§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the first speaker, may I observe to the House that I am trying to persuade hon. Members to be fair to one another by making speeches of reasonable length. I am glad to note that most hon. and right hon. Members are co-operating in this. Today, so far, 21 hon. and right hon. Members, all keen agriculturists, are seeking to catch my eye. I hope the House will help me to call as many as possible.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that this is the second time in six months I have stood at this Dispatch Box to move the Second Reading of an Agriculture Bill. When I did so last time I said that the Bill was clearly one of major importance. I think that this is now generally accepted. As I explained then, the Bill will aid and encourage the further development and modernisation of British farming, and it will help the industry to play an even more vital rôle in our national economy. That is the object and justification of this Bill.
The Bill now before the House is basically the same as the one which the House debated last Session, but with two additions of substance. Hon. Members who were engaged in the lengthy and detailed discussions in Standing Committee then will, I am sure, have seen, and carefully read, the two new additions. Clause 12 provides for a beef cow subsidy, and in Clauses 31 to 33 there is provision for the new investment incentives for agriculture and horticulture.
In addition, we have made changes to take account of points quite rightly raised in previous debates, and there are a number of minor and drafting amendments. I have carefully considered the views of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) and of his colleagues, and also those expressed by outside bodies, and, as they will appreciate, we have tried to bring about certain improvements. I know that these will be carefully 2021 scrutinised in detail when we go into Standing Committee.
I understand that some hon. Members opposite intend to try to talk about a subject which is not part of this Bill. So perhaps I should refer very briefly to the Selective Employment Tax announced by my right hon. Friend on Tuesday as far as it affects agriculture. I want to make the position quite plain. I notice that a number of hon. Members have signed a Motion—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."]—which implies that agriculture is being treated like a service industry. I fear that was based upon an over-hasty reading of the proposal—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—because the White Paper makes it clear, and my right hon. Friend repeated on Tuesday, that the Government intend to offset the effect of this tax on agriculture. Precisely in what way we shall do this is obviously a matter on which it would be wrong to have preconceived—
§ Mr. Peart
Perhaps the hon. Member will let me finish this. I want to keep in order and to deal with the Bill, and the hon. Member will, no doubt, catch Mr. Speaker's eye later. I was trying to meet hon. Members. The Motion is in the name of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) who is my near Parliamentary neighbour, and I always take notice of such a Motion.
I was trying to show that the Government intend to offset the effect of this tax, but precisely how we shall do this is obviously a matter on which it would he wrong to have preconceived decisions. I have received representations on this matter from the National Farmers' Union and others. Of course my right hon. Friends and I will consider those representations carefully. I think it would not be proper for me to go further than that.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that when one considers what the British agriculture industry has done for this nation since the war, it is insulting not to regard it as a manufacturing industry?
§ Mr. Peart
I have made my statement. I have said that the tax will be offset. My right hon. Friend made a statement, 2022 and there will be debates on this matter. I have also said that representations have been made to me by the N.F.U. and others, and I shall carefully consider these views which have been put forward. I cannot go further than that at the opening of a debate on a Bill which I am presenting, but the hon. Gentleman is, of course, quite right to make his points.
§ Mr. Michael Hamilton
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Chancellor said that it would be offset so far as was practicable? That is somewhat different.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
Mr. Speaker, this is a very important matter. We all bow to your judgment, but I submit that Clauses 31 to 33 are directly concerned with grants for agricultural investment, and this tax will have a direct impact. The rates laid down in those Clauses would be inappropriate if we did not get a full refund, and I hope that it will not be out of order to discuss this.
§ Mr. Speaker
That will be in order. What is not in order is to debate the Budget issue of the tax itself. A discussion on its impact on the Agriculture Bill will be in order.
§ Mr. Speaker
We are on the same wavelength. The right hon. Gentleman is making the point that I have agreed with him.
§ Mr. Peart
I now turn to the Bill, and as there are many hon. Members who were not in the House when the Bill was last debated, it may be helpful if I recapitulate briefly some of its main provisions.
The first part is concerned mainly with the setting up of a Meat and Livestock Commission. This Commission will have an important part to play in our aim of promoting modernisation and 2023 increased productivity in farming, and in helping the home farmer to make the increased contribution to our meat supplies which the National Plan requires. The Commission will have an equally important part to play in our second aim of bringing about improvements in the methods of marketing and distribution, especially for meat and livestock. We need—and I think that there is agreement on both sides of the House about this—an efficient distribution system which will not only be as economical as possible, but will serve to reflect the needs of consumers back to producers.
I recognise that progressive farmers and progressive traders have been working to these ends, and will go on doing so. But there are services which only a central body—such as the Commission which I propose to set up—can provide. The Government believe that a Commission on the lines proposed in the Bill will offer the industry the central services, the marketing tools, the co-ordination, and the stimulating lead that are needed.
We are concerned in this, not only with producers and distributors. We are just as much concerned with consumers, whose interests the whole industry is there to serve. Far from just adding to costs, as some members of the trade have suggested, the Commission will promote more efficient, and therefore lower cost, production and distribution. Investment in livestock improvement, if I may take one example, could lead to cumulatively greater savings from year to year. To grudge the cost of such investment would indeed be short-sighted.
The Commission will have a wide range of important functions. We have examined these in detail on a previous occasion, and in the present Bill they remain the same as before. All those whose needs we foresee are set out in the Bill, but there must be scope for new ideas and new developments. This is why we have retained Clause 9, under which the Commission may submit for the approval of Ministers and Parliament schemes for the better organisation, development, or regulation of the industry. I know that this Clause has been criticised, especially by butchers, but if the industry is to be able to adjust itself to the substantial changes in production and marketing which the future 2024 may bring—as distinct from the changes which the present situation demands—this Clause is essential. If hon. Members carefully examine the elaborate safeguards set out in the Clause and in Schedule 2, I think they will find that any charge that we are riding roughshod over sectional and individual interests cannot be substantiated. I argued this during our discussions in Committee upstairs, and I believe it to be true now.
In the last Parliament we had considerable discussions about safeguarding the individual, and how the powers of Clause 9 would affect not only the individual producer, but the individual who was concerned with the retail trade. Hon. Members will be glad to see that we have made a number of Amendments which were suggested in Standing Committee, and I am so bold as to hope that, having had the benefit of those lengthy discussions, we may be able to make more rapid progress this time.
We are introducing in Clause 12 a new provision covering the beef cow subsidy, which was announced at the Annual Review. In addition, we have retained the provisions in Clauses 10 and 11 covering the extension of the calf subsidy. The new beef cow subsidy is one of the combination of measures which we decided on to promote the expansion of beef production. More specifically, it has the two-fold purpose of helping farmers in the uplands, and poorer land elsewhere, who are not qualified to benefit from the hill cow subsidy, and of checking and reversing the downward trend in our beef herds outside the hill areas. Hon. Members who have this type of land in their constituencies know that for a long time farmers have felt very strongly about this. The subsidy will be paid on cows maintained primarily for breeding calves for beef, but which are not eligible for the hill cow subsidy.
As the House knows, this scheme has been welcomed by the industry, and we are now working out details of the new arrangements in consultation with the Farmers' Unions. We shall announce these as soon as we can, but I can say now that they will provide, for example, for payment to be limited if a significant quantity of milk is sold from the herds concerned, and also for a limit to the 2025 number of cows per acre of grass and fodder which will receive the subsidy. But any farmer who keeps cows breeding calves for beef will be eligible for benefit under the scheme, no matter how good his land.
In the second part of the Bill we are making a concerted attack on the problem of farm structure. There will be grants and loans towards the costs of amalgamating the smaller farms, and lump sum or annuity payments to those giving up their farms for an approved amalgamation. This is designed to accelerate the process of voluntary amalgamation already taking place by private initiative. Where this does not meet the case there is provision for voluntary sale to the State with a view to amalgamation and eventual disposal to private buyers. We are also continuing and extending the Farm Improvement Scheme, whose value is recognised on all sides, by providing an additional £80 million for grant aid. This part of the Bill also provides for the investment incentive grants announced last February to replace Income Tax investment allowances.
I want to deal quickly with the part concerning farm structure. When we discussed the farm structure proposals in Clauses 26-29 last November there was some criticism of the strings attached to the grants. It was suggested that applicants might be discouraged unless we loosened some of the conditions of Schedule 4. I am a reasonable man and I do not want to discourage anybody. I am a very rational Minister. I have taken note of the views of individuals, and the House will see—I hope that hon. Members have read this carefully—that in the new Bill an amalgamated unit must be kept together for 40, not 60, years. We have also decided not to recover from an amalgamator, who breaks the conditions for amalgamation, the grants paid to the outgoing occupier. These are substantial concessions.
For the rest, I am in no doubt at all that the appropriate Minister should still have the last word on whether any land is to be detached from a unit formed with public money. I am sure that any Minister of Agriculture would be sensible about a small area needed by 2026 the community for another use and which did not affect the working of the farm. I also believe that there should be a penalty—which could be challenged in court—if this requirement were broken simply to make a profit.
Concern has been expressed about the State purchase of land for amalgamation.
§ Mr. Peart
I want to make it quite plain to the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Mills) that this cannot honestly be described as land nationalisation, whether creeping or any other sort. The purchases will be voluntary, and in every case there will be a willing seller. In some cases, though, there may not be a willing private buyer for land suitable for amalgamation. Then we must have the powers set out in Clause 29 if we are in earnest on a policy of improving the structure and efficiency of farming, which is the purpose of this part of the Bill. Equally, I have no intention of building up an empire of uncommercial pieces of land.
The right hon. Member for Grantham has on occasion expressed two anxieties about the Farm Improvement Scheme. He had some doubt whether the proposed extensions and additions of the Scheme would compensate for the cut in rate of grant, and he has expressed concern about when the farmers would get paid. The House will be glad to know that in the first four months of this year, despite all the uncertainties, there were 15,500 applications in the United Kingdom—very nearly the same as a year before—and in England and Wales we agreed to a start of work on projects costing £10 million against £7½ million last year.
On the second point, I recognised that some farmers were worried about when they would get their money. That is why I announced that we will pay the 25 per cent. grants under the authority of the Summer Appropriation Act to those who have started work, with our written agreement, on improvements covered by the Bill. When Clause 30 comes into force we expect these grants—including the 5 per cent. supplements to which I will 2027 refer in a moment, and which I recognise are additional to the truly comparable figures—to amount to about £16 million a year, against the £12 million for the Farm Improvement Scheme included in the Estimates just published. And the trend may well continue upward. There is still a great deal of modernisation to be done if agriculture is to make its full contribution to the National Plan.
Clauses 31 to 33 of the Bill set out our proposals for the new system of investment incentives in agriculture. These Clauses give legislative effect to the arrangements I announced on 21st February. I am glad to say that the arrangements have been agreed in principle with the leaders of the agriculture industry.
We have decided to spread the new cash grants for agriculture over as wide a field as practicable. Any investment in farm buildings and other fixed equipment will be included in the scope of the proposals—first through the supplementary grant of 5 per cent. of the approved cost of projects under the Farm Improvement Scheme and the Horticulture Improvement Scheme and, secondly, by a new grant, introduced in Clause 31, which is intended for investment not covered by any other agricultural grants. This new grant will be at a rate of 10 per cent. and will cover, for example, specialist enterprises in livestock production which do not qualify under the Farm Improvement Scheme.
The other investment incentive is a 10 per cent. grant on tractors and one or two other items of self-propelled machinery. The tractor is the vital power unit on the farm today, and it is right that it should be included.
Part III of the Bill deals with the special problems of the hills and uplands. We are tackling them in two ways. First, we look after the husbandry aspects. We are seeking powers under Clause 41 to place the existing hill livestock subsidies on a long-term basis. Under Clause 39 we are introducing a new scheme of land improvements aimed at increasing the productivity of hill land itself, without perpetuating a faulty farm structure.
Secondly, we propose a new kind of executive body for areas of special diffi- 2028 culty—rural development boards. Hon. Members know the controversy we had in the farming Press and other Press on the purpose of these bodies. They will have the powers and functions set out in Clauses 43-54. Again, I am being reasonable, flexible and pragmatic. I think that this is the right way to go about it. We want to set up one or two boards in special areas. I have not made a decision where they will be. We should see how they go before we had a wide extension. I intend to start in those areas and to add others later, according to experience.
In every case, of course, there will have to be an affirmative Resolution of both Houses before a board can be set up. The area chosen in each case will be large enough to allow the boards to make a real impact on the problems of farm size and the use of land in the hills and uplands. They will be particularly concerned with the co-ordination of agriculture and forestry. The majority of the members of boards will be persons of knowledge and experience of those subjects.
These boards will be there to give encouragement and assistance to farmers and landowners in overcoming the problems to which I have referred. In addition, they will have several specific powers, though these are no wider than is necessary to enable them to help make the break-through to real economic progress in these areas.
There have been some references to what are termed the sweeping powers conferred on rural development boards, but I hope that it is now appreciated that we have taken great care to ensure that there is ample provision for appeals to the Minister and to the Lands Tribunal on critical points to safeguard the rights of the individual.
Moreover, in the procedure for setting up a board established in Schedule 5, we have now widened the grounds for objection to the proposed boundary of a board's area to admit argument on whether land should be in or out, by reference to the special needs and problems described in Clause 43. This will allow a rather wider range of discussion at the public inquiry.
I make no apology for the fact that these boards will have real powers. Our 2029 hills and uplands contain considerable untapped resources. I have been accused of having a bias in favour of these areas and I make no apology for this. I think that I have strong support from both sides. Our hills and uplands must be developed: that would be good not only for agriculture but also for our whole economy.
In order to develop those resources, we need leadership and planning, backed by carefully defined powers. Of course, the boards will work in co-operation with the other authorities and interests concerned. But when a programme of action has been agreed, there are certain measures which should be taken to support it. As long as these measures are bounded by the necessary safeguards, it is essential that we should have them in order that the resources of the country may be more fully used.
Part IV of the Bill represents a new and concerted approach to the problem of co-operation. Our proposals are complementary, so far as the small farmer is concerned, to those for structural reform, but they also offer much wider benefits for farmers and growers generally. We are seeking powers in Part IV—under Clause 59—for a new, comprehensive scheme of grants which will supersede existing grants for co-operation and marketing and will be more broadly based. It will bring aid for agriculture as far as possible into line with that for horticulture, and also, for the first time, provide grants to encourage co-operation in production on the farm itself. The scheme will be administered by a new Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation, which we are proposing to set up under Clause 56. The Council will also have the general function of promoting and developing co-operation.
I was particularly pleased to see, from a joint announcement earlier this week by A.C.C.A. and the National Farmers' Union about the reconstruction of A.C.C.A., that both bodies have now pledged themselves to work together to ensure the success of the Council.
There are a number of other desirable features in the Bill. For example, there are Clauses extending agricultural credit, enabling a more positive approach to animal health matters and improving the conditions of farm workers, but I do not 2030 think the House will wish me to go over all of them now. We have argued about these matters before and I think that there is general agreement that they are necessary. I will simply say that my feelings are exactly the same as when I presented the Bill in the last Parliament. Despite tepid support from some hon. Members opposite, I consider that this Bill will ensure a major step forward in the development and modernisation of a very great industry.
§ 11.34 a.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
My emotions on approaching the Second Reading of the Bill are rather similar to those experienced in contemplating a somewhat unexciting dish which was served yesterday and has been warmed up again today. On the last occasion, it did at least have some degree of novelty to commend it, but even that virtue has long since departed, as I am sure the Minister will agree. Try as he has to dress it up today in a new guise, I am afraid that he is far from being sufficiently expert a cook to make it appetising to me this morning.
I have reread our debate on 30th November last and I find no single particular in which I would wish to alter the verdict which I then gave. I quote my own words on that occasion. I said that the Bill:… 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1965; Vol. 721, c. 1252.]That is exactly my view now, after we have studied some parts of the Bill in considerable detail—the Minister and I and others of our colleagues—in Standing Committee over many weeks.
During the recent election campaign, agriculture featured very prominently in political debate—more so than is usually the case, I think—and there are—[Interruption]. I do not think that that arises on this Bill. Certainly, the rural areas did not take the view that the matters which the Minister has now been talking about are particularly exciting.
However, there are some issues of really major importance to agriculture 2031 and over a wider sphere affecting agriculture which engaged farmers' minds when the contents of this Bill did not. There was only a single matter arising from this Bill which really caused interest throughout the farming community during the campaign, and that was the continuation of the Farm Improvement Scheme, which farmers all over the country were concerned about. They were anxious that it should continue. Apart from that, there was no enthusiasm or real interest for the Bill throughout the farming community—
§ Mr. Godber
Oh, yes. In some parts of the country there was very real hostility to the Meat and Livestock Commission—
§ Mr. Peart
As one who addressed many meetings, I must say that I found no hostility towards the main provisions of the Bill. Mention has been made of the Meat and Livestock Commission. If there is any criticism from farmers in particular, it was that we were not going far enough, that we should go into State trading—support buying. I have argued on this very often. But there was no hostility: it is not true to say that.
§ Mr. Godber
That shows that the Minister's meetings could not have been very well attended when he appeared in the Eastern Counties—
§ Mr. Godber
We had a joint meeting in my constituency, with about 20 people present, of whom only one, so far as I know, was a farmer. I did not have the honour of attending other meetings with the Minister, but if that was the standard, I do not think that there was tremendous interest.
There was no real concern that the Bill should continue, except, as I said, in regard to the Farm Improvement Scheme. As the scheme is merely a continuation, at a lower rate, of a policy 2032 which we introduced as long ago as 1957, it is scarcely evidence of a dynamic new approach to farm problems.
As the Minister has said, there are two new matters in the Bill. There is Clause 12, dealing with the new beef cow subsidy and Clauses 31 to 33, dealing with the new investment grants, which take the place of the old investment allowances. I will deal with this in due course. Before I do, I want to make it clear that I do not propose to comment in detail on the various provisions of the Bill, because I did this on a previous occasion when we debated the original Bill and my comments stand. I see no virtue in repetition and I think that the Minister has taken the same line.
In Part I of the Bill, dealing with the Livestock Commission, it would be churlish of me not to express thanks for a number of Amendments—relatively minor ones—which have appeared, many of which result from our discussions in Committee. I am grateful for them. But the obnoxious Clause 9 remains. It is true that the new Clause 9(3) is some small improvement—that I grant—but it is not sufficiently an improvement to make the Clause, in general, any more welcome, particularly when we look at subsection (7), which merely serves to emphasise the whole dictatorial aspect of the Clause. It remains a bad Clause, and the Minister must not look to us to help him put it through.
