireland, who suffer from tin-employment as badly as my fellow townsmen and fellow countrymen, anything which will help them to get more jobs, but when Governments make agreements, they ought sensibly to look at the consequences for those towns which are already suffering from high percentages of unemployment.

I start by saying that the argument that Clause 22 is designed primarily to help Northern Ireland is so much nonsense. That is a purely secondary consideration, perhaps welcome—and that I do not deny—but one which might have been tackled in another way. There could have been direct subsidies to the Northern Irish sugar beet people themselves; there could have been the construction of a sugar beet refinery in Northern Ireland; and there could have been subsidies of the transportation costs of the beet to Greenock or Liverpool, there to be refined. Those are three simple suggestions from one who knows very little about this matter, but they are suggestions which could have been considered by the Government in their handling of the matter.

On Second Reading, I was very anxious about these provisions. An Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill does not immediately appeal to an hon. Member representing Greenock who has only three farms in his constituency. We have many troubles, but agriculture is not one of our main anxieties. However, I was most anxious when I found that a Bill which I did not read until the third day of its publication contained a Clause which affected the second principal industry in my town.

It was to my consternation that I learned that there was some kind of secret agreement. As hon. Members know, Clause 22 gives no idea of all the facts and figures involved in this matter, which have been drawn out in Committee and bandied across the Floor of the House tonight. This is a perfectly innocent-looking Clause, and yet behind it there lies an agreement which is extremely complex and which is very dangerous in principle.

I became anxious on Second Reading, and when I sought the advice of my friends in the trade unions and the employers' organisations in my community, I was not only anxious but genuinely worried. When I realised that as I was serving on the Scottish Committee I could not also be on the Standing Committee which dealt with this Bill, I went to some of my hon. Friends to present these arguments. I then became frustrated by having to listen to the presentation of arguments from mouths other than my own, albeit far better than mine, for the best speeches are those which one has not delivered but which lie untended and unloved—except by ourselves—in our own lockers.

Perhaps my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) who have spoken up will accept my grateful thanks, on behalf of my constituents and those who have had the good sense to study the agreement, for their efforts on behalf of the argument. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) and the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyeli) for having been courageous enough to vote against the Clause.

I am sorry that, on Report, I did not procedurally get the opportunity to advance other arguments. I am now not only anxious and frustrated and bewildered, but downright annoyed. The Government's method of introducing this matter has been absolutely disgraceful. It has been slipped in in an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, and does not form the subject of a separate Bill, which would have been more honest. Ministers have not made any attempt to help us. There is only one copy of the agreement in the Library—not two, but one—and it cannot be taken away. I could not even bring it into the Chamber. One copy is supposed to suffice the needs of hon. Members who wish to study the agreement and the trade unions and employers and others who want to know its ins and outs. There is more in the agreement than meets the eye, or it is incredibly silly.

I realise that in Committee it was denied that there was any question of a quid pro quo between sugar and butter, or that there was any connection between one item and another, but I do not believe it, and I will not believe it until I can completely comprehend how Her Majesty's Government entered into an arrangement which is so one-sided.

We heard from the Minister tonight—and he does not seem to see the point of this arguement—that in 1956 the Irish Sugar Company was not able to compete successfully with British sugar refineries. There was no argument on costs. The Irish based their production on the refining of beet sugar, while the British refineries based their on the refining of raw sugar, and if there is any challenge on this, costs are far better on our side.

What happened was this, and it has been referred to by other hon. Members. The "three card trick" was one expression used by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). Various other rather doubtful pseudonyms have been used to describe this manoeuvre, but, in fact, the Irish Sugar Company was able to increase its export of sugar to this country using raw foreign sugar because of a chink in Commonwealth preference. The Minister says that the poor Irish suffered terribly in January, 1962, when there was a change in the situation, and that the poor Irish must be helped.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Leith pointed out that it was not a case of the Irish suddenly encountering a disadvantage in fair trade, but that fair trade now prevailed, and that it was the British who had been suffering a disadvantage all along. I am talking in economic terms, not in terms of preferences and subsidies. The British sugar refiners lost a market to the Irish because the Irish used Commonwealth preferential arrangements. They were able to capture this market, which was one of almost 14,000 tons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), in a most insensitive and uncharacteristic speech, said that he could not be convinced of the wrongness of this agreement, because he could not have it demonstrated to him how this affected unemployment. With unemployment at 8 per cent. in Workington, he was unable to understand how this could possibly affect our areas, and he was not willing to reconsider his position on this until he was aware of how many men were involved.

