HC Deb 15 June 1964 vol 696 cc1055-72

9.30 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. A. Stodart)

I beg to move. That the Fertilisers (United Kingdom) Scheme 1964, a draft of which was laid before this House on 7th May, be approved. The purpose of the scheme is to continue the fertiliser subsidy for the year 1964–65, and to give effect to the decision taken in this year's Annual Review to reduce the total annual fertiliser subsidy bill by £2 million. The new rates of subsidy are set out in the Schedule to the scheme. The reductions are all of the order of about 6 per cent., with the exception of the lower grades of basic slag, where they are a bit more.

There are some points of detail in the draft scheme on which I should comment. In paragraph 3 we are excluding from subsidy fertilisers to which either aldrin or dieldrin has been added. My right hon. Friend has already announced the Government's decision to give effect to the recommendations contained in the Report of the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances Used in Agriculture and Food Storage on the persistent organo chlorine pesticides. My right hon. Friend also said that he had had assurances of co-operation from all the interests concerned in curtailing the use of these chemicals on the lines recommended by the Committee; and that this will be done through the voluntary scheme operated jointly by the manufacturers of agricultural chemicals and the Government. One of these recommendations was that the use of aldrin or dieldrin in fertiliser mixtures should stop as soon as this could be arranged, and the change in the wording of the draft scheme is designed to support the voluntary action to which manufacturers have already agreed.

In paragraph 3, words have been introduced to make it absolutely clear that occupiers or associations of occupiers of agricultural land may only obtain subsidy on fertilisers that they purchase and apply to their own land or crops. This is to make for clarification, and the words inserted do not imply any departure from the manner in which the present scheme is administered.

Paragraph 5 makes two changes to administration. Sub-paragraph (1) is concerned with the submission of application forms. In practice, forms will be sent to divisional offices of the Ministry in England and Wales, and to area offices of the Department in Scotland. This will simplify administration as well as improving it. Sub-paragraph (2,b) requires applications to be submitted within three months of the delivery of the fertilisers instead of within six months as in previous schemes. There is no reason why this should inconvenience farmers, and it will certainly help in the checking of subsidy schemes. We are, of course, taking steps to make quite sure that both these changes arising from the paragraph will be well publicised among the farming community.

Paragraph 6(1), which means, in effect, that subsidy will be calculated in tons, cwts. and quarters only, is a new provision, which is linked with the operation of a mechanised payment system. Claims containing fractions of a quarter of a cwt. have to be deflected from the machine and calculated and paid manually. The administrative cost of this operation is out of all proportion to the amount of subsidy involved.

The only other change to which I ought to draw attention is in the Schedule to the scheme. Previously, we have calculated subsidy on transactions to two places of decimals. This scheme limits the calculation to one place. We are making this change because, by doing it, we can feed additional information into our mechanised payments system and make use of it for the further checking of claims. Again, the effect on individual transactions is quite trivial.

I now leave these details and turn to more general matters. The use of fertilisers in the United Kingdom has been rising substantially for many years. Before the war, the annual total was about 250,000 tons of what is best described as plant nutrients. I use that term deliberately rather than refer to gross tonnage, because to use the gross tonnage would be misleading in view of the increased concentration to which fertilisers are now made. The 1 million tons mark was reached in 1957–58. In the subsidy year 1963–64, which has just ended, consumption looks like hitting a total of about 1½ million tons, with Scotland, on her own, now using not far short of the pre-war consumption of the whole of the United Kingdom.

Consumption of the three main constituents, nitrogen, phosphate and potash, has increased substantially. Potash, although it attracts no subsidy, is used five to six times as much as prewar, phosphate nearly three times as much, and nitrogen consumption has grown eight or ninefold. These increases undoubtedly reflect not only the direct impact of the subsidy in cheapening the use of fertilisers to farmers but also the results of the advice given to farmers by the N.A.A.S. south of the Border, by the Scottish agricultural colleges and by other advisory voices.

The use of fertilisers at these levels is a most important factor in the productivity of agriculture in this country, and it is something which has attracted favourable comment from certain quarters overseas.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

My hon. Friend has referred to advice he has received about the use of fertilisers. Has not he received advice about the need to allow potash to have some part of the subsidy now given to fertilisers in general? This is of particular interest to my constituency, where the use of potash would be very valuable on the type of land we have there.