Clause 12 is, as I have said, one of the new Clauses, and deals with the beef cow subsidy. It is largely an enabling Clause, and only when we see the scheme to be laid under it will we be able to judge its true merits. This new subsidy was announced in paragraph 55 of the Price Review White Paper. I welcomed it when it was first advanced. I still do so, although now in a much more modified form. Its impact has been very much dulled by the extraordinary difficulty experienced in getting a clear statement as to who benefited and where the limits were to be drawn. The Minister said a little about it this morning, but he really has not taken us very much further along the road. When he says that such payments will be limited if a significant amount of milk is sold it does not tell the farmers very much.
That is the real difficulty. People felt initially that they were to get a fairly 2033 wide embracing subsidy, but then felt that it would not be nearly so wide, and a great deal of dissatisfaction has resulted. I must tell the Minister that we have here a perfect example of how not to introduce a new subsidy. One should have clarity with a new subsidy, and farmers should know where they stand. They originally thought that they would be getting a fairly wide spread of the subsidy and that it would be satisfactory from that point of view, but on a study of paragraph 55 and subsequent statements the impression gained ground that no one other than those just outside the hill areas would benefit.
It now appears and I am grateful to the Minister for a letter I have had from him this week—that the subsidy will apply to all farms, but not to all beef cows. The Minister said in his letter to me:A farmer … whose actual stocking is heavier than the stocking rate applied under the scheme will, of course, not be excluded from the subsidy, though he will get payment on only a proportion of his cows. The subsidy will therefore clearly be of benefit to him, and it will continue to be to his advantage to maintain the higher stocking rate that his land can support.I understand from that letter that the farmer whose stocking rate is one cow to the acre will get subsidy at the rate of one unit of subsidy for every two and a half cows, and as the unit is £6 10s. this would work out for such a farmer as the equivalent of a subsidy, when spread over all cows, of £2 12s. That is how a farmer will work it out to see how effective it is in the lowland or normal areas where such stocking is usual.
Looking at paragraph 61 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, I find that the estimated cost for this year is put at £2,400,000. The total number of beef cows—a figure I gleaned from this year's Price Review White Paper—is put at 1,018,000. That figure, however, includes the numbers already receiving hill cow subsidy, and will not therefore be covered on this occasion. I therefore do not have the exact figure over which this new subsidy will be spread if one seeks to spread it as I have tried to do it in my argument, but it would seem from the figures that the intention is that between one-third and one-half of the cows outside the hill farm areas will qualify. If some indication of 2034 this nature had been given at the start a lot of misunderstanding would have been avoided.
Having ascertained, by a good deal of arithmetical work, what the general effect of the subsidy is likely to be to an average farmer producing beef cattle in lowland conditions, one is left to speculate whether the new subsidy will be sufficiently encouraging of expansion of output. I have considerable doubt about that. A good idea has been spoiled by the niggardliness of the approach, and the ineptitude of its introduction. It is a great pity. There is another aspect to encouraging expansion of output, and this is the increase in the milk price. This may have the effect of producing more calves from the dairy herd—I hope so—but neither the Minister nor anyone else has told us how the additional milk supplies will be dealt with without harming the market. This is a weakness of the proposals about which we still need to know a great deal more, and about which the farming community is entitled to know more.
I have little fresh comment to make on the rest of Part I. I welcome the amendments to Clause 21—these are useful safeguards. Before leaving Part I, I might mention one matter that is causing some concern in the meat trade, and that is the general question of the liability of an employer in a shop in respect to the activities of his employees. A number of duties have been imposed in employers, particularly by Clause 8, and it has been suggested to me that it would be reasonable to have some provision comparable, for instance, either with Section 27 of the Weights and Measures Act, 1963, or Section 113 of the Food and Drugs Act as a safeguard against an employer being held responsible in conditions in which it would have been quite impossible for him to have exercised proper control over his employees where some technical breach has occurred. We can, of course, take up this matter in Standing Committee, but I mention it now because of the genuine concern there is about it, and I would be glad if the Minister could look into it between now and the Committee stage.
In the definitions in Clause 25 there are two important amendments which I welcome. Both of them have been made 2035 in response to arguments in Committee, and they are a help. I note, in passing, that inedible by products are now excluded, except when manufactured in slaughterhouses—that will please a number of the allied trades—but that "tripe dressers" are still included in the Bill. They will be concerned about the matter.
Turning to Part II, I have nothing to add to what I have said previously about the proposals on farm structure, and I do not think that the Minister this morning added very much to his own proposals. I have nothing against the proposals, but I doubt whether they will have anything like the impact the right hon. Gentleman hopes from them. As regards Clause 30 and the farm improvements scheme, I must repeat my condemnation of the cut in the rate of grant from one-third to one-quarter. The Minister said something about this this morning, but however much this is dressed up it is a very considerable cut in a grant that has been widely used and universally appreciated ever since its introduction.
I would comment on the attempts made by the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland in our previous debates to make capital out of the fact that the money previously voted was running out and that they were therefore being very generous in providing more. That argument does not hold water for a moment. We in this House regularly vote money for many purposes. We vote for Service mens' pay, which runs out every year—but I doubt whether Service men are particularly grateful when we vote more. The farm improvement scheme was a continuing provision. We had already renewed it and voted additional sums, and would have done so again. Therefore, the fact that additional money is being voted does not take us very far.
The Minister gave interesting figures of the way in which the farm improvement scheme is being taken up at the present time. I was glad to hear them, but do not let the right hon. Gentleman dress them up too much, because although he gave a figure of £16 million I did not hear him say—and if he did, I apologise—that this includes the 5 per cent supplement. It does, does it not? It includes the 5 per cent. supplement, and this means that the real figure the Minister should have been talking about is £13⅓ million, 2036 not £16 million. The 5 per cent. supplement is to replace another entirely different allowance. The Minister was being a little unfair or disingenuous in his argument by seeking to take account of that.
A true comparison would have been £13⅓ million. I went into some detail on the figures on the last occasion and showed that even then the rate had risen to something over £13 million under the old scheme. Although what the Minister said this morning shows that under the new scheme the uptake will be about the same, there is not an increase. I say this to bring the matter back to its proper perspective. By widening the scope and reducing the rate, the Minister is giving roughly the same, as he claimed last November he would be, and which I rather doubted, but this morning he claimed that he was doing more than that.
§ Mr. Godber
I missed that; I am sorry. We agree that the real figure is £13⅓ million, not £16 million. That was the point I was trying to bring out and which I think is now quite clear. It brings the amount down to roughly a comparable figure.
We on this side of the House are glad that the Minister is taking a step under the Appropriations Act to ensure payment, but even so no payment will be available earlier than August and there will still be considerable delay. If he had taken my original advice and brought in a small Bill to deal with this matter, that Bill might now be on the Statute Book and there would have been no delay at all. Although he has done something to try to make amends for past mistakes, those mistakes will affect farmers over the coming months. It is only fair to bring that out.
I come to the other new Clauses, 31 to 33, which provide for new incentive grants. It is claimed that these will give 2037 relief to agriculture comparable in total to the relief provided by the old investment allowances. It is also said that they will help the small man more because he could not benefit fully from the old allowances if he was not paying tax at standard rate whereas he will get the full benefit from these grants. We all want to see the small man helped, but it follows that if he gets more help than before and the total cost is about the same, all the other recipients of grant will get less. This is significant when one remembers what was said in the original White Paper, Command 2874, in paragraph 54:Under the plan agriculture is expected to make a further substantial contribution to import saving and to continue to release manpower. The Government have therefore decided that investment allowances in agriculture should be replaced by other incentives which will encourage investment in equipment designed to promote productivity and to save manpower.So one of the main purposes of this change was to promote the saving of manpower. In passing, I think the proposals put out in the National Plan are completely unrealistic in regard to manpower saving. They are merely an extrapolation of the trend of the last five years at the same rate and they call for a reduction of 140,000 in manpower over five years. Anyone, however, who knows the state of manpower on farms today realises that the major changeover has already taken place, and there is not this additional residue of men who can be easily spared from the industry. To call for a further drop of 140,000 in five years would have a very serious effect on the industry.
The investment grants are not an incentive to release manpower as they were supposed to be according to the White Paper, because the small man on his own whom we are told will benefit most cannot release manpower unless he releases himself. He might do that under the Minister's other proposals, but certainly not under this one. The bigger farmer might still be able to release one man if he had more investment in machines, but he is the very person adversely affected by these Clauses. That is why the proposal is unrealistic to say that it will bring about a large reduction in manpower.
2038 I wish to quote a most interesting article in the Farmers Weekly which was produced by Mr. Cutts of North Thoresby, Lincolnshire. He said:The substitution of capital grants for tax allowances are very much an 'Irishman's rise.' It is true that the smallest men, who pay little tax anyway, will benefit. But the bigger … farmers in standard tax category stand to lose heavily from the switch. Was it intended that this should not only be a disincentive for the bigger farmer to invest in new equipment, but that he should be milked out of taxable profits to provide a fund for the capital grants to his smaller and less ambitious neighbours?He mentions six categories of investment which he lists as farm buildings ranking for farm improvement grant, those not so eligible, the self-propelled machinery movable farm equipment, and fixed equipment and lorries, vans, et cetera. He shows the different effect both before the incidence of Corporation Tax, before 17th January this year when the new arrangements were announced, and after 17th January. He gives the different figures for the six categories and shows that the average of the six classes under the new allowances will have 21 per cent. lower for someone paying the full rate of tax than before the Budget last year and 6 per cent. lower than before 17th January this year. That is a very considerable drop. The Minister spoke this morning about new benefits, but one should view what he said with a good pinch of salt. There are many queries in relation to this matter which we shall want to discuss in Committee on the Bill.
I was glad that the Minister mentioned tractors, because I agree with him that a tractor is a very important machine for any farmer. The position of tractors, however, seems odd to say the least. A farmer has now to license every tractor whereas in many cases he did not do so before. He gets a grant spread over three years. But what happens if he sells the tractor before the three years are up? Does the grant go with the tractor or does he receive a lump sum? Many farmers buy a tractor at two-yearly intervals and trade in the old machine. What is the grant in relation to that? Perhaps the Secretary of State for Scotland can tell us about this when he winds up the debate because this is important to the farming community and we shall be grateful for the information if he can give it to us.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
§ Mr. Godber
The right hon. Gentleman says that this can be done in Committee. I am surprised if he has not been fully briefed in relation to this point. He has until 3.30 this afternoon to find out the information. I do not want to overburden him, but this is something which he could do.
I must now deal with another matter which the Minister touched on very lightly this morning. It is directly related to these Clauses. It concerns the announcements we had this week of the Selective Employment Tax. This matter completely overshadows the provisions in this Bill. I refer to it because the whole object of these Clauses is to assist in relation to investment, but if a severe new tax is to be laid on agriculture without adequate provision being made for repayment or recoupment, it can make the levels of these provisions completely inadequate. We must, therefore, demand from the Government real reassurance on this matter which the Minister did not give this morning. He said, if I may paraphrase his words, that the Government intend to offset the tax, but precisely how that would be done would be wrong to prejudge at this stage. That is not good enough.
We must press the Minister to go a great deal further. To go ahead with this Bill without a clear assurance would be a ludicrous and misleading exercise. If Ministers can assure us that there will be full and speedy repayment to those engaged in agriculture, horticulture and forestry, the Bill will make sense, but without such an assurance it does not.
Paragraph 17 of the White Paper on the tax spells it out clearly:In agriculture, the Government intend to offset the effect of the tax on the industry, so far as practicable …What on earth those words mean, I do not know, because if the Government want to do what is practical they can do exactly what they are doing for other industries.
The paragraph goes on to say:In horticulture the effects of the tax will be taken into account in the development of horticultural policy, and in forestry some account will be taken of the effect of the tax in the determination of the grants to owners of private woodlands.2040 I never heard such feeble tripe in my life in relation to a matter of this kind. This could be clearly provided for, and there would be no difficulty whatever in providing for it. Paragraph 10 (ii) says:those who will have the tax refunded or counterbalanced but receive no premium.We understand that agriculture comes into that category. If so, why is provision not made in exactly the same way as in other industries for repayment? We have had no justification for this, and we must press for a clear answer. Otherwise, the paragraph is seen as a cloak to enable the Government to claim that they are going to make a repayment when in fact they are not. I say to the Minister, quite bluntly, that this is another occasion—not the first—when I do not think he has stood up sufficiently for agricultural interests in the Government. On this issue he should have insisted that the industry should be included as it could have been with those industries for which repayment would be made fully. When the Irish Trade Agreement was passed I said that he did not stand up enough for agricultural interests, and I do not believe he has done so on this occasion. There have been occasions when administrative difficulties could be pleaded against taking action which otherwise would be right to take, but there are no administrative difficulties here—not one.
I understand that the Government accept that agriculture is entitled to repayment. Is that the position? Would the Minister like to say so now? I should be happy to give way to him. He will not give that assurance. The industry must draw its own conclusions from that very damaging silence. I had hoped that we would have at least an assurance of intention to make the repayment. If the Government do not intend to do so that explains everything. If they are pretending that they do so intend, why do they not do so in the simplest and most straightforward way? This is a most monstrous thing which has been allowed to happen this week, and it damages the whole aspect of agricultural planning for the future. The cost is very considerable, and particularly so for horticulture, because horticulture is a labour intensive industry and there is no guarantee of any sort of any repayment. What is the good of the Government giving 2041 horticultural grants and help in other parts of the Bill if they are to be completely undermined by a savage tax on production?
This could stop some horticultural commodities being produced in this country, and we shall then require more imports. Will that help the Chancellor? Of course it will not. I speak with some knowledge of this, because before I came to this House I was regularly engaged in horticultural production. I can speak of the horticultural business, although I am not now so fully associated with it. I can think of firms which could be put out of business by this tax unless there is recoupment. This is a very serious matter. I doubt whether the Minister realises how serious it is or he could not have agreed to the proposal. If he cannot say now that there will be repayment, will the Secretary of State say where the Government stand, because farmers in Scotland will be very interested in this?
So much for this obnoxious tax. I conclude this part of my speech by a quotation of what was said by the President of the National Farms' Union:I find it difficult to understand that there is a Selective Employment Tax which pays a premium to the makers of candy floss but apparently penalises those who produce our milk, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables.Who first thought about talking about candy floss in this House? It was the present Prime Minister. We remind him about candy floss and ask the Minister to remind him in the interests of fair play to the farming community.
I propose to pass on, not because we have had satisfaction, but because I have tried to make our views abundantly clear, and we shall certainly take this up on the Finance Bill and in every other way possible. I listened to what the Minister said this morning about Parts III, IV and V of the Bill. I have few additional comments to make on that. There are no really significant changes. The Minister took some credit for changes in Schedule 4 in which he has reduced the period of years from 60 to 40. I suppose that any sort of recantation is better than none, but this is about comparable to the way in which at one time a person could be hanged for sheep stealing and at a later stage he would be deported for life. That is about the degree of reduc- 2042 tion. This is a move in the right direction, but 40 years is still far too long.
I was glad that the Minister proposes some changes in provisions in regard to repayment, but I still say that Schedule 4 (7,a) and (7,b) refers to a penal sum which is to be demanded as a return. This is a most dangerous phrase. I hoped that would go because, if there is to be a penal charge of this sort, we know how it could be interpreted.
At the start of my speech, I referred to the fact that most of the provisions of the Bill are insignificant compared with the much greater issues affecting agriculture which are exercising farmers' minds. I will say now a few things about matters which do not come into the Bill but which ought to be in an Agricultural Bill before the House at this time. The time has come for a change in the system of agricultural support. This Bill would have been a far better one if it had incorporated such a change. At the recent election we put forward proposals for a gradual change from support payments to levies on imports. Such a system would offer greater opportunities to farmers to produce a larger proportion of food at home and would ensure a better return for their efforts. I am satisfied that the cost to the housewife would be neither heavy nor arduous. The Minister may not agree with this, but when one analyses these figures one sees that it would not be a heavy impost.
§ Mr. Godber
That is the argument the right hon. Gentleman uses. I never accepted the figure of £400 million, but said that it would be something over £300 million. I was prepared to accept the figure for the sake of argument, but it is very similar to the sum which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has imposed on the people this week. He has imposed £1,000 million in three Budgets. I do not think the Minister need pretend that this is so large a sum spread over five years. It works out at about a half per cent. a year over five years on the cost of living. That could well have been carried out, and it ought to have been.
2043 The party opposite did its best to denigrate and discredit these proposals, but the fact remains that they offer a far better opportunity for the future than the so-called "major part of increased demand" for food in this country, which is all that this Government can talk about. Farmers first saw that phrase in the National Plan. It emerged there first, and they have heard the Minister, as I have, repeat it again and again like a parrot, but no one has been told what it means. We have not been told today.
The farmers of this country can undoubtedly produce the extra food not only to give the major part of increased demand but to provide some further actual substitution of foreign foodstuffs now coming into this country, and they should be enabled and encouraged to do so, in their own interests and in the interest of the nation's economy.
The competitive position of British farmers in the world has changed, and changed very much for the better. It is only the artificial nature of world food trade which has not made this more evident before. The accumulated dust of the thinking of Whitehall for nearly 100 years must be blown away. Britain has an asset in her farms which can help in the struggle for the balance of payments.
§ Mr. Peart
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very important statement, and, in some ways, very eloquently. It sounds very good to speak of Whitehall traditions and the rest. But is he suggesting that I should break overnight international agreements affecting food imports, agreements which his own Government concluded when he was a member of it?
§ Mr. Godber
I am not suggesting the overnight breaking of international agreements, although any criticism on that score by a member of the present Treasury Bench surprises me, because that was done in the imposition of the 15 per cent. surcharge, and it was certainly done overnight. The Minister cannot stand in a white sheet of purity on that.
I am making no such suggestion, but I am saying that agreements could be renegotiated in relation to the major food producing countries which are supplying 2044 us with the bulk of our imported food. Six out of the eight largest suppliers are running a substantial credit balance with us year after year, and it is no advantage to them to go on in this way, particularly if they are to have surcharges imposed on them in relation to other products. It is much better to get the British economy on a sound basis, and I believe that our trading partners overseas would recognise that. Therefore, that is no argument against the introduction of such a policy.
