HC Deb 25 February 1964 vol 690 cc292-303

6.0 p.m.

Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, South-West)

I beg to move, in page 5, line 28, at the end to insert: Provided that notwithstanding the inability of an applicant to comply with one or more conditions of the scheme the Minister if satisfied that in all the circumstances it is reasonable so to do may approve the payment of a grant to that applicant, and. We had quite a long discussion on this subject in Committee and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary has considered the point very carefully. I do not intend to speak for more than a few minutes about it now, but I remind the House that, in Committee, every hon. Member on both sides who spoke supported me in my contention. The Clause as it stands omits from the scheme many very efficient horticultural smallholders. I take the example of two smallholders working side by side. One of them who works just under 4 acres is a really tiptop man doing a first-class job thoroughly efficiently. Next door to him is a man with 4½ or 5 acres who is doing not nearly so good a job and who is nowhere near so efficient. Because the second man's holding is a little bigger, he is included in the present provisions.

In Committee, we argued that the scope should be widened to include many more smallholders who were just below the present limit. Hon. Members on both sides thought that there was room in the Bill to include them. After a long discussion, the Parliamentary Secretary promised that he would discuss the matter with his right hon. Friends and that they would consult representatives of the National Farmers' Union to see whether our suggestions could be embodied in the Bill. Because of the hon. Gentleman's favourable reply on that occasion, we did not press the matter to a Division, although I am convinced that, had we done so, the Government would have had their second defeat on the Bill, since hon. Members on both sides were unanimous in supporting us.

Have the discussions which the Parliamentary Secretary promised yet taken place? If so, what has been the result, and is the hon. Gentleman now able to tell us that the Minister can be as kind to us today as we were to him when we discussed the matter in Committee? By accepting the Amendment, he would be doing a good service not only to very many really efficient first-class horticultural smallholders but to the industry itself. This is the type of man who should be encouraged, and the best way to encourage him is to include him in the scheme. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will now tell us that he agrees with the proposals we have made.

Mr. Bullard

In Committee, some of my hon. Friends and I put an Amendment down in terms rather similar to those of the Amendment now before us. I was impressed by the argument advanced on that occasion by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the effect that it was not possible to have a variable minimum for the size of acreage which might qualify for grant under the small horticultural producers scheme. He said that there must be some directive given to his officers as to how small a holding might become. We had thought that the agricultural executive committees might have a discretion to decide whether grant could be offered in respect of holdings below the minimum of four adjusted acres under the old Horticulture Act.

On reflection, I came to the conclusion that my hon. Friend was wise to insist on a minimum being laid down. However, I hope that he will respond to the invitation extended to him by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) and say whether a new minimum will be inserted in the scheme prepared under the Bill. I am not sure that he can forecast what will be in the scheme, but I should like it to take the form that an acreage smaller than four adjusted acres could be taken as the minimum. If this were done, it would, I think, satisfy both my hon. Friends and I who were interested in this matter and it would, I hope, satisfy the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West so that he would be prepared to ask leave to withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Dorset, South)

I support the Amendment. The whole subject was very adequately discussed in Standing Committee and it has been adequately put today by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton). I hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment. I should like there to be a measure of flexibility in the application of the scheme in respect of grants to small horticulturists. The Amendment is needed because there is plenty of evidence that a horticulturist managing less than four adjusted acres is capable of running efficiently a valuable part of the industry.

Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)

I should like to be associated with this Amendment, not because I think that its specific terms can be incorporated in the Bill but rather because I think that the Minister may feel able to give the House the assurance—as I think he had hopes in Committee of being able to do—that a generous definition of a small horticultural business will be used. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) has done a service in putting down this Amendment, as I think hon. Members on both sides are hopeful that something will result from it.

