HC Deb 30 November 1965 vol 721 cc1353-64

[Queen's Recommendation signified]

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 88 (Money Committees).

[Sir SAMUEL STOREY in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to establish a Meat and Livestock Commission and make other provision for matters connected with agriculture, it is expedient to authorise the payment of any sums into the Exchequer and the making of the payments out of money provided by Parliament and out of the Consolidated Fund set out below. A. Payments which may be made out of money provided by Parliament.

1.—(1) Payments by way of grant to meet up to half of expenditure incurred in connection with the carrying out of amalgamations of agricultural land and the reshaping of agricultural units, but excluding expenditure on the acquisition of land.

(2) Payments by way of loan, and payments to fulfil guarantees of any loan, made to meet expenditure incurred in connection with the carrying out of amalgamations of agricultural land and the reshaping of agricultural units.

(3) Payments to meet expenditure incurred by the Ministers or the Ministry of Agriculture for Northern Ireland in and in connection with the acquisition, holding, management and disposal of land for the purpose of effecting amalgamations of agricultural land and the reshaping of agricultural units, including transactions involving loss.

2. Payments by way of grant (including annuities) to, for, or in respect of, individuals who relinquish occupation of agricultural land.

3. Payments by way of grant towards the cost of improvements for the benefit of agricultural land, including hill land, but so that—

  1. (a) a grant towards the cost of an improvement which is not for the benefit of hill land shall not exceed one quarter of that cost,
  2. (b) the grants towards the cost of improvements which are not for the benefit of hill land, with the grants made under sections 12 and 16 of the Agriculture Act 1957 (farm improvements and amalgamations), shall not altogether exceed £170 million.

4. Payments by way of grant in connection with the carrying out of proposals relating to any form of co-operation or mutual assistance in agriculture (including horticulture), including proposals made and approved before the passing of the Act.

5. Payments by way of grant to persons who fulfil guarantees of loans for any business concerned with agriculture (including horticulture), but so that the grants paid in any period of twelve months beginning with 1st April, together with the grants paid in that period under section 9 of the Agriculture and Horticulture Act 1964 (guarantees of bank loans to horticulture businesses), shall not exceed, for the period ending 31st March 1967, £700,000, and for any subsequent period £900,000, and those limits shall replace the limits in subsection (2) of the said section 9.

6. Payments in respect of the keeping of records of any farm business, including grant payable by reference to arrangements made by the Ministers before the passing of the Act.

7. Payments falling to be made out of money provided by Parliament in consequence of—

  1. (a) amending the Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Act 1952,
  2. (b) amending section 12 of the Hill Farming Act 1946 (which authorises the Minister to carry out improvements for the benefit of hill farming land subject to rights of common),
  3. (c) making section 13 of the Hill Farming Act 1946 (subsidies for hill sheep and cattle) permanent,
  4. (d) extending the maximum period which may be specified in a scheme under section 10(1) of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1963 (winter keep grants),
  5. (e) extending section 4 of the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 (expenditure for eradication of disease) to poultry.

8. Payments to meet expenditure incurred by the Ministers in providing veterinary services to persons who carry on livestock businesses and participate in arrangements approved by the Ministers.

9.—(1) Remuneration, allowances and other payments to, for, or in respect of, members of the said Meat and Livestock Commission.

(2) Payments to meet expenditure incurred by the Commission in performing functions in connection with fatstock guaranteed prices, calf subsidies and the administration of the Markets and Fairs (Weighing of Cattle) Acts and functions carried out at the request of the Ministers.

(3) Payments to meet the Commission's initial expenditure incurred in performing any other functions.

10. Payments to meet expenditure incurred in the performance of their functions by bodies established under the Act and concerned with rural development in hill and upland areas, or incurred by the Highlands and Islands Development Board in performing functions corresponding to those conferred on those bodies.

11.—(1) Remuneration, allowances and other payments to, for, or in respect of, members of a Central Council or other body established by the Act and concerned with co-operation and mutual assistance in agriculture (including horticulture).

(2) Payments to meet expenditure incurred by that body in the performance of their functions.

12. Payments to meet administrative expenses incurred by any Minister.

B. Payments which may be made out of the Consolidated Fund.

Payments falling to be so made in consequence of—

  1. (a) increasing from £5 million to £12 million the amount of the advances which may be made to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation Ltd. under section 2 of the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation Act 1956 for the purpose of increasing its guarantee fund, and
  2. (b) increasing from £425,000 to £2 million the amount of the advances which may be made to the Scottish Agricultural Securities Corporation under sections 2 and 8(b) of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1944 for the like purpose.

In the provisions above "the Ministers" means the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State, or either of them.—[Mr. Hoy.]

10.0 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to one or two points that arise on this Money Resolution.

