§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill, clearly stated right at the start, in Clause 1, is to improve the marketing of home-grown cereals. I hope that there will be unanimous support for a Bill with such an objective. Certainly, there will be the strongest wish on this side of the House to advance on this very desirable development. The Labour Party has always had a positive approach to agricultural marketing. We have consistently advocated the need for improved marketing arrangements. Our broad aim has been to proceed step by step towards orderly marketing. We now intend to carry on and complete, in the changing circumstances of today, the practical steps to achieve our main objectives, which are the introduction of modernised and effective marketing for farm products.
Our farmers have made great strides in increasing the efficiency of production. They have taken full advantage of scientific and technical progress. But we have not seen the same advances in the field of marketing. This is not the farmers' fault. There are many more interests involved, and improvements depend largely on the good will and co-operation of all concerned. It is here that the Government have a direct responsibility to help in seeing that the marketing machinery meets the needs of both producers and consumers.
The philosophy of hon. Members opposite has been different. They have maintained that marketing is a job for the industry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames) has made that perfectly clear on a number of occasions both in this House and outside it. The right hon. Gentleman was, indeed, responsible for the agreement with the different interests, producers and traders, on the programme to which the Bill before the House gives effect. I am happy, therefore 1058 to congratulate him, even though his conversion is somewhat belated.
The need to improve the marketing of cereals, and to bring the various interests together for that purpose, is of very long standing. The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends spent too much time during their period of office in prosecuting other causes. They neglected marketing, despite admonition from myself and from my hon. and right hon. Friends.
I should like now to deal with one aspect of this matter, on which it appears that there is some confusion. It is the relationship between the arrangements to be brought into force by this Bill and the Labour Party's proposals for commodity commissions. The main functions of a commodity commission would be to phase and integrate imports with home production. That is not the purpose of the Bill, or of the Authority it is intended to establish. It is solely concerned with home-grown cereals.
Equally, as the Bill demonstrates, we are not wedded to the idea of producer marketing boards as the sole panacea for the problem of domestic marketing arrangements. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have support. Here again, a commodity-by-commodity approach is the only realistic way. In respect of cereals, the farmers' unions recognise—and we, too, recognise—that it is essential to proceed on a joint basis, and with the direct participation of all the interests concerned, to secure the comprehensive improvements in marketing that are needed.
It was for this reason that I welcomed the fact that the various interests concerned—whose views tended to differ so widely in the past—were able to come together and reach the agreement which has made the Bill possible.
It follows that hon. Members on this side of the House will warmly support the advance in marketing that will be made by the acceptance of the Bill. The agreement which was reached in September with the farm and trade interests, constituted a very useful step forward. That is why we are seeking, by the Bill, to take immediate action to bring the plan into effect. I hope that the Opposition will share this view.
1059 I have already congratulated the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford on his part in this effort. I am sure that, like myself, he and his hon. Friends will be anxious to get the Bill on to the Statute Book in good time for the new arrangements to be ready for the 1965 harvest.
I will describe briefly the objectives of the Bill. I shall not go into it in great detail, but if there are any points of detail on which hon. Members want information, my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be glad to supply them when he replies to the debate. Moreover, we shall have the Committee stage, when hon. Members will be able to undertake a more detailed scrutiny of each Clause.
The main weakness in the existing system for marketing the corn grown in this country is the uncertainty that faces the farmer about what the market will pay him for his grain at different times in the season. Often he is short of cash and a weak seller. All too often he has to sell with little knowledge of the state of the market and too little means of spreading his sales between one harvest and the next. If he sells in the rush after a harvest, he sends the prices down, to the detriment of himself and his neighbours.
As the House knows, the standard price of wheat is converted into a rising scale of seasonal prices over five accounting periods to encourage orderly marketing. There is also the Barley Incentive Scheme, under which the deficiency payments to barley growers are adjusted under a system of premiums and deductions, to encourage growers to spread their marketings.
The effect of these arrangements is to encourage growers to hold their wheat and barley off the market for varying periods of time, but much more remains to be done if they are to be able to plan their sales with proper knowledge of the market prospects and full assurance that their grain will find a buyer.
Forward contracts meet this need because they provide specific dates of delivery, and thereby enable it to be known at what times supplies will be coming on to the market. Under a system of forward contracts, the farmer can 1060 sell his grain, or part of his grain, forward, either at a price fixed at the time of contract, or at the price prevailing when the contract date arrives. So far, forward contracts have never been satisfactorily developed in this country for home grown cereals. The Bill provides for a system of bonuses to give growers an incentive to enter into forward contracts. I believe that this will do much to remove some of the present difficulties.
Not all farmers can afford to wait two or three months or more before they get their money. The amount of working capital tied up in farming today is quite formidable. For the grower who needs ready cash and cannot afford to hold his crop, bonus payments for forward contracts would be of little benefit in themselves. For this reason, the Bill provides not only for bonuses for forward contracts, but will make possible arrangements for loans to growers who enter into forward contracts. The farmer will, therefore, not only be able to sell forward, but should be able to get a loan to tide him over when he has signed a contract, until the grain is delivered. These provisions are not, of course, intended to replace the normal sources of credit which are already available to cereals growers, but they should serve as a useful supplementary source.
The first objective of the Bill is, therefore, to encourage and facilitate forward contracting, as a means of securing better phasing of supplies coming on to the market throughout the season. There is provision also for bonus payments for deliveries of cereals at certain periods of the year, as under the Barley Incentive Scheme to which I referred earlier, even though the deliveries are not based on forward contracts.
So much for the first objective. Before I come to the second, let me deal with the machinery to achieve the objectives. Quite simply, it will be the setting up of a Home-Grown Cereals Authority for the general purpose of improving marketing of home-grown cereals. The first duty of the Authority will be to prepare the scheme of bonus payments for forward contracts for wheat and barley to which I have referred.
The composition of the Authority is set out in Clause 1, and the House will see that it is made up of three elements under an independent chairman: first, a minimum 1061 of three and a maximum of five independent members, including the chairman and deputy-chairman, who will represent the general national interest and the interest of the consumer; secondly, nine members representing the producers including those producers who feed grain to their livestock; thirdly, it will include nine representatives of the trade.
To prevent any misunderstanding, let me say that, although I have referred to representatives, there is no question of bodies representing these interests having the right of nomination to the Authority. I think that hon. Members will agree that this is right. The choice in all cases will he made by the agricultural Ministers after consultation with the representative organisations.
§ Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
Could I ask one question? The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned wheat and barley. Could he explain why it is that oats, which are the main crop in Scotland, have been excluded?
§ Mr. Peart
They will not be excluded. I have merely referred to producers who teed grain to their livestock. I am sure that after consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland that point will be borne in mind. They will not be excluded. The Authority will comprise certain members, but we would not allow the right of nomination as such. We shall make the appointments. I think that this is right. We shall have persons who are capable of taking informed decisions from their knowledge of the working of the marketing process from farm to user, and I hope the body as a whole will look at the problem from the national point of view.
Now for the second main objective to be achieved by this body. This is the promotion of better market intelligence, research and demonstration, and improvements in trade procedures. Our farmers have been handicapped by not having adequate market intelligence. When they are trying to market their grain to the best advantage over the season, they need prompt and accurate intelligence of the state of the markets and the prospects ahead.
The Bill authorises the Authority to undertake this function and, with the firmer information provided by the 1062 development of forward contracting, it should be able to provide the best possible market intelligence for the producers and the trade.
§ Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)
I am following the Minister's remarks with great interest. Will this market intelligence, which is of the greatest importance, include information about prospective imports? This, I think, affects the market to a very great degree. We have just seen the Common Market fix a price of £38 a ton for soft wheat on the farm. Of course, they have large financial resources for dumping surpluses at knockout prices, and this will affect the price in Britain.
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that this Authority is concerned purely with home-grown cereals. I realise that there will be problems of imports, but the Authority itself is concerned purely with the domestic position. Obviously, external factors will affect the situation, but this is solely a national body.
The Authority will also be able to take over the admirable work of the unofficial working party, which has met under the chairmanship of Sir Charles Norman, and to carry on with the system of guide prices.
The other weakness of the farmer has been his inability to provide the processor with the same uniform quality and quantity as a buyer gets with a shipload arriving at the ports. The new Authority is, therefore, being empowered under this Bill to set on foot research and demonstration on the storing and testing of home-grown grain, and to look into the possibilities of bulk handling and improved methods of collection and distribution. It is an important part of our policy that the benefits of scientific and technological progress should be made more widely available in the field of marketing, as they have been in the field of production.
The new Authority then will have these two important functions to help to put the home farmer on more level terms with the importer. The Authority will provide the bonuses to encourage him to place forward contracts, and will be able to make arrangements to enable him to obtain a loan on the strength of the contract he has signed.
1063 At the same time, they will provide him with better market intelligence, so that he and the trade can plan to the best advantage. They will also be carrying forward a programme of research and demonstration to promote, if possible, bulk handling and storage of home-grown grain, and encourage other improvements in the physical collection, distribution and condition of our home-grown supplies.
These powers are conferred by Part I of the Bill. But the Bill goes further than this. It allows for the possibility that, even with these important improvements, a situation might be reached where, although the price of imported grain was held by the minimum import price, the price of home-grown corn might have dropped appreciably below what the price should be at the farm on the normal differential between the farm and the port price. If such a situation arises, it will be open to the Authority to recommend to the agricultural Ministers that further steps should be taken, and the Authority, which is composed of both producers and traders, as well as independent members, will not recommend that such steps be taken, unless the difficulties seem them to be serious and likely to persist.
If, however, they were convinced that this was so, they could approach the agricultural Ministers, and if we were equally convinced then we could introduce an Order; and, subject to parliamentary approval, the Authority would have power to take further steps to deal with the situation.
What are these further steps? Under the standing powers in Part I of the Bill, the Authority would merely be encouraging forward contracts between a seller and a purchaser, or deliveries at particular periods of the year. Under Part II of the Bill, subject to approval of the Order by Parliament, the Authority—if prices on the home market had been below a prescribed level for a stated period—could buy the grain itself. These could be either straight purchases in support of the market, or forward contracts if the Authority thought that an inadequate number of purchasers had been willing to contract forward.
As I have said, the Authority would be able to exercise these powers only when the market price had been below a prescribed level for a stated period and it 1064 would have to stop buying when the market price had risen above that level. Under the Bill, the prescribed level would, in effect, be the target indicator price, which is—subject to quality differentials—the ex-farm equivalent of the appropriate minimum import price.
In addition to the provision that it could buy only when the market price was below the target indicator price, the Authority would also be subject to the strict requirement that it should dispose of the grain within a month, at latest, of the end of the cereal year in which the contract was made.
This will ensure that each season's crop is dealt with within that season, and that there is no carry-over of stocks to the following year. While the Authority's activities, on both the non-trading and trading sides, will be designed to eliminate marketing inefficiencies, which might unreasonably depress the average price over the season as a whole, the price obtainable in any season will depend on the size of the crop in that season.
If this were in excess of the standard quantity, the effect of the standard quantity and target indicator price mechanisms would continue to be reflected in growers' returns. It may be that these further trading powers will not be necessary, but the Government accept the view of the parties to the agreement that these powers ought to be held in reserve.
I do not propose to go at all closely into the mechanics of the Authority's financial operations, which are dealt with in Part III of the Bill, but perhaps I might highlight one or two of the features.
§ Mr. Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)
Will the Authority step in as soon as the price falls below the prescribed level? The right hon. Gentleman said earlier "when it fell substantially below the prescribed level". Will the Authority jump in when it is 10s. a ton, and so on?
§ Mr. Peart
That will be for the Authority to decide. It will take the decision and the initiatives, and the Ministers will be informed.
I am passing on quickly to the financial operations of the Authority. The Authority will need revenue to cover 1065 its administrative costs, to pay for the collection and publication of market intelligence, and to pay for research and demonstration work. It will need money to pay the bonuses to those who contract forward, or sell at particular periods of the year. It may also be involved in direct expenditure on loans, or by way of guarantees on loans. The greater part of the Authority's revenue will be drawn from the producers, either by deduction from the deficiency payments, or, if the case should arise, by direct collection.
The Bill will, however, authorise me to make an Exchequer contribution towards the Authority's administrative or other expenditure on its non-trading activities, excluding actual disbursement by way of bonuses, loans or guarantees. This contribution will be provided for in the annual parliamentary Vote.
