§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.32 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.
This is clearly a Bill of major importance. It implements the Government's proposals set out in the two White Papers, on the Development of Agriculture and the Marketing of Meat and Livestock, which were published in August. I believe that the Bill will be welcomed in general in all parts of the House, because it will aid and encourage the further development and modernisation of British farming, and will help it to play an even more vital rôle in a dynamic national economy.
With this objective throughout, the Bill falls into a number of parts. Part I will improve the marketing of livestock and meat; Part II will help to modernise our farm structure; Part III will promote the better use, in a comprehensive manner, of our hill lands; Part IV will encourage wider co-operation in agriculture and horticulture; Part V will widen the credit facilities available to farmers, will enable further steps to be taken to improve animal health, and, last but by no means least, will improve the conditions of service for farm workers.
I will not go into each Clause in detail. Obviously, this is a long Bill. We shall scrutinise it very carefully in Committee. But I will try to highlight some of the parts of the Bill and deal with those parts where there may be controversy.
The Bill starts with the marketing of meat and livestock. Committee after Committee has said that reform and change were badly needed, but nothing has been done. The Verdon-Smith Committee produced a most comprehensive and fair analysis of the problems of the meat and livestock industry. This analysis has helped us greatly. Opinions may differ on whether its recommendations 1237 went far enough, but the Committee was in no doubt that reform was required.
This Bill contains the action the Government propose to provide those reforms. The instrument for these reforms will be an independent statutory body, the Meat and Livestock Commission, with wide scope for action at every stage, from the production of animals on the farm to the selling of meat on the retail counter. There is scope here for benefit to every section of the industry as well as to the consumer.
For the producer, there will be help to produce what the trade and the consumer want. He will be helped also towards better marketing, whether individually or through producer groups, and whether, too, by older methods or by contracts.
Next, the Commission has a whole field of activities concerned with improving marketing and distribution. These range from markets and slaughterhouses to the classification of carcases. They provide for better intelligence about supply and demand, market prices, and all that is needed to secure a fair bargain between producer, distributor and consumer.
Finally, the consumer is to be specially helped in a number of ways. I hope that hon. Members will approve of this approach. Clauses 7 and 8, in particular, provide for descriptive marking and proper display of prices, so that consumers may know exactly what they are buying and at what price.
The important work that P.I.D.A. has been doing—and hon. Members on both sides will, I think, pay tribute to its work—will also be taken over by the Commission, and under Clause 21 the Authority will be dissolved. This transfer will be made with the least possible interruption to the progress of the work and the least possible disturbance to the staff engaged on it. The activity will broaden out to include equally important and necessary work on cattle and sheep.
Similarly, under Clause 3, work of certification under the guarantee will be transferred to the Commission. It will be doing the job of classification, and it clearly makes sense that it should do the job of grading for the guarantee as well. This will inevitably involve transfer of our grading staff, but the Commission's terms of employment will not be less favourable to them than those they now have in the Civil Service.
1238 In addition to the activities of the Commission to which I have referred, I wish particularly to draw attention to the provisions of Clause 9. Here, I know, there has been considerable discussion, and there undoubtedly will be argument. This Clause allows the Commission—which must on this consult the statutory committees representing the interests concerned—to put forward development schemes for any section of the industry, after it has published their proposals and taken into account any representations made about them. Those schemes will become law only if they are approved by Ministers and by affirmative Resolution of both Houses. This power is wide, and I make no apology for that. My right hon. Friend and I think it right that this Commission should have this power to put forward proposals to tackle the problems of this great meat industry, as they exist or as they may emerge. The industry must be a flexible one, ready to adapt its structure as conditions change. We cannot now be dogmatic about what changes will be required over the years. I hope that hon. Members opposite accept this approach. I am not sure whether I saw one hon. Member shaking his head. It would be silly for any Government to be dogmatic about the future. Therefore, we must have these provisions in Clause 9. But it is also right that such powers should be accompanied by safeguards. These are fully provided in the Bill itself and in the Second Schedule.
The House will note, that, despite the width of the powers under Clause 9, these do not allow for support buying. I will not disguise that I was at first inclined towards giving the Commission this power. But close study convinced me that the economic arguments were all the other way. The N.F.U. has made it clear that it expects the cost of support buying to be met wholly or mainly by the Exchequer. The cost of a support buying operation would be very considerable indeed and the savings to the Exchequer in lower deficiency payments would be, to say the least, problematical.
The consumer, of course, would not benefit in any way and the total returns of producers would be unaffected by support buying, for their position is in any case protected by the guarantee. This is in contrast to the position in other countries which use support buying as a 1239 major means of subsidising the producer and which are, for that reason, prepared to meet the substantial loss entailed. For these reasons, I believe that it is right not to have support buying as one of the functions of the Commission.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Are we to take it from what the right hon. Gentleman has just said that the Minister's own powers, which are sought in Clause 19, cannot be used in order to give the Commission power to do this?
§ Mr. Peart
Certainly. I believe that if such a decision is made after some experience or advice given by the Commission it should be given effect by the Minister through new legislation. I think that is the right course. I have given my arguments. In the main, they are fundamentally practical economic arguments. To have support buying by the Commission would be costly and, knowing the meat industry and the nature of the commodity, it could be extremely expensive.
§ Mr. George Y. Mackie (Caithness and Sutherland)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how his economic argument compares with the scheme of Government support which forces up the price of grain from abroad in order to keep up the price here? Surely it would be more logical to have support buying on meat?
§ Mr. Peart
The two cases are not the same. We do not try to force up the price of grain. In any case, that system was introduced through legislation supported by both sides of the House and it was not effectively opposed by the Liberals.
As I have said, the two cases are not comparable. Many other countries have support buying, but they do not have the support system that we have under the 1947 and 1957 Acts. Our deficiency payment system is quite different from that of France, for example. For all these reasons, quite logically it would be silly to introduce this function as one to be exercised by the Commission, and I hope that the Liberals will see the sense of that approach.
I should now like to say something about the Commission's finances. Under Clause 14 the cost of the work done by the Commission on behalf of the Govern- 1240 ment will be reimbursed by the Exchequer. We also provide for Exchequer contributions towards the initial cost of new projects on which the Commission may embark.
In the main, however, the Commission will be financed by a levy on animals slaughtered. The Commission will put forward a levy scheme under Clause 12, after consultation with the committees representing all the interests concerned. Then the scheme must be approved by Ministers, and finally by an affirmative Resolution of both Houses.
As for the amount involved, I have seen figures suggested which I must say I consider to be wholly misleading and designed only to scare. I think it likely that a levy on all fatstock comparable with the present P.I.D.A. levy on pigs would be adequate; and if the whole effect of this were passed on to the consumer, it would represent less than one farthing per lb. on average. And this assumes that there are no savings to be found. But the whole object of the Commission's work will be to improve efficiency in production and distribution. The result, of course, should be not to raise costs or prices but in the end to reduce them.
Lastly, let me say something about the constitution of the Commission. It will be dealing with the problems of a wide ranging industry consisting of many different elements and must concert its policies to serve the best interests of producers, distributors and consumers. An organisation concerned with the overall problems of such an industry could not be drawn from, or be responsible to, one only of those interests. This organisation must think in terms of producers, distributors and consumers. In that sense it will, I believe, really serve the interests of the nation as a whole.
The National Farmers' Union, at the end of last week, came out with the statement that the only solution is a fatstock marketing scheme with statutory powers, i.e. a producer marketing board. I cannot agree that this is the way to set about the task. I do not know what kind of control over home-produced stock the N.F.U. have in mind. Presumably each producer would be under the control of the producer board to the extent of being told when and where he could market his 1241 stock. This would involve a very large and costly organisation and the results it could achieve would probably be very small. Indeed, I can quote back the N.F.U.'s own words:The cost of such an organisation might well be disproportionate to any benefits likely to arise from its operations.While I am sure it is right that ultimate decision:; must rest with the sort of independent body which the Commission will be, it is equally right that the Commission should have all possible help from the different interests concerned. This need will be met by the committees for which Clause 2 provides. They will represent producers, distributors and consumers. They will have to be consulted by the Commission on any matter affecting their interests, but they will have other important functions as well. They may initiate proposals to the Commission, suggesting lines of action it should follow. Equally, the Commission may entrust these committees with the carrying out of executive responsibilities.
In short, we have provided here for a constructive partnership between the Commission and the various interests concerned, with those interests taking the fullest possible part in the working out of the Commission's policies and their execution. In devising this structure, my right hon. Friend and I have taken account of views put forward by those who represent these interests. The producers, in particular, should know that I have modified the Bill in several ways to meet their point of view, particularly in strengthening these committees. I do not think that one can go further than that. We have tried to make the committees bodies with certain responsibilities. They will not be just advisory. They will be able to initiate and will also have powers of execution.
With the changes now embodied in the Bill, I submit that now we have the right kind of machinery for carrying through the wide range of functions with which the Commission will be charged. They will be functions of great potential benefit not only to producers and distributors but also to the consumer, on whose purchases and satisfaction everyone engaged in this industry depends.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the ques- 1242 tion of the Commission in relation to its committees, can he state why the chairmen and members of the committees are to be members of the Commission and subject to the qualifications which members of the Commission must have—in other words, that they must not be connected with the industry?
§ Mr. Peart
I have looked at this matter very carefully. As the production committees must have a link with the Commission, I think that it is right that a member of the Commission, the higher body, should sit on the production committee as its chairman. As I have said, the committees will initiate ideas and, through their chairmen, will be able to pass those ideas to the higher organisation, and so there will be a to and fro approach which will make for the better working of the Commission. I know that there are arguments about having a separate chairman, but I believe that it is essential to keep that link.
I now come to the second major purpose of the Bill, the development of our agriculture. Some people say that the industry is quite capable of adapting itself and that the problem is being exaggerated. I do not agree. I think that there are problems and that the Government should provide inducements to help the industry to solve these problems. This is what we are doing in the Bill.
One of the key factors is undoubtably the small farm. Three-quarters of our farms in this country provide work for less than two adults per farm. The majority are run part time, sometimes for pleasure, by people with other incomes. There is nothing wrong with this. It is part of our way of life and we must accept it. But they must not expect a full-time livelihood from a part-time farm. Indeed, one of the remedies for some of them may be to organise their farming so that they can do another job and supplement their income in this way.
But there are still more than 100,000 full time small farms. In the past quarter of a century farming techniques have been revolutionised. Farms that were full-time a generation ago are now part-time. We have to ask ourselves what will be the condition of these 100,000 small farms in a generation from now. What will be the effect meanwhile in frustration of effort, in wasted human 1243 talent, and in low living standards, if nothing is done to help them? I do not believe that we should allow these men to be driven to the wall by the cold squeeze of economics without lifting a finger to help them.
There are four ways in which we are helping these men to help themselves. First, the small farmer can, on his existing holding, intensify his farm business and, by increasing its size, reach a satisfactory commercial standard. This will be easier for those already near the borderline of a satisfactory commercial business. This is why at the last Annual Review, with the agreement of both sides of the House, we remodelled the small farmers scheme and raised its upper limits. This is why under Clause 59 we are introducing a farm record scheme to help and encourage farmers—particularly the small farmers—to increase their business efficiency.
But there will still be many small farmers who find it difficult to enlarge their business sufficiently on the basis solely of their own holding. Many will be able to make themselves more viable by co-operating with other farmers, thus securing some of the benefits of scale and of specialisation in both production and marketing. This is the second place where the Government intend to help. Under Clause 55, we ask for power to make a scheme for grants to encourage a wide range of co-operative activities. The grants will be designed to encourage the promotion, development and organisation of co-operation both in marketing and, for the first time, in production, which, I believe, holds great potentialities.
We also propose, under Clause 52, to set up a Central Council both to promote and develop co-operation, and to assist in the administration of the proposed new comprehensive schemes of grants.
But co-operation can, of course, never be a complete remedy for a serious shortage of land. The third way in which small farmers can help themselves to get a full return for their skill is to get more land. But this needs capital and here again we are to help.
In Part II of the Bill we are making the first serious attempt in this country to tackle the problem of too many farms 1244 too small for adequate use of the occupier's skill. We are to pay, under Clause 25, 50 per cent. grants towards virtually all the costs of an amalgamation apart from the cost of the land. In addition, under Clause 27, we will be able to make or guarantee loans to help with the purchase of the extra land as well as with the applicant's share of the cost of equipment.
The White Paper set a target of 600 standard man-days for a commercial unit under our amalgamation proposals. I know that there has been argument about this in the farming Press, but this means full employment for the farmer and the equivalent of one other man—and therefore is within the capacity of many family farms. Some suggest that this target may be too high. I am convinced that it would be wrong to take a figure that would be out of date in a few years. But, of course, there will be many cases, particularly in some parts of the country, where it is just not practicable to reach such a commercial size in one step. Therefore, under Clause 25 we take powers to assist an intermediate stage of amalgamation, as long as nothing is done to prejudice a later amalgamation to full commercial size.
There may, however, be many small farmers—for example, those who are getting on in years—who wish to give up their uncommercial holdings and release land for amalgamation into a larger unit. In this fourth way the Government will help by taking ample powers under Clause 26 to pay lump sums or annuities to those who wish to retire or resettle provided their land goes for amalgamation. Nothing in these proposals will in any way force small farmers to take this assistance—this is not a compulsory scheme. They can stay on. But, if they wish to get out, it is only reasonable to help them. Some may not be able to find a private owner who is ready and willing to buy their land for amalgamation. We are, therefore, proposing that the State should be able to buy land, where this is offered to it for amalgamation and is suitable for that purpose. Clause 28 makes it clear that the powers already in existence under the Agriculture Act, 1947, can be used for this purpose.
Although the White Paper suggested certain sums for the lump sums or annuities, the Bill does not specify them. 1245 We have always made it clear that we want the, views of all those concerned as to whether these sums were adequate. Perhaps hon. Members during debates on the Bill will put forward their views on this point, and we shall continue to consider the views of those outside the House who arc concerned. We shall then decide what sums to put in the scheme which will be put to this House for approval.
I am sure that the House will agree that in these four ways we are making a very genuine attempt by a variety of methods to help the small farmer. They have the right to be helped—and to be helped constructively—to overcome their difficulties.
But what of the bigger farmers already operating a business on a commercial scale? They produce by far the greatest part of the food we grow here at home.
To secure the objectives of the National Economic Development Plan, these farmers must be helped to increase their productivity still further. We shall, of course, go on helping them with management and technological advice through the various advisory services. For example, Clause 60 of this Bill gives power to introduce livestock health schemes and thus a more positive approach to animal health. A number of the schemes that I have already described will also benefit the larger as well as the smaller farmer. For example, larger farmers who wish to amalgamate uncommercial units with their own land will be eligible for the amalgamation grants. Larger farmers can also benefit by our schemes to encourage farm recording and agricultural and horticultural co-operation.
Another proposal which will help the larger as well as the smaller farmer is the decision to continue and extend the Farm Improvement Scheme. The money allocated by Parliament for the present scheme is now almost fully committed. We think it would be wrong to allow the scheme, universally acknowledged as very successful, to lapse. Clause 29, therefore, provides another £80 million for its continuation and extension. The extension will increase the range of equipment eligible for grant. But to keep the annual outlay at about the same level, the rate of grant will be reduced from one-third to one-quarter.
1246 We are also, for the first time, providing better facilities for agricultural credit for all farmers, big and small. Under Clause 58 we are seeking powers to underwrite guarantees given on loans made by banks to farmers and growers. In this way short and medium-term credit facilities will be extended to the tune of many millions of pounds. In addition, under Clause 57 we are substantially increasing the amount of Government advances to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and Scottish Agricultural Securities Corporation, so as to generate over £100 million extra long-term credit. All these are very important additional facilities to help the industry improve productivity.
Then there is the hill farmer. I have always believed in the potentialities of the hills and have wanted to do all that I reasonably could to help the hill farmer to overcome his special problems, and I have often been accused of having a bias towards upland development. I think it is right to have a concentration of effort here. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlton (Sir Kenneth Pickthorn) derides this. I would have thought I should have had his approval.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton) rose——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the Minister does not give way, the right hon. Gentleman must take his seat.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
Mr. Speaker, I wish to know why I was picked out, for no reason at all. I am the last person to brawl or to be disorderly, but I think that when a Minister picks out one of his exiguous audience for insult, merely on the grounds that he does not like the expression on his face, the least he can do is to give the person picked out the chance to say what he thinks of the Minister.
§ Mr. Speaker
This is a courtesy rather than a point of order. I cannot rule on this. [HON. MEMBERS "Give way."]
§ Mr. Peart
I have given way quite a lot. Why should I give way to a Member who has quite a reputation for cynicism in this House?
1247 Part III of the Bill takes an entirely fresh look at the problems of the hills. Since the war a good deal of public money has been put into hill farms—£30 million for rehabilitating existing farms and £4 million for the improvement of country roads. But more needs to be done. Our proposals fall into two distinct parts.
The first deals with the general problems of the hills. We are, under Clause 37, fulfilling our announced intention of renewing the power to pay hill cow and sheep subsidies, this time on a continuing basis. This and the remodelling of the hill sheep subsidy, which we did at the last Annual Review will, I hope, give confidence and stability to the hill farmer. We are also proposing to change the rules so as to encourage farmers to carry out worthwhile improvements without the fear of improving themselves out of the subsidy.
I know that there is concern about the position of livestock farmers on land outside the statutory definition of hill land, but which is subject to difficulties, in some ways similar, though less severe. I accept that this is an important question. My right hon. Friend and I are still examining, with the National Farmers' Unions, various suggestions they have made, and we hope to reach some final conclusions at the next Annual Review.
We also want to help hill farmers to get more out of their land—so as to carry the breeding stock essential to the livestock industry in this country. Clause 35 therefore provides grants for hill land improvements, which the White Paper said would be at the rate of 50 per cent. Power is also taken to give supplements on existing schemes. There is, I know, a very general feeling, which I share, that field and hill drainage is a key operation in improving the potentialities of hill land. We intend, therefore, to propose a supplement of 10 per cent. on field drainage projects on hill farms over and above the normal rate of 50 per cent. We also intend to propose that these grants for hill land improvements, including these supplements, should be paid on all eligible hill farms within the areas determined under the statutory definition, irrespective of the particular form of enterprise carried out.
1248 These are our proposals for the hills in general. But in some parts of the hills and uplands the problems are so intractable that something more than inducements to private enterprise is needed. In such areas we propose to set up rural development boards. Their responsibility will be to promote in their areas the co-ordinated development of agriculture and forestry, together with such complementary uses as tourism. All the many bodies that have reviewed this problem over the past 20 years urged a new organisation with the necessary powers. We are proposing, not pious hopes, but action.
These boards will be composed predominantly of persons with experience and knowledge of agriculture and forestry. Many of them will be drawn from the areas concerned. Details of their constitution is given in Part II of Schedule 5. Under Clauses 39 to 50 the Ministers answerable for agriculture and forestry in the different countries of the United Kingdom are jointly responsible for the appointment of the boards and for giving any directions to them. The financial arrangements are necessarily centralised through one Department in England and Wales—my own—but, of course, I shall be co-operating closely with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of Land and Natural Resources.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
On the question of tourism, does that mean that they will have some form of special control over national parks or ancient monuments?
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Could he tell me if representatives of sporting bodies will be included on these boards?
§ Mr. Peart
I will consider that. In the main, I hope that the boards will represent mainly agricultural and forestry interests. After all, the boards' main function is to develop the areas from a land point of view. I will note that, but 1249 in the main I would like them to be people from the sections that I have mentioned and, in particular, people who know the areas which concern those boards.
The boards will work in close association with local farming and forestry interests, with the local authorities, the county agricultural executive committees and other local public bodies. So clearly those interests will be considered. They will look at the area as a whole and draw up a programme of rural development for the general benefit of the area. They will work mainly by advice and persuasion, with the aid of financial assistance, under Clause 41 of the Bill, which has been deliberately drawn in wide terms, to help public and private effort to fulfil the programme.
The boards, however, must have minimum powers to prevent their programme from being frustrated unreasonably. I hope again that I have the agreement of hon. Members on that. The White Paper contemplated that the boards should have a power of what was then called "pre-emption". That is dealt with in Clause 43 of the Bill, and hon. Members will see that, as a result of the consultations that we have had with the various bodies concerned, we have made considerable modifications to our original ideas. In essence, the power now given to the hoards is to control the sale of agricultural land in their areas so as to ensure that such land is not sold for purposes contrary to the rural development programmes. Where a board is unwilling to give consent, the owner can offer the land for sale at the open market price to the board. But, if the owner wishes, he can withdraw from an offer to sell at any time even after a determination by the Lands Tribunal on price. Moreover, there are a number of important exemptions from the need to get the board's consent, such as transfers to close relatives.
A second power of control relates to private forestry. A board must coordinate its development programme with the Forestry Commission. It must also be able to make sure that private afforestation schemes do not cut across its programme. That is dealt with in Clause 46 by a licensing procedure. There are ample safeguards for the individual, 1250 and a number of exemptions for certain kinds of tree planting.
Finally, under Clause 45 a board is given powers to promote within its area local reorganisation schemes—it may be in a single parish—to deal with the pattern of agricultural and forestry ownership. These must have the agreement of most of those interested in the land in the area. In other words, where a scheme has been drawn up for the benefit of a local community and most of that community wishes to see it implemented, I do not think it right for the scheme to be frustrated by a small number of objectors. There is full provision for the publication of proposals and a public inquiry, if necessary.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
The Minister mentioned rural development boards. Has he any idea how many rural development boards there will be throughout the country? I notice from paragraph 63 of the Explanatory Memorandum that the cost is estimated to be £500,000 per board.
§ Mr. Peart
Here I must take the advice of the farming interests concerned. There are hill areas which may be suitable, and it may be that many hon. Members can pick out different parts of the country in both England and Wales. I would rather not be pressed yet to make a decision on that, though. I have in mind certain areas which need special treatment. When I make a decision, I will announce it, but I must take the advice of all agricultural interests concerned about areas which may be suitable.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
Could the right hon. Gentleman say why the Forestry Commission is not coming under the rural development boards and how they are to co-ordinate forestry planning?
§ Mr. Peart
The programme has to be agreed. I am not the forestry Minister, and I will consult with my colleagues on that. We need a balanced development plan in any particular area where both forestry and agriculture may be affected.