Paragraph 1 provides for the payment of grants in respect of amalagamations. Paragraph 3(a) specifies that the grant towards the cost of an improvement which is not for the benefit of hill land shall not exceed one-quarter of that cost. This is a very binding Money Resolution. It has been drawn extremely tightly, and it will inhibit our later discussions to a considerable extent. I have taken the opportunity of looking carefully at the precedents and at Erskine May. In this Committee we cannot move an Amendment to increase the amount of money to be provided by this Money Resolution. We have either to accept it as it is—and the Committee will have to accept that—or reduce it, but that is far from` our intention.

The point at issue is that if we accept the Money Resolution in this form, with this limitation, as it is drawn so tightly, we will be inhibited to a large extent in our discussions at a later stage. It will be within your recollection, Sir Samuel, that the terms of a Money Resolution determine the nature of the important debates that take place on the relevant parent Bill, in this case the Bill to which we have just given a Second Reading. By drawing this Money Resolution as tightly as they have done, the Govern- ment are taking unfair advantage not only of the Committee but of the House, and I suggest that this is a practice which ought not be indulged in by the Government.

Paragraphs 4, 5, 6 and 7 are not so tightly drawn. There must be some particular reason behind the Government's drafting of paragraphs 1 and 3, and I hope that whoever replies to this debate—I would like it to be somebody from the Treasury, but I suspect it will be the Joint Parliamentary Secretary—will explain why this is so. It is wrong for the Government to do this, and I deeply regret that they have drawn two paragraphs as closely and as tightly as they have done. They are inhibiting future discussion.

As was pointed out during the Second Reading debate, the existing rate of farm improvement grant, which at the moment is one-third, is being reduced, and by drawing these paragraphs as tightly as they have done the Government are inhibiting us from trying to persuade the Government to change their minds when the matter is considered in Committee. This procedure is wrong. I hope that the Government will think again, and withdraw this Money Resolution, and resubmit it at a later stage.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I strongly support what my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) has said. I do not know how many hon. Members have looked at page 631 of today's Order Paper which covers this aspect of the Money Resolution. I think it ought to be recognised by the Committee that there is complete unanimity between members of the County Landowners' Association and the N.F.U.—the one representing landlord and owner-occupier interests, the other representing the tenant farmers in particular—that it is highly regrettable that the Government have decided to reduce the farm improvements grant from one-third to one-quarter.

I think that the method by which the Government are introducing this through this Money Resolution is somewhat fast, to describe it mildly. Surely the Government must have known that this was likely to cause a considerable measure of dispute.

As the law stands today, the farm improvements scheme, based on a one-third grant, is about to run out. I recognise that. But before that grant has run out the Government have slipped into a Financial Resolution a proposal to reduce the grant from one-third to one-quarter, knowing full well that when they included this proposal in the Financial Resolution they at once precluded any Amendment from being put down in Committee to enable the Committee to argue the case for retaining the basis of one-third.

If we allow this Financial Resolution to pass, it is important that we should have an assurance from the Government that they will not reduce the amount of grant allowable under a farm improvements scheme from one-third to one-quarter until such time as the Bill which we have given a Second Reading has completed all its stages in both Houses and has received the Royal Assent. One knows that the Chancellor is under some pressure and that the more that is granted under the Bill the more difficult it will be for him to make any improvement in the next Price Review. But it is only reasonable to ask for an assurance that the law as it stands today, based on a one-third grant, will in no way be altered until the Bill has become an Act. As I interpret statements by the Minister and as I read the Financial Resolution, it seems that any further application made under the farm improvements scheme before the Bill becomes an Act will be approved only on the assumption that the grant will be one-quarter instead of one-third. I want an assurance from the Government that they will in no way implement this Financial Resolution in advance of the Bill receiving the Royal Assent.

I recognise that it is impossible for an Opposition, of whatever party, to increase the expenditure permitted through a Financial Resolution by the Government of the day. It is not open to the Opposition to seek to increase the expenditure. But, knowing of the feeling in the farming industry, for the Government to use this method of stultifying debate on the matter is a piece of trickery which is intolerable. It is deceit write large, because the Government know that the average farmer will not understand the niceties of our procedure in the House and that very few farmers will understand that the provisions in the Financial Reso- lution will preclude any hon. Member from asking in Committee for the grant to be increased. The Government ought to be ashamed of themselves for using this deceitful method of introducing this reduction.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I rise to add my plea to that of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) asking the Government to realise that this is a gross abuse of our procedure. This is legislation by Financial Resolution. It destroys a great deal of the work which can be done in Standing Committee. There is not a great deal of hostility between the two sides on the Bill and it would be unfortunate if the action of the Government in this matter drove the Opposition into voting against the Financial Resolution.