Mr. Stodart

It would be idle to say that advice of that kind has not been received. However, I hope that my hon. Friend noted that I did point out that the fact that potash is not subsidised has not caused any lack of attraction to it to be shown by farmers. The proof of this, surely, lies in the fact which I gave, that five or six times the amount of potash used before the war is now used. However, I recognise that this is a bone of contention.

Nothing has been more responsible than the increased use of fertilisers for the higher yields per acre which flow from the fields of grain all over our land. I am sure that some farmers reckon that they have reached the optimum use of fertilisers on their farms, on the balance of return to outlay, but I am equally sure that there is an enor- mous number, both in arable and grass districts, particularly in the latter, who have still quite a long way to go.

In discussing the scheme, we cannot ignore the remarkable technical achievements which have been made by our fertiliser industry in producing materials and compounding fertilisers and increasing their concentration, as well as in packing and in distributing the fertilisers. All this has played a great part in reducing transport and handling costs to and on the farm.

This subsidy is a substantial one among our production grants. During the last financial year, just over £33½ million was paid out on it in the United Kingdom. Of this amount, Scotland received £4¼ million and the rest of the United Kingdom £29¼ million. It is a large sum, but we think that it effectively promotes the efficiency and productivity of the agricultural industry and is fully justified on these accounts.

The effects of using fertilisers form a continuous and important subject of study, not only at our own experimental farms, but at the independent research stations such as Rothamsted, the universities and the farm institutes and by manufacturers at research establishments. Every effort is made to ensure that this fund of knowledge is translated effectively into practical farming advice so that farmers can take the best advantage of the fertilisers at their disposal and that the subsidy, therefore, serves its best purpose. It is most important that this should be so.

A ton of compound concentrated fertiliser costs from just under £30 to a little over £40 gross and there is a wide range and variety of fertilisers. The more concentrated they become, the more essential it is for everyone concerned to ensure that a field which is low, for example, in phosphate is not fobbed off with a compound fertiliser which is high in nitrogen. The Motion invites the House to approve the draft scheme and I hope that it will do so.

9.42 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has waxed eloquent about fertilisers and their importance to the industry. I congratulate him upon his eloquence. We certainly do not disagree with the scheme. Indeed, over the many years that the subsidy has applied, we have in principle supported this important production grant.

It will be seen from the White Paper that from 1955–56 the amount of money spent on the fertiliser subsidy has risen to the figure quoted by the Under-Secretary of £33.9 million in 1962–63. In 1955–56, we spent £14.8 million on the subsidy. In the following year, the figure rose to £19.8 million and in 1957–58 to £22.8 million. In the succeeding years, it amounted to £25.8 million, £29.4 million, £32.2 million and then £33 million in 1961–62 and £33.9 million in 1962–63. The latest forecast is a reduced figure of £32.3 million, although right hon. and hon. Members opposite who are responsible for their Departments will recognise that the estimate for 1964–65 shows an increase to £35 million.

As the Under-Secretary has rightly said, the rate of the production grant has been reduced and the total annual subsidy bill has been reduced by £2 million. This fact was mentioned by the Minister of Agriculture when presenting the White Paper. I accept that the changes are necessary. They are important. The period allowed for the submission of applications has been reduced from six to three months from the date of delivery of the fertilisers. This will improve the administration.

A second major point mentioned by the Minister is that the rates of contribution set out in the Schedule to the scheme have been reduced. That also is very important. A third important point, which I am glad was mentioned by the Under-Secretary, confirms that fertilisers to which aldrin and dieldrin have been added before purchase will not be eligible for the subsidy.

We on this side of the House welcome the scheme. I am all for the use of fertilisers and for aid to be given to farmers, but in the scheme itself there is a tightening up of administration. There is reference in paragraph 4(1) and (2) to "Purchase from Registered Suppliers". We are anxious that there shall be no abuses. I hope that we shall not have a repetition of a fertiliser company subsidising a local Tory Party. That was a misuse of funds which may have been provided by the Exchequer. In the end a fertiliser company will benefit by subsidy which encourages producers to use more fertilisers and, unfortunately, this could bring benefit indirectly to a local Conservative Party. That was deplorable and the firm in question has learned its lesson.