Mr. Hayman

I support this Amendment all the more readily because a similar one was withdrawn in Committee on the Parliamentary Secretary's assurance that he would look at the matter again. I am sure that he has looked at it again, but he has done nothing more, with the result that we now have this Amendment before us. It is quite clear that never was flexibility so justified as in the definition of a horticultural business. It is a question of complete. efficiency of production within a very narrow limit of space. I should have thought that the Minister would have welcomed the opportunity to be able, when efficiency justified it, to assist the producer. I hope that my hon. Friends will take this Amendment to a Division if the Parliamentary Secretary refuses to give the definite assurance we seek.

Mr. Harold Davies

I sincerely hope that in this case, too, the Minister will have a change of heart. He is a kindly man—though other powers behind him may not be so kindly—and I am sure that in his heart he knows that the purpose of this Amendment is right and that, because of its pattern, we need some flexibility in the horticultural industry. At one time there were great posters in the agricultural areas from one end of Britain to the other speaking of the breath of fresh air the hon. Gentleman's Government would bring—this is his opportunity.

Let him see how tempting it is—we are on the eve of a General Election. Let him think of his majority. Let him look to the horticultural areas—Evesham, and even the hills of Leek and the Manifold Valley. A change of heart on his part will reverberate to his advantage, though it will not give the Government one more vote in my constituency. I hope that he will accept the Amendment in the interests of good horticulture, and the need to give an opportunity to all men, whatever their politics or creed.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) for moving his Amendment in such reasonable terms. The House will realise that we have been over this ground in exhaustive detail in Committee; and that I have the greatest sympathy with the purpose of the Amendment, as I had with the similar Amendment discussed in Standing Committee. Nevertheless, I cannot accept it. Acceptance of the Amendment would mean that there would be no conditions of eligibility at all for the small business grant scheme even though Parliament had laid down such conditions, because my right hon. Friend would be free to ignore them. That would be the result of accepting the Amendment, and we could not tolerate such a position. Administration of the scheme would be completely at the Minister's discretion and, therefore, quite arbitrary and inconsistent with the pattern of legislation of this kind. We are therefore forced to hold to the conclusion that some minimum conditions for eligibility must be laid down in the Scheme itself.

I will not repeat the argument about the minimum condition of four adjusted acres, but the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) has quoted me as having promised the Standing Committee to bring in an Amendment at this stage—

Mr. Hayman

No. If I said that, I apologise. I thought that I said that the hon. Gentleman gave an assurance that he would look at the matter again.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I did give an assurance, and I am sure the hon. Member will remember that I said: I should like to give this undertaking to the Committee. My right hon. Friend and I will once again start consultations with the National Farmers' Union to see whether there is any conceivable way whereby the type of person I have described, the specialist and so on, can be brought into whatever scheme my right hon. Friend may lay before the House at a later stage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 30th January, 1964; c. 215.] The consultations are now proceeding, but I would be deluding the House if I were to pretend that the difficulties had become any less "hideous", as I described them in Committee, or that the people whom we are consulting have not realised the difficulties facing us in trying to get round the problem.

As yet, no solution has come to light, but my right hon. Friend will, when the time comes to lay down the conditions in the Scheme, take account of anything coming out of the consultations that are taking place between my Department and the N.F.U. The conditions have to be laid down in an Order.

I must be honest and say quite frankly that the difficulties of finding a way round this problem are almost overwhelming. It is better that I should say that clear and loud, because I know that the people not only of Norfolk but elsewhere appreciate honesty. I ask the hon. Member to consider whether he cannot withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

The Government are so vulnerable to defeat on these Amendments that it is only right that, for a change, someone on this side should support them, and give them a little encouragement. If this Amendment were carried it would do a far greater injustice than would clearly laying down criteria for eligibility for grants. It is tenable to argue that the dividing line is wrong and harsh, but it is quite different to argue that we shall have a dividing line but that, in case we do not like it, we shall give the Minister carte blanche to waive it.