The provisions for these boards give an exciting new opportunity for dealing with some of the most difficult problem areas in the hills and uplands. Our approach is constructive and original. Many of the duties and powers that we are proposing have been given to similar bodies in Sweden and in France and are being used successfully there. We shall have to see how these proposals work out in practice here, and the Government would not propose to create more than one or two such boards in England and Wales in the first instance. As I have said, we must be practical.
§ Mr. Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there is careful liaison between the National Parks Commission and these rural development boards? In quite a lot of what he has been saying there will be a conflict of interest.
§ Mr. Peart
I believe that any public bodies affected by a development programme when an area is chosen must be consulted and their views taken into account. That will be done.
In Scotland, the Highlands and Islands Development Board has recently been established. My right hon. Friend is empowered under the Bill to confer on the Board any of the functions and powers of a rural development board he may think necessary. If these bodies achieve the results that we expect, they will give a new sense of purpose to some of the remoter areas. I have tried to clear away some of the misunderstandings that there have been, and I believe that the House will give me its full support for what we have in mind.
I have now covered all the main proposals in the Bill for the development of agriculture. But no plan will succeed unless we give the best conditions that we can to the farm worker. Hon. Members on all sides of the House have on many occasions paid tribute, as I have myself, to their work and skill. Now we propose to do something practical to improve their conditions. Clause 61 em- 1252 powers the agricultural wages boards to establish minimum rates of payment when a farm worker is off sick or injured. That will remedy a defect that has appeared in the original 1948 Act, and I think that no one will dispute its desirability.
The proposals that I have outlined have a wide scope and will have a far-reaching effect. I believe that their objectives will commend themselves to all parts of the House. They are designed to bring lasting benefit to all who care for and work on the land, as well as all concerned in the great meat industry, whether producers, distributors or consumers.
I would only say finally that I have seen a number of commentaries and papers from many responsible people calling this the most outstanding piece of agricultural legislation since the 1947 Agriculture Act. I consider it a great honour that it falls to me to present it to the House.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
I always like on these occasions to be able to congratulate a Minister on the presentation of a Bill. The introduction of a Bill is always an important matter. I can congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the lucidity with which he has spoken, and I think that we have listened with interest to what he has had to say. At times, however, it was a little difficult to follow him, because he was jumping about like a cat on hot bricks from one end of the Bill to another. While we on this side have studied this Bill and were able to follow him, there was some wonderment on the faces of hon. Members behind him. However, we shall try to elucidate the position for them a little more clearly as we go through the Bill today.
In his closing words, the right hon. Gentleman spoke bravely about this great new venture, but I am afraid that I must bring him down to earth fairly sharply and tell him bluntly that the Bill does not represent a new policy for agriculture. It is a collection of odds and ends and nothing more. It has a few good points in it—that I do not deny—it has some not nearly so good, and it has some which are thoroughly bad. The Minister would have been better advised to have called it the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which would have brought it down to its correct size.
1253 My first general criticism is of the way in which this legislation has been brought forward, The White Papers were presented at the beginning of August and Parliament has had no opportunity of debating them. They were submitted and we have had the Recess in which to consider them, but this is the worst possible time in which to try to have consultations with farmers, or indeed, with industry generally. Of course, I absolve the Minister in as much as he was not to know that we would have one of the worst harvests on record, but, as Minister of Agriculture, he could reasonably be expected to know that a harvest usually occurs at this time of the year and that therefore there are normally few meetings of N.F.U. committees in August and September. It was by doing this and then bringing in the Bill for Second Reading so early in the new Session, having allowed so little time, that he has aroused a great deal of irritation. I have plenty of evidence which I could quote. I have all sorts of representations, including a letter which reached me just as I was coming into the Chamber——
§ Mr. Godber
—from a member of the N.F.U. Council. I had no idea it was coming. In it, he makes exactly this point:The Bill is being unfairly rushed through. We as farmers are not being allowed time.This is the sort of representation which has been made time and again. If the Minister is not aware of this, he must be very ignorant of feelings among farmers——
§ Mr. Godber
That may be the Minister's view, and he is entitled to it, but I am entitled to remind the House of the view of those outside. Theirs is a view which should be given and for which there is ample evidence. The Minister has rushed this, and he has been unwise to do 30. This applies not only to farmers but to the other trade organisations affected by the Bill.
1254 The Minister cannot claim that anything in the Bill is desperately pressing, so I do not understand why he has behaved in this way. I trust that he will now allow adequate time before starting on Committee stage of the Bill, because many Amendments will certainly have to be tabled. We shall also look for plenty of time in Committee.
My second general criticism is about the general approach of the Bill. It is primarily an enabling Bill—legislation by Regulation. I admit freely that my party when in Government indulged in legislation by Regulation from time to time, so there is no change of principle here. However, there is a substantial change of degree. I refer the House to the sweeping powers conferred, for instance, by Clause 9—about which we heard very little from the Minister—and by the Clauses dealing with the rural development boards. Furthermore, it is very difficult, when considering enabling legislation, to get a clear or a precise picture of what uses the Government proposes to make of the powers for which they are asking.
It is true that certain examples were given in the White Paper and we heard a certain number more from the Minister this evening, but not very many—and certainly not as many as we had hoped. In fairness, I would say that one saving grace is that the right hon. Gentleman has, in the main, relied in the Bill upon affirmative Regulations and not on negative ones. I think that that provided for under Clause 8 is a negative one, but in the main these are affirmative. For this small saving grace we are grateful.
Nevertheless, in several cases, neither affirmative nor negative Regulations will be necessary once the parent Orders have gone through—particularly the Meat Commission development schemes and the rural development boards. Under Clause 9(7,a), once the Commission is empowered under a scheme it can delegate these powers to others, and there appears to be no restriction of any sort on whom these powers will be delegated to. This is legislation by remote control, not just by Regulation, and is something which we shall study very carefully in Committee.
I would make a general point about the financial effect of the Bill. There 1255 is a large number of different financial provisions of which, I suppose, the extension of the farm improvement scheme is the largest and the farm structure proposals the second largest. We are told that the latter proposals are outside the Price Review calculations, but I should like to be told something about the various financial provisions as a whole. We want to see the picture complete. Which of these financial provisions fall within the Price Review and which fall outside?
What is the estimated annual addition to Governmental spending on agriculture within the Price Review calculations and what is the additional estimated increase outside those calculations? In addition, various levies are raised under the Bill. Can we be given some idea of what, in total, they are likely to amount to? May we be told whether the charges of these levies as they impose on farmers will count as increased costs for Price Review purposes? Perhaps we may be told something about these points at the end of the debate.
I have said that the Bill does not represent a new policy, and indeed it does not. There is a section on livestock and meat marketing, one on farm structure and improvements, one on hill land and rural development boards, one on cooperation and a very mixed portion at the end, some of which covers some very worthwhile matters like the keeping of business records and the rate of sick pay for agricultural workers. There are good things and poor in the Bill, but there is no coherent thread running through the Measure as a whole. There is nothing to tell us clearly what is the Minister's and Government's general approach to agriculture at present.
I suppose the Minister would say that that is to be found in the agricultural section of the National Plan. In that case, I invite him to arrange for the House to have a debate on the agricultural proposals in that Plan. We should like that very much indeed. There are many question marks surrounding these proposals——
If the right hon. Member wants such a debate so strongly, why not use his influence to arrange for a Supply Day on the subject?
§ Mr. Godber
If the Government have a policy on this—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—I am proposing to answer: hon. Members should not be so impatient. If the Government have a policy of which they are proud, it is normal for the Government to find time for their own Measures. If they are not proud of it, we take note of that fact—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Godber
I am sorry if I am tempting the Minister into this behaviour, but I think that we have elucidated that point—that the Government are not very proud of those proposals. However, we shall look forward at some stage to hearing more from them about it: there are so many points to be answered, for instance, the farming community are waiting to be told how the Minister defines the "major part" of our food requirements up to 1970, which is to be provided by British farmers. Is it going to be 99 per cent.? Is it going to be 51 per cent.? What is it going to be? I hope that the Government will give us more details about this.
We must ask how these proposals further the aims of the National Plan. Generally speaking, I would say that it is questionable as to the extent to which increased production or efficiency will flow from the operation of the Bill. We shall have cuts in farm improvement schemes. We shall have the Meat Commission, in a form in which we shall discuss in great detail in Committee. We shall have Government control of large tracts of agricultural land, both hill and vale. I suggest that all this will hardly encourage initiative, and will certainly not encourage individual enterprise on the part of the farming community.
I now turn to the main provisions of the Bill. Part I deals with the establishment of the Meat and Livestock Commission, and follows in many respects the recommendations of the Verdon-Smith Report. The Minister would have been wiser to avoid the word "Commission" in the name of the body. I noticed that he was a little chary in one or two remarks that he made in his opening speech. Perhaps he remembered some of his earlier speeches about a Meat Commission. But he has been honest 1257 enough to tell us that he has changed his mind, and when anyone tells us that we are ready to listen to him. We shall hope to change his mind a great deal more before the Bill goes through the House.
Clause 2 deals with the three main committees to be set up. I am glad that the Minister has included provision for executive as well as advisory duties for these bodies. This is a useful proposal. It is clear from the First Schedule that the chairmen of these committees will be members of the Commission, but I do not see it stated anywhere whether it will be possible for members of the Commission other than the chairmen of committees, to have membership of committees as well as being on the Commission. I do not know whether it is the intention to limit this provision merely to chairmen.
One of my hon. Friends took up this point about the chairmanship of committees earlier. It is true that the chairmen, as members of the Commission, shall have "no substantial financial interest". Those are the words in the Bill. The other members presumably may have such financial interest. It is not laid down as to their position as members of the committees. I wonder what the intention is. I presume that it is to have the chairmen as links between the Commission and the various committees.
We are told that the production and distribution committees will be large bodies, consisting of a chairman plus at least 18 members. It will be necessary for many different interests to be represented on the Distribution Committee, and I am sure that the Minister has already come up against the problem of sharing out. All those Members who have been connected with administration know the difficulty of getting a fair balance. Perhaps we may be told more in Committee as to the break-down of this committee. We should like to know, in order to satisfy ourselves whether the various interests will be represented in a reasonable balance, bearing in mind their interests in the different aspects of this matter. I do not ask for an answer tonight, but this is a point on which we should like some further elucidation at the appropriate time.
Clauses 5 and 6 are of considerable interest, and we shall hope to be told— 1258 again in Committee—a lot more about the way in which these provisions will be implemented. We shall want to know about the practicability of the requirement which appears in Clause 6 for marking carcases in such a way that the mark will not be defaced or removed before the carcase or the part-carcase reaches the retailer. That is the difficulty; carcases may be split up before reaching some of the retailers. There can be a real technical difficulty here, and some thought should be given to the matter.
Clauses 7 and 8 deal with the retail side, and should prove of real help to both the retail trade and, even more, the housewife. In particular, I welcome Clause 8(2,b), which refers to a requirement forinformation to he given, in the case of meat exposed for sale, both by showing the prices of particular pieces of meat and also by showing the weight of particular pieces of meat.This is a very useful provision. Nevertheless, I must enter a caveat in relation to everything concerning meat. Difficulty is caused because meat and bone vary greatly in their proportions in a joint. The degree of safeguard achieved by providing that the prices shall be shown may be somewhat misleading if a housewife does not herself judge the proportions of meat and bone in a joint. The extent to which housewives will be safeguarded in this matter may be overstressed.
The Minister ought not to be surprised to know that I look upon Clause 9 as a most obnoxious one. I ask him what its purpose is. He said very little about it in his speech. I thought that he hurried over his description of this part of the Bill. Why are these sweeping powers required? In subsection (2) we are given three classifications. It would seem that these could restrict the production of farms and prevent farmers from switching to livestock production. It applies also to other sections of the meat trade.
Subsection (6) talks of imposing quotas upon producers, and in subsections (15) and (16) the Minister seems himself to be somewhat scared of the powers that he is given, because he provides various safeguards, including the question of going to the High Court. This seems clearly to show that he is worried about the proposals that he has inserted in the Bill. He must tell the House much more 1259 about what he proposes to do with these powers before we shall be prepared to grant them.
I deplore particularly the idea of giving such sweeping powers without having any idea of what is involved and without being able effectively to control the position once the Clause becomes law. It is true that schemes will be subject to the affirmative procedure. As the House knows, however, there is no chance of amending a scheme under this procedure; it must either be accepted or rejected in totality. These are powers which Parliament will always grant to the Executive in emergencies, but Parliament ought not to be called upon to pass a Clause in this form. I hope that the Minister will spell out more precisely what powers he wants, and the purposes for which he wants them. We can then decide on the real issue. This demand for a blank cheque is quite unjustified. The Minister has not justified it this afternoon.
In addition to affecting farmers, these powers may extend to the closing-down of slaughterhouses and even processing plants. Compensation for such closures will be raised from the industry itself. If these powers are invoked and there is a closing down, compensation is paid by means of a levy. There will be a separate levy, and it will be provided for by the industry and not by the Government. That being so, we must be given much more information about this, and we shall return to this point in much more detail in Committee.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate a little on his fears concerning Clause 9? He has mentioned the slaughterhouses, which are at present covered by an Act of Parliament. I should like to know why he fears the effects of this clause.
§ Mr. Godber
The hon. Member and I sat for many months in Committee on the Slaughterhouses Bill. These matters have been debated at great length and I do not propose to go into the speeches which have been made. My fears at the moment are fears of the unknown, which are the greatest fears of all. The Minister has not put into the Bill what he wants to do, and we want to know what he does propose to 1260 do. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) should be asking his right hon. Friend these questions and not me. Let us discover from the Minister what the powers are for. If they are justified the House will give them to him. but not otherwise.
Clause 12 deals with the levy and the financial activities of the Commission. The intention appears to be that the levy shall apply only to home-produced meat. It is true that many of the activities of the Commission relate to production in this country, but Clauses 7 and 8 apply to all meat. Is it not fair, therefore, that imported meat should bear some levy as well? I am not suggesting a rate similar to that for home-produced meat, but I take the view that some contribution should come from this source.
In that respect, the Verdon-Smith Committee was explicit. In paragraph 851 of its Report, the Committee stated:For home production, a levy, varying with the type of animal, should be charged on every animal slaughtered.For imports, a comparable levy should be charged at the ports.Nothing could be more specific than that. I am asking, not even for a comparable levy, but for a levy on imported meat. It is strange that this has not been provided for.
On Clause 15, it would again be helpful to have an idea of the levy which is involved. We should know more about this whole question of levies throughout the whole of Part I of the Bill. The totality of these levies could be very great.
The Minister tried to help us in one respect today when he attempted to give a figure about the effect of the levy on the carcase. This, he told us, would work out at per pound. I should like to know whether he was talking about the point of retail sale or of the carcase, because in cutting up the carcase there is a substantial loss. If it is to be ¼d. at the first point, it will be substantially more by the time that it reaches retail circles.
§ Mr. Godber
So that is the final figure. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. That clears up at least one point, but there are the other points concerning the 1261 levy about which we should like to know more.
In Clause 19(1) a sweeping power is being given to the Minister. I should like to ask this specific question. Is it, as I hope and trust that it is, limited by the provisions of Part I of Schedule 1, which spells out the powers of the Commission? Does Part I of Schedule 1 bite on Clause 19(1)? This is something which would help to reassure us concerning these very wide powers which are being provided. From what I have said in regard to Part I of the Bill, it will be clear that we shall want to know a great deal more about many of these matters.
Having complained about a good deal of what is in Part I, I now, for a change, complain about something which is not in Part I of the Bill but which should be there. I refer to the lack of provision for the contract selling of fatstock. Paragraphs 748 and 749 of the Verdon-Smith Report dealt with this subject and perhaps I may quote a little from the latter. Its opening words state:We consider that the growth in contracts at the first-hand level is having some beneficial effects on fatstock marketing".It states in paragraph (b):Reductions in both sellers' and buyers' costs should result from contracts, since regular arrangements lead to economies in the cost of selling and buying, some risks are lessened, transport arrangements can be regularly coordinated, and losses, wastage and delays can be reduced. Contracts therefore offer some important marketing advantages.That is what the Verdon-Smith Committee said, yet we find nothing about it in the Bill. I do not suggest that the Commission itself should enter into contracts but it should be in a position to take positive action to stimulate contract selling. The nearest that I can find to this in the Bill is in paragraph 8 of Part I of Schedule 1, which concerns itself purely with advice. There could be something to be said for setting up something comparable, for instance, to the Cereal Marketing Authority for organising contracts in advance. This would have been a practical way in which to help orderly marketing. It is a great pity that opportunity has not been taken to do something of this sort.
Part II of the Bill, dealing with farm structure, marks an interesting new development. It has been widely discussed 1262 since the proposals first emerged in the White Paper. [Interruption.] The Joint Parliamentary Secretary makes an interesting point. There has been time for discussion, but not for the detailed consultation which was necessary. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is no good the Treasury Bench simply echoing "No" in that childish way, because they know perfectly well that this protest has been made from all sections, not merely from the farming community, but from other sections also.
Therefore, while I say that this matter has been widely discussed, it has not been discussed in the form of consultation. In spite, however, of the degree of discussion which has taken place, not even the Minister would claim that it has met with enthusiastic response. There is no doubt that the whole question of farm size and structure has been exercising the minds of those concerned with agriculture, both in this country and elsewhere, for some years.
Modern farming techniques often require larger units for economic production. Indeed, during the last 12 years there has been a reduction of 50,000 in the number of farms of less than 50 acres in Britain, and, of course, there has been a rise in some of the larger farms. [Interruption.] I hear somebody say "Good". I agree; that is right.
We on this side made some small provision—I do not pretend that it was other than small—to assist amalgamation in our 1957 Act. I mention this only to show that at that time we were thinking similarly that amalagamation should be encouraged. I confirm that we on this side are still in favour of amalgamation as one part of the various changes that have to come about in agriculture. We regard this as one part and co-operation as another part. I was in agreement with something that the Minister said on this aspect this afternoon. I shall not go far along that road with him, but I thought it only fair to say this.
The amalgamation must, however, be voluntary and there must be no element of coercion in any form. That, I understand, is what Clause 25 provides for. I do not, therefore, criticise that Clause as such. When I turn, however, to Schedule 4, which contains the provisions affecting this aspect, I have some criticisms to make. 1263 Schedule 4 specifies a 60-year period to be covered by this provision. Without more adequate safeguard for the individual than I see at present, I regard this period as far too long. Particularly do I say this when I look at the penal sanctions—penal is the word used in the Bill—which are provided for at the foot of page 86 of the Bill. We shall certainly look for drastic revision of this.
I should like to give the House an example of my fears in this regard. Let us suppose that a unit that has been amalgamated lies alongside a main road. The owner of the amalgamated unit might be asked, for instance, as he could well be, by an oil company to sell off half an acre for a filling station. This would in no way invalidate it as an agricultural unit, yet it would be in breach of the provisions of the Schedule. Unless the owner has the written consent of the Minister, he would be subject to the provisions of paragraph 7 of Schedule 4 if he sold off even half an acre.
It could be argued that in such a case the Minister's consent would be forthcoming. Such consent would not be given immediately, however—it always takes time—and the oil company might prefer to go across the road to a neighbouring large farmer who was not subject to these provisions. The chance of a lucrative sale, which could have benefited the first farmer and helped him to put up new farm buildings, could be lost. That is merely one instance. Many other examples could be given.
It is certainly right that amalgamations which have attracted the grant of public money should not readily be subjected to frivolous fragmentation, but these penal provisions go too far and could well defeat the purpose of the Bill. The Minister must face the fact that they could well frighten off people from taking advantage of his scheme. If they fear that they are to have this penal provision hanging around their necks for a long period, it could stop people from taking advantage of these provisions.
Clause 26 covers grants to farmers who give up their units. As the Minister said, there are no figures in the Bill, but the right hon. Gentleman gave us his own figures in the White Paper originally and he has invited us now to give other figures ourselves. In considering whether the 1264 figures which he originally gave in the White Paper are adequate, one has to ask what precisely is their purpose. Is it to bring about a more rapid giving up of holdings by those with small units, or merely to cushion and to give some element of support in old age to those who are giving up anyway? We have to be clear about which of these is correct.
Under the White Paper's proposals, a man with a 50-acre farm who is over 65, or 55 if he has opted for the annuity, would get a pension of just under £3 a week. If this is a supplement to his savings and retirement pension, it may just make the difference to make his retirement more tolerable. Therefore, if it is the second alternative which I gave, namely, of cushioning and giving some element of support, it is probably worthwhile. However, if the Minister wants to bring about a substantial speeding up of amalgamations among those who are not yet thinking in terms of retirement or of moving into something else, I venture to doubt whether the rates which he proposes will achieve any significant result.
We are told that the annual cost is expected to rise to £15 million to £17 million a year. As an act of social policy, it may be fully justified, but if it is to be judged as an act of agricultural policy I doubt whether it will provide very much greater impetus to the pace at which small farms are, even now, being given up. We do not oppose it in principle, but we shall watch with keen interest the extent to which it is made use of and the extent to which it accelerates the present decline in the number of small farms.
We are told that the cost of this provision is outside the aggregate of Price Review moneys. That is important, because it is a substantial sum. But I am bound to ask: if this is so, what quid pro quo is the Treasury calling for from Agricultural Ministers for this generosity? [Interruption.] The Minister may well look round hurriedly to see whether there is a Treasury Minister on the Bench. Perhaps we shall not get an answer today. Presumably we shall have to wait until the Price Review for the answer to that question.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
If the Price Review is, presumably, to be just before the next election, I doubt 1265 very much whether we shall get the answer then.
§ Mr. Godber
I am sorry that my hon. Friend is so pessimistic. I hoped that we would have a General Election long before then. However, I take my hon. Friend's point. We shall be very interested to see how this works out.
We shall certainly want to question the powers in Clause 28 which enable the Minister to buy land for amalgamation and other purposes. This could turn out to be a very wasteful and expensive project indeed. We on this side doubt very much the wisdom or the need for this provision, and we think that the Government should have second thoughts about it. It will be our objective to seek to eliminate or drastically to curtail this power when we come to it.
Turning to the farm improvement scheme, I say straight away that we deplore the cut in rate from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent. We condemn this. If I may interject a personal note, I was Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry when the scheme went through the House, and I have always been proud of having been associated with it. The scheme has proved itself to be such an excellent scheme. I very much regret that an attempt should be made to scale it down in this way. The Minister says that the amount is the same, but I beg leave to doubt whether this is so. We are told that it is estimated that it will still be worth £11 million a year in grants and that this is in line with the recent rate.
