§ As amended (in the Standing Committee) considered.
§ New Clause No. 1.—(POWER TO VARY RATES, AND EXTEND SCOPE, OF GRANTS FOR AGRICULTURAL INVESTMENT.)
§ (1) Orders may from time to time be made under this section—
- (a) varying, either generally or as respects expenditure or, as the case may be, basic grants of a description therein specified, the rate at which grant is payable under section 31, section 32 or section 33 of this Act;
- (b) providing for the making of grants under the said section 32, at such rate as may be so specified, in respect of expenditure incurred on or after a date not earlier than 17th January 1966 in the provision of any description of self-propelled machines other than tractors and harvesters;
- (c) providing for the making of supplementary grants under the said section 33, at such rate as may be so specified, in respect of grants under any enactment other than ore specified in subsection (4) of that section, being grants for the payment of which, or of the first instalment of which, application was first made on or after a date not earlier than 17th January 1966.
§ (2) An order under this section—
- (a) may be made for England and Wales. for Scotland. for Northern Ireland, or for any two or all of those parts of the United Kingdom jointly,
- (b) shall be made with the consent of the Treasury, and by the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State jointly if it is made for Great Britain or the United Kingdom, and the appropriate Minister in any other case,
- (c) may contain such incidental and supplemental provisions as appear appropriate to the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State or, as the case may be, to the appropriate Minister,
- (d) may be varied or revoked by a subsequent order,
- (e) shall be made by statutory instrument.
§ (3) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (1)(a) above, or an order under subsection (1)(b) or (1)(c) above providing for the payment of grants at a rate other than that specified in section 32(2) or, as the case may be, 33(1) of this Act, shall be laid before the House of Commons after being made, and the order shall cease to have effect at the end of twenty-eight days after that on which it is made (but without prejudice to anything previously done under the order or to the making of a new order) unless before the end of that period the order is approved by resolution of that House.52
§ In reckoning any period of twenty-eight days for the purposes of this subsection, no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which the House of Commons is adjourned for more than four days.
§ (4) A statutory instrument containing any other order under subsection (1) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of the House of Commons.—[Mr. Pear.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
The House will recall that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade announced on 1st December last increased rates of industrial investment grants for expenditure incurred between 1st January, 1967, and 31st December, 1968, and indicated that my right hon. Friend and I would make corresponding arrangements for agriculture after consultation with the industry. We need power to vary the rates of grant already written into the Bill, and this the new Clause provides. It is a continuing power, but I must point out that it is not the intention that these agricultural grants should be altered automatically wherever there is an increase in industrial investment grants. The needs of agriculture will, of course, be considered on their own merits.
Following consultations we have had with representatives of the industry the Government propose to provide for the following increases in the rate of grant to apply to expenditure between 1st January, 1967, and 31st December, 1968: first, the grant under Clause 31 on fixed equipment, plant and machinery, and land improvement will be increased from 10 per cent. to 12½ per cent.; and, secondly, grant under Clause 32 for tractors and harvesters will be increased from 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. In the case of expenditure on hire-purchase agreements, the higher rates of grant wil apply where the first payment is made during this period. It is hoped that these arrangements will give additional stimulus where it is most required.
This new Clause also enables the Ministers to make orders extending grants under Clause 32 to any type of self-propelled machine other than a tractor 53 or harvester, and to extend the supplementary grants under Clause 33 to grants under any enactment other than those specified in that Clause. These provisions replace similar ones in the present Clauses 32 and 33 with the difference that the amendment enables grants to be extended at a rate other than that prescribed in those Clauses. I hope that the Clause will be accepted.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
We are grateful to the Minister for the information he has given us in relation to this new Clause, which is one which we certainly would not wish to oppose. We know that it is intended to improve the rates of grant. I am grateful to the Minister for sending me a note about this, although I did not receive it very much before we met.
The increased rates will, of course, be helpful in some degree but I must make it clear that I have never looked on this particular method of encouraging investment in agriculture as being as effective as the old investment allowances. This is a point which we made in Committee on the Bill, and I must repeat it, in fairness, to make clear our position.
If, as has been decided, this change is to take place in the system, then, obviously, the higher rates of grant will be some improvement, but there are many farmers who do not understand the way in which this grant will work. It produces some confusion. It is up to the Ministry to see that those affected may be given more clarification, so that the farmers really understand just precisely how they are to benefit in this way, because I believe that a good deal of investment in agriculture has been held up through misunderstanding of this change. I would, therefore, ask him most seriously to see that something more is done to familiarise farmers with how this change will work in practice.
The Minister will recall that when we were considering Clauses 31 to 33 in Committee my hon. Friends and I made on a number of occasions the point that, of course, these grants will operate against the principles which the Minister has enunciated in other parts of the Bill. In other words, they are weighted against the larger, more progressive farms; if anybody does get benefit it is the man who was not being taxed. I am cer- 54 tainly not against his gaining benefit, but the fact remains that the larger farms, the ones which have been praised many times for their great efficiency, are being penalised by this change in the system, and even under this new rate will not be getting as great incentive to continue investment as they were getting under the old system. I think that there can be little doubt about that, and that the general principle on which this change in taxation in farming takes place, and the change in the investment grant and its application, will definitely have the effect of working against the very principles which the Minister himself has put forward in other parts of the Bill.
Therefore, it is of very limited value to many farmers, but, in so far as the Clause does provide for greater flexibility and does enable the Minister of the day to make additional grants available, we, of course, welcome it, and we hope that it may be invoked regularly to assist all those in agriculture by giving additional incentive to investment generally.
I will not touch on the Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) has tabled. Dealing with the Clause, we see nothing against making a change of this nature which provides for greater flexibility. However, we ask that very serious consideration be given to ensuring that the farming community generally knows how it can be helped in relation to these grants. I express the urgent hope that whether it be in regard to fixed equipment or harvesters and tractors there should be a clearer understanding given to the farming community.
There is also the fact which we discussed in Committee, in relation to the grants generally, that the grants being given in the way that they are would appear to delay the payment to the farmer. The two instalments in relation to tractors, for example, mean a two-year period of payment. That is unfortunate. It arises under the original Clauses, but it is affected by the new Clause.
In principle, we welcome the Clause because of the opportunity which it gives for increasing grants, but we reiterate our doubts about the system of grants, which we believe is not as effective as the system which we left and which the Government inherited.
§ Mr. Speaker
I ought to inform the House that I have not selected the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) for formal discussion, but he may discuss it on this Clause.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
I am grateful to you for that information, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I may refer to my Amendment in my general criticism of the new Clause, which I view with mixed feelings, because it does not go far enough. If we accept it, I hope that it may still be improved by my suggestion. It is giving power to vary rates and amend what I think is a poor system, and I wonder how far the Clause will enable the Minister to remove some of the defects.
I want to refer particularly to the Clause dealing with machinery. This system seems to me to bring in further economic distortions allegedly to encourage investment in particular lines which the gentlemen in Whitehall think best for differently taxed farmers. It seems to me to be undesirable to have an investment bias at all in favour of the tractor or the self-propelled machine as against other kinds of equally costly machines which are not self-propelled, such as balers and potato or sugar beet harvesters.
Why bring in an economic distortion that may cloud the correct judgment, which should be whether or not the purchase of new machinery enables the investment to justify itself by greater and cheaper production? Surely that should be the only economic criterion. In deciding whether to put capital into machinery or some other agricultural purpose, the farmer ought to be concerned much more with overall efficiency and the degree of cheapness, and not be sidetracked by these tax considerations, although I agree that they have obtained in agriculture for a long time.