That would be to give the Minister an amazing discretion, and would drive a coach-and-four through the whole purpose of this legislation. It would be rather like the alleged slogan printed on Conservative posters, "These are our principles, but, if you don't like them, we have others." There are those who say that the acreage limit in the small farm scheme is rigid, and that the acreage division should be used. That is a tenable argument. However, if there were a rigid acreage limit but the Minister had discretion, as is suggested in the Amendment, that could create a far greater injustice than the one which the Amendment seeks to repair.

What the farming community wants to be able to say is that it has been rightly assessed as falling inside or outside the scheme and that the scheme itself is fair, but we cannot leave a Minister with discretion to get round the Act and do precisely what he wants to circumvent it. That would be wholly wrong.

Mr. Peart

I always find it extremely interesting when members of the Liberal Party advise the party opposite and then form a united front, because that is what they are doing today. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), who has a great interest in agriculture, should take such a rigid view. We have argued about this matter over and over again, and not just on this Bill. If the hon. Member had carefully followed the debates on this issue, he would have seen that they go back to the 1960 Act. I remember being involved in discussing precisely the same sort of Amendment as this, and we had many arguments. Many hon. Members felt that this was a case for flexibility.

I accept that sometimes we must lay down minimum standards in legislation so that an individual—in this case, the producer—may qualify for grant in aid. But we are asking the Minister to be flexible. The scheme made under the 1960 Act has worked over a period of time. We are certain that many good producers with viable units could be helped if only the Minister had certain discretionary powers. Why cannot we trust the Minister? Why should we adopt arbitrary legislation? There is nothing sacrosanct about arbitrary legislation.

I ask the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), who made a powerful plea for sympathy towards our proposal, and other hon. Members, not to be wooed by the plea of the hon. Member for Devon, North, who wishes the Minister to adopt arbitrary legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) put this Amendment forward in Committee. It gives the Minister certain discretionary powers. If he feels that a horticultural unit falls below the minimum laid down in the Farm Improvement Scheme—that is, a minimum of four adjusted acres—he can, in certain circumstances, make a grant. How will a grant be made even if we have minimum standards? It will be made only on the advice given to the Minister through his National Agricultural Advisory Service.

I suggest that the Minister should have a little discretion and that if members of the National Agricultural Advisory Service, who are skilled men in horticulture, survey a unit and say, "This viable unit below four adjusted acres can be helped by a grant in aid", then aid should be given.

Mr. Thorpe

I am following the hon. Member's argument very closely. Is he aware that this sort of machinery has worked, and is working, in a comparable case, namely, eligibility for hill cow payments? It can happen that a farm on one side of the road is eligible but a farm on the other side is not. The matter is entirely within the Minister's discretion. It is because it is within his discretion and is decided upon criteria unknown to the farming community that the farming community is so angry that this power should be exercised by the Minister.

Mr. Peart

In this case, the farming community is anxious that the principle of the Amendment should be accepted. If the hon. Member wishes to quote in aid farming opinion, let me quote from an N.F.U. document. Every hon. Member has received this document. It states: We considered then, as we do now, after four years experience of the Horticulture Act, that where the business of a small but able grower is conducted on a sufficiently intensive scale to enable him to gain a full-time livelihood from it, then the qualifying limitations in any scheme of acreage (or acreage equivalent where grass is concerned) should not prevent the Minister, through the county agricultural executive committee, exercising discretionary powers where he considers the circumstances justified. [Interruption.] We all have this document and the hon. Member knows it very well. He tabled an Amendment because he received this document.

The hon. Member for Devon, North, who did not have the benefit of taking part in our discussions in Standing Committee, must recognise that expert opinion takes the view that the Minister should have discretionary powers. No hardship would be involved. Some small growers could be helped. It would be criminal if we prevented small growers with viable units from receiving aid.

I hope that hon. Members on both sides feel strongly about this matter and that they will support my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West. I trust that we shall press the Amendment to a Division.