I pay tribute to the use of fertilisers in this country and I pay tribute to our major fertiliser firms. I pay tribute to them for what they have been doing in the Soviet Union. I know that this is not in the scheme. The fertiliser subsidy encourages our fertiliser firms to do research and to increase the use of fertilisers on the farms. Out of their experience they can bring great aid to the farming community and also assist in exports. I was recently at the Moscow Exhibition and saw the good work which is being done by I.C.I. and Fisons. I pay tribute to both organisations. I trust that they have learned their lesson and will be more impartial and careful in the use of funds.

We are anxious to see this subsidy which has been going on for a long time used properly. We are anxious that the administration shall be improved. That is why I welcome paragraph 4 of the scheme. We laud what is being done by the Ministry to see that the scheme is administered properly and effectively and that there is no misuse of public money. It is the right and proper duty of this House this evening to probe the scheme. I approve of this scheme and of the use of production grants in this way. It is our proper duty when a scheme such as this is presented by the Minister to have a short debate and to see that public funds given to the industry through the medium of production grants are properly used and administered.

For these reasons, I accept the explanation given by the Under-Secretary who submitted it so eloquently and vigorously because of his keenness on fertilisers for Scotland. I hope that the scheme will be well administered.

9.49 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)

I do not wish to detain the House, but I ask one question of the Minister. When I saw my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary some time ago about specialist equipment and various things concerning my part of the Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly he made a rule, which was discussed on the last scheme, that grants should not be given where, to put it colloquially, things were "floggable". The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, in introducing this scheme, said that the grants would be made available provided that farmers used the fertilisers on their own land.

I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply, to consider again some of the special problems 1 raised with him about equipment in my part of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

The Under-Secretary of State has shown a masterful grasp of the subject of fertilisers. I never thought that I would hear fertilisers discussed to two points of decimals. However, there are certain matters which I must ask about. I have no doubt that the subsidy has been of great assistance in encouraging the use of fertilisers, but I am entitled to ask whether the taxpayer has been getting value for money.

I must mention again that the British fertiliser industry is largely monopolistic. It is run by a few large firms and this monopolistic position is underpinned by the levying of a high tariff on the imported competitive product. Very often there is also a heavy anti-dumping duty.

Therefore, not only is there a monopolistic position but it is one that has been underpinned by the Government. It was therefore, not surprising that Fisons should have felt its gratitude to the Government. We read of its contribution of £1,200 to the Sudbury and Woodbridge funds. When the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) says that we hope Fisons has learned its lesson, no one can claim that it is ungrateful because I read tonight that Lord Netherthorpe says that this will continue, although, if I read his remarks correctly, perhaps not specifically in one constituency. Fertilisers will be more widely spread.

Mr. Denys Bullard (King's Lynn)

Is the hon. Gentleman quite sure about the monopolistic position in manufacturing as opposed to the manufacture of basic commodities like nitrogen? Quite a large range of firms are involved in the manufacture of fertilisers. I have one in my constituency, a large amount of whose capital is owned by the Co-operative Wholesale Society. My experience of purchasing fertilisers is that the prices as between one firm and another are competitive. I think that the hon. Gentleman should be careful in his generalisations.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The intervention by the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) attracts my attention to the fact that that topic is out of order on this question.

Mr. Thorpe

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but we are discussing a scheme which arises directly as a result of the reduction of £2 million in the assistance which will be given to the farmers under the Annual Price Review. It follows that this is a scheme providing machinery for giving assistance, totalling several millions of pounds, through a subsidy to the farming community.

In my submission, I am entitled to ask whether that money is being wisely or necessarily spent on behalf of the farming community. My contention is that if there were greater competition within this industry, if there were greater opportunity for farmers to buy their fertilisers in the freest possible market, there would be a very great reduction in the money which has to be found here. I do not say that there would be complete lack of need for this scheme. If I keep to that point I submit, subject to your Ruling, that it would be relevant to the scheme.

In answer to the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), who suggested that I was perhaps being unfair in my generalisations, I refer him to the views expressed by the Monopolies Commission in February, 1960. None of the provisions suggested then by the Commission has yet been implemented by the Government. It said that, without doubt, Fisons had a monopolistic position in regard to superphosphates and that it was a position that the company abused. The Commission went on to say that it was confident that home-produced fertiliser prices would be reduced by voluntary arrangements.