The Government make a great mistake in thinking that it is undesirable that the bigger farmers should get large tax incentives to change their machinery. 'In that connection, I ought at once to declare an interest. If one goes further into the economics of agriculture, that policy could only be justified by the fact that agriculture requires an enormous amount of capital and that the return on capital in agriculture is substantially 56 less than in most other forms of commercial and industrial activity. If farmers are to keep up the rate of replacement of machinery, they need generous tax allowances.
That is my fundamental criticism. It is a very bad system as a whole and one which a modern, purposeful Labour Government, in undertaking a review of procedures, might have replaced by a sensible, clear and comprehensive system. I would reinforce the criticism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) in that the Clause multiplies unproductive work not only by civil servants—that is only the Government's concern, and it may be that they can replace civil servants by computers—but by farmers indoors, unrelated to husbandry decisions. If a farmer wastes time worrying about his tax position, and if that becomes a major consideration, production outside suffers and all his proper husbandry considerations suffer, because his time has been taken up.
I would reinforce my right hon. Friend's question. Does the Minister think that the average farmer understands the system, or will he not again have practically to live with his accountant to decide what it may pay him to do? I am horrified at the unnecessary complexity which is being created. In the matter of his tax returns and his investment programme, no longer is the farmer dealing purely with the Inland Revenue. He now has to open accounts with Ministries on machinery, involving a great deal of work and time.
Last week, I tried to work through these new proposals with a constituent of mine who is a farmer and a good accountant. We wanted to see what could happen. We took the Minister's new proposal to increase the grant from 10 to 15 per cent., and we sought to apply it to two items of machinery in common use. First, we took a tractor costing £1,000. Secondly, we took another piece of equipment, such as a potato harvester or a sugar beet harvester, not self-propelled, but also costing £1,000. We assumed that the machines would be hard used for two years, and then sold at half price for £500 each. I do not think that that is an unlikely situation. It is reasonably typical of intensive agricultural activity.
57 Our consideration resulted in pages of calculations, which the Minister can have privately if he wishes to see them. Sum-marising them, we considered the effect on a company paying Corporation Tax at 40 per cent., which has the advantage of being a fixed rate and is somewhat easier. Under the old system, with an investment allowance of 10 per cent., an initial allowance of 10 per cent., and two years' wear and tear each at 25 per cent., the total saving in Corporation Tax to the company on the tractor was £320. Under the new system, at the revised rate of 15 per cent. which the Minister has just announced, the Corporation Tax saved on that tractor would be £140, and the company would get £150 grant.
It means that in the case of a tractor, the new system is better than the old for a company, resulting in a tax saving of £290 as against—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is worse."] I think that the new system is better because the farmer gets the grant and does not pay so much tax. If my hon. Friends think that he is worse off—and the Government do—it is strengthening my case, but I do not think that it needs strengthening.
If we turn from savings to roundabouts, the potato harvester, under the old system, which created machinery alike whatever category it was in, the tax saving to the company is £320. Under the new system, mainly because there is to be no investment allowance and no grant, the saving to the company will be only £200. Thus the company will be worse off by £120, and this is after the new higher rate grant of 15 per cent.
We left the company and tried to apply this consideration to a not untypical farming case, that of a farmer who is married, with two children, and with an assessible profit for tax purposes of £1,750, that is after wear and tear and other allowances on his old machinery, but before any allowance or grant on the new £1,000 tractor or harvester which he might have purchased.
How much Income Tax would such a farmer have to pay in the year at present rates? Under the old system, if he bought the tractor, his Income Tax liability for the year would be £65. Under the new system his tax liability will be £205, but the tax position will be reduced by the grant of £150, so that his total tax pay- 58 ment under the new system will be £55. Thus, on the purchase of a tractor he will be £10 better off. He will pay £10 less tax, but against that cash saving he will have to license the tractor. I shall not repeat all the arguments, but he will have to insure the tractor for road risks, and he will be involved in correspondence, in paying accountants' fees, and so on.
In the other example, if he purchases a potato harvester which is not self-propelled the situation will move very sharply against him. The Income Tax payable by him under the old system will remain the same at £65, but under the new system he will have to pay £148, so he will be £83 worse off under the new system in respect of plant which does not have a grant.
It seems to me that this simply has not been worked through, or thought through yet. I say that because even before the system has reached the Statute Book the Government have had to change the rate for grant. What will happen, therefore, is that the most successful farmer will not get enough help to make any substantial difference to him, and the unsuccessful farmer will also be very little better off.
The Clause as it stands will not help the production of machinery as a whole, because it will enable the Government to do only one thing, namely, to increase the rates. It is, of course, important that these rates should be capable of being increased, otherwise I do not think that the agricultural machinery industry will maintain its present prosperity. There has been a sharp turn-down in machinery purchased during the fourth quarter of 1966, and the secondhand market, where I think the smaller farmer ought to find most of his machinery because he very often does not need the latest, more expensive models, will also tend to be short of supplies if the larger farmers cease to replace their machinery as often as they might.
That has a bearing on the export trade, because, in addition to needing a buoyant home market in new machinery to provide an export trade in such machinery, we have a fairly large export trade in used farm machinery to Europe, and particularly E.F.T.A., to the Middle East, and, indeed, in one-year-old tractors, to America itself. These export trades will dry up if farmers do not renew their 59 machinery as freely as they have been doing.
I think that the small farmer will usually be ill-advised to buy new machinery unless the grant is much greater than it is at the moment. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will take the powers set out in my Amendment to enable him, if need be, to grant aid for used or secondhand machinery in the limited class of small farmers, those whose farms are, or have been, in the Small Farmer Scheme.
I take that as the only easily available definition for the scope which I have in mind, but it may be that the Minister would like power to make grants on secondhand machinery in general. The only reason why the Minister would not need this power would be if he decided to increase the rate of grant on new machinery generally so as to maintain a good flow of used machinery. Because I have no confidence in the Government's determination to do that in future, I would invest them with the power referred to in my Amendment. I support the Clause, but I wish that it were a great deal stronger.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I rise only on a point of inquiry. The new Clause seems to be a step forward. The Minister announced new rates of grant with regard to Clauses 31 and 32, but, although he has taken power to vary grant under Clause 33, he has made no announcement of variation of grant. This seems unfortunate, because, whereas farmers under Clauses 31 and 32 are frequently arable farmers making claims for fixed plant, the people who are suffering most at present are the livestock farmers, and I think that this was an opportunity for the Minister to repair some of the damage which has been done to the livestock industry during recent months.
We want to get more improvements on these farms, because the profit on producing livestock is decreasing all the time, and I should have thought that a variation of the supplementary grant of 5 per cent. would have helped those farmers very considerably, and induced them to carry out improvements.
Equally, Clause 33 affects the horticulture industry, and it seems to me a pity when industry generally, and the arable 60 farmer in particular, are getting these extra inducements to make investments during this calendar year, that some farmers, some horticulturists, and some growers, should be excluded. I ask the Minister to consider this again before he finally makes his decision. After all, he is taking power to vary the rates under Clause 33. He has made a preliminary announcement on the first two Clauses. There is nothing to stop him from changing his mind and adding to the beneficiaries those who are making schemes covered by Clause 33.
I wish to make a plea for clarity. If we pass the Bill, tonight or later this week, in one Clause we shall have an announcement that the rate of grant for a certain item will be a certain amount—Clause 31 will provide that it shall be 10 per cent.—but in a later Clause—and we do not know which number it will be in the final form of the Bill—we shall find that the rate of grant for a particular period in respect of Clause 31 is 12½per cent.
It is highly inconvenient to farmers to have to chase through Acts to find certain rates of grant. I should have thought that in the unusual circumstances in which the Bill has been born, and its very long pregnancy—longer than any recent Bill—the opportunity should be taken when it goes to the other place to redraft this series of Clauses so that they are clear to the farmer and he can see that for a certain improvement he will have a certain rate of grant if the improvement is carried out in this calendar year and a lower grant, of 10 per cent., if it is carried out at another time.