A change in the system is necessary to bring about the change in production to which I have referred. I thought for a moment last summer that the Prime Minister had realised this because he talked at Newtown last July of avigorous import substitution policy through British agricultural expansion".He talked about it, but, like so many of his pledges, once the moment had passed, it was quickly forgotten. It is now left to the present Minister to talk about the "major part of increased demand"—a big disappointment to our farmers.
Irrespective of the merits or the demerits of such a change on its own—and I have no doubt about the merits—there is another issue which has come to the fore again most prominently, the question of the Common Market. It is not so long since the Minister was saying that this issue was a "dead duck". I do not suppose that he wants me to read to him the editorial from the Daily Mirror of a few weeks ago and what it had to say about him and dead ducks. But even he, with his lack of enthusiasm, must take account of facts, and one of the facts is that the climate has changed most markedly in the last few weeks. On Wednesday last, The Times reported the Foreign Secretary as saying in Strasbourg:If the will is there on both sides, I believe we should be able to go forward with confidence",but, he said, neither the seriousness of the problems nor the scale of advantages should be underestimated. That may not go as far as some people would like, but it goes a good deal further than the Prime Minister's deplorable speech at Bristol before the election.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but we cannot debate the Common Market on this Bill.
§ Mr. Godber
I apologise, Mr. Speaker, if you feel that I am going too far, but I was seeking to show that a Bill at this time dealing with agriculture ought to have included provisions for a change of system which would facilitate our entry into the Common Market. This is what I was seeking to show, and I shall, if I may, bring my remarks to a close, briefly concluding the argument on that point.
The Minister may not like these proposals, but can he really claim to stand on the position that Britain will join only if the Community accepts the British system? That was never a tenable position in Europe. It is not a tenable position among his own colleagues now. This is the change. I shall say no more about it, in view of what you have said, Mr. Speaker, but it is a matter which ought to be exercising the Minister's mind, and, if the Bill were concerned with these issues, it would be a much better Bill.
I suppose that we shall have to continue with the Bill, uninspiring though it is, but I say to the Minister, for heaven's sake try to realise what important issues are afoot and make some effort to rise to the level of events. I was at the same dinner that the Minister attended earlier this week when another Minister of Agriculture had to urge him on with Brutus's words from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar". "There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune." I put it to the Minister that the opportunity is here and it should not be missed. I am sorry that he appears so lacking in enthusiasm for it, and I am sorry that his Bill is so unimaginative when there are great things which could be done for British agriculture now.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. William Edwards (Merioneth)
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House for affording me an opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I shall take your advice, Sir. I am only too glad to be brief.
I represent an agricultural constituency, a constituency in which only 6 per cent. of the insured population are employed in manufacturing industry. It is a very beautiful constituency, with many 2046 holiday resorts, beautiful mountains and lakes; and also we have a railway line which has been preserved for us by the last Minister of Transport as a reminder of the bounty of private enterprise. I follow, as Member for the constituency, Mr. T. W. Jones, who was a distinguished Member of the House and who gave great service both to the House and to the constituency. It was his custom in the Chamber to address hon. and right hon. Members with a few sentences in Welsh, but, in view of the wholesale colonisation of English constituencies by Welshmen, I do not propose to follow that custom.
I have noted that in past debates on agriculture many hon. Members on both sides have drawn on their own experience and knowledge of farming, and that experience and knowledge have often been gained in very large farms, the economic units to which the Minister refers in Clause 38 of the Bill. My experience is experience on a small farm. I am the son of a small tenant farmer working a unit of less than 20 acres, a unit which employed only my father and my family. Indeed, as I deliver this speech, I think that no Member of the House will have leaned so heavily upon the experience of a small croft since Mr. Harold Macmillan addressed the House. My father realised, some 10 years before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it was far more profitable in this country to send one's son to a lucrative service employment like the law rather than to pursue a highly efficient productive industry like agriculture.
I shall be brief and refer to two aspects of the Bill which I regard as an attempt to make the agricultural economy of this country viable and to bring it up to date. First, I express my disappointment and the disappointment of both farming unions in my constituency that the Minister of Agriculture has not been radical enough in his proposals for reorganising meat marketing. We have the Milk Marketing Board, the Egg Marketing Board, the Wool Marketing Board and other such organisations all doing a fine job. Every farmer in my constituency has benefited from the working of these boards. Nearly every farmer and both farming unions in my constituency are gravely disappointed that a radical Government could not be radical enough and introduce a meat marketing board.
2047 Secondly, I should like to refer to the Bill's proposals for the reorganising of farm structures. I come from a small farm. I myself have farmed as part of a family farming a small unit. I am not here to bemoan the attempt at reorganisation and the attempt to do away with many small units which are uneconomic. Our unit was slightly less than 20 acres, and it is not unique in Wales. There are 50,000 units in Wales. Forty thousand of them are less than 100 acres. It must be remembered that Wales is a land of marginal land, hill land, and rough pasture.
Not only are 40,000 units less than 100 acres, but 18,000 are less than 20 acres. Most of those 20-acre units support a farmer wholly in agriculture. The time has come, whatever the future of agriculture may be—whether we are to have a tariff system in the future or whether we are to continue the present price support system—when we must tackle the problem of small uneconomic units. This is a very serious problem indeed in Wales. I have great reservations about the provisions in the Bill. It is a good attempt, but from my personal experience, which is limited, and from my knowledge and all that I have learned from my family and from farmers in my constituency, I do not think that the provisions of the Bill will succeed in achieving all that the Minister hopes to achieve. The best indication that the Minister himself does not think that he will achieve a good deal is that the financial provision he is making for the reorganisation in the Bill itself is very limited.
I promised to be brief. I will be brief. I am very grateful to the House for the indulgence it has shown me. My constituency and, I am sure, the whole farming industry in Wales is gravely disappointed by the step which has been taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in so far as it affects agriculture in Wales. My community depends on agriculture. We have many problems that cannot be solved. Now this added burden has been placed on the small farmer. Its effect will be particularly severe on the dairy farmer, because it is the dairy farmer in my constituency who employs labour. Very few farms in my constituency, apart from dairy farms, employ labour. There is no opportunity for men engaged in farming in my constituency to obtain work 2048 in manufacturing industry. They can only take Dr. Johnson's advice and follow the high road into England.
Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful for the indulgence you have shown me. Speaking as the representative of an agricultural community and of a radical community which has been loyal to this Government and which has looked to this Government for radical solutions, I must say this. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given us radical solutions, but they are not just in their effect on my constituency. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has tried to be just, but his solutions are not radical enough to succeed where he ought to succeed in my constituency.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Pearson (Clitheroe)
Mr. Speaker, may I first say how much back benchers, certainly those on this side of the House, welcomed your advice that speakers in this debate should be short. As you say, more than 20 people wish to speak in this debate. It is a great tribute to the agricultural industry that so many are prepared to stay down here on a Friday to speak. I recognise, too, that because of the way the clock is now running we shall each have something substantially less than ten minutes in which to make our contributions. So I shall be very brief.
May I first say what a real pleasure and delight it is for me to follow the maiden speech made by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards). I am, up to a point, somewhat embarrassed, because I find in this sheaf of notes I hold in my hand almost every word that the hon. Gentleman has already delivered to the House. It is, however, a great pleasure to welcome him and to pay tribute to his contribution.
There are far too few representatives of the small farmer in the House. There are far too few representatives of agriculture down the whole of the west side of England, which depends on grass and rainfall.
§ Sir F. Pearson
And Wales. There is all the difference in the world between the problems that face agriculture down the wet west side of our country and those that face agriculture on the broad arable acres of the east side. All too 2049 often the problems of the west side are overlooked. I am certain that from now on the House will continue to be reminded by the hon. Member for Merioneth of the problems facing the small upland, grassland farm. We could have no more authoritative voice speaking. I am certain that we shall look forward to hearing much from him in the future.
I shall be very brief in speaking about the Bill. I did not have the honour of being present when the last Bill was debated in the House. I therefore wish to place on record my abhorrence of the dictatorial powers that the Government are taking, particularly in Clause 9, to control the meat industry. There is no more varied industry than the distribution of meat. If the industry is to be rationalised, if it is to be placed in a straitjacket, if its every move is to be controlled, as appears will be the result of the provisions in the Bill, there can be only one result. We shall end up by losing quality and service. This will be a tragedy.
I hope that when the Government spokesman winds up he will be able to give the House some assurance that the provisions in the Bill are not designed as an attack on the small family butcher who slaughters his own meat because, if that type of butcher is attacked, if slaughtering arrangements are centralised, I am absolutely certain that we shall lose in quality.
I want to place on record my very great doubts with regard to the procedures which are being laid down for setting up the rural development boards. I have great doubt about the whole concept of these boards. The Bill in no way makes it clear what they are designed to do. It does not lay down in any detail what situations they are meant to cope with. In spite of the new introductions in Schedule 5, I believe that when an Order is made setting up a development board there will not be sufficient protection for the rights of individuals to air their views and lay their objections before the Ministry.
It is all very well to say that an affirmative Resolution will be laid before the House. We all know what that means. The Government with their majority will bulldoze it through. There may be an opportunity for airing 2050 opinions, but that will only be after the Minister himself and his advisers have made up their minds. In a transaction such as this, it is absolutely essential that people's objections and views should be before the Minister before he makes up his mind. When the Clause is considered in Committee, I hope that the Minister will be able to go a little further in the matter of enabling public objections to be heard and will widen the scope of the public inquiry.
I shall speak for a few moments now on the question of the amalgamation of small farms. I welcome the attempt to try to bring about amalgamations and more economic units; but I have great doubt as to whether the provisions of the Bill will be effective. The man who is just managing to get by on his farm will certainly not leave the shelter of its roof and leave his business for a mere £500 plus £1 an acre. This will not budge him. These provisions will be no good, either, to the man who is in real difficulty, who has not got capital, who cannot farm effectively, who is not making a profit, and who is probably in debt to two or three provender merchants. These provisions will not help him to get out: He can not afford to. Therefore, I think these provisions are merely scratching the surface of a problem which is probably one of the greatest facing the agriculture industry.
I am also very doubtful whether the Minister's view of what is a competitive and commercial farm is very soundly based. In fact, he has told us very little in detail of what his views may be of a commercial farm. I suggest in this matter that it is important to make a very clear distinction between the family farm on the one hand and the commercial farm on the other. The two are totally different. Although certain allowances may be given for the employment of family labour, this in no way brings the family farm on to the same level of the commercial farm. In my area of the country, which is a grassland area, dairying is at the very centre of the small farm. As the months go by all other products appear to be getting more specialised. Pig production is becoming more specialised; so is egg production. It is possible to have a viable unit of two, three or four acres. So the small farm today is tied down to the 2051 production of milk which is the most high wage-consuming product there is in the whole industry. Therefore, the family farm, so far as producing milk is concerned, can be an economic and viable unit of 70, 80 or 90 acres in size. But once we talk about real commercial farmers in the dairying industry we have to face the fact that a 100-head herd is probably going to be the pattern of commercial dairying in the future.
I fear that with this scheme we shall fall between two stools. We may well use taxpayers' money to encourage the formation of holdings which, as family holdings, may be large enough but, as commercial holdings, will not be viable. I hope that when the Minister winds up he will give us in rather greater detail his view of what a commercial dairy farm is. This is the essence of the matter, and I do not believe that we can debate in Committee this question of the amalgamation of farms until we have a much clearer picture of what the Minister considers a commercial dairy farm to be. I suspect that a commercial unit will be nearer 150 to 200 acres, and that sort of farm is totally outside the scope of this Bill.
Time is marching on. I do not believe that this Bill in any real sense begins to tackle the problems facing the agriculture industry today. It is merely scratching the surface and playing with the question. It is merely giving the Government another excuse to introduce more control and direction, to set up more commissions and committees and to hand out more subsidies in the wrong places. If only they had tackled the question with a levy at source, if only they had forgotten the Budget and given us some real help on the question of an employment poll tax, they would be helping the agriculture industry.
Let me put a final question to the Minister. What will be the situation if next spring we again have a surplus of milk and the Minister is not able to help the milk producer by any rise in price? Will the milk producer have to bear the full burden of the poll tax, or can the Minister give us an assurance that he will, under any circumstances, whatever the situation of the milk market next spring, see that the dairy farmer gets full recruitment for this abysmal tax?
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
I feel honoured at being called to speak in this House for the first time. As the Member for Cardigan, I succeed a very distinguished former Member in Mr. Roderic Bowen, a gentleman who gained the respect and affection of this House not only as the Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means in the last Parliament but also on account of close upon 21 years' industrious constituency work. I hope that I shall be able to emulate not only the quality of his constituency service, but, if one may be so bold, also the length of its tenure.
I notice that Cardigan has for nearly 50 years been represented by members of the legal profession. The people of Cardiganshire have obviously not said, with St. Luke,Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge.For better, for worse, that tradition still remains unbroken.
The county which I have the honour to represent has its origins far back in the history of the land and nation of Wales. Cardigan was created a county in 1284 and since the mid-16th century has returned Members to this House. In Cardiganshire we are people of proud and independent spirit. But today, pride and disillusion go hand in hand. Economically and socially speaking, the finest hours of the county were in the past. Since 1871 the population has been steadily declining. Today it is about 20,000 less than it was 100 years ago. Our county, too, loses the promise and the virility of its youth. About two-thirds of the young people of Cardiganshire leave the county by the time they reach 25 years of age. This situation can be well appreciated when it is realised that Cardigan, like four other counties in mid-Wales, has a level of income per head that is only 58 per cent. that of England and 72 per cent. that of the five poorest rural counties in England. The plight of Cardigan is not such as to command attention. There are no lengthy dole queues, no gloomy unemployment registers. Yet the steady, silent cancer of depopulation saps the life of nearly every town and village the length and breadth of the county.
I have dwelt on these dismalities not only because it is traditional in a maiden 2053 speech to give a sketch of one's constituency but also because I feel that they are genuinely relevant to this debate. Cardiganshire is a county with very little manufacturing industry, the main occupations being service industries and agriculture. Whatever the future might bring to Cardiganshire in the form of industrial development, there can be no doubt in broad terms but that the fate of the county hinges upon the future of its agriculture. In the main, the farms are small. Out of a total of 4,800 farming units in the county 1,900 are under 20 acres in area, whilst 2,100 are in the range of 20 to 100 acres. Whether these farms are economically viable or not depends to a large extent upon the prevailing economic conditions in so far and to such extent as those are regulated by central authority.
Amalgamation by itself could be little better than amputative surgery. It cannot of itself be a cure to this situation. From what I know personally of the thrift, industry and courage of these small farmers, given certain incentives, I know that they can obtain a high level of efficiency and productivity. No doubt, there are some who have already decided to give up their holdings. In these cases the grants proposed under Clause 27 of the Bill are very proper and progressive. These people now leave the soil with something in pocket, whereas otherwise they would have left it penniless. On the other hand, there is substantial disquiet in many areas on this matter. Any suspicion of a policy of squeezing the small farmers into amal[...]mation would eat like acid into the framework of a community like Cardiganshire.
I hope that the Minister will give full assurance on this matter. These small farmers in my constituency will not remain as labourers on the land they once owned. There is virtually no manufacturing industry to assimilate them and it is unlikely that with consummate ease they could translate themselves into chefs, waiters or haberdashers' assistants. I feel sure that the Minister is well aware of the special problems of these people. There are problems of thin, sour soil, heavy rainfall and high production costs. A ton of cattle feed costs in Cardiganshire on average from £2 to £3 more than it costs in areas near the centres 2054 of production. These higher costs are inevitable. The same is broadly true of many commodities.
I am sure that the Minister agrees with me when I say that it is not enough for us to raise our hands in holy horror every few years when statistics are published to show what a high percentage of these farms are uneconomic. Is it not possible to look at the handicaps and consider how they can be combatted or at least compensated for? The rural development boards designed by the Bill are, I believe, an acknowledgement of the principle that the deficiencies of upland areas must be met by comprehensive planning and not by piecemeal assistance. I welcome these schemes and I sincerely trust that such a board will soon be established in Wales. May I add that I hope that the day may not be too far distant when responsibility and jurisdiction for agriculture in Wales will be transferred to the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office.
There is one other matter which I should like to mention, and I will be very brief. It concerns security, or rather lack of security, of agricultural tenancies where an agricultural tenant dies. I appreciate that this Bill does not deal with the matter and that it is not the proper Measure to deal with such a topic. Nevertheless, it is an issue which is vital in its significance to agriculture. The Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, has generally created a system which has safeguarded the tenure of the tenant farmer. That Act is a charter which marks the tremendous progress made since the days of our fathers and grandfathers when a tenant could be ejected from the land for the slightest transgression and, indeed, very often for none at all. He could be ejected at the merest whim of his landlord.
There is a general feeling abroad among the public that all the anomalies and all the miseries which once attached themselves to agricultural tenancies have been abolished. But have they? In general there is security of tenure subject to the exercise of the discretion of the Agricultural Land Tribunal in special cases. The tenure of a farmer is protected in nearly all reasonable circumstances but that Section of the Act—Section 24—does not apply to seven 2055 cases—the "Seven Deadly Sins" as lawyers call them.
The first six of these deal with cases in which either the public interest clearly demands that the tenancy be surrendered, such as where the land is to be put to non-agricultural use and the appropriate planning authority has agreed to such a conversion, or in cases where the farmer tenant has brought about his own downfall, in cases in which he has been guilty of failing to farm according to the rules of good husbandry, in which he has not conformed to a notice to pay his rent in two months or in which he has failed within a reasonable time to put right some breach of his tenancy agreement or where the landlord's interest has been prejudicially affected by some irredeemable breach of tenancy or again where the tenant has become bankrupt.
But in the seventh case there is a situation which is entirely different. It occurs when the original tenant has died. The landlord may serve notice to quit within three months, and the tenancy is terminated. There is no appeal, no matter how well the tenant or his family before him may have farmed. No matter to what degree he may have improved that farm, no matter what hardship may be incurred, if the landlord so ordains, then the death of the tenant means the destruction of the tenancy.