However, the Minister was kind enough to let us have a Press hand-out on the farm improvement scheme—it is dated 17th November—when the Bill came out. There are some very interesting figures at the end of it, which are given in cumulative totals. [Interruption.] Give the Minister a copy so that he can follow all this. I would particularly refer to the last two columns. One is in respect of grant commitment and the other in respect of grant aid. The grant commitment amounts will fall for payment some time later.
Therefore, dealing with the figures in the column headed "Grant Paid", when one deducts the figures, it gives a rise in the rate of payment under the scheme o'er the last four years of £9,172,000, 1266 £10,317,000, £10,260,000, and £11,491,000. This shows a steady growth year by year and it has reached almost £11½ million in the year ending March last. Underneath it says:Approvals are at present running at about £37 million a yearin terms of a one-third grant rate—that is, £12⅓ million in the present year, another substantial jump of nearly £1 million during the current year. It goes on to say, to emphasise the point even more:It is estimated that at mid-November, 1965, the face value of approvals and applications under consideration is equivalent to some £87 million in terms of grant at the one-third rate.That was only in November. Presumably, when we reach March, this will throw up a figure substantially more than £37 million, which would be one-third of the figure which will appear in totality in place of that £87 million. The total impression is a grant rising with each succeeding year, and we shall see well over £12 million in the present year with those already in the pipeline and it will have risen even more. The Minister says that, under the revised scheme, the figure will be running at about £11 million, but I do not consider that this is a full replacement of what is being taken away.
This is a most important point, particularly because the figures show that the need for the farm improvement scheme on the old basis is as great as ever, otherwise there would not be a rising curve. If this were a falling curve, it would be a different picture and we might sympathise with the line which the Minister is taking. But it is nonsense to say that there is justification for immediate amendment of the scheme. Although some farmers may benefit from widening its scope, others may be deterred from applying for its benefits, and they are those who have taken the longest time in coming round to it and who need it most. Therefore, this is a retrograde and regressive step which the Minister is taking.
The other side of that same Press notice refers to the operative dates. It says:Applications made after today"—that is 17th November—can only be considered under the new Scheme and cannot be approved or grant-aided until the Bill becomes law. But in appropriate cases the Ministry will be prepared to agree to a start of work at the applicant's own risk".1267 Why "at the applicant's own risk"? Is it because of the propriety of Parliamentary approval, or is it something more significant and ominous? If, as a result of the step which the Minister has taken, he has caused this upset in the scheme, then I query the wisdom of putting in those words, making things more difficult for farmers who apply for the benefits of the scheme. As I have said, the arguments for extending its scope may be real, but they do not justify the cut in the rate, and we shall oppose it most hotly at the appropriate time.
Clause 34 contains two very important definitions which were the subject of comment particularly by the N.F.U. in its circular on the Bill. The union calls attention to the needwithin the overall structure of agriculture for the family farmer to continue to play a vital role.It considers very important the definition of a commercial unit which could exclude a certain number of family farms. I had hoped that the Minister would have said more about this this afternoon, and I hope we shall hear more about it, because it is a very important point. I do not object to the definition of the two types of unit, but we want an assurance that the introduction of this new concept is not going to mean the exclusion of those in the intermediate unit stage from various provisions and supports to which we as well as the N.F.U. think they are entitled.
Part 3 of the Bill, which contains proposals for hill land, centres very largely around the setting up of rural development boards which, as set out in the Bill, we view with considerable dislike indeed. We on this side of the House are in favour of help for the upland areas, but I must tell the Minister that we are highly suspicious of some of the very sweeping powers that are proposed in this part of the Bill. I would not disagree with some of the functions of these boards as set out in Clause 40(1), but I am very dubious indeed as regards the powers it is proposed to give the boards as a whole. Clause 43(1), for instance, contains a very sweeping provision which could delay the sale of land for months, and might cause hardship in many cases.
It is, however, the power in Clause 45(7) for the compulsory acquisition of land which particularly alarms me. We 1268 are opposed to this power. We shall want to know a lot more about how it will be used, and what will happen to land that is so acquired. Will the board continue to own it? Will the board be responsible for farming the land, or will it resell it to somebody else, perhaps a neighbour of the previous owner? It may be argued that this will be a reserve power, which will seldom be used, but it will be a very real power, and Parliament should be very grudging in giving power of this kind. We see the reconstitution of the old farming problems of the Land Commission which we inherited from the previous Labour Government. All these dangers arise in relation to these powers.
Clause 46, on the control of afforestation, is also very far-reaching. I presume that the Forestry Commission has been fully consulted on this, but what about the private forestry owners? Have their views been ascertained as well?
Those are points about which I think we need to know a great deal more. I do not propose to go in detail into this part of the Bill because I have dwelt at length on some other parts of it, and I do not wish to speak for too long, but this should not be taken to mean that we are not deeply suspicious of some of the powers in these Clauses, and in particular the ones which I have noted.
In general, we welcome the powers in Part IV of the Bill for the extension of co-operative activities. We note with interest the proposal to set up a Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation, but what will happen to AMDEC? I am told that half its functions will be taken over. What will happen in regard to the rest? This seems to be an untidy situation, and I hope that we shall be told a good deal more about this aspect of the matter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), who has done so much work in this field, will, I hope, have an opportunity of speaking in this debate, because, as chairman of this body, he has great knowledge of the subject. I hope that we shall hear more about what is going to be the position of AMDEC. If its powers are going to be emasculated, or its duties taken away, this would seem to be an unsatisfactory way of dealing with a body which has done a great deal of good work.
1269 Coming to a later part of the Bill, we have the proposals for finance, and I listened carefully to what the Minister said in regard to the facilities referred to in Clause 58. I do not take such a rosy view of them as the Minister does, because the provisions in Clause 58 do not give cheap credit. All that they do is to underwrite the liability of a commercial bank which lends at current interest rates, so the right hon. Gentleman should be more concerned with what his right hon. Friend the Chancellor is doing about interest rates, which is what is having a real effect on farmers' credit at the present time. This is what matters to farmers, rather than making these provisions which may have been right in the special conditions of horticulture, but it does not necessarily mean that they should be carried over into agriculture which has the safeguards of the Price Review behind it.
I would give a general welcome to the various other miscellaneous provisions in Part V of the Bill, and in particular I endorse Clause 59 with the assistance that it gives for keeping farm business records. I hope that this Clause will proceed to the Statute Book and will be made the fullest use of.
There is one strange thing about this Clause. When one looks at the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, one sees that paragraph 67 on page xi says:Grant payments for farm business records under Clause 59 are forecast at £750,000 annually when the scheme is fully operative and the administrative cost at £100,000 annually.That is an extraordinarily high administrative cost in relation to the expenditure. It is £1 for every £7 10s. in grant. I think that we should be told why the administrative costs of this aspect are so much higher than administrative costs generally in regard to grant provisions. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with this point when he replies. We want to support this proposal, because we think it is right, but it seems that the administrative costs are unusually high.
The only other Clause to which I propose to refer is Clause 61. I was glad to hear what the Minister said about it, and I endorse his remarks. I think that farmers generally are generous in their treatment of employees who fall 1270 sick, and I am sure they will not resent this statutory provision. I hope that both sides of the House will welcome this as a sound measure. Presumably when this provision is brought in it will rank as an added cost for Price Review purposes, and I think we should know where we stand in regard to this sort of thing.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
In view of what my right hon. Friend has said—which I fully support—about this change in the farm improvement grant being limited only to one quarter, may I ask whether he is aware that those words occur in the Money Resolution, which, in the normal way, we would discuss after the Second Reading debate? I understand that there may be some special arrangement later this evening, and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would consider asking the Government not to ask the House to consider the Money Resolution this evening, so that Amendments can be put down and discussed?
§ Mr. Godber
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that it is desired to make an important statement later this evening on some other matter.
§ Mr. Godber
The Minister claims no knowledge of it, but the information has reached me via unusual channels and it may reach him through the usual channels in due course. I think that there is a desire to make a very important statement at Ten o'clock this evening. I think that what my hon. Friend has said is right and reasonable. I hope that the Money Resolution will be put down for discussion on another day. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this urgently so as not to inconvenience other aspects of our discussion.
§ Mr. Godber
All in all, this Bill compares unfavourably even with the curate's egg. It has a few good parts but many bad ones. It is a complicated Bill. It is bound to take a long time in Committee, and I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is going to be necessary. Because of that, it is unfortunate that the changes in the farm improvements scheme have been included in the 1271 Bill. Had they appeared in a separate Bill, we could have dealt with them expeditiously. We could have restored the rate of grant to 33⅓ per cent. and put the Measure on the Statute Book straightaway, but, as it is, there is bound to be substantial delay in the payment for farm improvement scheme projects, and in agreeing new proposals due to the time before the Bill can reach the Statute Book. For that the Minister, and the Minister alone, must accept responsibility. He has chosen to include this in a very complicated Measure. He must have realised at the time what he was doing, and therefore the responsibility for the delay must be laid at his door, and at no one else's.
With its few good points, and many bad ones, the Bill does not point any clear way to the future of agriculture in this country. It may add certain grants, but it reduces others. It provides for levies, for restrictions on farmers' freedom, and on their ability to exercise their own judgment. We shall seek to amend the Bill and to improve it, and it is sadly in need of improvement. My judgment of the Minister on his showing at this stage is that he has failed to live up to the promises he made when in Opposition, and during the last Election, and, further, his lack of policy and direction whilst in office is harmful to a great industry which deserves better.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Bert Hazell (Norfolk, North)
First, I should like to congratulate the Minister on presenting the Bill today. It is a major Measure. Indeed, as the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) said, it is a combination of Measures. From the first page to the last the Bill offers a very wide scope which must be of great benefit in the long run to the industry in which we are all so greatly interested.
Before dealing with specific items within the Bill, there are one or two brief general observations which I should like to make. Agriculture in this country has a remarkable record of achievement. No one can deny that. I am sure that that view has often been expressed in the House. In the past 20 years or so the output from British farms has been amazing. However one measures output, it must compare very favourably 1272 indeed with the agricultural output of any other agricultural nation, and it must also compare very favourably with the increased output of industry in general. I should like, therefore, to offer congratulations to all concerned.
As all of us know who are interested in the subject, agriculture is not run on factory lines. We cannot predetermine what our output will eventually be. We must rely very largely upon weather conditions, apart from the application of science to the industry. Even this year we have had some bitter disappointments. There was early promise of an abundant harvest, but while I believe that it will be found that output is above average, nevertheless a good deal of loss has been sustained owing to weather conditions which no one could predict. If one looks at the fields at the moment one is concerned about the harvesting of some of the root crops in view of the unusually severe weather conditions which we have had so early in the sugar beet harvesting season. All praise must be given to those who are seeking to harvest the sugar beet crop in fields which are either covered with snow or severely flooded. We must also give full praise to those who are toiling in the snow drifts to protect the sheep on the hillsides and over the vast areas of the hill country.
In my opinion this combination of measures marks the greatest piece of legislation on agriculture presented to the House since the 1947 Act. Agriculture has a proud record of achievement not only directly as an industry but because of its impact indirectly on industry in general. The prosperity of agriculture and the security which the 1947 and 1957 Acts bestowed have enabled considerable investment to be made in agriculture. Coupled with this measure of prosperity and security, a reducing manpower force has encouraged an ever-expanding engineering industry to develop, and this industry has played a great part in our exports because agricultural engineering equipment and machinery represent important exports which enable us to pay for the imports of raw materials and food which we require.
The Government have always shown their desire to encourage our agriculture still further. Whatever may be said—and this charge has been made from 1273 time to time—about the Labour Party being largely an industrial party, the fact remains that even when the Labour Party formed a minority administration, the interests of agriculture were clearly borne in mind. In presenting the Bill my right hon. Friend is following well in the footsteps of his predecessor the Minister in the 1945–51 Government. I am sure all hon. Members cordially welcome these bold plans which are placed before us.
Part I of the Bill deals with the marketing of meat and livestock. This fulfils a promise which we made during the General Election campaign when we said that we should introduce at the earliest opportunity effective marketing arrangements for the main agricultural crops. Last Session we passed the Cereals Marketing Act. This is followed by Part I of the Bill. Since the late 1920s, and right up to the Verdon-Smith Report, various people have looked at the problem of meat marketing. It falls to the Government and my right hon. Friend to present to the House positive measures to deal with this problem. The Bill does not limit its responsibilities to marketing but covers the wide field of production, distribution and consumer interest.
I am delighted to note in Part I that there is to be a two-way flow of information to those responsible under the Bill—from the committees to the Commission and from the Commission to the committees. I am sure that this two-way flow will be of inestimable value in working out the details of the measures which will follow from the discussions which will take place.
I must, however, make one reservation or express some minor disappointment to the Minister in that, in Clause 9—to which the right hon. Member for Grantham paid a great deal of attention—he did not take the opportunity of reserving the right to deal with imports should the problem arise in future. No doubt my right hon. Friend feels that at present it would be unwise for him to include measures of this nature within the Bill, but it might have been a good thing if he had sought to secure reserve powers within the ambit of Clause 9. I know that he will be advised on matters of supplies, because provision is made for this within the Bill. Advice will be given by the Commission. But if 1274 he were advised in due course by the Commission to take such action it would mean, as I understand the Bill, that he would have to come to the House with a new Measure, and this could cause considerable delay. By presenting the Bill in five Parts presumably the Minister feels that he will have far more time at his disposal to get all five through the House. To have to come to the House with another Measure to deal with this problem might mean that he would be faced with difficulties of Parliamentary time. This is one reason why I should like to see included in the Bill the reserve powers to which I referred.
I am greatly interested in Part II of the Measure. Before I was privileged to be elected to represent my constituency in the House I worked for many years in the County of Yorkshire. I am, therefore, fully conversant with the problems which face smallholders, a great many of whom are in the West Riding around the industrial belt of the Pennines.
I spoke of the high level of efficiency which already exists in the agricultural industry compared with other agricultural countries, but one recognises that, however efficient our industry may be, there is always room for improvement. My right hon. Friend gave a number of statistics to indicate the size of some holdings. Hon. Members may like to be reminded that there are more than 96,000 holdings with, on average, only 11 acres each, too small even for inclusion in the small farmers scheme. There are another 53,500 holdings with an average acreage of 31 and more than 71,000 holdings of 68 acres on average.
It is true that some of these small units are run on a part-time basis, but I have knowledge of smallholdings in my constituency comprised of only 11 or 12 acres which provide full-time employment for the men and their families. Acreages do not of themselves necessarily determine viable units. One must take into account many other factors, primarily the quality of the land, the type of holding and the ability of the individual to manage it.
I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that any scheme concerning farm structure was a voluntary matter. I hope that the emphasis on voluntary amalgamation will be spelt out loud and clear, 1275 because there are many men in occupation of small units who are extremely concerned about the future, while others who are seeking to become occupiers of smallholdings as a means of advancing their way of life are also apprehensive about their future possibilities.
The fear has been expressed that once the Bill becomes law some large-scale farmers or landowners might seek to exercise pressure on those who occupy small units. Therefore, the fact that we are considering voluntary amalgamations cannot be emphasised too strongly, if only to reassure existing smallholders and prospective small farmers that they need not fear absorption by large farmers or landowners.
Despite the vast number of small units throughout the country, amalgamation when properly applied on a purely voluntary basis must be a good thing in this age of mechanisation. The Bill will not do anything new in this direction, although it will, without doubt, accelerate the process of amalgamation. I say that because in recent years almost 3,000 small units have gone out of existence. The Bill will provide financial encouragement to those who wish to give up their small units and, as I say, it will probably accelerate the process of amalgamation for which the Government are hoping.
While I have some remarks to make about local authority-owned small units, I appreciate that the Wise Committee is considering this matter and that we must await its Report to see what pattern is proposed. This is an important aspect because such is the extent of smallholdings controlled by local authorities that in the County of Norfolk alone there are more than 400 applications for such holdings. I am sure that it is not the intention of the Government to do anything which would deny people the opportunity to achieve their ambition to become smallholders on local authority land. We must realise that some of the most efficient farmers started in a small way. Many of them acquired small units from local authorities and, as a result of their initiative, enterprise and knowledge of the industry, were ultimately able to secure viable larger units.
§ Mr. Godber
I am listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's argument, 1276 but when he says that he is sure that his right hon. Friend will not contemplate changes, is he saying that with knowledge or in an interrogatory sense?
As I explained, we must await the Report of the Wise Committee. No one is in a position to determine the recommendations which will come from its deliberations. I can only express my hope that full encouragement will be given to those wishing to acquire smallholdings from local authorities when the Report is ultimately to hand.
The aspects of the Bill which deal with co-operation are to be welcomed because for many years we have been stressing the value of co-operation among farmers. One of the greatest problems confronting the small farmer today is that in many instances he is over-capitalised; that he cannot utilise his equipment to its full capacity. Thus, the sharing of equipment as well as sharing in the buying of supplies is essential, and co-operation of this sort must be good for both the small farmer and the economy of the nation. The steps envisaged for encouraging cooperation are greatly to be welcomed, and I hope that small farmers will take full advantage of the opportunities that will ultimately be available to them.
I hope that farmers co-operating in the sale and purchase of supplies and the utilisation of mechanical equipment will not lose sight of the need to co-operate in the use of labour. In recent years there has been a continual movement of labour from the land to our major industries, and the National Plan itself envisages a continuation of that drift. Between 30th September, 1964, and 30th September, 1965, no fewer than 20,600 workers left agriculture, a rate of movement similar to that which has gone on for the past 10 or 12 years. I have no doubt that this drift will continue for a few more years yet, and as that will leave us with a very small labour force it will be necessary, if that force is to be used to the best advantage, for a measure of cooperation to be applied in this direction. Experiments are already taking place. In the areas surrounding the industrial cities, agricultural manpower is already at a low ebb, and if that movement goes much further the co-operative use of labour will become an absolute necessity.
1277 With agricultural manpower continuing to run down, the small force remaining will have to be highly trained. I therefore hope that, in the knowledge that this development is bound to grow, the industry will do everything possible to create an industrial training board, so that those left in agriculture may be highly skilled to apply themselves to the changing techniques that will come about. Along with adequate training through the industrial training board there will have to be built up a wages structure that will convince the agricultural worker that his future arid his earnings can, and will, compare with the future and earnings available in industry in general. Unless that is done, agriculture's desire to increase production and productivity will be hampered by lack of sufficient men to handle the machinery and equipment.
I was delighted to hear the right hon. Member for Grantham welcome Clause 61, which amends the Agricultural Wages Act, 1948. Having been engaged in wage negotiations at national level for over 20 years, I know that when the 1948 Act was passed the then Minister was quite certain that it enabled the Agricultural Wages Board to negotiate a basis for the payment of wages during sickness. The employer and the trade union representatives on the Wages Board had almost reached agreement when it was found that such an agreement could not be legally enforced under the Act.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the best farmers do make contributions to their sick workers—that is generally recognised and appreciated by their employees—but among so many farmers there must be some black sheep. This Amendment of the 1948 Act will, therefore, be generally welcomed, but the basis of sick pay and its duration will have to be determined by the employer and trade union representatives on the Board once this Measure is enacted. But I am sure that given the power, the Board will reach conclusions that will be of tremendous benefit to agricultural workers.
In this brief discussion we cannot take full account of all that this Measure will be able to do. Clause 9 has been rightly referred to, but other Clauses are very wide-reaching, and we shall probably be able to grasp the Bill's implications more fully in Committee. I hope that my right 1278 hon. Friend will not overlook the need for worker representation. I welcome the Bill. I know that my own trade union is giving it full support. When it becomes law, it will be another step on the path of progress, and will give further encouragement to the industry as a whole. I wish the Bill every success. It shows that the Government are vitally concerned about agriculture and its prosperity.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
I can find nothing in the speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) with which I do not agree. If it is true that his party is primarily urban and industrial, I have no doubt that the hon. Member will be a very effective voice speaking on the side of agriculture.
As so many hon. Members wish to take part in this debate I shall limit my remarks to Clause 4—or Part IV, rather; "Clause 4" may have too much of a political connotation. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) I welcome this Part, which deals with co-operative activities. We have at present no fewer than six different co-operative marketing schemes, and the necessity far bringing them together into one comprehensive whole is very real. The proposal to set up a Central Council which will be comprehensive, and will bring all these schemes together, including co-operation for production, is completely right, and will give valuable new impetus to the whole co-operative development.
The need for extension of production has been established by the Agricultural Marketing Development Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames), a former Minister of Agriculture, produced the scheme and a very admirable one it was, as a sort of private venture in this field. It was a scheme only for co-operation in marketing but, because of the imagination of the Minister of Agriculture, we were allowed to stretch it to the sphere of production. It is impossible to make improvements in agricultural marketing unless improvements are made in production as well. The Bill is rightly drafted in this respect and I welcome its provisions.
The new Central Council will have a great opportunity before it, because it 1279 will bring together the major interests in agriculture and horticulture and some independent leaders in public life from outside. This will give a chance of a new start to be made in co-operation in agriculture by which I hope we can achieve harmony 'and forget some of the frictions which handicapped the industry in the past. We have been rather slow in getting co-operation in agricultural marketing going in this country, much slower than many of our competitors in Western Europe and in the New World. The time is long overdue to give even greater impetus to it.
The pace which the big farmer is setting in the whole farming world today is tremendous. Our big farmers are as efficient, if not more efficient, than any farmers in the world. They are tremendously efficient. The result is that unit costs are very low and they are highly competitive. They set a tremendous pace which is hard for the small and medium-sized farmer to follow because of the handicaps in unit costs. The best chance of the small and medium-sized farmer to compete with the big man is to combine in co-operative schemes for production and marketing.
The kind of schemes which I have seen in recent years show that this can be done. I think of a typical scheme of a number of small and medium-sized potato growers in the eastern counties who came together for production, processing and marketing. One buys all the potatoes and plants them and they all join together for harvesting. They bring the potatoes together in a central store where they are centrally graded, packed and marketed from the whole group. They are sold under a brand name for which they have acquired a good reputation. Very rapidly they get a better market and better price for the potatoes as they are directly related to consumers and they benefit all round.
This is a prototype of what we should like to see. I have seen it in relation to all kinds of commodities. In many of them it goes only part of the way, for instance in pig weaning and calf rearing schemes where the animals are sold to fatteners and not always followed through so that the producer does not have direct contact with the consumer. It is 1280 important that he should have the final relationship.