Mr. Hilton

We have had a very unsatisfactory reply from the Parliamentary Secretary. He gave an assurance in Committee that the Minister

and himself would have discussions with the N.F.U. to see whether the Amendment could be incorporated in the Bill.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I hope that the hon. Member heard what I said. I said that we are in process of having discussions with the N.F.U. No solution has yet emerged from these discussions. I have been trying to explain the difficulties. The hon. Member seems to be in his usual state of mind in not being able to understand the simplest points which I put forward.

Mr. Peart

I hope—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Peart

May I interrupt, Mr. Speaker? We are still in Committee.

Mr. Speaker

We are not in Committee The hon. Member is making an intervention on an intervention, and all experience shows that that is disastrous.

Mr. Hilton

The Parliamentary Secretary said that these discussions are taking place. He reminded us today that he is sympathetic to our proposal. However, his reply was so disappointing that I must ask the House to divide against the Government. We are united on this. The only support which the Minister had came from the one Liberal present, the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe).

Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 166, Noes 186.

Division No. 30.] AYES [6.28 p.m.
Abse, Leo Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
Ainsley, William Carmichael, Neil Edwards, Walter (Stepney)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Castle, Mrs. Barbara Evans, Albert
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Chapman, Donald Fernyhough, E.
Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central) Cliffe, Michael Finch, Harold
Barnett, Guy Collick, Percy Fitch, Alan
Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Fletcher, Eric
Beaney, Alan Crosland, Anthony Foley, Maurice
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Dalyell, Tam Forman, J. C.
Bence, Cyril Darling, George Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)
Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Davies, Harold (Leek) Galpern, Sir Myer
Benson, Sir George Davies, Ifor (Gower) Ginsburg, David
Blackburn, F. Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Gourlay, Harry
Blyton, William Deer, George Grey, Charles
Boardman, H. Delargy, Hugh Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon, A. G. Dempsey, James Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)
Bowden, Rt. Hn, H. W. (Leics, S.W.) Diamond, John Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)
Bowles, Frank Dodds, Norman Hamilton, William (West Fife)
Boyden, James Doig, Peter Hannan, William
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Duffy, A. E. P. (Colne Valley) Harper, Joseph
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Hart, Mrs. Judith
Hayman, F. H. Manuel, Archie Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Henderson,Rt.Hn.Arthur(RwlyRegis) Mapp, Charles Robertson, John (Paisley)
Hill, J. (Midlothian) Mason, Roy Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)
Hilton, A. V. Mendelson, J. J. Ross, William
Holman, Percy Millan, Bruce Royle, Charles (Salford, West)
Houghton, Douglas Milne, Edward Skeffington, Arthur
Howell, Charles A. (Perry Barr) Mitchison, G. R. Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Monslow, Walter Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Howie, W. (Luton) Moody, A. S. Small, William
Hoy, James H. Morris, John Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Moyle, Arthur Snow, Julian
Hunter, A. E. Neal, Harold Sorensen, R. W.
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Spriggs, Leslie
Hynd, John (Attercliffe) Noel-Baker, Rt.Hn.Philip(Derby,S.) Steele, Thomas
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Oliver, G. H. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Jeger, George Oram, A. E. Stonehouse, John
Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Oswald, Thomas Stones, William
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Owen, Will Swingler, Stephen
Jones,Rt.Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Symonds, J. B.
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Parker, John Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Parkin, B. T. Thornton, Ernest
Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Pavitt, Laurence Wainwright, Edwin
Kelley, Richard Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Warbey, William
Kenyon, Clifford Peart, Frederick Weitzman, David
King, Dr. Horace Pentland, Norman whitlock, William
Ledger, Ron Popplewell, Ernest Wilkins, W. A.
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Prentice, R. E. Willey, Frederick
McBride, N. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
McCann, John Probert, Arthur Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
MacColl, James Pursey, Cmdr. Harry Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
McInnes, James Rankin, John Winterbottom, R. E.