The answer is simple. There are 3,000 people in Greenock looking for jobs, and they will not find them at the sugar refineries.

Mr. H. Clark

To suggest that 3,000 people in Greenock lost their jobs because of 13,000 tons of sugar—[HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member did not say that."] That figure of 13,000 tons is under 20 per cent. of Northern Ireland's sugar consumption, and I do not think that the loss of that quantity would create a high level of unemployment in Greenock. Poor Grenock, if that is the case.

Dr. Mabon

The hon. Gentleman is galloping ahead. If he allows me to develop my argument, perhaps he can interrupt again later.

I said that 3,000 people in Greenock are unemployed and that they cannot get jobs at the sugar refinery. This is the whole problem in areas of high unemployment. It is not just a case of existing industries remaining static in size and bringing new industry in. The problem is also one of how to expand well-based industries which local people understand and in which they are trained. The Government try to spend money in the development districts, but they by no means spend as much in them as they do on developing agriculture. We should be trying to expand the job potential. That is the phrase used by the economists. There are no jobs lying vacant in the refineries in Greenock and Merseyside.

Instead, there are men going home from the refineries with small wage packets, having been able to work little overtime, and in some cases having had to work short time. The loss of this 14,000 tons of sugar, unfairly taken from us by uncommercial and unfair practices, has meant that Greenock has lost about one week's work for all its dockers. When I tell hon. Members that there is a high incidence of unemployment in the dock area of Greenock they will appreciate how much the work represented in unloading this sugar would have been welcomed by the dockers there, who prefer to work rather than draw money from the National Dock Labour Board. The Minister spends money on subsidies in this respect, but he should realise that money has to be raised which the Dock Labour Board has to find to pay dockers who are unemployed because they are not given the opportunity of discharging this sugar.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West brought out the right point in speaking of this matter. This has an adverse effect on shipping in the port, and I am sure that it also affects Merseyside, although perhaps to a lesser extent. In our case, the loss in tonnage through the port amounts to 55 per cent. of the total. Greenock is not a very large port and, therefore, it feels the effect all the more.

These are the economic consequences. Some Ministers may say, "It is only one constituency; what does it matter?"

Mr. H. Clark

Northern Ireland is only too conscious of the problem of unemployment. No one there would wish to see one man more than necessary unemployed in Greenock. But Northern Ireland suffers from having to import a large amount of its raw materials by sea, which inevitably increases costs. When, occasionally, as in the case of buying sugar from Southern Ireland, we can deliver it direct from factory to factory or from factory to store, the economic margin can be considerable, and we want a free hand to do this if possible. The cost of raw materials makes it difficult to develop industry in Northern Ireland.

Dr. Mabon

I concede that point, and I agree that we should do everything we can to try to make relations between Northern and Southern Ireland as close as possible. I am not suggesting that this is an easy situation. But the Government have entered into an agreement that is more than a little unfair.

I want to take the argument a step further. I believe that the way in which the agreement was arrived at was wrong. The agreement lasts until 1967, but it is just possible that in the near future the Government may have to introduce another kind of agreement. I therefore tell the Government that I do not like the way they do these things. I strongly object to their inserting Clauses like this into Bills without consulting the industry concerned. During the passage of the 1956 Sugar Act, certain pledges were given to the industry. I am not speaking as a shareholder in any sugar company for I am not, nor am I speaking simply for the trade unions. I am speaking for the whole industry, which is an asset for Britain. The industry was given certain pledges which have been broken by the Government without the industry having been first consulted.