In fact, in 1960 we had the fantastic position that although superphosphates imported from Holland carried a 17½ per cent. tariff, which thereby inflated their price by that amount, they were still being sold on the British market at £3 12s. 6d. a ton cheaper than Fisons' product without any tariff. Although, in 1962, triple superphosphates prices were reduced by Fisons, it was still possible to buy the imported product in this country cheaper, even though it attracted the 17½ per cent. duty. If action were taken about the Monopolies Commission's recommendation for the licensing of other firms, prices of superphosphates would come tumbling down. What would be even more efficient would be a cut in the 17½ per cent. tariff.

The same is true of nitrogen, which is also within the purview of this scheme. There is a duty of £3 4s. a ton on imported nitrogen, and even today the cost of Italian nitrogen on world markets is £5 a ton cheaper than the wholesale price in this country. Even with the inflation of £3 4s. a ton operating on imported nitrogen, the Italian product is still £1 a ton cheaper than the price being charged by I.C.I.

So we have not only very powerful and large monopolies, but a tariff protection of either an ad valorem duty or a fixed amount per ton artificially inflating the price of the imported product and thereby artificially protecting the home-produced product. That was why the Restrictive Trade Practices Court criticised the price-fixing arrangements of I.C.I. in regard to nitrogen, but again the Government took no action. Farmers would be able to buy fertilisers much more cheaply and the taxpayer would be saved a large amount of the subsidy bill if the Government were to implement the recommendations of the Monopolies Commission about fertilisers.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is not following me. It may be that the Government can do other things which would have other results, but the obligation to fulfil the recommendation of the Monopolies Commission, if there be one, would not be affected by whether the House approved the scheme. This is the hon. Gentleman's difficulty. He is quite entitled to say, "Until the Government do so and so, I will not approve the scheme", but that is a different argument.

Mr. Thorpe

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I have concluded my remarks.

9.58 p.m.

Sir Anthony Hurd (Newbury)

I must be careful not to trespass as the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) has trespassed, but it comes within the terms of the scheme to consider for a moment what has been the effect of previous cuts in the rates of subsidy.

This evening we are being asked to approve a cut in the rate of subsidy for nitrogen and phosphates. There was a cut last year when the fertiliser industry made economies in its own working, in manufacture, production and distribution, so that the farmer did not suffer by reason of the cut. However, there comes a point at which an industry, however efficient—and we have a highly efficient fertiliser industry—cannot continue to make cuts ad lib.

That point has been reached this year. When they study the price lists being offered to them by the big and small companies farmers will see that they are being asked to pay a little more for their high-grade fertilisers for the coming season than they paid during the previous 12 months. The House should recognise that that will be the effect of the scheme that we are being asked to approve.

It may well be that that is only a temporary effect, and that in a year or two, when we get still bigger developments in the expansion of the fertiliser industry—and it is necessarily a big business job, involving many millions of pounds to get the kind of plant which gives the cheapest production—we shall see a fall in the cost of producing nitrogen for fertilisers. That will not doubt fructify to the benefit of farmers in the next two, three, four or five years, but it will not happen this year, because these new plants are only in the course of construction.

When we hear about Dutch and Italian fertilisers being offered at a lower rate than our own products, it is as well to remember that what is offered here is the overspill from the home markets of those countries, and that they charge considerably more to their own consumers than they are prepared to quote here for their surpluses.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are giving the overspill of some of our fertiliser production to Ireland and India at a lower price? Is it not a good thing to let the farmer buy it as cheaply as he can? Is there anything wicked in doing that?

Sir A. Hurd

We do not export fertilisers from this country.

Mr. Thorpe

Who is "we".

Sir A. Hurd

The fertiliser industry. There is no net export of fertilisers from this country.

We ought to recognise that, inevitably, this is an industry of big units, and that because of the techniques which are being developed, in the years ahead it will be an industry with still bigger units. That will bring benefits to the farmer by way of cheaper fertilisers both in this country and on the Continent. It is no good imagining that the greatest benefit will come from having a large number of small units all competing with one another. That is the surest way to get costly fertilisers. I think that we must bear with the fact that this looks like a monopolistic industry, but that is the way to get the cheapest fertilisers, which will ensure that the best value is gained from the kind of subsidy that we are being asked to approve tonight.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman spoke about providing the farmers with cheap fertilisers. I think that the hon. Gentleman is the chairman of one fertiliser company. If a company producing fertilisers subsidises the Conservative Party, in the end that can effect its supplies to the small producer. I think that the hon. Gentleman ought to deal with the point which I raised. I challenge him on this matter. Does he confirm what Lord Netherthorpe said this evening? If he does, it is remarkable? How much does this company give?