All that I ask is that the Bill should be made clear to farmers. It will not be clear if we merely insert this provision in the Bill. Although I realise the reasons which have led the Minister to take this decision, this matter should be reviewed, and the Bill made clear for all to understand.
§ Mr. J. L. M. Prior (Lowestoft)
I congratulate the Minister and his two Parliamentary Secretaries on maintaining their jobs. When we look round the benches opposite, however, it is not difficult to see why. There is more space and green grass behind the Ministers than they will ever manage to grow if they remain in their present occupations.
61 The Minister has made an extremely grave statement. For months he has been saying that there is nothing wrong with agriculture, and that there is plenty of confidence in the industry. This afternoon he told us that he is increasing investment grants. He knows, and the country knows, that at the moment the industry is passing through a very difficult period, in which confidence in the future of the industry has never been lower or more lacking.
My right hon. Friend has welcomed the increased grants, but I wonder whether the increases go anything like far enough. If the Minister knows the figures, as he must, he will know what sales of agricultural machinery have taken place in the last quarter of 1966. He will know that for the first time since the war—I believe—Massey-Ferguson has been on short time.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
Not for the first time.
§ Mr. Prior
I will withdraw what I have said so far as Kilmarnock goes, but not so far as Coventry goes.
The Minister knows that all the tractor output of Massey-Ferguson is concentrated in Coventry. A few combines may be produced in Kilmarnock, but this is the first time since the war that there has been short-time working in the tractor section. This is a very serious situation for the industry.
If the Minister is so confident about the future of the industry why has he had to increase these grants? How does he think that this will help the industry to overcome its problems? A big factor which is preventing the sale of farm machinery, and which is stopping farmers from investing in new machinery, is the shortage of cash and the credit restrictions placed on the industry by the banks, which are as strict today as they were six months ago. It is not that the banks do not have the money to lend; some banks no longer have the confidence in lending the industry money that they had a little 62 while ago. They see that some farmers are in grave trouble, and they are not willing to lend money and have it poured down the drain.
The industry has seen its ups and downs before; we have seen pig farmers and barley producers hit, but never in my experience have we seen every agricultural product in the state it is today. Arable farmers are more discontented now than they have been for many years. Pig, cow and sheep farmers are all in trouble. The Minister sits there smiling. He knows that what I am saying is true. What will he do in the Price Review to put the situation right? He has told us this afternoon that by raising these grants he will help the industry, but farmers will still be worse off than they were with the old investment grants. To say that he will solve the problems of the industry is to talk a lot of nonsense.
I recommend the Minister to study the good speech made by Mr. De Boinville, at the British Oil and Cake Mills lunch just before Christmas. He made two very important points which are of vital consequence to the industry. First, he said that there was no proper medium-term finance for agriculture. That is what is required. Before he became Minister the right hon. Gentleman used to talk a lot about credit for agriculture. What has he done about it? He has done nothing to help with medium-term credit.
The second point made by Mr. De Boinville was that the return on capital invested was far too low in the industry. Today, however, we find that these investment grants are being introduced at a lower rate than the original grants, when we had them for Income Tax purposes. We cannot have any confidence in what the Minister is doing for agriculture at the moment. He came to office with a great flourish. He was going to push agriculture forward, but what is happening? Wherever we look British agriculture is suffering. If the Minister had said that he was increasing the investment grants from 10 per cent., not to 15 per cent., but to 25 per cent. he might have obtained the effect that he wants; otherwise he will not.
I must now declare an interest. I bought a tractor last week—not because I thought that the Minister would increase the grant by 5 per cent. but because it 63 was absolutely essential to my business. I certainly would not have bought it for any other reason, because at the moment there is no incentive for anyone in agriculture to invest additional capital. The industry is being squeezed by the banks and by the Minister. Its confidence in the Government has been sapped. That is not surprising, because it knows that the Government have no interest in British agriculture, and that the Chancellor still considers that everyone in agriculture can afford to go to Ascot for so many days a week.
These factors are beginning to tell. I warn the Minister that what he has done today is not good enough for the future and that unless the Price Review really restores confidence in the industry and gives it a great deal more help than has been offered this afternoon the Minister will be in very serious trouble by the spring.
§ Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
I would like to echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). These investment grants—increased though they have been by the new Clause—in the place of investment allowances, will show nothing extra at all in cash for the industry as a whole. It is, of course, a policy of deliberate redistribution, in that what one would probably assume to be the bigger tax paying farmer will get less and the smaller farmer, who one presumes would normally pay less tax, will get more. There might be some virtue about this. One of the possible virtues would arise if it were effective.
I have four main objections to this. First, the bigger farmer, who will suffer—
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)
To what does the hon. Member object?
§ Mr. Stodart
I attach my objections to the increase as well as the principle.
The bigger farmer can undoubtedly make better use of machinery and he ought to be encouraged to mechanise.
Secondly, the smaller farmer has tended to buy good second-hand tractors, two, or possibly three, years old. This is an important point and was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft. 64 There is a firm and absolutely regular market for these, because it has been the habit of many who buy from the new market to run for two years or possibly three and systematically change over.
Thirdly, I believe that the grant is too small even with the increase to be much good in helping a non-taxpaying farmer to find the capital to buy new tractors. After all, a tractor which costs £1,000 new will bring grant of only £50 a year over three years. That is the increased grant. Admittedly, it is better than £33 6s. 8d., but can the right hon. Gentleman seriously say that there is any inducement in that to make the small man go into the new markets? His position vis-a-vis secondhand purchase is worsened.
Fourthly, from the larger farmers are being withdrawn allowances not only on tractors and combines but on a whole range of moveable machines, such as muck-spreaders, potato harvesters and silage and hay-making tackle. My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) was absolutely right in what he said about Clause 33 in this context. It is here, in the livestock sector, that stimulants are particularly needed. Far from this being a sort of side-stepping operation, the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have taken a definitely backward step by substituting grants for allowances.
It will do absolutely no good to the users of machinery and, as both my hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) and Lowestoft have said, it may well disturb the solid foundations on which our agricultural machinery industry—the largest exporter of agricultural machinery in the world—is based. Already, as I have no doubt the Minister has noticed, during the first nine months of 1966, overall sales were down by 12½ per cent. That is something which neither he nor his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade can view with equanimity.
The success of the export trade of the agricultural machinery industry in the past is a classic example—the best we have—of the importance of an export industry having a really good home market. If that is damaged, a great deal of trouble may follow.
It is for this variety of reasons, although there is an improvement in the increase 65 in the grant which the Minister announced, that we view with considerable misgiving his whole policy of substituting grants for allowances.
§ Mr. Peart
I intended to do so. I would not wish to prevent any hon. Member who wanted to speak from doing so.
I understand the main argument of principle here, which has been argued before. I remind hon. Members who have been critical of the new Clause that whatever arguments there may be about investment grants being the right method, I have brought in a Clause, in view of what I said in a previous statement, because I wished to increase the rate of the grant. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) welcomed the Clause.
I would say to the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), that although it is not for me to comment on whether an hon. Member is in order or not, I believe that it would be very wrong—
§ Mr. Peart
That is quite true, is it not? I am merely saying that the hon. Member knows very well that many of his criticisms were very far from arguments about this Clause. If he feels so strongly, why does he not seek to divide the House against the Clause? Why does he not dissent strongly from the speech of his own Front Bench spokesman, who, I thought, constructively and warmly welcomed the Clause?
After all, the Clause seeks to increase the value of the grants by a sum, depending on the response of farmers, which may well be over £2½ million or £3 million. This is not an inconsiderable amount. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Lowestoft in particular would have welcomed this. To go on gloom-mongering as he did does no service to himself or to the industry.