McKay, John (Wallsend) Redhead, E. C. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Mackie, John (Enfield, East) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.) Woof, Robert
McLeavy, Frank Reid, William
Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.) Rhodes, H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Lawson and Dr. Broughton.
Agnew, Sir Peter Duncan, Sir James James, David
Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.) Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Jennings, J. C.
Allason, James Elliott,R.W.(Newc'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Anderson, D. C. Erroll, Rt. Hon. F. J. Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith
Arbuthnot, Sir John Farr, John Kerans, Cdr. J. S.
Ashton, Sir Hubert Finlay, Graeme Kerby, Capt. Henry
Atkins, Humphrey Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kershaw, Anthony
Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham) Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Kitson, Timothy
Barlow, Sir John Freeth, Denzil Lagden, Godfrey
Barter, John Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Batsford, Brian Gammans, Lady Lilley, F. J. P.
Bell, Ronald Gardner, Edward Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)
Bevins, Rt, Hon. Reginald Goodhew, Victor Longbottom, Charles
Biffen, John Gower, Raymond Loveys, Walter H.
Biggs-Davison, John Grant-Ferris, R. Lubbock, Eric
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Grimond, Rt. Hon. J. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn
Bishop, Sir Patrick Grosvenor, Lord Robert McLaren, Martin
Black, Sir Cyril Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Maclean, SirFitzroy (Bute&N.Ayrs)
Bossom, Hon. Clive Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) McMaster, Stanley R.
Bourne-Arton, A. Harris, Reader (Heston) Maddan, Martin
Braine, Bernard Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Markham, Major Sir Frank
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Marshall, Sir Douglas
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) Marten, Neil
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Harvie Anderson, Miss Mathew, Robert (Honiton)
Buck, Antony Hastings, Stephen Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)
Bullard, Denys Hay, John Mawby, Ray
Burden, F. A. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Hendry, Forbes Mills, Stratton
Carr, Rt. Hon. Robert Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Miscampbell, Norman
Chichester-Clark, R. Hirst, Geoffrey More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Clarke, Brig. Terence(Portsmth, w.) Hogg, Rt. Hon. Quintin Morgan, William
Cleaver, Leonard Holland, Philip Morrison, John
Cole, Norman Hollingworth, John Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Cooke, Robert Holt, Arthur Neave, Airey
Cooper, A. E. Hope, Rt. Hon. Lord John Nicholson, Sir Godfrey
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives) Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael
Cordle, John Howard, John (Southampton, Test) Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard
Costain, A. P. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John Oakshott, Sir Hendrie
Critchley, Julian Hughes-Young, Michael Osborn, John (Hallam)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver Hulbert, Sir Norman Page, John (Harrow, West)
Cunningham, Knox Hurd, Sir Anthony Page, Graham (Crosby)
Dance, James Hutchison, Michael Clark Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)
Digby, Simon Wingfield Iremonger, T. L. Partridge, E.
Drayson, G. B. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
peel, John Speir, Rupert Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Percival, Ian Stainton, Keith Turner, Colin
Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth Stanley, Hon. Richard Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Pitt, Dame Edith Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch Stodart, J. A. Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Price, David (Eastleigh) Storey, Sir Samuel Vickers, Miss Joan
proudfoot, Wilfred Studholme, Sir Henry wade, Donald
Quennell, Miss J. M. Tapsell, Peter Wall, Patrick
Ramsden, James Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. Sir Peter Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side) Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin Taylor, Sir William (Bradford, N.) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.) Temple, John M. Wise, A. R.
Renton, Rt. Hon. David Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley) Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury) Woodnutt, Mark
Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Thompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton) Woollam, John
Scott-Hopkins, James Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin Worsley, Marcus
Shaw, M. Thorpe, Jeremy
Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswiok) Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Spearman, Sir Alexander Tilney, John (Wavertree) Mr. MacArthur and Mr. Pym.