In 1956, it was clearly understood that foreign sugar refining would not come within the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. I admit that Southern Ireland is in a special position. It is neither in the Commonwealth nor a foreign country. Too many of us have Irish antecedents ever to accept that even Southern Ireland is a foreign country. But that does not detract from the fact that, in theory, the understanding following from the 1956 Act was broken by the Government. The industry is extremely annoyed at having been treated in such a cavalier fashion by the Government.

Secondly, if we are to argue the peculiar position of Southern Ireland, and say that the Southern Irish are not quite foreign and not quite part of the Commonwealth, certain other things follow. If we are to continue trade agreements with them it is unfair for us to have to accept all the disadvantages of associating with them without getting any of the advantages. If we are going to argue this case there must be a quid pro quo in relation to the Irish position.

When, between 1956 and 1961, no less than 14,000 tons of our trade was filched from us by an unfair commercial practice, did the Government make any attempt substantially to reduce this loss and try to restore the former position? It is not unfair for me to suggest that the British refineries should be given a fair chance of competition. It seems incredible that I, as a Labour Member, should be arguing a case like this and trying to convince Conservative Members, who are supposed to be dedicated to free enterprise.

All I ask is that there should be free competition between the British and the Irish refiners. But I am not getting that because the Government are standing in the way. They say 10,500 tons. What advantage is to be enjoyed from a form of agreement of 10,500 tons? I think it very unfair to say "Well, you now lose nearly 14,000 tons and we are restricting Eire to 10,500. The British industry has a concession, and that is enough." That seems to me rather a strange argument. It is like a person losing his wallet and finding only a third of the money in it when it is returned, and being told that he must be completely satisfied with that.

I interrupted the Minister earlier because figures have been published to the effect that what is happening under this agreement is that the consumer in this country—not the taxpayer, that is a big difference—is to have to pay £150,000 to subsidise imports into this country in competition with our own men, some of whom are workless. The only thing wrong with that is that the figure is not £150,000. It could be much more. Tonight, the Minister has confirmed another fact which was elicited by my hon. Friend. Of course, it is true that we would have to go to rock-bottom level before the British taxpayer had to pay a quarter of a million pounds or £300,000. But it is possible for the figure to rise to £200,000 and I do not see why the British housewife should have to pay the subsidy. I do not understand it at all.

Sugar is an elementary food. It is one which is consumed by everyobdy irrespective of their position in the economic scale. Any taxes on foods are, in my opinion, bad taxes. Yet we are here perpetuating this for the benefit of rival sugar refiners. It is monstrous that we should do so in those circumstances and I hope that the Minister will tell us what kind of bargain we shall get from this arrangement. Is it true that Britain is to enjoy all the preferences which we ought to enjoy subject to the British-Irish Trade Agreements of 1938, 1948 and 1960? This is where the Government should be doing some bargaining. Let them get trade by bargaining sensibly instead of softly giving in.

What happens if Irelands decides—subject to the whims of General de Gaulle—to continue with her application to join the Common Market, and it is accepted? Is this agreement then null and void, or are we to be dragged into the Common Market with Ireland? After all, it has been suggested by General de Gaulle that Denmark should apply for membership and, on his say-so, may be admitted to the Six. If Ireland persisted in believing, not unreasonably, that she, too, should join the Six, what happens to this agreement when Ireland enters the Common Market? Is competition against British sugar to be even more severe? We ought to have an answer to that.

I think that the Minister is obliged to consider the way in which the industry has been treated and the way the interests of many people in this country have been ignored, and the rather hole-in-the-coner manner in which this agreement has become public. Considering all these things, the Minister ought to give us an assurance that this agreement will be reviewed regularly and that if at any time it appears that it is being abused, or if the subsidy from the British taxpayer should get higher, he should, as soon as possible, use his powers to prevent that.

I accept that there is the intention of trying to improve the lot of the Commonwealth sugar producer. Do not for a single moment let anyone assume that I am ignoring his interests. This is a "phoney" argument, because the sugar presently consumed in Ireland and Britain could have been refined in this country under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. The Irish Sugar Company would never have been able to use its foreign purchases of sugar to invade the British market but for the anomalous situation in 1956. The Government ought to have closed the loophole instead of allowing it for four years and then bringing in this change.