I have consulted the industry on this Clause. We consulted the National Farmers' Union as to how best we could use the available money. In the circumstances. I felt it right to concentrate on the items which I have mentioned. I hope, therefore, that the decision that it was right to concentrate particularly on 66 the higher rate of tractors and harvesters would be welcomed by the industry.
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) raised the argument for extending the grant into other areas. He made what was, from his point of view, a powerful argument about the dairy industry, that we should concentrate on that, as against the arable farmer. I took note of these points, but in view of my discussions with the industry, I thought it better to concentrate on the. sections which I have mentioned. That is not to say that I believe that the other section of the industry is not important, but if we had extended the amount of money over a wider range of activities, it would not have had the effect which I believe is necessary.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill), whose Amendment was not called, wished its principle to be accepted by the Minister in administration. The hon. Gentleman's argument was that it should be possible to make orders to provide for the payment of grants for used or secondhand machinery on holdings on which the Small Farmer's Scheme—presumably the current Small Farmer Business Management Scheme—is or has been in operation.
As I have said, the grants are intended to replace investment allowances, which were not payable on second-hand machinery. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to extend these grants to second-hand machinery. To do so would entail giving the grant twice, or even several times, on the same piece of machinery. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, no strings are attached to the use of grants paid under the current Small Farmer Business Management Scheme and there is no reason why farmers should not use such grants for the purchase of second-hand machinery. For that reason it would be wrong to accept this argument.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill
The right hon. Gentleman said that the grants were intended to replace investment allowances, and he specified tractors. I have been rechecking my figures and I find that what the right hon. Gentleman says strengthens both my arguments. Even with the purchase of a new tractor, the new scheme with the new rates is less 67 favourable to a company than the old system was. We are worse off on all counts. That strengthens my argument for something to be done about second-hand machinery.
§ Mr. Peart
I will give the argument about second-hand machinery. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has contested the validity of my argument. We could not include second-hand tractors for the reason I have given.
The right hon. Member for Grantham mentioned the complexity of administration and the need to inform farmers about grants and other matters. I will certainly look into this. We are always anxious to inform farmers and there will be an explanatory leaflet and publicity about the new scheme. I am anxious that no arrangement should be complex. We think that this increase will be welcomed by farmers and I hope that hon. Members will now accept the new Clause.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.
§ New Clause No. 2.—(RECOVERY OF
POSSESSION OF FORMER FARMHOUSES.)
§ (1) The following provisions shall apply where a farmhouse has been relinquished under an amalgamation pursuant to a scheme made under section 26 of this Act and has been let on a regulated tenancy.
§ (2) If—
- (a) not later than the commencement of the tenancy the tenant has been given notice in writing that possession may be recovered under this section, and
- (b) apart from the Rent Acts the landlord would be entitled to recover possession of the farmhouse, and
- (c) the court is satisfied that the farmhouse is required for occupation by a person primarily engaged in agriculture or employed or to be employed by the landlord in agriculture;
§ the court shall make an Order for the possession of the farmhouse, whether or not it would have power to do so under section 3 of the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions (Amendment) Act 1933, and in relation to that Order section 5(2) of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act 1920 shall not apply.
§ (3) In this section 'employed' and 'agriculture' have the same meaning as in the Agricultural Wages Act 1948, or, in Scotland the Agricultural Wages (Scotland) Act 1949, 'the Rent Acts' means the Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Acts 1920 to 1939, or any of those Acts, 'farmhouse' means the 68 principal residence situated on agricultural land of a person primarily engaged in, carrying on or directing agricultural operations on that land and which has not at any time been occupied by a person under the terms of his employment as a person employed in agriculture, 'landlord' 'tenant' and 'tenancy' have the same meanings as in the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act 1920.—[Mr. Godber.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Godber
We are much encouraged by the reinforcement of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) who has just come into the Chamber and who takes such an active part in our debates on agriculture. We hope that he will stay with us for many hours and we are very grateful to him for making up a quorum. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) was quite right to draw attention to the lack of interest among Government supporters in this important Bill—at least, Ministers tell us that it is important.
The new Clause refers to the position which arises under Clause 26. The Minister has set about his task of making changes in farming structure and has himself accepted that doing so poses certain problems with farmhouses among other matters. There are many substantially built houses about the country and some of them will no longer be required as farmhouses. The new Clause is concerned with those farmhouses which are not required for the time being and which, if let, might not be able later to be pulled back into use as a farm dwelling of some kind. The Clause takes account of the changed circumstances which have arisen since the passing of the Rent Act 1965, which would provide that if a farmhouse were let on a regulated tenancy, it would probably be impossible for the farmer concerned to be able to draw it back into circulation for an agricultural tenancy, at least, not for a very long time. In such circumstances he might as well sell the house.
The Minister will recognise the substance of the need for some arrangement 69 of this kind. A probable alternative is for the house to be left vacant, when it might deteriorate. The Minister would certainly not wish that, and it would certainly be a shocking waste at a time when there is still a substantial housing shortage and when the Government's policy seems to be increasing that shortage throughout the country. I should have thought that the Minister would wish to see the fullest use made of such farmhouses.
If the farmhouse is not let or left vacant, it will be sold, and that could damage the possible agricultural use of the land later. If the house were taken by someone entirely outside agriculture, that might have an effect on the way in which further amalgamations developed. Surely it is right that those concerned should have the opportunity to regain possession of the house, after having let it, if it is later required for agricultural purposes. I should have thought that both sides of the House would recognise the justice of this argument and I hope that the Minister will accept the new Clause, which applies a good deal of basic commonsense to the policy which the Minister himself has advocated.
The Clause cannot be said to cut across what the Minister is seeking to achieve If he considers the Rent Act, 1965, he will see that his own Government created the problem with these houses. It is, therefore, up to them to find some means of dealing with it in a way which will be agriculturally sensible as well as making full use of the house during a period of national need.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can accept the new Clause as it stands, although if the wording has to be amended that could be done in another place. The point will be fully met if he accepts the principle, but says that the wording must be altered. However, if he does not accept the principle, we shall want the fullest agricultural reasons and the reasons from the point of view of the community as a whole. This point has not been met in Committee or anywhere else and it seems to us that an important need must be met. The Clause is self-explanatory and I do not propose to labour it further.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I want to reinforce what my right hon. 70 Friend has said. This is really a straight question of commonsense and no prejudice should arise at all. The object of the Bill is to encourage the amalgamation of uneconomic holdings. If it is successful to that extent, then inevitably there are bound to be farmhouses forming part of the holding before amalgamation which will be, pro tem, surplus. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly what happens.
Farm A and Farm B are amalgamated into an economic unit. The farmhouse of Farm B is temporarily unwanted. What is the farmer of the new amalgamated holding to do? As my right hon. Friend has said, at the moment if he lets it he is liable to lose control altogether. If he sells it, then there can be some difficulty about disposing of it as part of the holding, and perhaps Capital Gains Tax arises, and so on. It also means that he has parted with the farmhouse for keeps. What often happens is that he has a son and, in a few years' time, if the son is married, and helps the father to run the farm, he would like to let the son live in the second farmhouse.
Under those circumstances, unless the right hon. Gentleman accepts the new Clause, a farmer cannot get possession of the second farmhouse. This places him in a very difficult dilemma. So far, almost everything that the Government have done has been to encourage people not to let but to sell or to pull down. This is a nonsense in terms of agriculture and housing accommodation, of which we are very short. It also makes a nonsense of this Bill in respect of very many holdings which ought to be amalgamated. Would it not be a good thing if, at the eleventh hour, the right hon. Gentleman saw some common sense and accepted our Clause?