There are several advantages in cooperative marketing. There is more efficient production and the schemes can reduce costs by sharing machinery and by phasing production and obtaining a continuous flow. By bringing produce together there can be more efficient handling and preparation for the market. The ultimate value is a big enough volume of products to get a direct relationship either with the big retailers, the supermarkets, or the big wholesalers, who in turn are directly related to the market so that the individual producer will be directly related to consumer taste.
This is the vital point, to get producers used to the disciplines of the market. No Government, however strict they may be, are ever so strict as the consumer, the housewife, but the rewards are considerable for the producers who study this aspect and relate their production to it. This means not only grading and preparing produce in better form, but in the production using different methods of management and breeding so as to breed the right kind of animal, the right kind of bird, or plant to suit consumer taste.
I have in mind a scheme of a group of broiler producers who get a premium of 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. over the average market price because they are selling the kind of bird which has a flavour to it, which is quite a rarity today. It is bred, produced, managed and processed in a fashion which puts it on the counter in a condition in which the housewife is prepared to pay more for it than for others. These are the rewards which producers can get if they make full use of co-operative marketing schemes. This we should encourage.
In the White Paper behind the Bill there is reference to the need for a contractual relationship between the individual producer and the society, group or company with which he is connected. This is basically right in principle, but it must be applied with flexibility. The White Paper speaks of the need for producers to be bound by contractual relationship to their societies. If that were insisted upon in the statutory scheme it 1281 would rule out all the existing co-operative societies we now have with very big trading schemes.
AMDEC has grant-aided many existing co-operative schemes for commercial marketing groups and they have found no difficulty in getting the necessary discipline into the schemes by confining the contractual relationship to a particular product but not for all the members of the society concerned. That is not possible. I urge the need for flexibility in applying this principle. It is right to apply it, but it must be flexible so that we do not rule out the great contribution which these large old-established societies can make. The large societies are rather anxious about this. They are concerned with trading in requisites for their members. They look rather askance at the Bill and ask, "What has it for us?". It has a great deal for them in promoting marketing and production schemes for their members. The Minister should see that it is fairly put over to them that they have a part to play. The draft scheme, when it comes into operation, should be flexible enough to see that they play that part.
I come to the concern of AMDEC with promotion of co-operatives which is to be transferred to the Central Council. It is right that it should be combined in the Central Council, and to absorb AMDEC completely into the new Central Council would be an advantage in reducing the number of bodies working in this field. There would be an advantage in terms of staff because we want to bring all staff in, and the experience of the N.F.U. and so on, under the Central Council. If AMDEC continues in a truncated form it will still be doing much administrative work in this scheme and I am afraid that may lead to a great deal of confusion. I doubt whether what would be left would be a really viable unit and I ask the Minister to look again at this problem.
One final point about the Minister's general policy on encouraging co-operative development is the relationship with the producer marketing boards. The two producer marketing boards—the Egg Marketing Board and the Wool Marketing Board—are causing a great deal of anxiety at present, for different reasons.
1282 The Wool Marketing Board has announced its intention of generally developing its trading activities, which will go directly into the sphere now being filled by agricultural co-operatives, trading in requisites of all kinds. It is perfectly within the Board's scheme that it should do this, but each marketing board has a statutory responsibility to encourage cooperation. Clearly, if the Board develops in this fashion it will cut right across the existing co-operatives.
The Egg Marketing Board has caused a different kind of problem by announcing a new scheme for a contract system. We all welcome the contract system. I think that it is a good system. However, the Board has announced its intention of making all payments for eggs centrally from the Board to producers and cutting out the packing stations. There are several hundred co-operative packing stations. They are very worried about the effect this will have upon them. They fear that their very existence is threatened by this, that it will basically disturb the loyalty of their members. They also feel that it will not cut costs, because they will have to continue to keep storage records. After all, they have to collect and handle the eggs. They will still have to keep all the records. Therefore, it does not seem that the new scheme will effect any economy in recording and accounting costs, but it will cause immense damage to producer packing stations.
Therefore, I urge the Minister to consider the activities of both these Marketing Boards. What is needed is a balance. Of course it is right for producer marketing boards to develop their activities, but they have an obligation to encourage and assist the development of agricultural and horticultural co-operatives generally. As these Boards are now proceeding, their developments endanger the Minister's policy of the general development of cooperatives. I know that the Minister has a statutory position to protect here, but I hope he will take note of the great anxiety there is about this. I hope that in due course he will be able to clarify the position. With those few words, I welcome this Part of the Bill, because I feel it will be of great benefit in the farming world.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. David Ensor (Bury and Radcliffe)
On St. Andrew's night it is appropriate to welcome two Scottish Members who in due course will be winding up this debate. I am sorry that I cannot agree with the statement of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) that the ayes were not behind us on this side of the House.
I shall spend a little time discussing the general situation with regard to agriculture. I commend the Bill to the House as a great piece of legislation, the greatest piece of agricultural legislation since 1947. It will be of great assistance, not only to the farming community as a whole, but to the population in general and to the housewife in particular.
The farming community has always been different. There are problems. Those of us who have farmed and who have practical experience know that what suits the grain farmers of the Eastern Counties obviously does not suit the feeders of the West Country. This is an inescapable fact. It must be remembered that my right hon. Friend is not only Minister of Agriculture. He is also Minister of Food. As such, he has a dual responsibility to the people—not only to the farmers, but to those who buy their products. This is often overlooked.
Of course, the farming community is different. We need only recall the events of last February, when there were some very astonishing performances by farmers, by members of the National Farmers' Union, and by many others, who said that the Minister was a monster. It was even suggested that he should be violently assaulted. It was said that agriculture would be ruined and that there was no future for it. A lot of silly little notices in blue, purple, red, pink, and darker blue, appeared by the side of roads throughout the countryside. I strongly suspect that they were illegal, if I remember my law aright.
Be that as it may, it can never be suggested and it has never been suggested, except by Mr. Neville Chamberlain 35 years ago, and he did not know much about it, that we could ever produce all the food we need. It is a physical impossibility. In spite of all the moans and groans of last February, it is interesting to note that, although my right hon. 1284 Friend gave only ld. on milk, production has increased. I can tell the House what would have happened if my right hon. Friend had increased the Id. to 2d., 2½d. or 3d. It would have been the same story of four or five years ago, when milk was poured down the drain.
It was all rather unpleasant. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite said rather unpleasant things six to eight months ago—that agriculture would be ruined, that milk farmers would be out of business, and so on. Nobody has ever thought to give my right hon. Friend the credit for what he did about keeping steady the cost of living of agricultural products. What they wanted was to throw stones at him, to shoot him, to run him over by trucks, and heaven knows what. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) may laugh, but that is what they said. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is to wind up for the Opposition tonight. Perhaps he will tell us what the Conservatives would have done in the circumstances with regard to beef, milk and marketing generally.
One of the troubles which has beset agriculture for more years than I care to remember has been the disorder in marketing. One of the things which my right hon. Friend did—here let us give credit to right hon. and hon. Members opposite—was to take up what they had suggested with regard to cereal marketing. It was a sound idea. It was an attempt to put cereal marketing on a sound basis. By the Bill the Government are trying to do something with regard to other products, and this can only be of ultimate benefit to everybody concerned. Of course, there are difficulties in marketing. There always have been, but one of the problems in agriculture has been principally the marketing of meat. I include in that beef, mutton and pork. It has always been a problem and always will be unless we have controlled marketing in the sense that is provided in the Bill.
I have a slight knowledge of this matter, because I have seen in operation a system where marketing runs riot and one has high prices for the producer one week and low prices for him the next, but the price to the consumer never varies. This is a fact and it is one of 1285 our troubles. We have always had this situation, because between the producer on the farm and the consumer there are far too many middlemen who for years have battened on both the farmer and the housewife. This has been the case with meat and poultry. The Bill will do a great deal to get rid of this unpleasant situation. It is bound to do so, provided that we bring in a system of orderly marketing combined with co-operation.
In 60 years Denmark, a small country devoted totally to agriculture, has by its energy and its system of co-operation made itself into one of the greatest agricultural countries that the world has ever seen. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree with me in saying that. This is the kind of system that we need in this country, but we shall never get it if we allow ourselves to get into a state of marketing chaos. We want co-operation, and I speak now only of one aspect of the Bill.
On 27th October the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said in another place that in his view there was a possibility that as a result of the setting up of a Meat and Livestock Commission the price of meat might go up by one farthing a pound to the consumer. I hesitate always to impute anything but the purest of motives to hon. Members opposite, but I suggest to them that they may have forgotten what Lord Champion went on to say, which was that although possibly in the first instance the price of meat might go up by that amount, spread over the entire operation and over a long period there would probably be in the end a reduction in the price of meat. I am sure that the Minister will agree.
I now come to something which I find slightly distasteful. On 22nd December last, when I was a new Member of the House, I spoke in the debate on the Second Reading of the Cereals Marketing Bill when the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffths) decided, after I had spoken, to make a personal attack upon me to the effect that I knew nothing about agriculture, knew less about cereal marketing and less about anything else. I find this distasteful and unfortunate.
I felt that today I should deal with these allegations, if possible. I therefore wrote to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds but I see that he is not here. 1286 I told him that I intended to mention him by name. In the circumstances I feel that it would not be the right thing to deal with the allegations that he made against me because I would wish to say what I wanted to say to his face. As he is not here I do not propose to do so.
This is a good Bill. It is a Bill in the tradition of Lord Williams and in the tradition of putting agriculture on its feet. The House should congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing it forward. It is a long Bill, which no doubt will take us a long time to discuss, but I am sure that it will do nothing but good to the farmers, to the housewives, and to the people in the country generally.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
I hope that it will put the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor) in a better mood if I say that I am sure that he knows much more about meat marketing than I do. I cannot, though, share his displeasure that there has been an increase in milk production. There is plenty of room for more milk in the making of cheese and butter and I hope that the Minister will see that more is produced.
I will not follow the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe in his remarks on meat marketing, but I would say, first, that I am very disappointed that the Minister has reduced the grant under the Farm Improvement Scheme from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent. There is a tremendous need for modern buildings in the country and I believe that we shall find it necessary to replace farm buildings much more often than has been done in the past. Many of these buildings are 100 years old. We shall have to look at the likelihood that farm buildings will need replacing every 20 years or so. I therefore deprecate this cut.
I cannot but feel that cuts like this, and the cut in the Territorial Army, are being made to increase aid for housing, but if housing is so important why cannot improvements to workers' houses be included in approved expenditure under the Farm Improvement Scheme? We can include housing for cows and calves and pigs, but we can never obtain a grant to build housing for farmworkers. The result is that everybody is doing up old houses in an uneconomic way in order to obtain a grant rather than building 1287 new houses. If the Minister says that this is a matter for the Minister of Housing, I would point out that it is possible under the Hill Farming Scheme to obtain assistance to do up houses for workers. I know there is also provision in the Housing Act for subsidies for the housing of agricultural workers, but this has been disappointing. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland will confirm that very few houses in Scotland are built with assistance from this subsidy.
I come now to the question of amalgamations. In Galloway there are not very many really small farms. There are farms of between 50 to 70 acres which are what one might call family farms. Many years ago, I read a very good book called "The Farming Ladder", by Frank Henderson, in which he showed that farms of this size could be very productive and, in fact, more productive per acre than the much larger farms. In my experience, the farm of this sort of size is doing quite well, being run by the family. The shoe is beginning to pinch, however, on the farm of about 120 to 150 acres, while those of the next larger size, 300 acres or so, are perfectly all right.
Will it he possible to amalgamate two farms of 120 to 150 acres to make a really good unit in economic terms? The farmer with about 120 acres is finding difficulty. In dairy areas he has to employ a dairyman who must be paid a high wage. In arable areas he cannot have the benefit of the range of machinery which the bigger farm can have. Will it be possible to obtain grants to amalgamate farms of 120 to 150 acres? In economic terms, such amalgamations could well be a good development.
I hope that the Minister will leave a good number of the family farms of 50 to 70 acres. One of the reasons why we have had such good relations between farmers and workers in agriculture is that a worker who has worked hard and saved has had a chance of climbing the farming ladder and getting one of these small farms. In my experience, many of them have done well in that way. Nowadays, with the tremendous requirement for capital to start in a big farm, if we do away with too many of the smaller farms we shall make the farming ladder look 1288 more like the sort of ladder one sometimes used to see in a stockyard, with two or three rungs knocked out of it, so that the worker will not be able to climb up at all.
Now the rural development boards. In the hill areas there are problems. There are rivalries between farming and recreation, between farming and tourism, between farming and natural beauty, and several other rivalries besides, but none of these represents any problem at all compared with the contest between sheep and trees. It is much too simple to say, as the Minister did in his White Paper, that farming and forestry are complementary. They can at times be complementary, but generally they are in collision. It is far too simple to say, also, that the good land should be left to the farmer and the bad land go to the forester. Trees are a crop like anything else, and, naturally, trees prefer to have good land rather than bad.
A great deal depends on the economic circumstances of hill farming. Before the war, sheep farming was very much down and the Forestry Commission was able to purchase land in forests like Kielder and Glentrool which ought never to have been planted at all. When, after the war, the Commission continued with the inexorable planting of good sheep farms, a great deal of bitterness was caused in the hill country. Once land has been cleared and planted as forest land, it is most unlikely—the task is very difficult—that it will ever go back to farming again.
After the war, because of this bitterness, it became very difficult for the Forestry Commission to obtain land, but the situation has of late turned the other way again, now that sheep farming is again not doing very well. The price of mutton has hardly gone up at all in the last 10 years. As a result, the Forestry Commission is now buying farms and planting land which really ought not to be planted at all.
The important need is to get the economic position of sheep farming right, with a better price for mutton and some longterm assurance that these hill farmers will be needed. Second, the Forestry Commission must give up its system of planting whole farms and be encouraged to plant much more by way of small blocks 1289 of trees, working, perhaps, for a farmer and planting shelter belts or for a landowner and planting on an agency basis. In this way, a better sense of land use in the hill areas could be developed. I go so far as to say that tenant farmers in hill areas should be allowed to plant trees themselves and have a statutory right for compensation on their waygoing for trees which have been planted.
I am not at all happy that the Forestry Commission should be allowed to plant trees without having to obtain permission from the rural development board. If this control is to be put on the private forester, there seems little reason, in the light of the past history, why the Forestry Commission also should not come under the same control.
I can give only a lukewarm welcome to the rural development boards. There is a problem in the hill areas which can be solved only by getting the economic relationship between sheep and trees right. I should like to see a committee like the Mackenzie Committee, which sat on the economics of hydro-electric power as against conventional generation, to consider the economics of hill farming and forestry and decide what is the best use for many of these areas. It seems to me that the appointment of the rural development boards is no more than recognition by the Government that there is a problem here and the passing of the buck to yet another committee.
Apart from those points, I think that the Bill contains quite a few good things, and I give it a qualified welcome.
§ 6.18 p.m.
Mr. Bernard Conlon (Gateshead, East)
I give a general welcome to the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friend on the presentation of this the first comprehensive Measure on agriculture submitted to the House since 1947. Considering that my right hon. Friend took office a mere 11 months ago, it is to his credit that this comprehensive Bill has been prepared in such a short time. I say this in spite of the criticisms of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who complained that the Bill had been prepared hurriedly. In my view, such a Bill ought to have been presented a long time ago, but the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member was concerned only 1290 to call for reports on various sections of agriculture and then to do very little about those reports when they came along.
I shall devote my remarks to a section of the industry which has not been mentioned in the debate and which does not receive a great deal of attention in the Bill itself. I do not complain about this too much. It may well be said that our system of slaughtering—this is the subject I shall discuss—was dealt with in an Act passed in 1958 and, moreover, the Meat and Livestock Commission will itself have overall powers to supervise and co-ordinate the work of slaughterhouses. I quite appreciate that, for these reasons, it may well be thought right that the Bill should not give much attention to our slaughtering system.
I believe that I ought to draw to the attention of the House what I consider to be the unsatisfactory arrangements for slaughtering. I ought to make it perfectly clear before I begin that my view is that there must be a greater concentration of slaughtering. The present arrangements for the slaughter of animals fall far behind standards required in other countries. Indeed, they are not up to the standards now required in most food processing industries. Since the 1958 Act some notable improvements have been made. The regulations made under that Act have required certain minimum standards to apply. But I emphasise that these are minimum standards. In my view, they do not go far enough.
Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the approved code of sanitary regulations applicable to meat imported by the O.E.C.D. countries requires slaughterhouse premises, equipment and operation of a much higher standard than is specified in the regulations under the 1958 Act. Even slaughterhouses built since 1958 and operated to the full standards laid down in the regulations under the 1958 Act do not in many cases comply with the requirements for the export of meat to other European countries. As a result, only a very small number of British slaughterhouses are approved to conduct an export trade.
I believe that the principal reason for this situation and the general unsatisfactory standards of slaughtering in this country in the past and at present is the unsatisfactory method for the operation 1291 and practice of slaughtering in units which are not large enough to enable maximum use to be made of modern equipment and processes. In a slaughterhouse with a large throughput full use can be made of mechanical equipment throughout the various slaughtering and dressing processes. The use of this type of equipment can achieve economies in operation by increasing the output per man, although I agree that the provision of this equipment will entail additional capital costs in the construction of slaughterhouses. Nevertheless, I believe that labour saving is just one of the many advantages.
In addition, the use of mechanical aids can mean that a better carcase can be produced. The suspension of carcases throughout the dressing operations not only achieves a very high standard of hygiene but also permits a better bleeding of the animal, which produces meat of an improved eating and keeping quality.
A further advantage to be achieved by some measure of concentration of slaughtering is the facilitation of grading procedure. If the carcase classification system envisaged in the Bill is adopted, this would similarly operate more easily and more consistently if a smaller number of slaughterhouses was in use. It is significant of the conservative attitude that many members of the meat trade have that an important factor in the proper conditioning of carcase meat after slaughter—I am referring now to rapid chilling, which is common practice throughout Europe and America—is still not in general use in this country, even though experiments have shown that bacterial growth and contamination of the carcase are greatly reduced by the process. Such a system can be economically used only when the throughput is large enough to justify the very high capital costs entailed in the installation of the equipment. This is another reason why concentration of slaughtering is necessary.
Allied to the high hygiene standards which a large abattoir of this kind would present is the vital question of meat inspection. Past practices in this country have left a great deal to be desired. Although the meat inspection service has been proud of its record—I am not casting 1292 any aspersions against the meat inspection service because it is doing a very fine job under most difficult conditions—and has claimed in the past that it operates a 100 per cent. meat inspection service, I suggest that with the proliferation of slaughterhouses that we have had in this country that has not been possible. A policy of 100 per cent. meat inspection has now been adopted and this is obviously essential to the public good.
The 1963 meat inspection regulations specify in exact detail what is now required and, indeed, they constitute a new bible for the meat inspector. But they do not make clear how the meat inspector can achieve the high standard required if he is to perform meat inspection in two or more separate slaughterhouses when the slaughtering is done at the same time. Full compliance with the requirements of 100 per cent. meat inspection becomes possible only if some degree of concentration of slaughterhouses is brought about, and this is another argument why we should rationalise and concentrate the slaughtering industry.
I want to indicate what the problem is and to show by figures just how far the Minister, the Government and the nation will have to go if they are to bring about a complete transformation of the slaughtering industry. For 25 or 30 years there has been a general tendency towards concentration. The tendency was accelerated by the controls imposed during the war, and at the end of the war the slaughtering was being done by agents for the Government in a very small number of slaughterhouses. Prior to the war there were about 12,000 private slaughterhouses in England and Wales and a further 120 public slaughterhouses provided by local authorities.
On decontrol of the meat industry in 1954, there were only 477 slaughterhouses in use, including 190 owned by local authorities. It was at this time that the Government called for a report from the Inter-departmental Committee on Slaughterhouses. This related to England and Wales and excluded Scotland. The Committee was asked to prepare a plan recommending in what localities, subject to a policy of moderate concentration, slaughterhouses, other that those in bacon factories, should be sited for the slaughter of cattle, sheep and pigs.
1293 Thus, the then Government were thinking of some policy of concentration. But the results since seem to deny the intention implied in the terms of reference given to the Committee. With the Government in 1953 tnd 1954 thinking in terms of concentrating slaughtering, one expected this to be a decent base line from which rationalisation of the industry could take place because only a small number of slaughterhouses were in operation at the time.
But what happened? Instead of there being a rationalisation and concentration of the industry, by 1962 the number of slaughterhouses in England and Wales had risen from 477 to 3,059. It is now estimated that when the full effects of the 1958 Regulations are felt, the number will be reduced to about 2,200—still too many, in my view. I am trying to make the case that there should be greater concentration of facilities for slaughtering, and I want to indicate what I believe are the advantages that can be derived from such a system.
First, I believe that there would be improved supervision of hygiene; secondly, meat inspection could be carried out more readily and consistently; thirdly, better carcase meat would be produced if full use were made of modern equipment and techniques; fourth, there would be increased efficiency from the use of laboursaving equipment; fifth, there would be a greater degree of supervision of the treatment of animals; sixth, the grading of meat and carcase classifications as envisaged in the Bill would be carried out more easily.
I do not complain that the Bill does not specifically deal with this matter because I am sure that my right hon. Friend would refer me to Clause 9, which will enable the Commission to make recommendations to him… for the rationalisation or concentration of a section …of the livestock industry, including… a reduction in the number of undertakings engaged.The proposal to confer such powers under Clause 9 is welcome in so far as the Commission will be able to consider and make recommendations on rationalisation of the slaughtering industry. It is to be hoped that the Commission will give serious consideration 1294 to the advantages to be achieved by effecting some measure of concentration for the slaughtering industry. Clause 9(2) says:A development scheme may make provision for the rationalisation or concentration …Clause 9(5,b) says:… may be made by way of an experimental or pilot scheme restricted to a specified area or specified undertakings or specified persons.In this case, I can readily think that there are opportunities—or, at least, one golden opportunity—for such a pilot scheme or experiment along the lines I have indicated. In the final report of the Inter-departmental Committee, published in July, 1955, the country was broken up into regions which it was felt should be provided with reasonable slaughterhouse facilities. Region No. 101, according to appendix 6, is based on the Manchester area. In that area there are two county boroughs—Manchester and Salford—eight boroughs, seven urban districts and one rural district, with a total population of 1,311,500.