Let me be quite fair. Actual objection no doubt occurs only in a small percentage of cases. In many instances a new tenancy can be negotiated, sometimes on equitable and no doubt honourable terms but sometimes on terms which are scandalously oppressive—conditions very often arrived at after weeks of dread anxiety before a decision is reached. Nearly half of the agricultural land of England and Wales is farmed by tenant farmers. Over one-third of these, 100,000 individuals, are private tenants. Not one of these has such a lease over his life as to be able to know with absolute certainty that he will be alive, say, at the stroke of midnight tonight.
The system under which these people live is unjust for it re-enacts, I submit, the crudity of a bygone age. It is inconsistent with our own standards in similar fields. Why, in the name of reason, should a farmer's tenancy be 2056 only one heart-beat away from extinction when the Rent Act, 1965, properly and generously affords long-term security to the tenancy of a private dwelling house? The system is also wasteful. Which tenant farmer can give of his best unto his land if he knows that all the sweat, all the capital and all the hope which have been invested in the soil can be lost in a moment at the instant of death? It is not conducive to progressive agriculture. Old men cling to land which the young should farm because the landlord will not allow the tenancy to be transferred. There can be no real long-term planning because there is no long-term security.
I have mentioned this matter in the earnest and sincere hope that the Minister will at some stage consider a form of probationary tenancy for the proper successor of a deceased agricultural tenant, placing upon that successor the onus of showing at the end of such a probationary term that he has farmed according to the rules of good husbandry and that he is capable of attaining such standards in the future. The landlord would not be ill-used, agriculture in general would benefit and an unjust, wasteful, inconsistent anomaly would have been removed from among the laws of our land.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
I have always hoped that at some time when I was in the House I should have the good fortune of following an hon. Member who had made his maiden speech. I now have that opportunity, and I am glad to have it. But I never believed that I should sit through a maiden speech which I should enjoy so much that I was able to congratulate the hon. Member, as I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan), with such feeling. I welcome him to the House. He has made a most enjoyable speech with great knowledge and ludicity.
He made certain remarks about depopulation and the need to maintain a vigorous and prosperous countryside with which I absolutely agree. Indeed, his remarks could have applied to my constituency just as well as to his. I am sure that we are most grateful to him for what he said. He follows a most distinguished predecessor, who 2057 occupied the Chair during the previous Parliament, and I am sure that he is worthy of the tradition of Members for Cardigan and that the House agrees with me when I say that I hope we shall hear him often on the subjects.
I was unable to speak in the House when a similar Bill had a Second Reading a few months ago. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) in that I wish that the Minister had thought fit to introduce a short Bill to deal with farm improvement grants. Only this week I had an Answer from him which stated that at the end of April 6,659 farm improvement grants had been agreed in principle and were awaiting the enabling Act of this House before payment could be made. This is something for which the Minister is responsible. If he had brought out a short Bill months ago on this subject these farmers would not be waiting for their money.
On this occasion I wish to confine my remarks, which I hope will be short, to this Bill and to its effect on the upland areas. A great deal has been done over previous years for the true hill farm, and I am glad that the hill subsidies are to be continued, but, as the Minister conceded two months ago, it is the farms which are just below the hill land, the marginal farms which are not on very good land, where the greatest hardship lies in agriculture today. For that reason, I welcome the new beef cow subsidy. This will be helpful to this type of farm and at the same time it will help us in our national economy to get more beef without at the same time getting more milk.
The Bill suggests that only certain breeds will qualify for this subsidy. This is quite right, because we are almost sure to get excessive milk if we give the subsidy, for instance, to the Friesian breed. The difficulty is that the Friesian is the most efficient beef producer we have in this country. I hope that if the Meat and Livestock Commission is established, its breeding and progeny testing programme will enable it to blend the hardiness which is needed in the upland beef breeds with the good conversion of food into beef which some of our other breeds have.
May I speak about the rural development boards and the effect which they 2058 will have on the upland areas? I am not totally convinced that there is any need to set up a new bureaucratic body to do this job. Most of us agree that something ought to be in the rural areas to do some of the things which it is suggested that rural development boards should do, but it should be possible to get the local authorities together to perform these functions.
We also have the regional planning boards. Surely an offshoot of their functions could be to look after these problems. It seems to me unnecessary to set up a completely new body with many more civil servants to do the job at great expense to the country. I agree that something ought to be done in this matter and I hope that it will be done.
It is important to select the right people to serve on these boards. The Minister said today that they will be experts in agriculture and forestry. Under the Schedule of the Bill half of them have to be experts in those subjects. I hope that the Minister will consider an Amendment to state that members of the board must have local knowledge, because it is no good bringing in a Welsh expert to tell us in Westmorland and Cumberland how these things should be done. I wonder whether the Minister will also consider appointing somebody who is expert in tourism, because tourism has a large part to play in the development of the rural areas.
It is, however, the powers of the rural development boards which frighten us most. The Minister referred to them as sweeping powers, as, indeed, they are, giving complete control over the sales of land and the ability to acquire land compulsorily. These are frightening powers which we on this side totally reject. I hope that we shall fight them tooth and nail in Committee. When one thinks of these compulsory powers, together with the powers in the Land Commission Bill, I seriously think that this is the first step towards the nationalisation of land, which we know so many hon. Members opposite want.
Another aspect of rural development is the control of forestry which is given to the rural development boards. Clause 50 of the Bill provides that there shall be no planting without consent, except for the Forestry Commission, and that 2059 nobody can plant more than 10 acres without consent.
The Minister seems to me to be determined to clamp down on the private timber grower. In my view, the private timber grower holds the key to the problems of depopulation in the rural areas, because there is a high employment element in timber of roughly one person per 100 acres. We must have more afforestation, which could go a long way to keeping a thriving countryside, which we all want so much.
It seems, however, that the Minister is determined to do down the private timber grower to enhance the Forestry Commission. The Commission grows timber at much greater expense to the nation than do the private foresters. I cannot help pointing out the effect upon private forestry of the Selective Employment Tax, because here we get the situation that the Forestry Commission will be recouped its contribution to this tax whereas the private timber grower will have no chance of getting recoupment. This was not mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham in his speech, but how on earth the private timber grower is to obtain recoupment of this pernicious tax, I fail to understand. I hope that in his reply the Minister will tell us how this can be done.
The powers which are being given under the Selective Employment Tax can be disastrous in the rural upland areas, such as in my constituency, where agriculture, quarrying, forestry and the economy of the market towns account for 95 per cent. of the employment in the area. This tax will, I believe, do down the prosperity of these areas.
It is totally illogical to have, on the one side, a Selective Employment Tax which will clamp down on the prosperity of the upland rural areas and, at the same time, to start up regional planning and rural development boards. It is typical Socialism to set up new controls and new boards which work in entirely opposite directions simply for the sake of having a new bureaucratic body.
I have said enough. I hope that we shall oppose this provision with all our vigour in Committee. It is a pity even that we are not dividing, I understand, against the Bill today.
§ 12.59 p.m.
§ Mr. David Ensor (Bury and Radcliffe)
A great deal of what has been said on the Bill has, of course, been said before. Therefore, I do not propose to take up more than a few minutes of the time of the House. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister say what little objection he had had and had heard during the election campaign to the terms and provisions of the Bill. I bear out exactly what he has said to the House. Surprising as it may be to some right hon. and hon. Members, I have a quite substantial farming community within my constituency. At no time have I had any objection to the provisions of the Bill.
I was a little surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) complaining about the 100 years' dust of Whitehall that had been creeping over the Ministry of Agriculture and over my right hon. Friend, because if ever there were a party who were masters of laissez faire in regard to agriculture, it is the party opposite. We all know the chaos, incompetence and ineptitude that covered agriculture between the two wars. It was not until 1947, with the great Agriculture Act of Lord Williams, that order was put into the chaos of agriculture which we knew so well.
I commend the Bill to the House as a serious and great attempt by my right hon. Friend to bring order into the marketing of meat. I should like to remind the House of the structure of agriculture, which forms an important part of the Bill. There are about 110,000 small and medium-sized farms in the United Kingdom which provide a reasonable livelihood for their occupants. My right hon. Friend has been helping many of them to improve their position through the new small farm business management scheme and by his encouragement of co-operation. Even so, however, many of those farms will ultimately be incapable of providing a reasonable living from agriculture alone. It is obvious, therefore, that the part of the Bill which deals with the structure of farming is an important asset to our agricultural community.
This is not something new, because what is being suggested by this part of the Bill is being done in practically every country in the Western world and at a 2061 much quicker rate than we have done hitherto. For instance, the percentage of farms which have been amalgamated is 31 per cent. in the United States, 19 per cent. in West Germany and 21 per cent. in Belgium. It cannot be denied that particularly in the western part of this country, the small grassland farms, particularly those on poor land, simply are not capable of providing an economic living for the person who, by the sweat of his brow, works 16 or 17 hours a day. That is one of the economic facts of life which we have to face.
This part of the Bill will give great assistance in the amalgamation of these small units into economic units which, I hope and am sure, will ultimately come to provide a good living for the person who is the holder of the amalgamated units.
§ Mr. Peter Mills
Does the hon. Member rule out the possibility that some people like to farm a very small acreage and do it very well, and that they go out to earn their living elsewhere?
§ Mr. Ensor
I do not rule it out, because it is a well-known fact that that is done in certain areas.
Marketing provides the greatest controversy in the provisions of the Bill. It is an inescapable fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister is not only Minister of Agriculture, but is also Minister of Food. His responsibilities, therefore, lie not only to the farmer, but also to distributors and housewives, who have to pay the ultimate cost. As I said in the debate on the former Bill in November, one of the disasters in agriculture over the past twenty years or so has been the chaos of marketing. I am delighted to see in the Bill that great effort is now to be made which will bring order out of that chaos. I hope that the provision of orderly marketing will bring substantial benefit to the housewife who has to buy the ultimate product.
It is one of the facts of life that for years we have had disorder in auction marts. Marketing has become incompetent because there are far too many people between the producer and the housewife. From time to time we see this particularly in horticulture when three or four, or even five or six, people handle an article before it reaches the housewife in the shop. I commend the Bill 2062 to the community because I believe that it is a good Bill. It is within the traditions of the 1947 Act. As I said on the previous Bill in November, I believe that it will ultimately be of great benefit to farmers, distributors, housewives and to the people of the country as a whole.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor) cannot have travelled very far during the election. Had he come into North Lincolnshire—and I noticed that the Minister did not dare come as far up the county as that—he would certainly have found that throughout North Lincolnshire there was alarm, despondency and uncertainty about the Bill.
We are having this debate today under the shadow of another severe burden which has already been placed upon the industry. Many of us on this side feel that we simply cannot trust the Minister to see that we get full recoupment for this extra tax. Look at the way he has handled the Farm Improvement Scheme in the Bill. We will suffer from this in the Bill. as in all other action concerning agriculture by hon. Members opposite, because of their complete failure to think out their policies to a logical conclusion. This was obvious in the Price Review, which was roundly condemned by the Yorkshire Post leading article for this reason.
I wish to deal with three items in the Bill: the Farm Improvement Scheme plus the grants for agricultural investment; the beef cow subsidy; and hill farming and the whole question of why we are losing the reseeding grant for marginal areas.
I assure the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe, who has now left us, that we on this side appreciate the need to expedite the Clauses of the Bill dealing with the farm improvement grant. No grants have been payable since 17th November. There is a certain amount of good Socialism here, because although the party opposite have managed to reduce the amount of grants, they have managed to increase the costs of administering the scheme.
Most farmers do not know where they stand. They know that there is a farm improvement grant at a lower rate. They think that there is a supplementary grant which the Minister was rushed into announcing just before the election. They know that if they do not get the farm 2063 improvement grant, they can get a 10 per cent. improvement grant on fixed equipment, provided that that equipment has not qualified for other grant.
It often takes time for provisional approval for a farm improvement grant to be given. The scheme in question might well involve contractors' equipment which is available on the site. The farmer might decide not to bother applying for the farm improvement grant but to get the work done, believing that because it is a capital improvement it will be eligible for the investment grant. Will the Minister make it quite clear that the fact that a farmer does not apply for the farm improvement grant on a scheme which is eligible for it would not for that reason be ruled out from getting the investment grant? Would the Minister also confirm that we shall have capital grants by which we can write off the balance of the preceding 10 years, and that any capital improvement on the farm will be paid back in grant?
I think the Minister will agree that we have reached a very complicated situation with grants and agricultural taxation, and I am going to ask him if he will give an undertaking that, when the Bill reaches the Statute Book, he will issue an explanatory memorandum rather like that the Treasury issued about Capital Gains Tax. When one applies for a grant one gets a memorandum in connection with the one individual grant one has applied for. One cannot get the opportunity of sitting back and seeing which is the most advantageous thing to do, as one could if one had an explanation of all the grants, and I hope that the Minister will give us this concession.
I have found, going round my constituency, that the farmers simply do not know where they stand. They know, basically, that they are penalised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) quoted just now an article published by my distinguished constituent in the business section of the Farmers Weekly. What happens is that the really efficient farmers, the profitable farmers, in my part of the world, are penalised by this Minister of Agriculture.
I think most people will agree that it is sensible to change machinery every two years, yet the Government are determined 2064 to make them change it every three years. This is going to spoil the second-hand market for the small man, and I hope the Minister will not fail to understand the fact that as soon as he announced the 10 per cent, grant a certain leading firm of tractor manufacturers put up their prices at the same time. This is what happens when there are grants. It is very much better to have the old system of allowances.
I should like to mention two other points. First of all, I think it is generally agreed that the Minister has been niggardly over the beef cow subsidy. As I understand it now from the explanation given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham, in which the Minister concurred, we shall in fact get this throughout the whole county of Lincolnshire. I should like to ask the Minister, when he is considering the extension of the beef cow subsidy scheme to the whole of the United Kingdom, to look at the powers he has given to the Meat Marketing Commission to deal with the calf rearing subsidy.
I know the Bill clearly says that the administration of the calf subsidy is to be operated by the Commission, but at least there is a very good case for the beef calf subsidy being paid earlier than six months, particularly in arable areas. Where farmers may have to go on intensive rearing it would be much better to change to three months instead six months. So I should like to see the Minister give powers to the Commission to pay a portion or the whole of the calf subsidy to calf rearers earlier than six months.
Finally, on my third point, I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not here, because I think that this applies to Scotland more than to anywhere else. Clause 39 deals with the improvement of hill land schemes to be prescribed by the Minister. The Farm Price Review ends the grassland renovation schemes for the extraordinary reason given that people have not made great use of that scheme. The reason why they have not made great use of that scheme is the fact that the rate of grant has been too low. I am certain that the Minister has received from the hill farm advisory people their view that regenerating and reseeding the hill land is £18 to £20 even if they have a 50 per cent. hill farming 2065 grant for the fencing. It is a far more expensive operation if one has to bring in tracked vehicles. I hope the Minister will bring forward a scheme under Clause 39 which will assist grassland renovation through a much higher rate of grant.
We all want to see greater production on the upland farms, and the only way to get it is by giving a grant to help those farmers who grow grass in the winter and use it far pasturage in the spring. In most upland areas the farmers are still struggling with percentages still under 100 and after a winter such as the last people may not be able to have sufficient replacements for their breeding stocks.
I hope the Minister will look urgently at this problem. No grant will be payable this year, and I hope very much that we shall have an announcement from the Minister so that we may be in a position to go ahead with this very important aspect of agriculture.
Those are the three points I wanted to make, and I hope that the Minister will give an answer to all three.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
One of the things which has amazed me this morning is the attitude of hon. Members opposite—their failure to realise that they lost the last election. One of the reasons why they lost the last election was because their policy on agriculture was so barren. They lost a number of agricultural seats, including three members of their Front Bench.
§ Mr. Garrett
There are three I can think of, whom I could name. However, that is by the way. It is history now and I am concerned with the present.
I am delighted that this morning my right hon. Friend completely demoralised any future criticisms by hon. Members opposite. When we reach the Committee stage of the Bill I believe that the Committee stage will be much shorter this time compared with the long, weary one we had last time.
My right hon. Friend, since he became Minister of Agriculture, has always pursued one basic object, and that is to put the hill and upland farming on a much firmer and financially more secure basis. That is why I welcome Part III of the 2066 Bill. I think I should make my plea for the northern farmers, because I represent a constituency in the north-east of England and I have personal friends who farm in this most difficult part of the country. Most of them who have written to me have expressed appreciation of the efforts which the present Minister has made to relieve them of some of their financial burdens.—[Laughter.]—Oh, yes, that is right.
These facts I am stating now are brought out by the recent Ministry of Agriculture survey of agricultural incomes. Hon. Members opposite can read it for themselves. It is a little out of date now, but it includes the figures for 1963, the twilight year of the present Opposition. I should like to illustrate some of the facts from this statement.
During 1963, on a sample of 42 farms with an average acreage of 800, there was a profit of £529, or £10 per week, or 13s. per acre. However, in the year ending April, 1965, on a sample of 41 farms with an average of 848 acres, the profit was £1,699, or £2 an acre. It has been estimated in this survey that, in earning that £1,699, £4,000 had to be met in required outgoings.
From these simple facts several important points emerge. In the first case I quoted, to earn that £10 a week in 1963, a man had to work for someone else. That was an indication of the neglect which the Tory Government showed to hill farming. I am not saying that everything in hill farming is rosy. Far from it. That survey shows that there are better ways to obtain a good income than to invest in hill farms.
It is also clear to me, if we are to discuss entry into the Common Market—and hon. Members opposite seem very keen on getting us into the Common Market£that hill farmers, particularly those in the northern areas, must view it with some trepidation, and I feel that one of the reasons why there was such a strong swing as there was, and particularly in the agricultural constituencies, against the Tories, was the fear which those northern farmers have about the intention of hon. Members opposite towards the Common Market, a fear so strong that they distrust them immensely.
As the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) said, the new beef subsidy for cows in the upland areas goes a long 2067 way towards easing the situation, but I hope my right hon. Friend will note that most of the northern farmers would appreciate a still more substantial rise in the price paid for fat sheep. This was borne out by what was said by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). As this year's Price Review was more or less a review with the emphasis on beef production, it may be that in the future my right hon. Friend will give the question of sheep raising some higher priority. I am sure that for the farmers whom I have mentioned some of the provisions of the Bill represent a move in the right direction, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue to keep a close watch on this important sector of the farming community.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on Part III of the Bill, but I have some criticisms to make of it as a whole. I regret that it contains no provisions about farmers who face dispossession, often at very short notice. I am thinking of those farmers who farm adjacent to growing towns, in areas where land is likely to be claimed for use as reservoirs, and so on. The question of compensation is an urgent one, and should be given some priority, because the present situation is most unsatisfactory. It is a constant nightmare, particularly to tenant farmers. It is this doubt and uncertainty, particularly among farmers near growing towns—and there are a number of them in the north—which has led them to think that more imagination should be used with regard to the payment of compensation.