The Authority's expenditure as a whole will be subject to ministerial scrutiny each year, when its annual budget is presented, and the amount of the revenue to be raised by the Authority by levies on growers will be determined by Ministers in the light of this. The annual Orders prescribing the levies would be laid before Parliament and would be subject to negative Resolution procedure.
Borrowing powers will be conferred on the Authority, and, if, of course, it came to direct trading under Part II of the Bill, that would need more money, which would be secured by borrowing. The limits of borrowing for the purposes of the Authority's trading functions could be defined by Order, which would be subject to the control of Parliament.
To sum up, therefore, what we are seeking to do under the Bill is to take immediate action to improve the marketing of home-grown cereals throughout the United Kingdom by setting up an Authority which would direct all its activities towards the achievement of this objective. It will provide financial incentives to growers to encourage a better phasing of supplies from farm to market throughout the season. It will be able to develop a comprehensive and up-to-date marketing intelligence service. It will also be able to undertake or encourage technical work into such problems as the storage and physical handling of home-grown cereals. I am sure that the value of these 1066 technical activities will become increasingly apparent as time goes on. In case of need, there is the provision in Part II for the use of the reserve trading powers.
The Bill implements in full a plan which has been agreed between the farming and trade interests. The text of this, as the right hon. Gentleman knows full well, was published by my Department on 22nd September, and copies have been placed in the Library. I believe that this is a workmanlike Measure, and one which, I hope, will commend itself to both sides of the House.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Soames (Bedford)
I must congratulate the Minister on his abilities as a midwife in bringing in the Bill, which, as he generously said, was entirely the work of the previous Government which brought about between the industry and the trade the necessary agreements which enable the Bill to be brought before the House, and to get, I think, a general and wide measure of agreement from both sides of the House about what is contained in it.
I pay tribute to the industry and the trade for the work they did to bring about the agreement. It was not easy. As the right hon. Gentleman may know, this is something which the agricultural industry would have liked to see some years back, but it has not been possible till this year, for reasons which I shall come to soon, to bring about agreement between the trade and the industry.
I should like particularly to single out the statesmanlike approach of the trade to these matters. Do not let us forget that the Bill ensures that grain will be sold at the maximum price possible consonant with the size of the crop, which at first blush would not look to be in the direct interests of the trade itself. It has shown a high degree of statesmanship in agreeing to these arrangements.
I now want to say a word about the background which the Opposition consider made the Bill both desirable and necessary. When the support system as we know it today was first introduced, food was short and prices were high, and the more food was produced at home, the lower were the prices and the better was the system then thought to be working. But over a comparatively short period of years beginning in the late 'fifties, because of the rapid expansion 1067 of home production, coupled with plenty leading on to surpluses in overseas countries, a different situation was created. This put a growing strain on the cost of our support system, and it called for a considerable change of emphasis if we were to continue with our system while containing the Exchequer bill within reasonable limits.
The nation could, of course, carry the deficiency payment cost flowing from the difference between the guaranteed price to our farmers on the one hand and the world economic price of grain on the other hand. But when our market became the receptacle for dumped grain at totally uneconomic prices, this difference became too large and the bill totally unacceptable.
There have been wide variations in prices. If one looks at the trend of the guaranteed price for cereals, which has been consistently downward over the last ten years, this shows the very considerable measure of increased efficiency which our cereal growers have brought about. But at the same time as the guaranteed price was moving down from 29s. to less than 27s. per cwt. we had on the market here for cereals brought in from overseas very considerable variations in average market prices.
It was in 1961–62 that there was a general surplus of barley throughout the world and barley was sent to this country for as little as £14 a ton. As a result of the increased production of our own crop, on the one hand, and the variations in the price of imported grain, on the other, we had, over a period of about five years, variations in the cost of the deficiency payment, which ranged between £50 million and £80 million. The House realised that it was necessary to tackle this problem.
What changes of emphasis were required? There were three aspects. First, there was some control over imports, reflected in the agreements made with overseas countries early this year. Secondly, there was the shift of emphasis at home from increased production at any price to increased productivity. That is reflected in the new financial arrangements for the guarantees for grain brought in by the last price review, including the standard quantities. Thirdly, there were better marketing arrangements to be made so that the 1068 home grower could get the highest possible return from the market, consonant with the size of the crop.
It is the third of these aspects that the Bill is designed to achieve. Let there be no mistake about it. The agreement the Bill implements is deliberately designed to sustain the market price for home-grown grain so that our farmers will get as high a proportion as can be of the return from the market, leaving the Exchequer to meet as small a difference as possible. I hope that I carry the right hon. Gentleman with me on that. It is another way of saying that our purpose is to see that as high a proportion as possible of the guaranteed price is met by the consumer and the lowest possible proportion by the taxpayer.
It may be a strange paradox, but I believe this to be good business for the consumer. I will explain why. It might appear to be deliberately designed to force the price up to the consumer but, on the contrary, the consumer benefits enormously from our system of support, and if we were to run into a time when the Exchequer bill was quite out of control we would be forced to move to another system—and there is no other system that can provide food so cheaply. Therefore, to preserve the advantages of our present system, we cannot afford to go into the bargain basement.
It is this system which is now protected by the three measures I have spoken about—the agreements with overseas countries, the new arrangements for deficiency payments on home grown grain, and this Bill. I believe that between January, when we made the first agreement with overseas suppliers and September, when we used the good will of the Ministry to bring about agreement between the trade and the agriculture industry, we achieved a package deal for cereals which modernises our support system, which is flexible and which will enable us to continue to see that our farmers get a fair return for their cereals while, at the same time, protecting the Exchequer from a runaway bill. There are three aspects, but it is one package. This was achieved this year.
I have a few points to make and questions to ask on the Bill. The first question 1069 concerns the composition of the Authority, dealt with by Clause 1. Subsection (2,b) states that there are to be nine representatives of the trade and of agriculture. I notice, however, that these nine are to be either growers of cereals or… capable of representing the intersts of farmers who use home-grown cereals for feeding livestock kept by them.The inference there, I think, is that the nine representing the interests of agriculture must either be cereal growers or cereal growers who are also users of cereals. Is it possible, under subsection (2,b), to have on the Authority those representing the interests purely of the farmer consumer of cereals disregarding, where he is concerned, the grower? Or must every member of the Authority be himself representative of the interests of the grower of cereals although he be also a user?
Clause 3(1) needs explanation. It says:… any such scheme may relate … either to the whole of the United Kingdom or to any part of the United Kingdom so specified.The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I have it in mind that this provision is designed in such a way as to enable a scheme to be made for oats in Scotland without having one in England.
§ Mr. Soames
I wonder whether it is wise or necessary to use such a sledge hammer. It gives the Authority, as I see it, power to bring about different prices in different parts of the country. It could be done county by county, as now worded
I know that any schemes of this sort would have to come before the Minister and I imagine that such differential prices are not in his mind. Indeed, such a course would be a total departure from what we have done hitherto. However, I am concerned that to enable such a scheme to be introduced for Scotland it may be possible for the Authority through the Minister, or for the Minister through the Authority, to have different guaranteed prices for, say, East Anglia and the West Country. We have always turned our faces against this kind of thing in the past. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can say whether there is anything in this point and consider it between 1070 now and Committee. We would certainly like to consider it.
Clause 8(6) and (7) deal with the orders that the Minister would bring before the House were the powers of the Authority to be extended into trading. The type of Order that the hon. Gentleman has in mind, according to the Bill, is that which comes into operation as soon as it is laid and continues in operation but which has to be debated in Parliament within 40 days or cease to be valid. But such an order could be introduced and begun to be operated without Parliament having considered it at all.
According to my recollection of the talks we had with the trade and the industry, the industry was of opinion that this power should be able to be brought in fairly rapidly if the need arose. On the other hand, as I see it, we all hope that the Bill will serve its purpose without trading powers having to be added to the other powers of the Authority. That, indeed, is why trading powers would have to be brought in by Order and why they are not simply enacted by this Measure at once. There is a good chance that the Bill will serve its purpose without having to extend the Authority's powers into trading.
As I envisage it, the right hon. Gentleman will wish to see the Bill operating for quite some time—perhaps for two or three years—before deciding, in consultation with the Authority, whether it is necessary to bring in the additional powers. I do not regard this as something to be rushed. Profound thought and mature consideration will be needed before a decision is taken as to whether it is necessary to extend the Authority's powers into trading. From the point of view of parliamentary scrutiny, we should certainly consider whether a straight affirmative Resolution would not be the right course. This would mean that only if Parliament agreed would it operate. I am open to argument on this, but on the face of it I regard it as something which we should consider.
As the Bill is worded, it could happen that towards the beginning of the new cereal year—say, at the end of July—an Order could be laid, the House would go into recess and not until the end of October or early November would it be discussed. Meanwhile, the Order would have been operating for three or four 1071 months and after it had been working for that length of time, whatever Parliament might think about it, the Government would probably be too deeply committed to consider a change. I hope that the Minister will consider this.
I fail to understand why, in Clause 16, which deals with a scheme for raising levy otherwise than by deduction, it is necessary for the Authority to have power to inspect documents and the like and the books of those who deal in or process home-grown cereals. Under Clause 15, which deals with the recovery of the levy wholly or mainly by deduction, the Authority does not have power to inspect the books. I realise that where payment would be made by levy and not by deduction, the Authority has the power to look at the books. I know that in the case of deficiency payment the right hon. Gentleman has power at present to look at the books of processors of grain, but the Authority has not.
Those are the only detailed points which I wish to raise on the Bill. It is a Bill which should bring considerable benefit to the cereal grower and to the cereal trade as a whole and I am glad that we were able to bring about the agreement which was necessary to introduce it. I should, however, like to say a few words about the political aspects of the Bill and what the Minister has in mind to follow on after the Bill. I was rather amazed at the blandness with which the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill. As I see it, it is the outward and visible sign of the ruins in which Socialist agricultural policy now lies.
On what did the right hon. Gentleman rest his agricultural policy during the election? There was not much of it, I agree. There were three slender planks in the platform. One could search through the Labour Party election manifesto and see barely a reference to agriculture. Those three slender planks were: first, a marketing board, particularly for cereals; secondly, a commodity commission; and, thirdly, cheap credit for agriculture.
What is the situation now concerning cereals? Is there to be a marketing board? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will say whether it is intended 1072 to introduce one. This must be fresh in the Minister's mind; he must have thought of it. I will gladly give way to him if he will tell us. He inferred, I understood, that we must not be too dogmatic about this and that there are other ways than marketing boards that are better. Of course, there are other and better ways—for example, planning by consent as opposed to planning by compulsion. That was what we had achieved and that is what has made the Bill possible. My understanding is that there will not be a cereals marketing board. The introduction of the Bill shows that.
Next, what about a cereals commodity commission? Will it be superimposed on top of this organisation? I appreciate that the organisation is designed purely to help the marketing of home-grown cereals and not for cereals from abroad, but there should have been nothing to stop the right hon. Gentleman from introducing a Bill which did two things: first, to look after home-grown cereals and, secondly, if the Minister wanted, to bring in a commodity commission for dealing with imported cereals. It could have been done in the same Bill.
The Minister may say that he has not had time to put the one upon the other. Is he seriously considering introducing a cereals commodity commission? I doubt it very much. A week or two ago, he had a conference and discussions in London with representatives of overseas Governments who are party to the cereals agreement. Canada, the United States, the Argentine and Australia were among them. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman, unlike his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would not consider introducing a commodity commission and all that that means in terms of adaptations to the normal trade channels between this country and overseas countries without discussing it with overseas countries.
Having gone into the election with a commodity commission as the great flag flying from the masthead of the Labour Party's policy, what does the Minister do? Shortly after getting into power, he had the meeting of which I have spoken. Did he discuss commodity commissions? Did he tell the meeting that he intended to introduce one? If, having had the meeting, he did not put those who are 1073 party to the agreement on notice that he intended to introduce a commodity commission, perhaps in the coming Parliamentary Session, I do not believe that this House or the country would believe him if he were to say that he still intended to bring in a commodity commission. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether he discussed this. I would be in order only to discuss cereals in this context, but if we are not to have a marketing board or a commodity commission for cereals I wonder whether we will have a marketing board of commodity commission for any other commodity.