I resent Clause 22 very much. I cannot persuade myself, however, to oppose the whole Bill because of the Clause, but perhaps in another place good sense will prevail and the Government will be obliged to bring in a better Bill to deal with the whole subject. I hope that the Minister will look into the agreement and will watch its operation and will not again do this kind of thing to Parliament.

9.46 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies

I have listened to both sides of this argument on sugar. The case was thrashed out in Committee and has been debated again tonight. There is no doubt that this kind of agreement is completely out of place in this kind of Bill. I do not want to get involved in the argument, because I have not studied the problem deeply enough to make any constructive comments, but I am convinced that such a Clause should not have been in this Bill. The House should have been presented with the facts and we should have been given time to study the arguments for and against and to look at the question properly.

Those of us who represent small farming areas welcome Clause 6 of the Bill, which deals with grants towards the construction of certain buildings used by farmers' machinery syndicates. We noted that Conservative newspapers had been saying that the small farmer had finished, but now, suddenly, those newspapers and television are telling us that the British farmer is the finest in the world. We know that to be universally true. Our farmers, in productivity per acre and the kind of crops that they grow, compare with farmers anywhere in the world. We have a vast problem in considering how to produce econo- mically and to give the farmer and his wife a standard of living which will compare well with that in any other industry. This is one of the great difficulties in small farming areas in the hill districts.

On both sides of the House there is common agreement that, whether we like it or not, if we are to have a healthy agriculture we have not yet found any system of society in which it can be left entirely to the winds of fierce competition from overseas. Consequently, small farmers and others in the industry have had to have some protection. Over a number of years, on a balance of payments, the £400 million which farmers receive has been repaid in increased productivity for the British public.

I should like the Minister to look again at Clause 6. In the Bill we are told: The appropriate Minister may make grants towards the cost of constructing, enlarging or adapting buildings for occupation and use by farmers' machinery syndicates for the following purposes"— a number of purposes are given— and of providing such buildings with such services, means of access and other works as are reasonably required to enable them to be so used. In my district, I recently read in the Leek Post & Times, on 15th February, of a person who wanted to set up a farm machinery repair shop. I saw in that newspaper that farm machinery repairs and hire are not an agricultural activity. I wondered whose view that was. Then I saw in a banner headline that this was the view of the Minister of Housing and Local Government when he dismissed an appeal in one of my hill villages, the little village called Bradnop, of a man who wanted to convert his shippon into an agricultural machinery shop, because he is known all over the hills as a repairer of machines. It was not the Minister of Agriculture who informed him, but the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who, through his inspector, turned down this man's appeal for the development of his shippon for the purposes of repairing farm machinery. It was reported: Regarding use of the remainder of the building, the official notice of decision states: 'It appears that Mr. Rogers' activities consist in repairing and servicing agricultural machinery for farmers in the district and hiring out plant to farms. This, in the Minister's view, is not an agricultural activity, and, therefore, the use of the building as a workshop and store of this kind constitute a material change of use from the previous use of the building as a cattleshed …'. The Minister also noted that as this was on the fringe of the Peak district the Town and Country Planning Act provisions might come into force and there might have to be an appeal to the town and country planning authority because of the beauty of the Peak district. In other words, if we want to speed up activities in planning for some of our small farmers in the areas of the National Parks there must be a much more rapid way of getting electricity. I have heard of electricity being refused to farmers because the authorities will not have electricity pylons in the Pennine district.

Mr. Speaker

This is the Third Reading. If the hon. Gentleman would explain to me in which Clause the provision is made for dealing with electricity to farmers I should be obliged; if not, he must stop.

Mr. Davies

This Clause deals with farm improvement schemes which come under the miscellaneous provisions earlier in the Bill. But I shall not pursue that matter further, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman says "earlier in the Bill". I should be grateful if he would explain in relation to what provision he is speaking?