These farmers have the worry of a long wait before compensation is paid, and at the moment there is no provision for hardship payment. I regret this very much. Hardship payment is included in the provisions of Section 22 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, but this payment is permissive, and not obligatory, and I think that local authorities which have received permission to make compulsory orders, and to make discretionary grants, should be given power to make much wider grants, and to make them much more quickly.
In my opinion the present legislation does not go far enough to resolve the problem, and there must be more precise legislation on it. I understand that the 2068 N.F.U. is making representations to the Minister on this. Whether the union's plea for legislation to enable farmers to have the right to ten years' rent, or five years' profit based on the five years before compensation is paid, is the right approach is perhaps open to argument, but one thing which is clear is that it is important for the Minister to speed up legislation to make this payment possible.
I have made only two points, which I consider to be important in relation to the Bill. I agree with its general provisions, and I am sure that it will bring about the urgent reforms which are so necessary to this vital industry. I think that my right hon. Friend has shown a very intelligent awareness of the basic problems which must be tackled. By this Bill he is giving the farming industry the incentive to become more efficient and more profitable, and, above all, he is giving the industry the opportunity to play a vital part in the country's economy.
In spite of the views expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, I think that the farming industry will give general approval to the Bill. The farming communities are gradually turning away from the traditional Conservative view of agriculture. I am sure that this process will continue, and that following the next General Election in 1969, or 1970, or perhaps even 1971, we shall not be able to get a quorum of hon. Gentlemen opposite who are interested in agriculture.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)
I think that the views of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) demonstrate how differently we look at things in the north-east and the south-west, and I wish that I could find myself more in agreement with him than I do.
When the Minister opened this debate, he pointed out that this was the second opportunity that we had had of considering this Bill, and on rereading it I had hoped to find myself a little more enthusiastic about it, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) pointed out, the Sunday joint is not normally improved by being served up cold on the Monday. To be fair, it is not that the intrinsic merits or demerits of the Bill have altered. What has altered is the general climate in which it is now being introduced.
2069 Since it was last debated there has been another Price Review, and, within recent days, another Budget, and it is against this background that the Bill seems curiously inadequate to shore up the flagging canfidence of the farming community. Of course the Minister wants to do all that he can to help agriculture. We realise that, and we sympathise with him, but all the way along the line he has been fighting a losing battle, and we realise that he is outnumbered round the Cabinet Table by more than 20 to 1.
That is why the Minister had to append his signature to that melancholy Farm Price Review in 1965. That is why he had to grin and bear it when the terms of the more recent Price Review in 1966 were announced, and that is why it must have been a very bitter pill for the Minister to swallow the other day as he listened to the Chancellor's Budget speech. Of course the Minister would have preferred to bring forward today some Measure calculated to restore the declining confidence of farmers.
Perhaps I might suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, through the Secretary of State for Scotland, that after this brief debate today he goes along the Corridor to the Library and turns up Gibbon's "Decline and Fall", because in that he will find a phrase of enormous significance today. Gibbon says:All taxes must at last fall upon agriculture",and this has immense truth, because it is the Minister's Government who in the last 18 months have increased taxation in this country by £1,000 million.All taxes must at last fall upon agriculture",and it is against this background that the Bill appears so painfully inadequate.
What is there in it, I ask myself, to help my constituents? The Minister knows Salisbury well. I think that during his days as a gunner officer he spent long days on Larkhill Ranges, and in his capacity as Minister he has visited us, and very welcome he is. He knows the great cattle market in the city. He knows that our prosperity is entirely dependent on that of the agriculture industry itself. He knows, too, that the average size of farm in that part of England is something in excess of 300 acres. He knows 2070 that we are responsible citizens, that we do not block the roads with processions of tractors, and that we do not give away chickens in front of the television cameras.
But he also knows that the farmer today is having a very tough struggle to combat rising costs, heavier taxation and narrowing profit margins. I concede that the grants provided in the Bill to encourage amalgamations are welcome, but here again the Minister will agree that the process of amalgamation is being brought about anyway by natural economic forces, and that it is less relevant in those parts of the country where the farming units are already of a reasonable size.
We must also concede that the inclusion of the new items which are eligible for grants is welcome, but, as my right hon. Friend said earlier, the reduction in the rate of grant from one-third to one-quarter, at a moment when Bank Rate is sc high—and the farmer has to find the bulk of it—smacks too much of the old game of giving with one hand and taking away with the other. I cannot persuade myself that the Bill will bring fresh encouragement to the farming industry which today is reeling from the shocks of the last 18 months.
I know that in his happier days, before he took on responsibility as Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Gentleman told us that he was determined to ensure that the incomes of farmers and farm workers should move rapidly—that was his phrase—towards their industrial equivalent. But the farmer now has to pay this extra £65 tax a year for his farm workers, and this means that he has that much less for himself and that much less to enable him to increase the wages of his farm workers, much as he would wish to do so. We are told that the farmer will be recouped—but will he? The Chancellor's phrase was "so far as practicable". This is not quite the same thing as going into a telephone kiosk, pressing button B, and getting one's money back. For years the farmer has heard so much about being recouped in the Annual Price Review that today he is deeply suspicious of the phrase.
The Bill has good intentions, but it does not measure up to what is needed. Farmers today are uneasy; they asked for a 25 per cent. increase in incomes, spread over three years. As we know, they got the 2071 first instalment in the spring months of 1964. The Minister of Agriculture was asked if he considered this claim to be a reasonable one and his reply was, "In principle, yes," but the fulfilment of that claim is somewhere far over the horizon today.
The farmers' unease goes much deeper than mere concern for their own standards of living and their own pockets. They are a very independent race, as the Secretary of State for Scotland will agree. Farmers, by their very heroic efforts in the years since the war, have stepped up their output to an astonishing extent, and it is small wonder that they resent being classified as unproductive industry. Farmers like to paddle their own canoes. They believe in enterprise. They do not believe in public ownership of the means of production—that old-fashioned Labour Party doctrine. They never have liked talk of land nationalisation—and the Minister realises this.
He said today that he is a reasonable man, but here again he has failed to persuade his Cabinet colleagues to drop the ridiculous and dangerous Measure concerning the Land Commission. He has allowed the Bill to include proposals under which the State will acquire more farmland. Therefore, if I say that the Bill is inadequate I do so because I believe that the farming industry today is badly shaken and that the Bill is totally insufficient to restore its confidence.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead, East)
The Opposition are finding it extremely difficult to criticise the Bill. Some of us who sat on Tuesday and Thursday mornings considering this Bill's predecessor in detail in Committee in the last Parliament will remember the pathetic cases put up by members of the Opposition in attempting to improve it.
It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that the principal difficulty arises from the provision of Clause 9. The series of Amendments put down to this Clause in the last Parliament were designed not to improve it but to destroy it. It is clear from the remarks of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) that we are in for a repeat performance when we consider the Bill in Committee. On the previous occasion I 2072 said that I believed the Bill was extremely important and, indeed, that it was a vital Measure which would improve the agriculture industry. It is the most important agricultural Measure introduced into the House since the Agriculture Act, 1948.
It is surprising to hear hon. Members opposite giving the impression that they know all the answers to the problems affecting the industry when they themselves did little or nothing to improve the structure of the industry in the years from 1951 to 1964.
§ Mr. Michael Hamilton
Does the hon. Member agree that the 1947 Act—which I think is the one to which he is referring—was the brain child of the Coalition Government, under Mr. Hudson?
§ Mr. Conlan
The fact is that a Labour Government implemented that Measure. I recall that in those days Members of the then Opposition were severely critical of the Bill's provisions. Therefore, if what the hon. Member says is true, it seems that their subsequent actions were inconsistent with the point of view that he is putting forward.
My hon. Friends and I generally welcome the Bill. But I want to deal particularly with one aspect of the industry which has not yet been referred to this morning. I am seriously concerned about, and will take every opportunity of drawing the attention of the House to, the unsatisfactory state of the slaughtering industry. It is no use having an effective, efficient and prosperous productive side of the industry unless we can also have an effective and efficient distribution and marketing system. The Bill will go a long way to bring about that situation. However, I am not too sure whether there are sufficient provisions in the Bill to give us the same effect on the slaughtering side of the industry. Those of us who are conversant with the conditions obtaining in this side of the industry will be concerned at the unsatisfactory state which exists. Sometimes, when I go into some slaughterhouses, the experience makes me feel that I want to declare myself vegetarian, such are the conditions.
These unsatisfactory conditions stem largely from the fact that there are too many slaughterhouses. I believe that there 2073 must be rationalisation and concentration of this side of the industry. It is interesting to note that, before the last war, there were 12,000 private slaughterhouses and, also, 120 public slaughterhouses. Due to the war, there was a very heavy concentration and some slaughterhouses were closed. As a consequence, at the end of control in 1954, there were only 477 slaughterhouses, of which 199 belonged to the local authorities.
I believe that this was the proper base line from which this part of the industry could have been rationalised and concentrated. I recall that in 1954 and 1955 an Inter-departmental Committee examined this section of the industry and recommended to the then Conservative Minister of Agriculture that there should be a moderate degree of concentration. But what happened? From the 477 slaughterhouses in 1954, when decontrol came in, the number had increased by 1962 to a little more than 3,000. It is true, I admit, that, because of the 1958 Slaughterhouses Act and the Regulations made under it, this figure will be reduced. When the Regulations become fully effective, it is thought that there will be 2,200 slaughterhouses.
In my view, this number is far too high. There is too great a proliferation of slaughterhouses to give a proper system of slaughtering. I have argued and will continue to argue that, with concentration and rationalisation of this section of the industry, many advantages will accrue. It will be possible to invest greater amounts of money in a smaller number of slaughterhouses in order to provide modern equipment and introduce new techniques. It will be possible, by concentrating slaughtering, to have a higher degree of meat inspection.
It might be interesting if I say that, while at the moment lip-service is paid to this very important question of 100 per cent. meat inspection, I believe that it is impossible to achieve, because one cannot have a meat inspector inspecting carcasses in several slaughterhouses at one and the same time.
Therefore, the concentration of slaughtering in a smaller number of units will facilitate this important question of meat inspection. It would give the opportunity of providing, for the first time, a system of rapid chilling and cooling of carcasses. This system is prevalent on the Continent 2074 and in the United States and it is an indication of the rather conservative attitude which the meat industry has adopted that we do not have this system, which would improve carcass quality and prevent the bacterial growth which is fairly common.
Of course, the system is expensive and the capital costs are high, and, of course, if the industry were fragmented into a large number of small slaughterhouses, an operator could not possibly afford the high capital cost of the equipment. Again, this is a further advantage to be gained from concentration of the slaughtering industry.
I have made the case that I hope that the Meat and Livestock Commission, when it is given the powers contained in Clause 9, will decide to implement the provisions in such a way as to bring about a rapid and early concentration of the industry. I am sure that, if we continue along the present lines of fragmenting this section of the industry into a large number of small slaughterhouses, the benefit which can be obtained from concentration and rationalisation will not be achieved.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie (Ross and Cromarty)
It is less than six months since we debated the previous Bill and, therefore, I do not propose to go over the same ground again. Two new items are included, one being the beef cow subsidy. This subsidy is of great importance to us in Scotland, as a beef-rearing area, and we welcome it. I have always said that there should be a second category, which is why I am very pleased to see that the Government have introduced the subsidy. It is true that, at the moment, many people are in doubt as to whether they qualify or will qualify under the scheme. I am glad to hear that the details are being worked out, and I hope that they will be announced soon.
It is to be hoped that, in Scotland in particular, all units which do not qualify under the existing scheme will qualify under the new one. If we are to have further grading of holdings, it will lead to many anomalies. This is particularly true in the Highlands of Scotland. I would impress on the Minister and on the Secretary of State for Scotland, in particular, who is so intimately 2075 concerned, that all units should be included, that is, subject to the stock-carrying capacity of the land being judged fairly and also that the herds are of good beef types.
Proposals are included in the Bill to offer a guarantee to machinery syndicates. We welcome this, because this procedure is coming very much to the forefront now. In my own area, a syndicate has been operating a grain-drying plant very successfully since 1962, but it now finds that, because of the increased acreage of grain, the capacity of the dryer is not sufficient to cope with the amount of grain. It has therefore applied for a grant to enlarge the plant, but, under the present conditions, it is unable to get provisional authority to get on with the—
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
On a point of order. I do not know whether it has caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, but I think that somebody is smoking in the Public Gallery.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
Order. Smoking in the Public Gallery is quite out of order.
§ Mr. Mackenzie
The position is that this syndicate has applied for a provisional grant to get on with this work and it is necessary that the extension should be completed before this year's harvest. As things are, the Minister is not able to give this provisional authority, and I hope that he will seek to change the Statutory Instrument so as to enable that authority to be granted.
Clause 38, dealing with amalgamations, revises the interpretation of an intermediate unit as follows:… an agricultural unit which, in the opinion of the appropriate Minister, is capable, when farmed under reasonably skilled management, of providing full-time employment for an individual occupying it.That is a reasonable interpretation. I hope that the future of this type of unit will be safeguarded by this Bill, and that any moves to enlarge units will not interfere with the security of tenure of those coming into this category.
Clause 39 deals with hill land, and I was very pleased to hear the Minister say, "We have in the hills and uplands considerable untapped resources." I am 2076 sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland will wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. If we are to tap those resources and make use of the potential, the first essential is to get very substantial grants for reclamation.
In the November debate I said that the Bill then under discussion contained a number of useful measures but did not absolve the Government from giving us a reasonable Price Review. Since then we have had a Price Review, and we can say in all fairness that it was a disappointment to us. In fact, many of us actively engaged in the industry were rather surprised that our leaders should have accepted the award so calmly. We were told that they accepted the award because they were assured of better things to come, and we hope that that is so.
We were told that under the National Plan we were expected to make a very substantial contribution to the balance of payments problem, and that it was thought we were well qualified as an industry to do so, provided we had the necessary capital. It was said that what the industry needed was a shot in the arm, but what we got from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Tuesday was a shot in the heart. We still feel that we have the ability to make this contribution as an industry, so we were all the more surprised when we heard of this new imposition. However, it is not yet too late to change the position.
It will be generally agreed that to put farming in the same category as manufacturing or service industries would be very unfair. We can find nothing to justify that at all. However, we were happy to hear the Minister say this morning that the matter was still under consideration, and we hope that it will be given very serious consideration indeed. The only answer, even now, is to move agriculture completely from the scope of this tax. There are many good things in this Bill, and we hope that it will have a speedier passage than was the case on the previous occasion.
§ 1.55 p.m.
The Marquess of Hamilton (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
Certain aspects of this Bill will not be detrimental or applicable to the industry in Northern Ireland, such as, for example, the Meat and Livestock Commission, but considerable 2077 interest and concern has been roused in the proposed golden handshake. Northern Ireland can be described as a country of small farms, and as the average holding is 30.5 acres compared with 79.2 acres in England the definition of a small-holding has a considerable difference in meaning in the two countries. Therefore, different circumstances exist in Northern Ireland. Amongst small farmers there is a general feeling that the Government is more concerned in implementing the National Plan than in aiding agriculture, and there is a real fear that this proposal will be regarded as a substitute for a proper and realistic price review. There is also the fear that the proposed "golden handshake" will in fact become a clenched fist there by deleting the word "voluntary" and inserting the word "compulsory".
This policy of integration is lacking in social content, for farmers have a social dignity as owner-occupiers which they can never regain in the countryside as employees, should they be fortunate enough to obtain alternative employment or, as unemployed should they fail to do so. In England, the redundant farmer has a far greater opportunity of obtaining alternative employment, thereby generally increasing his standard of living. Unhappily, this is not the case in Northern Ireland, especially in the constituency I represent. These proposals fail to realise and appreciate the industry structure in Northern Ireland, where a redundant farmer would find it almost impossible to obtain alternative employment, since the great majority of small farms are located in the Western part of the province where, in spite of intensive efforts of our Northern Ireland Government to attract light industry, there is still a high degree of unemployment. There is, therefore, little sense in introducing these schemes for the redeployment of our national resources when the most important national resource—labour—offers very few outlets of employment for the redundant farmer.
I believe that the root of the problem facing the industry at present is the general reluctance to raise the farm gate price of commodities, even in spite of the spectacular increase there has been in productivity which, as the House knows, has been double the nation's average. It is a scandalous fact that farmers are 2078 being left right behind in the prosperity stakes, because their income is so dependent on Government support. It is true to say that successive Governments have created this problem by the price policy they have pursued. If British agriculture had a fair and proper price policy, and a policy that would have allowed some degree of financial accumulation on the small farm, there would have been no need for the introduction of these callous and clinical remedies.
I do not in any way accept that the creation of bigger units with the consequent sharing of the industry's income among the small farmers' group is a wise or just substitute for a proper price policy. Nor do I believe that in Northern Ireland the proposed "golden handshake" will prove successful, since the remuneration is inadequate, too low and is not comparable with redundancy payments made to employees in other industries, nor is there a guarantee that the payments will be kept in line with the cost of living. If the Government are anxious to make a success of this proposed scheme they must raise considerably the compensation payments.
I am convinced that the future prosperity of the industry depends on obtaining a larger share of the home market. The Government should recognise that this industry—it is still a great industry—has the manpower, mechanisation, will-power and ability to provide and produce food for the under-developed countries where the great majority are desperately under-nourished owing to the terrible shortage of food. The International Federation of Agricultural Producers is meeting in London at the moment. Delegate after delegate has been speaking on behalf of the under-developed countries which are crying out for more food. Here is an opportunity which the Government must seize.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)
For all their attempts on behalf of the farming community before the last election when we had a great deal of tedious talk in this Chamber and in Standing Committee on the Agriculture Bill, the Opposition seem to have lost the support of the farming community. The Conservative Party lost many spokesmen on agriculture. Mr. James Scott-Hopkins is 2079 no longer with us. Sir Martin Redmayne has disappeared from the scene, and so has Sir Rolf Dudley Williams.