The third plank of the right hon. Gentleman's platform was cheap credit for farmers. An organisation was to be set up which was to be supported by the Treasury to give credit on special terms to the agricultural industry. What is the position now? One of the first Measures to be presented in this Parliament is a Bill of which the provision of credit is an integral part. Is this credit to be at special terms of interest? As I see it, it is not.
What special credit terms are to be made available to farmers? This Bill is brought in, and credit is an integral part of it, but it is credit on ordinary terms. What will the cereal growers think? Should they accept this form of credit which is not on special terms, or should they wait until a fresh credit organisation is set up? Has the Minister made any move in this regard? Has he discussed it with his advisers? If he did, they would be likely to tell him politely to do his own dirty work. They would say that this was not something profitable to take up at official level and that he must take it up at ministerial level. Then, he would discuss it with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In view of the increase in Bank Rate in recent weeks, as I have a soft spot for the Minister I should not like to be a fly on the wall during that conversation, because he would get the thick end of it.
I do not think, therefore, that any producer marketing boards will be brought in by the Government. I do not think that there will be commodity commissions. Certainly, there is nothing cheap about the credit which is being brought in in this Bill.
1074 What of the future? Perhaps we will be told that the Government plan to do all these things in time. If we are told that, I would find it very hard to believe, for two reasons. The first is because these ideas do not make sense, and I have a sufficiently high opinion of the Minister's desire to serve well the industry and trades for which he has some responsibility to believe that if they do not make sense he will not wish to introduce them. The second reason is because, anyway, he will not have the time, since with the public opinion polls showing a steady decline in the Government's popularity, the Prime Minister will seek an early election before the full enormity of the follies which the Government have perpetrated has been borne in on the mass of the people.
It is easy to see the real reasons why we are witnessing the Socialist Government, introducing this Conservative Measure. [Laughter] The hon. Gentleman laughs. Does he not agree that this is a Conservative Measure? In the Labour Party's wild desire to pick up votes in the countryside—where incidentally they were remarkably unsuccessful—they dreamt up a lot of wheezes which they thought would sound popular. Now that they are in power and have the benefit of advice from responsible and experienced people they realise that these ideas do not stand up.
This is not the fault only of the Minister, for, we imagine, the First Secretary bears the main responsibility for this pre-election agricultural policy. Anyway, it was he who announced it. In view of this, I do not expect that the Minister of Agriculture is likely to make this mistake again and allow it to be done by the First Secretary.
The industry must be tolerant of the fact that these pledges given in the election apparently amount to nothing, because there is so little knowledge or experience in agriculture among those on the Government side. I agree that the Minister was P.P.S. to Lord Williams when he was Minister of Agriculture. He certainly makes the most of it. Sometimes he makes more than the most of it. In the current "Who's Who", the right hon. Gentleman is described, not as having been Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, but as Private Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry 1075 of Agriculture. Now that he is Minister in his own right he will, perhaps, get this altered in the next edition.
We must congratulate the Minister on his courage in introducing the Bill, for he is, by its omissions, being forced to admit that his party's pre-election policy of marketing boards and commodity commissions was a lot of hooey. This is why in his public speeches he reiterates so often that he intends to take a pragmatic rather than a dogmatic view of agricultural policy. What he means by that is that he realises that his party offered a false prospectus to the industry and now that he has responsibility he has no alternative but to chuck it over. We should not grumble too much about this, for if being pragmatic means that he is chucking over these ludicrous ideas and introducing Tory measures, as he is today, he can be sure of our support.
This Bill is the first good thing which has happened to agriculture since the Government took office. Hitherto, hardly a week has gone by without the Government burdening the industry with extra costs. The 15 per cent. surcharge, the extra petrol tax, the increased National Insurance stamp and higher Bank Rate have all served to increase the industry's costs. I shall be very surprised if these extra costs, together with the increased wage award, do not involve the industry in an extra £30 million next year.
At last the Government have introduced this Measure which they inherited from us and which will do good. We look forward to examining it in detail in Committee. Meanwhile, since in the best tradition of Conservative agricultural legislation, we believe that it will serve well the interests of the industry, the trade and the consumers, we will be glad to give it a Second Reading.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. David Ensor (Bury and Radcliffe)
I thought, when this debate started, that we would talk about cereals. However, the right hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames) has launched us into the political field. I suggest that he is completely on the wrong lines.
The real problem of the farmers has always been uncertainty. When the right hon. Gentleman alleges that there is nobody on this side of the House who knows anything about farming, he is 1076 making a very great mistake. When I gave up the law and went into farming, I spent two and a half years as a farm-worker. I farmed for 10 years, and I know a little about the practical side of farming. As I say, uncertainty has always been the problem of the farmers, be it big or small. Uncertainty has been the terror ever since farmers and farm-workers made such a vast contribution to the war effort from 1939 onwards.
Free marketing has been the curse of the agricultural industry for years. I welcome the Bill on the ground that it will bring some order to the chaos which has existed for so long. My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned certain marketing matters. Anyone who knows anything about the marketing of agricultural products knows the appalling situation which has been going on for years because of the insane attitude to a free market which has been insisted on for so long.
I do not think that anybody who knows anything about agriculture—and I doubt whether there are many hon. Members who really know the inner details of agricultural work fails to appreciate what good was done by the introducton of the Milk Marketing Board and the Egg Marketing Board. I hope that in due course my right hon. Friend will go further and will introduce a great many more marketing boards which will bring some order out of the agricultural marketing chaos which has existed for so long.
§ Mr. Ensor
I will give way in a moment.
In my practical experience of marketing, I have had the misfortune to sell 1 cwt. of washed carrots for Is. 6d. when they were in the shops the next day at 9d. a lb. I have sold at Christmas time in a free market, as it is called, 7 lb. capons at 5s. which were sold within the next two or three days for 25s. I have seen the rings and rackets working in the auction markets throughout the country. I have seen dealers in markets refuse to bid for pen after pen of pigs and then go round the corner to the local "pub" and divide them out. I have seen it all; I know it all. These are some of the reasons why I welcome the Bill.
1077 The Bill will have a considerable effect not only from the point of view of ordinary marketing of cereals, but upon the, marketing of cereals throughout the world. Quite recently, in Brussels, it was agreed that from 1st July, 1967, the price in the Common Market countries per ton for soft wheat should be £38, £33 for barley and £34 for rye. I think that we might say to ourselves, "Thank goodness we are not in the Common Market", because if we had to bring up our prices to that figure, I shudder to think what would happen to the cost of living.
It is a fact that, as a result of this figure, Germany and Italy will have to reduce their prices to that grade, France has to raise her price, and raise it considerably, which, I believe, will mean a considerable incentive for the increase of the price of grain throughout France. I am certain that that will mean a problem with regard to the import of grain from the Commonwealth countries and from the U.S.A.
The Bill can do nothing but good to enable our producers to have orderly marketing, and, generally speaking, forward contracts which they have never had before. I only hope that this is the beginning of a marketing system which will give confidence to our farmers, confidence to our farmworkers and produce again that confidence which we had under that great Minister of Agriculture, Lord Williams of Barn-burgh, in 1947.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
I rise for the first time in this House. It is a moment of considerable trepidation. I think that I am lucky in one way, because the Bill which is before us is one which is not contentious. Therefore, temptation is not put in my way on this occasion.
I have said that I viewed this moment with trepidation. Coming as I do from Westmorland, I wondered whether I could find some inspiration from the great Westmorland poet, William Wordsworth, at this moment. I remembered that he had written some lines on Westminster Bridge and I wondered whether there was some inspiration there.
1078 Unfortunately, I found none. But I found some lines he wrote at the same time which, I think, are appropriate in the life of any new Member of this House. At a particularly gloomy moment, at the same time as "Ode on Westminster Bridge", he wrote this:O friend! I know not which way I must lookFor comfort, being as I am, oppresst.I felt that this was particularly appropriate for this moment.
I have great pleasure, too, in making reference to my predecessor in this House, because I follow Mr. William Vane, who served this House with great distinction for 19 years. He has left behind him a great warmth of feeling and great respect. He served this House with great distinction, serving at the Ministry of Pensions and at the Ministry of Agriculture. For that reason I feel that it is particularly appropriate that I, as his successor, should be speaking in an agricultural debate. He has now gone to another place, and I am sure that I speak for the whole House in wishing him well there.
My constituency of Westmorland is mainly a rural county. It is one of the few one-county, one-seat constituencies left in England. I suppose that there are few Members of the House who represent a region of such scenic splendour as I do. Its countryside is varied. There are the lovely valleys and lovely hills of the Eden and the Lune Valleys. There is also, of course, the most famous region, the Lake District. This is an enormously varied place, varying from the gay beauty of Windermere to the precious tranquillity of Ullswater, which is a subject which I may wish to bring up on a more contentious occasion in the future.
The main industry in my constituency is agriculture. But it is a type of agriculture which is somewhat removed from cereal growing and cereal marketing, which we are talking about this afternoon. The principal part of the agricultural industry in Westmorland is stock rearing, sheep production and milk production. I should like to speak about the Bill, first, on the impact which it has on those parts of our country and those parts of our agricultural industry which are devoted to stock rearing and milk production.
I think that I can speak with a little authority on this subject, because a little 1079 under two years ago I was lucky enough to be elected to a study group which the National Farmers' Union set up to examine and to try to find ways of improving cereal marketing. On that body, I was elected to represent the six Northern counties of England. Consequently, there was a very great preponderance among producers and among farmers in those areas to keep livestock and to be net users of cereals rather than net producers.
During the last two years, as the feelings of that study group have emerged I think that it is true to say, that the findings and recommendations of that study group which was set up by the National Farmers' Union have had an enormous influence on the Bill which we are debating this evening. I have, during the last two years, had considerable consultation with farmers in the north of England who are net users and net consumers of cereals. I have found there a complete understanding of the aims of the Bill. I have found that there is no feeling at all among farmers who are net consumers of cereals that the Bill is a sort of "barley barons' bonanza". There is no feeling that this is a lurid plot by the barley producers of the eastern part of the country to jack up the price paid by the net users.
The intention behind the Bill, as I understand it, is quite simply to "bridge that gap" between the price which home-produced cereals make on the home market and their value on the world market. It has come out over the years, as has already been said in this debate, that this gap has appeared where cereals produced at home were not making the price they were worth on the world market. There has been a poor history here. The Minister, I believe, has said already that the formation of this authority will see the end of the working party which published the guide prices. I think that it would be appropriate at this moment to pay a tribute to the work of the working party over the years. It has done a magnificent job. The gap between its guide prices and the actual market prices has shown where the problem lies. It needs to be closed and I hope that the Authority will be able to do the job.
It should be said that the principal beneficiary of the Bill is the Ministry. The cereal producer himself will gain very little in total return through the 1080 Bill. As the market price is pushed up, if possible to the price which the grain is worth on the world market, so the difference is then made up by smaller subsidies. But there are certain advantages to growers in the proposals. One of them is that the grower can expect to get more out of the market. If growers can obtain more from the market, this reduces the possibility that at a future Price Review the Ministry will say that the subsidy bill is too high and that they must lower the guarantee price.
At the same time, if the price which home-grown grain fetches on the home market can be increased, there will be less danger that the industry in future will have to suffer the penalties which are imposed on the subsidy bill in a season when the standard quantity is exceeded and the market price has not reached the target indicator price.
Net users of cereals understand quite well, certainly in the north of England, that there is likely to be a very small rise, if any rise at all, in feed costs because the basic price of cereals is likely to be marginally increased. There is very little evidence that we should expect a rise in the price of feeding stuffs because we are trying to get a fair price for home-produced cereals. It is also a very good thing, and much appreciated by the users of cereals, that they are to have representing them on the Authority people who are net users. In passing, may I support my right hon. Friend in his comments on the possibility of having on the Authority people who are not growers of cereals at all. I see little objection to that.
I am sure that we all hope that the reserve powers which are contained in the Bill will not need to be used and that the arrangements for forward-contracting and advance payments will even out the supply of grain on to the market so that the price received will roughly equal what the grain is worth on the world market. But there ought to be some assurances from the Minister that in seasons such as that through which we have just passed these reserve powers will not be used with reluctance. These powers are the teeth of the Bill, and it would be a great mistake if they were to be left in abeyance over the years and not used. In the season through which we have just passed we experienced in August and the first 1081 part of September an average market price for feeding barley of under 18s. a cwt. when the target indicated price was 19s. I hope that had the Authority been working in such a season, the reserve powers would have been used.