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
This Clause could be enormously important if in future, in any section of the agriculture industry where these amalgamations have taken place, there were to be a great change of circumstances. This makes it very important, at this stage when one can envisage changes, to maintain a pool of agricultural housing in all areas. It is vitally important that this pool should not be broken up so that it could never be restored to agriculture again.
71 Changes can happen in a variety of ways. It might be in order to point out some of the ways in which changes will occur, making this housing pool necessary. We have all seen the most fundamental and rapid technological changes in this industry. No one quite knows where they are taking us but it may be that concentrated agricultural production may develop in certain areas, making this pool urgently important. Ever-increasing urban sprawl and developments of all sorts make it very important that the pool be available in all areas.
The most likely change which could occur and which might completely change the whole structure of agriculture is the possibility of Britain entering the European Economic Community. If this were to happen there is no doubt that we should all have to face great and important changes. There is no doubt that certain forms of agricultural production would be greatly expanded and others greatly contracted. In such a case agriculture would expand in certain parts of the country with a great increase in the number of people engaged in the industry. There will be a migration of people engaged in agriculture to certain parts of the country and consequently an exodus from others.
It is the migration to certain parts about which we ought to be thinking and we ought to be keeping this pool of houses available for the challenges which will certainly meet us when this country, as I hope, enters Europe. I do not know whether the Minister has the same hopes. If not, this might explain some of his reticence, but I hope that he will accept this Clause on that score alone.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
As a land agent I meet cases of this kind frequently. One often finds that, even without the stimulus of these amalgamation schemes, two farms are being farmed by one man. If the farmer lets one of the farmhouses he has the greatest difficulty in ever regaining possession. One finds that at a certain stage of a man's life, when his children are very young, he is employing men, but when his son has grown up and is able to work do work and partially to take over. In and is married, then he brings him in to 72 many cases such a farmer adds a new side, a new intensive unit, to the holding, requiring extra labour, because the livings of two persons must be earned out of the same acreage.
In these cases it is essential that the extra farmhouse should be available for agricultural purposes in future. This is a sensible and straightforward Clause which should be welcomed by both sides of the House, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will accept it.
§ Mr. Bert Hazell (Norfolk, North)
I oppose this new Clause for one or two obvious reasons. I have listened with interest to the argument put forward in support of it, but I hope that the Minister will not accept it. An undertaking was given when private amalgamations were being discussed in the early stages of this Bill, and the previous Bill of the last Government, that arrangements would be made to enable retiring farmers to remain in possession of the farmhouse when amalgamations took place.
This is covered under Clause 38(3), in which it will be noted that the Minister has power, when discussing questions of amalgamations, to exclude a small portion of land occupied by the house. This was in fulfilment of suggestions, if not undertakings, given by the Minister and others, that the man who was having his land amalgamated under a private arrangement would be able to remain in accommodation.
If this Clause were accepted it would make a nonsense of that undertaking. It is on these grounds that I wish to oppose the Clause. Judging from the circular sent out by the National Farmers' Union during the last few days to some Members of Parliament, it would appear that the Clause has been largely taken from section 16 of the Rent Act. But when that Section was being discussed in this House, we did not oppose it because within it there was protection for the position of the person who had been previously employed by the landlord.
Furthermore, and this is another strong point, Section 16 of the Rent Act did not extend the number of tied houses in circulation. If the Clause were accepted, it would clearly extend the number of tied farmhouses in circulation. One of the problems with which we are always confronted—I speak for workers in the 73 industry—is that, although we had hoped for much from the Rent Act, the problem of tied cottages is still very prevalent in the industry. We do not want to see it extended by acceptance of this Clause.
The Clause refers toa person primarily engaged in agriculture".This means that a landlord would be able to get a farmer out to house someone else who, although primarily engaged in agriculture, was in no way in the employ of his landlord or about to be employed by the landlord. These words seem to be open to blatant abuse. The landlord could have a farmer as a tenant paying a rent which had been agreed, and then subsequently finds someone else —a friend perhaps—who would like to occupy that house who was probably primarily engaged in agriculture but not employed by the landlord and willing to pay a rent in excess of that paid by the person who occupied the farmhouse when the amalgamation took place. Human nature being what it is, the landlord might be prepared to accept the offer of a higher rent and he would be complying strictly with the Bill if the Clause were accepted in seeking possession of that house fora person primarily engaged in agriculture".Therefore, we should not like this Clause to be accepted by the Minister. If, however, my right hon. Friend accepts the Clause in principle, will not this mean writing in for retiring farmers a protection clause similar to Section 16 of the Rent Act to ensure that this sort of procedure cannot be used against a person employed by the landlord? If such protection would cover the Minister's position, what about the farmworker who can be equally affected by amalgamation but has no protection offered to him?
Because of our avowed opposition to the tied cottage system, I hope that the Minister will not accept the Clause. I trust that if it is voted on it will be overwhelmingly defeated.
§ Mr. Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)
I think that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) misled the House slightly about the intentions of this side of the House on this new Clause. I am sure that it is the intention of my hon. and right hon. Friends to 74 ensure that farmhouses which are not wanted for a time are put to the best possible use. I could give several examples of farmhouses standing empty because of the uncertainty about the present situation.
Several examples have been given, and I should like to give another. A farmer may buy a farm with a farmworker living in his own house in the village and therefore for the time being he does not require the farmhouse to put a man into. If the farmworker retires and the farmer has to find a house for a new farmworker, he has no opportunity of getting possession of the farmhouse which goes with the holding. There are many examples of this in my constituency where empty farmhouses could be let on short-term lettings to the Ministry of Defence.
This is a very sensible and sound Clause. A great number of farmers will not risk letting their farmhouses if they feel that at some future date they will not be able to get them back. When a farmer dies, his estate may have to be sold and a farm without a farmhouse would have a very substantially reduced value. The National Farmers' Union pointed out that under the Clause the tenant would be fully acquainted with the position at the beginning of his tenancy and that the farmer would be able to regain possession. No tenant would go into a farm not realising the circumstances when he takes the tenancy of a farmhouse. I hope that the Minister will accept the Clause.
§ Mr. William Edwards (Merioneth)
I wonder whether there is some error in the drafting of the new Clause. I do not know where the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) found the word "relinquished" in the first part of the Clause. I wonder whether the word he has in mind is "vacated". Surely the purpose of the Bill, in so far as we are trying to get reconstruction of farms, is to bring about amalgamations. A tenant of an agricultural holding will not voluntarily give up his holding if he realises that he will lose his security of tenure of his house.
One of the things about which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) was concerned was the undertaking which has been given that 75 if the tenant of a holding agrees to an amalgamation he will be given the first opportunity to remain in his house. But it is no protection for that tenant if the same law applies to him as can apply to a farmworker in a tied cottage. I should be prepared to agree with all the Opposition's intentions in putting forward this Clause if it were to apply only in the case of a farmhouse which has been vacated and the new landlord is searching for a new tenant.
There is a considerable difference between the situation in my constituency and that in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North. In my constituency, far too many farmhouses are becoming vacant and derelict because farmers do not want to be involved with having a tenant in that house getting the protection of the new Rent Act and being unable to get the farmhouse when it is required.