Mr. Davies

There are miscellaneous provisions, but I will not pursue that any further, Mr. Speaker.

I should like to know whether in the case of the development of these machinery syndicates, the Minister can assure the House that he is able to get this done quickly without the interference of the Peak planning board and the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Can he make this decision himself? It appears that in my own area there has been a limitation of the provision of machinery and agricultural repairs because the Minister of Housing and Local Government interfered with the possibility of a licence being provided for the development, privately in this case. Could such a thing happen with regard to buildings for syndicates under Clause 6? If so, will the Minister take powers to do this without the interference of other Ministries?

9.55 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I hope that the hon. Member who said in his second address to us today that there was not very much more to be said will forgive me for saying that I was slightly dismayed when he said that, because I have sat here since about 4 o'clock this afternoon. The fact is that there are some other things to be said. They are all, I hope, reasonably related to the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) would no doubt at all times tender me the advice at my weight to keep away from sugar. If ever f felt inclined to take his advice, it is tonight, having listened to speeches about it all evening. From now on, if I cannot confine myself to saccharine I will try to do without sweetening altogether.

I do not want to enter into the argument on sugar agreements as between de Valera and de Gaulle, though I did think that at one time a very strong argument had been made for what I might call a douceur to de Gaulle, a rather more necessary one, perhaps, than one for Southern Ireland. However, leaving these problems of our international difficulties aside for the moment, I want to refer to the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark), who also spoke quite a lot about the sugar agreement. The point I have in mind is the possibility that, as a result of the operation of the Bill, there might be created more opportunities for, and indeed a greater likelihood of, the purely voluntary amalgamation of holdings and small farms. The hon. Gentleman said that it should not be done by compulsion. That is the policy which most of us also would prefer to pursue. I do not think that any genuinely voluntary amalgamations which may come about as a result of the operation of certain parts of this Measure would be resisted by anyone.

The hon. Gentleman said that the voluntary principle of amalgamation is what unites us all. I asked the hon. Gentleman whether he meant also that, in seeking opportunities for new farms and farmers, he would rule out the old rule of merely selling to the highest bidder and achieving amalgamation and larger units by that means, instead of using the criterion of experience. The hon. Gentleman replied to my question by saying that his concession to democracy would be to reduce the Stamp Duty on the transaction. That was, apparently, his most effective way of achieving the object which he had in mind and which he hopes the Bill in its operation will facilitate.

When discussing the scale of application of the various Clauses, it is rather important to bear in mind all the time that greater efficiency, better supervision and lower labour costs, to take only a few items of cost, are not necessarily achieved by merely enlarging the unit. Without saying much more on this point, it is worth while every hon. Member applying himself to the study by Sir Solly Zuckerman about two years ago on scale in farming. Sir Solly points at least to the conclusion that if scale is overdone, whether by voluntary amalgamation or otherwise or by purchase by the highest bidder, automatically problems of supervision, 'the necessity to increase supervision, and difficulties of getting suitable persons for that purpose, are introduced. Questions of remoteness of control are introduced, Also introduced is the question of an increased labour force and a whole host of other things which will not necessarily add to the efficiency of the larger unit or, indeed, produce greater profit for the person operating the larger unit as against the smaller unit.

I do not think that optimum size, whether for the purpose of the Bill or otherwise, has ever been adequately or finally defined, because it depends whether one is near the centre of things or out towards the margin of cultivation. In places like Hampshire, the richer parts of Northern Ireland and parts of the Lowlands of Scotland, the optimum size and all the rest of it falls into place fairly easily. Places like parts of Wales, parts of the north of England, Shetland and the Hebrides pose entirely different problems. Questions of soil chemistry and other factors come into the picture. The whole ecological history and background of the area is also a governing factor in deciding quality and therefore the value of one acreage as against others—and not the mere consideration of size.

Another point which has been discussed by many hon. Members—and because of the time element I will deal with it only in passing—is the question of the value of the various forms of assistance under the Bill to different parts of the country. This is extremely relevant—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.