I have been extremely glad to speak on the Bill. Cereal marketing has been virtually unchanged for 100 years, and I believe that the Bill, if it can be implemented in the way which we all want to see, will bring great stability to agriculture and particularly to those members of the industry who are producers of cereals. I think that we must strive for forward-contracting and an evening out of the supplies to the ultimate users. I see in the Bill a new vista in marketing lying ahead of us.
I am most grateful to hon. Members for their tolerance. I am extremely happy that I have been able to play a small part in the passage of the Bill, for I believe that it marks an important landmark in agricultural marketing.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)
I rise to make my maiden speech with a sense of awe and, I hope, an apparent humility, and I ask the House for its indulgence and trust that it will forgive me if I am controversial.
I hope that the House will forgive me, too, if I first speak about my own constituency. I have the honour to represent the constituency of Torrington, a constituency with a reputation for fierce and hard elections, none harder than the last. There is no doubt that North Devon, West Devon and North Cornwall are very politically minded. Traditions die hard. The area of my constituency is very large and it is very scattered. It stretches from Hartland and Clovelly—lovely names—to Chagford; and from Westward Ho! to Crediton, all well known to holiday makers. Our population in the West Country is doubled in the summer months. Quite frankly, I say in my own dialect, "Us be pleased to see 'em".
Our people are hard-working as they seek to earn a living from the land and as they cope with the strong Atlantic gales. Of course, agriculture is not the only way of life. Many retired people come into my constituency and, of course, they are very welcome. Industry is playing an ever-increasing part in our 1082 lives. This is to be seen in the Appledore, Bideford and Torrington area, an area which has suffered considerably in the past from unemployment. It suffers from unemployment now. We have 4 per cent. unemployment, and we have had this bad pocket of unemployment for some time.
I am pleased to see that, through the help of the Local Employment Act and, of course, the very energetic efforts of the local council at Bideford and the Bideford Development Project, this situation is altering. There is a new spirit and tremendous possibilities as the new factories emerge and become a reality. Our thanks are due to those who have worked so hard to this end, but we must redouble our efforts. This will not only help the unemployed now, but will help the young people to obtain employment near their own homes. It will help, too, to check the drift away from the West Country. It is not commonly known that this has always been a considerable problem. Our unemployment figures do not give the true picture. There is a considerable drift away from the West Country, and we hope that these new industries will help to check it.
We had a famous by-election some years ago. Some people will not like to be reminded of it. The name of Torrington was heard all over the land. Thus, it is an honour to represent the constituency. My predecessor, Mr. Percy Browne, is a very fine man, and there is no doubt at all that he will be a very difficult Member to follow in the House. He was, I believe, well-liked in the House, and he was certainly well known throughout the West Country for his efforts to help agriculture. I hope that he will soon be well again. I hope that he will be 100 per cent. fit again. Many will be delighted if he is able to come back to the House in the future.
I turn to the Bill, which is important for my constituency. It may come as a surprise to some hon. Members when I say that we are not concerned only with stock-rearing, with livestock and with the production of milk; an ever-increasing number of farmers are producing cereals, although we have not yet reached the height of some of the other counties such as Wiltshire, Norfolk 1083 and Suffolk, with their rotation of four years barley and one year in the South of France. But barley and wheat is playing an ever-increasing part in the West Country's farming rotation.
I welcome this step forward in the better marketing of cereals. There can be no doubt that farmers have come a long way along the road of organised marketing and I hope that they will continue along that path. I welcome the Bill because it represents planning by consent rather than by compulsion. I hope that this will continue because I warn the Government that it is easier to lead farmers, particularly West Country farmers, than it is to try to use compulsion. I hope that when we come to consider the whole business of meat marketing that, too, will be done by planning by consent rather than by compulsion.
The Government inherited many things, we are constantly being told, but I must point out that while that may be true of other matters, they certainly inherited the foundation of this Measure, for that was laid by my party. This is not the only agricultural foundation which my hon. and right hon. Friends have laid. Much of what has and will be achieved was originated by the Conservative Party, and I am proud to be a member of that party. Consider, for example, the Bacon Agreement and the Cereals Import Price Control. All these schemes will benefit agriculture for many years to come.
Clause 1 of the Bill is designed to establish the Home-Grown Cereals Authority, with at least 21 members. There will be nine growers, nine users and three independent members. I hope that room will be found for the agriculture co-operative movement to be well represented. That movement has done and is doing a great job and is playing its full part in the productivity of the nation. Co-operation within the industry is vital, particularly for the small farmer, and I hope that room will be found in the Authority for the agriculture cooperative and other members to be represented.
I also hope that the small country miller will have his place in the Authority, for he, too, is playing a vital part 1084 in agriculture, particularly on the financial side. A tremendous amount of credit is given by the small country miller and I hope that his interests will be represented and that it will not be left to the large compounders who, frankly, I sometimes regard with suspicion.
Clause 2 deals with bonus payments and loans to growers. The position of the small grower should be made clear in this context, and there are many of them in my constituency. The small man must usually sell his grain quickly so that he can meet his bills. He cannot afford expensive drying and storage equipment. Despite this, he is helping to pay for a bonus which he does not get. Indeed, he cannot always take advantage of these schemes and, as a result, the bigger grower has the advantage once again.
I hope that the Government will look carefully at the problems of the small man in the agricultural industry, particularly in the West Country, and especially the small farmer who uses his grain for feed. We in the West Country will be watching the position carefully, particularly as it applies to cereal feed, and we hope that the small man will benefit. I hope that the Government will do something to help the small grower in these problems and encourage him by word and deed, for instance by making arrangements for cooperative driers and storage facilities. The Government must play their part if these problems are to be solved.
I hope that the Authority will be a success. It will work only if farmers and merchants are prepared to make it work. We have seen evidence of this in the past; that unless there is co-operation and a spirit of wanting something to work, the project fails. I hope that all concerned will do their best to make the Authority a success.
I believe that as a result of the Bill, and through organised marketing, we may in future see a larger acreage of cereals being grown. Perhaps the time may come when we will be able to export grain. Certainly, through the Authority it will be possible to improve both quality and quantity through research, and I hope that the Authority will pay special attention to the whole sphere of research.
I have not heard very much about the importing of grain and the activities of the Authority on this score. Market 1085 intelligence is mentioned in Clause 6, but how far is there contact with overseas suppliers? This is an important matter and we should be told what arrangements there will be to gain the co-operation of importers. The Authority will have to look into this matter and watch it carefully.
I hope, too, that the Authority will look into what I call the grain-milk balance. This balance can be adjusted and corrected. It is vital to agriculture generally and I hope that there will be close co-operation between the Milk Marketing Board and the Authority. I appreciate that I am treading on dangerous ground from the point of view of the production areas, but it is worth emphasising that this matter should be kept very much in mind.
Through this and other schemes I am sure that the agricultural industry can play an ever increasing part towards helping to make our economy sound. Since achieving a saving in imports is vital to the economy, I am sure that agriculture can and must make an even bigger contribution. We have by no means reached the limit and agriculture is ready and willing to play a bigger part.
I hope that the food bill can be cut still further by a vigorous, healthy and prosperous agricultural industry and so be of benefit to the farmer, the housewife and our balance of payments.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
It falls to me to have the pleasant privilege of congratulating my two hon. Friends on their maiden speeches, which they made with fluency and authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) is to be congratulated on following in the tradition of our old friend Willie Vane, who is now distinguishing himself in another place under a different name. I can assure my hon. Friend that he made a start which is in the best traditions of his predecessor.
I would particularly like to congratulate him on the part he evidently played in the spade work carried out within the National Farmers' Union in preparation for the valuable Measure which we are discussing. I am sure that the whole House agrees that my hon. Friend 1086 spoke with both authority and interest on this important subject. We look forward with great pleasure to hearing him often in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) certainly comes here with a great reputation, coming as he does from a fiercely fought constituency in the West Country. I congratulate him on having won such a splendid victory. By his speech we could see that he, too, was in the best traditions of his predecessor, Percy Brown, who won the affection and respect of all hon. Members in showing the rugged, independent spirit which we all knew would come from him.
As I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington speaking about the problems of the small farmer in the West Country I thought that we would have the pleasure of hearing from him often as an avowed champion of the small farmer, whose interests need continuous care and thought if he is to continue to get a living in this highly competitive world. We look forward with great interest and pleasure to hearing my hon. Friend in future, and I warmly congratulate him.
I should like to say a brief word of welcome to the Bill, and I was glad to hear the Minister congratulating my right hon. Friend on his part as the architect of the Bill. It is a most valuable Measure and a complement to the Order which appears under the 1964 Agriculture and Horticulture Act which makes provision for the minimum import price and makes this delicate balance of machinery to integrate import supplies with home production.
There are two beneficiaries from the Bill. The growers will benefit by improved marketing, but so will the taxpayer if the tone of the market is improved, as I expect it will be, as the result of the actions of this Authority. I should like to congratulate particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames) on the great skill that he showed in negotiations with the interests concerned, the farmers' interests, the National Farmers' Union, and the milling and compounding interests, on the other hand, in getting agreement in this very difficult field.
What my right hon. Friend achieved is to preserve the benefits of the free market 1087 while introducing a substantial measure of stability and this valuable piece of machinery for the general improvement of cereal marketing. I feel that the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor), who I am sorry to see is not in his place now, was really right off the ball in decrying the value of the free market, and I should be very surprised if the Minister, or his hon. Friend, when he replies tells us that he intends to close down the free market and introduce some control of marketing system.
In fact, the free market, with all its faults, has the great virtue of equating supply and demand to the great benefit of the consumer interest. If we can introduce a Measure of this kind, which will improve the system of marketing at the same time as preserving the free market, then we shall certainly have made real progress. I would say particularly in regard to the compounders and the millers, who purchase huge quantities—millions of tons—of grain in the world market for consumption in this country, both by human beings and livestock, that it was particularly important that their freedom and incentive to get the best bargains and their great skill in purchasing in world markets should not be interfered with by this Measure but that they should be left to continue to exercise these skills which are very much to the benefit of the whole community. This Measure has succeeded in doing that.
I have watched cereal marketing particularly closely in the last three years as Chairman of the Agricultural Market Development Executive Committee which gives grants to encourage the improvement of marketing of the different commodities. I have for some time been aware that although in some respects the cereal market is efficient and satisfactory, in other respects it is far from it. It is efficient and satisfactory so far as the compounders and millers have a thoroughly efficient system of getting the grain from the farms into their mills and factories efficiently and cheaply, but it is not satisfactory from the point of view of the growers bringing their grain on to the market at the right time and in the right condition.
There has been a tendency throughout for the supplies of home-grown grain to arrive on the market unevenly, sometimes 1088 in short supply and sometimes in excessive supply, and uneven in quality as well. The result has been that almost continuously the market for home grain tends to run at £1 or £2 a ton under the price level of imported grain of similar qualities. I have noticed particularly in regard to French wheat, which is very much the same as ours in quality, that almost invariably it makes £1 or £2 a ton more than ours because of its greater uniformity in quality and the quantity coming forward.
As I was one of the architects of the present deficiency payments system, this has been somewhat of regret to me, because I expected, when we invented this system 11 or 12 years ago, that the market itself would return sufficient premium for higher quality to reward the farmer who put his grain on the market in the best possible condition and quality. In fact it has not done so. The extra premium that the farmer gets for a good consignment of grain is only marginally better than that for the bad consignment. There is not sufficient incentive there. There is a complex of causes for this. We have moved a long way from the old days that I can remember, before the war, when the grain was put up in stacks and taken up by the binder and one waited for the threshing machine to come round, and sold the grain many times over. One sold it first to the bank manager to secure one's overdraft, then as security for the feedingstuffs merchant, and so it carried one through the winter very satisfactorily, and, at the end of it, one sold it to the local miller who was quite satisfied to take it—at least his bill got cleared.