As I see it, paragraph 3 of the Resolution will preclude the Secretary of State for Scotland from carrying out the undertaking which I understood him to give. I gathered that he said that he was looking at the question of grants for upland farms and was seeing whether he could do something to help them in the Bill. However, paragraph 3 of the Resolution is so closely drawn that it would exclude all upland farms from gaining assistance of more than 25 per cent. for improvements. On that argument alone the Resolution should be withdrawn and I should have thought that my hon. and right hon. Friends would he prepared to undertake that if it were withdrawn and if the parts which are at present so narrowly drawn were widened the Opposition would allow the Resolution to go through without further debate.

We are anxious, in the interests of our constituents and hon. Members, to have a full and free discussion in Committee on whether the Government are justified to alter the whole formula of the 1957 Act for farm improvements. There may be a good case for reducing the rate of grant on some improvements from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent., but for other improvements—as I tried to explain earlier—the reverse should be the case. I am in favour of having a variable rate, but if this Financial Resolution is not amended this matter cannot be argued in Committee.

I have always protested at the way in which successive Governments have drawn Financial Resolutions, but I think that the present Government may be commiserated with on the fact that never before has the House of Commons or a Committee of it had such a Resolution before it so tightly drawn that it will stultify all argument at a later stage.

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

I have been a little surprised at the speeches to which we have just listened—[Interruption.]—and if the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) will bide his time for just a moment I will explain why. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, unlike some of his hon. Friends and myself, has not been here throughout the debate. If he will wait a moment I will explain the position to him.

It is true—and we make no apology for this—that we felt that the time had come when we should widen the scope of the improvements under the scheme. In the course of the debate we have heard about the assistance which will be given for improvements which were previously not eligible for assistance. We thought that we should reduce the level from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent. and I ask the Committee to note that continuing the scheme in this revised form represents an additional £80 million for the farming industry. One hon. Gentleman opposite said earlier that we are speaking of the taxpayers' money. That is true, and in this instance £80 million more of the taxpayers' money will be provided by the Bill for the farming industry.

10.15 p.m.

We are told that we should not write the rate into the Financial Resolution. With all due respect to right hon. and hon. Members opposite, it was exactly this that was done in connection with the 1957 Act. The right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) can escape a little here, perhaps, because he says. "I have always protested against Financial Resolutions being tightly drawn." That may well be so, but the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who now complain are those who were responsible for the drafting of the 1957 Act in which the rate was laid down. There was no deviation in the rate even in that Act.

The inclusion of a maximum rate of grant towards the cost of amalgamations and boundary improvements is also in accordance with the precedent of the Money Resolution of the 1957 Act. It is of no use the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) shaking his head—it is true. That is what happened in 1957.

Mr. Turton

But there was this difference, that before 1957 there was no improvement grant at all. The then Government said, "We will give a grant of up to that amount." If the present Government are reducing the grant from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent., it is a very great difference.

Mr. Hoy

With respect, that is not the argument, and the right hon. Gentleman does not understand if he says that it is. What is complained of is that the rate is fixed within the Financial Resolution, and that, as a consequence, amendment cannot be made in Committee. That is exactly what was done in 1957, as the right hon. Member for Grantham will remember. I think that he had some responsibility for it. So it is of no use him now complaining about it.

It may be true that we have followed a bad precedent—I do not know; it is not for me to say. I only say that the precedent was established in 1957, and we have followed it. I have stated quite clearly and categorically that this Bill will provide £80 million, and that the grants will continue annually at a rate of about £11 million, which is not inconsiderable assistance. Hon. Members opposite sometimes do the agricultural industry more harm than good by such carping criticism, because they convey the impression, perhaps unintentionally, that the industry is always looking for something for nothing. We are here seeking to provide it with this amount.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) has asked for an assurance that any grant applied for up to enactment will be at a rate of 33⅓ per cent., but he must know that the money is running out, and running out quickly; and that it is useless accepting claims for this assistance when the money is not there. Until we provide assistance through this Bill, we can entertain only very few more claims, there is so little money left.

We shall be giving grants on an extended scale. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, said the grants will be more widely spread. The tenant farmer will get certain assistance that he was not able to enjoy under the previous scheme. To that extent we will be spreading the money much better. It is because these precedents have already been established that I ask the House to approve the Financial Resolution.

Perhaps I may say just one word more. The hon. Gentleman said that perhaps we ought to have a Minister from the Treasury present, but he knows as well as I do that on these Bills it is the Departmental Minister who answers. He has had that job in the past, and we follow that precedent, too.

Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)

I must rise for a moment to take up this issue again because I must tell the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that his reply is thoroughly unsatisfactory and that he has not given any adequate reasons for drawing the Financial Resolution in this particular way.

It is not good enough for him to say that he is merely following the precedent of the 1957 Act. Of course we remember that. It was an entirely new provision, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said in an intervention. It was allowing for a third grant where there had been none before. It was a further extension and it was perfectly right to write it into the Financial Resolution. The Government are seeking now to reduce the level and it is done for one purpose alone. That is to stultify debate in Committee. Is the hon. Gentleman proud of stultifying debate? Is that what he desires to do? If he wishes to intervene, perhaps he will get up and do so.