Sir A. Hurd

That point was raised when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, and I think that he ruled that we should not pursue it any further. I do not want to add to what Lord Netherthorpe is reported to have said in the Evening Standard tonight, which was a repetition of what he said at the last annual general meeting of Fisons.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

Order. We are getting a long way from the scheme.

Mr. Peart

As we have not had an answer, may I press the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton), who, I believe, was a recipient of the grant?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Mr. Tudor Watkins.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)


Mr. James Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

On a point of order. This scheme is concerned with a grant of public money. This industry is being subsidised by the Government. Surely we are entitled to ask how this subsidy is spent. Surely we are entitled to ask whether a part of it goes to the funds of a political party.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Minister has the right of reply at the conclusion of the debate.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

Is it not time that the figures were divided as between England, Scotland and Wales? Could we not be given some separate figures for Wales? Am I to take it, since figures for Wales have not been given, that we in Wales are not using any fertilisers? It is disturbing to note that Ministers always lump England and Wales together, particularly when giving statistics, and yet they give separate statistics for Scotland. My constituents, in Mid-Wales, are doing excellent work, although from the lack of figures it would seem that the Government are not aware of this.

Wales is a nation and we are entitled to know what is happening there. If figures can be given for Scotland they should be available for Wales. I regret that separate figures are not available, particularly on matters affecting agriculture, and that whenever I ask for such figures I am given the standard reply, "I will write to the hon. Gentleman after the debate". It is time that Ministers had Welsh statistics available when asked questions about Wales.

I will ask only one question of the Minister tonight. This concerns paragraph 4(2, b) of the scheme, where it is stated: … was purchased from a person carrying on in Great Britain the business of supplying fertilisers who was not registered as mentioned …". How are my constituents to know who are the registered suppliers, particularly since the final words of that subsection refer to people not knowing whether or not the supplier was registered?

10.7 p.m.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

I was grateful to hear the Minister say that the administration of these subsidies is being tightened up. On a previous occasion I had to raise this matter because the House will be aware that this particular subsidy caused some trouble to the Committee of Public Accounts. Indeed, I believe that it was proved beyond doubt that there had been a considerable abuse of public money in this respect.

When we said that, we were not maligning the whole of the manufacturers or the recipients of this subsidy. There is no doubt, however, that there were some people within the scheme who were receiving sums of money and were abusing the scheme, even when fertilisers were not being given for the cash supplied. I was delighted to hear tonight that the Government have tightened this up because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said, we are concerned with public money. The care with which the Scottish Office exercises its responsibilities over housing subsidies is in marked contrast to this, because if the Minister's statement is correct, this subsidy to Scottish farmers alone amounts to about £5 million a year. We are told that we in Scotland are using about one-sixth of the total for Great Britain. The Minister said that our consumption was about a quarter of a million tons while the total for the whole country was about 1½ million tons. This means that Scotland's share of the purse is more than £5 million.

It is extremely important that we should receive an assurance that the money is being well spent. It was to this end that the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) wanted an assurance about how this firm was spending its money, because, after all, this firm is using some of the profits it has earned—and earned from this subsidy—to make a donation to the Conservative Party. This is admitted by the chairman of Fisons. "My firm donated money to the Conservative Party" he has said, and the House is entitled to an assurance that no part of the money provided by the Government in the form of subsidies is going into the pockets of the Conservative Party.

An assurance along these lines represents the sort of request we should make in defence of the public purse, and I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would deem it correct that we should make such a request. Indeed, I should expect hon. Members opposite to wish to defend the public purse against an abuse of this kind. I express my thanks to the Minister for saying that these things have been tightened up. This has been done in response to what was said by the Committee of Public Accounts. We are grateful, but in view of the fact that someone seeks to boast about what they are doing with their share of the profit, which in no small measure was provided because of schemes of this kind and money provided by the public, perhaps the Minister would make sure that there are no further abuses.