In those days it was the threshing teams which came round to take it. They were very efficient cleaners and the grain come forward at a fairly steady pace as the teams went the round of the farmers in the winter months, and it was pretty clean. Now the grain, certainly in England, is taken by the combines. It tends to come in a very big lump immediately after the harvest, when the farmers have not adequate storage, and far too little of it is cleaned by the combine. In many cases, the smaller farmer has not the adequate machinery on his farm, so the grain tends to have too much weed seed in it and too much moisture when it goes on the market.
1089 It is because of this unevenness of supplies and unevenness of quality on the market that the low quality grain tends to depress the general tone of the market and that pulls down the prices for the good quality as well. This is probably related to a large extent to the fact that we nowadays do not deal with the small country miller but with the huge millers and big compounders who want large consignments of grain to make up a batch for their processing. Therefore, the average quantity of grain grown by the growers in this country of 100 tons is far too small to make up a batch and the compounder or miller has to bulk up the good with the bad and therefore he is not willing to pay a sufficiently large differential.
The answer to this problem, certainly in the first place, is a system of forward contracts. There is no doubt at all of that. This will make sure that there is an orderly supply of home-grown grain going on to the market. This is the first step. It is then only a relatively short step from that, having made a contract to deliver a set quantity of grain on a certain date, for the farmer to consider delivering the set quantity of grain on that date as against the price he has already settled.
I am quite certain that as a result of this Measure we shall first see fixed targets for prices, followed by fixed targets for quality. In the setting of the bonus for the fixed contract, it will be very important for the Authority to set the bonus high enough to attract the farmers into making these contracts—and keeping them, because the only penalty for not delivering the grain is that the farmer loses the bonus. It is of vital importance that there should be complete confidence between miller, compounder and farmer in regard to the fulfilment of these contracts if we are to get the benefit we all want out of this system. I believe that this is the right way. I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister on proceeding with this Bill, as we have seen that this is exactly the right path to the improved marketing of cereals.
I should like an assurance that this system of bonus payments for forward contracts is applicable to farmers who come together to market their cereals as
1090 a group, either as a company under the Industrial and Provident Acts or as a co-operative. My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington is absolutely right in thinking that it is most important that this Measure should give the maximum benefit to the small farmer. The very big farmer is probably big enough now to look after himself, and to make contracts direct with the miller or the compounder. It is the small farmer for whom we want to cater.
I have in mind a group of farmers in Kent who have come together to market their cereals. They have found that they have to bulk their supplies over a period of three months at a time, and then bulk the prices in order to get the maximum benefit of flexibility through the merchant through whom they sell the grain. If the small farmer is to get the full benefit from this Measure it is most important that the machinery should be sufficiently flexible to allow the bonus to be payable through the group to the individual farmer. I should be grateful for an assurance on that point.
I congratulate the Minister on including the research Clause. That, I am sure, is right. A very great deal still needs to be done in research into bulk handling, conditioning and storage in order to get our grain up to the top quality in presentation. This Authority is entirely the right body to finance this work. It may have to do some of the work direct itself, or it may put the research out to other agencies, but the work urgently needs doing—there is no doubt about that. I hope that the Minister will give the Authority the greatest possible encouragement to get right on with that job. I warmly welcome the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will bring it into action just as soon as he can.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I feel that I must crave your indulgence, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but this debate has so far been rather one-sided. Since we had the two main speeches we have had only one back-bench speech from the Government side, but we have had two maiden speeches from this side. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) has congratulated my hon. Friends the Members for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) and for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) but I want to add my 1091 own congratulations so that they may feel that they are getting their full share. The whole House has listened to them as experts in farming and as representing two very well-known and distinguished constituencies. I hope that the House will have the pleasure of hearing them both again, though not necessarily on their own subject of agriculture. One of the great virtues of the House is that one learns to speak on subjects about which one previously knew nothing but has had to mug up.
I am glad to have this opportunity to speak, as my division of Eye, in Suffolk, has 189 villages—in fact it has the largest number of square miles and of acres in all the granary of England known as East Anglia. I, too, welcome this Bill, which follows action taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames) when he was Minister of Agriculture. The present Minister rather smoothly accused us on this side of not having done more about marketing earlier in our 13 years of office, but the reason, obviously, is that until one had some form of control over imports one could not have such a Bill as this. This has followed the Price Review—
§ Sir H. Harrison
I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford dealt with that, but the fact is that this Bill could not come along until we had some control.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the immense amount of work he did to get agreement over the control of imports. If I may say so very modestly, it all came after I had had a lot of talks with farmers in my division, and after I had been fortunate in the Ballot for private Members' time in May, 1963. I was the first Member to bring this matter to the Floor of the House. My right hon. Friend will remember that on that occasion the House was kind enough to pass the Motion I tabled. It was following that that all this had flowed.
It is the fortunes of war and of elections that has led the present Minister—and 1092 I congratulate him on it—rather than my right hon. Friend to bring forward this Measure, but at least it has given me the opportunity to congratulate my neighbour and very excellent friend the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) on taking his seat for the first time on the Front Bench. We have been very used, first on the Government side and now in Opposition, to hearing my hon. Friend speaking from the very back of the back benches, and we are now very pleased to see his back as he sits on the Front Bench. I hope that this will not only be the case in Opposition but that this honour will be but the prelude to the decades during which he will sit on the Treasury Bench.
I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to deal with the apparent implication of my hon. Friends the Members for Westmorland and Torrington that some barley growers do rather well. I move a lot round my constituency, but I have never found a farmer who grows barley who seemed to live on the scale implied by my hon. Friends—but possibly these farmers are all in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft.
I think that I am the only hon. Member who worked for his living, as I did for a large number of years before the war, as a corn merchant. I well remember the passing of what was, perhaps, the forerunner of our system of subsidy payments—the Wheat Act, brought in by a Conservative Government in the 'thirties. remember how much it benefited the farmers, though the Treasury in those days had to make no contribution at all.
Here I should like to pay tribute to two men who were on the Wheat Commission, and who had a great deal to do with its work. One of them was the late Samuel Armstrong, a brilliant miller, of Ipswich, and a Suffolk man. The other—another Suffolk man, happily alive today at over 80 years of age—is Colonel Percy Clarke, a barley merchant and feedingstuffs manufacturer, of Framlingham and a great Territorial soldier.
What has been happening in many other firms has happened to our firms. There has been a general tendency for corn merchants and small grist millers to go out of business in face of the amalgamations. Perhaps this is not generally understood in this House where farming 1093 interests are strongly represented, certainly on this side of the House, and where the case for the farmer is forcibly put. I wish to say a word about the corn merchants who sometimes are thought of as the farmer's enemies, whereas for years they have been his friends. In general they welcome this Bill. We know full well that often in the past at the request of a farmer they have bought grain which has just been harvested, paid for it, and not moved it from the farm till many weeks later, and provided sacks.
It is sad to see the number of these firms gradually getting fewer in the interior of the country because of the pressure of the port millers. We have had tremendous increases in the quantity of barley grown and also in the amount of wheat used for feeding stock. I believe that this is still an expanding side of our agriculture. The amount of barley grown has contributed to our balance of payments because it can and is used very successfully as a substitute for maize.
In the years ahead automation will play a bigger part than ever on our farms. We often think that we make more progress than our fathers and grandfathers did, but progress never stops; it is always going on. We saw at the Suffolk show only last year that now combines can be used for harvesting by remote control. This is a system which may be used a great deal in future. I also believe that a great deal more automation will go into feeding stock on farms. Sometimes we think of automation as being connected only with firms with millions of pounds of capital.
I was lucky the other day to visit a new small firm in Woodbridge which had adapted some old maltings of Lowe, Hepplewhite and Lowe. By spending a few thousand pounds an automatic mill had been built by which grain could go into the machines and not be handled at all before it came out as pellets or meal in bags. There is much room for still further automation and improvement on our farms.
I had hoped when this Bill was mooted that its assistance would be on an acreage basis rather than on a tonnage basis for cereals, but I accept the difficulties with which, probably the present Minister, and his predecessor had to cope. This is something which we must watch as yields increase 1094 with the aid of research. We should like an assurance from the hon. Gentleman who is to wind up the debate that producers in this country will get their full share of our own expanding market.
We may have to look carefully at Clause 6 when the Bill is in Committee and we may have to make a few adjustments there. On Clause 8, I hope the Minister will give an assurance that he will allow the Bill to work when it becomes an Act. I thought from his opening remarks that he rather expected opposition in Committee when he said that he hoped he would get the Bill through for the harvest of 1965. That may be because of lack of legislation coming forward which may affect the length of the Easter and Whitsun Recesses, but I hope that we shall get the Bill on to the Statute Book early in the New Year.
It is important to give corn merchants an opportunity of handling the grain and to see how that works under the Bill without having to allow the Authority to trade straight away. Of course I know that this could be done only on application to the Minister. Must that application be backed by a majority, or will it be open to a few to make an application and then the Minister will give authority to trade? This should be the very last step. I hope that the Minister will consider what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford said about the actual machinery by which this can be brought about.
I bring to the attention of the House the enormous increase in storage facilities which now are available on a farm. In my constituency, as a result of the wet summer of 1963, many driers were put in on medium-sized farms. I was lobbied, written to and rung up by a large number of farmers asking if I could get the Eastern Electricity Board to have their farms connected before the harvest started. The Board was extremely good and it was remarkable to find the number of medium-sized farms which had driers put in, and then this year they were hardly needed because there was a good and dry summer. This provision may be overlooked, but it is of great help to the medium-sized farmer who wants to store his grain. It also helps the small farmer who has no facilities for storage and 1095 likes to market the grain as soon as it is harvested.
Reference has been made to the speech of the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs when he, rather than the Minister, was framing Labour Party policy. I remember that speech, which was delivered at Swaffham in Norfolk in July, 1963. I think very many farmers were promised that if they voted for the Labour Party they would soon be able to retire on specially favourable terms. But the party's agricultural policy was not at all favourably received in East Anglia. I am delighted to see present my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins), who won such an outstanding victory. The Minister must remember that the policy advocated by the Labour Party did not endear itself to the people in England's granary in that part of the country. They much preferred my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford and were most appreciative of the great work he did in preparation for this Bill.
Of course this is not the last word which can be said on the subject, but let us see that we are not taken in by the party dogma of hon. Members opposite and that the Bill has a fair opportunity in the next two or three years—with good will from the merchants, farmers and the Government to help it—to work.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. George Y. Mackie (Caithness and Sutherland)
This has been a gloriously cosy discussion so far with hon. Members on both sides of the House saying how splendid the Bill is. I cannot understand the great desire on the part of both Ministers and ex-Ministers to claim parentage of this Bill because, although it may be worthy, it does not tackle the problem at all. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. John Mackie) stated the other day that he could not produce a calf in 100 days. He will be happy to know that 60 days is enough for a mouse to be produced and that hon. Members opposite have been successful in that.
The Bill does not tackle anything. I am very doubtful if it will work. Up to date many inducements have been placed in the way of farmers to hold their grain through the spring, with the promise that all would then be well and they would 1096 recoup the capital costs of installing expensive driers and other machinery. I am confident that in the majority of cases since the end of the war it has paid the farmer to flog his grain off the combine at the price then obtainable.
The scheme for forward contracts may well work, although I doubt it. The real teeth in the Bill, if they are teeth, lie in the reserve powers of the Ministry. It is extraordinary to me that this dynamic Government should produce a Bill which appears to me to be half full of protection for the trade. I dare say that the corn merchants are estimable people. I never tire of hearing how they supply such enormous quantities of credit to farmers, but the Bill is heavily weighted in their favour. I do not know why they should supply half the members of the Authority, thus being on a par with the industry. I suspect that it is because hon. Members on this side of the House favour the trade at the expense of farmers.
I am perfectly certain that the only thing that will be effective in the Bill is the reserve powers for the Authority to move in and put a floor price to the market. This is what farmers have been looking for for a long time. It is high time that the new Minister and his satellites, instead of producing Bills of this sort, looked at the whole structure of agriculture. The Opposition Front Bench should also do so, because they have entirely forgotten that they produced the system of deficiency payments. A large part of the Labour Party's agricultural policy seems to consist of holding up the canonisation of Tom Williams as an example for all other parties to follow.