Here is a golden opportunity to attempt a pilot scheme for experiment along the lines that I have suggested, because that region, in the near future—certainly in the next few months—will have a very large factory abattoir coming into operation. It is to be equipped for the receiving of animals, for their bedding and resting, for slaughtering on the line system, for conditioning rooms which provide for rapid chilling, and for the marketing of the meat for sale to the retailer. If the Minister or the Commission think of choosing an area for such an experiment, I suggest the Manchester area in the near future.
If full advantage is to be taken of the benefits made possible by the rationalisation of the slaughtering industry, including some degree of controlled concentration, some central action may be required and the Bill will, I hope, provide the necesary opportunities for this.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
The hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) spoke very good sense about many of the problems of slaughtering. No one in this House can be happy about 1295 either the transport or the slaughtering of cattle. But the corollary of his demand for centralisation of slaughtering is to increase the distance that cattle must be transported. I believe that the answer is in a balance, but undoubtedly this will be a matter to be looked at by the new Meat and Livestock Commission. I have my own views about the value of the Meat and Livestock Commission, because I always think that it is a little doubtful whether it is wise to select the ignorant to advise and give information to the experts about problems which until now the experts have been unable to solve. That is the key to this advisory commission. Everyone on the Commission is to know nothing about it before joining it. That is its weakness.
Ministers have a habit of appointing retired generals to solve all the difficult problems in civilian life. I never thought that it worked very well with P.I.D.A., which we are now burying in the Commission. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether some of the people joining the Commission ought not to have some knowledge of the matters which they are to discuss. I always found that the general view of the pig industry was that P.I.D.A. was a very expensive advisory authority and I fear that the Meat Commission will also be a very expensive advisory authority. The Minister told us that its cost would be about 10s. to 15s. a head for every beast slaughtered, a higher estimate than that recently made in the farming Press. I hope that the Commission will justify its heavy costs and that in the appropriate Price Review the Minister will take account of the fact that farmers will have that greater burden on their costs of production.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill is a ragbag of gimmicks. Some of them are good, but about others we are rather doubtful. However, the Bill is definitely retrograde in Clause 29. The system of farm improvements, which was introduced by the last Government, was highly successful, but had one weakness. The criticism often levelled at it was that it helped the rich farmer on the fertile land far more than the struggling upland farmer.
I will try to draw the present pattern of British agriculture. The hill farmer, with his 50 per cent. grant for his farm 1296 improvement scheme and with hill cattle, hill farming and winter keep schemes, has been fairly reasonably helped by successive British Governments. I have always felt that the greatest credit should go to Lord Williams for having initiated the hill farming scheme which was a landmark in British agriculture and in this improvement successive Governments cooperated. The farmer on the rich fertile land has gained by the whole of the 1957 Act with long-term guarantees and sells a high proportion of what he produces and therefore gets all the benefit of guaranteed price and deficiency payment schemes. He is also the man with the larger capital.
In between there is the upland farmer, the man mainly engaged in livestock rearing and sometimes producing a little milk, but not selling much of the produce of his arable land but requiring it for feeding his livestock. He gets no grant or deficiency payment for his milk and is ineligible for any other form of help which successive Governments have given, except the farm improvements scheme.
Under the Bill, the help he gets for his improvements to make himself more economic is to be cut from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent. I know that the Government will say that they are extending the range of improvements, but for whose benefit will that be? The major change in the schedule of improvements is for plant and machinery. That will not be for the benefit of the upland farmer, although it will be of immeasurable benefit to the rich farmer on fertile land who wants a corn drier and expensive dairy equipment. But it will be of no use to the small man in the range I am discussing, with some 70 to 150 acres of difficult land. Yet he requires help. The evidence of that is plain in the National Farmers' Union accounts scheme of last year when this group of farmers engaged in livestock rearing were found to have an average profit of £11 a week. That is a criticism of the agricultural policies of both parties for some time and we have to put it right.
The Minister is making it more difficult, but even if such a farmer wanted expensive plant or machinery, with the present financial stringency he would not be able to bear his 75 per cent. share of the cost. I ask the Minister to review 1297 this part of his scheme. I know that it can be said that a committee is studying this matter, but the upland farmer has waited too long and while the committee is sitting it is wrong to put the clock back.
Unfortunately, the Financial Resolution has been so tightly drafted that it will be difficult to deal with this problem in Committee. That is why I want to address all of my speech to it today. The right way to deal with the matter is to have a variable rate for improvements. If they are to make the necessary increase in productivity, not only for themselves and their own financial future, but to meet the needs of the country, most of these upland farmers will want to convert buildings to the umbrella type and probably also Dutch barns, which are of particular value to them. Improvements of this type are essential to the smaller farmers in difficult areas, and if they were given a higher rate of grant, certainly 33⅓ per cent. and I would prefer about 40 per cent., they would be able to make these improvements and their rate of grant would be between what is given to farmers in the hill farming areas and what is given to those in the rich lowland areas. It is reasonable that the grant should be only 25 per cent. for plant and machinery, but I would like there to be a greater amount for diversification.
There is one other factor which 1 should like the Minister to consider. The First Secretary's National Plan shows that by 1970 we shall require, in 1964 values, another £78 million worth of meat and meat products. If that is not to be produced at home, it will have to be imported and that will make our balance of payment problems very much greater. We must therefore tackle the problem of getting more meat by encouraging the raw materials for the industry to be grown in the upland areas, particularly in the upland areas because it is more economic to grow raw materials for the meat industry, store cattle, store pigs and store sheep, up there than it is on the rich fertile lands where charges are very much higher. Therefore, there is a strong case for having a differential calf subsidy and for giving a much higher rate of subsidy for calves raised in hill farming and upland areas.
That would mean that the farmers would have a greater incentive to turn 1298 from milk production to livestock rearing. When they get their monthly cheques for their milk production, it is difficult to persuade upland or hill farmers to turn over from milk production to livestock rearing. If it were possible to inject into a farmer's finances a regular payment by means of giving a much higher calf subsidy, I believe that this would be a means of getting the store cattle that we require. I therefore ask the Minister to think again about what he is doing in the way of farm improvements.
We all, on both sides, have the same aims. We wish to see British agriculture growing a far greater proportion of the food that we require. We know that meat production will be a baffling problem for all the Western European countries in the next decade. Do not let us make it more difficult by the provisions of this Bill.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Warrington)
In view of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor) towards the conclusion of his speech, may I say at the outset that although I share a name that is highly honoured in every part of the agriculture industry, I make no pretence at being an expert in either agriculture or butchery.
However, as I ploughed through—if that is the right word—the Bill and as far as I have any competence to pass judgment, it seemed to me to be a pretty good Bill. I was encouraged in that judgment by such reviews and papers as I read about the Bill written by people more competent than myself. I was the more encouraged when I saw the niggardly praise that was given to the Bill by the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), because it has been my experience in the House of Commons that on matters of which I know something right hon. and hon. Members opposite have usually been wrong.
If I may hasten to the matters on which I may claim to have some little competence to speak, I will restrict what I have to say to Parts IV and V of the Bill and speak of them from the point of view of the co-operatives, the agricultural co-operatives in particular, on whose behalf I invite the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister.
1299 The Bill, they all agree, is a turning point in the Government's policy towards agriculture. My right hon. Friend has, I believe, received general good will and congratulations from all kinds of agricultural co-operatives for the interest and confidence that the Bill shows in agricultural co-operation. It is, how-eever, a pity that in doing this my right hon. Friend has nevertheless been guilty of some discourtesy to the co-operative movement, and it is right that I should say so.
My right hon. Friend will say that he has consulted the co-operative representatives. I have, however, authority to say that that is not how they understand the way in which the Minister has dealt with them. Certainly, they have been told what my right hon. Friend proposes to do, but that is not the same thing as consultation. There is a sense of grievance—I must put it thus strongly—from both the Federation of Agricultural Co-operatives and from A.C.C.A. concerning the way in which my right hon. Friend has obtained the information and sought the guidance that he has sought and obtained concerning the Bill.
§ Mr. Williams
My right hon. Friend will already have had from the Agricultural Central Co-operative Association some cyclostyled comments, dated 22nd November, concerning Part IV of the Bill. Those comments contain a further memorandum relating to the Government's original White Paper on the development of agriculture. Those documents state that the Minister has, by the Bill and in the White Paper, turned away from or rejectedwhat has with much difficulty and very great sacrifice been accomplished in the past".The comments on Part IV of the Bill set out matters on which the co-operatives made substantial representation to the Minister with regard to the description of co-operatives, the people who were to take part on the council that was to be set up, and on the general function 1300 of the council in relation to co-operatives and the limitations that are laid upon them.
The simple fact is that although those representations have been made, they have in general been ignored by the Minister, and the Bill has presented itself in this form, although my right hon. Friend must know that these are matters that cause great anxiety to the co-operatives.
§ Mr. Peart
Consultations took place. Representations were made. I listened to the arguments. I have carefully considered the views. No Minister must be bound by any organisation that makes representations. It may well be that the body concerned disagrees with my decision, but that is a different matter; that is not discourtesy on my part.
§ Mr. Williams
I am sorry to be in conflict in this way with my right hon. Friend, but it is just as well that he should know the views of those for whom I speak. Their complaint is that they were told by the Minister what he would do after he had received advice and had come to conclusions from persons who, in their judgment—and, indeed, in mine—were less competent to give him advice on co-operatives than others who had advised him.
My right hon. Friend may say that that is consultation. It is not consultation, but instruction. The feeling of the co-operative movement is that what my right hon. Friend has done is to receive his advice from all sources except those who have spent their lives in the movement. He has come to conclusions in respect of co-operatives and their activities in Part IV of the Bill. Having done that, and not until then, he has told those who could have given him much help concerning this Part of the Bill, and whose advice would have enabled him to produce a better Bill, what he proposes to do. My right hon. Friend can call that what he likes, but neither those for whom I speak nor myself call it consultation.
Let me deal with the things in particular of which complaint is made. The functions of the Council which is set up under the Bill are set out in Clause 52(2) with very considerable care, and, as the Minister knows, this is itself a 1301 matter of suspicion and anxiety. They includeco-operation and mutual assistance in production, storage, preparation for market, marketing, transport, the provision of buildings, equipment and services for farmers and other producers, research and other incidental activities.…But the Minister has refused, and, as I understand it, continues to refuse, to put in the word which the agricultural co-operatives are desperately anxious to have included in the Bill, and that is "supply". The A.C.C.A. has set up cooperatives of all kinds, but it has to provide supply and marketing services to assist its members.
It would seem to me that the Minister would be wise to encourage this aspect of agricultural co-operatives. The A.C.C.A. has told the Minister that, in its view, his unwillingness to include supply activities, which is part of cooperatives' general activities, will be a serious weakening of its position which in turn will temporarily at least weaken the supply societies which look to the A.C.C.A. for help and guidance. In due course I shall seek to have the Clause amended in Committee to include that word.
The fear of the agricultural co-operatives—and again it is as well that their fear should be publicly ventilated so that it can be discussed—is that long before the agricultural co-operatives had any opportunity to express their mind to the Minister he had been persuaded by other interests to preclude them from organising, promoting and encouraging agricultural supply societies.
The second matter in the Bill which it appears to me proper to draw to the Minister's attention and which unfortunately weakens it, in our considered opinion, is the constitution of the Council which is laid down in Clause 52(4). The Minister has been told by the Federation of Agricultural Co-operatives that, in its view, a wholly nominated Council would be preferable to the one that he has chosen. Of the 14 members of the Council, only a small minority will be nominated by co-operative associations. The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said that he disapproved of the tendency of Ministers to appoint ignorant people to boards. Dare I join with him and say 1302 that I disapprove of that, perhaps even more strongly.
The Clause lays down no qualification for any of the members of the Council save for four of them and these four are people who, according to Mr. Knapp, in his report, at page 153, are in direct competition with co-operatives, namely, the N.F.U.
Mr. Knapp says:The N.F.U. is committed to the support of the A.C.T. which is in direct competition with co-operatives and although the N.F.U. is organically related to the A.C.C.A. and helps to finance it, it would be very difficult to say that the N.F.U. gives the A.C.C.A. its unqualified support".It is difficult to see what possible justification there is for allowing the N.F.U. to nominate four members of the Council when its commercial interests conflict with those of the co-operatives. It is wrong to leave out, save in minority number, the co-operatives and for the Minister to appoint six members in respect of none of whom are any criteria laid down.
§ Mr. Godber
The hon. and learned Member has referred to the numbers of people on the Council. I do not think the House has been given any numbers. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us more about this?
§ Mr. Williams
No, Mr. Speaker. I gave way to allow the right hon. Member for Grantham to interrupt.
§ Mr. Williams
Since I have been in conflict with the Minister, I should say that I do not accuse him for one moment of failing in his duty to nominate people who, in his judgment, have the right qualifications for membership of the Council. But, although he is active and vigorous, he is, like the rest of us, mortal; even Governments are mortal.
If I wished to be controversial, which I do not, I would say that this failure by the Government to lay down in the Bill qualifications of the kind, for instance, 1303 which the Secretary for Technical Cooperation, as he then was, laid down for members of a committee on colonial co-operatives, leaves a blank cheque to a successor whom, heaven forbid, he may have from the other side of the House utterly to destroy the agricultural cooperative movement in this context. Again, I have to give my right hon. Friend notice that I, or someone else, will seek to fill that lacuna in the Bill at a more appropriate time.
I find it extraordinary that the Minister should have been so badly advised as to have put in Clause 58(8) words which, in law, are most undesirable and, to some degree, ambiguous. The Bill defines a co-operative association asany body which is or is deemed to be registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965 or the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts (Northern Ireland) 1893 to 1963.I have no doubt that the Minister's draftsman, when he put these words in the Bill, must have been tired, and went to Section 4 of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, 1965, for the wording. But the meaning is different from the meaning in that Section of that Act. That Section of the 1965 Act refers specifically to the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, 1893, and sets out a number of societies which were then in existence—that is in existence before the 1893 Act—and which were deemed to be societies by reason of fulfilling the qualifications laid down in that Act. Once that Act was passed, it was definitive, and in my submission it is unnecessary, and indeed open to misconstruction, to have these words added to the Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. and learned Member is not going to argue this in detail. This seems to be a Committee point.
§ Mr. Williams
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I was seeking to do no more than give the Minister notice; for these are not just Committee points, but points of substance. A bona fide co-operative ought to be clearly defined as to its essential characteristics, and in this respect the Minister has been guilty of causing confusion and difficulty where none need exist. I leave that point lest I incur your wrath further, Mr. Speaker, but I 1304 shall raise it again if I have an opportunity of doing so.
I fear that I have been hard on the Minister, but only because the co-operative societies, the agricultural co-operative societies particularly, are concerned lest, by default, a Bill of which generally they approve should do them injury from which, under another Administration, it would be difficult to recover, and which it would be impossible for them then to counter.
In general, I commend the Bill to the House. I ask my right hon. Friend carefully to consider the criticisms that I have made, and I do so in the hope that when we discuss this matter again he will be able to meet us, having been persuaded by my arguments.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. George Forrest (Mid-Ulster)
I am both for and against the Bill. I have heard more talk against it than for it. As a Northern Ireland Member, to a great extent I am for it.
I admired the Minister during the days when he was sitting on these benches. He was then the shadow Minister of Agriculture, and I thought that he modelled himself on Lord Williams, but since he has become the Minister he has disappointed me to a considerable extent. When the right hon. Gentleman was in Northern Ireland he was well received, and in two or three minutes I should like to express my views both for and against the Bill. The Minister knows that in Northern Ireland small farmers are in the majority, and if this Measure becomes law a number of them will be called on to give up their farms.
The situation in Northern Ireland is entirely different from what it is here. Most of the farmers there are owner-occupiers. A number of farmers have inherited their land from their fathers, and they hold on to it as such. My constituency is the largest in Northern Ireland, and possibly the fourth largest in this House, and if this Bill goes through we will end up with only 500 farmers.
I present myself to the House as an auctioneer. Very often when a farmer decides to sell his farm he calls on an auctioneer who can sometimes get him more money for his farm than he expects. Under these proposals, however, the 1305 auctioneer will be left out completely, because the sale has to be an agreed one. There has to be agreement for the takeover of the smaller farm. Unless I have got the situation wrong, this amounts to a take-over.
On average, land in my constituency costs £200 per acre, taking the rough with the smooth. The farmer who owns 30 acres will therefore receive £6,000 for his property. No one will buy a farm in Northern Ireland, particularly an outlying farm, unless he gets full possession of the farmhouse. The farmer who has received £6,000 for his property will have to find other accommodation for his wife and children, and, being a farmer, he will not want to live in the city centre. He will build himself a house in the suburbs, which will mean he will take up good land for living purposes.
It is very difficult for the small farmer in Northern Ireland to belong to a cooperative. The weather is against us. I know that the Minister is not responsible for that, even though many of us would like to blame him for it. This year has been the worst for the farmer for 20 years.
§ Mr. Speaker
May I tell the hon. Member that I do not have a farm at all. He must address the Chair.
§ Mr. Forrest
You are a very lucky man, Mr. Speaker. May I add that I have not one either, but I have had quite a number of farms on my books, and you will be pleased to know that they have all been tidied up and most of the commission has been paid. In Northern Ireland we work in a peculiar way, in that we expect to pay the commission after the purchase, or on the completion date. The auctioneer is going to be left out of things completely. We are going to get a drift away from the land, which will undermine the entire set-up there.
I ask the Minister to consider this carefully, because if the people of Northern Ireland were to agree to these proposals five out of six farmers would be wiped out. It will be difficult to get employment in Northern Ireland where the un- 1306 employment rate is at present 5.5 per cent.—the lowest on record. If we wipe out all the small farmers—bearing in mind that that involves the employment of the farmer, his wife and possibly his son—the unemployment position will be even worse. I should very much like to get a much more satisfactory explanation from the Minister of what is to happen to the small farmers of Northern Ireland.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)
The speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest) reminds me of the great pleasure which I had when one of my duties as the junior Minister in the Home Office was to learn something about Ulster farming. I found it extremely complicated. Indeed, I think that the hon. Member over-simplified the situation; for instance, he did not mention con-acre. I trust that that still continues. It is one of the most complicated legal land-holding systems known to man. I am sure that the Minister will take it into consideration in any discussions which he has with the Government of Northern Ireland. But the basic point surely is that the scheme is voluntary, and there is no question of the hon. Member's constituents being forced out of farming. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will reassure him on that point.
§ Mr. Forrest
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that con-acre is still in operation and that the farmer can get between £10 and £20 per acre per year for his land. That is one of the reasons why the small farmers will be slow to move.
§ Sir G. de Freitas
May I leave that point and return to the Bill?
I should like to put on record that I was not here at the beginning of the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams). Those were the only four minutes of the debate which I have missed. I did not hear my hon. and learned Friend's premises in his discussion on co-operation, and I am not sure that I necessarily agreed with his conclusions. As I did not hear his premises, I could not follow his argument fully.
Before I deal with Part IV of the Bill, I wish to congratulate the Minister on having brought forward the Bill so early in the Session. It shows the importance 1307 which the Government attach to agriculture. I also thank the Minister for coming to my constituency in July to the opening of a new cattle market. In spite of the great industries in my constituency, such as steel and footwear, we are a farming county. The Borough of Kettering recognises this and has built this very expensive new market for the use of the farming community. In Kettering we recognise that a prosperous agriculture is as important to the five large towns as it is to the farmers and to the people living in the scores of villages around the towns. The farmers in my constituency play an important and full part in the huge national meat industry which is producing nearly £600 million of food a year. If the Meat Commission does its job, I believe that it will benefit not only the housewife and, in the long run, the butcher, but also the farmer.
There are one or two points to which I want the Commission to pay particular attention. I want the Commission to give the farmer guidance as to whether he is producing the right animals, and I want the Commission to give guidance about whether he is selling these animals at the right time. It is fantastic that this vast industry has so little guidance given to it on these crucial matters.
Secondly, the Commission must insist on more research, especially on what has been achieved abroad. It is a good sign, and greatly to the credit of the industry, that through co-operation the Charollais were brought into this country from France, and we shall see the result of that in time. It is very much to the industry's credit. We may be the greatest exporters of pedigree livestock, but we have everything to gain from looking around the world and, if we see anything better, bringing it into this country. We cannot afford to be self-satisfied and narrow-minded.
To anyone interested in agricultural co-operation, the two most important documents of the past year were the Knapp Report in July and this Bill. They are closely connected. The Knapp Report generally praised agricultural co-operation, but it pointed out the anomalous rôle of the N.F.U. on the A.C.C.A. I wish that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington were here, 1308 because the fact is that the N.F.U. will be leaving the A.C.C.A. That is natural, because the N.F.U. will be represented at the heart of the organisation which will be set up. The big changes which one foresees in the organisation will have the result that the N.F.U. will be returned to the very heart of co-operation under Clause 52(5,a).
To anyone who studied the Knapp Report, at first sight this might appear alarming, because, in the words of the Knapp Report, many of the N.F.U. leaders are interested inactivities or organisations that are frankly critical of co-operatives".But it is not as bad as it looks. We must recognise this, because it must not be assumed that members of the N.F.U. as a whole are critical of co-operation. I am a member of the N.F.U. and I am certainly not critical of co-operation. In fact, in the country many N.F.U. office holders are also office holders in cooperatives. But I think that it is right to make it clear that it will be healthier if the N.F.U. as an organisation leaves the co-operatives to the A.C.C.A. We can argue whether the N.F.U. is over-represented at the centre, but the N.F.U. should leave the cooperatives to the A.C.C.A.
What about the future of the A.C.C.A.? Presumably the N.F.U. will leave and will take its grant with it. The Government grant will go. That will mean that the A.C.C.A. will be deprived of about one-third of its income. Possibly its title will again be shortened to A.C.A. The situation will be that in the next year, before the new Central Council gets under way, the A.C.A. will have the tremendous problem of carrying on although deprived of one-third of its budget.
The Government have been very careful to stress their intention that the Central Council should work through existing organisations. It would be foolish of them not to do so, because all the experience exists in these organisations such as the A.C.C.A. But the next 12 months will be very difficult. The danger is that the A.C.C.A., weakened financially and with uncertainty about its future structure, may begin to run down because of this uncertainty and lack of funds. When in about 12 months' time the new Council 1309 wants to take advantage of the experience of the A.C.C.A., the people with the experience may no longer be there, and many of the services such as rabbit clearance, machinery syndicates and livestock grading, will have been stopped. Will the Minister work closely with the A.C.C.A. during the next 12 months so that, in the interests of agricultural cooperation as a whole, its good work is preserved?