§ Mr. Godber
I am most interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument. If I did not make the position clear, I should like to clarify it. I accept the intention of the Bill, as it was previously, that an outgoing farmer should have all possible protection. I wish the Clause to apply only if the farmhouse is vacated. If the wording of the Clause is defective, I am willing to give way on it.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am grateful for that clarification. If the word "vacated" were substituted for "relinquished", there would be great merit in the Clause for my constituency. Far too many farmhouses and farmworkers' cottages become vacant once the farmer has the chance of getting the tenant out. He will not release the house to any person other than a farmworker because if he does he cannot get the house back. If the Minister were prepared to accept the kind of amendment mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, I should certainly support the Clause.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
This is the first time that I have made a contribution since the Bill went into Committee many moons ago, but I doubt very much, having listened to the debate so far, whether we shall ever get a perfect solution to the problem with which we are trying to deal. Certainly we shall 76 never get it so long as we have brought into the argument the sort of points that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) brought into it. Many of his remarks, if I may say so with respect, are irrelevant. He has perhaps failed to appreciate as fully as he might otherwise have done the definition of the farmhouse as distinct from the farm cottage.
We are not dealing here primarily with houses occupied by farm workers, but we are dealing primarily with the principal farmhouse on a farm which has been amalgamated with another one which already has a farmhouse which will continue to be the principal farmhouse of the new and bigger holding.
I support what the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) said. Some farmers are reluctant to let houses which they do not immediately require, for fear of getting involved in all the complications which flow from what I regard as a highly unsatisfactory Rent Act. The fact remains that if a family is growing up on a farm and the farm becomes part of a larger one, it is quite conceivable that the sons or daughters may find a house on the farm to be of great help in enabling them to continue to play a part in the farm's working without going away and living elsewhere.
There is another problem which arises over and over again in my constituency, and one which, I suspect, arises in the constituencies of other hon. Members. I suppose that the bigger percentage of my mail bag concerns planning permissions in rural areas. Where there has been a village envelope set inside which building can take place but outside which building can take place only for agricultural purposes, there tends to be a growing resentment in the minds of those who live in the villages but who do not work on the land, and there is an antipathy to agriculture. This is doing a great deal of damage to the whole social structure of the rural areas.
If we leave matters as they are in the Bill at the moment, this will become a lot worse rather than better. The Clause goes some way towards preventing it from getting worse. I would claim for it no more than that, because I doubt whether any of us can know how it will work out because we do not know how many amalgamations there will be.
77 If we simply allow the situation to develop, as it so easily could under the Bill, there will be this further effect. On an amalgamation, the principal farmhouse becomes unnecessary to the working of the new combined farm, and that farmhouse is let to non-agricultural tenants. The farmer then wants it back but is unable to get rid of the tenants, because they are not in agriculture. He will then be faced with the problem of building another house somewhere else on his farm, and there will be further resentment building up among those who want to build their own houses for nonagricultural purposes outside.
If we leave this as it is in the Bill at the moment, it will almost certainly tend to worsen what is already a thoroughly bad thing that is happening. I want to see town and country brought closer together and, even more, the village and the surrounding area brought closer together. I believe that nothing is making deeper inroads on this at the moment than planning permissions for building
If we do not do something about this situation, it will get worse. I would ask the Minister seriously to consider this. I do not know whether the point I have raised has occurred to him. I would like him, if he has not already made up his mind to accept the Clause, to consult his right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government to see what he thinks about it, and to see what reports he is getting of the effects of the present planning legislation on village life. This is the real point involved in the Clause. I hope that if the Minister has not already decided to accept the Clause, he will give further thought to it before turning it down.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill
I support the Clause, but I hope it will go a little wider to cover this point of the temporarily surplus farmhouse.
On Sunday I was visited by a gentleman who rang me up and said that he understood that we had an empty farmhouse. He said that he was trying to get a home for a period of years. He was not destitute. He wanted to live in the district for a number of years and he asked whether he could look at the farmhouse. I said that by all means he could look at it but that as a trustee I 78 thought we would be very ill-advised to let the farmhouse. The land in question has been farmed, since the farmer's retirement, with other land mainly to get it reshaped and modernised, and, as a trustee, I thought it likely that the farmhouse might be needed at some indefinite time in the future. The probability is that I should have to say to the gentleman that we have decided that the house ought to remain empty, much as we would like to see it occupied by him or by some other tenant.
This is a practical anomaly which has arisen from the 1965 Rent Act. I would beg the Minister to consider the debate at that stage and perhaps to have a word with the then Minister of Housing, now the Lord President of the Council.
I do not want to take up the time of the House unnecessarily, but I would ask the Minister to look at the debate on the Lords Amendments, on 1st November, 1965, and see what the Lord President had to say. He said, incidentally, in answer to the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), that if a farmer wanted to protect a farmhouse and be able to recover possession in future, all he had to do—which is the present position—would be to put an employee in it and create another tied house which he could again get possession of later.
That is the one way in which one can deal with a surplus farmhouse at the moment. The situation is even more anomalous, because, apparently, a surplus farmhouse can be made to qualify, as it were, for regulated tenancy so that one can regain possession, if the provisos are fulfilled, by putting an employee temporarily in a surplus farmhouse.
This is anomalous. I think that the Government, in 1965, were not seized of this problem. The Lord President said in the debate that he had been asked by the N.F.U. to deal only with the case of the surplus farm cottage, which, by definition, has been occupied by someone in agricultural employment, and the Government have really not been approached on this slightly different issue of the farmhouse. I know for a fact that the N.F.U. and the C.L.A. think that this is anomalous. If they had realised it at the time, more representations would probably have been made to the Government. There is a chance now to consider it and put it right.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)
The object of the new Clause is to ensure that, when a farmhouse has been given up in connection with an approved amalgamation and then let on the understanding that it can be repossessed when required, the landlord will be able to get a court order to regain possession if he needs the house for either a farmer or an employed worker.
Most hon. Members emphasised that this is a difficult problem and there are difficulties in legislating for what they would like to achieve. The hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson) said that, of course, the main thing to do was to see that the house, when it was vacant for the purposes of agriculture, was put to the best possible use. I think that we should probably agree with that, if it could be done. It has already been said that we do not know how big the problem may be. We do not know how many amalgamations there will be, and we do not know how many previous farmers will be given permission to stay on or have the houses let to them. I think that we may be inclined to overestimate the extent of the problem.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) suggested that, if the farmer really wanted to get out of the difficulty, he only had to let the house to a farmworker and it would then be covered.—(HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The hon. Gentleman said that it could be done—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The hon. Gentleman said that it could be done in that way. It might be unsatisfactory, but that is the point which he made.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill
Under the Government's present legislation, it is legally possible to get round the difficulty in that way, but it gets round it in a thoroughly unsatisfactory way, a way which certainly would not be approved by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), quite apart from anything else. It is the Government's job to make sensible and fair legislation.
§ Mr. Mackie
I was merely repeating the point which the hon. Gentleman made. There are ways of getting over the difficulty, he said, which are unsatisfactory. I was agreeing with him.
80 The Clause goes far beyond Section 16 of the Rent Act, 1965, in extending this special treatment—I emphasise that it was special treatment for farm workers' cottages under that Act—to farmhouses in the case of amalgamations. I recognise that, when two farms are amalgamated, one of the farmhouses will become redundant as the principal base for managing the new amalgamated unit. It may well be, also, that, at the time of the amalgamation, the redundant house is not immediately required for a farm worker to be employed on the unit. If that situation arises, the landlord may decide to let the house to someone without any connection with the unit, or to someone not in his employment, in agriculture, or, perhaps, to someone not engaged in agriculture at all. Naturally, he has a right to do this, and, subject to the law, he is free to act as he chooses. But, if he does let in these circumstances, is it right that he should expect special treatment if he finds later on that he wants the house after all for one of his workers or for someone else mainly engaged in agriculture?
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said that there is a certain antipathy towards agriculture in some villages in the rural areas and in urban areas, too, and he thought that something along the lines of the Clause would help to alleviate that. I should very much doubt that. It might well work the other way. If there were court orders putting people out of houses, it might go in the other direction and not help at all. There are all these difficulties which come to mind.