I should like to take the House back—it is relevant to the Bill—to the basic causes of agricultural policy on both sides of the House since the war. Tom Williams introduced it in an expansion scheme to help the balance of payments and increase agricultural production in the desperate situation we were then in. To do this, he promised the farmers longterm security of guaranteed prices. For that, the farmers accepted lower prices during that period than they would have got on a free market. This was the basic reason behind Tom Williams's Bill and policy in the Labour Party. The Labour Party made a number of mistakes in it, 1097 but otherwise it was a plain common sense thing for the good of the country and not specifically for the good of farmers. Nevertheless, the industry welcomed it.
When the Tories came to power they did not like putting a bottom in the market. They wanted to allow our traders, as the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) said, to go over the world and seek out the cheap grain. So the Tories introduced a system of deficiency payments, the main object of which was to hold down the price of food to the industrial worker, while at the same time allowing us to guarantee prices to farmers so that we could keep up our total production. This was a perfectly worthy objective, if it had worked in that way.
Every since then the Tories have been tinkering with the problem. They have recognised that the solution they sought 10 years ago has not worked. It is a very simple sum. I have been informed by a gentleman in the Library that since 1954, which was when the great freedom started to work, the cost of living has risen by over 30 per cent.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would come to the Bill.
§ Mr. Mackie
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I must try to put the basic causes for the failure of the efforts up to now to hon. Members on both sides. Both parties are unable to think basically on this and, as is so often the case, the Liberal Party has to point out the basic causes—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
All this may or may not be perfectly true. I express no view on that. All I would ask the hon. Gentleman to do is to link all this to the Bill.
§ Mr. Mackie
I accept your rebuke, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will endeavour to link it to the Bill. What I am trying to point out is that, because the deficiency payment has basically failed to work, Measures such as this Bill are fathered on both sides of the House, whereas we need to sweep the system away. What is needed today is the very policy which the Labour Party advocated during the election. Imports of grain into this country should be regulated. In the Bill there is no co-ordination. 1098 There may be information, but there is no co-ordination of the import of cereals. Indeed, the Labour Government are following on the foolish policy of the Conservatives in actually asking foreign importers to increase the price of grain we import so as to keep down the Exchequer liability. It appears to me that this is practically insane, but it was put forward by the Conservatives as practical policy. I am sorry that the Bill does not deal with that and that hon. Members opposite are following in this extremely foolish pursuit.
If hon. Members opposite want to put a real bottom in the market of farming, instead of endeavouring to tinker with it, as in the Bill, they should import grain and release it on to the market at a guaranteed price. This would give real stability and would save the Exchequer a great deal of money. It would put money into the Exchequer, instead of requiring, as in the Bill, money both from the Exchequer and the farming community.
As I read it, the Authority is not to make a levy on the merchants. The money for the trading is to come from the farmers, although the Government intend to pay the administrative expenses. I think that the Bill will go through, as both the devil and the other devil are for it. It is a small Bill and one which will only help to solve the problem. We had hoped that hon. Members now sitting on the Treasury Bench, who are looking rather embarrassed, would produce a dynamic policy to tackle the basic causes of agricultural unrest. We had hoped that they might even produce the policy they advocated during the election, which was remarkably similar to the policy advocated by the Liberal Party.
§ Mr. Mackie
With great regret, I give a qualified welcome to this miserable little Bill and regret even more that there is no sign of any basic policy for agriculture coming from the Labour Government.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
We have just had a fine blast from the Highlands. I suspect that the qualified welcome the hon. Member for Caithness 1099 and Sutherland (Mr. George Y. Mackie) gave relates only to the oats the Government may be rolling metaphorically through the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman, of all people, surprised me by complaining that this was a cosy family party. From anyone else it might have been somewhat unparliamentary to refer to gentlemen in this Chamber as satellites I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will take no offence.
I welcome the Bill, because it carries out the hopes of many of my constituents who are not all large cereal growers by any means. Many of them are small farmers who find it characteristically difficult to sell their products.
I would pay a great tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames) who initiated this policy. Our memories are all too short. It is a comparatively short time since the world was afflicted with vast cereal surpluses and there seemed little prospect of producing order in the cereal market, yet my right hon. Friend initiated these discussions and I am glad that the Minister has decided to follow them.
This is a change from the characteristic Labour policy as I have heard it. In my ten years' membership of the House the word "Commission" has been dinned in my ears annually, although the meaning has changed. It first came up at a by-election when it was a Commission of the Lucas Report type tied definitely to the conception of State trading. Now we speak of Commissions as more in a co-ordinating rôle, but they are still commodity Commissions. The best comment came from a constituent of mine who said that he thought that it was "all commission and no discount".
The question whether the Minister intends to superimpose a Commission at a later date is one to which naturally we should like to have an answer. I have studied the First Secretary's speech at Swaffham and in it there is a not uncharacteristic saving clause. He said thatThe Commissions would supervise and regulate the volume of imports in order to prevent excessive fluctuations in supply from undermining the prices received by domestic producers. They would, as I have already said, encourage the conclusion of long-term commodity agreements with foreign suppliers and, 1100 if need be, trade on their own account. Because of the relative scarcity of information, and the lack of precedent for such commissions we will not determine the exact details of their operations until we have consulted all the interests involved.Therefore, it seems that it is open to the Minister to do what he likes and we want to know how he proposes to coordinate in practice the flow of imports with the home production.
The Minister has rightly recognised the vital importance of preserving a balance between demand and supply. This is unlike his right hon. Friend the present Minister of Housing and Local Government who, let us remember, only a very short time ago at a Labour Party conference was urging the farmers of Britain to produce all they can and saying, "We will get rid of it." That is a very dangerous doctrine and I am glad that the Minister had adopted what is the essentially Conservative policy of aiming to secure a balance between production and use.
This agreement was not easily reached. It took 18 months' solid negotiation of a tripartite nature, and from time to time constituents of mine who were party to the negotiations indicated that their hopes were ebbing and flowing. I am glad that the agreement has come about. There is little fresh that can be said about the Bill because maiden speakers in the debate, particularly, have covered it so well but it gives a real prospect of getting over some of the classic difficulties that derive from the fact that the home-grown cereals tend to be in small lots of different varieties and different quality and in many odd and often inaccessible locations.
It has always been easier for the large user to take imports, and the small individual farmer tends to be a weak seller. This is often put as a point of criticism, but it is not surprising. The farmer has to spend nearly all his time on the job of growing. It is more important to him in point of priority than selling, and he does not have a separate sales department, unlike any other industry. He therefore has to look outside the farm for assistance in selling. He is naturally weak. This is the point of our encouragement for the development of any cooperative enterprise.
On the other hand, the buying trade has been steadily getting stronger. The 1101 country merchant, although his title may remain unchanged, has become absorbed in larger enterprises, as has been mentioned by my own Member, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). I do not know whether he has been absorbed, but I have never tried to sell him any corn and that is perhaps why our relationship is a happy one. But it is desirable that the grower should be better enabled to sell. This the marketing Authority can do.
I hope that forward contracting will enable it to be made reasonably certain that storage will pay. At the moment it may not, because although the sliding scale gives one higher guaranteed prices rising throughout the year, when one comes to sell later in the year—because of the vagaries of the market generally caused by imports—the actual market price may be rather low. That, added to the deficiency payment, may make a return to the farmer less profitable than if he had not used his storage and he had put the grain on the market soon after harvest.
Advance payments will also enable the smaller man, or the man pressed for cash, to take something nearer the time of harvest when he is under economic pressure and hold back his stock until a more favourable time. We shall all benefit from market intelligence, and I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford for the degree of information which he has disseminated during his term of office. The Price Review this year contains a great deal of palatable statistics well presented, and there have been regular publications from the Ministry of news, like market information on cereals, which gives a very clear picture of the general trend of supply and demand.
The fourth inportant development will be in research and development, and that will have an educative function which in the long run may prove one of the most valuable results of having this Authority, at any rate if the experience of the Milk Marketing Board is anything to judge by. The function of that Board in educating farmers in producing good milk of uniform quality and selling it has been immense.
The main question that must remain uttermost in our minds is the link with 1102 imports. How will that balance be struck? It seems likely that pressures will build up again. The probable growth of cereal production, and the assisted exports which may take place from the European Community now that prices have been agreed, will mean that pressures in the world market will grow. We realise that agreement over imported cereals was reached because our traditional foreign and Commonwealth suppliers agreed to limit their exports to this country if we in turn made our contribution to stabilising the market by accepting the doctrine of the standard quantity. Therefore, we have the standard quantity biting this year for the first time because home production exceeds estimates by a good deal. It is important to know how the Government will reconcile this to some extent obvious conflict of interest.
I see from the Minister's market information on cereals published on 2nd December that the provisional forecast of our requirements for consumption in the year 1964–65 is put at 20.6 million tons and the estimated quantity coming forward from home resources at 12.6 million tons, leaving 8 million tons to be imported. That means that the home market has produced nearly 1½ million tons more grain than last year. That is one reason why the standard quantity is "biting". One must say this because some of one's constituents, who realise its purpose only when it does begin to bite, must appreciate that that is the cost, if one likes so to call it, of protecting the system itself. It is important that in future years we should know how the agreement is to be maintained. I notice that in the discussions which took place early in the month with some of the partners to the import agreement, the French do not appear to have been represented although they are parties to the agreement. I should like to know what provisions there are for another meeting.
It is often thought outside this House that agricultural Bills involving financial payments equally involve extra charges on the taxpayer. I re-emphasise that the financing of the Home-Grown Cereals Authority will be borne by the industry within the framework of the deficiency payments and that the Treasury will be accepting the commitment only of certain administrative charges, which for the first year of operation are forecast as 1103 being between £100,000 and £200,000. That should be many times covered by the savings in the deficiency bill from a a more stable market.
I hope, therefore, that this is the first sign, and an encouraging one, that a Labour Government in office will not be doctrinaire on agriculture but will be prepared to learn from the experience of others. This is mainly an enabling Bill. We all want to see the organisation set up and manned. The test will be whether it works. I hope it will and that it will enable us to make further advances in efficiency, in expansion and in productivity.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
It is only right that I should join with all those of my hon. Friends who have given a general welcome to the principle of the Bill. I congratulate also the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on his good fortune in inheriting such a fund of wisdom and detail from the former Government who went out of office in October. I presume that, as a result of that clear logic of which there is no greater exponent than himself, being one of my constituents the hon. Gentleman will see fit to support me at the next election as a reward for what I might describe as his inheritance.
Having said that, I must, unfortunate though it is, introduce a carping note into these deliberations. This is a United Kingdom Bill. It applies not only to England and Wales but to Scotland as well. If there have been conspicuous absentees from this House today, they are the representatives of the Scottish Office. I wish, therefore, to register a strong protest about this. It shows, perhaps, the absolute hopelessness and futility of having the Minister who is in charge of Scotland's most important industry sitting in another place. Although the Minister of State at the Scottish Office is supposed to answer agricultural matters in this House, it would seem from his interest in the subject today that his appointment as Minister of State is, as we suspected, perhaps one in name only.
From the actual detail of the Bill, one goes on to wonder whether the lack of interest that is shown by Scottish 1104 Ministers is not also reproduced in the contents of the Bill. It is noticeable that in Clause 2, for example, the Authority is given the duty—the obligation—to prepare and submit schemes for wheat and barley. I interrupted the Minister during his speech to ask why there was no duty to prepare a scheme for oats, and he replied that oats were included in the Bill. Clause 3 merely states, however, that the Authority may submit schemes for other cereals, and I presume that those other cereals include Scotland's main cereal crop, that of oats.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)
If the hon. Member refers to the Interpretation Clause, on page 8 of the Bill, he will see the definition of home-grown cereals, which completely answers his question.
§ Mr. Stodart
I still believe that what I have said is correct. In Clause 2 there is an obligation to produce a scheme for two cereals. In Clause 3 there is a permissive power to produce a scheme for the others. This is typical of the lack of regard shown by hon. Members on the Government benches for the minority producer and for minorities generally.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will know that oat production has been declining. I believe that this is a trend that will be halted. In any event, oat production in Scotland is virtually level with that of barley; and with oats being about one-third of the whole of the Scottish cereal output, I should have thought it reasonable that oats should have been included in Clause 2.
There is often criticism—I have met it on several occasions—about what some people regard as the excessive support which is given for cereal production. It is true that the support which is given by the Exchequer to cereal production goes in proportion beyond its actual productive value. We must, however, realise that man has overcome many natural conditions which 20 years ago would have made cereal production virtually impossible. By the production of new varieties of grain and by the invention of new machines, cereals are now being grown on land where 20 or 30 years ago it would have been considered madness to grow them. 1105 So it is clearly necessary that we must take steps to cope with the very big cereal acreage which is today a fact.