I did not hear the discussion between my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington and my right hon. Friend, but I am distressed to find that already it looks as though the A.C.C.A. is not being consulted as much as it should be consulted. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) referred to the Egg Marketing Board. I do not know what consultation there has been in this matter, but I know that the way in which the Egg Marketing Board is carrying out its duties at present is killing the co-operative egg packing stations stone dead. I am no longer concerned with the production of eggs and I am no longer a director of a producer-owned co-operative egg packing station. However, having had some experience in this sphere, I know how an egg station works. I am aware of the way in which the Egg Marketing Board is operating the new centralised payments system and that it is bound to finish the co-operative egg packing stations, with all their services to producers.
There may be a good reason for ending this co-operative system. If there is, the case should be argued as such. It is wrong that we should be here making polite noises about encouraging co-operation at a time when some of the largest co-operative organisations in the country are being killed by the Egg Marketing Board.
I believe that, in the long run, the Bill will greatly help to foster co-operation, but I am worried about the conditions under which the grants will be made, for they could so easily lead to the fragmentation of the larger co-operatives because it looks, from what is stated in the White Paper, as if new organisations will be encouraged to hive off from the larger ones and then present themselves as new, young and poor—and thus eligible for grant. If the scheme insists on a con- 1310 stitutional relationship rather than on a contractual one I fear that this may happen; and only the small, single-purpose society will benefit from it.
I do not understand why in this matter the Government should be more royalist than the king. Of course the co-operative movement always wants to see more loyalty among its members, but we have never suggested that it should be written in as a clause in the constitution. We do not want it that way. The arguments were widely canvassed in the Departmental Working Party's Report in January of this year, and I will not repeat them, since my right hon. Friend is only too well aware of them. The co-operatives themselves have not asked for compulsion. Indeed, they have good reason for not doing so.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will reassure us that, in drawing up the all-important Statutory Instrument, he and my right hon. Friend will listen carefully to the arguments of the bodies which represent the co-operatives, who fear the fragmentation of the cooperatives.
I add my voice to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Guildford; why not give the new Council the flexible powers of AMDEC, which can pick and choose in the national interest? It rather looks as if the new Council will have no such powers and that it will support only one type of co-operative. AMDEC, on the other hand, has had great success with its wide powers, which enable it to pick and choose in the national interest.
I have one further point to make on the question of co-operation. In 1967 there will be the 100th anniversary of the first British agricultural co-operative. I ask the Minister to lay plans to celebrate this event by inviting fellow cooperators on the Continent to visit us. I ask this, first, because it is right, if we have any sense of history, that there should be some occasion to mark this anniversary and, secondly, because it will enable us to meet our Continental colleagues who are engaged in co-operation. Within the next few years we may have a great deal to do with them and, in any case, we have a great deal to learn from them, particularly from the Dutch cooperatives.
1311 Four or five years ago I spent a few days in Holland and studied their auction system—the falling price system. I had gone to Holland because I had read of the great economies—the saving in time, staff and money—which the falling price system brought about. I also had the comparable figures for Rotterdam Market and Brentford Market. Rotterdam Market, about half the size of Brentford, had about 40 to 50 manual workers while Brentford employed between 350 and 400 workers. At Rotterdam there were three clocks and six clock operators while at Brentford there were 150 salesmen.
Having been impressed by the falling price system, I was delighted to read some time later—it is now a few years ago; I was away abroad at the time—that an experiment was conducted with this system in Cheltenham and run by a producer co-operative. Alas, the experiment failed and I understand that the clock has been dismantled. I hope that the Minister will try to persuade some other body to experiment with such an auction system, for if it succeeds the advantages are enormous.
We must be prepared to learn by our mistakes. After all, the Dutch have had 80 years in which to learn in this sphere. Eighty years ago a clever Dutchman tried to get round a Napoleonic tax on auctions and started the system of the falling price because it was found that, under Dutch law, auctions were defined as sales, as a result of prices being raised until one bidder remained. To avoid the tax, this speedy system of the falling price was built up. I understand that in Cheltenham, the only place where this experiment was carried out, the market was modelled on the most modern of the Continental auctions. Alas, the whole structure of our industry was not developed enough to take advantage of it.
Sir Frederick Brundrett often refers to the problems created in our national life by the "N.I.H." factor—the "Not Invented Here" factor—the built-in difficulty of so many people, whether generals or farmers, to overcome their reluctance to ideas from abroad. In this case the co-operatives did overcome the N.I.H. factor and the Dutch clock auction system was tried. Unfortunately, the scheme failed. As I said, we must 1312 be prepared to learn from the past and I hope that this experiment will be tried again. It is not enough to adopt a technical device. It is essential that we adopt the system as well.
In giving a Second Reading to the Bill we are recognising that our greatest industry cannot be left to itself. I have seen many Measures concerning agriculture. I like this one very much indeed, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having introduced it.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie (Ross and Cromarty)
We welcome the Bill because it speaks of expansion. We are glad to know that the Government have come to accept what the industry has always stressed—that, notwithstanding the increase in production over the years, we can still make a further substantial contribution to the nation's balance of payments problem.
The straitjacket imposed by the Tories, by their standard quantities, and the failure of the Government at the last Price Review to promote the expansion which hon. Gentlemen opposite promised at the General Election severely taxed the confidence of the industry in its own future. That is another reason why we welcome this new approach.
On reading the National Plan and White Paper one comes across what would seem to be somewhat contradictory statements. For instance, in one place the National Plan speaks of increased production to meet the growth in demand while, in another, it speaks of an annual rate of expansion in net output roughly comparable to that achieved over the past few years. Perhaps the Minister will explain the seeming discrepancy between these two targets.
That the industry can provide the £200 million expansion called for by the Government there can be no doubt. One thing that is clear from past experience and must be stressed now is that there will not be equal room for expansion both for foreign and home producers. More home-grown cereals must mean less imported maize while more home-produced milk must mean less imported cheese and butter.
Part I of the Bill deals with the setting up of the Meat and Livestock Commission and is designed to create greater efficiency 1313 in the industry and to protect the interests of the consumer. This is good in itself, but we do not by any means accept it as an alternative to a fatstock marketing scheme with statutory powers, as advocated by the National Farmers' Union over the years. Although the proposed method is useful, the Commission is expressly prohibited from support buying, or trading in support of the market. Our quarrel with this proposal is that it does not go far enough.
Part II of the Bill deals with farm structure and farm improvements. Amalgamation sounds very well in theory, but it will be difficult to implement in practical terms in many areas. In the Highlands of Scotland it will be a very slow job indeed. In my opinion, and that of my party, the incentives offered to an ageing tenant or the tenant of a small unit are not likely to produce the response which the Bill envisages. This will be particularly true where the unit is already well equipped. Besides, it is still freely admitted now, as it has been in the past, that from the social and economic points of view the small farmer has a very important rôle to play in the industry.
We should also be very careful that we do not destroy the farming ladder, to which reference has been made by several speakers. I was very interested to hear the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Haze11) say that at the present time there are 400 applications for smallholdings in his county. What is most important is that the Bill should ensure that no unit can be taken over by, or added to, an already large unit. I have no doubt that if it came to open competition many large farmers would be ready to outbid the small man.
Part III deals with hill and upland areas. We are pleased to hear that additional items will qualify for grant, but we view with dismay the proposal to reduce the grants from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent. This is most untimely. In the former scheme, many occupiers found great difficulty in raising the 66⅔ per cent. required of them to complete their schemes. The figure of 25 per cent. for item 10 of Schedule 3—reclamation of waste land—is totally inadequate. If we are to get increased production from our hills, it can be done only by large-scale reclamations, and for that purpose 1314 loans and grants of up to 80 per cent. at least would be required.
We welcome the proposed rural development boards, as they have been part of the Liberal Party's policy for some time. Nevertheless, they would appear to be more relevant to England and Wales than to Scotland, where we now have our own Highland Development Board. One of the first duties of those boards must be to reconcile the interests of agriculture and forestry, in relation to both the Forestry Commission and the private landowner. In both sectors, good agricultural land has been planted because there is no proper cooperation between the two interests. We regret that they are not empowered by the Bill to lend money for rural industries, which can maintain the fabric of rural life. It is no good having a lot of large prosperous farms if no one else lives in the countryside. We find that the larger the unit the fewer people it employs, and this leads to depopulation.
Part IV deals with co-operative activities, and here the interest shown by the Government in co-operation will be widely welcomed. The Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Cooperation will be watched with great interest. Time does not permit an analysis of the new board's functions, but it is important to stress the excellent services provided by co-operatives in the past, and particularly at the present time. Those societies have been singularly fortunate in their officials, as I know from experience of working in close contact with them over a number of years It would be virtually impossible to find a group more dedicated to their work and having more of the confidence of the people they serve than their district officers, fieldsmen and clerical staff——
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could the hon. Gentleman be reminded not to read his speech which, I believe, is quite out of order?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Roderic Bowen)
Order. The Chair will pull up the hon. Member if there is any need to do so.
§ Mr. Mackenzie
Therefore, while welcoming the board, we hope that it will 1315 not cut across the functions of such well-established bodies as the Scottish Agricultural Organisational Society and the Welsh Agricultural Organisational Society. Since so much voluntary effort is put into the work of those societies it would be a pity if they got the impression that they were to be replaced by a State agency.
We welcome the improved credit facilities and the provisions relating to sick pay for agricultural workers.
The Bill contains a large number of useful measures, but, at the same time, it should not be taken as absolving the Government from the need to raise prices at the next Price Review. Since we expect so much expansion from the hills, I should like to quote the price of sheep as an example. I would respectfully remind the Minister that the price of clean sheep in Scotland for the four weeks ended 26th September, 1965, was 26.5 pence per lb., and the comparable figure for 1955 was 25.4 pence per lb.—a net increase of 1.1 pence per lb. Far be it from me to suggest that agricultural workers are being overpaid, but when we bear in mind that in the same 10-year period there have been 11 wage increases, and that other overhead costs have risen proportionately, I think that the case for a substantial increase is clear and convincing.
I congratulate the Minister on all the detail and the thought that he has put into the Bill, which extends to 96 pages. I hope that it will be greatly improved in Committee, where a good deal of time must be spent on it. I welcome the Bill, and hope that it will have a speedy passage to the Statute Book.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
Looking at the Bill as a whole, I find more in it to support than to criticise. Indeed, it contains so much of a beneficent nature that I would willingly go into the Division Lobby in support of it, but some parts of it I must criticise.
I regret that I was unable to hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister. I was very fortunate, however, to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) with whom I have battled on the question of slaughterhouses during the passing of the 1316 Conservative Slaughterhouses Act, and battled for a considerable and very fruitful time. I want to take up something that he said. There are two other speeches I shall mention. The first was a speech made by one of my hon. Friends who spoke about moderate concentration of slaughterhouses and referred to the new abattoir in Briscoe Lane, Manchester. Nearly every point that he made had been made in my speech in this Chamber on the question of meat marketing. Incidentally, he made a good speech.
The other speech to which I refer was that of the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). He made a first-class contribution to the debate raising the point about the institution of the new Commission, the cost of the Commission and the cost which will have to be borne by farmers and which will eventually come into the cost of meat. It was a worth-while contribution to the debate and I approve of everything he said. If he were here at the moment I hope that he would also approve of taking the implications of his speech to their logical conclusion in terms of meat marketing in this country.
When we were in Opposition all our argument was for the establishment of a meat marketing board. The National Farmers' Union and we agreed that there should be a meat marketing board. All that we differed about was the kind of board it should be. Now that we are in power we have not brought forward a meat marketing board. We have brought forward a Meat Commission, which is a kind of public relations officer to sell to the country the type of meat which is produced. That is all it has to do. The Meat Commission will not fulfil the needs of the country in dealing with the marketing of meat as effectively and efficiently as a meat marketing board would fulfil them.
The Clauses in the earlier part of the Bill will be pretty useless. I do not know much about agriculture and I am accepting in faith, almost with blind confidence, Clauses which deal with hill farming and financial provincial provisions. I am dealing only with that which I know something about, the marketing of meat. If we are to institute a levy on farmers for meat produced in this country and eliminate in terms of that levy imports of 1317 foreign meat, we shall do an injustice to the farmers. We shall give an advantage to that section in meat distribution whotoil not neither do they spin—those who merely deal with the distribution of both foreign and home-produced food.
If a levy has to be imposed and we are to have a Commission in preference to a board the levy should be imposed on foreign meat, if not equally, at any rate in some measured formula, to meet the situation. The Commission will compile and operate classifications. There has been too much jiggery-pokery in distribution of meat which could not be classified at all. The time has come when that meat should be classified, but why confine classification to meat passing between the producer and wholesaler and leave the retailer with no obligation to deal with classification? What about the woman who goes into a shop to buy meat? Has she not a right to know what she is buying equally as the wholesaler has a right to know what he is buying from the producer?
The Commission will have power only to examine that meat and to report back to the Minister. It will have power to examine what is done about meat cuts. We will have the Meat Commission with a sub-committee of butchers. If there are 12 butchers on that sub-committee dealing with classification of meat cuts put into distributive retail establishments, we shall have 12 different clasifications of every piece of meat that is sold. I have never known a meeting of 12 butchers who could all agree on one classification for retail distribution.
It is also said that they are to price meat, but the meat which goes into a retail establishment is something less than 60 per cent. of meat for sale in districts varying from mile to mile in terms of demand. In one district a retailer can sell fillet or rump steak but cannot sell scrag-end while in the next a retailer can sell scrag-end but cannot sell fillets. The butcher controls his prices accordingly. How are we to deal with that? Are we to say that everyone has to charge the same for fillet steak? There are places where I can buy fillet for 9s. a lb. retail and other places where I can buy the same kind from the same bullock or heifer for 6s. a lb. Retailers in that district have difficulty in getting rid of it.
1318 We are asking the Commission virtually to do the impossible. We ought to have gone the whole hog and done what we promised to do, to create a meat marketing board to deal with the whole distribution and wholesaling of meat, including fatstock price; and deficiency payments. If we had done that we would have something far less complicated than this business in the first nine Clauses of this Bill.
The right hon. Member for Grantham, in answer to a question put by me, implied that he was frightened that Clause 9 might allow the Minister to introduce a concentration of slaughterhouses. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's fears are well founded. I hope that Clause 9 will allow there to be a concentration of slaughterhouses. However, slaughterhouses are controlled by the Slaughterhouses Act, which was introduced by the Tory Government. I remember that, because the right hon. Member for Grantham and myself fought rather bitterly over some of its Clauses.
However, that Act is not referred to in the Bill. There is no provision in Clause 9 for that Act to be repealed. Therefore, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman need be afraid. I do not believe that there will be a concentration of slaughterhouses as a result of this Bill. I say this most regretfully. If we are to fulfil the original purpose of the Agriculture Acts, namely, to subsidise farming so that efficient meat production is reflected in cheaper meat retail distributive prices, we ought to be bending all our efforts to doing that at present. The Bill should be doing that. To do that, there must be a concentration of slaughterhouses.
During the war slaughterhouses were concentrated into about 400. Then came the new Act of Parliament. Today there are about 3,000 slaughterhouses. Those who promoted the Slaughterhouses Act are responsible for meat coming into the shops which has been subject to no inspection. It has been slaughtered under conditions which should be examined by all the Members of Parliament who were responsible for that Act, to their eternal shame. Any Member who saw those conditions could not but argue for the concentration of slaughterhouses, which is necessary in the interests of the community's health.
1319 It is necessary for another purpose. If our agriculture is to develop in the way referred to by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, namely, by developing the cattle population on the hills so as to get the arable land fit for the best agricultural production, what will those cattle be bred for? Will they be bred to export them to France or to use here? Is the peak period of kill to be extended from about five months? If so, to what period? If it were extended from five months to twelve months, the production of cattle could be made the most profitable part of the farmer's heritage.
However, if that is done, the problem of slaughterhouses must be faced. There must be, not a moderate concentration, but such a concentration as to create modern abattoirs with the power to freeze and deep-freeze, with the power to can, and with the power to preserve, so that we do not have to import. Such a system would contribute to solving our balance of payments problems.
This issue has not been faced in this piddling little Bill. No effort has been made to make agriculture what it should be—one of our major industries.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)
I hope that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) will not think it churlish of me if I do not refer to his remarks about slaughterhouses and meat. That is quite clearly a subject on which he feels keenly. What I want to talk about for a few minutes concerns Part III.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) put the Bill in its right perspective when he said that it was a very mixed bag. Some parts of it should be useful and beneficial. There are parts of it about which I am extremely doubtful, and they will have to be most carefully examined in Committee. I particularly dislike the wide powers given to the Minister and to the rural development boards. I view them with apprehension.
Part III deals with hill land. There is quite a lot of hill land in my constituency. I am very glad that it is proposed under Part III to extend the period of payments 1320 for hill cattle and sheep and for winter keep from three years to five years. This will be welcomed by many of my constituents in the Dartmoor area. I am glad that the White Paper foreshadows a land improvement scheme providing for grants of 50 per cent. of the cost of certain improvements, that the restoration of fencing will be included, and that the Minister is examining the question of help for field drainage.
I was very sorry on reading the White Paper and the Bill to discover that neither contained any reference to marginal land. I was glad to hear the Minister say today that he has this question in mind. If that were not included, it would be a very serious omission. In my constituency—and, indeed, all over the West Country—there is a lot of marginal land. Marginal land is not confined to any region or to any altitude. There can be quite good land which is marginal because it happens to be steep and difficult to get at. Moderate land can be marginal because it happens to be windswept and perhaps has a very heavy rainfall. Then there is the sort of land which we have around Holsworthy in my constituency which is on culm soil, often sodden and rushy. It costs a great deal to drain and to keep drained.
I am sure the Minister will agree that the best use should be made of our marginal land. This is land which is not good enough to grow crops for sale, except crops for fodder for the stock which it supports. Nor is it good enough to produce milk to any material extent. It does not qualify for the hill cattle or the hill sheep subsidies, nor for the Winter Keep Scheme. The best use to which it can be put is for rearing store cattle and sheep.
There are very good reasons why this land ought to be grant aided. The world is short of meat. We have a balance of payments problem. The obvious thing to do, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said, is to step-up home production of meat. There is no better way of doing this than by increasing the number of store cattle and sheep. Further, as every year more and more of our farm land is swallowed up for other purposes, it is more than ever important that we should make the best use of our remaining acres.
1321 The Devon branch of the N.F.U. is very keen on this question of marginal land, and so is our branch of the Country Landowners' Association. I have gone carefully into those questions because it is important in our part of the country. I should like to refer to what the Devon branch of the C.L.A. says, because I entirely agree. They consider that the best possible help would be to increase drainage grants to 75 per cent. and farm improvement grants to 50 per cent. of the total cost. They suggest that these should be limited to buildings and facilities required for the breeding, rearing and maintenance of sheep and cattle and that they should also include the restoration of fencing, as in the case of hill land to which the White Paper refers, and that grants should be subject to the "prudent landlord "Clause.
I hope that when the Minister goes into the question of marginal land he will consider these suggestions sympathetically. It will not be more difficult to select which farms should be suitable for marginal land grant along these lines than it is to decide which farms should be eligible for hill subsidy. I know farms which were disqualified for hill farm subsidy because they were not technically hill farms within the meaning of the Act but which were as deserving of help as hill farms. I should like to see such farms considered under a marginal land scheme.
May I repeat the arguments in favour of grant aid for marginal land? I think that they are unanswerable. First, there is the worldwide shortage of meat. Then there is the fact that difficult marginal land which does not qualify for hill subsidy is being left out in the cold, and this is unfair. There is also the fact that in this small Island with its growing population our supply of farm land is dwindling every year and therefore we cannot afford not to utilise any of it to the best advantage. Finally, the advantage which an increase in store cattle and meat production would bring to our balance of payments situation is obvious. I hope that the Minister will give constructive help after he has deliberated on this subject.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
I am indebted to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to participate in this important debate. Whilst 1322 it is my firm intention to speak briefly, nevertheless I wish to speak wholly in favour of the Bill. This is a wide-ranging Bill. It reflects to a large extent the industry and zeal of the Minister in his application to his duties during his first year of office.
It has not been by any means an easy year for my right hon. Friend. One readily recalls the storms of protests earlier this year when he introduced his Price Review and the criticisms with which his proposals were then met in certain quarters. I recall that there were even threats against the person of my right hon. Friend because of the forthright manner in which he presented those proposals.
Why were these protests made? What was my right hon. Friend trying to do? These are somewhat rhetorical questions. In the quiet moments of this debate let us remember that he was trying to be fair to the producers and distributors of food and at the same time attempting to protect the housewife. My right hon. Friend did a very good job at that time. Pressures were attempted to be brought to bear by the party opposite, particularly to induce my right hon. Friend to increase the price of milk by 1½d. a pint, without any thought of the effect on the housewife or the possible impact on the prices and incomes policy.
My right hon. Friend, to his eternal credit, steadfastly refused to accede to those proposals and demands. We recall forecasts and threats of the slaughter of dairy herds, leading to a drastic decline in milk output. These simply have not materialised. Indeed, my right hon. Friend's approach to this matter is completely vindicated in the fact that, according to my information, this has been a record year for milk production.
There were references earlier in the debate, and latterly by my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) and Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan), to slaughterhouses. I express a little concern at the fact that the Bill has not made the kind of provisions I should have liked to have seen. Like many members and ex-members of local authorities it is too easy for me to recall the intensive discussions and debates which have taken place in my local authority council chamber on this vexed subject since the introduction of the 1323 regulations in 1955. I remember protests and complaints by the dozen from people who lived, and still live, in close proximity to a slaughterhouse, which, to say the least of it, was an offence against human dignity and where killing took place on Sundays and intensive hours of overtime were worked to get the beasts slaughtered ready for the Monday market. I join with my hon. Friends in wishing that greater provision were made for more abattoirs to be provided to lessen the impact on residents in such localities.
My attention is further attracted to Part I of the Bill and the words in Clause 6(3,a), that an order under that Clausemay impose duties and restrictions on any persons, and in particular on persons having the control and management of slaughterhouses, for the purposes of enabling the Commission to operate the system.I should like my hight hon. Friend to give us a little more information about the full import of those words. Is the Commission intended to superimpose itself entirely over the responsibilities of local authority public health inspectors in the matter of meat inspection, in particular? Some doubt may be expressed in local authority circles about the meaning of these provisions. Is it my right hon. Friend's intention to abrogate completely the responsibilities of local authorities in this respect?