§ Mr. Peter Mills
Can the hon. Member tell me whether Mr. Scott-Hopkins was beaten by a Labour or a Liberal candidate, and how many farming constituents did Sir Rolf Dudley Williams have?
§ Mr. Murray
Sir Rolf Dudley Williams was P.P.S. to the Minister of Agriculture in the Conservative Government. I did not say that Mr. Scott-Hopkins was beaten by a Labour candidate, but, for all his spokesmanship on behalf of the agricultural community, he suffered the fate of many Conservative candidates.
This Bill is a great step forward. It is in the pattern of the 1947 Agriculture Act in which, for the first time, the Labour Party in Government showed realism towards the farming community. There are one or two defects in the Bill, but before I come to those I wish to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to use his powers and the fluency which we know he possesses when he talks again to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yesterday I received a telegram which said:In view of unanimous demand from members on Selective Employment Tax, Kent Branch, National Farmers' Union, suggest urgent meeting with Kent Labour M.P.s.Those members are right and are entitled to meet the Labour Members, who are supporting the Government on the Selective Employment Tax.
In paragraph 17 of the White Paper on the Selective Employment Tax we read:In Agriculture … the Government intend to offset the effect of the tax on the industry, so far as practicable.The Minister of Agriculture ought to get a much firmer guarantee from the Chancellor than is shown in the White Paper. I hope that he will be able to do so.
This Bill is a contribution to the efficiency of the farming community. If we are to keep moving forward with the National Plan, agriculture has to play its full part. Many hon. Members in all parts of the House have indicated that Britain ought to be going into the Common Market. If we do so, we shall have to face serious competition in agriculture within that Community and we shall need an efficient farming industry to meet it.
2080 I wish to raise a point on Clause 7. It is perhaps a minor point, but it is one which should be considered. It concerns the retailing of meat by butchers. I pay fairly frequent visits to butchers' shops on behalf of my family. It seems that now the labelling of meat might be overdone. My butcher assures me that the meat will be absolutely covered with labels and the customer will be unable to see what he is buying. This will destroy the whole point of the provisions, not necessarily for me, because I do not always know what I am buying, but for persons on small incomes such as old-age pensioners. They like to have a good look at what they are buying. I hope that in Committee we shall look closely at this matter to ensure that Measures likely to be brought forward from other Ministries do not cause a waste of legislation.
We should welcome this Bill. I echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie), who spoke for the Liberal Party. I hope that the Bill does not take so long going through as was spent on the previous Bill. There were 13 sittings on that Bill. I have read the reports of those sittings and it appears that there was much repetition. I hope that that will not occur again, but that this Bill will go through speedily to the benefit of agriculture in this country.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) has spoken with humour and knowledge of the meat trade. We were particularly interested in his criticism of the Selective Employment Tax.
I am sorry in some respects that I have been called at a moment when the Secretary of State for Scotland has left the Chamber because many of my remarks will be directed to questions relating to agriculture in Scotland. This has been another black week for agriculture. We have not only had the Selective Employment Tax, but also the reintroduction of this Bill. Some Clauses, indeed some parts, of the Bill are valuable and we give credit where it is due. The important point on which I want to speak relates to the Selective Employment Tax and the future structure of the industry under Part II of the Bill. This is a monstrous imposition. It is obvious from 2081 the many permutations of how many farm workers a farmer employs that it may cost £65 or many hundreds of pounds a year.
We hope and expect that when the Secretary of State for Scotland winds up the debate he will give much more adequate information on how this money will be refunded and recouped in the Price Review. Are we to see all the £26 million put on over and above the normal increase in costs? The indefinite statements which we get continually from the Minister of Agriculture remove all confidence which the industry has. On behalf of the friends in horticultre and forestry, we want to know how they will be recouped.
Statements made so far have been much too vague. We want to know whether costs of trades which service agriculture will be allowed for in the Price Review. Are the extra costs of collecting and distributing milk, the costs of deliveries of fertiliser and feedingstuffs to be included? What about the farming co-operative societies of which many of us are members? What about repairs to machinery and the effect on lime quarries? All this will put up the cost of food very much more than if we had gone into the Common Market, which is something that the Minister of Agriculture seems desperately keen that we shall not enter.
This is a penal tax. It is an outrageous and a thoughtless tax. I cannot believe that the National Farmers' Unions in the four countries would have accepted the Price Review had they known that this impost would come shortly afterwards. I expect that many other hon. Members have had telegrams from the executive committees of the National Farmers' Unions deploring the tax. It shows the strength of feeling of farmers in all parties who belong to the N.F.U. It seems typical of the indifference of the present Government to the problems of agriculture today. I should have expected the Secretary of State to say that the industry will be treated in the same way as manufacturing industries will be treated.
I cannot recall a period when costs in agriculture have risen so fast. Much of it has been due to the actions of this Government. We all want to pay higher wages and we in Scotland welcome the increase made in April after the Price 2082 Review, but in order to be able to pay increases farming must be profitable. The expansion and retention of labour can be secured only out of the profits of the industry. But the Government's actions are only a blueprint for depopulation of the countryside, a process which they are doing nothing to arrest at this time.
There will be substantial increases in costs in other ways this year. We know, for instance, of the revaluation and the increase in rate poundage. The Secretary of State has told me that he is looking into this matter, and I hope that he will give an early decision on the serious problem of the valuation of intensive poultry houses and deep litter sheds.
During the passage of the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) (Scotland) Bill—I am relating this to the farm improvement grant—we warned that in Scotland there would be a serious effect. It is to become operative this autumn. We hear stories of the very high cost of meeting the requirements of the river boards. Although he will be eligible to receive a 25 per cent. grant on improvements of this kind, the poor farmer still has to find the other three-quarters, and sums of £4,000, £5,000 and £6,000 to meet requirements have been mentioned. This is another impost of which the Government have not realised the full implications till far too late.
Now, one or two other points on the farm improvement grant. I condemn the delay since November. I condemn the reduction, with special reference to live-stock rearing areas, one of which I represent, because the proportion of machinery and capital equipment there is not so high. The reduction, therefore, is all the more serious, where we are dealing purely with the provision of equipment on a lower level for livestock itself.
I want the Secretary of State for Scotland to look again at the provisions in Clause 30 regarding what is and what is not a viable farm. I think that the Government are probably setting the sights too high in referring to a profit of £550. I came across a case recently of a march fence on one side of which a farm is considered viable while the one on the other is not. The smaller farm has the disadvantage of qualifying for no grant at all. This, where there is a moral 2083 and legal obligation to provide a march fence, is a very poor administrative decision on the part of the Secretary of State.
Now, two questions on Part I in relation to the beef cow subsidy, a subsidy which I am certain will be of immense value to pure beef breeds such as Galloway and Shorthorn. But will cows of dairy breeds be eligible if they are suckling one calf or if they are multiple suckling? The heading is "Beef cow subsidies" but the reference thereafter is to "any cow maintained for breeding calves for beef". Does this or does it not include cross-calves of Shorthorn or Galloway or Hereford? It seems to me that there may well be a case for including a dairy breed cow which is used not for milking but only for suckling calves.
In the White Paper on the Price Review there is a reference to ground eligible on "upland or poor land elsewhere". I want to know whether that would include low lying merse or flows around, for instance, the Solway Firth, of which the Minister of Agriculture is well aware.
As regards the calf subsidies, under Clause 10, I hope that the Minister will make every effort to expand the provision of cross beef calves from the dairy herd. His actions so far do not give me any encouragement at all. We know that we had the ½d. a gallon at the Price Review and another ½d. under the standard quantities, but we find now from the estimate of the Scottish Milk Marketing Board and the other Milk Marketing Boards that it will be reduced, certainly in Scotland, to 0.62d. This is a parsimonious increase which will not help dairy farmers to expand their production and produce more cross-calves.
The investment allowances under Part II have been dealt with already by many speakers from both sides, so I shall do no more than ask the Secretary of State whether he can find a way of paying this grant in respect of tractors without the necessity of there being a Road Fund licence. After all, out of a grant which may be about £30 each year for three years, 10 per cent. will have to go on the licence fee alone. This is quite nonsensical and it adds unnecessarily to farmers' costs.
The Minister of Agriculture made a number of observations about hill farm- 2084 ing under Part III when moving the Second Reading. There is no side of the industry more in need of a crash programme of help than hill farming. In recent years, hill farmers have received not a penny more for store lambs in the autumn than they were receiving several years ago, and draft ewes are worth only about half what they were ten years ago. This is all in spite of staggering increases in cost—wages, feeding stuffs and transport costs, having gone up while wool, ploughing grants, lime and fertiliser subsidies have gone down.
If the Minister wishes to restrict the expansion of hill farms and the production of mutton to about 40 per cent. of our national requirements, he should say so. But, if that is his view, he is utterly wrong. Hill farms must expand, and the opportunity must be there for them to be profitable. The Review reduced the price of wool by 2d. a lb. and added only ¾d. to the price of mutton. But this sum, too, is false and misleading as it is watered down by the seasonal scales again to 0.62d. This adjustment is made during the period August to December when most hill lambs have been marketed, and the reason given is that this is a recoupment to the deficiency payment scheme for a slight over-payment last year. It serves only to add to the indignation felt by hill farmers.
Furthermore, again from the Scottish point of view, English prices have been higher all season than Scottish, and this has depressed the deficiency payment to the disadvantage of Scotland. The situation may be reversed for fat cattle, but there are very few Scottish hill farms producing fat cattle, so it is no compensation whatever. If this lack of profitability is allowed to continue, the entire sector of hill farming will cease to be viable and fall apart. As lowland farmers cannot now afford to fatten lambs, who is to buy the hill lamb at an economic price? Part III will help the hills, but there must be very much more encouragement, and early encouragement, for breeders and fatteners.
In the same way, I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will look early at the class C winter keep farms. He said at Dunblane, 14 months ago, at the annual general meeting of the Scottish National Farmers' Union, that he would look at the possibility of payment on the 2085 optional headage basis, but we have not heard a word of it since.
There are many other points on which I should like to comment today, particularly on farm structure and my rejection of the suggested rural development board whose powers I find totally unacceptable. Hill farming and forestry must be complementary, as the Minister has said on more than one occasion, but compulsion will only embitter feeling.
I welcome the provisions in Part V, especially the provision of sick pay, although frequently in Scotland and, I expect, in England, Wales and Ireland, this is already the custom.
The trend of my remarks has been to emphasise the serious position of agriculture brought about by the Government's actions. I conclude by quoting the words of a well-known Scottish commentator on agriculture, "Kyle" of the Scottish Farmer. Speaking of the National Farmers' Union annual general meeting at the end of March, only a few weeks ago, and referring particularly to the Secretary of State for Scotland, he said:If he could have been at the meeting or had it accurately reported to him, he must have realised how desperately in need of cash the industry has become and how thoroughly angered and dissatisfied it is with its economic condition.The facts are patently obvious to us all. What we want now is action from the Government.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I welcome this opportunity to make my maiden speech on the introduction of a Bill of vital importance to the constituency for which I have been elected and which is now represented by a Labour Member for the first time in its history. Like some hon. Members opposite, my interests are not entirely in farming, however, and I cannot assume that my election was entirely due to the favour with which my constituents regard the Government's agriculture policy. Indeed, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) might be thought to have given me some assistance in my election by putting up considerable opposition to the Government's plans to diversify the economy in my constituency when he resisted the location in Caithness of the prototype fast reactor.
2086 Caithness and Sutherland is a large and very beautiful constituency. It is an area which very much needs diversification of its economy. It is a matter for note, perhaps, that there are more people now employed in Caithness in non-agricultural work than in farming. Nevertheless, it is with the interests of my constituents very much at heart that I welcome and support the Government's Bill to re-structure agriculture particularly in areas such as the one I represent.
I pay tribute to my predecessor in the House, Mr. George Mackie, who, although he represented Caithness and Sutherland for a very short time, established himself as a well liked Member who worked hard in the interests of his constituents.
Turning to the Bill itself, I recall that the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber)—I regret that he is not here at the moment—said that it had met with very little enthusiasm and support during his election campaign. I cannot concur in this view of the public interest in the Bill. At my election meetings—I had more than 80, with audiences ranging from 7 to 700—there was the greatest enthusiasm for the Measure. This is very much what one would have expected.
Before discussing what I regard as the most important aspect of the Bill for the under-developed rural economies of Britain, I refer in passing to some of the strictures which have been passed on the Selective Employment Tax outlined in the Budget. It has been said by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) that this tax will have the effect of inhibiting and making more awkward the forward planning of farmers. In my view, the forward planning of farmers was much more seriously threatened by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends opposite in their proposals made during the election campaign for abolishing the price support system which we have known over the years. One feels that it is, perhaps, the intention of right hon. and hon. Members opposite to distract attention from their extremely threatening proposals by the present kerfuffle they are making over this tax.
However, I share some of the doubts which have been expressed on both sides of the House about the merits of the proposal in the White Paper on the Selective Employment Tax to offset the cost 2087 through the Price Review. I look for some clarification of this from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in due course. I hope that hon. Members opposite will not seek to fan the flames of the disquiet which farmers quite rightly now feel about this measure.
The proposals to encourage hill farming outlined in the Bill must meet with wide acceptance, as indeed do the proposals concerned with the re-structuring of farming through the amalgamation of uneconomic units. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) said, one cannot see the re-structuring of the farming industry as a cure-all. Indeed, in certain parts where there is no alternative type of employment, at the moment it is clearly out of the question.
However, it is not put forward by the Minister as a cure-all. It is merely one weapon in a wide range of tools to improve the economic efficiency of this already efficient industry. It is put forward particularly to assist those who have alternative means of employment; and this, it may be, is not in the more backward rural areas such as those described by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan.
I want to pay particular tribute to the imagination involved in the proposals to set up rural development boards. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) dismissed these proposals as creeping nationalisation. There were few farmers or crofters in Caithness and Sutherland who blenched when the Highlands and Islands Development Act was passed, with its much more sweeping proposals for the acquisition of land. Indeed, if I have any criticism to make of the powers proposed for the Rural Development Boards it is that they do not go far enough.
The particular difference between the two proposals is that the Highlands and Islands Development Board can acquire land compulsorily and not merely with the consent of the majority of land-owners. This in the history of the Highlands was clearly a vital consideration, because for too long has that part of the world been the private preserve of too few, for interests not connected with the well-being of those who live there the year round.
2088 There is one aspect of the Government's proposals outlined in the Bill which I think is possibly an improvement on the Highlands and Islands Development Board scheme. This is the proposal that schemes of development for the diversification and co-ordination of the rural economies shall be drawn up in a plan which shall be available for public inspection and which shall be subject, if the Minister so decrees, to a public inquiry. This is a vital condition to ensure that no bureaucratic solution is imposed on an unwilling community. I have no doubt whatsoever that the Highlands and Islands Development Board and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would not impose such solutions, but the fact that such safeguards exist will undoubtedly allay any fears that might exist as to the working of the rural development boards.
I look forward to the Bill's speedy passage through the House and I conceive it as a Measure which will command the widest support, both in the House and in the rural communities at large.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
It is always a privilege to follow a maiden speaker. It is particularly so this afternoon, because as this debate has proceeded the wisdom of the remark made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) has become clear. He said that this should be a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill. The diversification of our agriculture is such that perhaps it could not be better typified than by the constituency of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. MacLennan) and my own, which is as flat as a pancake.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman most warmly on the way he addressed the House for the first time. I hope that it does not sound too condescending when I say that what I particularly relished about the hon. Gentleman's remarks was that to begin with he did not ask for indulgence. He then proceeded in the most courteous manner to be extremely controversial, without it being perhaps immediately apparent. This, to me, is the essence of a really effective maiden speech.
The hon. Gentleman raised one particular issue which I think is involved throughout the Bill. I hope that the 2089 Minister will pay careful attention to this. I think that, if I were a Socialist, I should be in favour of complete Socialism, because the only hope Socialism ever had was to be logical and to go right through with it. The more an attempt is made to compromise Socialism and match it up to the capitalist system and free enterprise, the bigger the nonsense one gets into.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland say that he felt that probably the powers to be accorded the rural development boards will not go far enough. Once the proposition that these sort of boards are necessary is accepted, one must then accept the logic that it may be found necessary, and probably will be found necessary, to intensify their powers and increase their scope. This is one of the biggest reasons why I dislike them intensely, but if I were a Socialist I should probably love them; but I should love them only if I felt they were based on sound Socialist logic.
The Minister has had a pretty rough day. At one moment he has been told that his Bill does not go far enough. At another moment he has been told that it has not been brought forward quickly enough, especially over the question of the farm improvement grants. I strongly agree with that criticism. The next moment the Minister has been told that he is going too far. I suppose that, in the light of that, his Department will advise him that what he has set as his course is probably the right one.
I would always be very watchful about what the right hon. Gentleman is told by his Department. I have a family interest in this Department, in that my mother's father was the last President of the Board of Agriculture and the first Minister of Agriculture. He was a Liberal, of course. Over the years I have watched Minister after Minister, shall I say, debauching what I am sure my grandfather had in mind as regards the way his Department should operate.
There is one thing that I think the Minister must always keep in mind. I think this was best expressed in the history of the Ministry written by one of its former Permanent Under-Secretaries, that whatever else it becomes it ought to remain what it originally was—namely, the 2090 most human of all Government Departments. What I am most worried about in this Bill is the inhumanity of much of it. Whatever we may have thought about this Bill last November—and many of us had many misgivings which are not in the least relieved by what has been said today—the conditions under which that Bill was introduced last November were very different indeed from the conditions under which this Bill is being introduced today. I remember Sir Winston Churchill saying that the important thing in life, so far as he was concerned, was to reserve the right to change one's mind when circumstances change. He regarded that ability in his own case as one of the greatest reasons for his own successes—the fact that he was always ready to change his mind when circumstances changed.
My goodness, circumstances have changed since the first Bill was introduced. Once upon a time there was a Minister called Tom Williams. He was greatly loved by the farming industry. But I think we all would recognise that however much loved he was, his task was a great deal easier than is the task of any Minister of Agriculture today. The requirement then was quantity, quantity, quantity, regardless of quality. Today it is quality that is important and the efficiency with which that quality is achieved. Therefore, any Minister today has a far harder task. But, taking all those things into account, we have to remember one thing about Tom Williams. When Sir Stafford Cripps was Chancellor of the Exchequer and tried to do something which would undermine the pledges which the then Minister of Agriculture had given, Tom Williams threatened to resign.