We have got to spread the marketing of cereals, and although it may seem that this Bill, with its bonuses for the farmers who make contracts, may appear to favour the big cereal grower, I think there is no possible doubt that if the big grower of cereals is enabled and encouraged to store his grain and to keep it off the market at harvest time, then the small grower, who cannot, perhaps, afford to put up storage, will have a market to sell in which is much firmer because of the absence of grain from his rather stronger brother.
I should like to make a point which I think is one that will be carried further in Committee, and that is on the Authority which it is proposed to set up. I hope very much that we shall have strong representation from those who buy cereals and not only from those who sell them, because, let us face it, even with the production of cereals in this country today, there are far more stock farmers who buy cereals and feed them than there are cereal farmers who sell their grain.
I welcome very much the encouragement of the making of contracts. I would make only this one reservation, and I think it is one of enormous importance. If there is one subject in which I believe the farming community has been pretty backward it is in its general approach to making contracts and to keeping them. It is a terrible tendency of farmers—I speak as one of them—to make a contract to sell, be it potatoes or grain, and then, if at the time of delivery the price is higher than it was when the contract was made, to make all sorts of excuses as to why the potatoes or grain are no longer available. Unless the farming industry can be persuaded to take what is, I believe, the attitude towards contracts of the industrial community of this country in general, namely, that once a contract is signed it must be sacrosanct, then confidence within the trade will be completely lacking, and this scheme will never get off the ground.
With that caveat, and the reservation I have made about the Scottish interests being safeguarded in this Bill, I give it my cordial welcome.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I rise in the few moments which remain before my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) wishes to speak to add my voice to the congratulations which have been directed to those two maiden speakers. I was particularly struck by that of my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), a county I know well. Although I cannot match his Wordsworthian quotation I thought that he put it very well and I was glad to hear it.
Now I should like to refer to the speech made by the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor), who, I am sorry to say, is not in his place. He said—I think that I have written his words down accurately—that there was a crisis, insanity and an appalling situation in our cereals marketing arrangements. I can only say that if he had spent any time among the cereal growers of East Anglia, where we know something about cereal growing, he would have realised he was talking nonsense in using those phrases.
When I heard the hon. Member's speech I was reminded of some of the speeches made by Government Members during the election campaign. One of them, in a speech before a group of farmers in my constituency made a speech which led the Socialist candidate, who had made a speech, to ask the chairman of the branch of the National Farmers' Union in that area whether he had "done all right" and the chairman replied, "Yes but 10 minutes' rain would have done more good."
I was reminded of that by the speech of the hon. Member. He said towards the end of his speech, referring to agriculture, "I have seen it all and I know it all." My own impression is that those sentiments can only be applied, on the other side, to the Prime Minister.
As to the Home-Grown Cereals Authority, it is clear that there must be three pillars in this industry in Britain: first, control of imports; secondly, standard quantities; and thirdly,—of which we have the elements in this Bill—better organisation for marketing.
I was struck recently by the accusation that the Conservative Party, in introducing control of imports, had been taxing the children's food. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will throw aside that 1107 monstrous accusation, that the control of imports is taxation of children's food. It is simply not true, and hon. Members opposite know it.
I think that the important thing—and I speak on behalf of those in my own constituency who grow a very great deal of grain—is to establish standard quantities at a level which will allow our own farmers to get the maximum benefit from their increasing efficiency and capacity to grow larger quantities. I think that the standard quantities ceiling should be fixed in such a way as to be flexible so that our growers not only get a fair share of the market, but a larger market in which to share.
The third pillar is better organisation, and it is there that we welcome this very good Bill. There are one or two points on it which are worth raising and I ask these questions on behalf of my constituents. The first is as to the composition of the Authority. The producers are to have nine representatives, the independents three, and the trade nine.
We all welcome the fact that for the first time the trade, and the producers, and the public, as represented by the independent members, are to be got round a table together. I am sure that that is a step forward, but I think that the producers—they certainly are in my area—are concerned about the fact that among the nine representatives who will speak in their name on the Authority there is apparently to be some division between those who are contract producers of cereals and those supposed to be consumers.
In farming, a producer and consumer are very often one and the same person. If one keeps pigs one is just as much a consumer of the grain which one produces as its producer. There is real concern among farmers in my area over the possibility that the nine representatives of the trade, supported perhaps on occasion by the three representatives of the public, and, again perhaps, by some of the nine producers' reprsentatives who are more concerned with consumption than with production, can consistently outvote those who represent the producing element in the cereal growing industry. I would ask the Minister to explain whether or not these fears of producers are well 1108 grounded. I would hope that in Committee we shall be able to deal with those fears in some detail.
Now I should like very briefly to turn to my second point, which is marketing intelligence. Certainly, this is extremely valuable. I have myself seen what value it can be in the United States, where the organisation of cereal marketing has benefited enormously from their effective techniques for marketing intelligence. How is this market intelligence to be disseminated? Is it to be done by broadcasts on the wireless? Is it to be done by papers being sent to individual farmers? Market intelligence is one thing. The important thing is to see that it gets into the hands of those who want to use it, and I should like to know how the Minister proposes to disseminate this important market information which we shall be glad to have.
My third point is about forward contracting. We are all for it, and I think that particularly in the Bury St. Edmunds division farmers have now invested enough in driers, in big storage bins, and in bulk handling, to be able to cope with the whole forward contracting business. We are well set up technically to handle it. Many farmers in my constituency hold as much as 500–600 tons, but I ask the Government to realise that holding wheat is an expensive business. It is particularly expensive when a farmer has to go to his bank and get his money at 7, 8, or 9 per cent.
The Government are seeking to encourage farmers to hold their grain and release it on to the market in an orderly fashion, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to recognise that they cannot do this if they are paying 7, or 8, or 9 per cent. for their money. The Government must recognise that there is an economic factor arising from their general policies which affect the farming industry.
I do not wish to speak any longer, because I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft is anxious to speak, but I emphasise that the only way in which the cereals grower can do his job and produce large amounts of good quality grain for our home market is to be technically efficient. That means that he must make a profit so that he can plough money back into his industry to make sure that he has the machinery 1109 and storage facilities that are necessary. No farmer can do that unless the general policies of the Government enable him to make a sufficient margin of profit.
The farming industry—and this applies particularly to cereal growers—has had to cope with an increase of £16½ million in wage costs. As a result of last October's increase, it is to pay about £2 million a year because of the new import duties, the petrol tax will add £2½ million to its costs, the increased National Insurance contribution will add another £4¾ million, and the increase in the Bank Rate has added about £5¼ million. It has had more than £32 million added to its costs, and if it is to develop the storage facilities and the machinery which will enable it to make use of the Bill, the Government must ensure that there is a margin between costs and income.
I welcome the Bill, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames) on the hard work that he has done to make it possible. I congratulate, too, my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft on what I believe will be his maiden speech from the Opposition Front Bench. I cannot think of anyone who can put the case for the East Anglian farmer in particular, and British farming generally, better than he can.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) when he says that nobody can put the case better than my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) can, and I am looking forward to hearing his maiden speech from the Dispatch Box.
At the same time, I hope that I shall be forgiven for intervening for a few minutes before the debate ends, because my constituency can claim to be probably the most productive corn-growing constituency in England. I hope, therefore, that the few remarks that I have to make will not be thought inappropriate to this discussion.
In debating the Bill we have to recognise the climate that is rapidly setting in not only in agriculture, but throughout the whole of the economy. When a farmer is able to tell me that as a result of the 1110 immediate actions of the Labour Government on coming into power his weekly bill has gone up by £70 due to fuel costs, taxation, and National Insurance contributions, we have to recognise that the whole of the industry is likely to be plunged into the same sort of uncertainty as the City of London. Confidence has been greatly shaken, but I will not elaborate on that, because there is not time.
I recognise that the Bill is really the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames), and I take this opportunity, as it is the first that I have had in the House, of congratulating him on what he did when he was Minister. I do not ever recollect a Minister being so popular in such difficult circumstances. There was a world of difference between the circumstances which confronted Lord Williams of Barnburgh, and those which confronted my right hon. Friend. I consider that my right hon. Friend came out triumphant at the end, and did a wonderful job for the industry.
I take up a point arising on Clause 1. I am not unduly perturbed about the possible mix-up of those representing the interests of farmers who use home-grown cereals and those who produce them. I think that we too often tend to try to put people into watertight compartments which do not exist, like trying to separate the consumer from the taxpayer. We are all the same people really, and there are very few farmers in the Isle of Ely, which is perhaps the most productive corn producing area in the world, who are not feeding livestock of any sort. As long as the producer's interest, be he producing something which is being fed on cereals, or the cereals themselves, is properly represented on the Authority, I think we can hope that the Authority will be a success.
My only regret on looking back on it all is that we were not able to bring up to date, the old 1932 Wheat Act which, in the Isle of Ely, was the most popular Act of any of the inter-war legislation. I think that some of the corn merchants would have preferred it, and some of the millers, too. We shall have to see how this works out, and it may be that it will have to be adapted as we go along.
I want to raise one particular issue arising out of Clause 6, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able 1111 to say a word about this. My concern arises from subsection (5), which deals with the Authority's power to conduct research. I want to make certain that we are not going to see complications setting in as a result of the establishment of the Ministry of Technology, and what we debated the other day on the Science and Technology Bill regarding the position of the Agricultural Research Council.
Most agricultural research is usually thought to be in the hands of the Agricultural Research Council, and it does magnificent work. I have its report for the year 1962–63, which was published only this month. If one looks through that, one sees that a good deal of agricultural research is going on in cereals, and I hope that this new Authority will not barge and blunder in and upset the equilibrium of the Council.
I think that I understood the Minister to say, when introducing the Bill, that the research which this Authority will be carrying out is clearly specified, and is not concerned with the actual growing of crops, but with the storing and movement of them, the general assessment of market distribution, and so forth. If that is so, it may be all right, but I should like an assurance that the Agricultural Research Council will be working in fairly close association with the Authority, because the Council has done magnificent work for years. It is far more expert in research than a new body is likely to be, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that the Authority works closely with it.
The experience of the Potato Marketing Board has shown that when such bodies are set up there is a need, sooner or later, to build up a reserve fund to deal with years when prices drop. I wonder whether it is the intention to do the same thing here with the Cereals Authority. I hope that it will never be necessary to draw on such a fund, but it would seem to be sound finance to seek to build one up as soon as possible. I should like to know whether it is the intention to do so, and whether growers will contribute to it—or how it will otherwise be financed. This is of immense importance for the well-being of the industry.
I wish the new Authority all possible good fortune. I feel sure that it has a useful job to do for the industry. In the opinion of most farmers in the Isle 1112 of Ely, the biggest thing that my right hon. Friend did was at last to try to balance imported produce with home produce. We must continue to do that if we wish to ensure sound economics in agricultural support.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)
My first and very pleasant duty is to congratulate my two hon. Friends, the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) and the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) on their maiden speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland follows a distinguished Member—now Lord Inglewood—who made great contributions to our agriculture debates. My hon. Friend talked chiefly about the new Cereals Authority that we are setting up, and particularly the part that the National Farmers' Union played in it. I know that he was a member of the union team, and we are certain that he will have a lot more to say on the subject in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington, who follows a great friend of mine—Mr. Percy Browne—had a lot to say about his part of the country, which, like Westmorland, is very beautiful. I remember going to Devonshire just over a year ago and talking to many farmers there. I found them rather rugged, outspoken and sincere. They are also very generous. They did not treat me at all kindly at the time, but they were extremely kind to me afterwards.
Although, in reply to a vote of thanks, I said that I did not think that I should be wanting to go back to Devonshire in a hurry, I am already beginning to enjoy the prospect of being asked again, because so much of what was said by my opponents who took part in the debate has now proved to be completely false, and has been turned inside out by the Government, that I am looking forward to my next visit to that county. I hope that Devonshire farmers will accept this as a desire on my part to go there at any time when they may like me to do so.
Both my hon. Friends will realise that for a Conservative Member to get into an agriculture debate is always a difficult undertaking. I therefore congratulate 1113 them on having chosen today to make their maiden speeches. This is in contrast to what has happened on the Government side, from which we have had only one back bench speech.