The Government have already gone a long way in Section 16 of the 1965 Act by enabling cottages to be repossessed in this way where they have been occupied at any time by an employed worker. If the amalgamator wants to use a cottage for a worker, he will have the protection of that Section as soon as he puts his intentions into effect. We are not at all convinced that we should do any more.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) made the valid point—I think that it was agreed to by the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber)—that there might be a drafting point on the wording of the Clause as it stands, with reference to 81 the previous owner or occupier of the farm being left in the farmhouse, and he suggested that the word "vacated" in place of "relinquished" might solve the problem. May I remind the House that all hon. Members in Committee insisted—this was our view as well—that one of the things we wanted to see as much as possible was the previous occupiers of the amalgamated holdings having the first chance either to buy or to rent the house. We should be in difficulty there, too, in spite of any change in the wording, because, whatever happened, the Rent Act would come into operation and there would have to be another Clause of some kind to protect them. I doubt that any rewording of the Clause would deal with that matter. As I say, there is difficulty in legislating for all cases. Hon. Members have instanced a variety of possible situations, and we should have great difficulty in trying to legislate for all the cases which might come up.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) said that this was a perfectly straightforward Clause. It is anything but straightforward. It raises complications all along the line. Someone pressed us to consult the previous Minister of Housing and Local Government on the question. We have consulted the present Minister on this point, and I can tell the House that he would not be very happy at having to look at other legislation. This is an Agriculture Bill, not a Housing Bill, and something might well have to be done subsequently in housing legislation.
However, we are not rigid about it. We see the difficulty. We appreciate the arguments which have been raised. I appreciate some of the arguments put by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), although I do not agree with all he said, as he knows; we have argued about this question before. At this stage, I must ask the House to reject the Clause.
§ Mr Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the possibility that this kind of situation might be a direct disincentive to amalgamations? This point has not been raised so far. The debate has concentrated upon vacant dwellings. Might there not be a definite disincentive to 82 what the Government seek to achieve by the Bill?
§ Mr. Mackie
Again, if we were to try to legislate for all the things which might or might not be disincentives, our legislation would become even more complicated.
§ Mr. Mackie
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. In Committee he was one of the greatest opponents of complicated legislation. I assure him that, if we were to start mixing up housing legislation and agriculture legislation, we should get into even greater difficulty and complication than he has accused us of getting into so far.
§ Mr. Godber
It is true that I have many times insisted that our legislation should not be too complicated. On this issue, there is a way out. If the hon. Gentleman accepts that a case has been made, as he has half indicated, there is a way out for him, and I am sure that his hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth will help him.
§ Mr. Mackie
I have said that we are not rigid yet about it, but I warn the House that we have looked at the question very carefully. We appreciate the position, but we do not see a clear way out of the difficulty at the moment. We shall look at it again. However, I emphasise that we have looked at it most carefully and we remain very doubtful about whether we could put suitable legislation into the Bill to meet the point. Certainly, it could not be in the form of this Clause. I ask the House, therefore, to reject it.
§ Mr. Stodart
I congratulate the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) on his intervention today which, like almost all his interventions in Committee, although they were not, perhaps, as frequent as we would have liked, struck a note on our side, particularly among those who, like himself, are not of the English race. The hon. Gentleman's intervention on this occasion was particularly sound, and it called to mind a remark at one stage by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. John Mackie) that he did not find the advice of lawyers always entirely reliable. I did not understand that crack to have been directed at his hon. Friends, but it is 83 evident that he does seem to group within that category of the legal profession those who sit so patiently and loyally on his own back benches.
The contribution from the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) was good up to a point but thereafter, I thought, he went completely off the rails. He mentioned the understanding about retired farmers being allowed to remain. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) has made clear, we would be perfectly happy that this should happen and that a safeguard of some kind to this effect should be written into the Bill.
The hon. Member for Merioneth said that we had wrongly used the word "relinquish" and should have said "vacate". I am quite ready, as, I am certain, is my right hon. Friend, to stand corrected about this because, as simple laymen, we do not pretend to appreciate the subtle differences of these two words.
When, however, the hon. Member for Norfolk, North went on to say that the number of tied cottages would be increased and that this extension had not been made under the Rent Act, he seemed not to be ready to face realities. The only thing about which I then had slight hope was when, towards the end of his speech, the hon. Member said that if we included some kind of reservation about retired farmers, he might not feel as strongly as he did.
All I can say about the reply from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is that in Committee upstairs there were many times when he looked unhappy in expounding the words of wisdom—I do not know whether he regards them as wisdom—which he was given to pronounce, but never have I thought that the hon. Gentleman looked as gloomy as he has on this the first day of his return from the Recess. I agree that it is a difficult problem. The hon. Gentleman said that we may be over-estimating the difficulty. If that is the case, it does not show great optimism on his part for the success of this amalgamation scheme.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary echoed the words of his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North and said that our proposal would go too far beyond the Rent Act. The hon. Gentleman wandered far away from realities, as he 84 knows them perfectly well with all his experience of the industry, in his determination to avoid facing squarely the facts. What does the hon. Gentleman think will be done? I ask him this in preference to his right hon. Friend because the hon. Gentleman must personally have had to face this problem before.
As things stand and if the new Clause is not accepted, three moves are open. The house can be sold separately. If it were mine, I would certainly hesitate to do that because I would suspect that I might in the future need it for, perhaps, a farm manager or extra farm-workers. Alternatively, the house could be let immediately to a farmworker. At the rate at which the labour force is declining however, farmworkers are not easy to get immediately. I could certainly quote cases outside Edinburgh, and I am sure that they could be multiplied all over the country, where advertisements for tractor men and others have been put in newspapers week after week and there has been no response. Thirdly, one could safeguard oneself by leaving the house empty, and that is what will almost certainly be done.
Despite all the deterioration that the house would be bound to suffer, in view of the quite unpredictable state of farming—I am choosing my words carefully when I say "unpredictable"; I do not wish to drag in to this argument, which we on this side have tried to argue with sincerity and from a practical point of view, anything about the uncertainty of farming of which many people speak. That may be the case or not, Certainly, in good times or in bad, the future of farming is always unpredictable.
I would be the last to attempt to forecast what will happen in, say, the grain-growing areas where amalgamations might take place in the course of the next 10 years. The Minister is well acquainted with the difficulties of those who have cut their staff to the bone with mechanisation, who are growing white crop after white crop and are now beginning to wonder whether, if a break crop of, say, rape or beans did not prove successful, they might have to go back to the system which originated north of the Border of ley farming—say, three years of grain followed by two years of grass.
85 Almost inevitably, if that happened one would require extra staff again. I think it most unlikely that one would be able to put a flock of sheep or a herd of cattle on to a farm that had been perpetually white-cropped for many years without introducing extra staff. It is for this reason that I think it so essential and so essentially practical from the point of view of any farmer that he dare not let the sort of house that we are discussing be occupied for fear that at some future date he may not get it back.
§ Mr. Hazell
In view of the lack of response to advertisements for staff to which the hon. Member has referred and the continual rundown of the labour force, where does he anticipate that he will get his new staff?
§ Mr. Stodart
That is a perfectly fair point. Like many others, however, I think that a momentum is gathering from day-release colleges. Certainly, at least a couple have come into existence, not exactly within a mile of Edinburgh, but not far outside it, in the last few years and I hope that the tide may turn. I certainly think it dangerous for either the hon. Member or the House to assume that it will not. Again, however, this is one of the unpredictable factors.