10.10 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)

I should like to reply to various points which have been made during this all too brief debate. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) referred to difficulties which arise in respect of the Isles of Scilly. I am aware of these and a meeting has been held. I suggest that it might be profitable if we made a further examination of this matter together.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) asked for the figures relating to Wales and I have pleasure in providing them for him. The latest figures are for 1962–63 and the subsidy paid was £1.4 million. I could take the hon. Member back to 1957–58 if he wishes. Working backwards, the annual figures are £1.7 million, £1.6 million, £1.6 million, £1.3 million and £1.3 million. I will give him the tonnage for each of the various types of fertiliser if he wishes, but perhaps he will accept that information from me by the normal method by which it has been conveyed in the past.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor asked about the registration of fertiliser suppliers and this point was also referred to by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy). Any supplier who wishes may register. A list of registered suppliers is held at the divisional offices of the Ministry and at the area offices in Scotland. After a supplier has been registered, he must comply with the undertakings he has given. Only if he does not do so will his name be removed from the register and then he would be ineligible to supply subsidised fertilisers to farmers.

The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) made an attack on Fisons and, I think, also on I.C.I. He will be aware—in fact, he mentioned it himself—that this question of monopoly was gone into thoroughly. He will recall that during the inquiry the Monopolies Commission did not criticise the level of the profits of I.C.I. Fisons' level of profit was investigated and the firm accepted the Commission's findings immediately and announced that prices had in fact, already been reduced. They gave a further assurance about profits to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, and Trade and this was announced in the House. The hon. Gentleman implied that the subsidy is paid to the suppliers, but that is false. The subsidy is paid to the farmer, and is for his benefit, whatever the hon. Gentleman may think about it.

Mr. Peart

The subsidy may go to the farmer, but if it is increased it will increase the business of the fertiliser companies.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

The subsidy has been cut year by year over past years. This is not a subsidy paid to the suppliers. It is paid to farmers to encourage them to use fertilisers properly.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) made the extraordinary statement that he wanted to see everyone using more and more fertiliser. The hon. Member will realise that there are optimum levels, and it has been pointed out that it is very necessary to take expert advice as to what fertiliser one should use and the amounts that should be used. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman meant that rather than encouraging willy-nilly the use of fertilisers.

The hon. Member for Devon, North talked about the prices of imported fertiliser. As recently as 28th May the Financial Times commented that fertiliser prices in the United Kingdom are now below those in most European countries, and other sources of information corroborate this. There is little point in believing that there are any cheap continental fertilisers in substantial supply or at a comparable price level to those in this country which the tariff is denying to our farmers.

The 1963 O.E.C.D. Report showed that the United Kingdom did not then compare very favourably with some Continental countries over the price of ammonium nitrate. But most of the nitrogen used by this country then—and I think that the position is the same now—was derived from sulphate of ammonia, and we are among the very cheapest producers of that product. So these comparisons need to be extremely carefully worked out and dealt with.

It is quite wrong for the hon. Gentleman to say that European producers are generally cheaper than we are. That is not so. It is also wrong to say that the tariff is keeping out cheap fertiliser of which our farmers would otherwise have the benefit.

Mr. Thorpe

I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman say that fertilisers in this country are highly competitive in price. That being so, may we take it that there is no longer need for a 17½ per cent. duty on superphosphate and no need for a £3 4s. per ton tariff on nitrogen? Now that we can so easily compete with other countries, may we take it that both of those will be abolished in due course?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

The hon. Gentleman knows what the Government's policy is towards tariffs and what it is in the general international negotiations which take place within G.A.T.T., and it is rather stupid of him to try to make that point. I have been underlining the facts as they stand today, whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not, or whether he is out of date or not.

Mr. Thorpe

Surely the hon. Gentleman would agree that there is nothing to stop the Government unilaterally lowering tariffs. If tariffs are only to protect home industry and the home industry, as we have heard from him, does not need them, why not do so?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We are getting outside the scope of the scheme.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I think I have covered that point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in my last reply to the hon. Gentleman. I do not think I need go over it again.

I have covered most of the points raised in the debate. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will feel that this is a worthwhile scheme. It is an encouragement to our farmers to continue to use fertilisers to the best of their ability, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

Could my hon. Friend give me the amount of subsidies paid to farmers for fertilisers in 1950 and 1951?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Not without notice.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Fertilisers (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1964, a draft of which was laid before this House on 7th May, be approved.