Earlier, my right hon. Friend referred to the lack of experience and interest shown by the Labour and Liberal Parties in agricultural matters. This was very well illustrated today by the speech of the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor). If he is the fount of agricultural wisdom on the Government benches, heaven help his right hon. Friend.
The background to the Bill is the tremendous increase in production which has taken place during the last few years. Cereals production is three times what it was at the end of the war, and barley production seven times what it was a few years ago. Several factors have contributed to this. There is the combine harvester, which enables farmers in the West Country to grow corn where it was impossible to do so before. New varieties of manures and sprays have also made a contribution. It is interesting to note that the price of wheat before the war was 10s. a cwt., when agricultural wages were 30s., whereas the price today is 26s. a cwt. and wages are about £11. It took 3 cwt. of wheat to pay one man for a week in 1939; it now takes 8½ cwt. to do so. That is the measure of the contribution that our agriculture has made to the economy in the last few years.
To those economists who sometimes seek to denigrate British agriculture, I would only say, "Look at the figures already quoted today for wheat and barley in the Common Market—£38 a ton for wheat, and £32 a ton for barley." My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington talked about the barley barons of East Anglia. I have never found one yet. Perhaps I am a little prejudiced or biased, but it is not surprising that some of us took a rather happier view of Britain's proposed entry into the Common Market than did others.
The pressures on the United Kingdom market in the last few years have been very great. This was brought out in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). We owe a great debt of gratitude to my right hon. Friend for bringing in minimum 1114 import prices, thus making the Bill possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) said that there had been no changes in cereal marketing for 100 years, and that the whole basis of import control which my right hon. Friend brought in meant a very drastic change in the fortunes of agriculture. I believe that import controls, now followed by the Bill—for which my right hon. Friend must take the credit—will go down in the history of agriculture as a very big step forward.
Whenever I have been to Devon or to other places and have talked to Members of the Labour and Liberal Parties I have always been struck by their support of import control. We had another example of this today from the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. George Y. Mackie). He is all in favour of import control, as are most of us. But we can get it only by agreement with our overseas suppliers.
§ Mr. George Y. Mackie
I talked about import control in terms of import commissions, and said that this was a great deal easier than the kind of control that we exercise when we pay people more for the grain they produce.
§ Mr. Prior
The hon. Member is wrong, because we just would not get that form of import control. If we could get it we would, but it is not possible.
The point is coming home to hon. Members opposite that any form of control over imports—by way of a surcharge or whatever else—is liable to make them very unpopular with foreign countries. When we debate this matter in future I hope that we shall hear rather less about the need for import control in the form adumbrated by the right hon. Gentleman in debates and on television and other places before the last election.
I feel that we have to thank my right hon. Friend for obtaining the Bill for us, and for the excellent work that he did in bringing together the two sides of the industry. Anyone who knows the farming industry well appreciates that it is a very great achievement to obtain agreement on the constitution of the Authority among the producers of grain, the farmers who are users of grain, and the trade and compounders. Only 1115 people who have been farming can realise just what this means.
When the Authority is set up, it will have a good many functions; I wish to pick out one or two of the things which I feel that it ought to be doing. I am now dealing with trading functions. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), one of the troubles with the farming industry is that its members present their cereals in a very bad manner. The quality is low. Sometimes the grain is full of weed seeds. Often it is not dry. It is very important that we should pay more attention to these things.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South was right when he said that farmers have no sales ability. On the whole, they are weak sellers, and very often the merchants who have tried to talk up the price when farmers were willing to sell below the indicated price. I hope that it will be a function of the new Authority to provide market intelligence, and we should like to know more from the Parliamentary Secretary about what market intelligence will be available.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) mentioned research. I regard the duties of the Authority in this connection as being very important. I do not want the Authority to cut across the work being done by the Agricultural Research Council, but there are ways in which the two bodies could combine. One is in respect of the use of more soft wheat in grist; another might be in the encouraging of plant breeding, to try to produce hard wheat in this country with a good yield; a third to see whether, in the south of England, we can produce some form of maize for grain feeding. All this would be extremely valuable for agriculture.
We heard very little from the Minister about the policies of the Government in relation to commodity commissions. The Bill, which is an exercise in planning by consent, is in sharp contrast to the remarks and criticisms of the First Secretary of State as short a time ago as last June, when he said:… we have to provide an orderly and integrated machinery for the assessment of our 1116 requirements and possible supplies and for the marketing of those supplies … We have said that there are two ways of doing that. They are complementary. One is by setting up commodity commissions and the other is encouraging the industry to establish rather more producer boards with real marketing powers. I do not mean some of the half-baked things that pass for marketing boards these days."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1964; Vol. 697, c. 1051.]The Bill and the Cereals Authority bear no resemblance whatever to the statements of the right hon. Gentleman. I have always thought that no constructive thinking on agriculture was undertaken by the party opposite in 13 years; and the Bill confirms that for me. What is more, it confirms that this is a Conservative Measure. As I have already said this Session, while the Minister produces Conservative Bills he will receive our wholehearted support. I hope that he will continue to be as undogmatic with other Measures as he has proved to be over this Measure.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)
I cannot claim that this is the first debate on agriculture where I have made the winding-up speech. I should like to offer my congratulations, and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, to those hon. Members who have made their maiden speech today. The speeches were absolutely first-class and we shall look forward to hearing both hon. Gentlemen on future occasions.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and I have crossed swords on many occasions. I am delighted to see the hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Front Bench. His cherubic countenance is a great testimonial to the stability which the Labour Government must have given to agriculture if it has produced an hon. Member such as himself. I am also delighted to see the hon. Member for many other reasons. Like the hon. Gentlemen who have delivered their maiden speeches today, I, also, was very friendly with their predecessors. I think that "Willie" Vane had a raw deal at the end. He was sacked within half an hour, after all he had done for agriculture.
The right hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames) had a little fling. I prefer the somersault which he performed this 1117 afternoon to his recent performance as an equestrian. At least, this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman finished up on his feet. He was trying to get away from debating the Bill into a discussion on commodity commissions, a subject on which I shall have a word or two to say. He did a complete political somersault. He has said that marketing had nothing to do with the Government, and hon. Members opposite have said, "Hear, hear". I remember very well that during a debate we had in 1961—
§ Mr. Soames
I have always said that, basically, it was for the industry to organise its marketing arrangements and for the Government to do all they could to help the industry. That is just what will happen under this Bill. We offered our good will and brought both sides of the industry together.
§ Mr. Hoy
The right hon. Gentleman must not seek to get out of it in that way. He has said clearly that it is not for the Government to interfere in marketing; that marketing is something for the industry to do. Of course, this is a complete denial. This Measure represents a piece of orderly marketing. We do not object. The right hon. Gentleman should face the fact that there has been a change. He has changed and we are delighted; we do not complain at all.
I was glad to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), but he was being a little naïve when he talked about a free market for all sorts of things. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that these free markets do not exist. In all the agreements with which we are dealing there are limitations to free marketing. Had I known about these free markets I might not have spent weary hours in the Public Accounts Committee endeavouring to provide money to support the market. The right hon. Member for Guildford knows as well as I do that it is an exaggeration to talk about a free market.
§ Sir R. Nugent
The hon. Member is quite wrong. There is a free market, with certain elements of support in different places, but the basis is still a free market, by supply and demand, and the prices are worked out.
§ Mr. Hoy
With certain controls as well. The right hon. Gentleman knows that to be perfectly true.
I turn to the question which he asked about growers and co-operatives. Those eligible for cereal deficiency payments will, equally, be eligible for bonus payments. I understand that the co-operative associations, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, are able to get deficiency payments for their members.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) is my Member of Parliament. I am aware of what he was saying about Scottish representation. I must just pay a tribute to him. He is the only Scottish Tory who has taken part in this debate.
When the hon. Gentleman talks about one sort of scheme being compulsory and the other having not so much force behind it, as in Clause 3, he is getting back to a very old Scottish argument about "may" meaning "shall" and "shall" meaning "may". It is for the Authority, if it sees fit, to direct its attention to that problem. It is not for the Government to do it; it is for the Authority to do it. I think that we should keep that clearly in mind with reference to many other things, too.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) and the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) raised the problem of the Agricultural Research Council. Of course, the Council in itself does not carry out all research work. It directs work to be done. It is for the Authority, not for the Government, to do the Clause 6 work. What the Bill does is to give power to the Authority to carry out this work. It will not be interfered with. It is for the Authority to see that the work is undertaken.
I ought to make perfectly clear at this stage the difference between the two sides of the House with regard to this Bill and a commodity commission. My right hon. Friend, I thought, explained very explicitly at the beginning of the 1119 debate that the arrangements set up in the Bill deal with the marketing of homegrown grain only.
The right hon. Gentleman, who claims paternity of it, asked so many questions about what it all meant that I began to wonder whether he recognised his own child. He knows perfectly well that all that the Bill proposes to deal with is home-grown grain. I was interested to hear one or two hon. Members opposite asking, "What are we to do about imports?" This is a question which. I can assure them, is not new. When one goes on to deal with imports to this country, it might well be that one is approaching the establishment of a commodity commission.
When the right hon. Gentleman is claiming a lot of credit for the Bill, he might give some credit to this side of the House, because it was perhaps as a result of the continual prodding of my hon. and right hon. Friends that we have this Measure. The right hon. Gentleman and some of his advisers—and even maiden speakers and advisers to the N.F.U.—were perhaps a little afraid that they might have to deal with something different. What troubles me is that if hon. Gentlemen opposite were interested in marketing, they had 13 years to do the job. It is a little impertinent for them to come to the House when we have been in office for only eight weeks and to ask, "What are you doing about this problem?" After all, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to claim credit for the Bill, at least he should give us credit for introducing it. In 13 years they did not introduce it, but within eight weeks we are taking the first steps to putting it on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Hoy
I will not give way again to the right hon. Gentleman. I have given way enough, and I have only a few minutes in which to finish my speech.
Other questions were asked. I shall deal with them as quickly as posible, if I may. I will deal, first, with the two Clauses concerning deficiency payments and about the levy which should be made. It is true, as was said, that in Clauses 15 and 16, it can be done through the Government where deficiency payments are made. Where the deficiency payments 1120 are made, it is easy for the Government to pay this levy to the Authority without any further facts having to be ascertained. The Government already has these facts.
The next Clause provides for supplying information to the Authority. There is no alternative but to do so, because if deficiency payments are not made levy collection has to be made in another way. Then it becomes the responsibility of the Authority to collect the levies. To do that, the Authority has to have the power to call for the information which it requires.
I should like to say one word about reserve trading powers. It is not intended that reserve trading powers should be brought into use without any reason. The right hon. Gentleman asked, "Why should we not have this Order introduced so that Parliament could discuss it?" He knows as well as I do—indeed he very nearly answered the question himself—that we might be in the position at the beginning of the season—in July or August—when Parliament was going into recess. One could not very well say to the farming community, "Would you please hold on until we come back in October, and we shall then see what we can do about it?" The Authority has to have the power to take action to deal with it at the time. Unless it has that power, this is no use at all.
§ Mr. Soames indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hoy
The right hon. Gentleman need not shake his head. I ask him to ask the N.F.U. if it agrees with what I am saying, or to ask any of his hon. Friends. They will agree that this is essential. In 40 days the authority would lapse if Parliament had not given approval. It is essential that Parliament have this power.
I have only one minute left.
§ Mr. Hoy
The right hon. Gentleman just does not understand. We have to get a Financial Resolution, too.
My right hon. Friend said in his opening speech that the Authority will include nine representatives of the trade. After consultations with the interests concerned, we have it in mind that three of the nine members would be appointed 1121 as capable of representing the interests of the merchants, two, those of the flour millers, two, those of the animal feeding-stuff manufacturers, and two, those of the malting interests. It has never been intended to have territorial representation. What we must have in representation is people who will represent every section of the industry. I do not regard Scotland as a territory in that sense. I think of it as being my native land. We have to take this into consideration.
I am sorry that I have not had the time to reply to all the points which have been raised, but I think that sufficient has been said this afternoon to prove that in eight weeks we have done a speedy job of work. I am certain that, in contrast with the 13 years which preceded it, the country will appreciate what is being done.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).