I say to the Minister: however ambitious and sincere he may be, however dedicated to the cause of agriculture, if he has any ambition to achieve the sort of things that any Minister ought to achieve, ambition must be made of sterner stuff than the right hon. Gentleman appears to possess. What has happened as a result of this Budget is that this Bill is introduced today in circumstances so different as to challenge the relevance of all parts of the Bill. It is significant that the Minister did not consider it necessary to come to hear the Chancellor introduce his Budget. At least, I could not see him anywhere in the 2091 Chamber. Whether his indignation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer was such that he could not endure the Chancellor's speech, I do not know. That may be quite a good reason, but it is not enough.
This Bill, whatever it might have done when it was introduced in 1965, may easily prove to be totally useless as a result of what the Chancellor has done. Surely the whole emphasis now on agriculture is for larger and more efficient holdings and more effective employment per man. What must be the effect of this Selective Employment Tax? Nowadays we often talk in terms of abbreviations. This tax is referred to as the S.E.T. This is a "SET"-back to agriculture. I hope that hon. Members will realise the appalling damage which has been done to agriculture by the Chancellor.
However much we may sympathise with the Minister in the position in which he finds himself, I want to tell him this. He and I came into this House, I think, on the same day in 1945. I do not know whether he has noticed the same things that I have, but one of the things I deplore in this House is the tendency more and more to decide exactly the line that one will take in a debate and what one will do at the end of the debate, before it ever starts. We have these party committees consulting on various topics. I would prefer to see more and more hon. Members coming to this place and listening to what is said in a debate, refraining from making up their minds what they will do until the end of the debate. I am not going to decide what I shall do at the end of this debate, until I have heard what the Secretary of State for Scotland has to say when he replies.
I do not believe there is one hon. Member who has spoken in the debate and who has not criticised the Minister's policy in some way or other. Hon. Members on his own side of the House have tried to "lard it up" by saying nice things, but there is not one hon. Member opposite who has not made some criticism, with much of which I agree. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) made an interesting reference to the labelling of meat. I agree with him. My own butchers have told me the same thing. Labelling is a favourite policy of the Labour Party— 2092 "Signposts for the Sixties", pointing in every direction but the right one!
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will instruct the Secretary of State for Scotland to give a much better reply to the debate than he himself was able to give by way of justification of where he stands in relation to the Chancellor's policy. One thing the Labour Government have got to learn if they want to make a success of agriculture is that it is no good having a Department of Economic Affairs going in one direction, the Chancellor of the Exchequer going in another direction, the Minister of Technology going in yet another, and then expecting the Minister of Agriculture to find his way with one or more of them. There is only one direction in which he can go. In which direction is the Minister going?
I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will give us some reassurance on how the pledges in paragraph 17 of the White Paper on the Selective Employment Tax, relating to agriculture and horticulture, will be implemented. I should like an answer to this specific question. Are we to assume that what is in the Bill is all that horticulture will get by way of compensation for the Selective Employment Tax, or are we to expect very soon some additional horticultural legislation?
Paragraph 17 states:In horticulture the effects of the tax will be taken into account in the development of horticultural policy …What horticultural policy—the horticultural policy that is contained in this Bill? If that is all, it is not enough. Unless the right hon. Gentleman can give some better assurances than have been given so far, there is only one thing that he can decently do and that is to resign from his office.
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Hilton (Bethnal Green)
I am indebted to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me because I feel that I cannot claim to be speaking on behalf of the farming community of Bethnal Green. Perhaps this means that I can adopt a more objective attitude to the Bill than has been displayed by some hon. Members opposite.
Another point that I should like to make is this. There is a Motion signed 2093 by a number of hon. Members asking that back benchers be limited in the time in which they take to make contributions. I believe that the best traditions of this House are established by the voluntary contributions of hon. Members, and I hope to support those traditions today by limiting very much what I have to say.
Although I was not a Member of the last Parliament—in fact, there are a number of us on these benches who were not in the last Parliament and are happy to find ourselves here now—I know that the previous Measure was contentious. I know that a great deal of discussion took place. What has rather surprised me in the contributions coming from the benches opposite has been the lack of quality that one sometimes finds in a trade union conference. For instance, if one makes hard-hitting speeches opposing a document which has been put forward by the trade union executive, somebody is sure to rise and say, "If you do not agree with this, what exactly would you do in our place?"
I am suggesting that today there has been a lack of constructive criticism from the Opposition benches. Hon. Members opposite have been concerned simply to try to find faults with what I believe is a very comprehensive Bill which will help the industry. I believe it will help in this way. There is only one other industry in this country which bears a resemblance to farming, and that is the construction industry. They are both subject to the vagaries of the weather. They also both have a very large number of employers. The farmer is an individualist, and so is the building employer. Even in the construction industry it is said among employers that the only way they will make themselves more efficient and supply a cheaper product is by greater concentration of control and capital.
Part IV of the Bill, in relation to co-operatives, gives a progressive chance to the farmers to come together in co-operative arrangements and to try to do that for themselves. I have heard no mention by hon. Members opposite of Part IV. They talk about the Bill being a rehash of old Measures. I have never known a Conservative Administration try to encourage co-operation among farmers in this country to make distribution efficient.
2094 May I express a little sympathy with the farmers? They suffer, as do the initial producers of many products in this country, in the margin which they get for producing the commodity compared with the margin which the retailer gets. We have heard about the price of a lettuce to the consumer in the shops compared with the very small price which the farmer gets for producing it. The Bill will allow farmers to set up consumer co-operatives for buying and distribution which might help to recoup for the farmer a greater part of the final price which is paid by the consumer for the product. I certainly believe that Part IV of the Bill deserves far more attention than has been given it so far in the House.
I mention this point because I have been identified with the co-operative movement for many years. There is an illusion abroad that the co-operative movement operates only in relation to retail grocery trade but in fact it can be an entire way of life. One can use it to build houses and one can use it to produce goods. If farmers wish to retain their individuality of ownership, and if they reject nationalisation, as hon. Members opposite have said, then at least this is a way in which they can retain their individuality by coming together in co-operative societies which will help them and which ultimately will help the consumer by keeping prices down.
On Second Reading in the last Parliament, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) expressed some reservation about Part IV dealing with co-operative activities. He had consultations with the Minister. I wish to express the thanks of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington and of Co-operative members for the courtesy which was extended to them by the Minister on that occasion and for the way in which their reservations on co-operatives were met.
That is the contribution which I wished to make to the debate. If farmers can get together with the definite aid provided by the Bill, and with the new thinking which it offers, especially in Part IV, they may find that a Labour Administration is not only trying to help them but is providing completely new and radical thoughts which will help the 2095 farming community while at the same time helping those who buy its product.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
May I be allowed to pay a tribute to my predecessor, Sir Herbert Butcher? He was a Member of the House for many years, having been elected before the war. He managed to combine the offices of Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, Chief Whip of his party, and, Mr. Speaker, membership of your Panel. The House will not be surprised to learn that in the County of Holland he is regarded with very real affection, but the House will be saddened to know that he is still a sick man. I know that it is his regret that, having fallen gravely ill a few weeks before the dissolution, he was unable to come back while still a Member and say farewell to a House which he served for so long and revered so much.
I cannot share the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton) for the Bill because, like the Budget, the Bill shows that the Government are oblivious to the gravest problem which is going to face the world and to the part which this country must play in solving that problem, a part which we must play immediately and before it is too late.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned us not once but several time that two-thirds of the human race suffers from malnutrition or under-nutrition. It is estimated that half of our fellow humans live in famine conditions. Millions are starving to death every year.
Yet the human race will double in size from about 3,000 million to some 6,000 million before this century is ended—and in a few months we shall be in the last third of this century. Our own population is expected to grow by two-fifths within that period so this country will have to feed another 20 million mouths.
The problem is aggravated by a growing demand for better and more expensive foods. The authors of the National Plan have calculated that by 1970 we shall be spending 8 per cent. more on food than we spend today. In terms of money that means another £200 million. That calculation cannot allow 2096 for the increase in the population after 1970. On the minimum assumption that our children will demand the same standards of food as our own, it follows that we shall be spending more than £1,000 million on food to feed ourselves.
There are plain reasons why we cannot depend on imports. The first is that, quite obviously, no Chancellor of the Exchequer could countenance such an addition to the balance of payments. Secondly, imports of such a magnitude would mean still more many millions starving to death in other parts of the world. Financially and morally we cannot afford that extra food.
Taking our food and the feeding stuff for our farm animals together, as the House well knows we produce about half of our needs. For our existing population we have achieved self-sufficiency in milk, eggs, poultry, pork, oats, barley and main crop potatoes. No student of agriculture would have believed that massive expansion possible a third of a century ago. Unfortunately, the Bill shows the Government to be quite complacent about the need for any further massive expansion. They do not seem to have grasped the enormity of the problem of feeding 20 million more mouths at a time when the starvation of hundred of millions will be an undoubted fact. The Government should realise that there is no reason why our soil, which is some of the richest in the world, should not meet nearly all our needs. For such a massive expansion of agriculture the plans must be laid now, years before their execution. That is a point which must be understood by the planners in Whitehall. The land is there, as the Minister acknowledged in his speech today. Ten million tractable acres are available, hitherto untouched by either farmer or builder. We have the manpower, although I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) referred to horticulture, which will be sorely hit by the set-back imposed by the Budget.
We have the skill. What is needed is an end to the crazy system which causes farmers to be deterred from producing more food. The Bill misses the point. It loses an opportunity that is available to us now. There will not be many more opportunities before we are plunged into the critical problem to which I have referred.
2097 Farming should have the same protection as is given to industry generally, or, perhaps I should now say, manufacturing industry. Given import controls and the same system of taxation before it is too late, the farmer would have both the confidence and the incentive to increase production. I believe that any progressive and efficient farmer would gladly exchange grants, subsidies and all the rest of the Whitehall aids in return for such import control and taxation as would put him on a par with the industrialist.
The Government must realise that there can be no expansion of our food production unless farmers have confidence in Government policy. That confidence is now lacking. It will never be regained while the Government sanction the import of food when our own farmers are growing food of the same quality and having to plough it back or make it into stock-feed because their market is being usurped by imports.
The Minister is looking a little doubtful at what I say, but I invite him to come to the County of Holland, where I could point out fields of good food being wasted. In one field alone, 12 acres of onions have been laid waste.
The Government must tear up the chapter on agriculture in the National Plan and they should tear up several Clauses of the Bill. They must rethink their attitude towards farming. They must get under way a second Agricultural Revolution, no less radical than the first.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, that I have caught your eye at this late stage in the debate. I wish quickly to congratulate the hon. Members on the benches opposite who have made their maiden speeches. The Minister of Agriculture will surely welcome the addition of three new agricultural Members to support him. His support has been pretty thin on the ground before. I congratulate these maiden speakers on the way they spoke. We look forward to hearing them again. I would also like to pay a short tribute to Mr. James Scott-Hopkins, the former Member for Cornwall, North. I miss him in this afternoon's debate.
The Bill, as the Minister rightly says, is of major importance with far-reaching 2098 implications. I do not think that most farmers realise how it will affect their industry. The Minister, of course, has great hopes pinned on it for the success of agriculture, but I wonder how far it will go to relieve the very real fears o[...] the farming community. In my experience those fears are justified. One has only to read what the Farmer and Stock-Breeder said the other day about the industry:This industry which Great Britain so largely depends on for economic survival is ranged with dissatisfaction and sometimes despair.I wonder whether the Bill will really do anything to allay the fears of the farming community. I do not think that it will. This is what saddens we about it.
When I read the previous Bill, I had some enthusiasm for it, but, like the bridegroom who was waiting at the church door for a long time, I am beginning to lose my enthusiasm. I feel that this will mean that in the end we have more State control. Surely, the duty of a Minister of Agriculture is to create the right climate for the farming industry so that they can get on with the task without being entangled in the web of Socialist nonsense.
I believe that the Bill lacks vision. There is nothing in it about going into Europe. The Minister may say that it should not contain anything in that respect, but he should at least do something to create the right climate so that we are ready when that time comes. The Minister lacks vision. The Bill contains nothing about import control. This is, perhaps, the great "must" in agriculture today.
The Minister reminds me very much of a farmer who goes into his field and looks only at the grass by the gate. He does not look ahead. He has no vision. I cannot see anything in the Bill to facilitate our entry into the Common Market or to seek to control imports. If we had some measure of control of imports, it would be of tremendous benefit to the agricultural community.
There is much more that I could say, but I am grateful for the opportunity of saying these few words. No doubt, in spite of what hon. Members opposite have said, we shall debate the Bill fiercely in Committee.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
We would all agree that considering that this is the second time we have debated the great majority of the Bill, we have had a remarkably fresh debate. I am, I think, voicing the feelings of hon. Members on both sides when I say that a great measure of responsibility for this lies upon those who have made their maiden speeches today. I do not think that there have ever been three better maiden speakers—I certainly have not listened to any better—in a debate. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards), with his call for a marketing board, must have caught the ear of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is on record not so long ago as being strongly in favour of one, too. The hon. Member's views certainly caught my ear, not only on the subject of small farms, but when he criticised his own Front Bench, because that was precisely what I did in my own maiden speech.
The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) made his wide knowledge of law so obvious to hon. Members that I suspect that the Secretary of State for Scotland may well be thinking of him as a substitute in Committee for that much-lamented Law Officer for Scotland.
I envied the ability of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) to address the House for the first occasion with only a brief glance at his notes. I appreciated, as everyone else will have done, the generosity of his tribute to his predecessor. I am longing to see the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow to learn the spelling of "kerfuffle".
I would merely express this caution to our maiden speakers. I hope that they are not going to be led into any arid desert of frustration as a result of these speeches. The right hon. Gentleman could not see the embarrassment on the faces of the three hon. Gentlemen behind him when he referred to their activity in the Committee on the previous Bill. Even the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor), who did make two interventions in that Committee, quite clearly thought that the right hon. Gentleman was pitching it a bit high when he called it activity. If I may say so, it is pretty significant that all the activists on the other side of this House have been very careful to stay 2100 away today, in the desperate hope of escaping the Committee for a second time.
I congratulated the right hon. Gentleman in the last Second Reading debate upon taking part in an Agriculture Bill for a third time, but now, on his third and a half time, I must say I am sorry he has not taken advantage of all the good ideas which were thrown up in Committee. I am sorry that he has not shown that flexibility of mind that he was always insisting was necessary in studying this Bill to make some worthwhile changes.
I know there are some. They mostly apply to figures. The Meat Commission is limited to 10, thank goodness. On the other hand, there is an increase from seven to nine in the Consumers' Committee. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the period of 60 years in connection with application of conditions to amalgamations is reduced to 40. It is still far too long. There is the significant change in the administration costs of the farm structure proposals in Clauses 26-29 and Clause 37. There is absolutely no significant change in the texts of the two Bills with regard to these Clauses, but, somehow or another, between November and April, when the two Bills respectively appeared, the administration costs in connection with these three Clauses have doubled from £250,000 to £500,000. There are even fewer changes in Clauses 39, 40, 41 and 42. There, we are told, the administrative costs are up by £50,000, actual as well as forecast, and if that is not inflation running away I do not know what is.
I think—this is a Clause which has not been touched upon today—there are welcome changes to Clause 21, which was formerly Clause 20, for better facilities for appeal. These were, quite clearly, inspired by Amendments put down by the Opposition, admittedly long before the Clause was reached.
When I read the new Bill my heart rose when I found a large slab of Clause 9 missing, but, alas, as I read on I found that this is all in Schedule 2 instead. Every one of the dreary features of Clause 9 are back again unexplained and quite inexplicable. We have got, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir Frank Pearson) said with some 2101 trenchancy, the quotas, the rationalisation, the concentration, the reducing of excess capacity, and the power to close undertakings, and we have still got rural development boards with grossly excessive powers and the quite blatant bias—and well the right hon. Gentleman knows it—the quite blatant bias against private forestry. All this remains. I hope that the criticisms which have been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Clitheroe and Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) have let the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member the enthusiast for Bury and Radcliffe see that they will both once again have to fight hard in Committee.
A very interesting new Clause, which has been much referred to, is Clause 12. I presume that this has been put in as a result of the examinations of hill land, which were promised by the right hon. Gentleman during the last Second Reading debate, but I have not grasped fully today what is the right hon. Gentleman's fundamental intention. Is his fundamental desire to get more beef in order to cope with the famine problem? I ask that because that is what it will be when the population of the world reaches the limit which we know it will reach at the end of the century, and when we have 2 million more people in this country by 1970. All this was referred to by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body). Is that the right hon. Gentleman's primary intention, or is it his primary aim to help the farmers in the upland areas and in what is called poor low ground? I have not detected that, but one thing which has become quite clear is that this grant is not for the hills, or the uplands, or for poor low ground. It is for all land, and this is something which was by no means clear until we heard the right hon. Gentleman's statement today that in fact all farms would qualify.
A month ago the N.F.U. of Scotland believed that nearly every beef cow outside the hill areas was to be included. That was the union's belief. That was the impression which it had been given, and I believe that it was commonly felt until not very long ago that the idea was that farms were to be individually graded, in the same sort of way as they are graded for the hill cow subsidy. I am glad, for the sake of officials, that 2102 it has become clear today that they are to be spared this, but I should like to return to the point made by my right hon. Friend with regard to the number of cows which are to qualify.
It is perfectly simple, from the cost of the scheme, to work out that 369,000 cows at £6 9s. are expected to qualify under this new scheme, and we know that the United Kingdom beef herd consists of 1,018,000 cows. There are 240,000 hill cows in Scotland, and as the hill cow subsidy for Scotland is half that of the United Kingdom, there must be about 240,000 hill cows in England as a whole. If we deduct 480,000 from 1,018,000, we are left with 543,000. There is therefore a gap of about 174,000 cows which will not come into the scheme, and that, as my right hon. Friend said, although arriving at it by a different route, is about one-third of all the cows outside the hill areas. One-third of them will not qualify. That is still a considerable difference from what the National Farmers' Union seemed to have been led to believe—that practically every cow would come in.