As for the transport of meat, I would refer to the innumerable complaints from local people about the crowding of relatively small vans with meat carcases, which is not conducive to good public health. The Minister by means of the Bill will be considerably improving the marketing of meat, which is very welcome. He will also be providing assistance for the small people who find it difficult to wrest a living from the land. He will be helping agricultural co-operation.
As a lifelong trade unionist, I give a special and wholehearted welcome to the statutory provision, for the first time, of a sick pay scheme for workers in agriculture. Despite some criticisms—people are entitled to make them—my right hon. Friend can be proud that he is thus making social history for workers in agriculture.
In addition to the firm proposals for the modernising of meat marketing and 1324 of agriculture generally, the Bill, by its plans for amalagamation, should create more viable units. It should ensure more production. It should, therefore, have an effect in saving imports. It should assist our balance of payments situation and materially strengthen the economy.
I warmly commend the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friend on his enterprise. I am sure that the Bill will be similarly widely and warmly welcomed in the country.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. Loveys (Chichester)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) will excuse me if I do not follow him in all his arguments. He jumped about quite a bit. He made a spirited and brave attempt to support his Minister's Annual Price Review, and, goodness knows, it needs support. He touched on the subject of slaughterhouses, which has surely had more than its fair share in the debate, as they are not, I think, actually mentioned in the Bill at all. But the hon. Gentleman posed some interesting and pertinent questions about the Meat and Livestock Commission, and I hope that the Minister will be able to answer them at the end of the debate.
One of the greatest achievements of any Tory back bencher is to be called at all on an agricultural debate of this kind. I sympathise with those of my hon. Friends who may be less fortunate, but, if it be any satisfaction to them at all—I am sure that it will not be—I can tell them that I have been here seven years and although I have tried every time, this is the first occasion when I have managed to take part in a major agriculture debate.
In a moment or two, I shall welcome the Bill in one or two of its details, but, before so doing, I must express great disappointment at the overall approach. At this time, it ought surely to have been much more a statement of intent about the future of agriculture. Just before the last election, we had two statements from the party opposite which injected some hope into the industry. One came from the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister. He made quite clear that one of his party's aims, when in office, would be to bring all farm incomes, 1325 of both farmers and farm workers, nearer the industrial level. We have not heard anything about that since the present Government came into office. The second statement laid great stress on the importance of the industry as an import saver. One expected to hear something today about the unfavourable balance of trade which is hitting our home agriculture so hard, but there is nothing whatever in the Bill to substantiate these fine ideals.
Soon after the election, we had the National Plan, which gave a vague assurance about encouraging the natural growth which a healthy industry must maintain. But, again, there is nothing in the Bill to make this vague assurance more definite. To my mind, agriculture today is very much in need of definite assurances to remove the doubts and fears which are so prevalent in the industry and which were so forcibly projected at the time of the last Price Review. There is no reason why such assurances should not have been given at this time. After all, the 1947 Bill, which I willingly join in commending, contained definite long-term assurances.
In my view, the most acceptable part of the Bill is the encouragement of co-operative enterprise. We have talked about co-operation for many years, but we have not really made much progress in it. Perhaps the reason is that farmers are naturally reluctant to help themselves. I am sure, therefore, that the establishment of the Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation should give a lead in this matter. It certainly seems likely to be a useful addition to AMDEC and other activities in co-operation set on foot by the previous Administration.
I think it a pity that the Wise Committee, to which reference was made earlier, has not yet reported. I think that it will have a lot to say in its findings about co-operation, with particular reference to statutory smallholdings. This is an obvious field for co-operation. Statutory smallholdings are very convenient for this purpose. I suggest that, after the Wise Committee has reported, it might be a good idea to have a pilot scheme of special co-operation in statutory smallholdings. I have for many years been a member of a county council smallholdings committee, and I have always been appalled at the lack of co-operation 1326 among smallholders. In my constituency, there are several county council smallholders. One has to admire their independence, but one doubts the wisdom of it. In my constituency also, adjoining the smallholdings, there is a land settlement association which is run on co-operative lines. Although the tenants of this association are very reluctant to admit it, the proof of the advantages of co-operation lies in the accounts of the efficient members of the land settlement association. They manage to do better than the independent smallholders, whom one admires, and who struggle very hard, but who have great difficulties. I am sure that their units could be made more viable through co-operation.
Again on the subject of smallholdings and co-operation, it is ironical that, as was said earlier in the debate, there is a list as long as one's arm of people wanting smallholdings even though they may not be very profitable. This is the sort of thing which we must break down by introducing more co-operation.
I suppose that Part II, dealing with farm structure and farm improvements, is the most far-reaching and most important part of the Bill. It is a great disappointment, therefore, that we did not have an opportunity to discuss the White Paper when it was published and, apparently, there has been very little, if any, discussion with the N.F.U. on this vital Part.
On the question of farm structure, there is no doubt that the non-viable unit is one of the most acute problems in the industry. Attempts to prop up these units with grants and other aids entail the risk of maintaining them in perpetuity with people just managing to keep then heads above water. Therefore, I welcome the proposals for aids towards amalgamation and aid to assist the retirement of some small farmers to help in this direction.
The Bill is absolutely silent, unfortunately, about the amount of inducement to be offered, although the White Paper produced some figures which were considered by the industry at the time to be very inadequate. I would, however, sound a warning on this part of the Bill and say that one must tread carefully and encourage evolution rather than force revolution, not forgetting that amalgamations are already going ahead at a 1327 steady rate. We have, I understand, about 50,000 fewer farm units today than we had 12 years ago. Too much State intervention in the form of the buying and selling of units seems to be undesirable and might well reduce the natural flow.
Also undesirable to me is the proposal to freeze newly amalgamated units. One can understand the reason for this, but I should have thought that somehow a much simpler method could have been arrived at to prevent newly amalgamated units again becoming non-viable units. I should have thought that some agreement between the parties concerned could be arrived at so that all the land was not automatically frozen completely for 60 years and not allowed to be developed in any way.
With regard to farm improvements, I think that the cut in grants from one third to one quarter is a most retrograde step. I feel that it will curtail much needed improvements in the industry. I know there are many people like me in this respect. I have had some improvements carried out at my farm which I should never have undertaken if the grant had been at the rate of only one quarter. I realise that the extension of the scheme to cover fixed equipment and other items is intended to take up the Exchequer support that will be released by the reduction in the rate of the ordinary improvement grant. The overall figure itself is, I understand, to be about £11 million, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) said, is actually a slight reduction, because the present figure is about £12,250,000 a year. The figure of £11 million could, anyway, be only a wild guess, because one cannot tell how much of the improvement grants will be reduced and how many people will take up the extension of grants for fixed equipment and other items. Time will tell. I feel that there will be a greater reduction in the improvement grants than is expected.
However, one must welcome the extension of the items qualifying for assistance under the Third Schedule. Although this must be administered very carefully, it must not be allowed to become incompatible with the other part of the Bill aiding co-operative ventures. This is very 1328 important. By this I mean that support should not be given to over-capitalisation of individual units. We must be very careful about this. I hope that those concerned will take great care that units are not allowed to be over-capitalised. There is so much opportunity for items such as grass driers, grain driers and other fixed equipment to be bought for farms when a similar sum or a slightly larger sum could be spent on units capable of dealing with several separate enterprises.
The proposals for livestock and meat marketing follow very much the Verdon-Smith recommendations, which met with a large amount of approval by the industry. There is no doubt that this is probably the most chaotic section of the agriculture industry. One has only to go into a market and see the extraordinary variety of fatstock offered, and only to visit farms to see the extraordinary number of methods of production used. The Commission will have a great deal of work to do.
However, I cannot help feeling that one of the main problems—I mean this not lightheartedly but fairly seriously—is that many housewives have so little knowledge of what constitutes a really good joint of meat. While housewives are content merely to go into shops and ask for a joint of beef or of lamb or of pork, many of the production difficulties will remain. Something could well be achieved by the Commission in this direction.
I am disappointed that the Commission will contain no members with an interest in livestock. Apparently the experts are to be on the various committees. I believe that there is danger of these committees engaging in a considerable excess of spending. The Bill contains no detail of what the levy will be. Indeed, it mentions no cost at all. Very little information is given about the duties of the Commission, and I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that he would probe this and many other details in Committee. I agree with the N.F.U.'s suggestion that there should at least be a ceiling on the amount that the Commission can spend.
I welcome the Bill as a whole but I regret that the opportunity has not been taken to give much more encouragement to the agricultural industry concerning long-term intentions.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)
I must apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and to the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) for not being present during their speeches, but I was engaged in committee and could not be in the Chamber.
The Bill is very extensive. The more one reads it, the further it seems to go. I was not surprised to hear right hon. and hon. Members say that it would be probed further in Committee. I think that the Committee stage will be somewhat prolonged. It will not do the Bill any harm to be probed and in some cases perhaps to be amended.
My right hon. Friend has been courageous in bringing forward a Measure of this character and in dealing with the production and distribution of meat. This matter has troubled Parliament and the industry for a long time, and if some order can be brought into the production, distribution and sale of meat the Bill will have done a good job.
Speaking as a farmer, I would like to see meat sold and paid for on the hook. There is far too much guesswork in the auction sales, and although we know that the judges are experts it is far more satisfactory to the farmer to have his animals slaughtered and then judged on the hook, when the quality can be seen, the proper price paid for quality, and the proper weight given.
There is every satisfaction to be gained from the work of the Fatstock Marketing Corporation which over the last few years has implemented such a policy. The farmer knows that he is getting correct weight, quality and price. If my right hon. Friend had consulted the Corporation's salesmen and judges, he would have been able to provide something of advantage for the farmer who sells, the salesman who buys and the housewife who consumes the animals.
I disagree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) who called this a piddling little Bill. He cannot have read it, or he has read only that part which interested him. If his ideas were implemented, the housewife would have her meat bill increased by a terrible amount. I do not think that he knew what he was talking 1330 about. He is not the only hon. Member to fall into that category.
I will leave the subject of the Meat Commission and deal with farm structure. For many years I have advocated just what my right hon. Friend is now proposing. Last year, 2,800 small farms went out of existence. They were amalgamated with other farms. Amalgamation has been going on for many years. The economic position of farming has brought it about and, whether it is speeded up by the Bill or not, the process will inevitably go on.
However, there are dangers in amalgamation by legislation and these will have to be guarded against. Some years ago, a report on farm buildings showed that 70 per cent. were utterly out of date. Like the roads, the farm buildings of this country were made for a different age and they need to be brought up to date. This has been done to some extent through the milk and dairies legislation and various farm improvement schemes, but the process should be accelerated.
When there are amalgamations, great care must be taken to see that the farm buildings set up at the centre of the amalgamations are not too elaborate and costly, first, because in agriculture one can soon become over-capitalised and farm buildings are one of the items in which that can very easily occur. It has to be remembered that the farmer has not only to erect new buildings, but to buy his stock, and the greater the amalgamation, the more stock he needs to buy. With a bigger farm, because of amalgamation, he requires more machinery. It is all costly. In the amalgamation and development of these holdings, great care must be taken by the boards to ensure that they do not from the start over-capitalise the farmers or the farms. This requires great examination before the work is undertaken.
I cannot altogether agree with the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) when he says that we should bring in more experts in these matters. If there is one person in agriculture who frightens the life out of me, it is the expert. Agriculture is a diverse industry and, whereas a man may be an expert in one thing, he is not necessarily an expert in all sections of agriculture.
I remember some years ago a bank manager telephoning me and saying, 1331 "Next time you are in town, will you call in?" I never like to hear that from a bank manager, but on this occasion it did not matter because it was not my bank. The manager was a friend of mine. When I went to see him, he asked for my opinion on a certain farm. I replied that it was farmed by an expert. "Yes, I know" said the manager, "but I want your frank opinion on the whole set-up of the farm as you know it."
I replied, "This man writes in all the farming papers and addresses farmers' discussion classes all over the country. He even comes on the wireless to tell us all how to farm." "That is not what worries me", said the bank manager; "he is about £20,000 on overdraft at my bank and he wants some more. What would you say?" I answered, "Shake hands with the £20,000 he has got and do not give him any more." Too often we are advised what to do by the experts who are practical failures, and we know it.
What we need on the boards are practical, down-to-earth men who have farmed and have made a success of their farms. Those are the men we want on the boards, to build up the structure and to show what can be done with the amalgamations of the small farms into larger units.
My right hon. Friend the Minister will be dealing with the hill farms. A hill farm is not a substitute for a lowland farm. Although the building programmes are gradually bringing the hill farms and the hill land into greater importance, let us remember that the higher one goes in altitude, the lower the fertility; it is colder and one does not get the growth. In areas on the Pennines, we have snow when the corn is six inches long in the lowlands. It is the same on most of the hills of this country. The growth is not early enough and it stops too early in the autumn. However much we may fertilise, drain and stock, a man cannot get the return from hill farming that he may expect after putting all his money into it. The hill farm is not a substitute for the lowland farm. The production can be greatly improved, but it will take a tremendous amount of work.
I have never been happy about subsidies. Hon. Members will know that I fought the calf subsidy, for instance, from the beginning. There are other subsidies 1332 which I do not like. Some of them are good; some of them are not good. My right hon. Friend the Minister should look very carefully at the subsidy and grant system as he has put it forward in the Bill. A tremendous amount of money can be wasted, and has been wasted. I think about the small farmers scheme by which a farmer could obtain up to £1.000 in one way or another.
I have seen some of these schemes in operation. I have seen ditching undertaken and paid for, and three years afterwards, when the scheme was finished, the same ditches have filled up and are never touched again. The work is not followed up. In agriculture, one must follow up the work done, otherwise the land will return to its former state very quickly. This is one of the things which we have to fight on hill land. One can fertilise it, lime it and slag it, but one must follow up the work all the time; other wise it is useless.
My right hon. Friend the Minister is bringing forward grants through the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and in other ways. I have never been happy with the Corporation. It is too expensive. It charges 25 guineas before it sends someone along to look at the place. No farmer likes paying for something which he has not got—especially if his application is turned down after the Corporation's representative has been. The Corporation's rate is always above Bank Rate—too much above Bank Rate. I do not see anything in the Bill which will bring it down.
Those in agriculture cannot afford to pay excessive rates of interest. The Agricultural Mortgage Corporation's rate should be no higher than Bank Rate. Let the Minister guarantee through the banks the credit which he thinks should be given, but let him watch most carefully the capital outlay which he makes on the amalgamation and improvement of farms, and on the machinery, and see if the work can be done through the bank at Bank Rate, and certainly at a rate no higher than Bank Rate.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing forward a courageous Bill, and an extensive one, and I wish him well in its progress.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
As time is short, I hope that the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) will forgive me if I do not follow the line of his thoughts. I hope that in the category of experts which he described so graphically he does not include those who have taken part in this debate.
The Bill is regarded with more than just ordinary interest in Scotland, because she has a particularly big stake in the livestock industry. It is worth while making a comparison between England and Scotland, because the provisions of the Bill apply to a greater extent in Scotland than they do in the rest of the country. For example, if we consider the value of agricultural output in the United Kingdom as a whole, we find that 68 per cent. of the total production is made up of livestock products, while the proportion for Scotland alone is 76 per cent. If we look at the rather narrower range of fat and store stock, which is the section of agriculture chiefly affected by the Bill, we find that it accounts for 36 per cent. of the total United Kingdom output, whereas for Scotland alone the proportion is 44 per cent.
It is important to look at Scotland's special position. For many years she has been a net exporter of meat products to England, and as a result Scottish producers are much more aware than are producers in the rest of the country of the needs of the market. Another result is that they are far more aware of the importance of quality in what they produce. I think that everyone will agree that this is reflected in the high reputation which Scottish meat products enjoy among ordinary consumers. I hope, therefore, that the interests of Scotland will be represented adequately on the Commission, and on the three committees which will help it, because the interests of Scotland are not necessarily the same as those of England. They are very much more specialised, and I hope that proper attention will be paid to this point.
I welcome the concept of the central Commission which is independent of the various partisan interests. I know that this is perhaps at variance with some of the points of view which have been put forward from this side of the House this afternoon, but often when an organisation 1334 of this type is set up, the Ministry, or those concerned in setting it up, try to represent the different interests in equal proportions. As a result, the organisation's decisions are reached only as a result of compromise and are not necessarily in the best interests of the industry concerned. This, I think, is reflected in the allocation of membership within the organisation, and perhaps also in the strength of the personalities of those appointed to it. This independent central Commission should lead to a more decisive organisation of the meat industry.
Nevertheless, while I welcome this concept of an independent Commission, on the ground that it will be able to reach its decisions more objectively than other forms of organisation might be able to do, I stress the tremendous need for men of high calibre and business ability to be appointed to it because if this is not done the Commission will probably fail. I should like to strike a note of caution about the size of the committees. Great care must be taken to ensure that they do not become too unwieldy. If this independent central Commission does not work successfully, I hope that the Minister will be ready to consider some alternative way of making it more effective.
One of the first tasks of the Commission must be to introduce more stability into the meat markets of this country. In recent weeks we have had a particular example of the lack of balance which too often occurs. For example, in the Smithfield Market over the last six weeks the price of Scottish beef has fallen by 14 per cent. from 3s. a 1b. to 2s. 7d. a 1b. while the price of imported beef has fallen even more dramatically from 2s. 10d. a 1b. to 2s. 2d. a 1b. Yet over the same period the level of retail prices in the shops has remained very much the same. This, I hope, is the kind of problem which the Commission will tackle, and that is why I regret that a more detailed brief has not been given to the Commission in relation to its activities in the markets.
I mention two points in particular—first, one which was mentioned in the Verdon-Smith Report, that the Commission should give advice to the Ministry on the question of imports. Anyone who is concerned with the meat market in this country knows that one of the greatest factors causing imbalance and 1335 fluctuation in the market is imports, not necessarily their total quantity but large quantities coming in over a very limited period. I am disappointed that it is not specifically mentioned in the Bill that the Commission should be responsible for advising the Minister on the question of imports.
I particularly draw attention to a question mentioned already by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber)—the question of putting a premium on contracts and encouraging contracts. While the Verdon-Smith Report made no specific recommendation on this point, it commended it as a subject worthy of much more study and investigation than has been given to it hitherto. I hope that the Commission will pay attention to it, because a greater use of a system of contracts in the industry will have a stabilising and salutary effect. May I quote the example of the Scottish bacon industry? Because of the lack of an alternative pork market, production has concentrated on bacon. This is a sector of production which lends itself to a system of contracts, and this has developed far more in Scotland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It has not only given the producer much greater stability but it has assured for consumers a higher and more level standard of quality.
May I pass to the question of research, which is of particular importance and which is referred to in the Bill? It is interesting that through the Commission the industry is to finance research carried out by the Agricultural Research Council. It is a good principle that agriculture should support its own research, and it is a principle which obviously works, as has been shown in the history of P.I.D.A. over the last few years. I should, however, have thought it better that the industry should support applied research rather than research of a more fundamental nature, which is the type of research undertaken by the Agricultural Research Council, because I believe that applied research is much more likely to capture the imagination and interest of the industry than is research of a more fundamental nature. We must be careful, because if the interest of the industry is not attracted a great opportunity will be missed.
How does the Minister envisage that the money spent on research will be 1336 allocated between different species of livestock—between cattle, sheep and pigs? Will it be allocated in proportion to the revenue from the levy? I hope that separate research committees will be set up for the different species, because if research is co-ordinated in one committee there is bound to be severe conflicts of interest. I hope that the Minister will pay attention to this point.
Finally, I should like to say a word about the work which P.I.D.A. has done in recent years. There is no doubt that through this work enormous strides forward have been made in the development of the pig industry and, in particular, in research. This has been recognised not only by research workers but by producers. I hope that the present programme of research by P.I.D.A. will be continued under the new livestock Commission. I also hope that what funds the Commission takes over from P.I.D.A. will be kept for research in this sector of the meat industry and will not be siphoned off to help other sectors. If that happened there could be a serious deterioration in confidence in this sector.
While I welcome the Bill in general, I hope that the Minister will pay serious attention to the points I have raised, particularly the question of research.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
We have had an extremely good debate and, as one who has been in farming for more than half my life, I have found it fascinating to listen, if not to the whole of every speech, at least to all of most speeches and to part of all the others.
I think this is the first occasion on which I have debated with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from this Dispatch Box and I should like to congratulate him on one thing, namely, that it looks almost certain that he will be the only person on the Standing Committee dealing with this Bill who will have sat on the Committees which examined the 1947, 1957 and 1964 Acts. That is something of which he has every reason to be very pleased.
Looking back to the discussion on the 1947 Act, I find that, with very minor exceptions, it was an English and Welsh Measure. It interested me to find that 1337 the Second Reading debate on that Measure was replied to by the Solicitor-General for England, who also attended, in that capacity, many meetings of the Committee. This Measure, on the other hand, applies to Scotland as well, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) pointed out.
I must confess that I am anxious, to say the least, about the situation which may arise in the Committee—and I trust that the Minister will think about this very seriously indeed—when we come to Part II and Clause 43, each of which has very distinct legal complications about them. As the right hon. Gentleman is only too well aware, we have no Scottish Lam, Officer to call upon. I hope that the Government will take this matter seriously and do their best to provide us with a Scottish Law Officer. It seems that they have a perfectly good opportunity, if they wish to do so, for could they not induce their supporters at the Hull by-election to run a Scottish Lord Advocate?
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
The hon. Gentleman's Government were faced with the same difficulty, and as soon as they got one they ditched him.
§ Mr. Stodart
We were at least fortunate enough to have a member of the Faculty of Advocates in the House, which is more than can be said of the party opposite.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. George Willis)
That was fortuitous.
§ Mr. Stodart
Perhaps I should point out to the Minister of State that this is the first time, with one exception, that he has been present in the Chamber. It would be more courteous if he did not interrupt me, as is his wont.