Mr. Hoy

The right hon. Member had better not lose his temper. I do not want to stultify criticism in Committee, but I cannot understand his opposition tonight because he with his hon. Friends wrote the rate into the 1957 Act. It is that that he is worried about. Having done so and being caught out, he dislikes it, but that is what we have to put up with in political life.

Mr. Godber

That is not the position at all. Merely reiterating the statement does not alter the question I asked, which is whether he is proud of stultifying debate in Committee. On that issue he has avoided a reply. It is a disgrace that the Government should be doing this. In my speech on Second Reading I specifically said that we should seek to deal with this matter in Committee. No attempt was made to point out that that would be impossible in Committee. Apparently the Government hoped that we would not notice these words in the Resolution. It is a disgraceful way to treat the House.

The Government are afraid of saying what they are doing. They are afraid of the feeling of farmers in the country. The figures I gave in my speech prove that it is not true that the rate of payment will be as great as it has been over recent months. It has been growing steadily way beyond the £11 million to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Because the Government know that they are cutting back, they are employing these shabby tactics, They cannot be proud of what they are doing. They have committed themselves to this amount. We shall take no further action—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—but we have made our protest publicly and clearly about the way in which the Government are behaving.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

The right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) is showing a great deal of synthetic indignation. He knows very well that what he is doing tonight has been done in this Committee on almost every Bill that has come before us. What he wants to do is to drown the Bill by moving for such an increase as to make the rest of the Bill impossible to carry out.

He knows as well as any of us that when a Bill is framed it is framed as a complete pattern. The Government have to decide how much money is available for the farming industry in the working of this whole Bill. He can wreck it by increasing the amount of money for one particular part of the Bill. That is why the House of Commons procedure stipulates that when a Bill is introduced the amount of money available for the Bill must be stated by the Government. This matter is only part of a great Bill. The right hon. Member is concentrating on one little bit and forgetting the rest.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

The right hon. Member must know, if he has read the Bill, that some completely uncertain sums are involved in its implementation. What the Financial Resolution does, as he must surely know, is to set maxima, not exact figures.

Mr. Woodburn

Exactly. Nevertheless, the limits in regard to this amount are stipulated. The other amounts are more uncertain and latitude has been left in that case. The Opposition seeks to complain about the provisions of the Financial Resolution. This has been done when we were on the benches opposite in the same way. This is a game of politics. I hope that no farmer will be misled by this demonstration concentrating on one part of the Bill to befog farmers about the great benefits which will come from the Bill as a whole.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

The right hon. Member is being too specious by far, as was the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. He did not attempt to answer the question I put to him about whether or not the present rate will continue until such time as the present Bill becomes an Act. The whole argument put up in defence of the Financial Resolution by the Government and by the right hon. Member has been that it is common Parliamentary practice for Governments of the day to state the maxima. All I am asking is that the Government should at least have the courage to set the maxima no higher than the existing law stands. If they had done that in this Financial Resolution, it would have enabled hon. Members on both sides to table Amendments for Standing Committee designed to see whether the existing rate should continue or whether some new reduced rate should operate.

That is all that this request that I have made tonight would involve. It does not for one moment suggest that in any way the House of Commons should seek to go beyond what received the Queen's Recommendation before this Financial Resolution was introduced. All it is asking is for the House of Commons to allow the Standing Committee which will study the Bill in detail to go into the issue with very great care as to whether the existing rate should continue or whether some new reduced rate should apply.

The effect of the Resolution as drafted by the Government is to prevent any con- sideration being given to the continuation of the rate as it stands today and to impose upon the House of Commons willy-nilly, whether it likes it or not, in Committee and on further stages of the Bill, a limit of a reduction down to one-quarter, whereas hitherto it has been one-third. This is a gross abuse of the use of the Financial Resolution. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary's answer is highly unsatisfactory.

Mr. Hoy

May 1 add one sentence? The House of Commons gave the Bill a Second Reading. Clause 29(8,a) lays down when the last application for grant will be received. That is the date to which the hon. Gentleman and others have just given a Second Reading.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Is it a fact that during the Second Reading debate my right hon. Friend gave notice that he would be raising things in Standing Committee which the Government spokesman, knowing the terms of the Financial Resolution, knew that my right hon. Friend could not raise?

Mr. Hoy

It is not for me to reply to the Second Reading debate.

Mr. George Y. Mackie (Caithness and Sutherland)

I have listened to this squabble. I am tired of hearing past sin quoted as precedent for present and subsequent sin. In this way we shall never get our procedure right. Right hon. and hon. Members on this side seem to have presented a much better case than that put forward by the Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received Tomorrow.