I now turn to the Farm Improvement Scheme. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) has said, it has been a sad and very long-drawn-out story. There has been absolutely no need for such protraction. Probably no one in this House who has kept his eyes wide open as he has gone about the countryside would deny that this has been an excellent scheme, and that it has done more than anything else to bring our agriculture industry into the state of efficiency which it now enjoys. But he would also agree that there is still a tremendous lot to be done under it.
The right hon. Gentleman gave some figures—very convenient figures for him—as to the way in which applications had still been coming in. I think they proved to be higher for the United Kingdom than in the same period last year. Perhaps he wanted to leave to his right hon. Friend the question of Scotland, because one has to be very careful in Scottish affairs. I dare say that he was leaving it to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to tell us that applications to the Department of Agriculture for Scotland during the period November-February were down by nearly 300 on the same 2103 period last year—a cut of about 20 per cent. It is quite clear that this is the well-known canniness—a virtue much to be admired—of the Scottish race, who will not lay out large sums of money, or even apply to take part in a scheme which will involve their laying out large sums of money, when they have not the faintest idea when they will get the Government grant.
The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) raised a matter of the utmost importance, namely, the place of syndicates in the Farm Improvement Scheme. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1963, the grants were extended to syndicates which owned grain dryers and stores—and only to syndicates engaged in that activity. It is certain that Clause 30 does not refer to syndicates; indeed, it clearly refers to persons. My information, obtained from one of those interested in the grain plants to which the hon. Member re-referred, and which I visited two years ago, is that his application for a grant for the new fixed equipment which he wished to put in as an extension to the outfit which has proved so successful has been refused because it is held to be ineligible under the new Act.
I do not require to emphasise to the House the importance of co-operation in agriculture or any other industry, and it seems to me to be the mark of the greatest stupidity that, having brought syndicates into the Farm Improvement Scheme, they are to be denied taking advantage of the grant from now onwards.
I will now direct my remarks more specifically to the Secretary of State. He never seems to radiate that blunt and scarifying nature—if I may use a good farming expression—with which we associate him in this House when he goes about among farmers. He has rather strange ways of dealing with them. I recollect—of course, he will too—that, before the election before the last, he boosted the hopes of the farmers in Scotland by saying that he was tremendously in favour of statutory marketing boards. He wanted one for meat. He absolutely captured the annual general meeting of the N.F.U.—that is a remarkably difficult 2104 thing to do: I say that with great feeling—in 1965 by promising, among other things, to look at the Winter Keep Scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries referred to this.
There is an injustice here which should be cleared up. We are still waiting, and so are the farmers to whom he promised this review. He went to Caithness before the election. I do not wish to pitch the effect of this too high, but it may be that the result of that visit led to a maiden speech here this afternoon. What I shall do is to quote what the Scottish Farmer reported. It said:Complaints from his audience about the Price Review and agriculture in Caithness, particularly as regards sheep, brought from Mr. Ross the reply that when drawing up the the new Agriculture Bill he would see"—that special attention would be given to particular sections of farming. There is nothing whatever in this new Bill for those particular sections of farming in Caithness. If either right hon. Gentleman says, "What about Clause 12?" I will reply that Clause 12 will not apply to Caithness, because practically every farmer in Caithness enjoys the winter keep grant and therefore gets the hill cow subsidy help.
All this means one of two things—either the Minister of Agriculture is stubborn and enjoys none of the flexibility of mind which he urges on other people, or the Secretary of State has no influence at all. One pays one's money and takes one's choice. As has been said, there is something in another Bill which will cancel out every thing which this Bill seeks to do—that is no over-statement. I would go so far as to say that the Selective Employment Tax will hit the remote areas harder than others because it is in those areas that the store stock, the cattle and sheep, are raised. There is no means—other than increasing the production grants—of raising the deficiency payments or the guarantee and getting the money to those areas.
This, plus what I believe to be one of the worst price reviews which Scotland has ever endured—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is not aware of the fact that his right hon. Friend informed me in answer to a Question that the Scottish farmers had had to bear one-sixth of the extra cost and received only one-eighth of the increased guarantees—must be 2105 taken together with the fact that he can give no indication whatever of Scotland's share of the efficiency factor. I have my suspicions that its share is a very low one because of the heavy preponderance of livestock husbandry in Scotland. It is well known that whereas the big arable farmer, the corn grower, can mop up increased costs by greater capital expenditure and greater efficiency, it is very difficult to get greater output from a shepherd in the lambing shed or in the barn.
I absolutely agree with the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton) on the use of the phrase "as far as practicable" in the Price Review in relation to reimbursement. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) raised this matter this morning, I believe that the Minister said, "We intend to offset the tax". I do not recollect ever seeing anyone on the Treasury Front Bench who seemed so desperately unhappy about the position in which I believe the right hon. Gentleman has been put. He knows as well as I do that reimbursement under the Price Review is utterly impracticable. Frankly, I believe it to be almost dishonest of the Government to suggest that reimbursement could be made in the Price Review.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe spoke of the position of the dairy farm. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) said that the sheep sector was a difficult one. How true that is—and as long as overseas agreements restrict production here, just so long will our sheep sector be the problem child it has been for quite a time. How do we refund the £65 tax per annum on a low-ground shepherd if we do not give an award to either lamb, or to wool, in the Price Review?
In view of all this, hon. Members on both sides will go into the Standing Committee determined to examine this Bill. If, as was the case on the last occasion, we do not get explanations from the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, it will be a process in which formality will be accompanied by the unreality, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said so rightly, that has surrounded most of our discussion today.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
It is sometimes surprising to new Members to discover that the Second Reading of a Bill is the first time it is ever discussed. This has been truly the Second Reading of this Bill, because it is the second Second Reading. I confess that the speeches from the Front Bench opposite were just "cauld kale rehet"—and if the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) wants a translation of that expression I am sure that his hon Friend sitting beside him will, even though he comes from Edinburgh, be able to supply it.
I begin on a friendly note, in connection with which the House as a whole has a certain measure of congratulation to give in respect of the new Members whom we have heard today. We have had three excellent maiden speeches—all from lawyers. It may well be an indication of faith and the need for lawyers in certain parts of the country that all three are from areas of small farming.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) made a speech that showed his feeling for the country and for the agricultural industry that stemmed from his own experience. Occasionally, of course, he was not too kind to his own Front Bench, but we will all admit that it was an excellent speech and one that we certainly can commend. We hope to hear more from him. The same may be said of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan), who follows another old friend of ours, Mr. Roddy Bowen. Once again, he showed his legal interest in things which have worried small farmers in a particular area. Both these speeches from hon. Friends representing Welsh constituencies gave me a certain satisfaction. I spent my officer training in Merioneth and I know the coast further down as well. I can assure my hon. Friends that their speeches were worthy of their constituencies and of the scenery of their constituencies. That is saying something.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) is a very new Member. He came, surprisingly, from one of the most northerly parts of the Scottish mainland. He thought the same about the problems of the small farmer and crofter and showed that he can properly represent them in 2107 this House. All these maiden speeches shook me when I thought of my own maiden speech and the lack of assurance I felt on that occasion. It is right that we should pay tribute to them and should wish these hon. Members well in their work in this House. The House will be glad to hear them again if their standard is maintained.
I come to a speech which was not a maiden speech. The speech of the right hon. Member for Grantham was more or less the mixture as before. He said that on the main provisons of the Bill he could only repeat what he said before, and he read part of his earlier speech. So he cannot protest if I quote his speeches. He said that the Bill is an unexciting dish, but, if one puts as much vinegar on it as he did, it cannot be very exciting. I suggest that he should approach it with more objectivity. The right hon. Gentleman said that agriculture featured well in the election and that he found great hostility to the Bill. I never heard about that, even in Caithness and Sutherland. There was a long meeting of farmers of Caithness and Sutherland who were not seeing eye to eye with the Scottish National Farmers' Union, but that could not be condensed into one phrase in a report in the Scotsman.
I was surprised that hon. Members opposite dared to mention the election in this connection. I liked the finish of the right hon. Gentleman's speech—about the great need for centuries of dust to be blown off the thinking of Whitehall. We did not have a Board of Agriculture until 1889, but during the period from 1889 the people who have occupied the places of power in Whitehall until recently have been of the party of the right hon. Gentleman. It is interesting to note that the last Tory Minister of Agriculture is no longer with us. That is not as a result of hostility to this Bill. His hon. Friend who was Parliamentary Secretary is also no longer with us. I am not going into the question of the P.P.S. who is not with us either. They were all good friends of ours and we enjoyed their speeches. We miss their faces, but not their politics. If hon. Members opposite want to mention the election, let them be fair about it.
There was no mention during his last speech on the Bill in this House in the 2108 last Parliament by the hon. Member about a great new change in Tory Party thinking. That was based on entry into the Common Market without any questions being asked. Whether the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) likes it or not, what he said was reported in the Scotsman. I have the cutting. It was that the cost to consumers would he £400 million.
§ Mr. Stodart
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has the other cutting from the Scotsman admitting that the sentence had been wrongly reported.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Member has been challenged about this time and time again, but he has never denied it in this House. The point I make is that in the month of November, despite the fact that I believe this new policy had been unveiled, the hon. Gentleman did not think it worthwhile mentioning it in this House during that debate. It was not until we were in the election itself that we heard about this great new policy.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
For the sake of historical accuracy, has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten that there was a little booklet published called, "Putting Britain Right Ahead" in which my right hon. Friend announced this at the Conservative Party conference preceding the debate in November, 1965?
§ Mr. Godber
The right hon. Gentleman has challenged me, so will he allow me to say that I did not raise this matter on that occasion, because I doubted whether it would be in order on the Second Reading of the Bill? When I raised it this morning, Mr. Speaker said that I was straying rather widely of the debate.
§ Mr. Ross
Yes, but the right hon. Member did manage to mention it, although there were one or two things on which he had to be careful not to stray too far from the debate. When it was proclaimed during the election, the one thing which was clear was the reaction of the farming community. It was immediately greeted with howls of protest by the National Farmers' Union and 2109 before the election period finished there was a little back-tracking on the conditions applicable to going into the Common Market. So it surprised me that the right hon. Gentleman raised this matter today.
He talked about Clause 9 being dictatorial in its aspect. That is a bit of nonsense. We have to make up our minds and put things right in relation to the whole position of livestock in production, marketing and distribution. It does not matter whether it is a producers' marketing board or not, certain powers have to be given to those who have responsibility for reorganisation. We have got to face this. If we are to improve the industry, if we are to improve marketing, if we are to improve slaughtering—my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) again made an excellent speech on this subject and uaderlined the need for improvements there—the powers will not only have to be given but will have to be exercised.
Under the schemes coming forward under the Bill, there should be every right and justification given for objections to be heard. This is perfectly correct. Let us not underestimate the extent to which we have gone to ensure that people will have their objections heard and that the Minister himself, before he decides to put a scheme before the House, as it must be, will take all these matters into consideration. We have legislation under which schemes of this nature in different industries are brought forward. The White Fish Authority, for example, has exactly the same power, but no one will suggest that there has been dictatorial overriding of the interests of particular individuals. We remember, of course, that the benefit for the whole industry is itself at stake. This applies throughout from the farm to the auction market, to the slaughterhouse and to the retail unit itself.
If we are to put the industry right, we must accept our responsibilities to it as a whole and balance against them these questions of what would appear to be dictatorial powers. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman questioned even the provisions of Clause 9(7). If he looks at the provisions of Livestock Industry Act, 1937, introduced by his own friends before the war, he will find practically 2110 the same words in respect of over riding private Acts, public Acts and the rest in force up to the passing of that Act. So let us be fair and reasonable about it.
The right hon. Gentleman claimed that Clause 12 did not have the clarity demanded of an Act of Parliament. I do not know whether he realises, but he reminded me of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West because that was more or less the criticism he made of the Winter Keep Scheme when it was introduced. And how glorious was he when he came to power, because all the criticisms he raised regarding the Winter Keep Scheme are still there. Although he had responsibility for agriculture in Scotland for some time before the election, he never managed to put them right. He never even made the effort, so far as I know.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the calculations regarding the number of cows which will qualify, and his hon. Friend came to exactly the same figure by a different route. The estimate is £2,400,000, and the implication is that one-third to one-half—this was the conclusion of the hon. Gentleman's figures—of the number of beef cows outside the hill areas would qualify for the new subsidy. The figure of £2,400,000 is based on an estimate at the rate of £6 10s. per head on 370,000 cows, and that figure of 370,000 is to be compared with the estimated total of 520,000 beef cows in the United Kingdom in areas outside the hills. We estimate that nearly three-quarters of all beef cows below the hill areas will qualify. Moreover, there is a higher proportion of beef cows in Scotland, so there will be a higher proportion brought into the beef cow subsidy under Clause 12, so it may well be that we shall not be very far from the figures about which we have been talking.
The hon. Gentleman spoke also about Clause 8 and referred to the liability of the employer for activities of employees. He said that there was a Committee point here. It will be the scheme under the Clause which will delineate, denote or create an offence, and it will be the nature of the offence itself which will determine what will be the relevant defence. In relation to an absolute offence, it may well be right to limit the liability of the employer in respect of activities of an employee. This is something which we 2111 can look at (a) in Committee and (b) further when we have the scheme. But I assure the House that we are not unmindful of the point which is worthy of consideration there.
As regards the Farm Improvement Scheme, I am perfectly sure that the farmers who spoke about this during the election preferred it. If there is a hiatus, it is not this Government's responsibility. The hiatus came under the original Act which put the time limit of ten years but did not provide sufficient money either in the initial stage or in the extention to last ten years. If we had not taken action to carry it on, the thing would have come to an end.
§ Mr. Ross
The right hon. Gentleman did not deal with it very fairly in his speech because his selective references to one particular farmer in Lincolnshire were not entirely correct in relation to the average person who would be involved. When account is taken of what is being done here, we are justified in expecting some compliments from hon. Members opposite instead of kicks. The figures which have been provided of the number of people who have made application to join the scheme show that it is not as unpopular as the hon. Gentleman would have us believe.
Even in relation to Scotland, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman re-checks his figures. According to the figures I have, there are 99 more applications in Scotland this year than for the comparable period last year. There is a very slight increase in the total value of actual authorisations. Three hundred thousand pounds has been authorised for grant, which is exactly the same as that in the same period in the previous year. I do not think that these facts show that the Farm Improvement Scheme is as bad as the hon. Gentleman would have us believe.
2112 The hon. Gentleman gave us some credit—it was very grudging credit—for having made a change in relation to Schedule 4. The hon. Gentleman really should stop throwing dust in the eyes of farmers. They are used to this kind of thing on the land. They can easily shut their eyes and protect themselves. The result of the election in farming areas has conclusively shown this up and down the whole country.
The hon. Gentleman asked me a very important question about tractors. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will interrupt, it will take me all the longer to get through the points which are relevant. He was not the only one who spoke in this debate. We have discussed this question of tractors with farmers. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the intention is to have tractor grants in two instalments, after one and two years respectively. If the farmer sells before either instalment, he will lose that instalment. The farmer will not forfeit any grants he has previously received when he sells. So now we do not even need to discuss this point in Committee, as I thought we might well have had to do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan, spoke about succession to tenancies. This is an important subject. It is nothing to do with the present Bill, but I assure my hon. Friend that we have not forgotten it. My hon. Friend was kind to the Opposition. He did not say that much of the trouble arises from the Tory 1958 Act. I have dealt with the point about the beef cow subsidy, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie).
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (The Marquess of Hamilton), who has fled the field, suggested that we should have a realistic Price Review. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman and to other hon. Members who used the same phrase that, if the Tory policy on agriculture were implemented, it would be impossible to get a realistic Price Review. Indeed, I doubt very much whether we would get even the savings originally mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, allowing for his corrected figures, as possibly being achieved under the Price Review.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wall-send (Mr. Garrett) congratulated us on 2113 Part III. My hon. Friend appreciated to a greater extent than hon. Members opposite the benefits which can accrue to the family farm from improvements in their ability to work the farm, improvements in relation to changes in structure which will enable them to get viability, and improvements which could come from the exercise of the provisions in relation to co-operation on the farms.
The conclusion is that the interests of hon. Members opposite are not exactly ours in agriculture, for they show less inclination to discuss the merits in relation to the small farmer than for other aspects of agriculture. I noticed particularly the cheers which my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth earned, but when my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan was speaking about the difficulties which came with the death of a tenant and the failure to get succession there was a deathly silence from hon. Members opposite.
The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton) spoke about the changed climate. I do not see anything to be gloomy about in relation to the climate for British agriculture. This Bill is not a rag-bag collection as has been suggested. As one of the farming papers said, this is one of the most important agriculture Bills which we have had since 1947. We want to achieve our aims in the reorganisation and improvement of the production, distribution and marketing of meat, which is something we have wanted to do for the last 40 years. If we can improve the structure of agriculture, and in particular the small units which may be tottering on the edge of dying out and which must be made more viable, that will be worth while doing. The same applies to the special problems of the hills and uplands.
There were some sneering remarks about the dictatorial powers of the Rural Development Boards. If I were to ask my two hon. Friends who made maiden speeches for Welsh constituencies whether they want the Rural Development Boards to have powers or not, they would say, "Yes, and even more powers than we have given them."
§ Mr. Ross
I am perfectly sure that my two hon. Friends are looking with a certain amount of envy towards the other maiden speaker, my hon. Friend the 2114 Member for Caithness and Sutherland, because his area is covered by the Highlands Development Board which has far more powers than are being given in this Bill to Rural Development Boards. So let us have less of this sneering at the Rural Development Boards.
We are making a start in England and Wales to deal with these problem areas. The right hon. Member for Grantham did not do it. He started a Small Farmer Scheme, and I gave him credit for that when I last spoke. But could he at least give us credit for going one step further? The door has been opened, and if it has not been opened wide enough we shall push it still further, and we shall watch developments.
There has been a lot of talk about the Selective Employment Tax in relation to agriculture. I should like to draw attention to the fact that today we are really interrupting a debate in which the Selective Employment Tax and all the arguments that have been deployed today would have been far more relevant. I ask hon. Members opposite to be less gloomy about agriculture, to read the White Paper and see what it says, and to read my right hon. Friend's words in today's debate. If they are still not satisfied, let them try to get into the debate on Monday and challenge the Chancellor. I can assure hon. Members that before the Finance Bill comes we shall have plenty of discussion about this, not only in this House but outside with the farmers. We have shown that we are far more responsive to the farmers' complaints than hon. Members opposite are.
§ 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).