The Meat Commission proposed by the Bill is undoubtedly a very much better body than that which was envisaged in the White Paper because of the executive powers which it will have. However, the producers are disappointed, particularly after the assurances which were given by the Secretary of State for Scotland. For as long as I can remember the Scottish National Farmers' Union has been consistently in favour of a marketing board. I cannot recall any deviation in 1338 its views. The Secretary of State for Scotland numbers among his constituents quite the most alert agricultural journalist in Scotland, and very well the right hon. Gentleman knows it. He must, therefore, have been perfectly well aware of the feelings of the Scottish National Farmers' Union on this subject. In the Glasgow Herald of 12th February, 1964, he wrote:First of all marketing. We will encourage producers to establish statutory marketing boards. Progress here has been slow.naturally, hearts in Grosvenor Crescent, Edinburgh, rose. Those people thought, "This is splendid".
They are now extremely disappointed as, of course, is one of the right hon. Gentleman's own hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) who tonight—and I think that I took down his words correctly—said: "A meat commission will not deal as effectively with the marketing of meat in this country as a marketing board would". It is, therefore, quite clear that this is yet another example of people being led up the garden path by the pre-election aspirations of the party opposite.
I hope that the Commission will not try to do too much. Paragraphs 2 and 3 of Part I of Schedule 1 take the Commission into the field of pedigree breeding. That is a very specialised field, and previous attempts to link the pedigree breeders' efforts closely to the finished article have never been a particular success.
Reference has been made to Clause 9. Even the mention of the idea of quotas for an individual farm cannot conceivably be made to tie up with the brave new world of expansion talked of in the Government White Paper, where we were told that beef production was to be increased to the limits of technological ability. To suggest that quotas may have to be put on each individual farm seems to be running the horse in entirely the reverse direction. One hears such phrases as "rationalisation", "concentration", "elimination of excess capacity", power to reduce an undertaking", "setting up a new undertaking", "removing existing undertakings"—reference to all these undertakings gives the Clause a most funereal sound.
1339 One of the most important parts of this Bill is, I think, that dealing with the farm improvement scheme. The reduction in grant from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent. has been adversely commented upon almost universally, and the condemnation has not been limited to this side of the Chamber. I have not yet seen the views of any farming organisation or any newspaper comment that has not regretted this decision. It is most interesting to look back at the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture on the introduction of the farm improvement scheme in the 1957 Act.
I hope that he will believe that I paraphrase him correctly. He said, "33⅓ per cent. is all very well, but farmers still have to find two-thirds of the cost and the rates of interest are a major problem in enabling them to do so." Those words were spoken on 25th March, 1957. On that date the rate of overdraft interest was 6½ per cent. Today it is 8 per cent. We have therefore a reduction in the rate of grant coupled with the increased interest which the Minister found so disturbing then.
My right hon. Friend made some highly significant calculations about future allocations to the farm improvement scheme. He mentioned that some farmers might benefit but others would certainly lose. With that I profoundly agree. I thought the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) entirely and correctly pinpointed the effect which this reduction will have.
On 21st November, 1962, in a debate in this House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Soames) gave some interesting figures of the allocation of farm improvement grants up to that date. Eighty per cent. of the total grant had by that time been spent. One-third of it had been spent on grain and fodder storage. Nearly half had gone on milking parlours and rearing and fattening cattle. There is no reason to suppose that that pattern has changed much, and the livestock group which is larger will be affected most by the reduction as farmers in that group have much less fixed equipment in their buildings than the grain storers, and many of the farms which produce store cattle want what is often 1340 termed an umbrella roof over them with very little fixed equipment inside.
This was the case for England and Wales. The position is very much worse in Scotland because by December, 1961—admittedly that was a year before the figures I have quoted—only 7 per cent. of the total expenditure of the farm improvement grant had gone on grain stores. So the overwhelming preponderance of livestock interests—my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) has referred to the 76 per cent. which they contribute to the gross output. in Scotland—will suffer from the reduction of this grant.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman why were there no consultations whatever on this matter with the Scottish National Farmers' Union? My right hon. Friend raised this matter of general consultation and the Minister replied that there had been ample time for discussion on this Bill in general. This has not received the agreement of one of his own supporters. It has been stated categorically in the Press that the convenor of the Scottish N.F.U. Legal, Commercial and Co-operative Committee stated that the reduction in the rate of grant was completely and absolutely unexpected. When we have a radical change of this kind it is unpardonable that those interested should not be given the chance of expressing their opinion on the matter.
The section on hill land is naturally of particular interest to Scotland, where 70 per cent. of the hill land area is in rough grazing, compared with only 15 per cent. in England and Wales. As one who has always and consistently stressed the importance of production from the uplands, I say perfectly frankly that I welcome the removal of the restrictions on the time over which the hill cow and hill sheep subsidies can be paid. I also think that the extension to a five-year period for any single scheme, be it the hill cow, the hill sheep, or the winter keep grant, is a very good move.
But what has the right hon. Gentleman in mind when he talks of "hill land"? Clause 35 says that this is to be defined "in the scheme". My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) asked whether the Minister was thinking of coming down the hill a bit out of what is described generally 1341 and statutorily as the area of mountain, hill or heath. Will the area of the Rural Development Board's authority coincide with what is defined as hill land? In Clause 39 the Board's area is referred to asrural areas of hills and uplands".By my definition I would say that, in fact, uplands come a bit below the hills. Therefore, I should be glad to know whether there is a move down the hill for the livestock areas.
The Minister made what I thought was an important remark when he said that thought was still being given to farms which are clearly and naturally livestock farms in character but which are outside the recognised areas. I therefore hope that as soon as possible he will be able to tell us what the results are.
But the large amount of good sense and good will which will be generated by the section on hill land and hill farming will be severely dissipated by the animosity which is clearly shown against those who plant trees in an area where there is a rural development board. Under Clause 46 not only can a board veto a large category of proposals for private afforestation, but it can go so far as to make approval conditional on a particular kind of tree being planted.
As far as I understand this Clause, a rural development board could refuse an owner permission to plant, say, 12 acres of larch on ground which had not been under trees during the previous 10 years. If the owner wanted to sell or to let the land to his next door neighbour, the board could prevent this being done, on the ground, as I read Clause 43, that it and the Forestry Commission thought that the ground would be better planted if it were done by the Commission. This is a most extraordinary reason. There may be other reasons for doing this, but to say that a private owner may not plant because the Forestry Commission might plant it better is the most extraordinary outlook on forestry generally. After all, why would it be better planted by the Commission. It is not planted more cheaply. The figures that we were given some months ago showed that there was a difference of about one-half per cent. between the cost of planting and beating up of trees when done privately and when done by the Commission.
1342 I have a great regard for the work which is being done by the Forestry Commission, but I entirely agree with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when he said in another place on 24th February that the closest co-operation and mutual confidence between private forestry and the work of the Forestry Commission was absolutely essential for successful forestry operations in this country. I commend that view to those who are responsible for quite wilfully, it seems, setting private forestry interests into antagonism with the Forestry Commission by means of this Bill.
I should like the Secretary of State, when he replies, to say whether there are any proposals for the establishment of a rural development board in Scotland. The Bill makes clear that the Highlands and Islands Development Board will look after the job of the rural development boards in its particular area. We have heard that there are two in the Minister's mind for England and Wales. Has the right hon. Gentleman any ideas for Galloway or the Borders, for example?
The powers which were given to the Highlands and Islands Development Board were the subject of very close scrutiny in Committee, and rightly so because that is the purpose of Committees of this House. As this Bill goes through Committee we shall feel obliged—and we will not be doing our duty otherwise—to subject the Clause, which has to do with the establishment of rural development boards and their powers, to the closest examination in order that we may be quite clear what the Government have in mind.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), with all the experience which he has of marketing matters, emphasised, on Part IV of the Bill, the importance of the small man and the "middle man" getting a co-operative enterprise going. My thoughts immediately flew to the island of Uist where a splendid example of co-operative marketing has been going on for the last three years, in which an increasing number of calves are collected co-operatively off the crofts and find their way into the feeding farms of the Border country and down in England. The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor) referred to farming in Denmark where 1343 there is a brilliant marketing system. I spent a week there in August. My impression was that we are every bit as good as the Danes in production—for example, in the matter of the number of pigs per litter reared—but they lick us in their efficiency in getting the goods to market.
The grant for the keeping of records provided for in the Bill is first-class. It is a subject which has always been of particular interest to me. It is a splendid example of the interest in the subject that, as I am informed, the record book which the Scottish National Farmers' Union produced very conveniently almost to coincide with the publication of this Bill, has already sold over 1,000 copies in a membership of only 24,000 people. This shows the interest of farmers and their receptiveness to the keeping of records.
I am also delighted to see the Clause in the Bill which brings in minimum rates of pay for farmworkers when they are sick.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Loveys) so rightly said, what farmers are looking for with great anxiety is the carrying into effect of the many expressions of good intent by the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends. Grants for the keeping of records are worthy of commendation, but their psychological effect has already been nullified by the reduction in the rate of grant under the farm improvement scheme. February and March of next year will provide the proof of this particular pudding.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) paid tribute to the attitude of the House to this Bill and declared, having had some experience of agriculture Bills and discussions, that this was one of the best debates he had heard. I cannot do other than agree. It has been a fairly critical examination of the Bill, but I venture to suggest that the Bill has come out on top. At the start of the debate, the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) talked about underplaying the importance of the Bill and called it—I think this was his expression—a ragbag. Then we 1344 had the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) saying that it was a ragbag of gimmicks. But the more hon. Members actually examined what was in the Bill, the more it became clear that what has been said about it by some of the more important farming journals is true.
For instance, the Farmers Weekly said:Less than justice will be done to this comprehensive new Measure—perhaps the most comprehensive piece of farm legislation since 1947—if the dispute over the organisation of the meat industry is allowed to obscure the many useful and constructive aims of the Bill",and it went on to speak ofa significant and welcome shift of policy".Then there was the opinion of the Farmer and Stockbreeder,A Bill of vast scope … could be as far reaching as the 1947 Act itself … even the Meat Commission has more power than is generally realised.Perhaps the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West will look at what the Scottish National Farmers' Union had to say in the Farming Leader of October, 1965. After it had got over the disappointment about statutory producers' marketing schemes, it said:Despite our misgivings about the scope and nature of the Commission, we welcome the fact that a central body is to be charged with such functions as the promotion and performance of progeny testing, A.I., and cooperation for marketing purposes"—going on to list all the things with which it agreed and proclaimed had long been demanded.
It would have been better if the hon. Gentleman, on his return to agriculture—it is a bit hard to keep up with the shadows which flit across the Opposition Front Bench—had been a little more objective in his approach to the Bill. Undoubtedly, the scope of the Bill is various. Agriculture contains within itself great variations. In their nature, the sections of the industry which have been pinpointed for special treatment range throughout the variations of production, type of farm, type of farming activity and so on which are agriculture itself.
The hon. Gentleman said that this should have been a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill. Part I deals with a subject which has commanded the attention of farming for the past 40 years—commission after commission, committee after 1345 committee, all the way from the Linlithgow Committee in the 1920s to the Verdon-Smith Committee which reported in February, 1964.
As I expected, the hon. Gentleman twitted me about what I had said. I am surprised at this dedication to dogma of the Tory Party, this devotion to dates and what was said at one particular time. No one must think again. Have we to ignore everything that has been done? I ask the hon. Gentleman to look again at just one part of the Bill—I am glad that my hon. Friends referred to its comprehensive nature—the Schedule relating to the functions and duties of the Commission. He will see why it spreads throughout the whole industry. It is not just one industry. One starts with the producer, and before one has finished one is concerned with slaughterhouses, auction markets, the distribution trade and the retail trade and with the problem of the customer. That is the full scope of the Commission. Is it not right that it should have power to go further, with the full check of this House, of course?
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) in his speech showed a tremendous knowledge of the slaughterhouse position in England. We have known for a long time that action was overdue. Anyone who listened to that speech would appreciate that it is right that we should have this power under Clause 9 in respect of schemes. My hon. Friend instanced only one aspect, but this could apply to other aspects. If we really mean to take action in this respect—I want the House seriously to face this—we must give this power. It may be power which will deal with excess capacity. It may be power that will detrimentally affect some interests. That is why we have provision for compensation, and this is why, above all, we have safeguards right the way through, in respect of the scheme, the inquiry and consultation and in respect of this House itself. But let us not deceive ourselves. If we really want to take action we cannot burke giving these powers to the Commission. We must, however, ensure that they are properly and justly appreciated. The hon. Gentleman who talked about the sweeping powers of Clause 9 should appreciate that there have been sweeping powers in previous legislation. Apart from that, let 1346 him appreciate also that the rights of individuals are safeguarded.
What surprised me was what the right hon. Gentleman said about time for discussion. In relation to livestock we have been discussing the matter for 40 years. Hon. Gentlemen were in office for 13 years, but did not get very far with it. The right hon. Gentleman himself was for a time concerned with agriculture, and so he should be the last to complain if we now decide to take action, and action on something which was long overdue.
The right hon. Gentleman also dealt with the matter of the levy. My right hon. Friend made absolutely clear how little the burden would be. The right hon. Gentleman wanted to know whether this would be taken into account in relation to costs at the annual Price Review. It will not necessarily he taken into account because it will not necessarily be paid by the producer, no more than the P.I.D.A. levy was taken into account.
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton went on from this to the question of the Commission. It was most unlike him to start his speech with a rather sneering reference to the people who were going to be appointed to the Commission. He suggested that the only persons who were to be put on the Commission were persons who would know nothing about it. This was unfair. I am glad that the speech of the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) balanced the speech of his right hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman said that it was right that we should have a Commission not thirled to any section of the industry but independent and able to sort out all the varying differences. Clause 1(3) says that the Commission shall consist of members:qualified to serve on the Commission by reason of their financial, commercial, technical, scientific, administrative or other relevant experience.
§ Mr. Ross
The first point is that the members will not have any… substantial financial interest in any business directly connected …That is the right attitude in respect of the tasks we are to give them. But that 1347 does not mean that they will have no knowledge of the job. It is wrong to suggest that they will have no knowledge because they have no financial interest. We are tying in the specialised interests in the committees—the production committee, the distribution committee and the consumer committee.
In the First Schedule there is a definite instruction in relation to the first two of these committees on the appointment of Scottish and Welsh interests, which have to be consulted. The Commission will be using these committees for advice. It will have to consult them. Thus, farmers can take heart in the knowledge that their interests will be consulted.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams
In that case, is it not the more surprising that, in the appointment of the Co-operative Council, provision is made for choosing people without experience?
§ Mr. Ross
I am dealing with livestock and not with the question of the Co-operative Council, which is a different point.
I believe that hon. Members have been less than fair in considering what can be done under this Bill in relation to the Commission. The Scottish N.F.U. has said that much will depend upon the members of the Commission and, because of that, we are determined to get people of high calibre.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grantham underplayed what is to be done about farm structure. We all know the changes that are taking place in agriculture. The small man is being more and more left behind because of the very nature of his farm and its size. These factors limit his ability to keep up to date. I pay due regard to right hon. Gentlemen opposite for making a start with the small farmer schemes. We are going further. There is no doubt that amalgamations are desirable and here we are taking the opportunity to provide for payments of 50 per cent. towards the cost of amalgamations and to provide, by loan, support for the farmers.
We must face the facts. We have to ensure that the possibility of amalgamations is realised and the same thing is true of co-operation. We shall spend £6 for every £1 spent by the previous Govern- 1348 ment on co-operation in farming. That is not something to be dismissed as just a gimmick. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) realised just how important this can be and even the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West, referred to what has been done in the northernmost islands of Scotland.
This is a vital operation. We are engaged, in this Measure, in ensuring economic survival for the family farm. We must provide assistance in this way because indeed we are striving to maintain the family farm and the family farmer. It is no good the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) talking about a book that was written 50 years ago. The ladder of farming with the family farm is not what it was 50 years ago. There are fewer tenant farms available on that ladder and rents are very much higher than they were. As often as not, the would-be tenant farmer has to compete for the farm with someone who is not a farmer but who is able to take the land when the farm becomes vacant and is put up for sale. This is something to which we may have to give attention at some time.
The structure proposals in the Bill are important and we should not underrate even the outgoing payments to those who may be leaving farming because of the position in which they have found themselves. The right hon. Member for Grantham asked whether we hoped that the Bill would accelerate the rate of amalgamations or whether it was just social justice. It is both, because it will accelerate the rate of amalgamations and provide a measure of social justice and easement of hardship which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends ignored for so many years.
Much has been said about the farm improvement scheme. That goes back to 1957, but it was not supposed to last for ever. Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not mention that. It was supposed to last for 10 years and £50 million, plus an additional £5 million, was provided. With that money gone, the previous Government introduced an additional £35 million in 1963. A simple arithmetical sum shows that with a rate of expenditure of about £11 million a year, the £35 million provided in 1963 was expected to last about three years. There was no guarantee for anybody that anything 1349 would be done thereafter. In the Bill we have provided £80 million, more than ever was provided at any time by the previous Government for this purpose. I admit that we have reduced the grant from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent., but we shall be spending at the same rate.
It should be appreciated that there were certain limitations about the farm improvement scheme, relating as it did mainly to buildings. It was the landowner who benefited mostly, or the owner-occupier farmer, but the tenant farmer could not himself initiate schemes and so did not get the benefits. The tenant farmer has an interest in his plant and machinery and he will get benefits for the first time and so we shall get a greater spread of benefits under this scheme than under the last. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West should not be so depressed about it. I suggest that he reads Blythe in today's edition of the Farmer and Stockbreeder and he will find that not everybody is unhappy about it.
Much has been said about hill land. We are to provide an improvement rate of 50 per cent. concentrating on the actual improvement of land. Is that unimportant? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) that in all these things there should be proper precautions to see that benefit is obtained for money spent. In addition, there is to be the possibility of 10 per cent. on hill and field drainage, and the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton will be glad to know that we have promised to consider the problem of the upland farm.
The proposal for a rural development board has come in for some examination and I am glad to say that my hon. Friends have rather welcomed it. Once again I was disappointed by the new shadow Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—how quickly shadows flee—who expressed a certain measure of concern about the proposed sweeping powers. I do not know whether he had read the Highlands Development Act. I assure him that its powers were much more sweeping. The powers are related to the problem. We all know that certain hill areas require special treatment because of their special needs. That is what we provide for. Hon. Members opposite, since they recognise the problem of the 1350 need, should face up once again to ensuring that the powers are there.
There have been clashes concerning land use in these areas and it is right that we should give to the boards powers in that respect and, if necessary, to produce the parish plans. Once again, however, it should be appreciated that there will be Parliamentary accountability by a Minister, and in the drawing up of the plans there will be opportunity for objectors to object. We must, however, provide the residual powers for the purchase of the land and ensure that it is properly used.
The hon. Member for Galloway was worried about the Forestry Commission, which, he thought, was getting off easily, but the Commission's plantings have to be agreed with the board. This matches the question of licence to the private owner.
I am surprised that we did not get support and demands for this from some of my Scottish colleagues, in particular the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry). When this Parliament started, I had questions from the hon. Member and one of his colleagues demanding that I should take action in Strathdon to stop a private forester taking over a private farm and planting trees on it. I told the hon. Member that I had no power. I do not know whether he wants me to take the power now and to apply it concerning Scotland, but I should be interested to know.
The hon. Member asked me whether I had any ideas about the use of this power in Scotland. At the moment I have not, but I thought it right that we should have it applied to Scotland. We can get the benefit, quite rightly, of any experiments that go on in the South and we will use that if we find that it is an advantage to us.
We have a far better scheme applying to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The Highlands and Islands areas of Scotland cover 47 per cent. of the area. Within that, we have power to extend the area to contiguous areas. We will, however, watch the position carefully. If by chance we have missed out any powers for the Highland Development Authority, we can readopt them from the Rural Development Board.
1351 The sick pay scheme has been generally welcomed. I was glad to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) said about it. It is not a gimmick, and it certainly will not be regarded as a gimmick by the people who benefit from it. What is amazing is that it has taken so long, until 1965 to bring the advantage of it through to the workers on our farms.
The Bill does mote for agriculture than any Bill introduced by the party opposite throughout their long period of office, and they know it. That is why they were so uncomfortable today and why the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West rather smilingly pushed forward his rather trite remarks in Opposition. The Bill will reform our whole meat marketing system, with great benefit to farmers and to consumers. Let us not underestimate the importance of this.
The latest new policy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite abandons the present system of support. They never were terribly interested in the consumer anyway. That is why the right hon. Member for Grantham is ready to load £300 million to £400 million on the cost of the nation's food. One never knows when they will change their minds. The Leader of the Opposition handed his new "shadow" a new agricultural policy and he did not wear it very well today. In fact, he never mentioned it. We think differently. As a great trading nation relying very largely on our export trade, we must try to get our costs of food to the consumer as low as we can. The hon. Gentleman laughs. I did not say that; it was his right hon. Friend. He said it in 1959. I am sorry for him. But the blame is not on him; it is on the Leader of the Opposition. He just wants to ease his way into Europe.
We take quite a different view of agriculture. We want to help it play an even more vital part in restoring the nation's economy, not, like the party opposite, to reduce the cost of Exchequer support regardless of the effect on agriculture, and we are prepared to spend Exchequer money in a good cause. That is why we are putting this extra £80 million 1352 into the farm improvement scheme. [Interruption.] It is taxpayers' money, the nation's money.
Farmers will also remember what the Bill does in respect of credit. We are making provision for an extra £100 million; and it is a figure well worth remembering. The Conservative Party made a start on doing something for the small farmer but wearied very quickly in well doing. The Bill provides a really comprehensive plan for dealing with the small farmer's problems. We recognise his value and the dangers he faces today. We are out to help him, and we help him in all the ways listed in the Bill which have been applauded not only by hon. Members on this side of the House but in frank speeches from the benches opposite.
On co-operation, as I have said, we are not doing the bare minimum. We will spend £6 for every £1 which the Tories spent and will provide help for those who co-operate not only in marketing but in getting better production lines adopted in the market.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West suddenly remembered that it was St. Andrew's Day, and he must praise what we are doing in the Bill. No doubt if he had been at a St. Andrew's night dinner he would have brought the hill farmers into his speech. We are not doing it in St. Andrew's night speeches; we are doing it in a Bill before the House of Commons. It will cost some money, but it will be worth while. For the first time we are providing for new action, not new committees, to deal with the problems of the hill areas where only a comprehensive plan can solve the problems of those who live on the land.
All this is what the Bill does. All this will allow the Bill to stand comparison with the 1947 Act, and my right hon. Friend the Minister was right to claim a certain measure of pride in having had the honour to introduce it.
§ 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).