For those reasons and in the light of the unequivocal reply of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that he had looked into the matter but could see no solution and must resist the Amendment, if that is the attitude of the Government we on these benches cannot in any circumstances agree with the hon. Gentleman and we shall divide the House in support of the Clause.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
Hon. Members on both sides have referred to the unpredictability of agriculture and the changes that may come about in the industry. It should be remembered that Britain may enter into an association with the Common Market and that our whole pattern of farming may change. Certain areas which are now concentrating on one type of production might find it necessary to go in for another. For example, some eastern parts of Britain might find it necessary to concentrate more on livestock and less on grain. This 86 in turn, would entail a major change in our farming practices. Such a change would inevitably involve the need for more dwellings for agricultural workers.
I did not have the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee which considered this Measure but, having heard the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's comments—which can only be described as deplorable—it would seem that his approach to our proposal is one of sheer stubbornness. There is a world of commonsense in the new Clause and I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's attitude to it.
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) spoke of farmhouses and cottages in his constituency remaining vacant. I assure him that he need not go to the Gaelic fringes of Britain to see such vacant premises. I could take him to the heart of the country—to Leicestershire and elsewhere—where a great many good farm cottages have remained empty for years and will continue to remain empty simply because farmers dare not take the chance of letting them to nonagricultural workers, for they are certain that, once that step has been taken, they will never be able to offer those premises to farm workers. Farmers who let their cottages are committed to their present labour forces and are less able to change their methods of farming.
While the Joint Parliamentary Secretary seemed to be agreeing with the arguments that have been adduced in favour of the Clause, for some stubborn reason he felt it necessary to reject it. Having sat through that example of stubbornness, I thank my lucky stars that I did not have to listen to the hon. Gentleman in Committee upstairs.
§ Mr. John Mackie
I will reply briefly to some of the ridiculous comments made by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). If I did not give him a good enough reason for not accepting the Amendment, he certainly gave me a good reason for rejecting it, for if there are so many farmworkers' cottages lying empty, why should we take steps to ensure that even more lie empty? I am all for commonsense, as long as that does not mean that I must always agree with the opposite point of view.
I regret that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) thought 87 that I looked gloomy. Perhaps I should not look too cheerful lest I give the lie to the catalogue of woe listed by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) earlier. I will not comment on that further now, but perhaps I will do so later, in private.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West really wants us to legislate for all the unpredictable things that might happen in agriculture in the near and far future. The hon. Member for Harborough wants us to do the same, As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) pointed out, the number of farm workers has been decreasing over the years. In the years following 1953—I am not referring to 13 years of Tory rule but to the figures I happen to have with me—24,000 men left the industry each year. That trend has been continuing, although at this stage it is not for me to argue whether it is a good or bad thing. It shows, however, that, despite the trend, the industry has become more efficient and that, therefore, hon. Gentlemen opposite
§ are over-estimating the need for the Clause.
§ I have promised to look at the matter further and I assure the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West that while he was having a nice holiday during the Christmas Recess I was looking carefully into this and other matters. However, I must ask the House to resist the new Clause.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will agree that what concerns one farm may not necessarily be the same as the average tendency throughout the industry, particularly from the point of view of providing accommodation for farm workers. This particularly applies to the dairy industry, where a minimum of labour is needed and where, if that minimum is not provided, milk production will continue to fall even more steadily than it is falling at present.
§ Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 127, Noes, 216.89
|Division No. 230.]||AYES||[6.8 p.m.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & stone)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Astor, John||Glover, Sir Douglas||Murton, Oscar|
|Awdry, Daniel||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Nabarro, Sir Gerald|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Goodhew, Victor||Onslow, Cranley|
|Balniel, Lord||Gresham Cooke, R.||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Batsford, Brian||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Bell, Ronald||Gurden, Harold||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Peel, John|
|Biffen, John||Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Pounder, Rafton|
|Blaker, Peter||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Hawkins, Paul||Pym, Francis|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Brewis, John||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Heseltine, Michael||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hill, J. E. B.||Roots, William|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N&M)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Burden, F. A.||Holland, Philip||Scott, Nicholas|
|Campbell, Gordon||Howell, David (Guildford)||Sharples, Richard|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hunt, John||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Clark, Henry||Jopling, Michael||Smith, John|
|Clegg, Walter||Kershaw, Anthony||Stainton, Keith|
|Cooke, Robert||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Stodart, Anthony|
|Costain, A. P.||Kirk, Peter||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Kitson, Timothy||Taylor, Frank (Moss side)|
|Crouch, David||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Teeling, Sir William|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Lambton, Viscount||Tilney, John|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Dance, James||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)||Loveys, W. H.||Walters, Dennis|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||MacArthur Ian||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Doughty, Charles||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Drayson, G. B.||Maddan, Martin||Webster, David|
|Eden, Sir John||Maginnis, John E.||Whitelaw, William|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Maude, Angus||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Mawby, Ray||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Farr, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Fisher, Nigel||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Younger, Hn. George|
|Forrest, George||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Fortescue, Tim||Monro, Hector||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. More and Mr. Grant.|
|Albu, Austen||Galpern, Sir Myer||Moyle, Roland|
|Allen, Scholefield||Gardner, Torry||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Anderson, Donald||Garrett, W. E.||Murray, Albert|
|Archer, Peter||Gourlay, Harry||Newens, Stan|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Gregory, Arnold||Oakes, Gordon|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Oram, Albert E.|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Orbach, Maurice|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Orme, Stanley|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Hamling, William||Oswald, Thomas|
|Beaney, Alan||Hannan William||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Bence, Cyril||Harper, Joseph||Owen, Will (Morpeth)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)||Haseldine, Norman||Pardoe, John|
|Bessell, Peter||Hazell, Bert||Park, Trevor|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Heffer, Eric S.||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Henig, Stanley||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Blackburn, F.||Hilton, W. S.||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Boardman, H.||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)|
|Booth, Albert||Hooley, Frank||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Hooson, Emlyn||Pentland, Norman|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Horner, John||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Brooks, Edwin||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)|
|Brown,Bob(N'c'tie-upon-Tyne, W.)||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Howie, W.||Randall, Harry|
|Buchan, Norman||Hoy, James||Rankin, John|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Redhead, Edward|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hunter, Adam||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hynd, John||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Cant, R. B.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Robinson, W.O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Coe, Denis||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Rose, Paul|
|Coleman, Donald||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Concannon, J. D.||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Judd, Frank||Ryan, John|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Kenyon, Clifford||Sheldon, Robert|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Lawson, George||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Leadbitter, Ted||Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton, N.E.)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Ledger, Ron||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Lestor, Miss Joan||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Davidson,James(Aberdeenshire, W.)||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Slater, Joseph|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Lipton, Marcus||Small, William|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Lomas, Kenneth||Snow, Julian|
|Davies, Robert (Cambridge)||Loughlin, Charles||Spriggs, Leslie|
|de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey||Luard, Evan||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)|
|Dell, Edmund||Lubbock, Eric||Swingler, Stephen|
|Dempsey, James||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Thornton, Ernest|
|Dewar, Donald||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Dickens, James||McCann, John||Tinn, James|
|Doig, Peter||McGuire, Michael||Urwin, T. W.|
|Dunnett, Jack||Mackenzie, Alasdair(Ross&Crom'ty)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Mackle, John||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Mackintosh, John P.||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Eadie, Alex||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McNamara, J. Kevin||Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||MacPherson, Malcolm||Weitzman, David|
|Ellis, John||Mahon, Peter (Preston, s.)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Ensor, David||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||White, Mrs. Elrene|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Whitlock, William|
|Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Manuel, Archie||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Marquand, David||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Mendelson, J. J.||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mikardo, Ian||Winnick, David|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Millan, Bruce||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Ford, Ben||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)||Woof, Robert|
|Forrester, John||Molloy, William||Yates, Victor|
|Fowler, Gerry||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Freeeon, Reginald||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Mr. McBride and Mr. Grey.|